Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Growing up, I spent a lot of time at Cleveland’s Museum of Art. Housed in a grand old Beaux Arts style building overlooking vast grounds including a duck pond, orchard, lawn, and fountain, the museum is the repository of some of my fondest memories. From making cement animals with Mr. Maars, to my later stint as an intern and teacher’s aide in those same art classes, I can still close my eyes and picture just about every gallery perfectly: the floorplan of the museum unfolding in my head. It’s a soothing memory—not just specific incidents, but the museum itself.

Now, the museum is undergoing its second expansion in it’s almost century-long life. And while I am mostly excited, I am also nervous…its like my memories are being retrofitted. The architect, Rafael Vinoly, is visually building on the expansion that took place in 1971 under architect Marcel Breuer. Horizontal granite stripes play off of the classical structure in a way that has always made me think of a sailor’s shirt against a suit. I am not sure if it is entirely effective, but it is so deeply ingrained in my sense of that place that it is gratifying to see the nod towards the original expansion...which makes it hard to be objective.

So, I will be in Cleveland for the grand re-opening. I will try to post...but we all know how vacation blogging seems to fall by the wayside.

*images "courtesy" The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Deeply Dangerous and Working Class Theatre

Yesterday I posted about the decision-making and reasons that the arts get lousy coverage (or so it often seems). In that post, I mentioned that often, writers with little to no art background are asked to tackle the arts.

Imagine my surprise when I ran across a series of articles/reviews in The Guardian where they’d adopted that premise, if only for a day. “What would happen if the Guardian's sports and arts writers swapped jobs? In yesterday’s G2, arts critics tackled sport. Today, the sports team take on sculpture, opera, dance and music.

Here it is appropriate to pause for a moment and remember that though these are writers out of their usual place, they are still writers for one of the world’s foremost publications. One may assume that they have a persuasive grasp of language and descriptors.

That said, both sides had some rather elegant thoughts on the subjects they knew nothing about. Even though most of the essays were couched in first-person, mildly autobiographical terms. A way, I suppose, to remain humble and not end up making an enemy of a co-worker by discounting his or her work.

Though not terribly insightful, the essays are nonetheless delightful to read in an almost P.G. Wodehouse-esque manner: slightly farcical and elegant. From Thomas Castaign├Ęde’s (rugby writer) description that he found the opera to be a “revelation,” to Judith Mackrell’s (dance critic) admission that horse racing is (initially at least) “addictive.”

However, the more surprising aspect of the two “sides,” was that the arts writers seemed to be universally less engaged in sports, than the “jocks” found themselves to be in art. In fact, Steve Bierley, the tennis correspondent, wrote (tellingly) of Louise Bourgeois’s Pompidou Centre exhibition, “Watch sport and you think about sport. Observe art and you discover yourself. Spirals, nests, lairs, refuges. Bourgeois leads you to dark places you are not sure you want to revisit. Sport is the toyshop; Bourgeois proffers no hint of a welcome. Even the “je t’aime” embroidered on the pillow in one of her claustrophobic rooms seemed like a threat…This woman is deeply dangerous.”

Perhaps it illustrates something about the very nature of art: though not always ideologically accessible, it is perhaps more readily synthesizable than sports which have seemingly endless arcane rules and leave little time for reflection. On the other hand, it might just illustrate the hauteur with which critics often approach the opiates and entertainments of the hoi polloi.

And then there’s this, from Kevin McCarra, chief football writer, on contemporary dance: Tero Saarinen’s Next of Kin “Next of Kin is meant to be a tale about the struggle of an individual, but it had no drive or direction. You want existential crisis, Mr. Saarinen? I'll give you existential crisis. Three days before, I watched John Terry miss the penalty that would have won the Champions League for Chelsea. Maybe it's a terrible fuss for a supposed grown-up to make about a mere sport, but it was striking to witness a millionaire whose wealth is no consolation when his life has been invested in this game. Saarinen's work did not grip me like that.”

Perhaps it boils down to nothing more than a matter of taste. But it is fun to read anyway.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Way of the Dinosaurs

Many of you know that I work for a local publication. Many of you have also commented to me on the topics/artists/etc…that we cover. One friend in fact, finds it endlessly amusing to tease me about a particularly windy story on watergardens that I penned.

