Bay State and Down East: ...might be good Cools off at Five Coastal New England Art Spots
It's August in Austin, and that typically signals a time of year when people are looking to head somewhere cooler. Last week, ...might be good spent time enjoying brisk sea breezes and contemporary art in coastal New England. While many readers are probably familiar with notable New England art spaces like MASS MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, and the Boston MFA, ...mbg decided to try out some lesser-known, but highly-regarded, cultural spots within an hour's drive from Boston. Our list of destinations included: the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass, the Ogunquit Museum of America Art whose lovely grounds lie just north of York Harbor, Maine, the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park and the Gropius House in Lincoln, Mass, and The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston's Back Bay. Four of these five venues gave us something fresh to look at, and being away from Austin for a week has made us eager to share our vacationland finds with Texas readers.
The Addison Gallery of American Art was the first stop on our northern tour, and if there were a first-place prize to award to the most invigorating art space we visited it would have to go to the Addison. While the selections on view from their permanent collection were top-notch, (How many other high schools own works by Pollock, Albers, Hoffman, Andre, Tobey, Stella, Ryman, and Johns) we were particularly taken by their temporary exhibition Over + Over: Passion for Process.
Over + Over, which closed last Friday, was a real treat. Organizer Kathleen Harieman (Kranner Art Museum) brought together smart works by thirteen active US artists: Chakala Booker (New York City), Juliann Cydylo (Boston), Tom Friedman (Northampton, Mass), Tom Fruin (Brooklyn), Victoria Haven (Seattle), Lisa Hoke (New York City), Nina Katchadourian (Brooklyn), Liza Lou (Los Angeles), Jennifer Maestre (Maynard, Mass), Eiizabeth Simonson (New York City), Devorah Sperber (New York City), Fred Tomaselli (Brooklyn), and Rachel Perry Welty (Boston).
While the artists worked with materials and processes as wide ranging as sharpened colored pencil tips configured into imposing cactus-like sculptures, found heroin baggies sewn into a delicate translucent sheet, and paint-coated paper cups installed as a conglomerate organism traversing walls and ceiling, all of the artists appeared to relish the physical aspects of art making. Indeed, the best works approached material obsession.
Though the quality of the entire exhibition was quite good, two works in particular stole the show for us. The first was Red Zone (2003), Tom Fruin's above mentioned 75-inch X 62-inch translucent wall hanging made from spent Red Zone brand heroine baggies. Working with a master tailor's touch, Fruin delicately threaded hundreds of these palm-sized packets of addiction-fulfilled into a single, terrifying whole. The second was Devorah Sperber's Lie Like a Rug (2000-01). Sperber's work will suffer from this brief description but, essentially, she created a 99-inch x 63-inch floor piece out of standard artist's marker caps that she positioned at varying heights. The piece appeared as a peculiar topographical map when seen unmediated, but when viewed through a small convex mirror on the wall the piece transformed into a flat and accurate reproduction of an oriental rug.
Next on our tour was the Ogunquit Museum of American Art - a museum that, according to its website, was once called, "The most beautiful little museum in the world." We won't dwell on our experience at the OMAA, but it really wasn't what we hoped it would be. Most of the works in Diminutive Destinations (on view through August 24) appeared better suited for a souvenir shop than a museum, and their small show of paintings by Edward Hopper (all painted while the artist stayed in Ogunquit) were far from the artist's best. Many appeared as studies or partial-thoughts put down for later completion, but they were framed and billed as finished works. Admittedly, there were no Hopper connoisseurs in our party, be we had seen enough of the artist's work to raise an eyebrow at the way the museum seemed to contextualize these compositions. On top of this, the paintings suffered from insufficient lighting.
However, as the quotation on museum's website boasts, the OMAA is in fact one of "the most beautiful little museum[s] in the world." The speaker of these words, Frances Henry Taylor, surely had in mind the fabulous views of rugged Maine shoreline that the museum's far wall opens up to when he made this declaration. Today, the grounds contain some pretty plantings, charming overlooks, and unremarkable sculpture. Still, the untouched oceanfront on which the museum stands makes this spot a compelling destination. Postings on the campus grounds attest to the natural beauty at OMAA. They advise: "PLEASE, No Sunbathing, Picnicking, or Dogs Allowed on Museum Grounds."
