Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Arizona Biennial 2013: Gutsy Art

The Arizona Biennial 2013 is a very interesting show. Lots of humor, lots of irony (of course!), lots of technical skill, and lots of winks to art history.  Overall, this is really a great exhibit. There's a lot to look at. so I had to focus on just a small sample. I'll tell you what I liked, and why, and also I'll let you in on my thought process. So out of over 60 pieces here, I'm just focusing on a handful.

First of all, this is a complicated show. That is, there's nothing really here that is "beautiful" or "ugly"in the ordinary sense of those's complicated, with much artwork , simultaneously combining the amazing and the gross, the sacred and profane, the sublime and the ridiculous . Joining the cheap and the precious at the hip (as in "hipster") is a lot of what I see here. But that's the way art has evolved (at least the way I see it): the good stuff simultaneously attracts and repels you...and you (the viewer) are left to sort it out.  You're confronted with a work of art: part of it funny, part of it amazing, part of it is ridiculous.  It's complicated. Let's jump in...

Jesse Berlin, b. 1981, Tucson, AZ; lives Tucson
Untitled Deer Study, 2013, cold cast bronze, polyurethane
84 x 24 x 36 in.
Supported by a Windgate Charitable Foundation Scholarship 
awarded by the School of Art and Design, 
Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Additional funding provided by a 2013 Research Award Grant

 awarded by the Graduate and Professional Student Council, 

Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Jesse Berlin's "Untitled Deer Study", which is a bronze cast of a deer cut in half,  could be the signature piece of the show, because in one easy to read image, it summarizes so many issues addressed in art and society today.  I reminds me of what would happen if Frederick Remington (or other bronze wildlife artists) was "remixed" with Damien Hirst: it simultaneously respects and disrespects different art traditions. Both the exterior of the deer, and the interior of the deer, are rendered with attention to accurate anatomical detail...but we're faced with an interruption: that wonderful beautiful deer has been sliced in half.  That's where the confrontation lies: in the interruption. There is no blood here, and the animal does not appear to be in pain. It's put on a pedestal (a sign of respect)... but there is a gross-out factor here. Stuff like this makes me want to cry. It simultaneously respects tradition and disrespects it. It simultaneously respects wildlife art and disrespects it. It respects wildlife/Western sculpture on the front end, but trashed it on the tail end. It shows skill and an attention to detail, but used in the service of making us cringe. Plus, it also serves as an "answer" piece to Damien Hirst's cut up shark piece: they're comparable (but personally, I feel that Berlin's piece is stronger because shows some actual art skill. Hey, I can be a rebel too, can't I?? ;) )

Bill Dambrova, b. 1971, 
Scottsdale, AZ; lives Flagstaff, AZ
Pink Glandscape, 2012
oil on canvas
47 x 35 in.
The next piece I'd like to discuss is Bill Dambrova's  painting "Pink Glandscape".  Like Jesse Berlin's deer sculpture, Bill Dambrova's painting is also an interior view of organs and guts, but in this piece it's funny. Why? Because of the cartoonish treatment. Just imagine Walt Disney and Jesse Berlin sharing a studio: this is what you might see: the gross rendered palatable due to goofy-looking "ploid" shapes (a "ploid" is a cartoon sweat droplet, but I can't find a link to that definition on Google. Sorry!)  Oozing, dribbling, spurting shapes...but not gross, because we associate this look with cartoons on TV.  Once again, style IS substance. I suppose that our attitudes about many things can be guided and shaped, due to how they're presented to us. Dribbling, spurting, candy-colored ooze...and in the rarefied confines of the Tucson Museum of Art! The gross and raunchy rendered funny, colorful, and cute! Also reminds me of that Grateful Dead's "Europe '72"  album cover where a guy smashed an ice cream cone onto his head. Nice work! ;)

Amanda Ivy Reed, b. 1980, Boca Raton, FL; lives Tucson, AZ
in love with oblivion, 2013
acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 in.
Since we're on the topic of album covers, this presents me with a nice segue to talk about
Amanda Ivy Reed's painting "in love with oblivion". This painting is a photo-realistic portrait of a stack of seven CD cases. The albums are by Sonic Youth, Subhumans, The Sea and Cake, The Crystal Stilts's album "In Love With Oblivion", TV On The Radio,  Zappa Plays Zappa, and Comet Gain's "City Fallen Leaves". 

