Saturday, September 26, 2009
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Midway Contemporary Art gallery in Minneapolis. I was part of a group that received a guided tour by a founder of the gallery and in depth analysis of many of the piece’s on display. One artwork in particular struck me. In a small room that goes by the description of “Gallery 2”, I was confronted by a massive blue rectangle that measures 94 x 17 x 4 inches leaning up against the wall.
My first impression was that someone had left one of their child’s building blocks in the gallery and that evil aliens had enlarged using cosmic rays to ridicule the foundations of American childhood. It was smooth and sleek, with perfect corners, clean lines, and was the color of the Pacific on a bright 90 degree day in 1965. I am not a fan of the modernist movement at all. The extreme emphasis on form and medium being art is so a little ridiculous to my frame of mind. If that was all that art was, than the people at Sherman Williams who make hundreds of colors of acrylic house paint should be heralded as the new masters. I am more about content, subject matter, feeling, motivation.
After a brief glance and a little shake of my head at how much time must have gone into the construction of a gigantic blue rectangle, my thoughts turned to the next piece. Big blue was gone from my mind in an instant because my uneducated non-modernist viewpoint suggested that it was just that- a big blue rectangle. Who cares about a big blue rectangle? As I went on to the next piece I heard the gallery operator mention that they had to increase their insurance due to the fact that the big blue rectangle was worth $200,000. Are you serious? I could finish my education, travel the world, and feed the homeless for months off $200,000. If someone wanted a rectangle, go to IKEA and buy some storage totes- you’d have enough for a Ferrari left over. I instantly hate big blue, which I found out is named “Sound”, by California artist John McCraken. The fact that an inanimate object that is so plain could excite that amount of interest was ridiculous in my opinion. The gallery owner went on to inform us that “Sound” was handmade fiberglass with high gloss lacquer. Given his southern California background, the artist likes to use the same materials that go into surf board construction. John McCraken also treats color as a material in his art. His decision to lean his objects against the wall rather going for a more conventional instillation was in his own mind the best way to reduce the forms down to their utmost basic abstract concept. (John McCraken Sketchbook: Interview with Neville Wakefield 15)
All of this basic went over mind head. I still could not wrap my mind around a blue rectangle supposedly worth $200,000. A classmate of mine tried to put it into perspective by informing me about the amount of time and meticulous craftsmanship that must have gone into a handmade perfect rectangle of that size. McCraken could have just sent his piece of to the factory to get machined, but instead he loving crafted his art by hand, just as the surfboard masters of old produced individual boards that combined perfection and personality. I was not ready to hear it. My mind still kept shouting $200,000, $200,000, $200,000! This morning, as I was researching the piece to write a very nasty critique, I was listening to my roommates talk about a friend of theirs from college who had moved to Vegas and tried to make a life for herself far away from friends and family in Minnesota. Long story short, she ended up prostituting herself and then got hook on drugs. I instantly felt sorry, not for the girl who I didn’t know, but for “Sound” who I came to know through indifference, fierce hatred, pity, and then finally a bizarre sort of love. It brings to mind an overpriced streetwalker, told by society that her purest essence is to lean against the wall with cold, deep, perfect beauty to wait for the highest bid. Pared down to her barest form, with nothing left but that which the viewer gives, she emanates reflects of our own desires and needs. She is lost, alone, powerful, and abused. She needs love, but has nothing left for love to cling to. Perfection, gloss, sleek beauty…. Nothing.
Image courtesy of midwayart.org
Monday, September 21, 2009
I have constructed a hermetically sealed installation inside of a tapered, sloping tunnel built into the side of the Mississippi river bluffs. The opening is 50ft by 50ft and is made entirely of prismatic glass sections that throw kaleidoscopic beams of sunlight into the atrium. My first work of art is placed in just a few feet inside this entranceway.
Your Dog. Yoshitomo Nara. Japan 2002. 72 x 51 x 108 inch. Fiberglass sculpture. Photo courtesy of Adam Fuchs.
This is the first piece in my new collection due to the sense of fun and life that the art brings to the viewer. As the artist probably intended, you can see a sort of joy and pent up excitement in the posture of the dog, especially with it’s erect tail and closed eyes. This reminds me of the look a puppy gets when your hand is just about to pet it’s back. The choices of white fiberglass for the body and the bright red nose give it a sleek and streamlined look for the new millennium, imparting a sense of fun and life.
MIA Gift Shop Doll collection. Unknown Artists. Unknown Medium. Photo courtesy of Adam Fuchs.
About ten feet farther into the exhibit you come across a 48 x 72 inch display case filled with shelves of stuffed dolls. The collection of gift shop dolls tossed on shelves without regard to the joy that they might bring someone provides the eye with a riot of color and perceived textures. The bright colors and soft appearance of the pieces contrast with the unblinking eyes and slightly malevolent stares to leave one unsure of the comfort given by these creatures. Their proximity to Your Dog implies a sense of continuity in the joyous celebration of life, yet the fact that one cannot touch or seek comfort from walled in softness of these glaring beasties imparts some caution and maybe a little foreboding.
Pillow. Unknown Artist. China, Ch’ing Dynasty 17th-18th Century. Greenish-White Nephrite. Photo courtesy of Adam Fuchs.
As you proceed another few steps into my exhibition you meet a stark white pedestal 24 inches tall by 12” square. The height of the pedestal and small size of the piece force one to stoop uncomfortably in order to obtain the best viewing. The hardness of the pillow combined with the soft rounded appearance continues the juxtaposition of comfort and unease stemming from the gift shop dolls. The uncomfortable looking position of the figurine combined with the facial expression that could either be pain or pleasure, and the severe white pedestal and washed out colors of the piece reinforce this idea.
