Friday, December 31, 2010
Rivane Neuenschwander's Eu Desejo Seu Desejo ("I Wish Your Wish") at New Museum in August, 2010.
I began my blog Post-Nonprofalyptic in February of 2010. It has been a year of experimentation and growth. I never find enough time to write about everything, even when I limit myself to only the events and exhibitions that I see in person. Looking in retrospect at the year, I am taking the opportunity share a few thoughts about things that I never commented on during the first go around.
Bruce Nauman’s Giorni at Philadelphia Museum of Art truly beguiled me. Days, his English-language version, was distinctly inferior. The raw ingredients of each were essentially the same, but the sounds of the words being spoken held all the power.
Live and Die Like A Lion?, the Drawing Center’s exhibition of Leon Golub’s late career work, was the most marvelous and affecting show that I saw all year. Here was a man in his eighties, already a titan of contemporary painting, stripping back to intense focus on the basics using nothing more than oil stick and paper.
Shepard Fairey’s Mayday at Deitch Projects, the gallerist’s last hurrah before flipping coasts to head MOCA, was the absolute depths of banality. Obey Giant has become part of contemporary iconography; its place as a modern classic is assured. Beyond that, Fairey is not doing or showing us anything new. Even worse, ripped from the environment of the streets, his potency is absolutely neutered.
The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was the perfect show for the summer in which Bravo birthed Work of Art. My self-loathing was intense for sensing a professional obligation to watch something that felt so cynical towards not only artists, but also their methods, materials, and motivations (even though Abdi, the good guy, was anointed winner). Seeing the collection the Vogels amassed, feeling their passion through the art they acquired on a modest budget, inspired a restoration of faith. These are two people who have lived their lives for the art they love.
I took the guided tour of Big Bambú by Doug and Mike Starn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The feeling of standing some forty feet above the roof of the Met on a structure of lashed bamboo? Exhilarating.
I was thrilled about Rivane Neuenschwander’s A Day Like Any Other at New Museum, a rare solo retrospective for a Brazilian artist in an American museum. I took a ribbon and made my wish. Before seeing the show, I did not realize how much popular culture has influenced her art; almost every piece had something to do with song or film. Antropofagia is alive and well.
This air handler by the Dufala Brothers at Haverford College is fresh, exactly as advertised and without a doubt. It feels like the self-assured throwing down of a gauntlet before the feet of other artists.
Underground Philadelphia, one of the multitude of projects for DesignPhiladelphia, actually succeeded in making Dilworth Plaza come alive as a place where people wanted to be, rather than a place where the down-and-out find themselves by default. Meejin Yoon did the same for the banks of the Schuylkill with Light Drift.
If asked which art project or initiative had the greatest impact this year, my nomination would be the Phanatic Around Town series. Were they “real” art or just shameless commercialism? Technically, were they very "good"? Do questions such as these even matter? Nothing connected people with their love for Philadelphia (and the Phillies) like these statues did.
Yarn bombing had its moment in 2010. I noticed it all over the city. It became so ubiquitous that the mainstream press ran stories on it. As part of DesignPhiladelphia, the furniture gallery Minima had a yarn-bomber knit a sleeve for the tree in front of its showroom on 3rd Street. Now that this guerrilla art form has become institutionalized, I find it tiresome. How many more times do we want to see a bike-rack covered by crochet?
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Largo de São Francisco de Paula in the heart of Centro.
Centro, the other neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where I visited galleries, is distinct in almost every way imaginable from Zona Sul (including the tourist-heavy areas of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon). Many visitors may never leave the confines of Zona Sul during their time in Rio. I speak from experience: this was my third time in Rio, but only my first time exploring Centro. Zona Sul has a laid-back atmosphere, influenced by beach culture, while Centro buzzes with the activity of pedestrians, vendors, and people otherwise seeming to be malandros, who pack its narrow streets.
Centro is Rio’s downtown, a combination of 20th century high-rise buildings functioning as the heart of domestic and international business, mixed with historic edifices, churches, and public squares, which host micro-economies of shops and open-air markets. The galleries in Centro have assimilated to the character of the neighborhood, a complete departure from the sleekness I noticed in Gávea. The prevalent feeling in Centro is one of old-world urban grit transposed by jeitinho Brasileiro.
First up, the gallery A Gentil Carioca (Rua Gonçalves Ledo, 17), founded by the artists Ernesto Neto, Franklin Cassaro, Laura Lima, and Márcio Botner. Its entrance is so completely unassuming that I missed it on my first pass. Upon entering, you proceed up the stairs to the second floor, which has an office with a small collection of works in it. Going up one more level, you reach the gallery space, which has two separate rooms, and a little depressed area that they call the piscina (“swimming pool”), into which you can descend via pool ladder. The exhibition on view was Zum Zum Zum by Cao Guimarães e José Bento, comprising a video of instrumentalists talking about the color of sound, and an installation of music stands in the “swimming pool,” which was somewhat treacherous because the room was pitch black.
