Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Are you a Late Breaking Gay or an Aspiring Sniper?

I recently finished Mark Penn’s Microtrends, the small forces behind tomorrow’s big changes. Here’s the premise: our society is more fractured than ever; and if you want to succeed in business or politics or even religion, you need to understand the small, emerging trends that drive change in our society.

Penn is the brain behind the Soccer Moms of Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign. And this book continues that tradition by looking at a lot of research and ferreting out trends that deserve clever names. And it’s not just the names that are clever. The writing is fresh and fun, a surprising accomplishment for a book that could be dry.

If nothing else, this book provides endless fodder for dazzling party talk. The statistics provide all sorts of tidbits that will make you shine at tonight’s cocktail party. And it might just make you smarter at work too. Then there’s the added fun of Microtrend analyzing your friends. I personally know a Sex-Ratio Single, a Young Knitter, a Neglected Dad, a Caffeine Crazy, and more. I may even be a Long Attention Spanner.

So, if you’re remotely interested in this kind of stuff, I’d get the book and dive headfirst into the world of XXX Men and all the rest of the Microtrends.

15 trillion minutes of fame.

You gotta give Andy credit. He’s made quite a career out of the silk-screened poster—single handedly making the multi-million dollar screen print a reality. And with thousands of these posters available, is it any wonder you see them at just about every museum. The BYU art museum has two of the Marilyn Monroe prints. UMFA has at least one Warhol print. And take a trip to the NY galleries any time and you’ll find several for sale. If that’s not enough, the images are reprinted and ripped off so often that they’ve almost become a cliché. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Warhol fan and I get why he’s so important to art history. But sometimes the endless Warhol prints make me question the value of POP.

It was with this skepticism that I went to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts to see Dream America: Prints by Andy Warhol. And OK, I admit it. It was better than I expected. This was a reminder that seeing the real thing, in person is always better than seeing reproductions. And seeing so many works by the same artists gives extra insight. Take the Marilyn Monroes. Sure you see this image everywhere, either the real thing in museums, or the endless reproductions. But I’ve never seen the entire series in one place. And that was cool. In fact several complete series are on display here. There are also lots of prints that I had never seen. Like the “shoes” and several of the tone-on-tone posters, both of which are worth a trip to the museum.

Getting up close to observe the workmanship is also fun. Warhol had some dang talented printers. The prints are created with such precision that their casual visual nature is misleading. And reproductions of the prints can’t capture the pure saturated colors nor the brilliance and sparkle of diamond dust.

Sometimes, Andy’s images seem trivial. But after seeing this show, I think it’s just because we’ve been so inundated with bad reproductions and rip offs. Go see the real thing and you might get a renewed appreciation for the master of POP.

Wallpaper princess.

Wacky Australian girl leaves the family; travels Asia singing and dancing in Vaudeville-style shows; moves to London where she becomes an etiquette coach and a French fashion designer, marries (or maybe not) and has a kid; moves back to Australia and becomes a painter; starts wildly successful wallpaper business; is mysteriously murdered in her 70s one evening in her office.

In a nutshell, that’s the real-life, bizarre story of Florence Broadhurst. I first learned of her from a documentary at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The magic of both the documentary and this book is the magnificent wallpaper designs that Broadhurst produced in Australia in the 70s. The book provides large plates of more than 200 of her designs. (Although it’s hard to know who is responsible for these designs, Broadhurst or her employees.)

The writing in this book is marginal. But the story is terrific. And if you like pattern and color, the glossy reprints of Broadhurst’s designs are worth price.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just in time for Christmas: toy cameras.

Well, at least photos made with toy cameras. This is not a review (but you can expect my review sometime next week). Instead, this is my feeble way of getting the word out. Saans Downtown Gallery is hosting an intriguing group show that features photographs made with Holgas, the quintessential toy cameras. I know at least one of the artists (Felix Flores) so I’m excited about the opening reception on Friday, November 16 starting at 6:00 p.m. Refreshments will be served. Rumor has it there will even be a book published with images from the show.

So unleash your inner bohemian and visit the closest thing Salt Lake has to a gallery district. You’ll find Saans at 175 East Broadway (that’s 300 South). Since it’s gallery stroll, the nearby galleries will also be open. Why not bring your toy camera and play paparazzi?

