Saturday, July 31, 2010
I drove up to New England to see my parents over the long Independence Day weekend. Whenever I go, I try to hit as many museums as possible, but inevitably I must narrow my focus to a select few that I particularly want to see on that trip. This time, The Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut was at the top of my list. One of the things I love about The Aldrich is that it is exactly the right size. The museum presents exhibitions which are consistently manageable in scale and always of high artistic value. You could spend two to three hours at The Aldrich, experiencing each exhibition very thoroughly, and you would leave not feeling overwhelmed. I have found it to be a rather refreshing place to visit.
Currently, the atrium is perforated by Gina Ruggeri’s cavern-like wormholes, which belch sinister clouds of gas—painted Mylar decals adhered to the walls.
The eponymously-titled KAWS was the main draw for my visit. KAWS (real name: Brian Donnelly) is based in Brooklyn, though apparently he is of much better renown in Japan than in the United States. You will have seen at least one of his designs; he created the cover for Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak.
Should I try to classify the work? Is it street art? Design? Pop art? Appropriation art? Wholesale rip-off? The only proper way to describe it is as a buffet of assimilation and subversion. The artist is obsessed with popular cartoon culture, altering iconic characters in such a way as to unsettle the firmly-set image in the mind’s eye of the viewer. For example, he starts with the Simpsons, “X-es out” their eyes, adds goofy skull teeth and grotesque ear-like growths, and calls them the Kimpsons. But these mutations do not feel like cruel potshots at images that the inner child fondly treasures. When KAWS looks at these cartoons, he must see something entirely different than most of us see. Could he simply be aligning what he perceives, to match what the outside audience will see? I do not consider these works to be incisive commentary on cultural touchstones like Mickey Mouse or the Michelin Man. I believe this to be KAWS’s way of cherishing these same characters we all love. Through repetition of the same characters, with slight variances each successive time, he has built his artistic lexicon.
I enjoyed his advertising-based works the most, where he paints directly onto the ad. The sight of a slithery creature winding around Kate Moss was both disquieting and delightful. The inherent dichotomy is that he has taken something so overtly commercial and, with a few judicious strokes, inverted it into something equally commercial in a market which began underground, but is now mainstream. His early bus shelter posters, typified at The Aldrich by Calvin Klein perfume ads, became highly sought after commodities, with collectors snatching them right off the streets. His figurines and statues are prized and expensive collectibles. And he has extended his brand by providing designs to the purveyors of shoes, snowboards, and other merchandise. I am guessing his original intention as a guerrilla artist was a bit more radical, but KAWS was shrewd to embrace saleablity when market demand, instead of running from it, when interest in his work exploded.
On the second floor, the exhibition Gary Lichtenstein: 35 Years of Screenprinting was a feast of gorgeous artist edition prints. Lichtenstein ran a studio in San Francisco, and then later in Connecticut, where for decades he has made prints for widely-known artists. The designs on display are not his own, but the art and practice that has brought them to life are solely to his credit. Through his use of color, Lichtenstein puts a direct stamp on the prints he produces. Some pieces use dozens of colors, a labor-intensive process, each requiring a discrete pass of pigment. Shelves had been built into one gallery wall to house a collection of used ink cans. I was completely taken with the signature touches in the way the show had been designed and installed. The introductory text panel was actually exposed onto the emulsion of a silkscreen, which was then made legible by squeegeeing dark ink through the mesh. The banal formality of the introductory text in a museum exhibition is a given, even when it communicates interesting information; to see it presented in such a innovative and sensitively subject-specific fashion jolted my expectations in the best way possible. The exhibition had the true feeling of a print studio, from the screens, to the drying rack loaded with artist proofs, to the wall of pigments. As a means of bringing the audience closer to the artist and his work, the exhibition succeeded in every way possible.
I cannot neglect to mention Beryl Korot: Text/Weave/Line—Video, also on the second floor. In her recent works of video, Korot weaves together word and image into a kind of multimedia textile. These represent a natural evolution from her work Text and Commentary from 1977, also on display, where she stages a row of televisions broadcasting extreme close-ups of textiles, the zigzagging patterns of which she has mirrored with graphite on paper grids, all divided by a screen of hanging fabric bolts. Korot was an early adapter of portable video technology and a pioneer in video art.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Vox VI is the sixth edition of Vox’s summer exhibition of emerging artists. William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton served as the jurors, selecting a high concentration of artists from the Philadelphia region as well as New York and New Jersey. The event can be viewed as something of an annual barometer to the emerging or dominant trends and tastes that cycle through local creative communities. In the curation and installation of the show, each of the galleries at Vox has been used to a distinct effect, creating five separate clusters of work that synergize around a leitmotif. These are not stated or outward themes, but the ones that I have perceived.
