Recently in main Category

There is a growing body of research and hands-on work in the area of art-making, neighborhood development and community engagement.  In that vein, I wanted to share a story from Madison's 77 Square (by my journalistic compadre Lindsay Christians) about an innovative street art camp for teens.

The camp, run by Drew Garza and Scott Pauli (who have a local design business, Art & Sons) and co-conceptualized with Phil Busse, teaches kids cutting-edge skills in computer-aided graphic design, yet also uses old-fashioned paste-up techniques on the sides of local buildings.

At the same time the kids are building technical skills, they're expressing themselves and engaging with thorny social issues like racism and environmental damage--issues raised by the teens themselves, not foisted on them by adults.  As one of the kids quoted says, "Don't be scared. Just show yourself, be yourself."  To encourage people to seek out these works, an art "scavenger hunt" was organized.

The article, with accompanying video, is definitely worth a read.  Hats off to Busse, Garza and Pauli for designing such an intriguing program for teens, and to the City of Madison for helping support it through a BLINK! grant (small grants for temporary art projects).
August 19, 2011 9:37 AM | | Comments (1)
A friend in Ypsilanti, Mich., tipped me off to this post on a site called Model D by Sarah F. Cox.  In it, Cox, a former New Yorker who earned an MFA in design criticism, details the reasons for her move from NYC to Detroit.  A brief excerpt:

So it's onto the (erstwhile) Motor City and back to car life, where I'm hoping cheaper real estate and a growing creative community will make all the difference. While the cost of gas and carbon-footprint guilt loom, I've been won over by the arts. In Detroit, you can afford to do what you really want and will likely find a community of support rooting for you to succeed instead.

While I'm sure some may dismiss Cox as naive, I like her hopeful tone and her desire to be part of something positive and growing in a beleaguered city.  Cities are a lot like people:  they need someone to believe in them, and I think optimistic, creative young people moving to Detroit can only be a good thing.

As a former Michigander, I wish Cox well, and I'll stay tuned to see how things develop for her.  If you're so inclined, you can follow her on Twitter here.

Again, here's the link to Cox's post:  "Imported to Detroit"
August 9, 2011 2:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Today, at our lovely local Sundance cinema, I saw a film that really moved me:  the documentary "Bill Cunningham New York," about the longtime fashion photographer and commentator for The New York Times.  Cunningham's two photo columns sum up the highlights of New York street fashion and the gala set.
 

Though I've enjoyed his columns for years, I never knew much about Cunningham himself--though, in that respect, I'm not much different from most in the fashion world.  The film reveals Cunningham to be steadfastly private and governed by a deep sense of personal morality.  His egalitarian spirit and humility exist alongside sheer, exuberant joy in what he does.BCNY.jpg

I don't review films, but seeing this movie made me wish I had brought along my notebook; there were so many memorable observations from Cunningham that I wanted to remember.  Among them [to paraphrase]:  "Lots of people have taste, but few dare to be creative."  That fashion, rather than frivolity, is a kind of armor that makes our daily lives bearable.  And, perhaps most important, "Those who seek beauty will find it."


That last line, part of his remarks while accepting an honor from the French Ministry of Culture, seemed like the ultimate summation of Cunningham's approach to life.  Part of what appeals to me so much about Cunningham is, quite simply, attention:  his rapt attention to something that feeds his mind and his soul.  Nowadays, that's rare, due partly to omnipresent technology.


While at first Richard Press' documentary seems to have little to do with the subject of this blog--about the arts in smaller U.S. communities--it finally occurred to me that it does.  While every bit a creature of New York and a brilliant chronicler of urban life, Cunningham has an attitude that suits him well wherever he goes.  He doesn't assume that something bigger and grander will necessarily be more imaginative.  Something spotted on the street any given day might leave a more lasting impression than the latest couture show.


It's this kind of attitude that I think informs the work of artists, writers, actors and others living in smaller cities and towns.  Creativity and daring are not what someone else tells you they are; they're where you make it or find it, and sometimes that's in the most unlikely places.


If you have a chance to see this film, by all means, do, whether or not fashion interests you.  Cunningham's joy in his life's work is something from which we can all draw inspiration.


