Friday, April 23, 2010

Art Lobster: Bearthday edition.

If it's April 22, it can mean only one of two things: Either its Earth Day or it's my birthday.  No wait. It's both.  It's Bearthday!  And what better Bearthday gift than this nifty dish towel featuring not one but two lobsters, one of them particularly fancy. (I think the fancy lobster may have to appear in a future Art Lobster header.) Thanks Kara!  Now if you could just knit me a jaunty lobster cap or cross stitch an old-fashioned lobster pillow, I'd be in Art Lobster heaven.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chicago: Gateway to the clouds.

I recently went to Chicago for business and spent the better part of two days locked inside darkened rooms.  I was there for client off-site meetings and focus groups.  But I'd never been to Chicago and I wasn't about to leave without seeing a few sites.  So I took thirty minutes between meetings and dinner with clients to wander Millenium Park.

I'm a big Anish Kapoor fan so I would have been a total loser if I didn't make it to Cloud Gate during my first visit to Chicago.  You might think that the best time to experience Chicago is on a bright, blue-skied spring day.  I might beg to differ.  Because experiencing Cloud Gate on a gray, misty day when the city itself literally disappears into the clouds is otherworldly.  I had high expectations for this sculpture.  And the shiny blob exceeded those expectations at every turn.  The whole thing forces questions about reality and perceptions of who we are.  I was particularly surprised by the feelings conjured while standing inside the Cloud Gate. Maybe I should just let the pictures do the talking.

Here are two self portraits with Cloud Gate one from the inside and one from the outside.

But Cloud Gate isn't the only showstopper in Millenium Park, and I'm not talking about the spectacular Frank Gehry architecture either.  There's also The Crown Fountain by Spanish artist Jeume Plensa.  This work consists of two, 50-foot glass block towers inside which are giant LED screens projecting slowly moving faces filmed with a cross section of 1,000 Chicagoans.  During warmer months, a stream of water flows from each of the screens creating the illusion that waters is coming out of the mouths of the faces on screen, a reference to the tradition of Gargoyles.  Kids and families love to play in the fountain on hot, sunny days.  But on a cold, gray day when the water is turned off for repairs, the giant projections are more sinister.  In fact, a girl who couldn't have been older than three turned, unexpectedly encountered one of the huge glowing faces, and ran off screaming.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Eleven to watch.

Currently on view at the Salt Lake Art center is Launch 11: Recipients of the International Sculpture Center 2009 Student Awards featuring eleven up-and-coming artists.  Is it just me, or do you know you're getting old when the artists showing at the Salt Lake Art Center have names like Caelie and Kandace?  But we're not here to judge the silly names, we're here to look at art.  And if you like the modern-day, sculpture-type thingys, then you'll want to spend an hour or two at the Salt Lake Art Center.

There's a lot of interesting stuff and much of it explores themes appropriate for a younger generation of artists.  I was drawn to works that approached universal themes with the enthusiasm of youth.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Luke Achterberg's Relative, 2009 (Painted steel) is meticulously well crafted and it's graceful swirls feel like a digital flourish brought life and suddenly frozen.

Totem, 2009 (Hydrastone) by Caelie Winchester is reminiscient of Marc Quinn's cast sculptures but with a bit more humor.

Here's a sculpture for anyone whoever played with iron filings and magnets when you were a kid.  Manufact Ring Sympathies, 2009 (Iron chips, magnets, mannequin, steel) by Mathew Boonstra features a video projection that I really didn't like. But this sculpture covered in metal filings is opulent.  It was hard not to touch it.

Anyone who's been to my house knows I have a thing for hands.  So it's no surprise that my favorite work in the show is Critical Mass, 2008 (Wax) by Kandace Collins.  The hands are pedestrian enough.  But they way they are presented, secluded in a dimly lit room, makes them more about life and death and less about wax casts.

