Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Thursday Reviews and Faces of the Fallen

The WaPo's Jonathan Padget has a take on "Never Mind The Corcoran" at Warehouse Gallery.

In the City Paper, Louis Jacobson reviews our current photography show in our Bethesda gallery and also reviews Andrea Way at Marsha Mateyka.

Also in the City Paper, Jeffry Cudlin delivers on a hard assignment: William Basinski and Richard Chartier's live electronic sound art at G Fine Art.

And there's also a very good piece by someone named Deborah Burand, who writes a really readable story on how her portrait came to be painted.

But it is the CP's Christ Shott who's got the best art story/review of the week, in discussing "Faces of the Fallen," a massive exhibition co-chaired by Annette Pollan.

A total of 1,678 American military personnel have perished so far in ongoing missions overseas, according to the Pentagon’s latest U.S. Casualty Status update. That’s 1,519 reported dead in Operation Iraqi Freedom plus 118 killed in and around Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and another 41 in other locations.

"Faces of the Fallen," a massive outpouring of portraiture intended "to honor the American service men and women who have died," has room for only 1,327 of them. "There are that many of the fallen represented," says exhibit co-chair Annette Polan, a professor at the Corcoran College of Art & Design who recruited nearly 200 volunteers to memorialize each of the deceased through individual portraits.
The issue that is the core of Schott's article, is that some works have been pulled from the exhibition "on account of their content." This issue has not been (so far) discussed by anyone else from what I can find on the web.

Trying to keep an exhibition (homage?) like this apolitical, as Pollan has apparently tried to do, has to be one of the hardest tasks a curator has to face. She takes quite a bit of heat in the article.

And yet, exploiting a dead soldier's portrait to convey a political point of view (which may not have been shared by that soldier or by his family) is also a very difficult thing to swallow.

If you disagree, then reverse the sentiments of the artists discussed in Shott's article.

Imagine that a couple of the artists were "sooooo pro-war" that they would have submitted imagery glorifying war... say a portrait of one of the dead American soldiers with the inscription "avenge my death and kill 1,000 Iraquis for me and let God sort out the bad guys from the good guys."

We would all of course be horrified and probably no one would protest having that piece removed from the exhibition.

Two sides of a very dividing issue. You cannot support one without supporting the other.

There are no winners in a situation like this, and no art world Solomon can solve this issue. As much as anyone may disagree with the pro or anti war leanings of the artists, we must all support their right to express it; but as much as we may agree or disagree with the task and decisions of the curator, we must also all support his or her right to choose what is included, what gets pulled and how the exhibition ends up.

Read the CBS story here. According to CBS:
"This is to honor these men and women who have died, period," says portrait artist Annette Polan, who organized a couple of hundred artists to paint the portraits.
Read the Seattle Post Intelligencer story here. According to the PI article:
The artists were told to "use your own style" and "be respectful for the soldiers and their families," said Anne Murphy, a volunteer organizer and president of Linkages, a consulting firm specializing in public policy and the arts.

"There will be someone who is unhappy" with a portrayal of their lost loved one, predicted Murphy, also a member of the acquisitions and exhibitions committee of the Corcoran Museum [sic] of Art.
Read the New York Times story here. The Times writes:
Jean Prewitt of Birmingham, Ala., looked for the date of April 6, 2003, so she could find the picture of her son Kelley. He was her baby, all of 24, when he left for Iraq, she said. He was the soccer player, the Auburn University fan, the mischief maker.

Ms. Prewitt said she came to the exhibit with no expectations, but she was touched that someone cared enough to do this for her and the other families. Then, through the jostling in the warm hall, she saw Kelley's portrait.

"I don't like it," she said. She got closer. She took out the photograph the portrait seemed to be based on, and the resemblance between it and the painting by the artist, Tom Mullany, appeared faint at best.

Her voice cracked. "This upsets me a lot," she said of the painting. Then she looked around at the crowd. She had said earlier that she knew everyone else at the hall would be from a family that had been destroyed, too. "But just being here upsets me, too."

The painting of Specialist Gregory P. Sanders, who was 19 when he was killed by a sniper on March 24, 2003, disappointed his family, too. His face is shadowy and gaunt in the portrait by Christine Chernow. His cherished big blue eyes are indeterminately dark.

But guided by the adamant cheerfulness of his mother, Leslie Sanders, his relatives remained gracious. "It doesn't matter," said Pat Knight, Specialist Sanders's grandmother. "It's the thought that counts."
Lots more reviews from across the country here.

The WaPo's jack-of-all-trades cultural writer Phillip Kennicott suddenly becomes a visual arts critic when he wrote about the exhibition yesterday and challenges the notion that if you "take a humble snapshot, turn it into a painting, or a sculpture, or a collage, and [then] it is somehow more than a photograph, more serious and honorable and respectful to the subject portrayed." Kennicott then goes on to get on a high pulpit and preaches to the readers; and in the process he misses the point completely.

But Kennicott's colleage, Libby Copeland, who is not a critic at all, sees what Kennicott's imperial view of art fails to see from the viewpoint of the plebian masses.