[Photo credit for image above:  First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films]

June 30, 2011 9:00 PM | | Comments (0)

L.A., you're in for a treat.  Madison-based artist Jennifer Angus is currently exhibiting at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.  Angus' show, "All Creatures Great and Small," runs through Sept. 11, 2011.  Her main medium?  Bugs, and lots of 'em.


Angus is one of a number of Wisconsin artists doing intriguing work that bridges art, science and the natural world (others include Martha Glowacki, whose long-running installation at the Milwaukee Art Museum, "Loca Miraculi / Rooms of Wonder," is a must-see.)


Angus, who teaches textile design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is fascinated by patterns and the cultural meanings they convey.  As she told me in a 2007 interview for Isthmus, "Pattern is a sophisticated, wordless language which we understand regardless of learning or awareness."


Her unusual medium is beautiful, colorful, and walks a fine line between mesmerizing and repellent (at least for many of us raised in bug-phobic cultures).  She re-uses her specimens from one installation for the next.  This was my favorite quote from our chat:  "The bugs are very individual. I'll be putting a weevil on the wall [during an installation], and I'll be like, 'I remember you!'"

And here's an interview done with Angus by the Museum of Art and Design in New York in conjunction with the 2010 exhibition "Dead or Alive":



If you're near L.A., don't miss her show.

June 28, 2011 12:57 PM | | Comments (0)
I've had my home state of Michigan on the brain quite a lot lately -- and it's not just because, as I sit nearly snow-bound in Madison, Wis., I'm wearing the same U of M sweatshirt I've had since 1987.  While the economy is dreadful across the U.S., Michigan got hit earlier and harder by this recession.

But rather than focus on gloom and doom, I want to think about what's next for Michigan.  How can it envision a better future?  A friend who works for the state's office of historic preservation turned me on to the site "Let's Save Michigan," which just did a blog post on the role that the arts play in creating cities people actually want to live in.

My brother, who lives in Ann Arbor (site of my alma mater), sent me a link to a PBS NewsHour segment with Ray Suarez on that city.  Suarez investigates what has made Ann Arbor more recession-proof than the rest of the state (though, as Ann Arbor's mayor points out, the recession can't be kept at bay indefinitely).

Not surprisingly, it's investment in education and technology--and being a place that people actually want to relocate to--that has helped Ann Arbor.  Suarez doesn't really delve into the cultural scene (the closest he gets is foodie paradise Zingerman's), but any A2 resident knows that a steady diet of concerts, films, exhibitions, etc. is part of the town's appeal.  You can live in a city of manageable size and still have plenty to do.  In my college days, I went to poetry readings, saw The Replacements and Billy Bragg, attended my first opera and saw performance artist Karen Finley (whose "We Keep Our Victims Ready" I still remember as ludicrous, for what it's worth).

Other good stuff in Michigan includes the "Kalamazoo Promise," a program funded by anonymous, private donors that offers paid college tuition to students who graduate from Kalamazoo public schools.  The benefit can be used at any of Michigan's state colleges and universities.

I don't have any answers for Michigan; I haven't lived there for 17 years, although I occasionally think about moving back.  But I'm glad there are smart people thinking about Michigan's future and ways to make it brighter.
December 9, 2009 2:07 PM | | Comments (0)
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.

Wilson-silver-shackles.jpg
Fred Wilson, "Mining the Museum"  Maryland Historical Society, 1992

wilson--chandelier-pbs.jpg
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

the-conquerors_001.jpg

the-conquerors_002.jpg

the-conquerors_003.jpg

October 23, 2009 12:07 PM | | Comments (0)

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?) 


Picasso-06.jpg

(image courtesy the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University)
October 18, 2009 8:38 PM | | Comments (0)

Using a box of Froot Loops and some Go-Gurt as props, Michael Pollan--looking natty in a sportcoat and tennis shoes--spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of about 7,000 people last week at the University of Wisconsin's Kohl Center.  Not too shabby for a weeknight author event.

 

Yet I wasn't surprised in the least by the turnout:  here in Wisconsin, food matters.  As Pollan noted, the state has been on the leading edge of current issues surrounding food, and he wasn't just trying to curry favor with us cheeseheads.  From farmers' markets to urban farming (like Will Allen's Growing Power) to CSAs to larger debates about food policy, people in Wisconsin care about food, even if we don't all agree on the best way to produce it.