One man’s trash.

Two shows at the Salt Lake Art Center are garbage. SF Recycled is in the main gallery and features works by eight artists who participated in the only artist residency program situated in a US public garbage disposal site. SF Recycling and Disposal is a 44-acre plot on the south side of San Francisco that is known to area artists as “the dump.” Each of the artists in the show was awarded a half-year residency sometime between 2001 and now. And while all the works may not have been completed during the residencies, they do reflect a strong use of the discarded.

Much of the work is ho hum. Nomi Talisman’s photography felt commercial, and I don’t mean commercial as in art that sells. I mean commercial as in quotidian graphic design. I sat through all her videos waiting for that moment when the installation would move me. It never did. In a world of Macintosh computers and HD video cameras in every home, the videos felt amateurish—particularly considering the lackluster content.

Daphne Ruff’s collages are also pedestrian. The handbags and shoes made from the iconic remains of old games and packaging would have been more at home in a hipster gift shop.

But other works were interesting. I liked Andrew Junge’s work, particularly 82 Days at the Dump. This drawing book filled with images and remembrances from a stint at the dump even included a deconstructed work glove. Of all the works in the show, this most effectively asked questions about our consumption and waste.

Other artists that make a trip to SF Recycled worth it? The collages of Mark Faigenbaum, the reconstructed signs of Mike Farruggia, and a work by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Talisman. The latter work (Letters to an Unknown Friend) tried hard to be about the content, but the beauty of the old typewriter juxtaposed with an impossibly thin screen made a bolder statement than the actual letters.

Of course the use of trash in art isn’t new. As with most modern/contemporary art, Marcel Duchamp got there first. But others too have made their name in this arena. The Art Center Projects Gallery hosts Masters of West Coast Assemblage and Collage. The show features works by five artists who are acknowledged masters of mixed media—all of whom used trash to create their works.

A few general comments about the Art Center. 1.) For my money, no other gallery or museum in Salt Lake does a better job of presenting stuff. The galleries always look great. The lighting is just about perfect. And I love the way the gallery posts information about each work on the floor. (Although they could use a good proofreader. Typos, grammar problems, and some terrible kerning could all be fixed with a good proofing); 2.) It’s free; 3.) They have great art talks with interesting guests and movies. So I can’t figure out why more people don’t go. There is never anyone there. So go. It’s so lonely. I’d love the company.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Casting Doubts

Pioneer Theatre Company currently offers Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. I had no knowledge about this play but with a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play under its belt, I thought it worth a look. It is.

Let’s start with the bad news. The acting left me wanting. The play has only four cast members. One of those actors (Jeff Talbott as Father Brendan Flynn) didn’t seem up to the level of the writing. And Shannon Koob as Sister James took a few scenes to warm up. But once she did, she proved effective.

The good news? This is a story that whips the characters into a foggy world of questions and compromises. And the audience is never given the answers. The story involves a Catholic school in the 1960s where the priest is either a caring man who helps the most vulnerable kids in the school or pedophile preying on young boys. Juxtaposed against this dilemma, the other characters are either protectors of the innocent or painfully judgmental and cruel.

Doubt got to me to me a little. The end is very powerful—enough to make one fight back emotions. The missing answers are frustrating but I’m still thinking about the way I treat others. Do I jump to conclusions too easily? Maybe I don’t stand up against injustices as often or as loudly as I should. Sometimes I’m so sure I’m right, but am I? In the words of Sister Aloysius Beauvier, “I have doubts.”

SFMOMA Museum Dash: Bonus Two

I’m not sure how SFMOMA is able to cram so much stuff into a museum that’s smaller than many. But in my couple of hours at the museum, I spent most of my time viewing Eliasson and Wall. However I did take about 15 minutes to walk through the Joseph Cornell exhibit. Let me start by saying that if I get a full day in San Francisco any time soon, at least half of it will be spent at this exhibit. You can’t imagine what’s on display.

Cornell’s work is wondrous; box after box of images that make you ask, what was going on when he did that. I was surprised at how the artistic traditions of the early 20th century, from Duchamp to Magritte to Dali, were somehow re-imagined in Cornell’s boxes. The art gathers and juxtaposes not just trinkets and tools, but also ideas and philosophies that draw you into a world where emotions duke it out with visuals.

