Saturday, March 29, 2008

Quiet Resonance

When I first moved to Jacksonville, a million years ago, I was appalled at what I thought was worse than a dearth of art and culture, a void of art and culture. Those things weren't missed here because they never had been known here. Or so I arrogantly thought.

Then one of the first artists I became aware of was David Engdahl. An architect by trade, Engdahl builds sculptures with the most archaic of tools, resulting in works that are by turns sublime, straightforward, and somewhat redolent of the ’70s.

Engdahl’s work is the natural outcome of the ideology prevalent in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, that is sometimes hard to see built renditions of in an atmosphere that increasingly finds itself bound by code and regulation. Not to mention the arrival of the McMansion…

With his work, Engdahl is able to explore those forms that once seemed to herald the arrival of a new way of thinking about living…a thought process (I believe anyway) that is shared by architects Bob Broward, Bill Morgan, and Taylor Hardwick. Forms that mirror nature and are designed to work with the land, not to struggle against it.

In his studio, Engdahl’s tools, covered with a fine silt of sawdust sit as unprepossessing witnesses to his quiet process. A process that involves a monk’s portion of patience, and the willingness to distill forms to their most basic parts. In his most successful works, a simple form that references nature and logic in equal parts engages that part of the viewer’s mind that delights in the slope of a leaf, the sway of a boat’s hull, or the curled horns of a bighorn sheep.

So I was utterly delighted when an invitation to Engdahl’s April 11 show, “David Engdahl Sculpture,” arrived in today’s mail. The show, at the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center, opens on April 11, 6:30-8:00 p.m. I plan on going and taking in some tangible quiet.

Ponte Vedra Cultural Center, 50 Executive Way, Ponte Vedra, 280-0614.

Best In Show

*pictured: the Best In Show piece from (artist Eric Higgs, medium: limestone and 19th Century French Tool) this evening's juried show at PIE Gallery, "Art on a Pedestal." Though the pictured image doesn't really embody it, the show's juror Ethan Karp (son of Ivan) seemed to have a real fascination with hyper-realistic paintings and the depiction of contemporary landscapes.

Click on the title link to go to Eric Higgs' website...incidentally, he's a super-nice guy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All The Chandeliers Were Lit

Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake were a bicoastal pair of wunderkinds whose work (collaborative and separate) was tapped first by the powers-that-be in the NYC artworld (they were both featured in the Whitney Biennale--in different years), and next by Hollywood.

However, as a couple they descended into paranoid delusions of persecution which ultimately claimed both of their lives last summer. So why talk about this couple now? Because Vanity Fair just did an in-depth story on Jeremy Blake, which only awakened question of Theresa Duncan in my mind. Probably because death, especially by one's own hand is the ultimate act of deliberation; it is wholly undo-able. Unlike other debacles where one can rise again, and wipe off a scandal-tainted smudge, there is no returning from a bottle of pills or the undertow off of Rockaway Beach.

The above video is from Blake's piece, Winchester 2000 (based on the house built by the heiress to the Winchester fortune, a house she never stopped building out of penance for all the lives Winchester rifles had take--this topic was also of huge interest to Duncan) while if you click on the title link, it will take you to an animated movie (40 mins), The History of Glamour, that Duncan made in 1999.

Though both pieces are video works, they are hugely disparate: Blake's is like a collage come to life that bleeds in and out of conciousness; while, Duncan's piece though visual, relies on a witty and insightful narrative that elegantly skewers fame and the idea of glamour itself...long before the Devil dreamed of wearing Prada.

Both pieces are elegant elegies, even if they were made at the hight of happiness. The pieces are suffused with undertones of sadness and dissonance that in light of their creators' choices seem fitting...if nothing else.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hold {them} in Your Heart

Generally, I am not given to overt gestures of sentimentality, and even less often to displays of militaristic, nationalistic, pride.

However, on the way home tonight, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” was playing excerpts from the messages of family and friends of fallen soldiers. It crept into my consciousness slowly...and then I suddenly realized that I wasn't listening to the usual programming anymore. So why this broadcast on this day? Because sometime between today and yesterday, the death toll in Iraq (American deaths) rose to 4,000.

