Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book thirteen: Management Courage: Having the Heart of a Lion by Margaret Morford.

I have to start this post with a compliment to the HR department at our office.  They decided to start an office book club with books that might help make us better employees.  Not only did they select and purchase the books for us, they also arranged for the author to join our discussion via conference call.  I hope our HR department schedules future book clubs.  Maybe the next book could focus on advertising in the digital world; or how to effectively build brands through social mediums.

The chosen book for the first club was Management Courage by Margaret Morford.  And while I generally shy away from management how-to books, I thought this was a great opportunity to read something I wouldn't normally read and to maybe pick up a few management tips.  There's a reason I avoid management books; I often find the writing flat and uninspiring.  And this book continues that tradition.  However, this book is a short 99 pages so it avoids one of my other common complaints about business books; that they're long winded and repetitive.  So I applaud Morford for keeping her arguments concise and to the point.

The book consists of six management principles.  Most of the book preaches a philosophy of adjusting your managment style to meet the needs of individual employees.  And much of the information is useful.  However, the book didn't take into consideration that managers may also have different styles.  There's a whole lot of stuff in this book that I just would never be able to do.  Maybe I don't have enough courage.  Maybe my management book would be titled Management Coward

Take the First Principle, "Be painfully honest."  While I try to be honest to those with whom I work, I also tend to offer that honesty with a soft touch.  So adding the "pain" to the "honesty" just isn't something that I'm likely to excel at.  Yes it's partly because I avoid conflict (and maybe that's not a good thing).  But It's also because I've found that I'm most effective when I respond with kindness, even when I have to deliver bad news.

That said, Management Courage offered other suggestions that will be useful in the office setting and will hopefully make me a better employee and co-worker.  I'll look forward to the next office book club selection.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ballet goes modern.

I'm not the biggest ballet fan.  While I love the precision and athleticism.  I don't generally care for the endless stories that just get in the way of the dancing.  But Ballet West's artistic director Adam Sklute seems bent on convincing me that ballet can be as interesting as contemporary dance.  Since he arrived three years ago, his Innovations programs have ended each Ballet West season.  

Innovations is dedicated to showcasing new, challenging ballet works choreographed by Ballet West dancers or other notable choreographers.  And this year's program once again makes me want to see more ballet.

The evening starts with a work by Ririe-Woodbury's artistic director Charlotte Boye-Christensen.  She brings a startling new energy to Ballet West.  Her work titled Row hits hard.  While most ballet choreographers seem intently focused on defying gravity, Boye-Christensen embraces gravity, driving the dancers into the floor.  The women's quartet is particularly stunning with the women frozen en pointe.  This is fresh, physical ballet.

Aiden DeYoung offers a dazzling work (Outward) that is notable for its Fosse-like formations. (Yes, I made a Bob Fosse reference in regard to ballet, get over it.) Extra kudos to the costumes and lighting.

Selcoutheries by Megan Furse is a little ethereal and confusing for my taste. Well, until the end.  Then things get interesting. Surprisingly, it's a duet that captured my emotions. (I suppose I should say pas de deux.)  It's modern, beautiful, and powerful. 

I was prepared to hate Michael Bearden's Descent because it starts with heavily costumed characters bogged down by some intended story.  It's like a mash up of True Blood and Swan Lake.  Turns out that the mash up results in some brilliant dancing with sinister, dizzying waltzes that are as romantic as they are nightmarish.

The last piece on the program is But Never Doubt I Love by Helen Pickett.  This feels like traditional ballet but with a decidedly modern intention. It is dancing so lush, so ripe, that it would be embarassing if it weren't so damn beautiful. 

Ballet West will absolutely get me to return for the next installment of Innovations.  And if they can convince me they've programmed other modern works focused more on the beauty, skill, and artistry of the dancers, and less on stories and tradition, they might even get me to show up for other programs on the season.

You can still see Innovations.  It continues May 26 through 29.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jeff Koons: Basketball star.

