Thursday, June 30, 2005

Seven Opens Tonight

What: Seven, an exhibition of 67 WPA/C artists curated by me.

When: Opens tonight with a catered reception for the artists starting at 6PM. Work on exhibition until Sept. 9, 2005.

Where: The seven spaces that make up the Warehouse Theatre and Galleries complex. Located at 1021 7th Street, NW, across from the new Washington Convention Center.

See ya there!

Offensive Mexican stamp
This offensive new Mexican stamp is causing all kinds of highly deserved uproar, and once again proves the enormous power of the visual image, especially (and unfortunately) when coupled with deeply offensive messages such as this one is.

Read the WaPo story here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Little Queen of Spades
By Robert Johnson

Now, she is a little queen of spades
and the men will not let her be
Mmm mmm mmm, she is the little queen of spades
and the men will not let her be
Everytime she makes a spread
hoo, fair brown, cold chill just runs all over me

I'm gon' get me a gamblin' woman
if the last thing that I do
Eee hee ee, gon' get me a gamblin' woman
if it's the last thing that I do
Well, a man don't need a woman
hoo, fair brown, that he got to give all his money to

Everybody say she got a mojo
now, she's been usin' that stuff
Mmm mmm mmm, 'verybody says she got a mojo
'cause she been usin' that stuff
But she got a way trimmin' down
hoo, fair brown, and I mean it's most too tough

Now little girl, since I am the King
baby, and you is a queen
Ooo hoo eee, since I am the King
baby, and you is a queen
Le's us put our heads together
hoo, fair brown, then we can make our money green

Calm (NOT) Before the Storm

I am so tired! Early wake-ups all this week; plus late nights at Warehouse for the hanging of Seven.

A couple of small disasters today: One of Rebecca Cross' delicate ceramic pieces fell off the wall and broke; time to scramble and see if Rebecca can replace it with another work.

Then a major piece by a very good artist could not be hung due to weight and size, and now we are left scrambling trying to figure out what to do; things will resolve themselves by tomorrow.

And then there's the artist who wanted his work "hung just so," and so we reserved a very special place for this person, and so far the artist has not delivered any work or returned several messages. Where are you?

And (as anyone who has ever curated a show from slides knows), there's the "surprise."

The "surprise" is that piece of artwork that looks great in a slide, but that once you see it, it... well, uh... disappoints.

Oh well.... one surprise from 67 artists is not bad.

On the pleasant side, Alessandra Torres continues to astound me on the good side; seldom have a seen a young artist be so full of energy and zeal and talent. I predict good things for her.

And Kathryn Cornelius damned near made me a convert to video art; wait until you see her video piece (Titled "Resolve" and being projected on opening night at the top floor - all by herself - and later on a flatscreen in the second floor gallery).

And I predict that Scott Brooks and Samantha Wolov are going to raise some eyebrows (and maybe other body parts on Wolov's case).

The opening is tomorrow, Thursday June 30 at 6PM.

See ya there!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Distracted Driving

About 90% of the works have been delivered to Seven, and the show is shaping up nicely.

Today Graham Caldwell installed a spectacular set of glass pieces on the second floor gallery walls.

As I was leaving the gallery, my cell phone rang and as I answered it, the cop car next to me at the stop light waved (I thought so anyway), so I waved back as I talked on the phone. He turned his lights on and pointed for me to pull over.


So the cop comes over (after about an uncomfortable five minute wait, while -- I guess -- they're checking in their computer to make sure that I am not a wanted ax murderer or a dead beat Dad).

"Hang on a sec," I say to the person with whom I am talking on the phone. "What's the problem officer?" I ask in my best Hank Hill voice.

"Driver's license and registration please," the cop says curtly. He's a little, wiry, short guy.

"What did I do?" I say putting the cell phone down and reaching down for my wallet while in my mind Richard Pryor says silently: "I AM REACHING INTO MY WALLET FOR MY LICENSE! - 'CUZ I DON'T WANNA BE IN NO MOTHERF&*%^ ACCIDENT!"

He ignores me.

"What did I do?" I say again, my voice a little louder.

"I'll tell you in a minute," he says gruffly looking at my license and registration.

"You were using your cell phone," he accuses.

I look baffled.

"You WERE using your cell phone," he almost shouts as he walks away.

"Aw, crap." I say to myself... "this is DC and it is illegal to use your cell phone while driving."

