Thursday, April 30, 2009

Confessions of an art museum tourist.

Friend, artist, and fellow Sundance volunteer Jen Coluzzi made the trip from her home in Philly to NYC to join us for a day at the museums. Jen immediately launched into a tirade about museum tourists intent on snapping pictures of popular artworks in order to prove they’ve seen them. (Guilty.) The worst of these offenders? Those who have their pictures taken with the works of art. (Also guilty.)
Rather than deny my pedestrian picture-taking ways, I decided to knock Jen off her fine-art pedestal and introduce her to the joys of museum photography. After all, if Steve Martin can roller skate through museum galleries while a friend videotapes him (see L.A. Story), why can’t we have a little photo fun at the expense of the art world.

So Jen, these are for you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Welcome to gallery stroll on steroids.

If you’ve never been to the art galleries of Chelsea, you’ve missed out on one of the art world’s great adventures. Within just a few-block radius of the Chelsea piers, you can find hundreds of galleries, many of them the most respected galleries in the world.

I’m not easily intimidated by the art world.
But the Chelsea galleries do their damnedest to make you feel unwelcome. The austere spaces with their unfriendly gallerinas and gallery boys seem positively uninviting. But I’ve learned to ignore the pretense and return any glaring looks with complete indifference. It’s an effective strategy.

A few things about visiting the galleries. Avoid taking pictures—that piss
es off the gallerinas. (Any pictures you see here were borrowed from gallery Web sites.) Don’t expect to be given any information about the art. No prices, no titles, no descriptions. You have to ask for the book to get that information and who wants to ask the snooty attendants for that.

Now there’s a lot of bad art in Chelsea.
But there’s also some amazing stuff. So here is a review of things I found interesting.

Yayoi Kusa
ma at Gagosian Gallery
Gagosian is one of the movers and shakers in the art world with multiple galleries in New York alone. The gallery’s current show features Yayoi Kusama’s intriguing art, much of it covered with dots.
The pumpkins in the gallery’s windows were magical. But the showstopper was Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, a darkened shed with a liquid floor, mirrored walls, and hanging lights that blinked and flickered as you stood in the dark. I didn’t want to leave. The gallery attendant startled me when she opened the door and asked us to leave.

Pumpkin: Medium, 2008

Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009

John Waters at Marianne Boesky Gallery
Filmmaker John Waters also has a respectable career as a fine artist. And if the stuffiness of the Chelse
a galleries has got you down, this is the perfect stop. Waters infuses his art with a wicked sense of humor. Here's an artist who proposes work that reminds us that contemporary art hates you. Here are a few of my favorites.

John Jr., 2009 (C-print)
Hetero Flower Shop, 2009 (10 c-prints)

And Your Family Too, 2009 (4 c-prints)

Ethan Murro at Winston Wachter Fine Art

Ethan Murro’s graphite drawings are stunning. These large works are beautifully rendered and avoid triteness thanks to intriguing content.

Composure increasing time aloft, panic unhelpful 2009 (Graphite on paper)
Release points adjusted down to the 165th rotation 2009 (Graphite on paper)

Jeff Bark at Charles Cowles Gallery

Jeff Bark’s large still-life and nude photos are beautiful. The title of the show (Flesh) accurately describes the rich nature of the work. While the photos are bizarre, they feel new while offering a nostalgic take on imagery.

At Other Moments He Was Downright Funny, 2009 (C-print)

It’s Very Difficult Telling a Girl Whom
You Like, But Do Not Love, That You Do Not Love Her, 2009 (C-print)

Taner Ceylan at I-20
First, this show is a reminder that you should heed gallery warnings that materials may not be suitable for young or sensitive viewers. But I loved the paintings of Taner Ceylon, even though many of them bordered on the pornographic. These works were obviously paintings but were so photorealistic that they messed with your mind. And the intense subject m
atter spoke to my emotions. These reminded me of Marilyn Minter. If I could afford it, I’d have one of these in my home.

Nirvana 2008, oil on canvas
Transporter (Self-Portrait) 2008, oil on canvas

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh to be younger than Jesus.

The New Museum was founded in 1977. It’s dedicated solely to contemporary art—an idea I find interesting since MoMA now feels historical, a tribute to Modernism, which I think probably came to an end some time late in the last century.

