Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Aesthetic Fun House

After spending admittedly a short time viewing Ryan McGinness Aesthetic Comfort, I feel I spent part of my afternoon at an amusement park instead of an art museum. This may have something to do with having to navigate through the holiday crowds at the Cincinnati Art Museum or the fact that I brought my four year old son to see these paintings. But I’ve visited many crowded museums and have taken both of my children to art galleries from the time they were six months old so I think the vibrant if not psychotic energy in the gallery rests with McGinness’ paintings.

More than a fun house, the gallery filled with fluorescent designs spilling from various canvasses onto the walls and glowing under a black light recalls the psychedelic aesthetic of the 60s and 70s. Though most writers instead link McGinness to Warhol because of his use of commercial symbols and other motifs from everyday life. I suppose I recognized this, or would have if I was an Urban Outfitters consumer. (Is it me or am I showing my age with every sentence?)

But I did immediately notice the overlapping of imagery associated with the influence of the information age. This layering and linking of images that seemed random yet articulately patterned on various shaped canvasses reminded me of the Karla Hackenmiller’s Liminal Series I reviewed here a little over a week ago. McGuinness reveals in recognizable symbols the non-linear thought processes Hackenmiller explores in her Liminal Series.

I’m not sure how comfortable I am with what appears to be a shift in aesthetics, but I am enjoying watching artists explore it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

University of Kentucky: A new “local” art stop?

This morning I was surprised to see two stories about art exhibited at the University of Kentucky, since I’m not an alumna nor do I tend to set my sites much further south than NKU when reviewing happenings in the local art scene.

On January 11, 2009, The Art Museum of the University of Kentucky will open an exhibition of prints by Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns. The second story is about the installation of a new sculpture, Coal Pot by El Anatsui, on the campus.

With the New Year approaching, I am making a list of things I would like to accomplish this year, including keeping my blog current. I may have to add the University of Kentucky on my list of places to watch in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

“Liminal” Art

In recent exhibitions, I’ve noticed many examples of works depicting oddly juxtaposed images and even eerie scenes hanging in the local galleries. Since I am not a huge fan of Dali, I tend to walk pass these dreamlike works. Perhaps they are simply too eerie so make me uncomfortable with which to spend time. One of the current shows at Manifest Gallery, Contemporary Printmaking, forced me to realize I cannot easily ignore what seems to be a Surrealist trend emerging in the local arts scene.

These artists do not refer to themselves as Surrealists, but the incredibly detailed etchings of Andrew Au and Craig Fisher’s Rights of Spring as well as many others in the show reveal odd combinations with sometimes nightmarish results. Even Angela Katona-Batchelor's Curiosity, the show's only sculptural piece, brings together etched butterfly wings, a milkweed pod, and and a vial. Perhaps these artists are making obvious connections in imagery or simply plays on words. I certainly hope the work of the artists in the Manifest Gallery show is not as simple as this. This is not to say the art making is simple. Printmaking is not. Furthermore, the process does not seem to allow for the automatic and free association characteristic of Surrealism that painting seems to better serve. So what is this eerie trend?

Karla Hackenmiller’s Liminal Deploy included in the show is most interesting to me. One of the smallest of the pieces in the show and certainly the most abstract, her etching depicts a network of tiny lines and shapes of incredible detail that seems to expand and bubble from a single point. With the artist’s Liminal Series, Hackenmiller explores the human thought process and the relationship between brain activity and abstract results. As Liminal Deploy illustrates, her interest is in non-linear thought processes. While this is a pure line etching, it reveals an organic set of forms. Hackenmiller remarks in her artist statement about our cultural interest in the World Wide Web, especially open-source applications that encourage if not rely on an investigation of cognitive creative brain functions.

The more I consider Hackenmiller’s Liminal Series, the more I think she has answered the questions I have had about the works in this and many other shows I’ve seen recently visited. Surrealism was a cultural movement of the 1920’s. In this new century of art Hackenmiller’s “Liminal” may be more fitting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

One Artist, An Array of Media

I’ve always enjoyed the work of Lynda Benglis though never had much of an opportunity with which to spend time as a student or teacher of art history. Lynda Benglis As Printmaker, which closes this weekend at the Carl Solway Gallery gave me that rare chance to see her work as more than just one example of Post-Minimalist work.

Her Bounce and Contraband from the late 1960s were always my favorites of the organic pieces common to Post-Minimalism that both rely on and impose themselves on the gallery space. These two pieces are not part of this retrospective, but walking into the Carl Solway Gallery this morning was met with a brilliance of color that similarly oozes from the white walls.