What happens when you set Jeff Koons loose in one of the leading contemporary art collections in the world?  Skin Fruit at New York's New Museum.  Koons was asked to sort through the extensive art collection of Greek tycoon Dakis Joannou. Koons (who has never curated a museum show before) was asked to curate this show because his work inspired Joannou to start his collection in 1985.  Only one work in the show is by Koons and it's a very early work that would have been part of that inspiration. (One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, 1985. Glass, iron, water, and basketball.)  I suppose it's no surprise that Koons's career took off thanks to basketball since Shaq's making a name for himself as a museum curator.

Let's start with this question, "What's that title all about?" Well I'm certainly not qualified to answer the questions so I'll let the New Museum, "Koons’s title 'Skin Fruit' alludes to notions of genesis, evolution, original sin, and sexuality. 'Skin' and 'fruit' evoke the tensions between interior and exterior, between what we see and what we consume."  I suppose those ideas come through in the show, particularly since there's a lot of work about life, death, and sex. But I'm still not sure the titles works. 

It doesn't come as a surprise that these are the themes Koons would focus on.  While his own work offers a shiny veneer of Pop-art cultural fun, the real themes tend to be less snappy.  His work is fascinated with breath and life.  From his bronze aqualung to the balloon dogs, Koons' works often attempts to freeze breath eternally.  And certainly Koons work is about sex.  From the explicit images featuring him and his ex-wife to his more recent paintings, sexuality has always played a major role in his art.

What did surprise me about this show is its focus on the messy.  Much of the work shown in Skin Fruit is visceral and urgent, with pieces that feel haphazard or thrown together.  I was surprised by this because Koons is so much about meticulously crafted objects that dazzle with precision and beauty.  I don't want to say that some of this work was ugly, but frequently it tended toward the grotesque.  And it's not just the art, the installation is chaotic and cramped.  I think this show could have lost 25 percent of the works and been better off for it.

However even disappointing exhibits offer opportunities to see interesting work.  Here are few that caught my attention:

While I criticized this show for work that is haphazard and not up to the execution standards of Koons, there are some fantastic exceptions.  First is Liza Lou's Super Sister, (1999, cast polyester, resin, and glass beads.)  Lou's beaded works are always spectacular and this is no exception. 

Two works by Maurizio Cattelan were also notable not only for their beautiful workmanship, but also for their impact.  Both works dealt with death, asking questions about how we all participate in the killing of each other.  First is Now (2004, polyester resin, wax, human hair, clothes, and wood.) This work was tucked away in a dark corner of the museum adding to the strange reverence the work evoked.

Also from Cattelan is All (2007) which the New York Times called, "A largely pointless exercise in high-production values."  I disagree, although this is definitely some high-production values. The work consists of eight life-size body bags carved from Carrara marble. Its stopping power comes not just from the technical beauty, but also from the eerie reminder of the permanency of death.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster are masters of illusion creating sculptures that look like piles of rubbish.  But shine a spotlight on those chaotic jumbles and you discover shadows, generally of human silhouettes, suggesting that who we are as humans is frequently more complex than meets the eye.  Here, they are represented by Black Narcissus, (2006, black poly sulfide rubber, wood, and light projector) a sort of self portrait.  The sculpture consists of a jumble of casts of Webster's fingers and Noble's penis in various states of arousal.  When a light is cast on the sculpture, a silhouette of the artists' profiles appears on the wall behind.  Sure it's weird.  But you gotta give Tim and Sue credit for putting it out there.

There were a surprising number of naked or near-naked people hanging on museum walls in New York City this trip.  Skin Fruit features Pavel Althamer's Schedule of the Crucifix (2007) which features a wooden cross hanging on the wall.  Each day at about 3:00 p.m. a performer dressed in street clothes enters the museum, changes into a loin cloth, climbs a ladder, and positions himself on the cross.  He then remains there for as long as he can.

You can see these and a whole lot more contemporary art at Skin Fruit  through June 6.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Artist is Present. (And naked.)

Performance artists have a tough job.  They regularly subject themselves to gruelling, public displays that can take a toll on their minds and bodies.  Then, the performance is gone, often leaving little more than a photo or a video of the event and hopefully a few good reviews from the right critics.  The rest of us? Well, we're frequently left wondering, "What the hell was that?"

