Thursday, September 30, 2004
At the risk of sounding pedantic...
I find it incredible that the voice over for the movie trailers for the new Che Guevara movie The Motorcycle Diaries mispronounces Guevara's last name!
The "u" in Guevara is silent - It is not GUeh-varah; it is GE-varah (soft "G").
And I haven't seen the movie yet, but I bet that Hollywood glosses over one of the key aspects of Che's motorcycle trek: His (then) racist attitude towards Indians and Blacks.
In 1952, together with his friend Alberto Granado, Che took a wandering trip through South America, begging, drinking and borrowing their way through Argentina's northern neighbors. The book "Motorcycle Diaries" is about this trek, and the movie is based on this book.
Peru, with its largely pure Indian population had a profound effect on Guevara, and he refers to the Andean Indians as the "beaten race" in his diary. Since Argentina's own Indians had long been destroyed and overwhelmed by the millions of white immigrants from Spain, Germany and Italy which populated his homeland, it was in Peru where Che first met an oppressed people, and he notes in his writing that although he and Granado were usually broke, they were able to get by on "favors and concessions" based on their white skin.
South America's Caribbean coast provided him with his first exposure to black people, and oddly enough, the man who was later to fight alongside Africans in the Congo made some harsh observations, deeply fragmented with stereotypical Argentinean white racism:
"The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have conserved their racial purity by a lack of affinity with washing, have seen their patch invaded by a different kind of slave: The Portugese.... the black is indolent and fanciful, he spends his money on frivolity and drink; the European comes from a tradition of working and saving which follows him to this corner of America and drives him to get ahead."
In his defense, as Che grew, his native racism towards people of color was discarded, and eventually he even married a mestiza.
But I suspect that the movie misses this area of this fascinating and iconic man's life.
I'll let you know when I see it.
The 48th Corcoran Biennial
Another sign that some sort of sanity may be returning to contemporary art can be read between the lines in the focus of the coming 48th Corcoran Biennial.
The 48th Corcoran Biennial: Closer to Home apparently takes as its focus contemporary artists making use of "traditional arts methods" (their words).
This coming Biennial also marks somewhat a return to the exhibition’s origins (it was America's only painting Biennial at one point) and "considers the familiar territories of traditional media – such as canvas, paint and wood – while giving prominence to the work of Washington, DC-based artists."
And I like that! And a well-deserved thank you to curators Dr. Jonathan Binstock and Stacey Schmidt for finally taking the lead and looking in their own backgarden for a major "local" museum exhibition. The previous Biennial (and Binstock's first) only had one area artist: the Corcoran's own Susan Smith-Pinelo (represented locally by Fusebox).
Per Corcoran Associate Curator of Contemporary Art and exhibition co-organizer Stacey Schmidt: "As the first museum in the nation’s capital, the Corcoran is especially committed to supporting the work of DC-based artists."
We've been noticing this change from Binstock and Schmidt's predecessor and saying under our breath: "About time!"
Area artists included in the Biennial are James Huckenpahler (represented locally by Fusebox Gallery and who got reviewed today in the Post), Colby Caldwell (represented locally by Hemphill Fine Arts), and Baltimore-based photographer John Lehr.
Both Lehr and Huckenpahler were also finalists in the 2003 Trawick Prize, which was also juried by Binstock (one of three jurors).
All together, Closer to Home showcases the following artists: Rev. Ethan Acres (represented locally by Conner Contemporary), Chakaia Booker, Matthew Buckingham, Colby Caldwell, George Condo, Adam Fuss, James Huckenpahler, John Lehr, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Richard Rezac, Dana Schutz, Kathryn Spence, Austin Thomas and Monique van Genderen.
At the Corcoran Gallery of Art from March 19 – June 27, 2005.
I'll be damned if Glenn Dixon didn't surprise me today with his reviews in the "Galleries" column at the Post.