The next moming we were off to the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. Standing on the former estate of Julian de Cordova (1850-1945), the museum is located 16-miles northwest of Boston and a moment's drive from Walden Pond. As we approached the 35-acre property, it became clear that this organization was serious about contemporary sculpture. Six distinct lawns and three terraces (containing 79 sculptures in all) surround the museum's central, castle-like building. A fold out map, which attendants hand visitors as they drive up, provides essential guidance for anyone wishing to experience the full scope of the outdoor exhibition. Visitors who head straight for the museum building will encounter only a fraction of the works on view.
While the DeCordova exhibited pieces by a number of canonical twentieth century artists, like Nam June Paik, Mark di Suvero, and Sol LeWitt, it seemed inclined to document a whimsical thread in the history of post-war sculpture that isn't often woven into art history texts. Two large pieces by Chakaia Booker, whose work we remembered from Over + Over, titled No More Milk and Cookies (2003) and The Conversationalist (1997) were among our favorites. And llan Averbuch's Skirts and Pants (after Duchamp) (2000) struck us as a clever pop interpretation of the bottom half of Duchamp's Large Glass.
Inside the museum, we caught the last week of the DeCordova's 2005 Annual Exhibition. Designed as a show that "focuses on the quality and diversity of contemporary art created in the six New England states," we enjoyed what we saw but wondered why no artists from New Hampshire or Vermont had been included.
We then concluded our day in Lincoln with a guided tour of the Gropius House, which can be reached from the DeCordova by heading down a pleasant country road for a few hundred yards. Our guide at the Gropius House, Penny, was quite knowledgeable about the Bauhaus founder's family, the factors that went into building their 1938 home, and how they lived in there.
Our last day of northern travel brought us into Boston proper for an afternoon of art viewing at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Their featured exhibition, Getting Emotional (on view through September 5), presented an eclectic interpretation of the way that emotion plays into visual culture today. The show was divided into four subcategories: bodily sensation, feelings portrayed, emotional intimacy, and emotion and society, each of which occupied about half of a floor. In terms of media representation, Getting Emotional seemed to place emphasis on film and performance, though photography and a few examples of painting and sculpture could also be enjoyed.
In Christian Jankowski's film What Remains (2004), which appeared in "feelings portrayed," dozens of individuals appeared solo before the camera to make unprompted statements like, "Somehow I appreciate my being here," or "It stinks... I'm tired...," and "Not worth seeing." It was clear that all of Jankowski's participants were responding to a movie they had just seen by retelling the emotions they had experienced in the theater. But, it wasn't until reading the accompanying wail text that we realized none of Jankowski's participants had seen the same movie — no mention was ever made of plot or narrative, and no titles or actors' names were given. In fact, each participant had seen a different movie that was showing on a single day in a New York cinema mega-plex.
Works by big name artists like Barbara Kruger, Bill Viola, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, John Currin, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, to name just a few. surely attracted viewers to Getting Emotional. But its real strength came from the diversity of approaches it considered representative of emotional exchange in contemporary art. In the words of one participant in What Remains, we felt "so glad to be seeing it." In the words others, "we liked the music," "it made us feel patriotic," "it was subtle," and "it made us giggle." We could feel it, right here.
Rene Paul Barilleaux and Post-1945 Art at the McNay
Later this month, Rene Paul Barilleaux will begin his role as Curator of Art After 1945 at the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, a five-year young position that has been held by only one other person in the museum's history. An artist by training, Barilleaux holds fine arts degrees from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette and Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He comes to San Antonio from the Mississippi Museum of Art where he served as Deputy Director for Programs.
Below, we have reprinted portions of testsite 05.2 writer and collaborator Catherine Walworth's recent interview with Barilleaux. The full interview appeared in the July 28
edition of the San Antonio Current under the title 'The Cajun Curator" and can be read in its entirety on the Current's website. Welcome to Texas, Rene Paul!
CW: Despite some great recent acquisitions, the McNay's collection of art after 1945 is still young and needs some focused collecting, particularly when you get into the last few decades of the 20th century. Are you looking forward to filling in the gaps? If you could acquire one object, what would it be?
RPB: Already it is apparent from some of its recent acquisitions that the McNay is committed to expanding the focus of its collecting. I think that photography is one area to consider, especially in light of how important photography is in contemporary art practice.
Abstraction - in particular the recent developments in what might be termed "lyrical" abstraction - continues to be a significant direction for many artists working today, and would be a natural complement to the abstract work already in the McNay's collection. If I had the ability to acquire one work, it would be either one of painter Agnes Martin's ethereal canvases from the '60s or '70s, or a classic 1960s picture by Pop master Andy Warhol - two vastly different artists whose work is of great interest to me and whose work would fit nicely into the McNay's collection.