The first thing I did when I saw this painting was to read all of the titles on the CDs. I've got to thank the artist for this one, for thanks to this painting, I've discovered some great new music! When artists go to work in their studios, there's always a stack of music. Why not focus on that? The artist's choice in music is just as much a portrait of the artist as is a painted portrait...and in this case, the artist has apparently painted her favorite CDs!

In addition to providing us with a musical soundtrack for viewing this piece, Amanda Reed joins the tradition of pop art (and super realism).  Also, I feel that she's consciously paying homage to Andy Warhol, due to the flat one color background, and the way that the subject matter just floats there. But Amanda Reed has carefully carefully painted this by hand, showing that you can pay homage to Warhol without becoming a cynical silk-screening hack!  I wish that more artists would share with us their tastes in music. It's well painted, and I like how this piece gives a peek into the sounds of her studio, and also guides us in how to find this music (of course, I'm assuming that she loves this music; it could just be a stack of CDs!) The more I look at this piece, the more I like it.

 Now I want to know what all of these artists listen to when they work! Artists! Post your playlists on your websites! I think it's a great way to round out our perceptions of our favorite artists. Also, this allows artists to incorporate music into their artistic practice, which I feel is very beneficial because music has many virtues that visual art just doesn't have.   I'll follow my own advice, and (in short order) post my own music preferences on my own website. Thanks for the inspiration, Amanda!

Hirotsune Tashima, b. 1969, 
Hiroshima, Japan; lives Tucson, AZ
Organic Banana in the Supermarket, 2011
multiple fired stoneware
69 x 26 x 26 in.
The legacy of pop heart rears it's head once again, in the form of Hirotsune Tashima's funk sculpture, "Organic Banana in the Supermarket". Here we see a life-size ceramic sculpture of the artist himself emerging from a banana. And what's he doing....selling? It looks like it could be an infomercial ad, where the artist himself emerges from a banana peel as a spokesman for pop art (or in this case, "funk art"; same thing, different dimension...)  This is an impressive piece; everything here is painted ceramic. Those bottles, boxes, and containers are all made by the artist. The artist calls this "organic banana" in a supermarket. So what's that mean, that the only real product here is a banana, whereas everything else is mass produced? I've Googled Hirotsune Tashima, and found that he has created several (I counted at least 6) different sculptures showing a person emerging from a banana peel, so my guess is that the banana motif is one of his trademarks.  Hirotsune's idea of having himself straddle a banana is very funny, if not a touch racy, which allows me to segue to yet another artist in this show, Michael Marlowe.

Michael Marlowe, b. 1960, 
Cincinnati, OH; lives in Phoenix, AZ
Falling to Pieces, 2012
oil on canvas
108 x 88 in.

Another very funny piece is Michael Marlowe's very large oil painting called "Falling to Pieces". It's nine feet high, and at first glance it looks like it could be an ornate design found on Victorian wallpaper.  But after only a few seconds you realize that somethings not right: that Victorian wallpaper pattern actually looks like a cluster of bones and testicles floating around in a cloud of heavy metal clip art. It's kinda like the assembly diagram for some kind of Nordic typography sex machine.  Once again, things are not what they seem: it's as if Hieronymus Bosch suddenly started designing fonts. Perhaps I should stop with these descriptions! At least, that 's what comes to mind... I've looked at his website, and I think I'm right about this. The museum should hang this piece next to the "Glandscape" painting (mentioned earlier in this post): to me, that would make sense... I enjoyed this piece!