4,000 is a vast number of lives, too many to consider as singular individuals, while seeing their memorials and eulogies in print is reductive to the point of redundancy; four or five lines in black and white cannot convey the depth of a life. That’s why NPR’s broadcast of messages was so powerful. The memories shared aren’t being intoned by a professional broadcaster’s carefully neutral voice, instead they are the voices of those left behind, those for whom even speaking a name aloud can provoke a slew of memories. There are hitches and odd pauses as one memory slides into another; and suddenly the war isn’t about propaganda and ideology, it is about the weight of each life.

The memories, though American, serve as a reminder of the costs borne on all sides of our war...a war which Bush still asserts we're winning, "...this is a fight that America can and must win.”

Click on the title for a link to the NPR piece, it's only 3 minutes and 38 seconds long.

*the pictured image is from the project “Eyes Wide Open,” a project of the American Friends Service Committee. Since 1917, the American Friends Service Committee has championed the dignity and worth of every individual, the sanctity of human life and humanity's collective responsibility to promote peace.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Two Left Feet

Admittedly, I am late to the Black Kids fanclub. It seems that while I was training my attention on Jacksonville's nascent hip-hop scene, pop and electronica were making a comeback. I've snagged the above video for "I'm not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance with you," from

I like the video not just because I like the song, but because the video balances a groovy-meets-mod vibe against the arched-eyebrow pettiness of an elaborate, and extinct royal court (Versailles perhaps) that might be a nod to the hipper-than-thou airs that club kids and hipsters put on. The best part? The expressions of distain and hauteur the "court" manages to wear. Well, that and the gilded laser-guns.

And the most important part? The above-playing song is set to be the group's debut single. Out on April 7, it will be available on CD, pink vinyl and download. Support your own.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sneak Peek

copyright Natalie McCray 2008
Here's a preview of the work that will be on display tonight. Why do I get to see it? Because I am cool like that. No, because my friends are often kind enough to share their work with me.

To reiterate:
200 First Street in Neptune Beach (near Shelby's Coffee) 5-9 p.m. Original works and limited-edition prints. TONIGHT

Fountain of Light

Installation view(s) at Rockefeller Center, “Electric Fountain,” 2007, Steel, 3,390 LED bulbs and 527 meters of neon tubing, 35 feet (10.67 m) in height and 30 feet (9.14 m) in diameter

Public art is such a highly politicized rejection of the individual in favor of the group that it often devolves into infighting and name-calling. Usually I’m one of the name callers–full of snarky insights and snide comments.

I grimace inwardly whenever I hear that a committee has been formed to decide on allocations of public funds for public art. Generally, in this format, I favor whimsy over the austere or ideological. I believe it is more accessible and therefore, more universally enjoyed. And while I do not necessarily think that universal agreement is the key to successful art, I do recognize that in the public realm, a general consensus is sometimes preferable to the coldly conceptual (of course there are notable exceptions to this rule). When I think I really successful public art, I think of the works that people visit and like to have their picture taken with…like “Cloud Gate” in Chicago.

So when I stumbled across images of the Noble Webster “Electric Fountain” at Rockefeller center I was captivated. The “fountain” channels equal parts Versailles and Vegas, a triumph of curvilinear form and chasing LED lights that mimic the movement of water through the fountain. The lights, which might be cause for concern/reprimand in these energy conscious times were (according to the Times) specially manufactured to be energy efficient–they draw 70 percent less energy than a tungsten bulb; accordingly, the fountain draws less energy than the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

The artists, Tim Noble, 42, and Sue Webster, 40, “have lived and worked together since they were art students in the late 1980s, delight in kitsch. Over the years they have gained an international following for creating illuminated signs in shapes like hearts and dollar signs or with words like “Forever” and “Yes.” They are also known for creating assemblages and kinetic sculptural installations from found objects, often projecting silhouettes of themselves on a nearby wall. (“Polymorphous Perverse,” a kinetic sculptural installation that was shown last fall at the Freud Museum in London, will go on view on Feb. 29 at Deitch Projects in SoHo).”

Back to the idea of the anonymous and self-righteous committee: the project was overseen by the Art Production Fund (a nonprofit organization that presents public art around NYC), and funded by Jeffery Deitch (the duo’s dealer) and the auto maker Lexus…one imagines/hopes that there are not so many yahoos pining away for Renaissance-inspired knock-offs in those discussions.

Though the fountain is temporary, the duo are hoping that by the April 4, when the fountain comes down, it will have found a permanent home. Hopefully wherever that is, it will be accessible to the public.