CW: You have curated exhibitions that revolve around photography, including three-dimensional laser photography, known as holography. How do you see exhibitions like this fitting into the medium's larger discussion?
RPB: In some ways, the widespread use and critical acceptance of color photography since the mid-1970s has paralleled my own involvement in the visual arts, since my days as a serious art student began about the same time. Also, my first curatorial position - at the Museum of Holography in New York - and an ongoing involvement with holography have broadened my interests in a range of image-making techniques.
Among my favorite photography projects are those that integrate photographs into exhibitions of painting, sculpture, and works on paper. In 2003, I curated an exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art that juxtaposed works created around 1903 with works created around 2003 - essentially comparing "contemporary" art from periods 100 years apart. Among the early photographs were vintage Lewis Hine prints made in Mississippi, and recent years represented by Ernesto Pujol's large-scale "performance" self-portraits, and Sally Apfelbaum's photograms of everyday objects.
Justin Boyd, "Pulling a Folk Thread Through the Ether Quilt"
On View at Sala Diaz through August 21
The strained and stretched vocal chords of yodelers and folk singers of yore fill the stifling hot air of Sala Diaz like a Depression era sandstorm. Justin Boyd splices auditory loops and infinitesimal imagery with one lucid line of thought, and his new sound sculptures and sheet music drawings distill ideas of reverberation and the passage of time to create an eerie and anachronistic soundscape. In "Revelation from Repetition," Boyd used recordings of folk singers' sighs and yodels and stretched the samples from seconds to minutes. The looped result winds through an obsolete reel to reel recorder, evoking images of wayward wolfkin or derby-sporting zombies.
A subtle and inspiring work, entitled "Our Lost Spirit," seems to conduct a dispossessed atonement. Whispering spirits sing in the key of E; their origins somewhere between a moonshine soaked dream and a curious tea kettle contraption. Using copper fittings, a pitch pipe, a condensation-catching plastic tube and a big jug, Boyd invites listeners to imbibe herbs like Gingko Biloba and Bilberry to incur "strength, wisdom and vision." The etched outline of a ship on a copper cymbal hints at a steadfast future.
Boyd's sound sculptures exude their own perpetual emotion—and motion. Your eyes and ears will likely gravitate towards a disembodied butter churner, "The Pull of Near, the Draw of Far" (Vocal Butter Mix). A child at the opening event believed some sort of miscreant midget was working hard inside the amber, wooden box and offered an inquisitive suggestion. "Do you think he's thirsty? Should we pour some beer in there?"
Also at the opening reception, the artist wore a knitted suit and played records with locked grooves that he created by manipulating old folk recordings. A video projection documented the knitting process so the audience could see how one line (or thread) generates unlimited potential. The video itself brings to mind installation artist Tim Hawkinson and his playful intertwining of electrical cords. One of Boyd's drawings features a rudimentary outline of a sailing ship, the Constitution, tying it to other works in the show. Empty lines of sheet music float beside the ship like soft, quilt swatches. Boyd succeeds at the helm, stitching sounds together with the taut thread of curiosity.
Reminder for Texas Artists
The deadline to be considered for Artpace's 2007 International Artist-ln-Residence program is now one month away. Application materials must be postmarked by September 9 or hand delivered before 5 PM that day. Interested artists can find the necessary forms online at www.artpace.org.
Readers Write Back
In the past month ...might be good has received an influx of comments from readers telling us their thoughts on everything from recent cover images and color schemes to their assessment of our exhibition reviews.
In our last issue, the critique of Camp Fig's BIGASSLIFE exhibition sparked particular interest with a few readers. One fellow dropped us an email that began, "Just wanted to
say that the last might be good was really great. Really liked the Camp Fig writeup.... Also nice write-up for Artpace." Another reader wrote us in dissent. "Now, about the review of Camp Fig: you are so wrong! it is summer time-time for silliness, and a little adolescent regression...this show was more about the opening party, and the friends and collaborations made there, than about what was on the walls...yes, the art was the people getting together, more than the 'art'..."
When it comes down to it, we agree with both readers. We stand behind the published review and appreciate the confirmation of our hunch that, at least last week, one could find better things to do at Camp Fig than look at what was on the walls.
Let us know your thoughts. We appreciate your interest and are always excited to continue the dialogue about any of the art we review.