However, other, less kind things have been said to me: to my face, in my home, while consuming my wine. From the conjecture that I’ve slept with interviewees who garner more than one article in a season or year, to the idea that—as a writer—I am only capable of regurgitating an artist’s thesis, or, that I lurk around the scene attempting to write “exposes” on locally infamous artists, people feel comfortable, and justified saying all kinds of things.

I can only imagine the kinds of things said behind closed doors…and that, really, is fine.

However, when I ran across this article a couple of days ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because it basically confirms those things about print media’s relationship to art, that everyone already suspects to be true.

These include young attractive artists, artists with gimmicks, artists whose sales break records, and a host of other "sensational" reasons are the people that get covered. Which of course leads to artists who actively seek these sorts of things/situations out, creating a distrust between the viewing public, writers and even other artists.

However, this is not an attempt to foist the faults of the critical system onto artists. Many daily newspapers have been forced to cut back on staff and consolidate duties, so now the same guy who writes knowledgably about music is trying to wrap his head around art (incidentally John Updike often rails in the New Yorker about art/architecture he hates. Good, if occationally uninformed stuff), it’s a formula designed to fail. And if not fail, then languish in the “human interest,” category...somewhere between AP celebrity feeds and community columnists.

By no means is this a blanket statement; it stands to reason that there are probably more writers out there fighting for stories that newer see print than the public can give them credit for. But, because newspapers and print media occupy an idealistic place in culture, we are doubly disappointed and angered when dubious and self-serving relationships are revealed. Then the credibilty of a publication gets undermined and an endless cycle begins.

And sometimes, speaking from personal experience, you get tired of trying to fight the good fight...and go start a navel-gazing blog.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I have always been an avid supporter of the nap. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for me to average 1-2 naps a week, and friends know that if they call me during a certain time of day, its likely that I’ll answer the phone sounding confused/crazy/like Tom Waits.

However, since college, I have found naps to be a way of staying alert and feeling good (this presupposes I wake up and don’t sleep through ‘till morning). And though there are lots of articles out there to support my views, when I found the above chart, I thought it worth sharing…especially for those of us trying to find the time, energy, and clarity to work outside of the 9-5 grind.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go fluff my pillow (without shame).

*incidentally, the painting pictured is Lucian Freud's Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, it recently sold at auction for $33.64 million.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I'm super-stoked that a story project I am working on with my brother and grandfather (both pictured here in front of the house my g-pa's father built with his own hands) is (so far) working out.

More information as I (hopefully) progress. Suffice to say it also involves a cache of letters between my great-grandfather and great-grandmother that spans their entire lives.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sometimes, Obvious is OK

I ran across this article in the Times today about the Lichtenstein show at Larry Gagosian’s gallery.

In addition to writing a bubbly, sort of sunny review of the show, Roberta Smith makes a few really wonderful points:

“These paintings are themselves bursts, hot flashes of composition, America, humor and color galvanized and made one by pictorial intelligence. Because their visual machinations are perfectly obvious, they make normally arcane terms like form and formalism exhilaratingly accessible. Basically we watch them work.”


"This show makes especially clear how Lichtenstein’s work functions as a kind of prime in looking at and understanding the grand fiction of painting: the thought it requires, its mechanics, its final simplicity and strangeness. These great paintings convey all this in a flash of pleasure, compounded by the thrill of understanding."

“Roy Lichtenstein: Girls” continues through June 28 at the Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, near 77th Street, (212) 744-2313, gagosian.com

Saturday, June 7, 2008

the yumness

I am pleased to share that my good friend, artist Tonya Lee has started her own blog.

Slim on words, but heavy on beautiful images, the blog, Southern Atlantic Shark's Tooth Society reveals beauty in unexpected places. In addition, Lee has posted a link to an article where a high-school student has figured out a way to help manage the "plastic epidemic."

It make s for good and hopeful reading...as I am guessing the blog will.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Better to Obey or Resist?

I found this Florida-based independent artist-run store, Resist Today the other day whilst tooling around the interweb. Though I'm not fully sold on all of their products (lots of the layered imagery we've been seeing so much of), I really liked the tone and some of the information on their blog.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

el monstro

"Art, like Nature, has her monsters, things of bestial shape and with hideous voices." –Oscar Wilde

The recent flap over at jaxcal has got me thinking. Not about monster art per se, but about the grotesque/monstrous/malformed in a historical context.