Incidentally, the city of Atlantic Beach is currently looking for artists to loan artwork to the city for outdoor display for six months. The work must be weather-resistant and able to withstand beach elements.

It would be amazing if Atlantic Beach was able to showcase something that drew people to it, something that was beautiful and innovative, and made visitors want to whip out their cameras.

*for a look at the fountain in action, click on the title of this post*

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This just in!

Natalie McCray is a Jacksonville-based artist, illustrator, designer and (when the occasion calls for it) stylist. Her commercial work can be seen in many of the area’s local publications; it has a strong visual link to fashion and editorial work because that is what McCray got her degree in: fashion design.

However, like fashion itself, McCray has evolved beyond sketching away in a cubicle for another, instead she makes public and private work. She doesn't often show her private work, so tomorrow's event should be exciting and illuminating...

Merging fine art, fashion, and oblique social commentary McCray creates images that are at once arresting and breathtakingly dramatic. She reminds me of one of the artists in the Saatchi stable, Wangechi Mutu, or of Kara Walker. Both of the aforementioned artists synthesize information in a way that is initially alluring, yet tells a deeper, often darker, story.

McCray’s reception will be at Jaffis at the beach (200 First Street) from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. I urge those with an interest in fashion, design, and sensuous line to come out.

Oh, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I count her among my oldest and best friends

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

the show you love to hate

An NYC aesthetic that relies on tired tropes of industrialism, found objects, and half-assed workmanship filtered through an unfocused lens of social commentary that might have been fresh 10-15 years ago pervades the images I’ve seen from this year’s Whitney Bienniale.

Alhough noted critic Peter Schjedlahl over at the New Yorker does wax philosophic over the show, “This year’s Whitney Biennial, the most poetic I can remember, feels mildly unhappy and restlessly alert […] Its strongest suit is certain types of sculpture that have flourished lately—the same assembled, shaggy varieties that dominate “Unmonumental,” the inaugural, solid show of the New Museum […] It is full of busy ingenuities that smack of art school—but of art-school studios, not seminars. Two decades of academic postmodernizing have trailed off into embarrassed silence.”

And even I must admit that the curators’ invocation of Samuel Beckett’s notion of “Lessness” (not less is more, less is all) to characterize the Zeitgeist has a lovely sort of longing about it. But the images of the work don’t seem to bear up under the weight of the comparison. Of course, the fact that I am ridiculous enough to even deign to write about art I haven’t seen in person smacks of the worst sort of bravado and hubris. Although I will say it is not without precedent: in 2003, Blake Gopnik, the critic for the Washington Post admitted in print that he didn’t even visit Seward Johnson’s Corcoran show before panning it, nor did he intend to (incidentally, the Cummer hosted a similar show by the same artist in 2005, and I panned it–but I did go to see it).

In the limited images I saw, there were a few pieces that struck me: Charles Long’s sculptures; Javier Tellez’s “Letter on the Blind, for Those Who See; William Cordova’s “The House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built 4 Fred Hampton and Mark Clark” installation; Carol Bove’s “Night Sky Over New York;” and Coco Fusco’s “Operation Atropos.”

Though many members of the media seem quite taken with Mika Rottenberg’s “Cheese” installation, it seems to a be a kind of off-brand, dumbed-down Matthew Barney homage. There’s a rather wonderfully bizarre folksy back-story to the piece, but in depicting a narrative event, it seems that Rottenberg chose to obfuscate the work’s impetus in an attempt to add depth. In reality, the story would have been just fine on its own.

The idea of a Bienniale that culls just about half of its artists from NYC (out of 80, 43 were from/in/based out of NYC and 29 were from California), begs the very question of a prescient look into the “art world.” Instead it offers an incestuous look into the NYC scene. The rest of us might take a few notes, but its worth remembering how fractured the art world is, and though NYC might still be the center of that world, it is not the only game in “town.”

*the embedded video is from the coolhunting site. I especially like it because instead of speaking with one of the glossy-maned curators, they chose to speak with one of the blue collar (its all relative) workers. In this case, Mark Steigelman, the exhibition designer. Then I like it even more when he mentions that he (of course) has opinions about the work, but leaves the decision-making to the is the kind of open-ended statement that leaves one wondering about the politics involved behind the scene in this type of show.

**also, click on the title to go to the NY Times walk-through of the event and specific pieces, narrated by Holland Cotter.