There was one other piece that I wanted to write about, but I didn't get a photo from the museum for it, but you can see it on artist's website here. It's Teri Pursch's "Speedway and Sixth". This painting is amazing because when you look at it, you think that your eyes have suddenly gone out of focus. It actually hurt my eyes, and I had to take off my glasses to see if something was wrong with them, but no... this painting actually fools your eyes into thinking that somethings wrong with your eyes. I think that the artist does this with many streaky layers of translucent paint.  The image on Pursch's website don't have this effect;  so in order to understand what I'm saying,  you have to see this painting in person.  The only other time I recall a painting messing with my eyes like this was when I was at the Rothko Chapel (in Texas, several years ago), where I witnessed the paintings actually moving. It's a trick done with low light and and many lays of paint with a similar value (I'm convinced).

Okay! I've written enough. I hope you've enjoyed this review.

Note: thanks to Lisa Wilkinson at the Tucson Museum of Art for the images

Monday, December 10, 2012

Marcy Miranda Janes at Wee Gallery (Dec 2012)

In the back of a vintage clothing shop, in the cluster of galleries at the intersection of 6th Ave and 6th Street, is the "Wee Gallery". The logo for the gallery is picture of a cherub urinating, in the manner of those public fountains in Europe.  I visited this gallery on the day of their opening; I was early; the labels hadn't even been put up yet.  Still, I'm here to give you a report on what I saw....

The exhibit is composed of 15 artworks: 1 is large, 7 are medium size, and 7 are small. They all are similar in that they all have what look like antique (or antiqued) gold colored frames, but each frame is different. They all look good together as a set, but if you look, you'll notice that each frame is unique.

Marcy Miranda Janes' work are intricate and delicate images made of cut paper. These black and white pictures use black and white paper (instead of paint or ink).  I don't know the titles of the images (since they weren't mounted when I'd arrived), so I'll have to rely on my own descriptions. 

I can describe the images here, and comment on the symbolism, the the real star of this show is the craftsmanship. All of these symbols are very harsh and depressing, but the delicacy and intricacy of the cut paper work softens the effect, making it info something more akin to lace.  (Was this work made using a light table?) Even if you don't know the meaning of the symbols of these pieces, or why they're arranged in the manner that they are, you can at least marvel at the craftsmanship: it's impressive.

The biggest piece is on the back wall of the gallery. I'd guess that its' about 6 feet wide (I'm just estimating)  In this image about, we see images of darkness: a raven (or is it a crow?), skeletons (both adult and child), moths, hand grenades (which look like ears of corn), and parrots.  When I squint, I see what looks like an angry Mickey Mouse (just the face, not the ears, or mouth) If it's not Mickey Mouse, then at least it looks like some sort of face.

The frames of a lot of the work looks like it came from other sources (I could be wrong). This cut paper flying fish is framed in a bronze-like circular frame with maple leaves (??) flying off at multiple angles.  This piece reminds of a combination of old antiques.

Here we have three flying fish and (what looks like) an airplane.

This piece, framed in a unique frame, we have an image that looks like a brain.... but on closer examination, we see that there are actually bees, honeycomb, and a thistle-like plant made of carefully of cut paper.

The Wee Gallery is a small place. In the above photo, we see three pieces on its back wall.  The piece in the center (described in the first paragraph of this article) is in the center of this photo.

The work is ambitious, and the content is dark and maudlin. A sense beauty and foreboding prevails.
I find that the artwork is unique and interesting; not like anything else I'm used to seeing.  It reminds me a relief block printing, although instead using knives to carve into a wooden block, the artist makes cuts directly into paper. It's great to see an artist work in a new (to me) and challenging way!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Movie Review: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams": Genius Neanderthal artists!!

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (now available on DVD) is an amazing film. It's about the 1997 discovery of the Chauvet cave in France, which houses the oldest Neanderthal cave paintings known to Man.  It's a revolutionary discovery: the paintings are in pristine condition, and they have the effect of speaking to you across time. There might be a separation of 30,000 years between you and this cave art, but what's so amazing is it feels as if there's no distance at all between you. Time and history melt away, and it's just a bond between you and this artist (who you'll get to know as the movie progresses)

 The paintings, for the most art, are in pristine condition; it seems like no time has passed.  The presence of calcite crystals on the paintings is evidence that these works are indeed real and not fake; they've just had the good fortune of been in an environment that was safe from rain and wind (the cave had collapsed tens of thousands of years ago, forming a protective germ-free environment) Although this movie is billed as a documentary, it's also very much an art film.