Copeland writes (bold effect is mine): "Painted portraits seem not only archaic but also impractical compared with photographs, which are taken in an instant and never drip. A portrait takes devotion, which is why painting a person can be an intimate process, even if you've never met your subject, even if the person died before you ever heard his name."

Bravo Copeland!

It's the thought that counts.

Seattle Gallery Walkthrough

On Tuesday I spent most of a gloriously sunny day in downtown Seattle walking through several of the area's art galleries.

Seattle trafficOne thing that Seattle and DC share (other than the "Washington") is some of the worst traffic on the planet, and thus after making my way downtown, I parked my car in one of the many multi-story parking lots downtown, and started the day by dropping by the William Traver Gallery, where I had an appointment to talk about Tim Tate with Bill Traver.

The William Traver Gallery has been a Seattle mainstay for over 40 years, and I think it is the largest in the city. In fact, the gallery could easily swallow DC's three largest galleries inside its mammooth second floor space on Union Street, right across from where the addition to the Seattle Art Museum is being built.

I had a most entertaining time with the owner as we were both hypnotized by the construction of this massive skyscraper right in front of the gallery's large windows. I don't know how anyone in the gallery gets anything done with the constant spectacle of seeing a skyscraper being built, one bolt and nut at a time, right in front of their eyes.

One doesn't last that many years in the art business by being a dummy, and it only takes a few minutes of talking to Bill Traver to realize that this is one sharp mind, already well in tune with the revolution being caused in the art world by the growth of the Internet and the guaranteed demise of the newsprint media.

Coming from DC, with our unexplicable lack of a large collecting base in one of the world's largest concentrations of wealth, it is astonishing to see red dots on sculptures that approach the $55,000 range (and more than one). This first visit was one that would set a trend for galleries to follow: Seattlelites appear to be buying art and lots of it.

Traver (like us) has two galleries, one in Seattle and one in Tacoma. The Seattle gallery was featuring the work of local artist Nancy Worden, which consisted of a series of most unsual jewelry (see them here) spectacularly displayed in a ring of beige maniquins in the center gallery. It was a very pleasant visit with a true professional and an opportunity to drool over a truly gorgeous gallery space.

From there I went to get lunch at the Pike Place Market where from 1977-1981 I sold all of my UW art school assignments plus hundreds of local watercolors and drawings, and first cut my teeth on the business side of the arts. At the northern end of the market I went to the Lisa Harris Gallery, which opened a few years (1985) after I left Seattle, and has been doing brisk business since then by concentrating on Pacific Northwest artists and art about the Pacific NW.

Waterfall by John Cole at Lisa Harris GalleryOn exhibition were painterly landscape works by British-born (and now a local) painter John Cole. The works focused on Northwest landscape imagery, but also brilliantly married a Marsden Hartley "abstract look and feel" to them, so that they became more about the palette and brushwork than truly about the subject, which was elegant enough. There were maybe 25 paintings on exhibit, and I think that all but one or two were sold.

And just like my previous visit, both the gallerina on duty and gallery owner were friendly and warm, immediately joining in a conversation about the local art scene. I also noticed a fact which was to become a trend in nearly every Seattle gallery that I visited, including William Traver: labeling.

It has always been a mystery to me why in some galleries (most NYC and DC galleries by the way), it takes an act of Congress to get a price list or a way to identify the works on display. In our galleries, we always label each and every piece with a wall label by the work itself. Most other DC area galleries do not - prefering the little pin with a number, a minimalist way of making you go and find a master list somewhere, or worse still, no identification at all. Not here; in fact a trend that I noticed is that nearly every gallery that I visited had a wall label by the piece, thereby making it easy to discover title, media, artist and price.

Lisa Harris Gallery is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, succssfully achieved by focusing on local artists, local collectors and Northwest themes.

I visited a few more galleries along this area, including a huge awful place full of paintings of whales and fish, but the gallery that next sticks in my mind was a very clean, minimalist space called Solomon Fine Art which has two levels, including a beautiful space facing the street on First Avenue.

sculpture by Nik Tongas at Solomon Fine ArtOn exhibit on the ground floor was a group show titled Small Tales, which included works by Ellen Garvens, Chris St. Pierre, Nik Tongas, Peter Stanfield, and Linda Welker. Of these, Tongas' wall sculptures stood out, although I also really liked the frenetic drawings of St. Pierre.

The second level gallery had a show titled Evolution featuring a series of really gorgeous abstract paintings by local Seattle artist Fred Holcomb.

This was the first place that I saw abstract work, and I realize that one visit to a limited number of galleries isn't enough to generalize, but at the end of the day I came away with the distinct impression that the Seattle art face that I saw has a definite representational art focus.

Another artist in this group show of interest was Ellen Garvens, whose marriage of technology and art may be of some interest to my business partner Catriona Fraser, who is currently curating a "Art and Technology" exhibition.

A few blocks' walk to Pioneer Square, which when I was an art student here, was home to art galleries, drunks and pigeons. And it's still home to a lot of galleries and pigeons - don't know about drunks.