 

As one of the speakers introducing Pollan noted, about 10% of Wisconsinites work in agriculture-related jobs.  While no one in my family farms anymore, my grandparents (now both deceased) raised hogs and Angus beef cattle.  My aunt and uncle ran a family dairy farm and still live on that land.  As for me, I don't even garden and hay makes me sneeze like you can't believe--but I'm truly proud of the farming my family members have done.  Farming is physically demanding and financially risky.  If you like to eat, you should appreciate what farmers do.

 

But back to Pollan:  part of what I appreciate about both his book and his talk at the UW is the way in which culture has not been left out of the equation.  In fact, one of the big drivers behind Pollan's Madison visit was the UW's Center for the Humanities.  I believe they had already lined him up as a speaker for their "Humanities without Boundaries" series even before the UW at large selected the splendid In Defense of Food:  An Eater's Manifesto as the inaugural book in its new "Go Big Read" campus-wide reading program.

 

Just as food is a big part of Wisconsin's economy, it's a major part of our cultural heritage.  It helps us define who we are, from grass-fed beef and wholesome CSA produce to the more indulgent side of things:  brats, cheese and local beer.  While Pollan may tick off some food scientists and nutritionists (two professions he has taken to task), he does underscore a simple and oft-forgotten message:  before we turned food into a medical and scientific minefield, it was simply a part of life.  Kudos to Pollan for being one of the voices reclaiming food's rightful place as a part of culture and daily pleasure.

 

Local visual artists have also engaged in food-related issues.  I still remember an excellent show the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters did on the theme of farming in 2007, "Wisconsin's People on the Land" (my review is archived here).  And, timed to coincide with Pollan's multi-day stint in Madison this month, the local artists' group artsTRIBE exhibited at this year's "Food for Thought" festival, which also featured Pollan.

 

While I've never been completely disconnected from my food, Pollan has inspired me to make the extra effort to buy local food more frequently and do "real" cooking more often.  (Yet I'll never, ever, give up the occasional donut; life would no longer be worth living.)  It's not just about me and my health or quality of life--it's about being invested in this place where I live, in many senses of that word.

September 29, 2009 12:39 PM | | Comments (0)
newstand.jpg The web-based culture magazine [The Curator](http://www.curatormagazine.com/johnstoehr/whither-the-music-mag/) kindly published this piece on mine in August exploring the future of music magazines and the difference between them, the music industry they cover, and all the buzz over the fate of newspapers. Thanks to AW.

Few things get Quincy Jones riled up like death.

First, it was Michael Jackson's. Then, it was Vibe's.

The monthly magazine covering black pop culture was shuttered suddenly last month 16 years after Jones co-founded it. The private equity firm that owned it failed to find a buyer. That was the only way to keep it solvent. The next day, after the news emerged, Jones vowed to revive it: "They just messed my magazine all up," he told the Associated Press. "I'm'a take it online because print ... is over."

...

The problems facing newspapers right now have convinced some, like Jones, to think print is over. But what newspapers are facing seems categorically different from the current plight of music magazines. Significantly, newspapers haven't had to deal with piracy, which over the past decade has reconfigured the entire recording industry and by extension reconfigured the landscape that music magazines cover. For newspapers, news is news, whether in print or online. Distribution is the problem, not the nature of journalism. For music magazines, the problem is existential. What is the purpose of a music magazine in light of the dramatic shifts of the past decade?

In 2000, CD sales, having survived Napster 1.0, continued their decline, but slowly. By the middle of the decade, they were in free fall. Just two years ago, estimates ranged from 1 to 2 billion illicit downloads a year. That figure is surely low now. The marketplace value of music has cratered. It's expected to be free. Few really expect paid downloads to match, much less surpass, former profits. Most industry insiders, including musicians themselves, consider CDs to be a marketing device for live concerts. To have a hit record, furthermore, is almost meaningless when that means selling a few hundred thousand copies. Meanwhile, those able to top the charts are fewer and fewer in number. When people say Michael Jackson's death signaled an end to an era, they in part mean there won't be superstars like him ever again.

[ The whole she-bang ...](http://www.curatormagazine.com/johnstoehr/whither-the-music-mag/)
September 20, 2009 1:38 PM | | Comments (0)

Recent Comments

Blogroll

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the main category.

Ideas is the previous category.

Music News - Criticism is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.