Summary: $100 fine for Distracted Driving (Cell Phone).


To Tracy Lee, whose work has been included in The Mammoth Book of Illustrated Erotic Women.

You can see some of Tracy's very moist work in Seven.

Kriston on Kirkland

G.P. reviews J.T. Kirkland.

Read it here.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Seven: Installation Day One

As with any large, multi-gallery exhibition, there were some hiccups on the first day of Seven's installation, which forced the move of a very visible spot to another area (thank God for a very flexible artist); plus the mysterious move of some artwork from one area to another; and the selected artist whom we all forgot to add to the master list; and the usual last minute broken glass...
Sarah Wegner Installing at Seven
Sarah Wegner installing her cement furniture and kissing tea set

And Mark Jenkins' tape sculptures have somehow moved from the tree in front of the buildings to the building itself!
Mark Jenkins Tape Sculptures for Seven
Mark Jenkins' Tape Sculptures on the facade of the building

Mark Jenkins Tape Sculptures for Seven
I like the guy looking down from the corner of the building

And below is Kelly Towles painting a wall in the second floor gallery...
Kelly Towles Painting a Wall at Seven

Contact your Senator

I have just learned that Senator Tom Coburn will likely offer a floor amendment in the Senate that would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by $5 million in FY 2006. I ask that you take a minute to contact your Senators and urge them to vote against this amendment.

As you may recall, the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 9 passed an amendment that increased FY 2006 funding for the NEA by $5 million.

However, Senator Coburn's floor amendment would remove this increase, thereby flat-funding the agency at this year's level.

We expect that Sen. Coburn will offer his amendment later today. The full Senate will likely vote on the amendment tomorrow morning. Please send a message to your Senators by 11 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, June 28, to ensure that they vote against this decrease in arts funding.

Contact your Senator here.

Early starts for Seven

Tres Marias by Mark Jenkins
Mark Jenkins installation for Seven, titled "Tres Marias," has already been installed in the trees outside the Warehouse Theatre and Galleries; inside Kelly Towles is already laboring on a wall, and Alessandra Torres will soon start on transforming a room.

Seven's opening is this Thursday starting at 6PM.

Art Critic Bingo

Here's how you start your Monday morning: Art Critic Bingo!

P.S. Thanks James!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Opportunity for Artists

Deadline June 30, 2005.

The Bethesda Artist Market, featuring fine art and crafts for display and sale, is accepting submissions for Sep 11 and Oct 9, from 10am-5pm. Participating artists are selected by members of the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District Advisory Committee.

The Bethesda Artist Market is held in the Bethesda Plaza, 7700 Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda. Artists must be 18 years of age or older. All fine art and fine crafts are accepted including, but not limited to, painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, fiber art, digital, mixed media, clay, wearable fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, paper, ceramics and wood.

Application form is on or send a SASE to:
Bethesda Artist Market
c/o the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District
7700 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814

Or call: 301-215-6660.

The Seven Chosen

Artists selected for SEVEN are listed below; about a third of them are completely new to me. The rest I either knew their work, or who they were in some way or form. I think it is a powerful lesson on the importance of keeping your work "out there," no matter where "there" is, so that the work is "seen."

There are some well-known, experienced and recognized names on this list, people like Manon Cleary, Chan Chao and Sam Gilliam, as well as hot, young new artists like Lisa Bertnick, John Lehr and Kelly Towles.

Also young emerging artists like Alessandra Torres, Ben Tolman and Susan Jamison (who's in the current issue of New American Painting and also hangs in the Strictly Painting V exhibition at McLean). And also artists whose work I've rarely seen anywhere around our area, such as Gary Medovich, Rebecca D’Angelo, Sonia Jones, Lou Gagnon and Fae Gertsch.

This exhibition, having been curated by a gallerist, defines a show from the perspective of a curatorial eye aimed at perspective of intelligent, strong and visually powerful art and art ideas; this is my view from the ground-level; not the 10,000 foot level of a museum office.

As such, it is very painting-centric show at at time when painting (in spite of the constant attack from academia and the written word) seems to have regained center stage in the international art arena.

It is not a competition between the genres, and because of the agenda, prejudices and humanity of my selection process, in the end, Seven somewhat places painting at the center of attention, although I suspect that a strong showing by WPA/C photographers and what I expect to be a very memorable performance by Kathryn Cornelius, and an arresting installation by Alessandra Torres, will definately gather a big share of the public and media attention as well.

