Artists Unite Issue

July 26, 2007

Is it love or excuses

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 9:16 pm

by Joy Leftow

You avoid me because
you know I know
your secrets
the thoughts that make you ill
I know how you feel

Sometimes you utter nothing
at all & the tv gets louder
to drown the sound
of my words, my voice
a discarded memory
of what’s left unsaid

We don’t discuss
what I think is wrong
as I record the trail you forge
with the sound of your voice
hollow in my veins
while I follow you from room
to room echoing your thoughts
fill the room’s silence
I hear thunder clap
in the distance

You say the echo is loud, too clear
and I bisect & categorize
each of your thoughts
while my unsaid words
follow the curve of your hips
As you move to and fro worrying
I’ll disparage what you say

I listen, record your flow
of your words, you want me
to share my  observations
I do; For you they only personify
my excellent clinical skills

your firm lips cover my unspoken words
a poor excuse, a moment in time

Your eyes hold back tears
you stare and ensconce your soul
why should you share
to recreate the pain
I don’t exist for myself or you
your mind’s eye is a reflections in glass
and none of it is real

July 13, 2007

Review: Richard Serra Sculpture: 40 Years at MoMA

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 6:17 pm

by Pamela Popeson

Band_2_s.jpg“Work out of your work. Don’t work out of anybody else’s work,” is Richard Serra’s counsel to artist/interviewer Mark Simmons in the Coagula Contemporary Art Journal. Sound, supportable, and credible advice as we come to see in a new retrospective of his work currently showing at MoMA: Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years.

Serra also likes to say that work comes out of work, that you don’t just wake up one day with an idea; ideas come from the work and from working, though he credits outside events, like participating in Yvonne Rainer’s performance art and reading Thoreau, with having led him further. He names the experience of walking in the shipyards with his father as a child and visiting Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane with having informed his sculpture, though in the case of Borromini he says he arrived there having already formulated a set of questions regarding his own explorations. Serra has admired Donatello’s ability to express volume, and while living in Florence he made daily visits to his bronze “David” and to Masaccio’s Brancacci Chapel frescoes.

The artists of the Renaissance did the same. Donatello worked with Brunelleschi, and the two visited Rome together to view and study the ruins. They both knew and worked with Ghiberti. Bernini was Borromini’s supervisor at the Palazzo Barberini and took him under his wing, recommending him for other projects, though the two later competed for the same commissions. They all crossed disciplines; besides vying for and receiving architectural competitions, they studied mathematics and science.

1111_s.jpgAnd like the Florentines, Serra studied and trained under other masters and worked side by side with the other young art lions of his (and our) time. He studied literature at UC Santa Barbara with Huxley and, as a painting student at Yale, worked with and for Josef Albers. He knew Phillip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, and Frank Stella in the early 60’s. His New York friends included Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Smithson. Philip Glass and Jasper Johns helped him install his pieces, and Serra speaks of Donald Judd taking him under his wing because “he liked what he was up to.” What Serra and these other artists were up to, like the Florentines before them, was extending the language of art beyond anything known or imagined.

To_Lift_s.jpgIn 1967 Serra made a (now famous) list of transitive verbs and began experimenting with his materials — industrial rubber and lead for the most part — as physical manifestations of those verbs. The first on the list is “to roll”; the last is “to continue.” Transitive verbs are those that need a direct object to complete their meaning, and there are several pieces in the exhibit directly relating to those explorations. The most exquisite example is “To Lift” (1967). By lifting a sheet of vulcanized rubber (from one point), Serra completely reinvented it and the space it inhabits. And he continues to challenge and reinvent objects and forms and space. Before our very eyes.

2ndFloor_4_s.jpgThe big bonus of a retrospective is that you can see the development of an artist’s body of work, see how one series of explorations or experiments might lead to another, see exactly what “working out of your work” looks like. There are 27 pieces in the exhibition, installed throughout the museum in two main galleries (6th and 2nd floors) and the outdoor Sculpture Garden. The earliest are selections from his series in rubber dating from 1966, and the most recent — three large rolled steel installations entitled “Band”, “Torqued Torus Inversion”, and “Sequence” (2006) — were made specifically for this show, or rather specifically for the museum’s 2nd floor Contemporary Galleries.

2ndFloor_3_s.jpgThe exhibit begins on the 6th floor, and as you enter the first gallery you also “enter” Serra’s sculpture “Delineator” (1974 -75). The piece consists of two large hot-rolled steel plates each 1” X 10’ X 26’, one placed directly on the floor in the center of the room and the other positioned on the ceiling, centered above and perpendicular to the one on the floor. Whether you choose to walk onto and across the floor plate, placing yourself under the one suspended on the ceiling, or around the perimeter of the plates, the room is completely reordered by their presence. Perceptions of form, mass, gravity, and space are called into question. And that’s just the beginning. With the large steel works on the 2nd floor and in the garden, Serra continues pushing the bounds of our knowledge and understanding of mass and our relationship to space geometrically. Everything changed when sculpture first came off the pedestal and into the same space as the viewer. Now Serra has moved things much further along by implicating the viewer.

John Adams said “When a great question is first started there are very few, even of the greatest minds, which suddenly and instinctively comprehend it in all its consequences.” Perhaps that was the issue with “Tilted Arc” (1981), Serra’s 120’ x 12’ steel sculpture commissioned by the Arts-in-Architecture program of the U.S. General Services Administration and installed in downtown Manhattan in Federal Plaza, only to be removed and destroyed by the government.

The main objection, as I recall from reading the paper at the time, was that “Tilted Arc” was a nuisance to workers in the building because they liked to walk directly across the plaza and now had to walk around the sculpture to cross it. The other objection was that litter collected along the base of sculpture, when before it could blow across the plaza. The number of people in favor of keeping the sculpture who testified at the public hearing (other artists, curators, art critics, and art historians) was twice the number in favor of its removal. Nevertheless, the jury of five voted 4 to 1 to remove the work. Serra appealed, unsuccessfully, and on March 15, 1989 (under the cloak of darkness) federal workers cut the piece into three sections and hauled it off to a scrap-metal yard. It’s still unclear (at least to me) how and why this happened and exactly who was behind it. What is clear is that they were unable to comprehend what he was up to.
Serra’s sculpture may bear the distinction of being the only work destroyed by the government but he is certainly not alone in the “they were unable to comprehend” department. In the documentary film “Mondrian, Mr. Boogie-Woogie Man”, Piet Mondrian tells us that he almost gave up painting because the only pieces he could sell were flower illustrations. (We also discover Mondrian was a jazz fan and serious dancer, with actual footage of him cutting a “boogie-woogie” rug.) For Mondrian to have quit would be unfathomable. The consequences would have been staggering, too frightening to consider. Luckily he persevered.
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Serra said that “in order to persevere you have to be obstinate, be marginalized, and, depending upon your personality, stay away from the sociability of the art world.” Fortunately for us, Serra is all that and more, and he continued — and continues — to work from his own work.

IntersectionII_Color2_s.jpg“One rejoices that these men felt no embarrassment at being persistently, at times awkwardly serious, according to their natures,” writes Catherine Drinker Bowen in “Miracle at Philadelphia”, her narrative about the framers of the Constitution. She reminds us that the Constitutional Convention proceedings were constantly in danger of being shut down because resistance to forming a Union was so great. Another close call, perhaps of a different stripe, but a powerful illustration of the importance of working from your own work.

Serra also tells Rose that he “is not here to teach you.” Nevertheless, he does teach us about space and form and gravity and mass, and, perhaps more importantly because his work involves us directly in the experience of the restructuring of sculptural perceptions, we learn about our own relationship to space and form and gravity and mass. We also learn by the authenticity of his actions through his work the value of being true to your nature. One rejoices.

Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years is up until September 10, 2007. Visit for hours, etc.

To view the “online exhibit”:

The exceptional exhibition catalogue includes interviews with Serra and the exhibition co-curators, Kynaston McShine, MoMA’s Curator at Large, and Lynne Cooke, curator at the Dia Art Foundation, both of whom have had longstanding relationships with Serra.

Video walk-throughs of the galleries at MoMA with curatorial commentary and time-lapse footage of the exhibition installation can be found online at youtube. Video downloads of the Charlie Rose interviews can easily be found online, as can Serra’s verb list and numerous print and video interviews with the artist. The Coagula Interview by Mark Simmons is at

“Band” 2006, weatherproof steel Overall: 12′ 9″ x 36′ 5″ x 71′ 9 1/2″ (3.9 x 11.1 x 21.9 m), plate: 2″ (5.1 cm) thick. Photo: Lorenz Kienzle”

“1-1-1-1″, 1969, Lead antimony, four plates, each: 48 x
48″ (121.9 x 121.9 cm), pole: 7′ (2.1 m) long. Photo: Jenny Oku

“To Lift”, 1967 Vulcanized rubber 36″ x 6′ 8″ (91.4 x 200cm). Photo: Peter Moore

“Sequence” 2006, installation view. Shown: “Torqued Torus Inversion”, 2006, weatherproof steel; “Band”, 2006, weatherproof steel. Photo: Lorenz Kienzle.

“Sequence” 2006, installation view. Shown: Sequence, 2006, Weatherproof steel; “Torqued Torus Inversion”, 2006, weatherproof steel; “Band”, 2006, weatherproof steel. Photo: Lorenz Kienzle

July 1, 2007

overeview: 24th street

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 12:48 pm

Hey, I’m free for a change, it’s Sat., 5pm; could go to chelsea, but will I fit anything in??!!DSC_0067.JPGI used the one-street strategy. The Gursky show at Matthew Marks provided the anchor. While there is more at 22nd Street that I haven’t seen, the four mural-sized prints of pit crews were impressive alone. Jerry Saltz wonders if Gursky is out of ideas, but I think it’s more and more of the same idea. Luckily for all concerned (especially the party that paid $3.3M for Gursky’s convenience store photo) it’s a good idea. The pit (Boxenstopp) photos are like narratives, or pre-Rennaisance multi-planar icons; they contain a couple of cars under service by piles of brightly suited crew members, sexy girls — whom one imagines are racing-calendar stars, and a second story window filled with spectators watching the crew. With so many participants in the photos, I was drawn into the various stories in each area (something I’m playing with in my own work). These are too big to justify at 300 pixels wide, so try going to the Matthew Marks website or make it to Chelsea if you can.