I've always thought there's another problem with performance art.  How does it live on within the context of art history?  Sure, you sometimes see a Yoko Ono video as part of a museum show.  And there are the occasional photos, remnants, or other memorabilia thrown into exhibitions in hopes of adding street cred.  But as I've frequently said, "No one's ever going to have a major retrospective of a performance artist."  I guess MoMA decided it was time to prove me wrong.

Currently on view at MoMA is Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.  This is the first major retrospective of a performance ever at the Museum of Modern Art.  And while it had all the chaos and craziness of performance art, it also had an in-your-face-intensity that shook me up like few other exhibitions have.  And I've never been to a museum with so many real live naked people.

The exhibit includes a new work, The Artist Is Present, which consititutes Abramovic's longest duration of time she's ever performed in a single piece.  For the work, the artist performs in the museums large atrium every day the museum is open between March 14 and May 31.  During that time, visitors are encouraged to sit silently across from her for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork rather than remaining spectators. That's a lot of time to have to sit and stare. 

While we were there, there was a long line of spectators hoping to have their turn at the chair.  We were at the museum for nearly two hours and the same woman was in the chair the whole time.

The exhibition continues on the sixth floor and here's where things get interesting.  Much of the show is video projections but there are also re-creations of past performances with live performers as well as artifacts from past performances.

Take Rythym O from 1974.  This was down right creepy but made a definite impact.  The original work featured a table with 72 objects including a candle, a rose, chains, an ax, drugs, syringes, and even a gun.  Abramovic then invited audience members to apply the items to her body in whatever way they wanted as she stood, unresisting, for six hours.  At MoMA, they had the 72 items on display and that was plenty to creep me out.  Although I'll take the fact that she survived as sign that humanity is in OK moral shape.

In 1976 Abramovic met German artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen, who called himself Ulay.  They became a performance-art team.  In 1977, the two performed Imponderabilia, in which the two artists stood naked, facing each other in the frame of a doorway seperating two galleries.  Museum goers were forced to squeeze between the two naked bodies.  This work is re-created at MoMA, although a note near the two performers makes it clear that in the original performance, the naked bodies were closer together, making it hard to squeeze between.  This work is like nothing I've ever experienced in a museum setting. It was part unnerving, part embarassing, and part exhilerating.  It's even caused the revocation of one visitor's membership and banisment from the museum.

There are plenty of other works featuring both Ulay and Abramovic.  But a note about their final performance was one of the things I found most interesting.  In 1988, the two started at opposite ends of the Great Wall of China. They walk towards each other for three months until they met in the middle.  At that point, the lovers and performance-art couple broke up. Lady Gaga's got a long way to go before she really understands the meaning bad romance.

Other live performances at MoMA included a couple sitting back-to-back with their hair braided together (Relation in Time), a couple continuously making eye contact while barely touching each other's fingers (Point of Contact), a naked man or woman with a skeleton draped across his or her body (Nude with Skeleton), and a naked woman hanging on a wall and illuminated by a blinding light (Luminosity). 

I'm not sure how I feel about this show.  On the one hand, it's one of the most interesting exhibitions I've been to in a long time.  It forced me to reconsider my hectic life and to wonder what it would be like to slow down in such a dramatic way. Maybe there's something to these extreme acts of contemplation. The show also made me realize how uncomfortable we are with our bodies and the bodies of others. This art may have had more impact on me more than most exhibits I've seen.

That said, I'm still not sure I'm convinced that performance art is much more than a fleeting, shock-for-shock's-sake endeavor that explores little more than the artist's ego.  Still, I'm glad MoMA started the dialogue.

If you're interested, The New York Times offers a great slide show from the MoMA retrospectiveThe Artist Is Present runs through May 31.  My best wishes to Abramovic, because I'm guessing the performance is getting pretty gruelling this late in the run.

Welcome to the Whitney Biennial.