We've all been waiting for Dixon to review Fusebox, which for whatever reason, has never been reviewed by Jessica Dawson, even though we all know that Fusebox is one of our city's top galleries and certainly one of the hardest working galleries. And we also know that Dixon is a well-published Fusebox enthusiast. So it's no surprise that Fusebox and Dixon would come together.
And yet, surprisingly enough (to me), in today's review, Dixon throws a well-deserved wet-blanket upon James Huckenpahler's photographs, which may have gone to the same well once too often. Bravo Glenn!
Dixon is a bit more positive about Maggie Michael at G Fine Art:
There’s such a dichotomy in this name; such a contradiction of stereotypes: Lucy, soft, feminine and flowing.
Hogg: heavy, masculine and powerful. And once you discover her artwork, you'll realize that seldom has a person been so aptly named.
Hogg is a tiny person, almost elfin-like; a complete reverse of what pops into the mind when it tries to visualize someone named Lucy Hogg. My mind came up with two characters: The first was as a sister or close kin of that big, fat, greasy character (Boss J.D. Hogg) in the Dukes of Hazzard TV series.
Because Hogg is Canadian, the other image was that of a secondary character in Robertson Davies’ fictitious small Canadian village of Deptford. A village that he creates superbly in The Fifth Business (part one of the Deptford Trilogy).
And this dichotomy, this Ying Yang of words and mental imageries, translates well to Hogg’s American solo debut currently on exhibition until October 30 at Georgetown’s Strand on Volta Gallery.
Hogg recently moved to Washington from her native Canada. She has exhibited widely in Canada, Asia and Europe, and in a town [DC] where most critics and curators continue to preach the death of painting as a viable contemporary art form, she brings something new and refreshing, pumping some new energy to the ancient medium.
Let me explain.
Salvador Dali once said that "those that do not want to imitate anything produce nothing." This is the Ying of Hogg’s exhibition.
And George Carlin added that "the future will soon be a thing of the past." This is the Yang of her show.
Titled "Sliding Landscapes," the exhibition consists of nearly twenty paintings segregated into two different canvas shapes: oval shapes on the gallery’s left main wall and rectangular shapes on the right wall. Each set of paintings deliver individual ideas, and although tied together by the subject matter, they nonetheless express superbly two sets of thoughts and impressions that I think Hogg wants us to see.
Hogg’s imagery are copies of Old Master paintings, "sampled" (a new word introduced into art jargon from rap music’s habit of using other people’s music or someone else’s lyrics in your music) from a series of capriccios, or fantasy landscapes by 18th century Venetian painters Canaletto, Francesco Guardi and Marco Ricci.
"Fantasy" in the sense that the landscapes only existed in the artists’ minds until created by them and re-invented two centuries later by Hogg.
I must clarify from the very beginning that these paintings are not "copies" in the same sense that you see people sitting in front of paintings in museums all over the world, meticulously copying an Old Master’s work, stroke by stroke.
Therein lies another dichotomy in this exhibition: Reading a description of Hogg’s subject matter brings that image to mind; seeing them destroys it. This is one show where the most erudite of news release spinmeisters will be challenged to separate the two visions.
So what are they?
Hogg starts with a capriccio painting that she likes. I suspect that she works from a reproduction, even a small one, or from an art history book or catalog, and thus cleverly avoids the pitfall of becoming a true copier rather than a sampler.
She then re-creates the capriccios in their original format (rectangular), but completely replaces the color of the original with a simple tint or combination of tints.
Simple enough... Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
It isn’t simple at all.
What Hogg has cleverly done again is to offer us two visual main courses. Sure, she's recreating the original painting, overly-simplified and yet still complex with the seed of great painting and composition planted by the original Masters. But she has also provided herself with a radical new vehicle to flex some very powerful painting and creative skills of her own.