One of the first things that popped into my mind when looking at this Neanderthal cave art was "Why does this work seem so fresh and immediate? And why does so much current artwork look so dated?" That was a paradox that I was constantly reminded of: the prehistoric work seemed to have a spirit and a presence that was very much in the "now", whereas as the "modern" work just mentioned seemed faddish and  false. The cave drawings at Chauvet cave has a life and fluidity that just draws you in; you can sense the presence of artist as a real personality, right there with you.

One thing that I really thought was great were the types of animals in the cave murals. All of them were of species that no longer exist. Commentators talk about the "horses" and the "bulls" in the murals, but what's actually there (at least what I see) are prehistoric creatures that are now extinct. There is a creature that looks like a horse, but it's not a horse: it's neck is too short and thick, and it's mane is actually like a scrub brush that lies across his back. There's also something unusual with the shapes of these creatures heads, and the size the their ears (which are much smaller than a horses ears). These are some relative of a horse, but they're not horses. However, they are a peek into the past about what kinds of creatures actually roamed the earth.  The same goes for the drawings of a "bull". If you look closely, it's actually not a bull, but rather, a giant rodent with tusks.  Go on, have another look! These murals are great not just for the talent of the artist, but also for his eye witness account of now-extinct animals.

Another thing I enjoyed in this movie is that the researchers were able to identify one of the artists! There were multiple types of art in the cave artwork in Chauvet cave: the animal paintings,  non-objective art (red dot patterns), some abstract symbols that looked vaguely like insects and butterflies, and printing (hand prints). I was really impressed with the skill and the sensitivity of these Neanderthal painters. But I was also impressed at how much of modern art history was "anticipated" (hah! yeah, right...) by these Neanderthals. Many of the hand prints had a bent pinky finger: this was hist signature. That bent finger print showed up in multiple places in the cave. Thus, much of this cave art can be traced to an individual artist!
Another thing that impressed me in this movie as the layers of history in the Chauvet cave.  Not all of the drawings and artwork in the cave came from the same time. The oldest artwork is from 32,000 years ago, but there is also other artwork (drawn right over pre-existing artwork) that is 28,000 years old! Thus, these murals actually have a history unto themselves, with thousands of years separating the various artist contributions.

Lingering in the back of my mind was the question "why are these artists painting on the cave walls?" No one knows if these murals were part of a theatrical presentation, a religious ceremony, or simply as a backdrop for a display of art. The researchers in the film note that while there are many bones in the cave (usually of a prehistoric bear), there are no human bones in there.  Perhaps the cave was used as a theater? No one knows...
This movie really gives you a long view of history, and your place in it. Curiously, seeing and connecting with this artwork gives one a feeling of being connected to all of human history, or even cosmic history. When artwork from prehistoric times has a moving effect on you; when you see yourself in the work; when you start sympathizing with the Neanderthal artist; when you look at these depictions of prehistoric animals, and you really feel as though you art there...then art has transcended space and time, and it's connected with you in what can only be described as a "spiritual" way. Records of the past are all around us. We just need to know where to find them and how to see them.

As you can see, I really enjoyed this movie! A great art flick! And a great discovery an an amazing artist: Mr. Crooked Pinky Finger.

It's said that life if short, but art is long. Here's the proof.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Martin Quintinilla's "Tucson" the Contreras Gallery

view of the Contreras Gallery, with Martin Quintinilla's new exhibit
Artist Martin Quintinilla has a new body of work now showing at the Contreras Gallery, in Tucson, AZ.  The theme of this show is "Martin Quintinilla's Tucson".  There are 27 paintings in this show, from huge to pequeño. Included here are Martin's portrayal of Tucson, some images of himself, and some unique creations from his imagination. As with any Quintinilla exhibit, there's always a lot to look at, and no two paintings are alike. Step right this way, the circus has rolled into town!