Every other year the Whitney brings together a collection of artists the museum feels define the art world's zeitgeist.  This year's crew features a surprising number of women: For the first time ever more than half the artists are women to which I say it's about time. But that doesn't mean this is a great show. In fact I found it messy with no themes or organizational structure.  Well, maybe I shouldn't say "no themes."  Here are a few of the themes I noticed at the 2010 Whitney Biennial.

Destroying stuff is hot in the art world like the video of a woman trashing her way out of dry-walled box.  Or axes, scissors, and other sharp objects imbedded directly into the walls.  There's plenty of destruction on hand.

Art made from junk is back in a big way.  Basquiat would be proud.

Dancing is hot in the performance art world, although it's not performed live but rather captured on video. And you don't really have to be a great dancer to make video art with dance. 

This brings me to my last theme. Video art is huge in art world right now.  In fact, there's one floor of the Biennial dedicated primarily to video that can best be described as the art world's answer to a bath house, with narrow hall ways that lead to dim rooms and people skulking in out to see if what's inside interests them.  Maybe the focus on video art is one of the reasons I was less than thrilled with the Biennial.  I find most video art tedious and made with such poor production values that it's difficult to watch. But maybe that's because I've spent too much time in the ultra-slick world of advertising.

That said, I'd hate to leave the impression that this show isn't worth a visit.  Because there's some interesting work.  Note on the photography featured in the post: The Whitney doesn't allow photography in the galleries other than in the entry spaces.  I've included photos from the Whitney's web site or other online resources where possible.  The last four photos of the post are mine.

Tauba Auerbach's series of massive fold paintings were subtle but just freaky enough to make your eyes hurt a little. This image is Untitled Fold XII (2009, synthetic polymer on canvas).

Lesley Vance's oil on linen series of abstracted still lifes are comprised of unrecognizable shapes and forms and yet still feel like still lifes that would be at home alongside the Dutch masters. Here is Untitled (12), (2009, oil on linen).

 One small gallery is dedicated to the works of R. H. Quaytman.  The grouping includes op-art inspired canvases that are optically anxious.  The abstract works are set against representational works that suggest the artist imagined what her works would look like inside the Whitmey museum.  It's an interesting play on perception and reality.  I particularly liked the works with diamond dust.

Roland Flexner took the art of marbled paper to a new level.  His sumi Ink drawings use ink floating on water to creating something other than the undulating patterns of traditional marbled papers.  His thirty drawings like Untitled, (2008-09, sumi ink on paper) create strange and alien landscapes.

The most disturbing works (and consequently possibly the most powerful) are the photographs of Stephanie Sinclair.  These images show women who engaged in self-immolation (setting oneself on fire for political reasons) in Afghanistan.  The women shown here survived the ordeal and are pictured in hospitals with severe burns.  The photos are powerful and remind us that even though half the women in this show are women, we've still got a long way to go when it comes to women's rights. Below: Self-Immolation in Afghanistan: A Cry for Help, (2005, digital print).

My favorite work in the show may be Aurel Schmidt's Master of the Universe/Flexmaster 3000, (2010, graphite, colored pencil, synthetic polymer, beer, diret, and blood on panel). It takes a women to offer this much insight into the egos, fascinations, and wonders of men.  And the fact that it relies so much on the detritus of our culture only makes it more intriguing.

I have to point out the work of Michael Asher.  Tucked nearly out of sight behind the Art-o-mat machine in the Whitmey's basement are these two cards which inform us that, "Michael Asher's proposal for the Whitney Biennial is to have the exhibition open continuously to the public twenty-four hours for one week."  Below that is a card that states the Whitney was unable to complete the work due to budget and staffing considerations.  So they shortened the "art work" form seven days to three.  My response to the whole thing, "Huh?!?"

Finally, in the entry to the museum was Jeffrey Inaba's Soft Openings (2009, mixed media).  My initial response to these three massive hanging lanterns was ho hum.  But they got a lot more interesting when you looked up into them from below.

The Whitney Biennial is up through May 30.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shaquille O'Neal: Curator.