I attempted to visit Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica (Rua Luís de Camões, 68), but it was closed for installation. The center is operated by the city and mounts rotating exhibitions. It used to hold Oiticica’s archive of works, until a dispute with his heirs resulted in the transference of the collection back to their private stewardship. In 2009, a significant portion of the collection was destroyed or damaged due to a fire in the home of his brother César Oiticica, where the work was stored. (For further reading, visit Artinfo, The Art Newspaper, or Globo)
I also attempted to visit the gallery Durex Arte Contemporânea (Praça Tiradentes, 85). After ringing the bell multiple times and many minutes of waiting, I left.
Largo das Artes (Rua Luís de Camões, 2) occupies an airy and spacious loft that looks out over Largo de São Francisco de Paula. The exhibition paired two artists: Osmar Barros’ Me Mostre a Pintura (“Show Me The Painting”) and Ronaldo Grossman’s Homem de Areia (“Sandman”). I enjoyed Barros’ work the most out of any that I saw in a Rio gallery. He reveals hidden colors, such as eggs that when cracked open release two pigments instead of white and yolk. A video documents him chipping away at the drywall to reveal brightly-painted bricks beneath it, an interesting way to play upon the history ingrained in the nineteenth century building that houses the gallery.
Along the same street as Largo das Artes and Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica is Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (Rua Luís de Camões, 30), a singular attraction not to be missed. It is not a gallery or museum, but an historic library dedicated to Portuguese literature and culture. The Neo-Gothic interior is absolutely stunning, as is the volume of rare and antique books it contains. There was also a temporary exhibition drawn from its collection, Imagens da República Portuguesa no Brasil 1910-22 (“Images of the Portuguese Republic in Brazil”). Many of the works on display were caricatures from the popular press, which gave insight to how Brazilians viewed their former colonial master, then struggling with how to exist as a republic (Brazil had been independent of Portugal since 1822, and a republic from 1889).
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Jockey Club in Rio. Gávea lies just behind it.
Earlier this month I spent ten days in Rio de Janeiro. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a particular interest in Brazilian art. More than in any previous trip I have made to Rio, I set aside as much time as possible to explore museums and galleries. Over the next few posts, I will write about my recent trip. I have two goals: to offer tips whenever possible for travelers who will seek out visual art while in Rio; and, to talk briefly about what I saw during my own visit.
After you arrive in Rio, obtain a copy of Mapa Das Artes Rio De Janeiro (“Map of the Arts”), the local gallery guide. The pamphlet is free and available at bookstores and cultural destinations. It is written in Portuguese only, but regardless of your linguistic skill level it becomes an indispensable tool for art trekking. Destinations are grouped by category: Museums and Public Spaces; Galleries and Art Offices; Institutional Spaces; and Ateliers, Services, and Other. The city and neighborhood maps are the most valuable feature of the guide. The reverse side has event and exhibition listings. A map in a travel guide may show you locations of large museums, but will not pinpoint the galleries and ateliers. There is a web version at http://www.mapadasartes.com.br/ which is clumsier to use, though it links to Google maps. Rio & Cultura is another online option (again, some knowledge of Portuguese required).
I used the Mapa Das Artes to plan my itinerary by looking for clusters of destinations where I could focus my limited time most efficiently. My gallery hopping centered in two neighborhoods: Gávea and Centro. In this post I will concentrate on Gávea.
Using Praça Santos Dumont as a starting point, I first visited Anita Schwartz Galeria de Arte (Rua José Roberto Macedo Soares 30). Housed in its own building, there are two floors of gallery space inside. The ground level has a large “white cube” gallery, and upper level has smaller gallery with an open air patio and a shipping container that was set up as a theater on the interior. The ambience here was slick and corporate. The primary exhibition was Otavio Schipper’s and Sergio Krakowski’s Inconsciente Mecânico ("Mechanical Unconscious"), a collaboration between an artist and musician. Their installation of antique telegraph machines had a strong auditory component, as they clicked and responded to recorded telephone ringers and synthesized sounds in a low-light setting.
Silvia Cintra + Box 4 (Rua das Acácias 104) is a similar gallery, also occupying its own building on a quiet street set in the shadow of Atlantic rainforest that branches from the bordering Jardim Botânico. The minimalist design of both Anita Schwartz Galeria de Arte and Silvia Cintra + Box 4 integrate surprisingly well amongst the older architecture of the neighborhood. The featured exhibition was Rodrigo Matheus’ Hollywood.
