Ivan's Blog

Thank you for stopping by. This blog will be dedicated to art criticism in today's culture.

Category: Contemporary Art

Stopping Time Through Art

It’s been 3 years since the last time I attended Art Basel in Miami. On my last day there this year, I saw a solo show of the artist Amanda Ross-Ho at Michael Jon and Alan Gallery located in Miami’s Little Haiti. I was very impressed with her approach on the theme of time, specifically with the stopping of time. The title of the show was Stop Bath.

She references photographic equipment and symbolism to relate to topics that are very prominent in today’s culture. For those who don’t know about processing a photograph, a stop bath is the second step after the developer; it stops the development of an image. If you don’t use a stop bath the image will continue to develop, eventually getting darker. Keeping in line with photography as reference, an image captured by the camera is a fraction of a moment in time.

Amanda Ross-Ho addresses our obsession with youth and beauty. As you enter the gallery the first thing you notice are 12 large black face-masks hanging on the wall. People wear these masks to block light to get an instant “darkroom,” so they can get a good nights’ rest, it also references “Beauty Sleep”. Opposite from the black face-masks are facial masks used frequently by the Asian culture to repair skin damage and keep you looking young. At first I thought they were Mexican wrestling masks, but the flaps that go over the eyes and mouth have not been removed. In the middle of the room were three metal tables referencing a dark room setup, minus the safety lights. Each table has three red trays and in each of those trays are photographs of various stopwatches without hands; some images include a measuring tape next to the watches as if they were measuring time. The photographs were developed onto silk fabric instead of photographic paper, and positioned below each table were three glass jugs containing Epson salt, referencing baths for moisturizing the skin. (In a typical darkroom the chemicals not in use are stored under the table where the trays are located). Finally, on one of the sidewalls are four glass jugs similar to the ones under the table, but each jug contains a different oil associated with ways to keep the skin youthful. The oils on display were Avocado, Castor, Apricot Kernel, and Almond.

I will confess I’m biased towards photography, but what Amanda Ross-Ho is doing is different and wonderful. A typical artist working in the medium of photography would approach this subject matter by creating images depicting youth, mortality, and aging in a documentary series. The idea of taking two different fields of life not related to each other, and making them relate to each other reaffirms that things are connected in a deeper way. Addressing society’s obsession with capturing moments with our phones and seeking a cure-all to aging, a fountain of youth you could say, without solely using photographs is innovative and refreshing in an art world that sometimes feels stagnant.

Link to the exhibitions http://michaeljonandalan.com/exhibitions/amanda-rossho

 

 

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Jess T. Dugan: Every breath we drew, now showing at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum

“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”

-James Brown­

What does it take to be a man or male in this world? Is it a physical form that includes a penis, facial hair, and muscles? Is it established in the DNA where the X and Y have been determined since conception? Is it the level of Testosterone? Is it being a responsible husband and father by making sure your family is taken care of? Is it making sure you have a male offspring to carry the family name? Or is it the way you identify yourself? Currently in the news we have witnessed the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner and the issue of transgender has been a hot topic. I don’t want Jenner’s transformation to be the reason for this discussion, but what makes a person identify himself as a male?

Jess T. Dugan’s portraits pose this question to the viewer.   As you stand in the center of the room you notice the majority of the images are portraits looking at you. Affirming silently “I am a male.” The sitter lets us see a vulnerable side of them, but Dugan is not victimizing them. You witness various types of men of different ages, ethnicity and stages of gender, in different settings, and various postures from confident, sexy, masculine, and intimate. They are all men, but like I have previously asked, what makes a man a male? Or a male a man? Is a man who shoots blanks any less a man than one who is attracted to men? I do not have any answers to these questions, but Dugan’s work opens a dialog on various issues of transgender, and male identity. Is it culture’s perception or definition that determines what it means to be a male? Or is it the man as an individual coming to terms and acknowledging his maleness? Dugan’s photos have references to Caravaggio, Manet, Renoir, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The images do not feel staged or documental; Dugan tightly controls the sitters, and what is included, or not included in the frame. Overall the images are wonderful and beautiful, and these portraits reflect present day issues of self and identity.