On my recent trip to New York, I saw two shows put together by superstar curators.  One was curated by super art star Jeff Koons (more on that in a later post) and the other was created by super basketball star Shaquille O'Neal.  That's right, I said Shaquille O'Neil.  And believe it or not, I liked Shaq's show better.

The exhibit was Size Does Matter at the FLAG Art Foundation.  I'd never even heard of the the FLAG Art Foundation but I read a write up of this show and it sounded interesting. And since I was headed to Chelsea anyway, I thought I'd stop by.  I'm glad I did.

This show speaks to how scale challenges our perceptions about the world around us. And there were some great works.  Get off the elevator and you're greeted by another elevator.  A little teeny-tiny elevator that's built into the gallery wall, the doors opening and closing with a cute little ping.  It was almost as if some invisible executive mice were secretly riding to their office jobs somewhere within the gallery walls.

There were pieces so small that you had to look through a microscope to see them. There were works that were portraits of Shaq.  And there were plenty of works by some of the best artists working today.  Here are a few photos of some of my favorites.

Works by Ron Mueck make the internet rounds on a fairly regular basis. And while the photos that land in your mailbox are amazing, they can't compare with the creepy, oversized realism of the actual sculptures.  This is Untitled (Big Man), (2000, Pigmented polyester resin on fiberglass.)

Tom Friedman's work always interests me.  This giant deconstruction and reconstruction of Excedrin boxes is freaky.  I know it looks like this is just a blurry photo but that's how the scultpure actually looks.  It's enough to make you want some Excedrin.  It's called largeexcedrinbox, (2006, Excedrin boxes).

I love this next photo for two reasons: First, the sculpture is really cool and I'm still not sure how they stuffed it into the smallish gallery.  Second, Il Gatito (a.k.a. Felix) looks ridiculously small and adorable.  Which totally makes me laugh.  No Title (Table and Six Chairs), (2003, painted aluminum) is by Robert Therrien.

Therrien also created No Title (Stacked Plates), (2006, plastic).  This giant, hapazard stack of dishes did something fairly amazing.  If  you walked around the sculpture, it appeared to be animated.  The plates looked as if they were wobbling precariously.

There were a lot of works that played with perspective in strange ways.  A great example is Evan Penny's Stretch #2, (2003, silicon, fabric, and hair).  This larger than life bust makes you feel like someone screwed up the resolution settings on your eyeballs.

And possibly the creepiest piece I saw during my entire New York trip was Richard Dupont's Untitled (Terminal Stage), (2008, cast polyurethane resin).  This photo can't really show how weird this sculpture was.  The human figures were flatened and stretched.  And yet as you walked around them you'd arrive at just the right perspective and suddenly they looked totally normal. 

And one final photo, an installation view of one of the galleries.

Size Does Matter runs through May 27.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Men, everywhere.

I've been following Antony Gormley's work for a while now.  I've seen individual works of his at the Denver Art Museum and the Vancouver Art Gallery.  But I've never experienced one of his major public installations; the works that are his most notable.  At least until now.

Right now, at Madison Square Park in New York City you can experience Gormley's stunning installation, Event Horizon. This is Gormley's U.S. debut as a public art installation and it's fantastic.  As is usually the case with Gormley's work, this piece consists of multiple steel and fiberglass sculptures that are cast from the artist's own body.  Here they appear in various pathways and other areas of the park.   That would be cool enough but Gormley takes it to a new level installing the sculptures high atop the buildings surrounding the park.  The result is miraculous, somehow sending the hectic city life of Madison Square Park into slow motion. Viewing the work, I felt like time stopped. And that we all needed to take a moment and contemplate how epic each and every one of our tiny lives is.

This work is fascinating because the more you look, the more steel men you find, all of them looking down at you, or at least looking to the heroically to the future.  Then again, maybe it's something more sinister; when this work was being installed, a number of people called the authorities to report people preparing to jump to their deaths.

Event Horizon is on view through August 15. Here are a few photos.

If only I had a reason to go to New York City.