Sanford Mirling's molten club chair titled Brandi, Won't You?, 2008 (Oak, vinyl) is surprisingly effective.  I don't know what it all means but it's interesting.  I love it when artists can abstract an object so violently and yet still allow the original idea to come through.

Book eleven: City Boy by Edmund White.

With a whole lot of name-dropping, Edmund White's latest memoir recounting his life in New York City during the 60s and 70s comes across as pretentious.  And that made City Boy a long and tedious read.  I suppose if you're a knowledgeable fan of literature from the period, you'd find this book more enjoyable than I did.  (And to be honest, even I enjoyed the pretentious name-dropping and stories about art-world personalities like Peggy Guggenheim, Jasper Johns, and others but that's probably because I'm better informed and more interested in the subject matter.) But without the necessary insider knowledge, the book slows to a crawl.

That said, I can't dismiss this book quite so easily.  Because hidden between the sheets is an interesting take on being gay at a time when the idea of homosexuality was undergoing major philosophical and political changes.  From the wild sexual opportunities in NYC to the early ravages of AIDS, White offers an honest look at what being gay meant in America.  While sometimes difficult to follow, City Boy is worth the read for the right audience.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book ten: The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald.

In researching another book, author Lisa Grunwald came across an educational practice from the early part of the 20th Century that inspired her novel, The Irresistible Henry House.  Here's the idea: Orphanages provided babies to home economics programs at major universities in the United States.  The babies lived in a practice house where young, female college students learned the fine art of keeping house and raising babies.  After about a year, the babies were adopted by real families.  As surprising as it seems, this appears to have been a fairly common practice.

Henry House is one such baby.  However, due to unusual circumstances, Henry isn't adopted after his first year in the practice house but rather stays on and is raised by the overbearing matriarch Martha and many more practice moms.  This novel follows Henry through his childhood, past the practice house and into a school for special needs, and beyond as he gets his first job as an animator for Disney studios.  I guess having all those moms might make it difficult to manage relationships later in life. But Henry turns out to pretty much be a jerk and is only able to learn to love when another practice baby, now grown, breaks his heart.

I liked the first and last thirds of this book however the middle section left me wanting more, largely because the protagonist refuses to speak during the central portion of the story.  Grunwald's writing is bright and crisp which helps give the story immense charm even when your hating the main character.  The book is meticulously well-researched making scenes like those set in the golden age of Disney animation sparkle.

The Irresistible Henry House is an enjoyable read about a moment in history that was magical if not strange. The book left me wondering what things our society is doing right now that will seem plain crazy in another 60 or 70 years.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book nine: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer.

I'm glad I'm not a real book reviewer.  Because I really don't know what to say about Geoff Dyer's novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varansi.  I guess I'd start with the basics.  The book is divided into two parts.  In the first part, a hack journalist named Jeff is sent from his home in London to Venice to cover the Biennale. He's thrown into a world of parties for the rich and connected, eventually meeting a beatiful American  named Laura.  The two have a torrid affair fueled by drugs and raunchy sex.

For the second part, the voice changes to first person and we never learn the name of the protagonist.  He may or may not be the same person as the protagonist in the first part and we don't know if this section takes place before, during, or after the first story in the book.  Here our protagist is a last minute replacement for a freelance writer who's taken ill. The replacement writer leaves for Varanasi, India to do a travel story.  He ultimately is seduced by the city and never leaves, becoming more and more like the city itself.

A portion of the title references Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Venice.  And the book actually starts with the same opening line.  Many lines that are taken from that book and others that are noted in the acknowledgments. (Which, by the way, is one of the most well-written acknowledgments I've ever read.)

While I enjoyed the first half of the book, largely because of the inside look at the art world, the overall read was a little tedious.  This is a book that may also be too intellectual for me.  Both books are filled with references that were lost on me, although I certainly do better with the contemporary art references rather than with the myriad literary references.  This book is worth the read if you're interested in the Venice Biennale or culture of Varanasi.  Otherwise, I'd skip this one.