For more info on the show:

http://www.rollins.edu/cornell-fine-arts-museum/events/index.htmla

Also there will be an artist take for more info:

http://calendar.activedatax.com/rollins/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=10045&information_id=30200&type=&rss=rss

Southern Exposure: Portraits of a Changing Landscape

I have driven by Jacksonville several times, but I never been to the city itself, so I planned a day trip to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville to view a show titled “Southern Exposure: Portraits of a Changing Landscape” with works by contemporary photographers William Christenberry, Deborah Luster, Sally Mann, Jeanine Michna-Bales, Richard Misrach, Andrew Moore, and Alec Soth.

This show touches upon the themes of history and time in the southern landscape, starting with the work of William Christenberry, “House and Car: Suite of 20,” taken in the time frame between 1978-2005 (http://www.marcselwynfineart.com/artists/william-christenberry/ ). These images are a good example of Christenberry’s method of working as an artist. He makes work about the area he was born and raised in Alabama. Even though he currently resides in Washington D.C. he goes back once a year. You witness the wear and tear over the years on a house and car. When he first started the series there is evidence that the house was occupied by a family, but over time the family disappears, then the car falls to disrepair quicker than the house, and eventually you see house collapse. The images are all the same size, they all have this beautiful cerulean blue sky in the background, they feel that they were all taken at the same time of day with the same camera, and since the area is so rural you do not see the progression of modernization. If it wasn’t for the evidence of wear and tear on the objects you could swear the images were all taken the same day and not over a span of several years, emphasizing that when you are out in the country time slows down. It only becomes apparent when an artist has a strong tie and dedication to an area that is close to him heart.

Another artist working similarly is Sally Mann, with her bond to the Virginia landscape and its Civil War history. She is not documenting the land over a long period time like Christenberry, instead she time travels using old techniques of wet collodium plates that were utilized by Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer. She sets up her large format camera at locations where famous Civil War battles took place; the results are images with imperfections, scratches, light leaks, and brush marks of how she coated the plates (http://sallymann.com/selected-works/battlefields ). Upon seeing these images they become dreamlike; southern world charm on a hot summer’s night. At the same time they are eerie and haunting remnants of the past where hundreds of men died. Only one image snapped me back to the present time and that is because electrical lines were apparent in the background. Upon seeing this it made me appreciate the power of photography and the closest I can relate to time traveling for Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.”

Deborah Luster created one of the more powerful series in the show. A tragic past in her life was the catalyst for the project titled “Tooth For an Eye: A Choreography of Violence in Orleans Parish” (http://deborahluster.com/tooth_for_an_eye#1 ). At first what you see are black and white urban landscape images that are circular, and devoid of people. Deborah researched the violent history and mapped out murderous crimes that transpired in Orleans Parish; each image is accompanied with info on the location of where the photo was taken, a date, a person(s) name and age(s), and cause of death. The images are very haunting in several ways, one being the lack of people in the images. I am reminded of the opening scene from “The Omega Man” starring Charlton Heston, where there is only one person left alive in the city. The circular presentations of these images make me think of being a witness and viewing these crime scenes through a peephole or being the triggerman and viewing my victims through a riflescope. We humans are capable of such violent acts, what justifies killing a person? What pushes us or creates a mentality to commit such a crime?

The next artist, Jeanine Michna-Bales, retraces the history of the Underground Railroad with the body of work titled “Through Darkness to Light.” They have the similar dark, eerie, and southern charm quality of Sally Mann’s work but are sharp and in color. She uses available light such as moonlight, streetlights, or occasionally artificial light to create the mood in the images. The body of work was beautiful, making me relate visually the history of the path taken by slaves and what they must have endured on their long trek on foot, risking their lives to be free, reaffirming what impossible odds humans will overcome for a better life.

Richard Misrach’s large color photos depict how the underprivileged are taken advantage of by large, powerful corporations. His project is titled “Petrochemical America,” which are landscape photos taken along an area nicknamed the Chemical Corridor. The images usually show a rural area, but in the background the photographs is either overshadowed by large factories, or far off in the horizon you get a glimpse of a factory. The irony is the similarity to how companies overshadow lives of the inhabitants near these chemical plants or indirectly affect the health of primarily black southerners with the disposal of chemicals into the water, and soil, or the release of air pollutants.

This show was curated very well, with the exception of the works of Andrew Moore and Alec Soth. The pieces chosen for this exhibition did not exemplify the strength of these two photographers, especially Alec Soth. Do not misunderstand me. The images are beautiful, but the pieces chosen from Moore and Soth’s work lack the coherency that is apparent in the other artists represented in this show. Curating a show of greatest hits from several artists to create a cohesive show addressing an over reaching theme is very difficult, should the curator then throw caution to the wind in hopes the strong outweigh the weak? Or should the curator not have taken the risk and omitted the work? I believe the risk was worth it. The majority of times the images worked stronger to give a more empathetic and understanding of history in specific regions, which this show did.