I'm always looking for a good excuse to go to New York.  And what better reason than to see Utah's very own Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company perform as part of the Alwin Nikolais Centennial.  The performance at the Joyce Theater was well worth the trip.  I've seen everything on this program before but these are works that I'm happy to see again and again.  And maybe it's just because I was in NEW YORK CITY and at the JOYCE THEATER, but I don't think I've ever seen the Ririe-Woodbury dancers perform any better. It was obvious that they were well prepared for these performances. I'm not sure the State of Utah has ever been better represented than it was by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and this performance.

The evening opened with a short video package that was used during the Kennedy Center Honors.  This was a great reminder that Nikolais' work is less about using dance to express emotion and more about creating an environment where the motion itself becomes the star. 

Maybe that philosophy is why my least favorite work on the program is Tower (1965).  This work seems more about political statements than about pure dance theater.  Or maybe it's just because the dancers talk and anyone who regularly reads my blog knows how I feel about talking and dancing.

For a perfect example of Nikolais' brilliance, consider Tensile Involvement (1955) with it's stretchy bands, mid-century modernist music, and vibrant colors.  I still don't know how the dancers do this without creating a huge, tangled mess.  Please tell me the early rehearsals were a laughing disaster of knotted dancers.  During this performance the dancers' precision was nearly perfect, particularly as they surrounded themselves with rectangles of stretchy bands that tilted and swayed perfectly.

My favorite piece on the program was Crucible which is just good, old-fashioned modern dance fun.  These are the types of works that create modern dance fans.  I can almost guarantee that anyone who says they don't like modern dance, will like this.  I know this uses  a theatrical device that is little more than mirrors, but it sure makes for a big spectacle, with shapes and movements that at one moment mimic strange alien creatures and the next moment create lyrical wave-like shapes.  And how can you not love choreography that asks all ten dancers to moon the audience.

If you didn't make it to New York for the performances, there's no need to despair.  Because the Alwin Nikolais Centennial will be the last presentation on Ririe-Woodbury's 2010-11 season. So there are no excuses.  See this show.  Season tickets are on sale now.

When you're an Addams.

The critics haven't been terribly kind when it comes to The Addams Family Musical which recently opened on Broadway. And I can see why.  This show is far from perfect. Some characters come across as flat. Some of the dialogue is forced and awkward. And there are songs that are less than inspiring.  On the other hand, I can also see why audiences are in love with this show.  There's plenty to make this a fun night out.

Yes some of the characters don't work all that well.  Like Wednesday who's all grown up, distancing herself from the parents, and hoping to marry a nice normal boy.  Unfortunately that means she's a lot less interesting than the original, dark and moody version.  And while Uncle Fester has his moments (I loved the weird performance of The Moon and Me), overall his character just doesn't make sense; but maybe that's the point.

On the other hand, there are some impressive performances.  Jackie Hoffman as Grandma is awful; and I mean that in the best possible way.  She's mean. She's creepy. She's offensive.  And you love her all the more for it. Bebe Neuwirth is great as Morticia.  Her restrained performance just makes her sensuality scorch up the stage even more.  And Nathan Lane is fantastic.  Even when his songs and his dialogue leave something to be desired, he still stands out as the star of this show.

Some of the music in The Addams Family is completely forgettable.  But there are some songs that get stuck in your head long past the time you've left the theater.  When You're an Addams is a great way to start a show and I'm stilling humming its friendly melody. Full Disclosure isn't perfect but it's close enough to make it a bit of a show stopper.  And even some of the more sentimental songs worked for me.  I loved Nathan Lane's performance of Happy/Sad, about life's strange contradictions.  The beautifully crafted lyrics gave me the occasional goose bump, particularly the closing sentiment, "I'm happy, happy, happy; and just a little bit sad."

I can't leave this review without talking about the curtain.  The rich, red theater curtain with gold trim that greets the audience as you enter the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is practically a character in and of itself.  It morphs and transforms and reveals throughout the show, helping to guide the audience through the story line.  Add a magical gold tassel and I was in love.  It may not be as technologically impressive as crashing chandeliers or emerald cities, but this was one of the best theater effects I've seen. 