Here's the list:
Virginia Arrisueño
James W. Bailey
Joseph Barbaccia
Lisa Bertnick
Margaret Boozer
Mark Cameron Boyd
Adam Bradley
Scott Brooks
Lisa Brotman
Jonathan Bucci
Diane Bugash
Graham Caldwell
Chan Chao
Manon Cleary
Kathryn Cornelius
Rebecca Cross
Richard Dana
Rebecca D’Angelo
Margaret Dowell
Mary Early
Chris Edmunds
Victor Ekpuk
Michael Fitts
Adam Fowler
Lou Gagnon
Fae Gertsch
Sam Gilliam
Matthew Girard
Pat Goslee
Kristin Helgadottir
Linda Hesh
Maremi Hooff
Michal Hunter
Scott Hutchison
Melissa Ichiuji
Susan Jamison
Michael Janis
Mark Jenkins
Sonia Jones
David Jung
J.T. Kirkland
Sonya Lawyer
Tracy Lee
John Lehr
Joey Manlapaz
Matthew Mann
Amy Marx
Jeanette May
Maxwell McKenzie
Gary Medovich
Adrianne Mills
Allison Miner
Peter Photikoe
Sara Pomerance
Marie Ringwald
Molly Springfield
Tim Tate
Erwin Timmers
Ben Tolman
Alessandra Torres
Kelly Towles
Rick Wall
Frank Warren
Sarah Wegner
Andrew Wodzianski
Denise Wolff
Samantha Wolov

Painting Here... Painting There

The WaPo's Michael O'Sullivan does a nice job of jointly reviewing our current show at Bethesda (The Bethesda Painting Awards) and the "Strictly Painting V" exhibition at the McLean Project for the Arts.

Read the Washington Post review here.

I went to the "Strictly Painting V" opening last night (more on that later), but in my opinion, Nora Sturges stole that show! Her work is absolutely amazing.

Wanna go to an Opening Tonight?

Traveling With Gulliver, featuring Karen Joan Topping, Ian Jehle, Alan B. Callander, Ben Claassen III, and Peter V. Donovan at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC).

The artists' collaborative KIOSKdc (Karen Joan Topping, Ian Jehle, Alan Callander) and "Dirtfarm" cartoonist Ben Claassen III present an exhibition titled Traveling with Gulliver which uses the four lands visited by Gulliver to showcase four original works of drawing, video, installation and cartoon by the artists.

The opening reception is from 7-9PM. Read the WCP review here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Padget on Knitting

The WaPo's Jonathan Padget has an excellent blow by blow account in today's Arts Beat column about the "Not the Knitting You Know" Sculptural Knitting and Crochet exhibition controversy first reported here a few days ago.

Read it here.


Jack Rasmussen has chosen the following artists to exhibit in the upcoming Ninth Annual Georgetown Fine Arts International Competition, which we've been hosting since 1997:
Verena Appel, Munich, Germany
Corey Baker, Medina, OH
Robert Cantor, Annandale, VA
Ione Citrin, Los Angeles, CA
Bart Dluhy, Richmond, VA
Marty Edmunds, Boalsburg, PA
Bruce Erikson, Pittsburgh, PA
Diane Feissel, Oakland, CA
Mark Fernkas, New York, NY
Freya Grand, Washington, DC
Roberta Goschke, Waldoboro, ME
Stevan Hall, Rockport, ME
Bruce Johnson, Dublin, OH
Michael Kagan, New York, NY
Jinchul Kim, Salisbury, MD
Eric Lopresti, Brooklyn, NY
Sharon Moody, McLean, VA
Jennifer O'Connell, Pittsburgh, PA
Sarah Savier Pike, Williamstown, MA
Marybeth Rothman, Tenalfy, NY
Andrea Sauer, Abingdon, MD
Gwyneth Scally, Tucson, AZ
Kristy Simmons, Bethesda, MD
Ellen Winkler, Kensington, MD

Waste of Time

Since we opened our first gallery in 1996, we have rarely worked with "art consultants" or "interior decorators."

Overall, the experience (in the very few times that we've worked with them) has been quite a waste of time (such as the time that we wasted months dealing with Sen. Hillary Clinton's Georgetown-based interior designers to select a work by New York painter David FeBland.