The first thing you confront when you walk into this exhibit is a massive painting called "Tradado de Guadalupe Hidalgo" mural.  This is a diptych, that measures 6 feet high x 11 feet wide.  The painting depicts an expansive view of Mexico, when still included Arizona.  The quality of the painting shows Martin's skill as representational artist.  A sign painted on the far right side of this mural explains what we're looking at:

closeup of scroll on the "Tratado de Guadalupe Hidalgo Mural" (right side of mural)

One thing I've notice with Quintinilla's work is that he's got a sense of history.  His imagery includes things from the present (with all of its references to pop culture and current events), as well as links to the past. A good example of that is this mural itself: it provides a quick lesson in some of Tucson's history, and is a great way to introduce a show who's theme is "Tucson". This painting has some other nice details, such as a caballero, as well as some ancient petroglyphs:

a caballero in the lower center of the mural
...and on the left side of the mural, some petroglyphs
The centerpiece of the show is a large painting called "Pecado Original" ("Original Sin").  It looks like a refashioning of the Garden of Eden story, but with Tucson-oriented imagery. Instead of a Tree of Knowledge, we see a large Saguaro Cactus, with a Star of David and a crucifix adorning the center-most arm. A diamondback snake crawls amongst the cactus arms.  The Garden itself appears to be abbreviated, reduced to the size of a small "landscape feature", after real estate developers had their way with it. Adam and Eve are nowhere to be seen. The only characters hanging around the "Cactus of Knowledge" are the Devil himself, and a cute looking sheep.  The Hotel Congress sign hovers above in the background, flanked by bottles of booze, the Rialto Theater, an old-fashioned turntable, and what looks like Mexican lotteria cards.  In the distance, dividing the paintng in half horizontally, are railway cars, spray painted with graffiti.  An all-seeing eye hovers at the top, sprouting marijuana leaves from all angles, and the the bottom, a Mexican wrestling mask, which has grown wings made out of the Mexican flag, and sporting the phrase "Vida Loca".

"Pecado Original"...Tucson style
On the top and sides of the "Pecado Original" painting, are 50 bottle caps from Miller High life beer.  Have a look (I counted them):
Quintinilla's use of beer bottle caps for decoration on the side of this painting (a lotteria character is also visible...)
Next to "Pecado Original" is a self portrait called "Shaman's Eater".  The painting shows Martin as a fire-breathing shaman as he lifts a tiny little doll-sized man into his mouth.  Before him, on a table that is out of perspective, are a large muscular heart on a plate, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts, a copy of Juxtapoz magazine, a large Gumby doll, a toy monster truck, a tiki god, and several human specimens in jars.  Elsewhere in the room hangs a shrunken head, and visible from the window is an Aztec temple flowing with blood.
"Shaman's Eater"
The structure of the picture has the Old World (the world of the Aztecs) in the background, the New World (the world of Gumby, monster trucks, and Juxtapoz magazine) in the foreground. Martin, as Shaman, stands in the center of it all, paintbrush in hand, eating these little people in this ritual of sacrifice. I've heard the artists make sacrifices, but with this painting, Quintinilla has given that phrase a whole new meaning!

One can't help noticing the abundance of text in Quintinilla's work. He doesn't just paint with images, he also includes lots of signs and lettering in his work. A good example of that is his piece called "Downtown"

"Downtown": is that a party animal?
One of my favorite pieces in this show is called "Hipster".  Like in "Pecado Original", you can also see the "Hotel Congress" sign, but here, there are so many other signs to see.  This picture is loaded with signs of hip places downtown, including Hotel Congress, The Rialto, The Fox Theater, The Grill, and a variety of other places such as "Yoga", "Parking", and "Gallery". Martin's always had a psychedelic side to him. In this painting, the whole picture starts to hallucinate, breaking down and flattening out into a network of color patches, patterns, and designs.  Floating at the top center is what I gather is Quintinilla's logo: an all-seeing eye in the center of a spade symbol.

In the painting "Jardin",  Quintilla paints a psychedelic garden scene, made almost exclusively of whimsical trippy lines and invented shapes. A few roses in foreground remind us that we are, indeed, in a garden....a garden of the mind!