Maybe most surprising, these works from the mid 20th century seemed to accomplish something Photoshop seldom accomplishes—the mash-up of images into new ideas. Sure Joseph Cornell comes across as a little crazy. But as I’ve said before, when it comes to art I don’t mind a touch o’ the crazy.

SFMOMA Museum Dash: Bonus One

So I went to SFMOMA for the Olafur Eliasson. But as luck would have it, the Jeff Wall touring exhibit opened just a few days prior. All I can say is WOW. I’ve seen individual works by Wall in the past and the back-lit photographs always impress. Imagine walking into a gallery with five or six works. Then multiply that by five or six galleries. It’s almost overwhelming.

Wall’s works are a big reminder that good, old-fashioned photography still trumps today’s nifty digital tricks. Some of his works that use visual trickery are so seamless in their creation that it’s hard to believe they were created in the 70s, well before the advent of Photoshop.

Most use no trickery. Instead, they are beautifully conceived, well staged, and meticulously crafted. Take A Sudden Gust of Wind. You can almost feel the wind blowing through the gallery. My favorite work, Restoration, went on forever.

Sometimes, photography can get old fast. But in the tradition of the 20th century’s best photographers like Gursky, Sherman, Demand, and Minter, Wall dazzles the viewer—and not just with his technical prowess. The content unnerves, surprises, perplexes, and occasionally creeps you out.

Forecast from SFMOMA: Cold, Wet, and Windy.

I’m getting good at the mad-dash-to-the-art-place-before-you-catch-your-flight excursion. I’ve really wanted to see the Olafur Eliasson show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). And when a last minute business trip left me with an extra hour or two before my flight, I did the museum dash.

I’m glad I did. I wanted to see this exhibit because Olafur has gotten so much attention in Europe (and so little in the U.S.). So this was an early opportunity to experience his first big entre stateside. I can see what all the Europeans are abuzz about.

As you enter the museum, you are immediately greeted by Ventilator, a liberated electric fan. Suspended from high above by an extra long power cord, the fan flits and flutters around the hall with whimsical charm.

The second floor architecture and design galleries left the charm behind and delivered a chilly museum experience. The main work here was Your mobile expectation: BMW H2R project. This is Eliasson’s contribution to BMW’s long-running art car program. Blankets are offered outside a chilled microclimate developed by the artist. As you enter, you’re warned that “your glasses will fog as you leave so please be careful”—my new favorite museum warning. Inside the chilled room (about 14 degrees) is a hydrogen-powered race car skinned with a light-weight stainless steel frame, stainless steel panels, and layer after layer of geometrically formed ice. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to imagine what I’m talking about. You have to see this one. Upon exiting, my glasses fogged. I was careful.

The icy car was just the pre-show. The upstairs galleries featured Take your time, an installation that included a whole slew of works by Eliasson. Take Beauty, the earliest work in the show. This darkened room was filled with a constant, misty rain lit by a single Fresnel lamp, creating elusive rainbows. Or how about Multiple Grotto, a big stainless steel thingy into which the view peers or enters. Standing inside is like entering a kaleidoscope.

One of my favorite areas was the Model room, a collection of cabinets filled with models, maquettes, and prototypes made of wire, string, and cardboard. You could see the tinkering that went into the elaborate final works.

Two works built just for this exhibit took the idea of infinity mirrors to new heights, fooling viewers that they were precariously perched on a window ledge or looking into a vast void hidden inside the museum.

I’ve never been lit so well as while standing in 360° room for all colors. The medium for this work is listed as “stainless steel, projection foil, fluorescent lights, wood, and control unit.” The result is an otherworldly space with light like nothing I’ve experienced before.

My only complaint: SFMOMA crammed a whole lot of Eliasson’s work into not a lot of space. Many of these works felt like they needed more room. And if you look at photos for the original installations, they were given more space, heightening their effect. While I appreciated seeing so many of the artists works, the show might have been better had it been edited.

The program for the show said that Eliasson (who is only 40 years old) creates works that are “devices for the experience of reality, provoking a heightened level of enjoyment and engagement that is profoundly felt.” I engaged and I enjoyed. Profoundly.