Galeria Anna Maria Niemeyer has two sites, one of which is situated directly on Praça Santos Dumont. The other is a little more of a challenge to find. It is on the second floor of Shopping da Gávea (Rua Marquês de São Vicente, 52). In Brazil, the word “shopping” is used for what we would simply term a “mall”. Be aware that the two locations have different days and hours of operation. On view at the Shopping da Gávea gallery was Pinturas (“Paintings”) by João Magalhães.
Finally, I visited Contorno Artes (Rua Marquês de São Vicente, 142), located in Gávea Trade Center, an office building with an arcade of shops on its first two floors. Conotorno Artes does not mount temporary exhibitions; it displays works from its holdings of Brazilian artists, which are available for purchase.
If the idea of an art gallery in a shopping mall conjures thoughts of the stores that sell over-reproduced posters and prints of questionable taste, as well cheap framing, put those thoughts out of your head. These are honest-to-god galleries. While not all malls are created equally, in Brazil they are viewed as chic places for high-end shopping and lack the stigma that hovers around the mall culture in America.
If you are in the area, it would be a shame to miss out on Jardim Botânico, which is within short walking distance from all of the galleries mentioned above. It is easy to spend many hours walking Jardim Botânico’s vast acreage, so my plan of attack was to budget the morning for galleries and the afternoon for the gardens.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Last Thursday the USS Olympia received a lifeline, the same day on which I published my story about the impending closure of the ship. But the vessel is not yet saved: this is merely a stay of execution. The Olympia will remain open, albeit with limited days and hours of visitation, while Independence Seaport Museum explores options for the future of the historic landmark. According to the ISM website and the Inquirer article, funds were released to cover case-by-case repair costs. I was curious about the source of these funds, so after making initial contact with someone there, I posed this and a few other questions which went unanswered. Here’s what I think: the publicized closing date of November 22 was an arbitrary one, with a calculated purpose of motivating an influential donor to step forward and pledge support. His or her backing would have been used to rally others and generate momentum for a fundraising campaign. In no way am I implying that the Olympia is not in dire shape, because I believe that it is. But most people will not rush to save something in peril without an absolute deadline, which even in this case was unsuccessful.
I want to propose a theory to explain why it may be very tricky to find high-level donors willing to commit support to the Olympia. Could it be that the Philadelphia-area philanthropic community is suffering from ship-saving fatigue? Already this year, the SS United States has been rescued from a similar scrap yard fate, though it is not entirely out of danger yet. A $5.8 million gift by Gerry Lenfest to the SS United States Conservancy will allow the not-for-profit organization to purchase the ship, giving them time to devise plans and a strategy for its restoration. Given the rhetoric of superlatives used to describe the historic and engineering significance of the SS United States, the Olympia can only wither by comparison (click here to watch Mayor Michael Nutter and Lenfest praise the ship).
There exists an analogous group in the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia, itself a 501(c)(3) with a stated mission of reviving the Olympia (I also did not receive a response to my questions for them). The organization is new as of this year and it has not yet made a convincing case that it could be a legitimate steward for the Olympia. On the other hand, the SS United States Conservancy has existed in some form since 1992 (originally as the SS United States Preservation Society)*, has successfully lobbied congressional support in the past, and now carries the Lenfest seal of approval, making it substantially easier for them to leverage contributions from other donors, foundations, and public sources.
If anything, what the USS Olympia needs is a champion, which may prove difficult to find if it remains in Philadelphia and under the tutelage of Independence Seaport Museum.
*Note: I took this information from the SS United States Conservancy website. The organization was founded in 2009, and no financial records are yet available. According to Guidestar, the SS United States Preservation Society was founded in 2005, the only year for which they have a 990 available (this 2005 return contains no useful information about the financial position or health of the organization at that time).
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
My first visit to the USS Olympia at Independence Seaport Museum will also be my last. On November 22, the ship is to be closed the public, awaiting one of two fates: it will either be scrapped or scuttled to become an artificial reef off the coast of New Jersey. I put together a video of my tour and one of the questions I pondered was, what is the life cycle of a historic landmark such as the Olympia? Nothing, especially not a century-old steel vessel subjected continuously to the corrosive effects of water, is meant to last forever. During our lifetimes, we might have to deal with the deterioration or destruction of monuments that carry great historical or cultural significance. People make plans and arrangements regarding their own deaths, so do we not need to consider the course of action to be taken when a landmark is close to its expiration?
Lest I be misconstrued, I think that the loss of the Olympia is premature and a damn shame: it is both shameful for those charged with its care and it is a shame that the citizens of Philadelphia will now be deprived of its existence. If $20 million could be raised in an instant to save the Olympia, it would be worth every cent. But it would merely be an extension on life, not an avoidance of an inevitable end that some future generation would have to face.