I like how Martin's paintings demonstrate a sense of place (i.e. Tucson), a sense of history, and an obvious love of pop culture.  I like how he mixes nicely painted pictures of the Arizona landscape, with his oddball imaginary characters, with all sorts of folk art touches (e.g. bottle caps hammered to the frame).  His work is visually rich and is a lot of fun to look at. 

Tucson's got a load of artists, but there's only one Martin Quintinilla!  I think he's really great, and that this is a really fine show. Check it out!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christina McNearny's "Modello" series, at Tucson Int'l Airport Gallery

One of Christina's 36 artworks at her show at Tucson International Airport Gallery
Artist Christina McNearny has an exhibit of 36 works of art, currently showing that the Gallery inside the Tucson International Airport. About five years ago, the gallery at the airport was the THE art destination for airport travelers. Now, every gallery in town seems to have it's own wall space at the airport. From tip to tail, the airport has become like a mall of local galleries.  This has added a lot to the culture of the airport, but it's also made it a little more difficult to find the original airport gallery! That original airport gallery is where you'll find Christina's work.

The work here is a combination of monoprint, painted washes, color photocopy transfer (it appears), sprayed shapes over stencils or masks, and then globs of swirled and dribbled paint.  The title of her exhibit includes the word "gravity", probably as an acknowledgement that gravity helped her create those dribble effects!  If I was to describe Christina's work, I'd say that it was "surrealist printmaking" because of it simultaneous automatic and dream-like quality.

This is a show about texture and pattern, and functions as a showcase for a variety of alternative printmaking techniques.  The show is divided into four bodies of work: "walking", "desert", "Hurricane Ike", and "Relative Size".  As a whole, the exhibit is of one piece. Christina is very consistent in her methods.  They're all composed of a series of layers, and each layer is made up of a different printmaking techniques.

close up of Christina's techniques (from her "Lizard Skin" piece):
It appears to me that her paintings all start with a monoprint as a foundation. (For those who don't know, a monoprint is where you paint with printing ink directly onto a sheet of acrylic, put a piece of paper over it, and run it through a printing press. The resulting print on the paper is called a "monoprint", since you just make one copy). 

There are very few actual brush strokes in these paintings. Most of this work is the result of pours, prints, mists, stamps, and torn edges.  There's an "automatic" quality to this work, where the compositions often feel found or discovered as the artist is working. 

"Unexpected Arrival"
 "Unexpected Arrival" is a small painting, which has three basic things happening in it. First, there's the purple tinted background, flecked with white paint. (Flecks and sprays of paint are one of the texture-creating methods that Christina uses in this work.) On top of this, she lays down a series of blue and purple circles, linked in a chain-like fashion. And on top of that, a big bluish blob of paint, with a white dribble that looks like melting whipped cream. 

"After Image"
The painting "After Image" is a good illustration of Christina's layered approach: the first layer (the yellow background)is painted;  on top of that is the next layer: the orange patterns  (probably) created with color xerox transfers. The top layer (that is, the foreground) is made of bright green and blue paint that appears to have been dribbled on and manipulated with a stick.  When you look at this piece up close the variety of texture and detail can be a bit overwhelming because there's so much to look at, but from afar, the painting organizes itself into clusters of dark and light shapes, and that's what gives it its composition.
My favorite painting in the exhibit is a large piece, titled "Cove". I think I like it for the abundance of that sprayed and stenciled appearance: I've always liked that look! But formally speaking, I think that this piece is organized very well: it's got a nice distribution of dark and light shapes, and I like it for all of its hard edges. When you're working with as much texture and pattern as Christina is in these paintings, it's easy for the eye to get overwhelmed. Those broad areas of hard-edged solid shapes serve to hold things together; they offer some spaces that are tamed down a bit. This picture also has a self-illuminating quality.  The brightest and darkest places in this picture are right next to each other (just off-center), so that also provides a center of interest.
The most interesting painting in the show, for me, is "Daydream". It's interesting because it looks like she's used paint to create a printed effect. The background layer is that yellow and orange pattern. I looked at it closely, and it appears to have been made with paint pours and dribbles, into which the artist painted little orange circles in all of the blank spaces; that created the initial pattern for the background. The blue swoosh-like shape in the center is made with a combination of the swoosh of a dry brush, and some atomized paint wash sprayed over a mask or a stencil.  Other masked and sprayed areas are visible at the bottom of this painting.  This one has a "landscape" composition, with the bright detail at the top of the picture serving as the sky, the blue shapes in the middle resembling some sort of creature, and the dark shapes at the bottom looking like mountains.