DSC_0052.JPGIn nice contrast to Gursky’s oeuvre is Thomas Flechtner’s show at Marianne Boesky. The Swiss photographer has given us two series here. The first is a set of lightboxes in which cherry blossoms are used as abstract veils over micro-environments (branches). The effect is odd; first I balked at the blown-out exposures, then I integrated the separate stories. As in Gursky’s dense works, you hunt out the individual areas of detail and look for subject. Flechtner’s second series, Sites, depicts man-made land formations, such as flower farms and embankments. I have been resistant to digital images blown up beyond their clarity to achieve punch from large scale, but these, which were a bit broken down on the edges up close, convinced me to just stand back and enjoy. Unlike Gursky, these geometries were naturally occurring.


(detail from above; note, proportions are distorted)

DSC_0049.JPGBack at Matthew Marks, there is a selection of photographs of Swiss team Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ Equilibres, gravity defying sculptures — sometimes in collapse — made from common household objects. These were really fun to look at. The exhibit also includes a film of the artists working out some of the kinetic sculptures they crafted out of the same materials. (Some of the photos below are taken off-angle to avoid reflections off the glass. All the images are the same size, about 8×10 inches, regardless of materials). Note the aerosol can spray in the detail photo at the top.




DSC_0050.JPGSpeaking of kinetic sculpture, at Andrea Rosen, Erika Hoffman has consulted on the curation of a show of 50’s and 60’s kinetic works. This show is like watching an old sci-fi movie; charmingly naive but still incredible. My favorite work was by Hartmut Bohm, a grid of white squares that “jiggled” due to magnetic variations (I resisted the task of photographing a white grid, but here’s the label).

Metro Pictures is showing Yuri Masnyj’s sculptures and paintings, both which use as subject matter a bookshelf of additional art and culture references.

Barbara Gladstone & Team are about to open Banks Violette’s show (July 6). For now, the gallery only offers reflective surfaces to make authors’ self portraits.


Silverstein Photography has an intriguing show called First Contact: A Photographer’s Sketchbook, showing the photographer’s process of choosing an image from contact sheets. Here, two dozen classic photos from Magnum photographers and others are paired with the contact sheets from which the photos were selected. The contact sheets in the pictures below are largely unreadable, but give you an idea of the caliber of work in this show. An exception is the sheet by Man Ray, which is a gorgeous work of abstract art as it stands.







Not bad for an hour… Landing in Chelsea after galleries are closed can be a sad, lonely affair. But even with only an hour, I got all that art. And when the galleries are open, you get the added plus of seeing the colorful gallery visitors, too…


~ ~ ~

images: street signs, self portrait, and youths and pink guitar, by Peter Ferko; installation shots from Sakura and Sites, Thomas Flechtner; movie still and photo details by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Other images as noted on labels.

June 28, 2007

Galapagos Art Space: Birdsong in NYC’s Gold Mine

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 11:24 am

by April Greene

In the 1920s, pioneer filmmaker D.W. Griffith wrote, “The future of the motion picture lies, I believe, in the amateur film movement.” Eighty-odd years later, fledgling website YouTube, devoted entirely to amateur moviemaking, would become one of the top five most visited websites in the world, captivate 15 million people a month, and sell for nearly $2 billion.

In January 2007, Galapagos Art Space founder and director Robert Elmes said, “Artists are the canaries in New York City’s gold mine. When they can’t sustain a life here, and they have to move out, we know there’s a problem.” Six months later, his venerable institution would give notice that it was being priced out of its native Williamsburg and would have to relocate.

Neither of these two prescient art connoisseurs owned a crystal ball — experts in their fields know their territory and can make good predictions about its future. But that didn’t stop me from fits of disbelief when I read the New York Times’ May 30 article on Galapagos’ planned 2008 move to Dumbo.

Established in 1998 in an anonymous North 6th Street warehouse owned by a steel company, the venue has grown over the last ten years into a citywide hotspot for theater, live music, film, DJs and dancing, art openings and festivals, and even weddings. “Creative neighborhoods always need a social focal point,” Elmes told me last winter, on a mellow Friday evening at Fabiane’s cafe. “A place to go with your friends and come up with weird plans late at night.” Galapagos had certainly become such a place for Williamsburg, a fixture easily taken for granted. Though the move is certainly not all bad news — the Dumbo space will net Elmes about twice the square footage for about half the rent, and is slated to be the city’s first cultural venue certified “green” by the United States Green Building Council – it is a poignant and ironic turn of events for an organization that played a major role in beautifying a neighborhood previously bedraggled with meat-processing plants and tenement housing to be itself hustled out by the rent increases it helped to spur.

Galapagos’ soon-to-be-abandoned location in Williamsburg Brooklyn,
while new 29-story construction looms over the neighborhood.
– photo by Anya Szykitka

IMG_0861.jpgAnyone with even half an eye open in Brooklyn these days (or Harlem, or Chelsea…) knows that social focal points like Galapagos, and the creative neighborhoods that house them, are being threatened now more than ever by the unchecked encroachment of other industries.
“The tragedy for New York is that its reputation is no longer Cutting-Edge, Creative, Exciting, Sexy — now it’s just Expensive,” Elmes said. “Bloomberg called the city a ‘luxury product.’ It’s no longer the automatic Oz for young artists to come to, because they know they’ll have to land here with some bank and hit the ground running just to break even. Now they might go instead to Portland or Austin or Providence. The best people won’t do their work part time, they won’t give it up to do some financial industry day job, and they won’t pay all kinds of money just to look at our skyscrapers if they can’t also do their art. General consensus is that we’ll always attract the best and brightest young people, but in reality, we have to find ways to keep earning them.”

So how to earn the interest of the artists who chip in a purported $13 billion a year to the city’s economy (and whose creative capital is largely responsible for driving up real estate prices in the first place) when they can no longer make rent and the venues that could have hosted their work are forced out of business by development? In Elmes’ opinion, go straight for the infrastructure.

“Reception has been good,” he said of his interactions with Community Board 1, which represents Williamsburg. Elmes worked with the board on the concept of expanding the 421-A program, a bill approved by City Council last December which gives tax exemptions to developers of residential properties who earmark 20 percent of their units for “affordable housing.” Elmes would like to see the bill widened to include similar breaks for developers who devote space to cultural centers on the ground floors of their buildings. “Every block could be like, ‘deli, bank, art space,’” he explained. Elmes will likely continue pursuing 421-A expansion with Community Board 2, which represents Dumbo. And the neighborhood has already seen some success with 421-A-style ventures: according to the press release on Galapagos’ website regarding the move, Dumbo real estate company Two Trees Management has been incorporating new business and residential developments with cultural institutions there for the last decade, profitably.

But even if artists are theoretically able to scrape together enough square footage to live and work here in the future, another potential wrinkle in the works is Brooklyn’s rapidly changing clientele. The continuing construction of scores of high-end apartments throughout the borough means thousands of new residents are waiting invisibly in the wings.

“I have no idea who they are,” said Elmes. “Have they had kids yet, are they going to have kids? Is the bohemian culture something that genuinely attracted them here, or was it sort of tangential? The only thing we do know is that they’re going to be more invested than the historically transient residents here — these people are paying a million bucks for their condo.” The newbies could embrace the existing cultural scenes and make them that much richer, or they could stifle them so much as to force Galapagos (and others, like its soon-to-be neighbors Arts at St. Ann’s and the Wooster Group), out of town. What if it comes to the latter?

“Berlin,” was Elmes’ answer. “My expectation has always been to be bigger than this. We’re working to partner with venues in Berlin, Mumbai, and Beijing, but if we ever have to fold here, I’d want to be based in Berlin. There’s a historical affinity for arts and culture there, they like Americans, and it freaks them out to see New Yorkers go and tenaciously just start doing stuff. Space is dirt-cheap and everyone wants to be involved. It’s great.”

Certainly good crystal balls are hard to find, and for all we know, ten years from now Galapagos will open the first burlesque-and-hip-hop bar in the heart of Beijing, or it will be operating exclusively online with an audience twice the size of YouTube’s. But if we are to look anywhere for a good prediction — for all of New York City’s arts and artists as well as for this model venue — it should be to an expert who’s kept a lifelong bead on culture, development, and social trends. Our resident expert Robert Elmes says, “We believe that if the work we present is strong, communicative, and effective, we will survive.”


New Williamsburg development’s signage. — photo by Anya Szykitka

June 15, 2007

Pigeon Lady

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 9:31 am

by Lale Davidson

What do I want most in the world?

I walk with my new husband and two socialite friends through Central Park.  The fan-shaped Ginkgo leaves are already turning yellow and fluttering down.  The low grey sky is beginning to let down water.   My hands are cold and tangled in the holes of my coat pocket, a coat my husband has begged me to replace.  It reflects badly on him, he says.  I step ahead of them.

Suddenly I hear a ruffling explosion, like a hundred sheets unfurled and snapping in storm wind.  A flock of pigeons beats the air with feather and bone as they take off at a severe angle straight for my head. I duck and turn, swirling out of my previous orbit.  They cross over me, their destination the other bank, and descend slowly, whirring all around an old woman I had not seen standing there before, a woman whose hair is much too black, thick and long for her age, a woman who stands there facing me with an enormous plastic bag of crumbs.  I cannot make out her eyes at that distance, but her chin is up and she seems to be looking straight, not around, not up, or down at the pigeons framing her, but straight across, at me. For a second, with the pigeons graphing the air in even points from high to low, from deep to shallow, the woman is suspended in mid air, like the Magritte painting of floating business men.

What I want most is for this woman who stands amidst the flock of pigeons in Central park, this woman whose face is deeply lined, whose orange-red lipstick stands out across the grays of late fall, I want this woman, whose arthritic hands firmly pat a pigeon nestled in the hollow of her neck, under her matted, frazzled, plastic black hair, this woman who is dressed in so many layers of clothes that she is round

–this homeless woman, who has brought a black bag full of crumbs to the birds in the park, this woman who must have picked the garbage for these crumbs, or who has struck up an acquaintance with the cooks of certain restaurants

–this woman whose figure has caused a riot of flapping wings

–this woman whose eyes are occluded by thick black eyeliner…

I want this old woman to lift her eyes and say, I bless you.

June 1, 2007

A New Project: TransAction

Filed under: Articles, TransAction — Peter Ferko @ 6:47 am

on the human value of globalization

by Peter Ferko, May 2007

Globalization is hailed as a key progressive element of the 2000’s and a great boon to the nations of the globe. The nature of the benefit is typically described in economic terms. I propose that this description is inadequate; that the true value of globalization is in interchange between members of various cultures. This kind of interchange has been occuring in the arts for centuries, and has been a thrust of numerous organizations in the past decades.