There are a few gift shop type spaces here, but also a terrific set of spectacular spaces. I walked down Occidental Avenue South, and there are seven or eight good galleries in a row. First was Calix Fine Art, which had an exhibition titled "Happy." According to the text on the invitation, this is a "show of Toys, Girls & Boys, Blooms & Things that Vroom!" - I kid thee not.

There were some silly and badly worked paintings by Dave Howard, but what I liked were the hyper realist oils of Barbies by Judy Ragagli. There were also a couple of minimalist pieces on slim wood panels by an artist named Garland Fielder that J.T. Kirkland would love.

Breezed through a huge gallery with heavy handed surrealism and then at Grover/Thurston Gallery I came across a set of naive paintings by Michael Nakoneczny and a show titled "Cigar Boxes" by Patrick LoCicero, who shows in the DC area with the Ralls Collection and who is a professor at the UW. The works (other than the boxes) consisted of paintings of bikes, cars and tricycles on big canvases with other stuff collaged onto it.

Next was the Glasshouse Studio, which is Seattle's oldest glassblowing studio and shows a wide range of glass artists with an emphasis on Northwest artists.

11AM Seattle by Art WergerThe huge Davidson Galleries have an emphasis on printmaking, and their antique print gallery upstairs has a superb Kathe Kollwitz exhibition worthy of a small museum show.

The exhibit focuses attention on Kollwit's works that concentrate on faces and figures. In the main gallery, I was pleasantly surprised to run into Art Werger's third solo at Davidson.

Werger, whose work we've exhibited several times in the DC area, most recently at the Printmakers Only exhibition, is in my opinion one of the best figurative intaglio printmakers in the country, with an astounding eye for detail and the sort of technical skills in a demanding media, that few schools teach anymore.

At the first gallery of the ground floor, there were some interesting lit boxes by Jill Weinstock which deliver an interesting marriage of "Dan Flavin meets the Washington Color School."

The second gallery hosted Sally Cleveland with (what else?) technically well-done landscape paintings of the Northwest.

Spectra 3 Blue by Tom Burrows at Foster WhiteNext came Foster/White Gallery, where I went to many an opening when I was an art student, and where one of my professors (Alden Mason) used to (and still does) exhibit.

Yet another very large space, Foster/White had several concurrent exhibits, including the uniquitous Dale Chihuly room.

The main exhibit was Mark Rediske, who failed to leave an impression on me.

It was however, the glowing and beautiful polymer resin works by Tom Burrows, especially a piece titled "Spectre 3 Blue," that knocked my senses with that unexpected punch to the part of the brain that falls in love with a work of art. Another Northwest artist (but from across the water in Vancouver), Burrows minimalist use of color and his technical wizardry in wedding it to polymer to create these luminous two-dimensional pieces really became a high point for the walk-through. As far as I can tell from his resume, he has never exhibited in the East Coast.

Shadow Series: Bicycle - Solo by Katina Huston

A couple more forgettable (but large) galleries later I came across the Bryan Ohno Gallery, where I spent quite a bit of time chatting with its pleasant young owner, discussing the Seattle art scene, advertising, the art market and art. On exhibit were the ink on mylar paintings of California artist Katina Huston, which were elegant, large pieces that at first tend to be seen as very abstracted pieces, until suddenly the visual clues of a bicycle appear and the theme of the works pops into focus. These works were the second pleasant surprise discovery of the walk for me.

Feet aching I backtracked my way to the Linda Hodges Gallery, another two-level gallery. On the ground floor were the odd paintings and sculptures of Brad Rude, whose super-realistic sculptures seem to take those weird Dali works that put elephants and zebras and such on stilt-like legs and distort them. Rude doesn't do that, but he does create a strange reality where animals walk on bones and sticks and other skinny things. I found the sculptures a little too past cute for me, but I thought that the paintings were quite extraordinary. This is a strange case where an obviously multi-talented artist makes a stronger impression in his two dimensional approach to the same problem. The paintings were superb, while the sculptures (many of which were sold) were just a little too Jumanji for me.sculpture by Brad Rude at Linda Hodges

The upstairs gallery had an exhibit of works by Roy de Forest, which appeared to be an awful Crumbesque amalgamation of gaudy-colored stuff with glow-in-the-dark colors and adult-playing-child works that just do not speak to my visual agenda.

One last gallery before I headed for the nearest pub to try some of the local brews, and I stepped into Gallery 110, where yet another pleasant gallery director discussed with me the two photography shows on exhibit: Cindy Bittenfield and Gary Oliveira. Gallery 110 is a cooperative gallery, and Bittenfield's photographs pay homage to her father's service in WWII, while Oliveira's photos, while technically adept, are unfortunately, because of its subject matter (stuff around a hotel room), some of the most boring images that I saw all day.

I eventually ran out of time and energy, as I wanted to visit the Greg Kucera Gallery, where an old friend of mine (Ross Palmer Beecher) exhibits. So I headed to Contour for happy hour, enjoying a couple of pints of some excellent Seattle microbrew and a plate of Calamari.

A beautiful city, great art, great beer and great Calamari; life is good.