Monday, March 17, 2008 soul from 'neath that cold dark ground

Sunday was an NPR day. Truth be told, most days are. But yesterday, in addition to the previous post which caught my ear, the group The Honey Dewdrops performing on PHC stood out. Sounding like a cross between low-fi folk and country, with a sprinkle of bluegrass, their rendition of Dwight Yoakam's "Miner's Prayer," is heartbreakingly beautiful. Laura Wortman's tremulous vocals soar over the guitars like a canary seeking the light, while Kagey Parrish's voice fills out the spaces in between with a voice that makes promises of a better tomorrow.

Yoakam originally wrote "Miner's Prayer" for his grandpa, Luther Tibbs, who was a Kentucky coal miner for 40 years. The Honey Dewdrops' decision to cover that song, as well as Johnny Cash's "Long Black Veil" is smart; it allows them to reframe two ballads of Americana within their own sensibilities. Sung by Wortman, they are stripped down to the bone, allowing them to take on an additional sort of resonant dimensionality that is filled with a sweet kind of melancholy. Then their own songs, seem not like contrived throwbacks (though even without the framework of Cash and Yoakam, their work would stand on its own), but as music that is part of a long and continuing tradition. As they say on their myspace page theirs are "songs that link images of a forgotten past with contemporary words."

To listen, click on the title of this post. 

Cerca Trova: art history mystery

Listening to NPR today, they mentioned that a long lost mural of Leonardo da Vinci (500 years lost) The Battle of Anghiari has possibly been located. With clues that include a passage in a diary, and the phrase "cerca trova" the story unfolds like something out of a Dan Brown novel. "Cerca trova," which, translates roughly to "search and you will find," was painted on a fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio by Giorgio Vasari. It is believed that Vasari painted over da Vinci's mural because after he completed it (at the suggestion of Niccolo Machiavelli...yes, that Machiavelli), that the ruling family was displeased with the image because it depicted the folly, not the glory of war.

But there's more to the story: originally, the mural was to be coupled with another scene of war by an artist half da Vinci's age, Michelangelo. But this artistic battle of an era was never to happen, Michelangelo was lured to Rome by the pope, and da Vinci left his mural unfinished to go work for the king of France.

There is certainly enough extant da Vinci information for study. However, the more interesting facet of this story is the idea that da Vinci was painting an anti-war message for one of the most powerful families in Italy. It might force a re-imagining/thinking of political art...or at least a little revision? 

*the pictured image is one of da Vinci's preparatory drawings for the mural. 

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Quarter-life Crisis

On his blog,, writer Miles Marshall Lewis notes that the Thriller album turns 25 this year. And that in recognition of its lasting influence, the album has been reissued with many guest artists. Yes, it's under the auspices of the gloved one's empire, and yes, if you go to his website there's a big ol' ClearChannel logo looking back at you, but if it does nothing else, it sparks a few memories.

Also Lewis has a great essay on Thriller (new and old) over at the Village Voice:,lewis,79102,22.html.

And then there's Thrillercast...a podcast with music industry insiders recalling their own Michael Jackson stories and their experiences with the album. Good stuff if you, like I, were old enough to be aware of the MJ phenom, but not old enough to be cool.

...sometimes I still practice moonwalking around the house.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


In addition to three or four art shows, last weekend also saw the pinnacle of AIA Jacksonville’s lecture series, “Mid Century Modern: exploring mid-century modern architecture in Florida.” The event included a bus tour of some significant, and not-so-significant examples of modern architecture.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to the Unitarian Universalist Church designed by architect Bob Broward. As we filed into the space, and gazed upward through the skylights (a feature Broward used in other churches) with the warm scent of good intentions and dust in the air, Broward’s intent was clear: a simple, pared-down space that echoed elements of sacred grottos and pre-Christian spaces.

When Broward started to talk about the building, his face started to shine. He wasn’t just talking about ideas and formal construction, he was talking about a small community’s labor of love. A community he is a part of.

As he spoke, he looked around the main sanctuary, gesturing here and there, remembering buckets of concrete, touching the cypress timbers of the exposed gabling, and gesturing towards the overgrown pond saying, “when the church was originally built, it was reflected perfectly in the pond; like the Taj Mahal…you met it twice.”