This essay elaborates on this concept, and describes a means of bringing to light the non-economic value of such interactions. Like most manifestos, it speaks the language of idealism.
It borrows other vocabulary from the world of business. It postulates a non-economic “trans-action” — an exchange of value between members of different nations in the “global” world.


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the nations of the former Soviet Union have been engaged in an evolution of economic systems from Soviet-style communism to capitalism. At the same time, Western European countries have moved more and more under the influence of the multi-national corporate mindset. Latin American nations have been in a continuous cycle of favor/out of favor with the U.S. as the U.S. values not the culture and people but the economic benefit of these nations as trade or strategic partners. China has ended its isolation through snowballing trade. As this evolution progresses, the economic model of capitalism more and more strongly posits one version of value: economic value as determined by the marketplace.

This model, while virtually undisputed in the United States, is of dubious rational evidence. For instance, does our civilization really consider school teachers of less importance than fashion models, or Presidents of less importance than basketball players — as the compensation provided by the marketplace does? Is the top-priority reason for interacting with members of another culture selling a carbonated beverage, sneakers, or blue jeans?

This project considers the alternative: that there is another reason for interaction; another value to globalization beyond that of product sales and the homogenization that globalization is currently tending toward. The challenge considered by the project is that there is no structure for setting the value of such an interaction, nor is there likely to be one given the dominant mindset among nations. Nonetheless, using the arts as an arena to explore an alternative, there is significant evidence that the interaction among members of different countries carries other, non-economic, value. Cultural tourism provides a well-established example of valuing interaction (beyond simple curiosity). The internet provides numerous examples specific to the arts. Blogs receive uncompensated comments from international readers, and online projects attract international participants. Web sites like YouTube receive participation without regard to location or compensation. In the non-virtual world, residencies attract artists who establish lifelong connections with artists, dealers, and collectors internationally.

Sadly, while one of the most exciting aspects of an international artistic exchange is the interaction between the artists about art per se, the only measurable outcome of the exchanges to date is economic, i.e. is the visitor offered an exhibition by a dealer, does work sell, are there grants available to allow further travel, etc.

Unlike the former Soviet nations, where cultural policy was decided by the government and art received some due as having a value to society, in the new economy, art must fend for itself in the same marketplace as everything else, where transactions are based on market value. I pose the following question: What would a different kind of transaction look like? What would be a trans-action — or action across borders — between artists? (more…)

May 11, 2007

Review: Doug Aitken’s “Sleepwalkers” at MoMA, by Pamela A. Popeson

Filed under: Articles — Sky Pape @ 10:27 am

The power of Doug Aitken’s installation work lies in his ability to capture the essence of place, the elemental quality of a particular landscape, and in “Sleepwalkers”, his first public art-work in the US, he does just that.

“Sleepwalkers” is comprised of five movies projected on eight exterior surfaces of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The multi-screen moving image installation is enormous in scale yet it makes way for a most intimate personal experience.

The videos tell the tale of five (larger than life) would-be New Yorkers, an office worker, a business man, a postal worker, an electrician and a bicycle messenger, portrayed respectively by Tilda Swinton, Donald Sutherland, Chan Marshall (Cat Power), Seu Jorge, and Ryan Donowho.

Each character has his or her own thirteen-minute film but they all share the same exact storyline. They do their thing independently of one another but at the same time they trade or borrow images and elements from one another’s stories. They also trade places on the screens as the individual films move from one exterior surface to another, sometimes abruptly sometimes seamlessly.

You can leave the action at any point in any one of the stories and pick it up at the same or equivalent point in any other of the stories. The five get up as the sun goes down, they get ready to leave their rooms, they leave their rooms, they go out into the New York night, and they go on to their work or job, and somewhere in there each character has his or her own moment of spinning virtuosity before the end of the night.

Tilda Swinton’s office worker’s character lands on a performing stage where she plays a violin. Donald Sutherland’s highly successful businessman jumps on the roof of the cab that’s just run him down and joyously performs a tap dance. But these moments of departure are treated less as departure from the character’s set nocturnal routine than a continuum of the style of visual story building that incorporates or at least speaks to the idea of New York City as a cultural community.

Aitken’s imagery captures the intensity and the energy of moving through New York at night. There are several stunning sequences of images of the city that slide visually from one enormous viewing surface onto the adjacent viewing surface. So while though story or storyline itself is not remarkably interesting the work is riveting. The installation has power of what’s going on in Times Square at the same time engages the public audience in a provocative and meaningful way.

There’s a lot of talk about Aitken’s deconstruction of the narrative but here the narrative remains intact, moving forward in full linear fashion. Interjecting a series of still images is not a tool of deconstruction but rather serves to change pace and move the story forward in a visually interesting way. Spreading the narrative out on a number of different screens, even if they’re facing different directions, and repeating them in different sequences doesn’t change the essential linear qualities of the narrative.

Does tearing the pages out of a novel and laying them out on the floor in two different rooms alter the actual narrative’s linear qualities? No of course not. But what it does do is involve the reader in a different manner by altering the way the reader might approach the accessibility of that novel. And this is what Aitken does, alters the accessibility of his visual narrative. He fractures the vehicle then asks the viewer to climb on board where or when they might as it moves along.

There is no soundtrack beyond what the streets of New York have to offer. Curiously though all those sounds drop out until you hear what sounds and feels like silence. The silence is visceral, perhaps because it’s an internal silence as the sirens and the horns don’t really go away. Somehow when standing on 53rd street, or in the middle of mid-town block in the empty lot just west of MoMA, or in the confines of the museum’s walled in outdoor sculpture garden looking up at Aitken’s enormous moving images, the noises of the city dim. They dim in the exact same way they do in that moment of the passing subway cars or in the same stillness created by the glimpse through an apartment window of another New Yorker’s life from the safe distance of the backseat of taxi stopped at a traffic light.

“Sleepwalkers” is very much like that moment when your subway train passes another in the tunnel and you see the passengers in the other train. You always look and you look in earnest as if you’ll see something worth seeing. And you do, sort of. You never look in earnest at what’s going on in your own subway car. You don’t want to actually interact with strangers on a subway: you want the safe barrier that will allow you to “look” and “peer.” It’s almost voyeuristic but not really since it’s unsolicited by you, plus it’s really a moment in your life. That’s the lure of “Sleepwalkers.”

In a way we’re not seeing anything we can’t see anywhere anytime in our own lives but that’s not the point - or maybe it is. Maybe it’s exactly the point and the job or a job of art: to show us what we can see in our life. And Aitken does that poetically.

His work creates the opportunity of an approach, an alternate approach, to narratives of our own or of our own making. As viewers we deconstruct Aitken’s narrative, he gives us the vehicle and we construct or reconstruct the story ourselves because we have the freedom to.

Aitken’s elemental narrative of the big New York City landscape — bright lights, big city – abstracted, entwines itself with the narrative of the internal landscape of the New Yorker, that 8 million stories in the naked city thing and the alone in a crowd thing, the most essential elements of the New York narrative, giving the giant “Sleepwalkers” their monumental authority equal to the experience of what is New York.

“Sleepwalkers”, jointly presented by the Museum of Modern Art and Creative Time, screened January 16 - February 12, 2007, viewing was limited to night times.
Curated by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator of Media, MoMA and Peter Eleey, Curator and Producer, Creative Time.

Pamela A. Popeson is a playwright, multimedia artist, and art critic living in New York City. Her new play “Women’s Work” will premiere at Dramarama in New Orleans on April 14th, 2007. Popeson is a frequent contributor to NYArts Magazine and Cover Magazine, writing articles on art and art culture.

April 30, 2007

Sackler Center for Feminist Art opens at the Brooklyn Museum

Filed under: Articles — Sky Pape @ 6:01 pm

The ride from Inwood to Brooklyn didn’t take so long after all. In fact, it was surprisingly easy to get to the Brooklyn Museum for the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. The new 8300 square foot “museum within a museum” is designed with the permanent installation of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party as its centerpiece, encircled by galleries for changing exhibitions and a resource center for educational activities. The first of its kind, the Center’s stated mission is “to present feminist art and to explore its meaning and influence through a wide range of public programs.”

The inauguration of the Center included the opening of two temporary exhibitions, Global Feminisms, an international survey of contemporary feminist art, co-curated by Dr. Maura Reilly, the center’s curator, and Professor Linda Nochlin, as well as Pharoahs, Queens, and Goddesses, (co-curated by Dr. Reilly and Edward Bleiberg, Curator of Egyptian Art). Pharoahs, Queens… is the first of a series of biographical shows based on the figures and themes of The Dinner Party. This show gathers 32 portaits, statues, seals, and amulets from the museum’s collection to delve into the history of Hatshepsut, an Egyptian Queen, and to consider new interpretations of her story, along with those of other powerful women in ancient Egypt.

There is no denying that Judy Chicago’s most noted work, The Dinner Party, is a seminal piece of 20th century art history. Most people with any interest in contemporary art will have heard of it, but as so often is the case, seeing reproductions does not come anywhere close to experiencing the real thing. And it’s hard to imagine it could look better than it does now, pristinely restored and installed in a romantically lit, triangular room, impressively designed by Susan T. Rodriguez of Polshek Partnership Architects.

The installation allows for close-up viewing of the 39 place settings paired with intricate table runners, each setting representing a woman of historical importance, who, as Chicago said during her walk-through of the piece yesterday, “was selected because that woman represented an entire epoch.” After all, there’s only so much space at the table. To give you an idea of the scope, Chicago worked alone on the piece for two years, and then spent another three years bringing it to completion with the help of over 400 volunteers. In its final form, the table takes the shape of an equilateral triangle, open in the center, with 13 place settings on each side. The number 13 makes reference to the Last Supper, but this supper, Chicago says, was intended to honor “those who did all the cooking for The Last Supper and all those other meals throughout history.” The triangle is a traditional female symbol, and its equal sides are intended to convey the artist’s vision of a world made whole through equality. Further, she explains, one reason she chose to symbolically depict the women on the plates was that they were devoured, “consumed by history,” and then summarily erased. In addition to the 39 honored at the table, 999 other perhaps unheralded yet important historical women are given tribute on The Heritage Floor, on which the dinner table stands (symbolically on the floor because they were walked over?). The room is dark but the table is well lit, with small lights that have the appearance of stars in a night sky, giving the whole setting a cosmic air. The piece is undeniably forceful and engrossing. It is so involved as to be truly epic, and the extensive symbolism is explained in a newly released book by Chicago that accompanies the show. One leaves this installation feeling acutely aware of the silencing of women’s history, and our subsequent ignorance, but its great success is its ability not just to educate, but to inspire viewers to seek out more information.