Even with the problems, I'd still give this show a thumbs up.  But a positive review from me may not mean much.  Last year in my Witches vs. Bitches Broadway Smackdown I chose Nine to Five over Wicked.  And we all know how that turned out.  Here's hoping The Addams Family fairs better.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life, death, and art.

New York's Museum of Arts and Design is at it again with a show that oozes craftsmanship.  And I'm a sucker for craftsmanship. My first trip to MAD was for an amazing show of works created from paper.  This trip, I went to see Dead or Alive, an exhibit that features art made from materials produced by or part of living organisms.

This is a show that one moment raises the hair on the back of your neck, the next moment inspires a magical sense of awe, and at another moment catches your breath and holds it just a little longer than is comfortable.  And all that's done with a first rate roster of fine artists and designers.  One of MAD's strong points is its ability to show that art can often be found outside traditional museums or galleries.

So let's chat about a few of the highlights from Dead or Alive. (I apologize for the poor photo quality but you're not allowed to take photographs at MAD which means I had to find photos wherever I could get them.)

When you exit the elevator on the fifth floor of the museum, you're greeted by a chandelier by Ango Design titled Eight Thousand Miles of Home (2010, silk cocoon, soldered steel wire.)  This work features approximately 12,000 silkworm cocoons which translates to about 8,000 miles of silk fiber.

I loved Xu Bing's Background Story 6 (2010, wood and tempered glass, light box, natural debris).  This is a copy a traditional Chines landscape painting.  When I first saw the work, I thought it was a projection on the wall.  On closer inspection I realized it's lit from behind.  And when I walked around the back, in a moment of shear amazement, I realized that the subtle drawing is created from natural debris that has been carefully crafted to create shadows that form the lines and shading of the final work.  Note: this photo is not of the piece at MAD but it is a similar work from the same series.  The second photo is the actual "behind the scenes" view at MAD.

I've seen a number of Damien Hirst's butterfly paintings which embed butterflies in wet paint on canvases.  But most of them left me less than impressed.  That changed with Prophecy (2008, butterflies, household gloss on canvas).  This is beautiful.  Its stained-glass effect is mesmerizing and the gold leafed frame only adds to the effect.  Damien Hirst is really good about creating art that brings life and death, well, to life.

Talk about craftsmanship. Studio Drift offered up Fragile Future (2009, phosphorous bronze and dandelion puffs).  This show stopping light fixture/sculpture consists of a cubist, bronze grid sprinkled with LEDs.  Individual dandelion seeds are painstaking glued to each of the LEDs, recreating dandelion puffs lit from within.  I think this might be some sort of crazy, art-world voodoo magic.  

If you're looking for art for your big gay Wyoming ranch house, have I got something for you.  Mark Swanson's Untitled, (Antler Pile) (2010, antlers, crystals, adhesive) is so perfectly executed that most of the museum goers around couldn't help but voice their approval out loud. Believe me, this photo can't possibly do the sculpture justice.  Brilliant! Literally brilliant!

For a fan of the art world's fascination with skulls like me, Helen Altman's Spice Skulls (2009-10, 49 spices, wire, glue, j-hooks) is delicious.  Not only did I love this sculpture, I loved the story behind the sculptures.  Altman began by molding skulls out of bird seed.  Then hanging the skulls out and letting the birds pick away at them.  Much of the seed would fall to the ground and sprout, creating life from a strange symbol of death.

There's plenty more to see at this show.  In fact, I've only listed about half the works I wrote about in my art notebook.  And I only made notes about fewer than half the works in the show.

Dead or Alive is one of the best shows I saw on my recent trip to New York.  It runs through October 24.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Art Lobster: Chelsea gallery edition.

For all you fellow fans of lobsters in art, drop everything and run as fast as you can to the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. There you will find an art lobster dream come true.  The gallery is currently hosting a show featuring Roy Lichtenstein's still lifes.  And while many of the paintings and sculptures are fantastic, there are a couple of particular interest to lobster connosieurs, with two, that's right I said two, enormous still lifes featuring lobsters.  And as a bonus, there's a brilliant, small colored-pencil drawing that is a study for one of the larger paintings. It's a veritable Art Lobster feast.