Art historically, the term grotesque originally referred to the various decorative arabesques, interlaced garlands, and fantastic animal figures discovered in ancient Roman ruins in the 15th century. Later, the word was used to describe the forms often found on/in Gothic churches, and in contemporary parlance, the word is understood to mean the strange, fantastic, ugly or bizarre.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes grotesque as: (n) 1561, a. A kind of decorative painting or sculpture, consisting of representations of portions of human and animal forms, fantastically combined and interwoven with foliage and flowers. b. A work of art in this style. Chiefly pl., figures or designs in grotesque; in popular language, figures or designs characterized by comic distortion or exaggeration. The Italian form grottesco (pl. grotteschi) is sometimes used.

Monster as: (n) 1375, Originally: a mythical creature which is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance. Later, more generally: any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. The centaur, sphinx, and minotaur are examples of ‘monsters’ encountered by various mythical heroes; the griffin, wyvern, etc., are later heraldic forms.

The use of fantastical forms has a long and storied history in art. Hieronymus Bosch famously used twisted and disfigured forms to illustrate the innate evil in man. Odilon Redon used the monstrous and grotesque in his work to “place us [the viewer], as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.” While closer to home, the artist John Casey (a.k.a. Bunnywax) says “…the physical malformations my characters have are the result of biomorphology. My theory is if one could distort one's body based on one's emotion or psychological state, what would that look like? What if the body formed strange huge club-like limbs or a floating head on it's own, without the control of the owner? Whether the figure is in control of that morphing, I'm not one hundred percent sure. I think it varies from work to work.”

And when the word “monster” is applied to his work: “I'm actually okay with the word if it is used in the complex sense of the concept as in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a being who is ostracized from society but a being who also has complex emotions and a desire to belong, to be loved. The more simplistic idea of the monster being evil is what I reject. There is no such thing as pure evil.”

However, I might float the opinion that this contemporary work is a cultural reaction: these artists might be attempting to synthesize the increasingly extreme and horror-filled world we live in with the creation of literal monsters?

Then there is our shared (mostly) Judeo-Christian heritage that has a huge history of monsters, from the Biblical Leviathan to the Devil himself (based, we now know, on the Roman/Greek god Pan). Whether or not these devils, deities, and monsters were based purely in the imagination, or on objects discovered by ancient people (like dinosaur’s bones), they are ingrained in our psyche, even if they only make a fleeting appearance as the thing that goes bump in the night.

Are these a cultural manifestation a la Carl Jung? Shared terror that gets denuded with a “cute,” perspective? I.e. if we draw them, then they cannot harm us?

Or is it something simpler? A use of humor, whimsy, and imagination to create visual contradictions that are at once sympathetic and provocative. A break from the maxim to create art about “real” issues like poverty, war, and famine. Categories so broad as to be rendered virtually meaningless by non-specificity.

A Breath Of Civility

I ran across a mention of Maya Lin's Systematic Landscapes mention in the L.A. Times and later found a short documentary on it on youtube. The works are deceptively simple and force the viewer to consider the natural environment and humanity's impact on it in a non-didactic manner that evokes concern and questions rather than strident arguments and ugly finger-pointing.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Found Treasures

I promised that I'd write about where I'd been:

Two weeks ago I spent time at my family's lake house in northern Michigan. And despite the cold (fire was the only source of heat) and the somewhat remote location of our cabin, I never felt unengaged. That is, there wasn't a time when I was bored, when I longed for the television, or even a movie (and I brought my laptop just in case).

In between hiking through the woods and discovering a pile of stones reputed to be the foundations of an ancient farmhouse, hunting for fossils on the beach (my brother found one, I didn't…but his fossil mistakenly got packed with some of my found treasures), and rummaging around the attic and old barn, my days where filled.

My brother and I found a few things: my father's diary from 1957—from which we read aloud to the hilarity of the rest of the family, we rediscovered the hayloft in the barn filled, oddly, with timber and an overstuffed chair from the 50s that the mice had had their way with, and we stumbled across the rules to the skeet range from the 40s-60s. We read the first rule: 'Absolutely no drinking on the range'…and my father wondered aloud if a sober breath had ever been pulled there.

There were other, more minor discoveries as well: family photos, and old books made new again, plus a return to simplicity.

Now, back in my day-to-day life, I try to hold on to the feeling of easy expansiveness and to remind myself not to get too bound up in things. After all, I am still the same person who tried to sneak up on a wild turkey…just to see what would happen.

What happened? My brother and I got within two feet of it, when it exploded upward out of the underbrush and scared the hell out of us. Then we went to the orchard and began a debate about crabapple trees.