Gift Shop Bone Doll. Unknown Artist. China 2009. Unknown Media
At the very edge of where the fairy-tale patterns of dappled sunlight hit the floor, poised at the brink of darkness a few more feet into the tunnel you come across this colorful, defiant, disturbing piece. The walls have slowly tapered in toward each other at this point, and the slight downward slope of the floor is all the more noticeable as one makes the transition from light to dark, life to death. The tunnel is now 30 ft across and 30 ft high. Here, on the edge of the shadows, moving into the increasingly constrictive maw of the exhibit, you are confronted by the celebration of death and the afterlife in the form of another gift shop doll. Does it say something that this piece is posed alone? Sitting, slouched in the corner of two 36 x 36 inch black painted walls in the center of the tunnel, you are reminded of discarded trash and of things once bright and joyous, now past their prime and fading to shadows. The dim lighting exaggerates the faded impression of her bright robes as we continue our exploration of the decline of life and society.
Triptych; Prisoner’s of the Mountains of Mist (Center Panel). Giovanni Battista Crema. Italy 1910. Oil on Canvas. Photo courtesy of Adam Fuchs
This piece is in shadows, light from below by a single bulb. Located 10 ft farther down the exhibit from the Bone Doll, just around a 90 degree right turn in the tunnel; the triptych raises a lot of questions. Are the male and female subjects simply sleeping lovers, sated after an afternoon of passion? Are they dead, cast aside, souls fled with the phoenix being held by the male? Does the fact that the phoenix is spread in much the same posture as the man and women, yet appears to be held by the man imply that there can be no rebirth due to the sins of the young and seemingly innocent? The fact that this painting is presented in the darker recesses of my gallery would imply some aspects of the transition from nubile young life and the hope of salvation to the cold stagnancy of death.
Female Acrobat. Pavel Tchelitchew. Russia 1930’s. Oil on Canvas. Photo courtesy of Adam Fuchs
This paintings placement 15 ft beyond Crema’s triptych takes Pavel Tchelitchew’s graceful and erotic picture of a female acrobat and brings out what might be a truer meaning deep within the artwork. The air in this deeper part of the gallery is more stifling due to the airtight sealing of the entrance. The illusion of openness imparted in the radiant atrium is no longer in sight. The work is light from below by a single bulb. The dim light combined with the dull colors and stretched pose of the subject imply a sense of strain and painful, tormented struggle. Is she perhaps now striving to ascend to the afterlife rather than swing on the trapeze? Is she trapped in purgatory, begging for release? Is there no light, no heaven, no fluffy clouds and harps? Is there simply atonement and anguish?
As we proceed another 20 ft into our exploration of the transition from 3D life to flat 2D death, we come across this painting. Lit from below, as with the previous two, the contrast of flesh tone with the deep reds and blues in this piece immediately draw our eye. Another foray into the idea that we are but meat, with nothing beyond our vibrant lives, this is perhaps the most disturbing piece in the collection. Given the previous human figures shown in various stages of deathlike and tormented poses, you can’t help but question- is this beef, or is it actually a rendering of the upside down carcass of a two legged creature cast aside after it’s moment in the sun.
Lyuba Rorschach. Roxanne Jackson. United States 2009. Unknown media.
Thirty feet beyond the painting of the Carcass of Beef, at the very end of the tunnel, one is confronted with the Lyuba Rorschach. The tunnel at this point has narrowed to 20ft by 20ft. The piece is lit by cunningly hidden inset ceiling lighting, so as to give the impression of cold, sourceless mist. The black walls of the tunnel strengthen the impression of exanimate form. This tells you unquestionably that there is nothing else. There is no color, no life, no joy, no love, no feeling, no hope. This is the end.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Angelo Brewer draws heavily from a background in comic art. He has coined his style as Neo-Post-Modern VolksArt. His pieces are generally digitally enhanced ink drawings.
The subject of this week's critique is one of Angelo's newer works entitled "The Green Fairy". It currently hangs as part of a private collection on the walls of the Manfort in South Minneapolis. What makes me love this piece is not only the clean lines and comic style colors combined with the expressive faces and posture of the figures; but the symbolism of the Green Fairy standing over the weeping street bum. Is the fairy tempting him to travel even further into the depths of degradation and alcoholism? Is she consoling him as his life hits bottom in a dark, wet back alley? The matching trash stains on the man's sleeves and shirt make a suggestive metaphor for the bum's life. The drooping, dribbling patterns of the trash is carried onto the alley walls, continuing and strengthening the dingy setting of the scene. The only light source is coming from the Absinthe bottle in the lower left corner of the picture. Is the glowing bottle a source of hope in a desperate man's life? Is it a metaphor for the trouble of the world and the current state of humanity in it's continual slide toward addiction and excess? Is it a trumpet call to drink away the dark alleys and trash that occupy our daily lives? Is the whole thing just an artist's representation of his hangover and mental state after a night of drinking forbidden liquor? I don't know, and I don't care. Not only is the piece visually appealing, but the fact that it can be taken in so many different ways and show so many different levels of metaphor and ambiguity in a comic style drawing makes this one the most sublime and pleasing works of art that I have had the pleasure of viewing. For more information on Angelo and to see more of his magnificent art go to angelobrewer.com.
Photo taken by Adam Fuchs