Ideas: October 2009 Archives

Lecture at the Nasher Museum of Art
October 27, 2009

 He was affable, humorous and generally seemed like an all around great guy.  Not exactly the typical description you might expect to hear of an artist's lecture in a formal academic setting like a university museum. But then again I'm talking about Fred Wilson, an artist who thrives on the unexpected, and whose lecture I attended this evening at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.  I believe it is no small part of Wilson's success as an artist that he is a likable and engaging character.  This good-naturedness allows him easier access to a rather privileged world he loves to tinker with, the inner workings of museum culture, in order to produce work that reframes, rethinks and challenges the status quo.

 Wilson's work explores curatorial practice itself and often relies solely on existing artworks in museum collections as subject matter which he rearranges and displays in unconventional and compelling ways.  Working in this manner allows him to produce startling exhibitions which provoke and confound our expectations of museums, their role as cultural arbiters, and their interpretation and presentation of artworks themselves.  This working method has in fact become Wilson's main methodology especially since his exhibition "Mining the Museum" at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992 - a breakthrough event he concedes changed his life forevermore afterwards.   After this landmark show, recontextualizing works of art (and in turn our interpretations of them) through bold curatorial juxtaposition became Wilson's signature.  Just one look at the well known image from "Mining' of Wilson's display of slave shackles and elaborate silver tea goblets together in the same display case is really all you need to start reconsidering the notions of historical accuracy, authenticity, and truth.  History is written by the winners as they say.

In the years since "Mining the Museum" Wilson has gone on to produce other provocative displays in museum and galleries worldwide. Representing the U.S. in the 2003 Venice Biennale afforded an opportunity for international cultural exploration and Wilson fittingly explored how the Moorish culture and Africans exerted and continues to play such a large part in the cultural life of Venice.  His large ebony chandelier entitled "Speak of Me as I Am" became a metaphorical exploration of Africans' impact on the culture of this particular city through one of their rich traditions- glassblowing.  His large chandelier was rich in form and seductive in its understatement of its medium.

 Wilson spoke of how he loves the idea of bringing two differing things together to produce a third thing - namely some unexpected concept or rethinking of the work itself - and this notion is one that continues to drive much of his artistic production.  His work reflects his own perspective of course so his reworkings of museum collections still provide a highly personal take on history and how it's been told- a fact the artist readily acknowledges.  Yet he does it with such gripping force that it has the effect of stopping you in your tracks.

The fundamental core of Fred Wilson's art is the idea that historical accuracy and representation are not all they are cracked up to be.  There's more than one way to organize a show he tells us.  And in that telling, Wilson's art explores not only how strongly museums impact and shape our cultural view but more importantly how we consider and understand ourselves.

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Fred Wilson, "Mining the Museum"  Maryland Historical Society, 1992

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Fred Wilson, "Speak of Me as I Am" from the Venice Biennale, 2003
courtesy PBS, Art:21 and PaceWildenstein, New York


October 27, 2009 11:08 PM | | Comments (1)

As it wound down its run towards its final weekend, the group show entitled "The Conquerors" at Artspace seemed to be crying out for a final close look. So I was more than happy to oblige. 

Co-curated by Raleigh's own Paul Friedrich of Onion Monster fame and Lia Newman of Artspace, the show presents five nationally known artists prominent in the field of 'zine illustration and the Lowbrow style of painting.  This style, finally edging its way eastward from its '80's West Coast origins, is a funky amalgam of the bawdiness of underground comic graphics, hot-rod car culture and the ever scintillating aesthetics of punk rock all rolled into one.  It also throws in a unique incorporation of certain elements of traditional painting subject matter filtered through a streetwise sensibility.  It is worth noting that almost all the artists in the show are also crossovers, having achieved success in much larger media outlets producing graphic work in television, music and national publications.  

Mark Bodnar wins the Tim Burton award for his figures set in generic, yet seriously strange landscapes.  Bodnar's subjects are typically involved in a kooky and mysterious contemplation of their next move in any given scene all the while casting a wary eye about with Betty Boop-like beepers. His observations stand as an eccentric looking glass into a world in which your own emotions take flight couched in disowned, unloved cartoon characters trying to find their own place in the world.

Mari Inukai's paintings are sumptuous in their technique and direct expressive qualities.  Her underlying sense of sentiment and desire stand like beacons to ground her painterly figures in a realm which seems as influenced by Vermeer and John Currin as Manga and Anime.  I felt mesmerized by her tactile paint handling and strong emotive yearnings.