"Shift is a cute little painting on wood (about 9" x 12" in size) that has a bright happy feel.  The cyan, yellow, and magenta colors, along with the torn edges remind of the perky days of New Wave pop. This would have made a great dust jacked for an EP back in the day....

"Snake in the Lake"
"Snake in the Lake" is another work that I'm drawn to. I like it for its simplicity.  She's limited herself to just two techniques: monoprint and masked-off-sprayed-on areas. I'm guessing that the yellow shape is the snake in the lake.

Check it out! Christina McNearny's "Modello" exhibit, at the Tucson International Airport Gallery! (And remember to get your parking ticket validated!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Melancholia (the movie): It gave me a headache!

"Melancholia" is showing at the Loft Theater.  This is not technically an art exhibit...or was it? I felt like reviewing it here, here's my impression of it.

I was not one of those who are raving about this movie. I like the concept, I like some of the visuals (and their references to art history, notably "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais ("malaise"?) (and David's "Death of Marat", among others) but this movie gave me a headache. As I write this, I  still  have a headache. I went into this flick hoping to be transformed. What a disappointment!  I'm still the same, but now I have a headache!

I was hoping for a very moving, transformative piece about...I don't know, life, carpe diem, beauty and disaster, the "sublime"....  mainly because others have raved about this movie, saying how great it was. Maybe my expectations were too high??   In a nutshell, this movie feels as  if Ingmar Bergman and Andy Warhol collaborated to do a remake of the 1950's Sci-Fi flick, "When World's Collide"

 The context and emotional landscape are both from the 1950's: in the movies, we had the sci-fi disaster flicks, and on the literary front, we had existentialist philosophy.  This really is an existentialist movie, since it deals with the question "how would you live your life if you only had one day to live?"  One hopes, as the best existentialist writers said, that you'd approach you situation with courage.  This movie reminds me of some of Ingmar Bergman's films, which are also very long, brooding, and about messed up relationships. Here's a clip from Ingmar Bergman's "Persona", so you can get a feel for the mood, pace, and the long drawn out quality...

What "Melancholia" does is puts you in the mindset of someone who has no future (neither does the planet), and forces you to consider how you'd live your last day on Earth. What would you do?  You could freakout, and run around in a panic (as do the actors in "As World's Collide"), or you could try to negotiate a dignified exit in a situation in which its impossible to survive. (Here's the trailer for "When World's Collide")

The movie's opening introductory sequence (I'm talking about first 2-3 minutes of the film) are breathtakingly gorgeous. Lots of super slow motion surrealist montage. The beginning of the movie is like a silent short art movie unto itself. It brought tears to my eyes. It was a beautifully lush and graphically surreal portrayal of the disaster which creates the impetus for the film.  But after that first opening sequence, your endurance is severely tested.

The movie appears to be set up as a set of pairs: first, and most obviously, is the wedding couple itself: the pair which gets the movie started. Then there are two sisters, two planets (Earth and Melancholia), two halves of the movie (parts 1 & 2, each with it's own screen placard indicating just that, two passes around the Earth by Melancholia as it does it's "Dance Of Death". I'll stay within that tradition, and give this movie... 2 stars (no astronomical pun intended)

I mentioned that this film is part Sci Fi Disaster flick, and part homage to both Ingmar Bergman and Andy Warhol (his short movies that were at the Loft Theater last year). This movie has two winks at Warhol's short films: first, the quick, chopping, whiplash inducing camera work (to remind us that we're watching a film art object, not an illusion of reality). I'm thinking specifically of Warhol's film "My Hustler", which showed at the Loft last year, but which does not appear to be on YouTube.  In "Melancholia", as in "My Hustler", the camera is constantly moving around, jerking wildly, as if held by an amateur. I couldn't understand why I was getting car sick  watching this flick, but then it dawned on me: it's all of the jerky camera work!  I took a break in the lobby shortly after part 2 started, and chatted with one of the guys working at the snack bar.  He said that that jerky headache-inducing quality was intentional, so that we could feel the nausea that Kirsten Dunst's character was feeling. I believe him. There's no other good explanation for it.  A supporting argument for seeing shades of Warhol in this movie is the presence of Udo Kier, who starred in several of Warhol's later (more polished) movies, such as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein". (Here's a clip of Udo in Warhol's "Dracula", although in "Melancholia", he's an old distinguished looking servant