The overly simplified paintings offer her ample room and opportunities to bring a 21st century perspective to these works. Not just her very modern colors (cleverly incorporated into the titles such as "Fantasy Landscape (pthalo green/chrome oxide green) 2004"). Her scrubby, energetic brushwork is everywhere, especially the open skies of some of the works, and where 18th century masters would have reacted in horror, a modern audience takes their middle age glasses off so that we can better try to absorb the quality of the brushwork and peer at the under layers, often left exposed, that reveal the virtuosity of being able to deliver an exciting painting with a very limited palette.
Even within these rectangular recreations, Hogg has a Ying Yang thing going. A group of the pieces are truly monochromatic, using only ultramarine blue or yellow ochre.
In these, the simple associations of cool and warm colors mapping to respective emotions is what anchors our responses to them. But there are some pieces where she has ventured into two distinct colors (such as violet and burnt sienna orange). In these, the opposite position of these hues on the color wheel, and their well-known association with eye-brain responses in creating tension and movement, position these works as a very successful venture into the exploration of color, never mind the landscape that is the vehicle.
Vision two of the exhibition are the oval paintings. Here we again see the same explorations in color and painting that Hogg offered us in the rectangular pieces. But then she opens a new door for us; perhaps even a new door for contemporary painting.
I would have dared to write that she has opened the lid in the coffin of painting, but that would lend tacit approval to the claim that painting is like a "vampire that refuses to die." So I won’t.
In the oval paintings Hogg introduces us to a combination of two (again with the two) elements: the re-visualization within a limited, psychological palette plus a new methodological visual cropping and angling of compositional elements within the original paintings, placed in a new format (oval) and haphazardly hung at crazy angles on the gallery’s left wall. By the way, at the risk of becoming too pedantic, I didn’t like the tilted, askew, haphazard hanging of these pieces. It was a bit heavy handed and went too far to push the fact that they are indeed "sliding" landscapes.
Suddenly we discover two effects (i.e. she has another duality thing going here for the dimwits in the audience): Combine the psychological effect of color with a reorganization of the actual image's presentation and you have suddenly changed the entire character and effect of the painting!
This is the punch to the solar plexus that every artist hopes to accomplish in any exhibition. It is the moment when you stand in front of a piece of artwork, riveted to a sudden discovery that this, whatever "this" may be, has never been done, at least not this well, before.
Here is what I mean.
In the oval pieces, Hogg repeats the paintings from different perspectives or angles; suddenly her choice of colors is not the main driving force; but the relationship between the choice and the subject and the perspective and angle is the new driving force(s).
For example, in one oval piece she offers a calm, cool agrarian view, somewhat disorienting us by the angle and crop, especially when we try to find her source on the left wall's rectangular paintings. Within this painting, a horseman rides up an incline. He is deftly rendered in cool, quick brushstrokes to deliver a placid Sancho Panza character before he had the misfortune of meeting Don Quixote.
Slightly above and to the right of that painting there's another painting, which although it is exactly the same scene, and because it is offered from a slightly different perspective and in a completely different palette, it takes us a minute or two to realize that it is the same scene.
But what a different scene it is! The sky is now a turbulent hellish nightmare of cadmium red and quinachrodne red exaggerated so that the clouds have almost become flames, and the happy farmers of the companion piece are now haggard, beaten figures toiling in a new Dantasque level of hell, where the Sancho Panza horseman is now tired, beaten and barely staying atop his poor horse.
And this is all happening in our mind. Because all that this gifted painter has done is change the perspective and offer us colors that complete different neural paths that create different reactions in our brain.
And the best thing of all is that she didn’t need a video, or an installation, or dioramas of two-dimensional works, or ten pages of wall text to explain the concept. And in these pieces, the finished works are as interesting and successful as the concept itself; not a trivial accomplishment by the way.
All she needed were superbly honed painting skills, a deep understanding of the relationship between color and emotions, an intelligent perspective on composition, and a grab at art history to offer us (yet again) something new and refreshing from that never ending source of surprises: the dusty coffin of painting.
Bravo Lucy! ... Well Done Hogg!