The lobby gallery had a cheekiness to it. Clint Baclawski’s large, floor-bound lightboxes are either making fun of the subject of the photographs—an inflatable Titanic/iceberg playground in a gym and corporate logo emblazoned promo tents at the foot of a ski slope—or the boxes themselves are meant as a gag. On the wall just above them, Joshua Weibley’s Untitled (You Make Kitty Scared), takes on LOLcats and other viral internet memes, using an impressive ink on paper technique to imitate by hand the printout of a grainy photocopy or an inkjet printer on the fritz. Nothing Could Drag Me Away from the Soft Glow of Electric Sex in the Window by Sanford Mirling, alludes to Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, which for me inspired dread at the Turner television networks’ nonstop marathons of the film during the winter holidays. Then there were Deyra Atlan’s gaudily decorated box traps: she is hunting a monster, apparently a chain-smoker with a weakness for whiskey (the bait used). As for Amber DuBois's Pop Off, just the title is funny, mostly for this reason (thank you to Joel McHale and The Soup!).
Gallery one evoked a science fiction tinged, 1950s vision of things to come. In another piece, Joshua Weibley creates a Flintstones version of a desktop computer, with a stone for a mouse. Megan Hays Selever Rex uses bright orange extension cord as totem to electronics. Manuel Pena’s photograph with Rock Hudson’s face pasted over a modern day sitter reminded me of his underappreciated paranoid, plastic surgery thriller Seconds. Aidan Rumack built fluorescent tube prison cells to enshrine a taxidermy bird and a spacecraft fashioned from an ostrich eggshell. Sheila Whitsett contributed a mirrored monolith, and a Superman ice “Fortress of Solitude” reminiscent pile of crystals and instant snow. There is also Matt Kalasky’s video of a helmeted space commander, Katelyn Greth’s genetic mutant hybrids Sheep Boy and Dog Boy, and Nora Salzman’s android-like replicas (or replicants?).
Gallery two was pop fun. The entire tone of the room is punctuated by Piper Brett’s Large Bow, imparting a celebratory jubilance. I also thought a bit about her Phone Number—is it an exultation of the numbers, phones or telecommunications in general, or is it some kind of longing portrait of the person on the other end of the phone line? Joshua Bienko provides entertainment in the form of his art raps, which are clever and insidery, harnessing the supersaturated braggadocio of hip-hop videos, but almost bordering on a too-cool-for-school act that’s more self-serious than it is ironic. I preferred his Ever So Much More pieces, where he painted iconic works of Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor on the rouge soles of Louboutins, a more definitive comment on the current state of pop art. Rounding out the feel of the gallery: Dustin Metz’s Warhol-appropriating paintings; Diedra Krieger’s woozy infomercial shorts; and Kelli Miller’s dizzying computer wallpapers of animated gifs.
Gallery Three looked into the past. Lacuna Shadows by Lauren Dombrowiak dominates the space. The stacked china set against a patch of richly patterned wallpaper and carpeting, feels positively Victorian for its choice of found object. Sarah Knouse’s drippy, melted lawn flamingos suggest a burning effigy to icons of suburban kitsch. The small porcelain figurines of Janet Macpherson are presented as if medieval artifacts coming from an off-kilter fairytale land. And Susan Marie Brundage’s works on paper offer a weird, mystical take on life in rural America. I will lump Constanze Pirch’s hallway installation into this lot, because she has other smaller paintings in the gallery.
Finally, gallery four in the back gives off the whiff of depression and decay. Jordan Griska’s deflated accordion of a vintage gas pump deconstructs king oil and pairs appropriately with Samantha Simmons’ charcoal treatments of the undercarriages of cars. Catelynn Booth examines the underside of a bridge with what looks like a construction tarp tearing away. Lindsay Foster’s video Father Lover Friend is road trip that meanders an ambiguous path through emotionally wrenching territory. Dustin Metz paints the abandoned interior of the restaurant Que Chula Es Puebla, with an odd pigment-splattered table set for dinner, but not a human in sight (save for a floating hand).
I would be remiss if I did not mention Jennifer Campbell’s work in the video lounge, not technically part of Vox VI. In Eruption, she creates the illusion of Mt. Rainier as a reawakened volcano, holding a smoke-spewing tube in the foreground. Precipitate shows two figures suspended from trees who perform acrobatics while hoses attached to their faces spurt jets of water.