 The trailer for "Melancholia" is very deceptive, since it is fast paced. You get no sense of the long drawn out headache that's about to hit you (Here's the trailer)

Despite this, there are definitely many positive things about this picture: it's got a very intimate feeling;  you get a feeling as if you're really spending time with these characters. The topic (i.e. the End of the World) is grim, but it's set against some breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The ugliness actually comes from the people, and their pathetic lives.  Nature, and the Cosmos, are Beautiful. People, and their problems, don't quite measure up.

This movie presents you with a thought-experiment: you're getting married on the Earth's Last Day. Would that change your plans at all? It's something to think about. (As this movie suggests, loud grandiose Classical music helps move things along)

(c) 2011 by Howard Salmon

Sunday, November 13, 2011

3rd Annual Sculpture Garden Tucson Jewish Community Center (13 Nov 2011)

A view of the sculpture garden at the Tucson Jewish Community Center
In conjunction with the "Open Studios" event, currently happening in Tucson this weekend, The Tucson Jewish Community Center hosted their 3rd Annual Sculpture Garden Exhibit. I caught it, with about 1/2 hr to spare, and with a light rain just starting... Here's how I saw  it!

This is a really nice exhibit. The JCC created a full-color explanatory booklet to go with the show, with an introduction written by Elaine King, who is a professor of Art Theory at Carnegie Mellon University. In her essay, she explains her selection criteria: work must be creative, and well-made: 

When I first entered, I was greeted by jazz music, by some cool cats. Here they art, jamming away...

Live jazz on sculpture garden patio. Coffee's inside...
Before looking at individual sculptures, I walked around the whole exhibit to get the lay of the land. I met sculptor Keven Burnett, who was still installing his sculpture called "Capricious Tongues". It looked like five weather vanes, but instead of arrows, they had tongues on a stick to point in the direction of the prevailing political winds....

Keven Burnett installing "Capricious Tongues"

cast iron wagging tongue on the end of a stick
Keven Burnett also created one of my favorite works in this show: sculpture of two men crawling up the side of the JCC, like Spiderman, each push a wire-frame boulder. The work is called "Sisyphus":

Keven Burnett's "Sisyphus"
Underneatch "Sisyphus", at ground level, is a sculpture by Lori Anderson  called "The Veteran". This piece looking like there's figure (presumably a soldier or a vet), wrapped up in what looks like are dragonfly wings.

Lori Anderson's "The Veteran"
Next to Lori Anderson's piece, is a very creative sculpture by Martha Dunham.  It is called "Forged Identity: Yitzak Rabin".  The sculpture depicts a large fingerprint.  The exhibit book has the artist stating that the human fingerprint represents life.
I wonder if that's HER fingerprint??

On the green grassy lawn, there is some art that is is definitly mimicing Nature: bent wire birds nests, created created by artists (or by some pretty strong birds) The nests are made of rusted coathanger wire and blue stone eggs.
Blue stone eggs in the center of a rusted wire cluster
One sculpture I really enjoyed was called "Agree to Disagree". It shows two abstract forms looking like two beached whales, hanging out under a swing set:

"Agree to Disagree"...giant figs having fun at the swingset
 Artist Tidi Ozeri has a sculpture here called "Tree of Knowledge". Here it is...

Tidi Ozeri's "Tree of Knowlege"

At the exhibit, I bumped into two local artists, Ben Oreck, and Vallerie Galloway! Ben is one of the sculptors in this show.

Valerie Galloway and Ben Oreck: making the sculpture scene!
...And that's my ever-so-brief art scene report...