While at least one local reviewer tried to classify Benglis’ style, we quickly find that this show proves the task difficult. As with most Post Minimalist works, the media perhaps even more than the artist is the subject of a retrospective. Benglis’ ability to fully exploit the range of the media allows her to refuse being classified.

I've said it before, single artist shows prove more challenging for the viewer. And Benglis shows an artist retrospective can be more dynamic as well. I look forward to seeing such exhibitions at the Carl Solway Gallery in the future.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Simply Sol

For the past couple of days I’ve been hearing about the excited reception of Sol LeWitt’s near permanent installation at Mass MoCA, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective. While I’ve always been pretty fascinated with conceptual art and particularly interested in LeWitt’s wall drawings (or to be more precise, his instructions for the wall drawings), I’ve never heard anyone share this interest. In fact, most people interested in understanding LeWitt’s work and who have asked me to explain it respond by shaking their heads. Okay, perhaps this says more about my explanation than it does about LeWitt. But the truth remains so many people are willing to celebrate artists like Rubens who employed a number of artists to complete his commissions, yet LeWitt’s practice of the same is often met with disdain.

So why is everyone so excited about Sol LeWitt now? Can it only be that he died so recently? Perhaps his recent death has spurned a host of LeWitt shows (there were two in Cincinnati earlier this year), but expressions of beauty linked to LeWitt’s work leaves me dumbfounded. Since when has his wall drawings been viewed as beautiful?

The review of the current retrospective by Holland Cotter in the NY Times seems to offer a hint as to why LeWitt’s work is now appealing to the masses. In this review Cotter says about LeWitt’s wall drawings on display at Mass MoCA,
“They aren’t populist in that way; they were meant for the great indoors. But neither do they depend on elite settings — museums or galleries — to make sense. They are abstract, not arcane. Their visual effects can be complex, but their language is plain: lines, colors, clean surfaces, the basics of grade-school art class. No wonder they feel welcoming; they take us back to the past before they take us somewhere else.”

So we enjoy LeWitt’s work because we don’t have to think about it? It is beautiful because it is “grade school” easy? Beauty and Conceptual Art are not mutually exclusive are they? Perhaps I need to work on my explanations so I can convince more that beauty does rest in the concept so fewer will shake their heads in disdain.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Re-viewing History

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here. I suppose I could blame the holidays or my work on the Obama campaign, both of which have kept me from spending time in a gallery or thinking about the local art scene in any serious way. So to renew some inspiration to continue blogging, I visited my old stomping grounds at the Cleveland Museum of Art and found it wonderfully new.

I feel so fortunate to have been introduced to art by this museum, ranked in the top 5 of the world. While teaching in the Cleveland area, I gained a special appreciation for assigning my students to tour the galleries at least once or twice during their semester with me. This is truly one of the best resources with which to teach and learn about art.

While visiting most museums, I struggle to spend more than an hour per visit. Taking in so much information during a museum visit usually taxes my brain. But my recent visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art, my first since it reopened last spring, filled me with such a sense of awe that for the first time ever I didn’t want to leave.

This return to Cleveland for the holiday and to revisit my own history of art was so fitting a homecoming. The museum’s first phase re-opens the original 1916 building so entering the museum brought for me a recognizable comfort. For any art museum, a comfortable entrance is a major accomplishment. For the CMA to manage this while in the throes of construction is truly a feat recognized immediately. In fact I was so at ease that I headed up the familiar stairs near the entrance almost faster than someone could stop and redirect me to the appropriate path towards the galleries.

As most know, the CMA collection is one of the best in the world. It was difficult for me to imagine how viewing it could be made any better. Well, the galleries of the 1916 Building truly celebrate this collection in ways I’ve never seen in any museum or gallery before. (see the panoramic shots, here) As most everyone has recognized, the architect Rafael Viñoly has done an exceptional job of preserving the museum as an historical landmark in Cleveland. As we eagerly await the new jewel that is the expansion to the 1916 Building, we are comforted to know that CMA is in wonderful hands and the beauty that is the collection will be what shines ever brighter in Cleveland.

To reopen the Cleveland Museum of Art with this phase, one that celebrates the original museum (rather than the architect as is all too common to do) is a true gift to the city as well as to the collection. As we in Cincinnati look to a remodeling of the Cincinnati Art Museum, we can look to our north to such an undertaking that can be a tremendous success as long as the collection, the local community, and the museum’s history remain the focus.