Now, the pond is overgrown, full of lily pads and algae, it reflects nothing. The reason? Runof from nearby Arlington Expressway. The church has contacted the EPA for help with a clean-up...but its a slow process laments Broward.

Quiet and sincere, the church is as like the mega-churches scattered across Jacksonville, as ruins are like McMansions.

A space sanctified not by some overblown idea of a mighty God, but by the people it shelters.

Odd Birds

One of my earliest memories of David Lauderdale, is of reading an interview where he said that he believed that most of the art being made today was/is a footnote to art history.

I disagreed with him then, and I disagree with him now. I believe that even if every curator, gallery owner and collector is wrong about the art that is considered relevant, the best and most valued will still rise to the top after time.

This evening, as well as last Saturday night, OPAQ Gallery hosted “Two Birds,” a show featuring the installation work of Mark Creegan, and Lauderdale’s paintings/assemblages. I attended the Saturday opening.

Creegan’s works were interesting and charming in a sweet, off-kilter way. His installations included a hairnet and bubble mountain, toothpaste stripes, and sharks’ teeth framed in gold foil.

He said the sharks’ teeth had all been collected by his wife, that when he was at the beach, he could never find any. Anyone who has ever tried to, will acknowledge that collecting sharks’ teeth is a very deliberate act, requiring patience and sharp eyes. And really, there is something of an art to it. The first time I ever found a shark’s tooth, I was ridiculous enough to think that someone had placed it on the sand for me…and my only companion at the beach that day was my dog.

Thus, the teeth, in addition to aesthetic objects, become symbols of monumental patience and deliberateness within a domestic and semi-idle framework (hunting for beach treasures isn’t exactly quantifiable or reliable). The frame, constructed of discarded foil serving dishes, is correspondingly grand and disposable—and like the teeth, the interest value is in the effort of the transformation.

Lauderdale’s works: black, white, red, white, and blue with electric guitars affixed to the surfaces, seemed to be at once macho and sneering. It’s hard to take icons--especially those already assigned a sort of cultural value--and reinvent them in an engaging manner.

When this is accomplished in a hurry, as Lauderdale admitted he’d done, the result has very few subtleties and layers. The works seemed to inhabit a sort of bizarre middle-ground between a snarky commentary on American pop culture and a hero-worship of the electric guitar form. A sort of grand statement reached for, but not quite caught.

Perhaps it is okay to make art with deliberation, patience, and a lower case “a.” Let art history take care of itself.

As a brief aside, Artwalk this time around, yielded a surprising find: Lara Simmons. Her line quality was interesting and sure. However the small collection she was showing lacked coherence. It is also clear that the artist is going through what must be the requisite Egon Schiele phase of her career. Her challenge will be to successfully translate her draftsmanship into larger-scale, or just more cohesive works.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Refreshing and Sweet

Last night saw the annual/semi-annual Lloyd Apartments Art Show. Sweet and relaxed, it reminded me of the way art shows used to be: a bunch of art, some better than others, put up on a wall, a couple of kegs and the host’s music spinning (via computer) in the background.

No, this is not a wholesale call for every art show to have a homemade vibe. But on this occasion, it worked. The show felt unpretentious and hopeful; gossipy but without an ugly edge.

Several artists’ work stood out:

John Arvin’s small-scale drawings of ordinary objects leaked a kind of surprisingly feminine pathos that were not without a sort of bleak humor. Shown all together, the pieces (a bicycle, a pair of birds, money and other icons) functioned as a kind of shorthand for his (mis) adventures.

Angelieri, a potter who is also (I believe) the head of the art department at Fletcher showed some raku pots. A pair of cylindrical vases stood out as satisfyingly textural and appropriately restrained.

Chad Landenberger, the fellow who puts on an annual skateboard art show, had some nice screenprints up. But, in all honesty, I am a sucker for the form anyway. Perhaps that leaves my opinion a little suspect.

And finally, Grant Thornton. Initially I was tempted to dismiss his paintings as trite examples of a Juxtapoz-infused neo-monster aesthetic. However, a second consideration left me with the impression that if he can overcome the obvious metaphors in his work, he might make some moves.

Next, a trip to PIE studio was in order, but upon arrival, Barry Wilson’s reception for “Transient Jar” was all shut down. I snapped a couple of shots of the window display but due to the lateness of the hour, and the fact that on that deserted street, my only backup was my 17 pound Boston Terrier, I left without further ado.