I’d never heard of this museum until it started getting plenty of press in the art world for its new building that opened just over a year ago. The new building is cool, particularly with Ugo Rondinone’s installation Hell, Yes appearing on the exterior. It’s on display through July of this year.

The museum was at the top of my destination list partly to see its critically acclaimed building and partly to see an intriguing exhibition. That show was Younger than Jesus, the first edition of the museum’s signature triennial, The Generational.
The exhibit features 50 artists from 25 countries all of whom are 33 or younger, the age of Jesus when he died.
I like this idea. Let’s face it; if you want to pick a person who only lived to 33 and had a major impact on the world, Jesus has to be at the top of the list, even if you don’t agree with where his current followers have taken his teachings. So why not judge artists by that standard? What have you accomplished by age 33?

I will admit, much of this show felt messy. This seems to be a generation that lives for “do-it-yourself” work. Production values don’t seem to matter much. Many works feature amateur videos that are more about the content than about making something you really want to watch. And there are found objects that make the works of Marcel Duchamp look opulent.
But what the hell, there was enough crazy art that I was perfectly satisfied. And let’s face it, Jeff Koons started out showing vacuum cleaners and now he produces some of the most opulent works in the art world. With that in mind, here are a few of the artworks that I found most interesting.
Buying Everything Off You
Beijing artist Liu Chuang approaches people on the street and asks to buy everything on them. And I mean everything, right down to their skivvies. Here those items are displayed as if a strange marketing research project to determine consumer preferences or an anthropology study documenting the traditions of a lost culture.

Crease II, 2009

Tauer Auerback created this painting in acrylic and inkjet on canvas. The photo doesn’t show how irritating this work is to look out. It totally freaks out your eyes. It’s very cool.

This is Ingrid, 2009
Suddenly, things just got a little creepy at the New Museum. The medium for Chu Yun’s work is listed as “Female participant, sleeping pill, and bed.” The name of the work changes during the course of the show because a rotating group of paid, female volunteers ingest sleeping pills and sleep through portions of the museum’s hours. So the work is named after the woman in the bed. There are a lot of ways to read this work. But I couldn’t help thinking about a man giving a woman drugs in order to get her into bed—even if it is for art. This is provocative work. It affected me—and that’s what art should do.

Installation (Banana peel), 2008
Yes, that’s a real live banana peel lying on the floor. Why? Well, because Mexican artist Adriana Lara likes to create conceptual works that “conflate institutional critique and Surrealism, introducing an idiosyncr
atic kind of mysticism into the exhibition space.” Whatever the hell that means. For this work, Lara instructs a museum employee to eat a banana each morning and discard its peel somewhere in the exhibition space. OK, its ridiculous. But I totally fell for it. It made me happy. I love it.

This Consequence, 2005-08
The thing I love about contemporary art is the medium listings on the cards. This work by Ryan Gander is listed as, “Tracksuit with embroidered stains, worn by gallery attendants.” And so, here’s our friendly gallery attendant wearing a tracksuit with embroidered stains. Discuss.

Nice crack: East coast edition.

Not long ago I paid a visit to Andy Goldsworthy’s Drawn Stone (2005) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. And since I like to see multiple works by artists, I went in search of another Goldsworthy work in New York City.
We found it at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at the very bottom of Manhattan. The work is Garden of Stones (2003) and consists of a series of glacial boulders that have been drilled to allow for the planting of dwarf oak saplings. The result is a reminder that life will succeed even in the most difficult circumstances. The garden includes eighteen boulders, a reference to the Hebrew word for life (chai), which also has a numerical value of eighteen.
I preferred the San Francisco piece mainly because this work felt cramped—I wish the boulders had more room to breathe. But with a view that included the Statue of Liberty in the distance, this work is emotional, reminding me how great it is to live in a country that has so often welcomed the world’s outcasts. Let’s hope we haven’t forgotten that tradition.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Broadway smackdown: witches vs. bitches.