While in general, I believe the establishment of this Center is indeed a groundbreaking achievement — truly a cause for celebration — I still have some mixed reactions. I’m not happy to criticize this effort, so I hope my comments are constructive, as intended. If I focus on its educational value, I find the Center has brought into existence a magnificent vision with great potential. However, I can’t entirely shake my discomfort with its self-imposed segregation. An old Guerilla Girls piece sarcastically listing “the advantages of being a woman artist” posts “Not having to be in shows with men,” as ironic answer number two. I remain unconvinced that outstanding institutions like the Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo del Barrio, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts do much to affect and advance equality for women and minorities in the so-called “mainstream” world of art and culture. In her very moving opening remarks yesterday, Dr. Sackler called for “Equal rights, equal pay, equal wall space, equal prices,” and as I applauded loudly, I hoped that all the publicity surrounding this new Center effectively serves those ends.

I also found myself ambivalent about the inaugural exhibition Global Feminisms. Indeed there are many good things to be said about this show (for instance there being approximately 50 countries represented), yet while it brings to view a cross-cultural feminist perspective, it unfortunately succumbs to the demon of ageism, that nasty discriminating filter from which women already suffer greatly. The press release and informational signage make a big deal trumpeting that most of the almost 90 participating artists in this show are under age 40, the majority having never before shown work in New York. In fact, from what I could tell, none the artists is older than 47. Why is that? There is no explanation given offered why older artists have been excluded. “In Global Feminisms, we are attempting to construct a definition of ‘feminist’ art that is as broad and flexible as possible,” says curator Reilly. “Linda [Nochlin] and I kept asking what it means to be a feminist in radically different cultural, political, and class situations. And we found not one definition, but many…” therefore their use of the plural word, “feminisms” in the exhibition title. Well, I ask, aren’t there any women over 47 to be found in these ‘radically different situations?’ I wondered if the young age of the artists was in some way related to the age Judy Chicago was when she made The Dinner Table (35-40). If that’s the case though, it casts a harsh spotlight on the sad yet undeniable truth that there’s not one single piece in this show able to come anywhere near the depth of commitment, research, and execution involved in Chicago’s piece. While Chicago’s piece celebrates the reclamation of women’s historical contributions in one gallery, why, one wonders, are the creative contributions of older artists to the feminist dialogue being negated here? Or are they planning a show of feminist art by underrecognized women age 47 and up for the next season? As Chicago talked about her identification as an artist and her subsequent realization that the museums of her youth did not have the work of women like her, I wonder if she was aware of the irony that she would be considered too old to be included in Global Feminisms? The contributions and examples set by older women who have persevered cannot be overvalued. They should be trumpeted and their work included at every opportunity because those women are the beacons on this path. As inspiring as it is to have an icon like Gloria Steinem on hand to give an introductory speech, it is disappointing to then note the absence of any artists from her generation.

Global Feminisms is divided into four thematic sections: Life Cycles, Identities, Politics, and Emotions. In Life Cycles, it again seems ironic that there are no works by women who are in the mature, even elderly stage of life. Doesn’t that count as one of life’s cycles, and aren’t they best equipped to reflect on it? There’s too much in this show to discuss it all, but some standouts in this section were Jenny Saville’s enormous painting “Fulcrum,” with the ability to shock both in scale and by her adroit handling of the paint—a kind of realism at its best. I was also taken by Miwa Yanagi’s photo “Yuka” from her series “My Grandmothers.” I’d seen this before in reproduction, but in person, it conveyed such a sense of true joy. It’s to be expected that a feminist show will express many grievances of the female experience, which made the few pieces like Yanagi’s with a positive message, or any hint of wit, really stand out. This show has tons of photography and videos, greatly outnumbering painting and sculpture. In the Identities section, racial, cultural, and gender identities are explored. A particularly strong, albeit disturbing statement is made by artist Mary Coble, in an 11-minute video of a butch lesbian repeatedly binding and unbinding her breasts with duct-tape until the skin becomes red, raw, and obviously painful. Finding inspiration with Duchamp’s idea of an alter ego of another gender, Israeli artist Oreet Ashery also presents a rather startling image of a breast-baring Hasidic man in “Self-Portrait as Marcus Fisher I”, a kind of fascinating commentary on this insular society of patriarchal tradition. (Sorry for the reflection — bad photo.) Unless I missed them, absent in the Identities section are pieces that address the continued objectification of women and the ever-increasing pressure on women to alter themselves with plastic surgery to be more appealing (to men).

The section on Politics is perhaps the most enlightening, presenting the vast range of experiences of women from so many different countries and cultures. The video by Bulgarian artist Boryana Rossa in the final section, “Emotions” was another standout for its humorous approach to skewering stereotypes of women’s exaggerated, histrionic emotions. There was a kind of poignant humor to the unpretentious piece by YBA Sarah Lucas, called “The Sperm Thing,” of a soccer ball, steel bucket, and pantyhose. The show is up until July 1st, and “The Dinner Party” is a permanent installation at the Center, and a trip to the Brooklyn Museum is always worth it, no matter how you slice it. I hope that young people will not be steered away from the Center because of the bold and challenging material it will present in fulfillment of its mission. At last there will be an ongoing opportunity for the public to take in the diverse expressions of female artists, to see beyond the depiction of women as artist’s model, Virgin Mother, martyred saint, or whore, and most importantly, to learn.

I’ve already written too much here, but have to add a quick addendum:

Three other things worth checking out at the Brooklyn Museum are:

1) A small exhibition of women ceramacists, including several wonderful pieces by Eva Zeisel

2) A fantastic, extensive survey of American Art on the fifth floor from the museum’s incredible collection.

3) Also on the fifth floor, the Visible Storage & Study Center in the Luce Center for American Art. You can wander in here and see, through acrylic cases, a vast warehouse of stored items. Gives you a glimpse into behind-the-scenes inner workings of the museum, and it’s simply fantastic.

What you constantly overhear at the Brooklyn Museum is people saying to their companions “I love this museum! This is such a great museum!” And they’re right. The Brooklyn Museum, with its focus on education (great signage, often bilingual), mission of serving a diverse community, and massive, first-rate collection could easily be considered our city’s finest. Add to that easy accessibility by subway, low admission fees, friendliness to people of all ages and those with disabilities, and proximity to the Botanical Gardens, and you just have to ask yourself what have you been waiting for?

[Images from top to bottom: 1& 2: Judy Chicago (U.S.A., b. 1939),The Dinner Party, 1974–1979, Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, and textile, 48 x 42 x 3’ (14.6 x 12.8 x .9 m), Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center Foundation © Judy Chicago, © Polshek Partnership Architects. Image 3, Hatshepsut plate from The Dinner Party, 1974–1979, Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, and textile, 48 x 42 x 3’ (14.6 x 12.8 x .9 m), Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center Foundation © Judy Chicago. Image 4: Jenny Saville (UK, b. 1970), Fulcrum, 1999, Oil on canvas 8′7″ x 16′w, Gagosian Gallery, NY. Image 5: Miwa Yanagi (Japan, b. 1967) Yuka, from the My Grandmothers series, 2000 Chromogenic print on Plexiglas, mounted on aluminum, 63 x 63″ (160 x 160 cm) Collection of Linda Pace, San Antonio, Texas © Miwa Yanagi, photo courtesy of the artist. Image 6: Oreet Ashery (Israel, b 1966) Self Portrait as Marcus Fisher I, From the Portrait of Marcus Fisher I-IV Series, 2000, Lambda Print, 47 x 37″, edition of 7, lent by the artist and Foxy Production, NY, and supported by Arts Council England. Image 7: Boryana Rossa (Bulgaria, b. 1972) Celebrating the Next Twinkling (Praznuvane na sledvascia mig), 1999 Single-channel video, color, sound, 2 min. 45 sec., edition of 2 Private collection (Photos: courtesy of the artist). Image 8: Sarah Lucas (UK b 1962) The Sperm Thing, 2006. Steel buckedt, cast concrete football, and nylon tights, 20 x 76 x 21:, Collection of Murderme, London. Image 8: Eva Zeisel (American, b. Hungary), Salt and pepper shakers, 1946. Image 9: The visible storage at Brooklyn Museum)

April 12, 2007

other recent articles

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 7:17 am

previously featured:
one layer closer to Truth on Double Edge Theatre;
Exhibition Review: The American Academy of Arts & Letters
Interview: Hal Hartley

March 13, 2007

one layer closer to Truth

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 1:45 pm

Republic of Dreams: Under the Sign of the Crocodile
Double Edge Theatre

I’ve been following the work of Double Edge Theatre for the past four years. To adequately describe the 25-year old company and its many facets would require a book; but I will try to provide some highlights in hopes that readers might be encouraged to take advantage of the company’s latest show at LaMaMa ETC, Republic of Dreams, playing through March 18.

The company makes its home in Ashfield, Massachusetts, in a repurposed farm that is used as a residency, training facility, and multi-location stage setting. Director Stacy Klein and Producing director Carlos Uriona draw on an experimental theatrical tradition practiced more commonly in Eastern Europe than in the U.S. As in companies like Poland’s Gardzienice theater, Double Edge uses rigorous physical training and a process-oriented theatrical practice to drive experimental works that blend stagecraft, acting, movement, music, and even acrobatics. A work or body of work chosen as raw material will actually evolve before ones eyes over the years as Double Edge produces it. But unlike a repertory company that keeps pulling out its same old production of Don Quixote, Double Edge’s subsequent performances are more like peeling one more layer of the onion deeper toward Truth — or like meeting up with a brilliant friend to see what she’s been thinking about lately.

Productions start with intense study of primary sources by Klein, Uriona, and cast members. The production that we ultimately see is the outcome, as Klein has described, of a primarily non-verbal direction process, expressing the results of their research through the tools of theater.

This latest “onion” is based on the writings, drawings, and biographies of Bruno Schulz, a talented visionary artist who viewed his personal strife and the hypocrisy around him in a Poland filling with Nazis, and responded by creating a fantastic world that held his obsessions, frustrations and dreams. Double Edge’s work is a blend of emotion, mayhem, and spectacle that left audience members motionless in their seats at the curtain and kept them there discussing the play for another 10 minutes.