Because the focus of our galleries is contemporary representational work ("realism with a bite"), it seldom agrees with the bland, "cannot afford to insult anyone," art selection process of most major corporate and business buyers (and public art projects).

But yesterday I bit again, and delivered work by several of our artists that had been selected by a very major law firm's art consultant to possibly hang in their new meeting room in a beautiful building in downtown DC. Come in, get a badge, drive to the loading dock and start delivering work to the 9th floor. As soon as I got there I knew that our chances were slim to none, as I saw a lot of this stuff.

And the very nice and professional art consultant was horrified to see that I had brought this piece by artist Javier Gil.

"Get that out of here before anyone sees it," she advised. "Nothing like that can even be considered and it may poison their minds about the rest."

Her favorite from our four artist selection was the work of our best-selling artist David FeBland. I explained that David's works have been selling very well, especially since the Europeans have discovered his work. Since his prices have been skyrocketing (law of supply and demand), we both doubted that they'd be interested in his work, since he was by far the most expensive artist in what was being presented.

But I schlepped all the work over, including a massive, framed Maxwell MacKenzie photo.

After a few trips I return to the gallery van, which had been parked in the loading dock, as directed, to find it blocked by a truck delivering paper supplies. I ask the guy nicely if he can please move a foot so that I can leave. He cusses me out.

I then waste 10 minutes of cussing and yelling and threatening the very large truck driver, near to a fist fight with a guy who looks like George Foreman, before another huge guy comes in and breaks up the argument... all that before I can leave, now in a total black mood.

Return to DC around 3:30PM to pick up the work. Back up into the tiny loading dock, where I manage to put a huge gouge on the left side of the new gallery van (less than 800 miles on it). Then I get a large smear of grease from one of the dumpsters on the back of my new suit, which I had naturally just worn for the first time this morning. Things are going great uh?

Up to the 9th floor, which for some strange reason, in this building is actually a few steps below the 7th floor.

Not too surprisingly, none of our work had been picked. And what was picked can best be summarized as "big, bold, large abstract art," mostly by names I had never heard of.

I can't say that I blame corporate art buyers, especially in selecting work for their public meeting spaces. We're at a juncture in our history where anything that could remotely be offensive to anyone, is not part of the PC art process. When was it the last time that you saw a nude in an American airport?

On one of the trips I run into a very tall woman who had been (I think) the head of the "art pickers" from the law firm; she sees me packing the David FeBland. "That was our favorite among all the artists," she says.

"He's our best-selling painter," I replied, too tired to inquire as to why he wasn't selected (I already know: price). On the massive table I see the work selected; around 20-30 pieces of mostly abstract, large, work.

Waste of my time; scratch on my new van; possibly a ruined suit; and near fist fight with a huge burly truckdriver... another day in the life of an art dealer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Seven (Done)

From the several thousand eligible artists (WPA/C members), I've chosen 66 67 for Seven. That number was closer to maybe 75 at one point, but several artists, for one reason or another, although invited could not participate.

Sometime next week I will take several of my fellow DC gallerists for a private view and tour of the show, hoping that they will discover some new talent (new to them) in the exhibition.

I also have several museum and a handful of independent curators (two from as far as Los Angeles and two from New York and one from the Midwest) in the process of being lined up to visit the show in the next few weeks. More on that when it happens.

And I will also take some well-known DC art collectors on a group tour sometime in the next couple of weeks; this is (after all) a fundraiser for the WPA/C.

The opening reception is Thursday, June 30th from 6 - 8:30PM.

Wanna go to an Opening?

This Thursday, June 23rd, the Salve Regina Gallery at Catholic University of America presents Assefa Yeshiwork: Selected Paintings 1998 - 2005.

The opening reception is from 6-9PM. Campus map here.

Or if you're hanging around Arlington on Thursday, the Empowered Women International Juried Invitational has an opening reception this Thursday, June 23, starting at 7 p.m. at the Arlington Arts Center.

And if you're in a McLean mood, then the McLean Project for the Arts has Strictly Painting V (which has been open since June 16 and to which I must go), curated by Jonathan Binstock, who writes:
If this story has a moral, it is that painting is here to stay because it is not only the domain of painters or paint. Painting has a spirit, a heart, a feeling or sensibility, but no real or measurable beginning or end.
The Reception is Thursday June 23, 7 - 9 PM. Juror's remarks at 8 PM.