Bonnie Brenda Scott produced "Reactor" a large mural which dominates a full wall in the gallery.  The work is composed of writhing figures rendered in cerebellum-like matter that wind their amoeba shapes across the wall's expanse in a flurry of orange, pink, and blue.  Smoke like shapes flutter up above and her shapes seem at once to be menacing and contemplative as if engaged in some weird conversation to which we are not fully privy.

Bill McRight sticks to black and white imagery exhibiting a loose amalgamation of monsters hanging out and doing scary beasty things. They also cavort a little though and also do things like ride motorcycles.  He purposefully leaves the work a bit vague so that you're forced to fill in the blanks. Yet the strong graphic presence of his pieces (probably the boldest in the show) propels you into a dialogue that leaves you feeling like the work is always going to somehow win the battle on its own terms.

Liz McGrath has the only sculptures in the show exhibiting a trio of flying bunnies elongated in mid-leap (ala Barry Flanagan style) though hers are clothed in odd, hand-stitched, quasi military uniforms. She also has a pair of boxed relief works which depict an elephant and a mosquito in an elaborate ceramic framed and velvet lined animal reliquary. They stand out like some sort of carnival sideshow attraction at once mystically repellent yet so elaborately crafted that they command attention.   

The Conquerors at Artspace
September 4 -
October 24, 2009

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October 23, 2009 12:07 PM |

Picasso and the Allure of Language

Nasher Museum at Duke University

August 20, 2009 - January 3, 2010


I will be the first to admit that I approached this show with caution and also a bit of trepidation.  The thought crossed my mind that the jig was up and it's just that our museum-going selves haven't caught on as yet.  I mean, can there really be that much more to be said in a Picasso exhibition that hasn't been said already?  The blockbuster shows, of which there have of course been many, have effectively worked over the terrain of Picasso as artistic genius to the point of exhaustion, but "Picasso and the Allure of Language" the current show at the Nasher Museum at Duke proves there is still fertile territory to be plumbed.  This show's perspective takes a beguiling multi-faceted approach with the primary aim of exploring the role and influence of language and writing in Picasso's work.

 

Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery in conjunction with Yale's Beinecke Library and support from the Nasher, the show displays manuscripts, letters, book projects, catalogues, and poetry both from Picasso himself (I have to admit I didn't know he had written such a large amount of poetry) and his contemporaries such as Georges Braque and particularly writer Gertrude Stein.  Surprisingly, fewer paintings are on hand than might be expected though the show includes a multitude of prints, drawings, and various illustrated book editions. There are also archetypal cubist-style Picassos included that were either created on newsprint or utilized newspapers as source/ subject material such as the work "Pedestal Table with Guitar and Sheet Music" from 1920.  One of the more intriguing works is entitled "Dice, Packet of Cigarettes, and Visiting-Card" from 1914  in which the artist remade one of Gertrude Stein's and Alice Stoklas's calling cards (left at Picasso's door when they called on him in his absence) into a collage work itself regifted by the artist and left at Stein's and Stoklas's door shortly afterwards.

 

It is a natural that this show emanates from Yale in that the literary influence of Gertrude Stein on Picasso's work can be directly traced from and supported by the Beinecke Library's vast archive of her writings.  An early benefactor of Picasso, collector of his work and his primary patron during the crucial formative cubist years of 1905-1914, Stein was a larger than life expatriate figure with an enormous influence in Parisian artistic life of the time.  The real heart of the show lies in precisely her particular literary lineage and influence and it becomes apparent that the impact of writers and poets upon early 20th century visual artists cannot be underestimated.  This literary influence which, as shown here is always a strong undercurrent in Picasso's work, is unfortunately often overshadowed by the sheer bravura of his artworks themselves (as well as his mythic persona and larger than life reputation.)

 

It is to the show's benefit that it possesses such strong multi-media appeal (a snazzy touch-screen video display with digitally turning manuscript pages kept many viewers' rapt attention while I visited the show)  and is quite interdisciplinary in nature.  In this sense, it is in keeping with our media enthralled age to a degree and yet also able to strike some common ground with appeal for lovers of the visual image, the written word and the printed page- vintage bibliophiles, art fans, and Twitterers alike. 


While the chronology of the show is vast - exhibited work spans across Picasso's life from age 19 to his 87th year - the intimate feel of the show in the Nasher's gallery gives it the feel of a retrospective in miniature form.  One in fact will likely leave feeling a bit dazzled by it all... but also refreshed.

 

(author's special thanks to Thornton Wilder for his suggestion to Stein to donate her literary archive to Yale in the first place.  Who knows how much longer we would have had to wait before some intrepid scholar would have tracked down these literary linkages otherwise?) 


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(image courtesy the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University)
October 18, 2009 8:38 PM |

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This page is a archive of entries in the Ideas category from October 2009.

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