There is a great deal of current writing on Schulz for those interested in more background and a reading list, but a good, non-linear introduction is available in Double Edge’s new play. What struck me in this production, the second version of it I have seen this year, are the beautiful quotes from Schulz that form key moments of the work. When introducing the character of his father, Joseph (Schulz’s recurring autobiographical narrator, played by Matthew Glassman) cries out,

My father, the great defender of the lost cause of poetry!

Jacob, the father (played by Uriona), delivers a speech that brilliantly sums up the culture, while wearing a tutu and atop a moving wardrobe:

The essence of reality is meaning or sense. What lacks meaning for us is not reality. When we manipulate everyday words, we forget that they are fragments of lost epics and ancient stories. We build our houses with pieces of sculptures and ruined statues of gods, like the barbarians did.

And to close, Schulz defends his focus on a world of his own creations:

The possibility suggests itself that no dreams, however absurd or senseless, are wasted in the universe…


photos: (1st) Carlos Uriona, Matthew Glassman, and Jeremy Louise Eaton; (2nd) Matthew Glassman as Bruno Schulz

Photos: Robert Tobey

Click here for the event posting containing ticket and other information.

March 10, 2007

Exhibition Review: The American Academy of Arts & Letters

Filed under: Articles — Sky Pape @ 5:30 pm

There aren’t a whole lot of arts venues waaaay uptown that can convince people to venture up to 156th Street (which is downtown for some of us), but the 109-year-old American Academy of Arts & Letters alone more than justifies the trip. It’s an exceptional institution in a special setting, currently presenting an exhibition of particular merit. In substance and spirit, the Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts at AAA&L, proved to be the perfect antidote to the surfeit and frenzy of the recent glut of art fairs in NYC.

The show, on view until April 1, 2007, consists 86 paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, photographs, and other works on paper by 34 contemporary artists. Academy members, an elite society of 250 of America’s most eminent artists, architects, writers, composers, initially nominated 150 artists for the exhibition, and a selection committee then decided upon the exhibiting artists. (For what it’s worth, in a nod to Rebel Belle & Edna over at Anonymous Female Artist, I’ll note that 20 of the 81 Academy members in the Visual Arts incredibly do not have penises! A whopping 25% in comparison to what we see at other established institutions like the Met Museum, for example. Even better, almost half of the artists in the show are female.)

The Academy’s art awards and purchase programs are intended “to acknowledge artists at various stages of their careers, from helping to establish younger artists to rewarding older artists for their accumulated body of work.” Therefore, it’s not surprising to see well-known, established artists like David Salle, Sally Mann, and Grace Knowlton with underrecognized, unfamiliar and/or younger talents.

Initially chartered by Congress (before government became so interested in ransacking the arts) The Academy was established in 1898 with the laudable mission to “foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts.” In service of that mission, they will award nearly $50,000 in cash to some of this year’s artists, and additionally will purchase selected paintings and works on paper for placement in national museums. Their press release notes “…works by Polly Apfelbaum, Mel Bochner, Nicole Eisenman, Thomas Nozkowski, James Siena, Stephen Westfall and Lynn Davis are among more recent placements. Since the purchase program’s founding in 1946, through the legacy of Childe Hassam (a fave artist of Brooke Astor), close to 1200 works have been purchased and donated to museums throughout the country.” That constitutes a pretty significant contribution towards sustaining our national cultural heritage, I’d say.

Housed at Audubon Terrace (Broadway between 155 & 156 St) in two landmark buildings designed by McKim, Mead & White, and by Cass Gilbert, the installation in the galleries has been excellently considered and thoughtfully carried out, making it easy to absorb and make sense of such a broad range of work.

Black and red licorice is the surprising medium used by Andy Yoder in his huge pieces — sentimental, evocative, and nostalgic sculptures of a man’s wing-tip shoes, bow tie, and Magritte-like pipe. Joe Fig, whom I’ve reviewed here before, also has work in this show, including miniature renditions of his own studio and Dana Schutz’s, who’s in the show too. It’s refreshing to see recognition being given to artists like Emna Zghal, whose poetic work, which incorporates painting, woodcut, and ink drawing, is not easily pigeon-holed into any category. It was great to see works in this show of artists represented by some of the smaller galleries with passionate, intelligent dealers who have staked out turf in Chelsea, like Miyako Yoshinaga’s M.Y. Art Prospects (Zghal) and Edward Winkelman’s Winkelman/Plus Ultra (Yoder & Fig).

Sally Mann takes photography to a new level, with her large-scale gelatin silver print portraits of her children, that, with their perfect matte finishes look like frescoed visages of classical sculpture. I was delighted to become acquainted with Warren Isensee’s work, and was particularly captivated by his painting “Highbeam,” so appropriately named because you want to keep looking at it, while it’s hard for the eyes to do so. With terrific skills as a colorist, Isensee wallops the viewer with the optical depth, movement, and intensity of his geometric compositions. Also new to me were the paintings of Juan Gomez. His pink and acid-green canvases were simultaneously pop/cartoonish, suggestive, and touching. Not to lay on the superlatives too heavily, but the guy is an absolute virtuoso with the paint. You can’t tell from this reproduction, but with a few deft strokes, he gives us one of the best images of a baby perhaps ever painted. (This year, Gomez received The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award of $5000 to be given to a younger painter of distinction who has not yet been accorded due recognition.)

In the south galleries, there are several pieces that joyfully express a connection with the natural environment. Julian Hatton, another great colorist, matches his skills in that area with his dynamic, idiosyncratic language of landscape. Frances Hynes‘ guileless and true, impastoed canvases set off an internal soundtrack of birds, water and wind, helping one forget the brutal cold outside and believe Spring will really arrive. And there are rewards to be had for taking the time to engage with Emily Nelligan’s charcoal drawings of Maine’s Cranberry Island, sensitively imbued with a subtlety derived from the artist’s spending “every day of every summer for almost sixty years seeking to capture it’s brooding shoreline.”

A real show-stealer for me was the installation by Sarah Oppenheimer, of a curved, wood-lined passage opening through an intersection of the gallery walls to unite three of the discrete spaces. During the reception, it was particularly enjoyable to rethink architectural experience while getting a spy’s eye glimpse of the art and guests in the adjacent spaces through Oppenheimer’s elegantly conceived portal. No picture of that one, so you’ll have to go see it yourself.

Dates Thursday, March 8 through Sunday, April 1, 2007
Hours Thursdays through Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Location Audubon Terrace on Broadway between 155 and 156 Streets
Directions Subway: #1 to 157 Street; Bus: M4, M5 to 155 Street and Broadway

P.S. Don’t forget to stop in and check out the El Grecos at the Hispanic Society while it’s still there and you are too.

Interview: Hal Hartley

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 4:20 pm

by Peter Ferko and Claire Adas

Director Hal Hartley combines wit and a keen political sense with a love of language to bring that rare cinematic treat: an accessible, intelligent, artful film. With more than 10 features and as many shorts to his credit, Hartley brings a signature quality to characters as diverse as a poet-garbage man, an Icelandic monster, and Jesus Christ. His casting choices are delightful, including Parker Posey, Martin Donavan, James Urbaniak, Thomas Jay Ryan, Robert John Burke, Isabelle Huppert, Julie Christie, P.J. Harvey, Edie Falco, William Burroughs, and his multi-talented wife Miho Nikaido. Many have become part of his regular ensemble. Hartley’s latest feature, “Fay Grim,” is a sequel to his 1997 film, “Henry Fool.” It features Parker Posey as a Long Island housewife thrown into the world of international espionage under the lead of a CIA agent played by Jeff Goldblum. Now:Here:This contributor and filmmaker Claire Adas and I had a chance to sit down with Hal Hartley during his latest visit to New York, before he heads to Sundance to present “Fay Grim.” Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

RE: Now:Here:This
PF: Artists Unite is located in Northern Manhattan.

HH: The first place I lived when I moved to New York City was Inwood.

PF: That’s our stomping grounds — although Claire lives in Lambertville, New Jersey. Our community is also virtual.

HH: It’s a very real dilemma. I notice that a lot of younger people — interns and production assistants who work for me, can’t afford to live in New York, they live so far away from each other. It’s not so easy for them to have a community that is spontaneous — to get together to argue about painting, say. They have to make appointments a month in advance.

CA: Or use email.

HH: The internet can help eradicate the spacial barrier.

PF: It’s getting to be a different world. But I find the people I am in community with keep moving. I don’t keep changing my friends, I just stay in touch with those people, whether they’re in California, Russia, France…

HH: Exactly.

PF: Our flagship project, Now:Here:This asks the questions, “What is the most important thing on your mind right now?” So let’s start with that question to you.

HH: Location! I moved to Berlin in 2004, but at that moment my wife’s design work, which she had been working hard at for years, began to pay off, so she stayed here and now we’re trans-Atlantic.

I like Berlin. I know I can’t afford to live here any more–I can’t afford to make work here. The City doesn’t want you to be low budget. But I want to be close to my family. So I’m very confused. I know what will happen, when I get back to my apartment in Berlin, which is large and has a good workspace, these issues will disappear.

An American in Berlin
PF: Is that what you’re finding, that Berlin is a good place to work.

HH: Yes, it’s much less expensive, so that’s a lot less pressure.

CA: How did you choose Berlin?

HH: I was invited by the American Academy in Berlin for 3 months in 2004. I got to know a lot of people… I made friends, I liked the city. I rented an apartment and was back and forth. But then, I made my new film, “Fay Grim” based out of Berlin. So I was there all last year.

CA: [“Henry Fool” can be seen as a metaphorical comparison of Beckett and Joyce] I was thinking of Henry Fool, the Beckett-like character. There is a Beckett quote, something like, to stay at home is suicide, but exile is slow disillusionment. I was thinking about Beckett and Joyce living in Paris and writing about Ireland. Do you feel like you’re living in exile? Does that affect you as an artist?

HH: Not to be melodramatic, but yeah. One of the things that was exciting and what helped me decide to stay was that in 2004 — you know that was the election — it was almost like an American could have more value being in a different country. Because lots of silly stuff gets said — anti-Americanism, some of which is perfectly sound, but other criticisms that are crazy. And people in other countries at that time really wanted to talk to Americans: What do you think is really going on, and how do you feel about it? I think the American Academy was hoping we would kind of act as ambassadors. To say, not everybody’s from a “red state.”