Two nights. Two Broadway shows. It’s the battle of the triple threats. In the Gershwin Theatre corner the witches of Wicked. In the Marquis, the bitches of 9 to 5. And in this Broadway smack down, the bitches walk away with the crown.
Yes, Wicked is a big-budget, techno spectacular with flashy sets and dazzling lights. The costumes are fantastic, particularly the flying monkeys and Glinda’s hyper-sparkling gowns. The cast is super talented with Nicole Parker as Elpheba and Alli Mauzey as Glinda turning in exceptional performances.

But even with all that Broadway firepower, the show (and I’m about to upset you rabid Wicked fans) fell flat. The plot line tries so hard to tell the story that it feels like work. The lyrics are fine, but they seldom surprised me. And this is a score for the hardcore show tunes fan, with complex melodies that refuse to follow you out of the theater.

Compare all that with the power women of 9 to 5. With just a few tweaks to the original story, the producers have created a Broadway classic that seems at least as relevant today as it did when the movie was first released. Let’s start with the best part of the show: music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. This is music that not only follows you out of the theatre, it practically invites you to the after party. Dolly lives up to her reputation as a first-rate songwriter and poet.

The sets are a clean take on the modern office with just enough retro to remind you of the original. And the scene transitions, while nowhere near as glitzy as those of Wicked, are so clever they left me giddy. The performances are good too. Allison Janney as Violet may not be the best vocalist in the group, but her performance is so strong that you don’t really notice. Megan Hilty as Doralee is the perfect update to Dolly Parton’s original performance. And naïve Judy is played perfectly by Stephanie Block.

But maybe the reason I liked the show so much is because it still delivers powerful messages. The show reminds us that we have a long way to go when it comes to treating women equally, and I like that. Even more interesting is the way this show takes on corporate fat cats. In this era, when corporate big wigs have screwed us all, 9 to 5 makes it clear that it’s time for each and everyone one of us to demand more from those in power. So take note overpaid and underperforming corporate executives. Because the rest of us have had it. And we’re armed with rat poison and garage door openers.

Staying at Stay.

The hotel for this New York City stay was Stay. It’s just off Times Square on 47th street. The rooms were New-York small but nice. The lobby was posh with a friendly, albeit uninformed staff. (I asked the concierge for the train schedule to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. He was the second New Yorker who told me there was no garden in the Bronx—it was in Brooklyn and I should take a subway. But after pushing the issue, he learned that you can take the train from Grand Central Station to Botanical Garden Station in the Bronx. Later we asked for a club recommendation from Metrell at the front desk and after wracking his brain to even think of a club, he gave us directions that lead to nothing.)

Stay was a fun, affordable place to stay that was filled with foreigners and located in the center of Manhatten. The restaurant even turns into a wildly popular nightclub on the weekends. I’d stay at Stay again.

Happy bearthday!

Both Earth Day and my birthday are on April 22. My niece Maggie calls it Bearthday. This year, I celebrated with a trip to New York City. I told myself I was going to post during the trip but there was just too much going on to stop and write. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to catalog the memories. So over the next few days, I’ll be remembering all the excitement from the Big Apple.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Nothing says spring like gays with flags.

I don’t care what the calendar says, you know spring is really here when the gays return to Liberty Park resplendent with flags. So you can imagine my delight when I rounded the corner while walking the dog recently and witnessed the return of flag-waving gays. (There are a few riflemen and baton twirlers thrown in for good measure.)

I call this group the Gay Flag Brigade, and along with the Mountain Bike Polo Players and the Medieval Reenactment Crew, they are one of the reasons I love Liberty Park. Now I don’t know for sure that they’re gay—oh alright they’re obviously gay. But I’m intimidated by the Gay Flag Brigade and I’ve never talked to them to confirm their sexuality. So I feel a little like I’m just furthering stereotypes and clichés.

This photograph does not do the Gay Flag Brigade justice. But I didn’t want to get too close to take a picture for fear the Brigade would attack, firing on me with fake rifles and beating me with rainbow-colored flags.

My goal this summer is to muster the courage to confront the Brigade and interview them. Wish me luck.

Lobster watch: UMFA

Another lobster in art. You can see this crustacean art right here in Salt Lake City at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA). Painted by Dutch artist Abraham Susenier sometime in the mid-seventeenth century, the painting is titled Still Life with a Lobster, Romer, Oysters, Grapes, and a Knife.