I was aware that Lichenstein had created lobster art  but I thought they were smaller, editioned works. Lichtenstein lobsters have been on my art-I'd-really-like-to-see list for a long time.  And experiencing the meticulous craftsmanship of Lichtenstein's technique helped me build more of an appreciation for the artist.  It was also interesting to see how many of these works reference historical artistic movements, from the Dutch masters, to Impressionism and  Cubism.  That also gave me a greater appreciation for Lichtenstein.

Now I may be willing to sneak a forbidden photo in the Met, but I wasn't about to mess with the gallery attendtants at Gagosian.  I've met some cranky gallery goons in my museum going career, but I've seen very few who looked so ready to rip the camera from your hands and smash it to the floor.  I suppose it's understandable since there were hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art in the gallery. That means all I could muster the courage to do was take a photo of the show poster in the entryway. That's the picture above.

I'll end this post by saying that this is a major check-off on my Art Lobster bucket list.  Now, if I can just figure out a way to see Dali's lobster phone and some of Koons' lobster sculptures and paintings.  Roy Lichtenstein Still Lifes is up through July 30. 

Swiss Family Robinson, eat your hearts out!

Here's one thing I love about New York City. This place isn't afraid to embrace crazy in the name of art.  Remember Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates which transformed Central Park into a tunnel of orange banners. Or how about Olafur Eliasson's massive Waterfalls that appeared in 2008 in the East River.

And now, there's Big Bambu: You Can't, You Won't, and You Don't Stop on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Other organizations in other cities would say, "You wanna what!?!"  But  in the Big Apple, people say, "Sure, it's art. Let's give it a try."

Big Bambu is the brainchild of identical-twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn.  Here's the idea: Hire a bunch of rock climbers to build a giant bamboo wave high above the Met.  That wave will have bamboo pathways so people can walk up into the structure.  I'm still not sure how the curator at the Met got people to go along with this idea because it sounds totally crazy to me. And it obviously sounds crazy to the lawyers.  Because if you choose to take the guided tour, and if you meet all of the requirements (no kids and pregnant women are discouraged), you have to sign your life away to ensure that the museum, the artists, or any of the sponsors aren't liable should you fall to a tragic death from the roof of the Met. (There's a page-turner of a novel in there somewhere.)

It's worth the risk. Because walking the bamboo pathways is a little bit scary, a little bit magical, and a whole lot of fine-art fun.  And the best part; they're still building.  That's right, the rock climbers were hard at work building a second pathway.  The first rises 30 feet above the roof of the Met. The pathway in phase two will go 20 feet higher.  It should be done sometime in July so that might be a better time to visit.

Big Bambu speaks to the environment and the role we play in it.  It also asks visitors to reconsider the traditional ideas of architecture and it's relationship to our surroundings.  But more than anything it gave me a sense of what it means to be alive even in the contemplation of death.  Not just because you can't help wondering what might happen if the whole structure were to fail, but also because you're faced with the material itself.  While the fresh cut bamboo is rapidly changing from a living green to dead brown, the dieing bamboo is the basis for a structure that feels completely alive.

You can't take photos inside the structure because the museum and its lawyers are worried about people dropping things on the crowds below.  They even make take off your little metal Met entrance tags because some of those have been blown off of people by the wind. (Wind has to make this sculpture even more thrilling or terrifying depending on your point of view.) So you have to leave all your personal belongings in lockers.  But you can take pictures from below.  Here are a few additional photos.

Here you can see people on the guided tour resting in one of the lower walkways.

Bamboo pathways allow visitors to explore the sculpture.

The entire sculpture is held together with brightly colored climbing rope which makes everything more interesting and strangely organic.

Here we are wandering underneath the structure.

And finally, it's tough to beat the view of New York from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a perfect spring day.

Big Bambu runs through October 31, 2010.  But if you plan to visit, be sure you know all the rules and what's required to take the guided tour.  It's totally worth the extra effort.  You can find on the necessary information here.