And that definitely influenced my writing. When you see “Fay Grim,” you’ll see that it’s about all of this. Fay, from “Henry Fool,” gets approached by the CIA, who ask her to go to Paris, because the French have two of Henry’s notebooks, which appear to have dangerous secrets in them. [In “Henry Fool,” Henry has a multi-volume literary manifesto that is his life’s work.] It turns into a farce about espionage, and this simple woman from Queens turns out to be not-so-simple and very brave — but it’s very much about what it’s like to be American in this world now: the suspicion of us, and the frustration with us. But also, good things. It’s really one of my favorite lines — Jeff Goldblum plays a CIA agent, Fullbright. It’s a flashback to the ‘80’s and bombs are going off — and he’s trying to talk this Iranian diplomat into talking to the rebels to get them on the CIA payroll. And the Iranian says, “Well you’re looking for someone who will do whatever the Americans want.” And Goldblum, in complete innocence, says, “Yeah, well, why not?” It’s funny. Of course, we know why not. It was more fun to write the CIA agent as a true believer in the cause rather than someone who is consciously duplicitous. To have him say, when Fay asks, “Why did we have to help overthrow the government in Chile in 1973?” that “It interfered with the imperatives of the American economy.”

Making Smart Movies for Americans
CA: I think Americans think of themselves as being clever and on top of the world, but we’re not, and the rest of the world looks down on us. I have a German friend who says, we’ve known about global warming for 20 years — and so have we, but we wear blinders.

HH: Also, we’re here [in New York City]. I think this is also geographical. When I travel in other parts of the United States, there aren’t enough newspapers … people — weirdly — aren’t really using the internet.

CA: It’s so easy to turn on Fox News, and why wouldn’t what they say be true? I think you have to be taught to question, and no one is teaching anyone that.

HH: Well, as Chomsky says, none of these politicians have any interest in us being educated. If we’re educated, we’re just harder to dupe.

CA: Americans tend to distrust anything clever, but the people in your movies, well, talk in complete sentences; they don’t interrupt each other. Did anyone ever tell you to “dumb it down”?

HH: Yeah, my whole career, in one way or another. But I was lucky that my first couple films were made at a time when alternatives were being sought, both by the audience and the industry. The hard-boiled business people were also looking for something different. They felt that the zeitgeist required it.

So making movies like “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust,” where people are speaking that way were successful, and to a certain extent, that created a foundation and I’ve been able to “milk” that, I guess. Even though I feel my writing changes, articulateness is [a constant]. Even when I’m trying to write somebody who can’t speak, like Simon in “Henry Fool,” why not craft it beautifully? His inarticulateness itself was one of the most enjoyable things to write.

CA: That’s one of the things I liked about him. He speaks with silences.

HH: James Urbaniak really understands “space.”

CA: There are a lot of beautiful moments where he’s not speaking at all, he’s barely even reacting, but there’s so much going on.

HH: I’ve tried to get [my actors] to where they think about speaking and pauses and physical activity as the same thing. And when I can’t explain it, I’ll say, just look at James.

Making a Sequel
PF: Sequels are notoriously challenging, even for a successful first film. What made you decide to make a sequel to Henry Fool?

HH: Well, it is a challenge, but sometimes you have to take on the challenge. When I made “Henry Fool,” I knew it was big… like a cosmology: heaven and hell. In fact, Parker and Thomas and James would complain when I cut a scene — they saw early drafts of the script — and we had a running joke that it would appear in “Part 6,” like a Star Wars. It always felt like it would continue. Another reason was that I wanted to write the role of a lifetime for Parker. We shot for five days in “Henry Fool” and she was so good. I thought, here’s something, I wanted to flesh that out. She has been getting offered better and better roles, and I imagined I would not have a lot of money to make this film, but when I approached her about doing the role, she said yes without hesitating.

The Script Writing
PF: One of the things I love about your films is the dialog. It’s so juicy. You let your characters say these things that no one would say in a conversation. It brings the film to this other realm where it’s about ideas; and your characters also do absurd things at the same time. So there’s a sense that it is reality, but it’s an altered kind of reality.

HH: Hyperfocused.

PF: Or hyper-intellectual.

HH: [Critics] John Cooper and Noah Cohen have written really well about that; but they make it sound like it’s a “technique.” It’s totally not a technique. I discover the necessity of that kind of dialog as I write and get to understand the characters and the situation.

PF: Do you write scripts before filming?

HH: Yes, I need to have it feel like it’s a very “done” piece of writing before I start. It doesn’t change much [during filming]. It does in the editing. You often discover that things that seem necessary as a reading experience become redundant once they’re in pictures, which makes sense.

PF: I was reading a Wim Wenders book this summer that said he would use a map or a songlist as a script.

HH: I was very, very influenced by Wim in college and when I got out of college. His films were my bible. But I was always a writer. I really needed to write. And I got less apologetic about that as I made more films.

PF: You seem to be willing to let your protagonists lose. Whether it’s losing the girl, or his life, or just the point. And yet they still grow and learn. Where does that come from?

HH: It might be just old fashioned. It’s richer — more real. Although the pictures may not be naturalistic, they are very concerned with reality; giving a true representation of our experiences. And sometimes it’s a nice balance. I have that right now: the really great guy, who fixes everything, doesn’t get the girl. It’s okay — but it’s sad. And you need a little of that sadness. But it’s also right. … It has to feel true. Even with all the artifice that goes into the story, it has to be true; I’m trying to formalize the truth. It would deaden the ending. It’s also why my films end on what I call “suspension,” like in music. It goes up, but the foot doesn’t fall. “Henry Fool” ends that way; “Trust” ends that way; “No Such Thing” does that in a big way — we really don’t know what’s happening. It feels true, but also I want people to be a bit “alive,” unsettled.

Being an Independent in a Hollywood World
CA: That’s one of the things that differentiates an independent film from a Hollywood film. A Hollywood film has to end a certain way.

HH: It has to affirm certain cultural values. Hollywood has been very good at the product aspect of films. You know what you’re going to get. You can watch the film and leave and eat supper.

PF: In an interview of Parker Posey a couple years ago, she was asked why she played primarily in quirky, independent films. She responded that no one had cast her yet in mainstream movies!

HH: That’s changing with her new agency. They are working hard on that.

PF: On the other end of the spectrum, the recently passed founder of the New Museum, Marcia Tucker reportedly found mainstream acceptance as a flashing danger sign [“I’ve learned that the minute you’ve accomplished something that you’re truly satisfied with, it’s time to steer off-course and scare yourself again.” ] Where do you fall in the range between desiring mainstream acceptance and wanting to be an enigma?

HH: [Laughs] I want my films to be popular. Of course if my films were popular, it would be a very different world from the one we live in. But it’s not willful. I don’t want to be in some niche, to have a cult following. I’ll take it, because I’m glad someone is watching the films. But I want to make a contribution to the dialog that is our culture.

CA: But, your films are accessible. You may bring up an idea, but a character will explain the idea. I can’t believe people don’t want intelligent films — I don’t want to believe that!

HH: I don’t want to believe it either [...] I agree with you that something happened in the late 90’s; it became harder [to succeed with a film outside the mainstream]. But it’s a chicken and egg question. Did people stop wanting to see that kind of film, so they stopped getting funded; or did they stop getting made, so people stopped watching them?

PF: The thing is, I think your films are very accessible. They’re topical, and if you bring up an idea, it’s explained by people you’d hang out with at the bar…

HH: Well that’s always funny.

PF: I wonder if it isn’t a question of positioning, marketing.

HH: Well, sure. I just had a meeting with Magnolia Pictures; they are distributing “Fay Grim.” And it was all about this very thing. They showed me the trailer they just cut. They were telling me certain words are out: budget, indie — anything that implies small. They love “Fay Grim,” because while it cost nothing, it looks big. That’s one thing you gain with experience, you can do little things that make a big difference: the rooftops of Paris, Parker Posey in a great dress falling from the top of a building, etc.

I toured the last film, “Girl from Monday,” myself. I did the same thing documentary filmmakers do: booked it into art houses around the country … gave a Q&A on the first night in a new place. And what I heard, everywhere, people were amazed that this kind of film was being made. I think if we had had more capital, we could have been even more successful with that approach.

Shooting Digital
PF: I had been shooting photographs for about four years in which I intentionally move my camera to explore how the eye and mind work together to see when I saw your turn of the millennium film, “The Book of Life,” where you use motion blur throughout the film — almost like a character. How did you come to that approach?

HH: Playing with the camera. I have a healthy disdain for video — the right off the truck variety. I was playing with all the buttons on the camera, which all alter that. And I saw that effect and thought, oh I’ve seen that in rock videos, the slow shutter speed. But that was the one I ended up liking. Then I had to develop a vocabulary, so I practiced shooting a lot. It’s like as a painter, you can‘t just use something once, you have to educate the viewer about what it means.

And that film was different — in terms of subject matter, so I was looking for some different way to show that. It was the first film I shot on digital video.

PF: I saw you in a special feature on the “Girl from Monday” disk. You were doing all your test shots with a small DV camera.

HH: We shot a lot of that right here [in the studio of the Steve Hamilton, who served as editor on many of Hartley’s films]. We did a lot of location scouting. Not a lot of set dressing. And I was working right over there at that table and said, this is perfect for Jack’s apartment…we were moving around with our little cameras finding angles. It was great.

CA: What is “Fay Grim” shot on?

HH: HD. But that’s just like 35 mm. HD is great. I love it. Because it has the resolution of film. And you have the monitor there so you can immediately see what you’re getting — Now that I’m working with new camera people, I like to stay on top of what’s being shot.

We also used [multi-frame] still photography for some of the scenes, shot right onto an iPod. We would shoot a gunfight, click-click-click-click-click, then look at it on the iPod, say, ‘I think we can do it better’ and do another take. It really worked — the gunfight is a very powerful — shocking — scene.

CA: It’s like Goddard, experimenting with 16 mm film…

HH: I just see it all as material. You can paint a watercolor or your can paint with acrylic or oils. It’s what you do with it…

We would like to thank Hal Hartley for sharing his time and his views with us; and we wish him much success with “Fay Grim,” which is due to be released in May 2007. More information about his films is available at

images: Parker Posey, from Possible Films; film posters from

March 9, 2007

ADAA — The Art Show 2007

Filed under: Articles — Sky Pape @ 3:15 pm

February was all about the art fairs, and though they’re thankfully behind us now, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a quick glance back at the two shows we managed to visit, The Red Dot Art Fair, and the ADAA’s show The Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory. The public consensus regarding a few other notable fairs as overheard at The Art Show was as follows: Scope: Disappointing (Peter Ferko gives us a look at Scope in this post), The Armory: Utterly overwhelming and disappointing, Pulse: Surprisingly good. That’s the hearsay report, since we didn’t get to those.