As a kid I was intrigue about history and I still am, but when would sit in class learning history, or I go on a historical tour or read a history book with dates, places and names I often felt a lack of comprehension on why this historical fact had any relevance to history. Photographs that reenact or are remnants of the past gives a better grasp of understanding the importance of remembering and marking it on timeline of history.

“Taking Aim” An Exhibition at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts

It has been just a little over a year since I last went to the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, aka The Hurston. The museum rarely offers any literature about the exhibitions, their web page has not been updated since 2012, and they could use better gallery lighting, but they do not charge any admission fee, it is all by donation. The museum is a small and humble establishment that only has two exhibitions yearly. Located in Eatonville, a small town just north of Orlando, the museum brings current dialogs from our culture better than the Orlando Museum of Art. The town is embedded with American history, such as the first incorporated African American settlement community in the United States and the writer, Zora Neal Hurston. Towns with this type of reputation tend to capitalize on it history, but this does not deter this little museum from educating and taking risks in showing art that is current versus what is visually beautiful.

The current show at the Hurston is an exhibition titled “Taking Aim,” which features three bodies of work by Bayete Ross Smith (http://www.bayeterosssmith.com/ ). We take aim with thoughts or words, using racial profiling or racial slurs, and/or stereotyping to determine the identity of a person. The show left me thinking about how we label and judge things. Let’s be frank here, we all do this. We cannot be called a bad person because of our thoughts; it is our actions that determine if we are good or bad. When I get angry with some random driver who made me miss the light because they were too busy texting, which will cause me to be late, I want to shout at them for being an idiot, but then I think about my initial reaction and think it is stupid to get angry. Also, we are all judgmental; it’s a form of defense. For example we judge potential love interests based on past bad experiences to avoid making the same mistakes and having our hearts broken. We all label things; it is how we understand ourselves better and where we stand in society. For example, someone is a wedding photographer because they only take s pictures of weddings. I am a photographer, but I do not shoot wedding pictures; therefore I not a wedding photographer. These are all minor examples, but you get the idea.

Bayete Ross Smith’s work brings to the surface the action of judging and labeling. One body of work, which shares the same name as the exhibition, “Taking Aim,” is made up of practice sheets of shooting targets that are used in gun ranges, but instead of only having the silhouette of a male human form he printed various black and white portraits on them. The majority of the target/portraits are non-Caucasian males and females, dressed in a variety of ways, including a picture of the artist in a suit and tie. All these portraits were taken to a gun range and used for actual target practice, so all of them had bullet holes except for one, that of a small black child. As children we viewed the world with innocence, what happens to us as we entered adulthood? We judge and believe all Blacks are uneducated with no family values, or all Hispanics are illegal immigrants with no family values, or all Muslims are terrorists and have no family values. It also made me think that we as a culture are molding this child’s future by imposing our values indirectly on each other and deem what is acceptable and not acceptable. These portraits work in a simple but powerful manner.

Another thought that came out of “ Taking Aim“ was gun violence in the USA, which leads me to his second body of work titled “Gatling (America),” a series of portraits of various races and gender, but in color. In each portrait the individual is holding their favorite gun. When you normally think of guns you think of police, military, hunters, or criminals, not a person who could be your neighbor or a teacher, or the use of recreational gun use versus violent gun use. They are very well crafted portraits, but upon reading the artist statement I came to find out that an important part in this body of work was omitted. Each portrait is supposed to be accompanied by a questionnaire that was filled out by the person in the portrait, giving us an insight as to why they have guns in their lives, their experiences and relations to guns, and what they do for a living, informing the viewer with a better understanding of gun culture in the USA. For reasons unknown, these questionnaires were not included in the exhibition.

The last body of work “Passing,” is where Bayete took a standard ID portrait of a young man and applied that photo to different passports from around the world to make you question his ethnicity, nationality, and race. Is he Brazilian, British, Cuban, Colombian, Dutch, Ethiopian, French, Israeli, South African, Sudanese, or a U.S. Citizen? Is he White, Black, Mixed, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Middle Eastern? It is hard to tell, but all of these passports have the ability to be true or false as to the identity of the person. Again the question of why we need to label things arises. Do we have the ability to live in a culture similar to what is portrayed in Star Trek, the universal qualities of equality, liberty, justice, peace, and cooperation? Or the world described in the song “Maybe There’s a World” by Yusuf Islam, where he states, “ I have dreamt of an open world, borderless and wide, where the people move from place to place, and nobody’s taking sides.”