For some reason, I was confused and thought the Red Dot Art Fair was at the Armory on 26th & Lex, which was actually where Pulse was, and I wish I had gone there instead. When I arrived at the Red Dot on 28th, I was suprised to realize it was in a hotel. I still didn’t clue in at first, thinking the show must be in a large ballroom or something, but instead it was in the hotel rooms themselves. Each gallery had a room, most of them not larger than the bed. Of course, this led to a lot of bathroom installations, a challenge most self-respecting artists would probably prefer not to face. Work was also hung in the claustrophobic hallways, in closets, and displayed on beds, desks, and every other viable surface.

I ran into a colleague the other day who seemed to sum it up so well, declaring it reminded him of a German brothel, which amused me immensely. I can’t really comment on the accuracy of his comparison, but could totally relate to his assessment of there being something tawdry about the whole scene, right down to the wads of dough being flung about.

The majority of the work was by younger, dare I say “emerging” artists, and, relatively speaking, less expensive than what you’d generally find at the other fairs, especially the ADAA’s. The experience of being crammed with a half dozen strangers into a hotel room that can barely accommodate two skinny people comfortably is disconcerting at best, and in my opinion, a most difficult situation to try looking at art.

The rooms were too small to take decent photos, so I’ve just provided some links here. A couple of galleries with work that stood out enough to make an impression were Kenise Barnes Fine Art from Larchmont, NY, showing mandala-like paper pieces by Mary Judge, and delicately rendered line drawings by Leslie Snipes, Lohin Geduld Gallery, Elizabeth Harris Gallery, with a somber and elegant painting by Pat Lipsky, fantastical abstract lanscapes by Julian Hatton (who is incidentally in the current invitational show at the American Academy of Arts & Letters), and d.e.n. contemporary for the charcoal drawings of Daniel Brice, and the window pieces of Leyla Cardenas. Other galleries that registered on the radar were Repetti in LIC, Pentimenti from Philadelphia, and Matt Garson’s consulting firm M%.

By comparison, The Art Show was a pleasure cruise. As with last year’s post, I wasn’t able to get many great pictures, so this write-up is something of a sampler. Some hold the opinion that The Art Show is stodgy, but I enjoy the variety it offers, spanning from the present, back through the 20th century. The representation of contemporary art in the show seems to improve every year, and the offerings are very solid, with the likes of Chris Ofili, Shahzia Sikander, Cornelia Parker (at D’Amelio Terras), Julian Opie (at Barbara Krakow), Leslie Dill (at George Adams), and more. The first thing you saw when you entered was a gorgeous, distorting, reflective piece by Anish Kapoor at Gladstone Gallery’s booth.

I’ve ranted here before about my disinterest in photorealistic work that does little to reach beyond the technical aspects of copying. However, there were a few examples that fulfilled my desire to see realistic work that goes further to offer a new vision. Colin Brown, whose work had sold out at Fischbach Gallery, was one such artist. Brown’s large scale paintings are made by applying a layer of carbon on a white-surfaced board, which he then works into with a jeweler’s tool, scratching away the black to reveal the white beneath. From even a foot away, these look like sumptuous black and white photos, but as soon as you’re closer, you realize they are completely abstract, just dots of various sizes and some finely scratched lines. The works convey both the romance and isolation, and pace of the city, and are quite dazzlingly beautiful. [These were especially interesting to me, since earlier examples of Brown's work on the gallery's website weren't, meaning he's going somewhere.]

The other example I’d mention in this vein was at Richard Gray Gallery, where David Klamen had also sold all of his large oil paintings, beautifully rendered land or seascapes painted in a soft, precise, romantic style, which he then obscured with screens of dots. In one case, he made a rather tongue-in-cheek comment about the impact of digital photography, by painting the guides of a camera view finder over his

realistic-but-not-photographic landscape.

Speaking of dots, one might think of Seurat, and this is the place where it’s not surprising to find an exquisite charcoal drawing by that artist, as singular in style as were his paintings (Peter Findlay Gallery).

There happened to be a decent amount of excellent drawing to be found here, like a booth with Shahzia Sikander’s work (Sikkema Jenkins & Co), including these meticulous and loving portraits of her mother and sister that could grab you from several yards away. Also, there was a wonderful piece by Chris Ofili with scores of miniature heads with different beards and hairstyles (at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, this image is just a detail), and at David Nolan Gallery, this sensual line drawing of a man by Andy Warhol. (Again, my apologies about the photos.)

One of my favorite things about The Art Show is the likelihood of seeing unusual pieces by giants of the 20th century. Here are just three: A small, pastoral painting in a big gold frame by Henri Rousseau (at Richard L. Feigen & Co.), a small landscape by Georgia O’Keeffe (at Donald Morris Gallery from Birmingham, MI), and an early De Kooning, called “Mother Father Sister Brother” from 1937-39 (at Danese).

Additionally, it was a treat to see a couple of pieces by artists whose work is rarely seen outside of MoMA’s collection, such as Lee Bontecou (Knoedler & Co) and Gunther Uecker (at Adler & Conkright Fine Art)

The show always seems to feature one artist or two, as if by tacit agreement amongst the galleries, although that would seem unlikely. This year, the exuberant sculptures of John Chamberlain showed up everywhere, and Fred Sandback’s work turned up again and again unexpectedly. I couldn’t get a good shot of Sandback’s work, but I’m an admirer of this artist and a trip to Dia:Beacon is worth it to see that alone.

The Art Show is a place of juxtapositions, where you can see Kenny Scharf painting (left) next to a Man Ray (right).

And this poignant, older gouache by Jacob Lawrence, “Victory” from 1947 (at DC Moore) that seem so disturbingly up to date.

Obviously, trying to take in the wares of 70 galleries in the span of a few hours is overwhelming, and both physically and mentally exhausting. Rather than replicate that feeling here, I’ll just leave you with a few more images, and look for you there next year.

Martin Puryear’s sublime and serene sculpture at John Berggruen Gallery,

Galerie Lelong’s solo show of Kate Shepherd’s paintings — architecture for ghosts,

a charming painting by Peter Doig at Barbara Mathes that made me think Spring will really come,

and an imposing solo show of ink on paper pieces by Sigmar Polke at Michael Werner.

February 25, 2007

Scope: a mini review

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 5:38 pm

I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to take advantage of the gluttonous quantity of art shipped into the city for the Armory show and it’s competitors/colleagues this weekend. I suffer from a less-is-more style of art viewing, so art fairs aren’t my cup, but I sipped by carefully picking the fair in the list with the smallest size, but widest world perspective: Scope.

I generally have a suspicious reaction to statements like, “It was awful!” that I hear so often from artists who attend fairs. I think it’s probably more accurate to say that there’s an awful lot of mostly competent stuff, but when seen all together, it’s noteworthy how little stands out from the crowd. This was certainly the case at Scope. I could barely bring myself to look at a lot of it. Here are the items that stood up out of the crowd, albeit mostly for personal reasons. One satisfying aspect was its diversity, of media as well as nationality.
The photography jumped out–it seems to have taken over the European galleries, especially. Probably it jumped because large scale is still so much the rage. I can’t believe that photographers are willing to accept so much digital distortion in their 40 inch prints, but there it was all over the place. My local fave, Yossi Milo, however, was a cut above, showing work from superb past and upcoming shows, including Kelli Connell, who works a single model into identity-searching narratives.

kelli.jpg-Kelli Connell, Double Life

Galerie Baer, from Dresden had some cool work, including artist Stefan Lenke’s paintings and photography. The paintings were very spare without being minimal, the photos hinted at an interest in color and texture that plays out in the paintings.

-Stephan Lenke, Eliot

-Stephan Lenke, Straße

Marc de Puechredon of Basel was showing Raphaele Shirley, whose piece, Elevation in Time, creates an experience of self for the occupant of a box. The box is a study for a commission to create four elevators in Monte Carlo. The interior includes images and mirrors, plus a tentacle-like set of lights and speakers hanging from the ceiling.

In an admirable concept/outcome pairing, Mike Weiss Gallery’s Tom Fruin creates fascinating, intimate, almost needlecraft pieces from found drug bags and other garbage and fragments.

-Tom Fruin, Virgin Mary
When I read about Jean-Christian Bourcart recently, I thought his technique of shooting photos of the light emerging from the projection booth sounded clever, but a one-liner. The results, though, on view at Andrea Meislin Gallery were mesmerizing.
-Jean-Christian Bourcart, Stardust #34

Crown Gallery in Brussels caught my eye as a reason to look at some paintings, albeit on paper. These charming, approximately 10 x 12 inch pieces by Tina Gillen were sweet without being saccharine and dark without being jaded.

-Tina Gillen

Moti Hasson’s sampling, from current show artist, Paul Pagk, was a treat. I liked these paintings a lot more in person after being unimpressed seeing them a couple times online or in print. Goes to show you how much painting is a visceral experience.

Paul Pagk, Lexicon 19

Bryce Wolkowtz Gallery was the electronica territory-holder at Scope. There was a variety of interesting work that was plugged in at this booth. A favorite was Vic Cosik’s twist on the ubiquitous LCD screen movie viewing experience. His process converts video into ascii characters that dance together to form the images. Here’s a closeup and a more pulled out shot of one piece.

Okay, I’ve hit photo, painting, digital, installation, collage. I was underwhelmed with drawing offerings, sorry to say. To wrap up then, I found these sculptures by Ewerdt Hilgemann, presented by Art Affairs in Amsterdam, just beautiful. The work proceeds from minimalist formal studies and literally takes the wind out of it — or forces it in a new direction by using vacuum to sculpt the steel structures without touching them.

And there’s a good description of what attending an art fair can do for you, take the wind out of your sails or force you on. Thankfully, I came home raring to get to work.
-Ewerdt Hilgemann, from Imploded Sculptures

February 20, 2007

Sky Pape: Drawing Breath at June Kelly Gallery

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 5:26 pm

sky1.jpgIt is an auspicious occurence when one gets to work with people one admires. This is certainly the case for me with my fellow Artists Unite Issue contributor, Sky Pape, who has a show of drawings at June Kelly in SoHO this month. I have had the opportunity to consider Sky’s work quite intensively during the two years since her last solo show at June Kelly, when we first met, and it’s been a great time.

To put the current show in perspective, it is important to realize that Sky is one of the rare artists who creates different-looking work as she moves through her career. She does this not because she cannot dive deeply into one “style,” or because of artistic ADD, but because her work has a strong core exploration into the art of drawing per se and her dexterous inquiry into this medium continues to provide her with juicy chapters.

A trip to her web site will provide samples of these chapters:

  • Her series, Silver Linings found her exploring graphite as both a line-making material and a three-dimensional texture in the same piece. The work is absolutely stunning; it reflects the light differently as one changes viewing angles and gives every indication of being large objects that have somehow been flattened onto a sheet of paper.
  • The Inklings series are a demonstration of Sky’s relationship to paper, which for her is not simply a substrate for drawing, but is nearly always an equal partner in the drawing with ink or other mark-making material and has an art, history, and politics of its own. The Inklings are objects as well as drawings; beautiful patterns of marks and stacked lines in which the dance between the paper and the ink has seamless transitions—first the line is an inked edge, then the ripple of the paper suffices to carry it forward.
  • The Behind the Seen drawings demonstrate depth literally, as ink that soaks through handmade paper, and show Sky’s willingness to experiment, be surprised, and master new methods. This was the first of Sky’s work that I saw in person, and I was reluctant to leave the presence of these drawings that seemed at once so anciently symbolic in outcome and so completely modern in production.

sky2.jpgWhich brings us to her current show. Sky’s most recent work synthesizes, rethinks, and moves beyond everything before. Drawing Breath, which is certainly an apt description of the life force she seems to get from the act of drawing, is a symphony of techniques working together to create drawings of organic complexity and beauty. For a while now, she has been working with blown ink—expelling ink through a straw to create a line that is somewhat “out of control” (not unlike Brice Marden’s stick drawings). In the drawings in the show, she allows the blown lines to become objects by cutting them out and layering several sheets of lines and paper. The boldness of these drawings cannot be overstated—when I had her unwrap some for a preview, I had the sense that a theatrical production was underway among the dynamic layers comprising the pieces.

The show includes a range of scale, from 20 x 30 inches to 80 x 60 inches, all on drawn, cut, and layered handmade paper that she obtains from Nepal and Japan. The colors of the paper are striking and the organic nature of the cut lines is remeniscent of blood vessels, roots, or river deltas while sometimes invoking figures or formal patterns.

This is a great show from a really smart artist and well worth a trip to SoHO, where good contemporary art is clearly still alive and well.


Images: Swarm, 2006 (Ink, gouache and cut handmade paper, 33 ½ x 31 ½ inches); Never a Wasteland, 2005 (Ink, gouache, and cut paper, 30 ½ x 20 ¼ inches); opening of Drawing Breath at June Kelly Gallery.

January 18, 2007

recent and highlight articles you might have missed…

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 10:14 am

Recent writing:

And from the archives:

December 12, 2006

from fat cats to jail cells: fernando botero

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 11:26 am

Leave it to the Nation to do a really cracker jack job of looking at political use of art (in a way that nicely dovetails with our current discussion of painting from photographs). Arthur C. Danto draws on references from the 1563 Council of Trent to Susan Sontag in describing why Fernando Botero’s latest paintings convey the anguish of the prisoners of Abu Graib in a way that no photograph can. Describing the power of painting to paint the “unseen,” Danto describes the paintings on view last month at New York’s Marlborough Gallery–by an artist he previously found “pathetic”–as masterpieces of “disturbatory” art, and totally riveting:

…Botero’s Abu Ghraib series, which draws on his knowledge of the graphic, even lurid paintings of Christ’s martyrdom by Latin American Baroque artists, in which Jesus bleeds from the crown of thorns, or from the wounds left by lance points in his ravaged chest. Abu Ghraib, in Botero’s rendering, also evokes Baroque prisons, like those one sees in the paintings titled Roman Charity, where a visiting daughter breast-feeds her chained father in the gloomy light of his cell.

I find it impressive that Botero did not offer these works for sale. He has the collection available as a gift to museums, but does not yet have an offer. To view the work, see Marlborough’s site. The print copy of the Nation includes additional images.

November 27, 2006

now look what you started: 77+Eno

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 4:04 pm


I’ve had lots of conversations with James Huckenpahler in which the words ‘create programming that make art’ occur. It’s no small coincidence that one of James’s heroes, Brian Eno, has been thinking along the same lines.

Art News reports in the December issue about Eno’s project “77 Million Paintings,” built out of the abstract images Eno’s been drawing for the past 18 years. The 300 images overlap in kaleidoscope fashion to create permutations for which, according to Eno, not even the creator can predict the result. He likens the work to a ’seed’ rather than a defined, finished thing.

This work is an obvious parallel with music that Eno has been producing since the ambient “Music for Airports,” and he says as much in interviews about this project. And like the groundbreaking soundscapes, this visual project not only creates the art but envisions the experience of it. Eno reports that the release of the “77 Million Paintings” now is made possible by the current trend in TV and computer technology. He envisions this project as the answer to the question, ‘what do you do with that big, cinema display screen when you’re not watching movies.’ The morphing format of the image is made possible by speedy processors that allow the work to be truly generative, via programming, rather than a recorded show, like a DVD slide show.

via Marketwire, the “77 Million Paintings” package, which is published by All Saints/Hannibal/Ryko, features an exclusive interview DVD, limited-edition deluxe numbered packaging that includes a 52-page hard-bound book with an extensive essay by Eno covering his career as a visual artist, fully illustrated with previously unseen images and a generative software disc playable on Mac or PC.

You can get the flavor, a description from Eno, and watch the “painting” at Rykodisc’s site. The package sells for under $40, but be sure you have a DVD player or computer that’s compatible.
image: one of 77 million permutations of Brian Eno’s “77 Million Paintings.”

November 21, 2006

political art, circa 1947

Filed under: Articles — Peter Ferko @ 1:03 am

I like that Edward Winkleman’s blog is at times an unabashedly political blog from an art writer and at others an art blog from someone with strong political views. But we try to keep the Artists Unite site at least tangentially connected to art at all times. I am saying this, because I’m going to use some very old and probably very unlikely cinematic art as the art connection to the current political situation.

Wendy and I just spent a long weekend at a friend’s cabin in the woods, where the video (yes, video) collection hasn’t changed in quite a while. With the limited available choice, we got a jump on the season-that-gets-earlier-each-year and watched “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra’s tale of the importance of every person’s contribution to the lives of those around him or her.

As I watched the film, I was reminded of the “values” argument that runs so popular in the media and allegedly in the conservative quarters of the U.S. It struck me that the “family values” embodied by the Bailey family–first George’s parents’ family, then his own, are what conservatives, neocons and other non-liberals are after. A kinder, gentler, purer, America; a return to the kind of America we used to know and love before “free love,” “free sex,” and “equal opportunity” a.k.a. integration changed it into a non-homogenous union of willing co-habitators under a pretty good constitution. I’d bet W. watches the flick at Xmas time, wouldn’t you? How interesting, though to look at what’s going on here (and in most of Capra’s films). The American hero: the everyman, the straight-shooter, the regular guy, is basically the communist in this film, creating a social pool of capital at virtually no profit to help the citizens buy homes, and in opposition to the corporate icon, Potter, who, left to his own devices, turns the town into a den of commercial shit (when George gets his “wish” that he was never born).

Capra, a Sicilian-born immigrant American, was certainly no stranger to political corruption. It is interesting that as an American artist he tooks such bold blows at the U.S. elite’s ideals. Self-proclaimed subjective British film biographer David Thompson says in his delightful reference, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (2002),

In America, I “discovered” the uneasy depths of It’s a Wonderful Life. I had seen the film in England, but I had not grasped it and it had not gripped me. But, in America…[it brought good cheer without letting us forget a vision of dread]… happiness here was pursued by the hounds of living hell; the American dream was so close to the nightmare. The film that failed in 1947 had become a token of uplifting fellowship, yet it was a film noir full of regret, self-pity, and the temptation of suicide…

I am thrilled at the U.S. mid-term election results, but I wish that every member of Congress would take a couple hours to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” for a little inspiration in what it means to be an everyman in America; and who the typical citizens are and how extremely basic are the needs they struggle to meet. (I am reminded of Bush senior’s trip to a grocery store when he marvelled at the check-out counter’s use of scanners–clearly demonstrating that he’d never had to shop for groceries in his life).

image: Potter (John Barrymore), “It’s A Wonderful Life”

November 13, 2006

Eleanore Mikus at The Drawing Center

Filed under: Articles — Sky Pape @ 12:51 pm

Eleanore Mikus: From Shell to Skin just opened in The Drawing Center’s main gallery, and will remain on view until February 10th, 2007. There is an extensive amount of work on view, and this retrospective, spanning 1960 to the present, is a good opportunity to become well acqainted with the quietly intense work of this artist. By almost any standards, Mikus’ long career has been a success from the start. She was represented by Pace in the 60’s, and has work in many museums, including the Met and the Whitney, and exhibited widely in the US and abroad. She is Professor Emeritus of Art at Cornell, where she began teaching in 1979. In spite of these accomplishments, and her connections with Arnold Glimcher, Ivan Karp, Louise Nevelson, and Ad Reinhardt, her work has suffered from persistent lack of public and historical recognition — a situation the Drawing Center hopes to ameliorate.

Some digging led me to discover that in the late 60s, when minimalism was beginning to enjoy it’s moment in the spotlight, “Mikus abandoned her abstract endeavor to produce unapologetically figurative, vibrantly child-like paintings.” Perhaps that accounts, in part, for her being relegated to the wings of art history, since few artists other than Gerhard Richter are allowed to shift creative gears and get away with it. I think Anonymous Female Artist could come up with a few other theories as to why Mikus’ name and/or work are not more familiar. None of the figurative works are on view, or even alluded to in the current show.

There is no shortage of first-rate work in this exhibition, especially the “Tablet” paintings, and monochromatic white paintings that look like poured cream. Countless variations of grid drawings made by obsessively folding and unfolding paper offer a fascinating glimpse into the decades-long dedication to and development of a singular focus. The downside of this show is that, perhaps to compensate for a long gap since her last major exhibition, it is vastly overhung. These clean pieces need space to breathe, yet they are clustered in large groups as tightly as possible. I was shocked to see small pieces hung in a row from the baseboards to the ceiling. Those of you with less supple knees than I have will not see the ones near the floor, but even I can’t begin to decipher the details of a 14″ piece (approx) hovering something like 14 feet in the air. Many of the sketches and notebook scribbles in the display cases made me wonder about their inclusion. They contrubuted little, if anything to understanding the artist’s thought processes, and were more of an argument for burning one’s notepads than anything else.

These curatorial and installation pitfalls are not enough to seriously undermine the strength of Mikus’ oeuvre, which will hopefully endure and garner the recognition it deserves.

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