Even though Bayete Ross Smith work is not shown in a pristine gallery in Orlando, or the correct way it was intend to be seen (missing the documents that accompany the portraits in “Gatling”), or my belief that “Passing” could be stronger if it was presented as actual passports, or even at least present each passport in their own individual frame instead of doubling up the passports in one frame. The bottom line is that his artwork still has the power to question things, which I believe is the foundation of good art; to motivate, think, change, inspire, or open our minds and shake things up in the boxed environments that constantly surround and shape our views.

This exhibition will be on view at the Hurston until July 28, 2015.

Can you put a price tag on art? If so, what is the limit?

A couple of years ago people outside the art world were surprised to find out that some one had paid 4.3 million for an Andreas Gursky photograph titled Rhine 2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhein_II ). People who know of Gursky’s work know and understand the beauty of this image. People who only understand and view photography for its visual aesthetic beauty only criticized the photograph’s value, but fail to grasp what justified its value and importance as a photograph. With the popularity of iPhones and cameras being consumer friendly many people believe the camera creates the image the photographer’s only job is to click the shutter at the decisive moment. Also the main exposure for artists’ work is the web, if we need a visual on a piece of art work we GOOGLE it. What many of us forget is the web does not give a good representation of the actual artwork, it flattens into to a two dimensional image, and being viewed on a computer monitor the color reproduction is nothing close to the original. I also realize a photograph is two dimensional but a computer it does not represent the art correctly, so photos need to be viewed in person much like a Mark Rothko painting. While studying art history I often viewed Rothko’s work in books or slides, then on a trip to L.A. I viewed a show of his paintings and from that moment I fully understood their importance in the art world.
Getting back to photography several months ago Peter Liv’s photograph titled Phantom managed to break Gursky’s record by more than two million dollars (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelhennessey/2014/12/12/peter-lik-phantom-worlds-most-expensive-photograph-arizona-antelope-canyon/ ). This time the art world is in uproar not because the photograph is not visually beautiful but because an unknown in the art world had created the photograph. Peter Liv is a successful photographer in his own right, who creates beautiful images but the art establishment i.e. Museums, curators, critics, and collectors have not recognize his work in the frame of contemporary art. Liv’s work holds true to the movement of the modernist such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Henri-Cartier Bresson, the work speaks for itself.

Why is it hard for the art world to accept this photo as part of the dialogue in modern art? Is beauty not relevant anymore in art? Beauty does not suffice and a lot of people who are not knowledgeable do not understand that the concept of art has evolved beyond just visual beauty and mastery of the camera. This is why this photograph has become controversial, especially in the context of the art world, because the purchase by one collector at a price tag of 6.4 million dollars is questioning the validity of “what is art” at this moment. In much the same way that the painter Thomas Kinkade, self proclaimed the Painter of Light, caused uproar in the art world. Thomas Kinkade was the most successful selling commercial artist of our time, he created paintings that many people loved and made millions from the same image but offered as reproductions in various sizes and options to be printed on paper or canvas. Again it was only one entity that made the establishment question, “what is art?” much that same way of Marcel Duchamp did with his ready-made “Fountain.”

Another issue that is raised by the significant purchase of “Phantom” is the stigma of ignorance is often portrayed in collectors who know nothing about art and only see it as a commodity. Whoever this collector is has taken a big chance on purchasing a piece of paper that may not yield his return on such an investment on a unknown artist in the art world, but the irony is artwork by famous artists are being sold at exuberant prices that leave people wondering if these prices are justified. Even Gerhard Richter, one of the most famous living painters questions the amount his paintings are being auction at (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/06/amount-of-money-that-art-sells-for-is-shocking-says-painter-gerhard-richter ). For those who don’t understand how the art world works, the majority of artwork that is auction off at the price it was sold does not necessarily go to the artist unless you are California artist, but this is another story, and they still only get a percentage. An auction is the reselling of an artist work usually owned by someone other than the artist. The artist makes his money from the initial sale of the artwork when it was first created. Getting back to my thought, What ever your stance is on this issue we still go back to that question, “What is art?” and AT WHAT PRICE?