I was selected by Dr. Binstock's predecessor at the Corcoran (Terrie Sultan) for Strictly Painting II or III a few years ago... read my odyssey here.

Anyway... see you at one of these three! More good stuff and openings at the DCist Arts Agenda.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Curator Responds

Binnie Fry, curator of the "Not the Knitting You Know" Sculptural Knitting and Crochet exhibition at Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space responds to the issues raised by my earlier posting.

I noticed your June 17th mention of the controversy concerning Ming-Yi Sung’s work in the "Not the Knitting You Know" show and the "before" and "after" photos. Several other people have asked for the original images, and Ming or I have made them available. We have also provided a link to your website on the one we have developed for this show, which you can access at

I continue to believe in the concept of the show, and in Ming’s work in particular, as it embodies the two aspects of the exhibition I was after: use of knitting or crochet as contemporary sculpture, and as a vehicle for intellectual or artistic expression, or, as your reader says, for "content."

I was asked by the management to remove Ming’s pieces, because they were deemed inappropriate by the building tenant. The position of the tenant was that, unlike a museum or commercial art gallery, to which visitors go voluntarily, in this gallery which is in the public lobby of their building, their clients have no choice in viewing art that they may not want to see. That is true and a difficult position to argue.

I am pleased to say that both the management and the tenant agreed to work with me in finding a solution which allowed Ming’s key works to stay in the exhibition without damaging her. Are they sanitized? Yes. Are they doctored? Yes. What changed is that the explicit androgynous content of Ming’s work, which is central to her personal mythology, is no longer visible, at least at the show. Yet I do believe that serious viewers will suspect what happened and appreciate the work separately from the issue of censorship. It is Ming’s particularly wonderful sense of humor that is behind her putting the ball with the eye, or as you call it, the "cod-piece," on the genitals of the figure you show, looking directly, but quietly, back at any critical viewer.

It was an unfortunate incident, but one which might have occurred in other galleries which are in public spaces. From my perspective, we were able to keep the entire show, which includes fourteen other artists and 44 pieces, intact, and we could not have done that, once the complaint was lodged, without the willingness of the tenant to revisit its position and agree to a solution that would accommodate all parties.

Best regards,

Binnie Fry
Eleven Eleven Scultpure Space

Bailey on Kirkland

"A Human Lesson Learned Some from Silent Studies in Organic Minimalism"

By James W. Bailey

FULL DISCLOSURE: I consider myself a friend and associate of artist and art blogger J.T. Kirkland and frequently post my thoughts, opinions, reviews, screams, and rants about the joy, bliss, and highs--as well as the crimes, sins, and lows -- of the art world on his blog, Thinking About Art. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the League of Reston Artists (LRA). The LRA is currently presenting Kirkland’s "Studies in Organic Minimalism" through our host venue, the University of Phoenix Northern Virginia Campus, in Reston, Virginia. This exhibition closes June 25.
The next time you find yourself running around your local Home Depot pretending to be a weekend home improvement warrior version of Bob Vila, pay close attention and you may notice in front of you at the check-out line a young white male artist sporting a baseball cap carrying wood, varnish, and drill bits. You’ll recognize him by his educated Kentucky accent when he insists that you not stand too close to him and touch his supplies, especially the wood! But that artist, J.T. Kirkland, is not buying products to build a home owners association-approved deck, or interior cabinets or bookshelves--no way, man, he’s building some very serious art.

At its basic structural level (that is, minimalist, but more about that later), Kirkland’s work consists of this: He buys planks of wood (maple and poplar seem to be preferred,) cuts them into equal length segments with a table saw, arranges the segments according to his preference for the flow of the grain and then drills a tightly scripted pattern of holes in the individual segments. The segments are then lightly sanded. Some of the drilled pieces are offered as singular works of art; other works consist of multiple segments that function together. Some of the completed works of art are varnished; others aren’t. As they are all intended for wall display, a hanging mechanism is placed on the backs and voila, an original work of fine art made out of wood!

But, is this really fine art, you may cynically ask? Well, the debate that leads to that answer is where it really gets interesting. You don’t have to be a French-speaking postmodern art scholar to know that the number one major problem in the world of high art is the use of words and their agreed upon or commonly understood definitions. If an "outsider" artist, for example -- that is, a "naive" or "unschooled" artist -- were creating similar pieces as Kirkland’s, this work might be easily and actively embraced as original works of "outsider" art with little pretentious debate about their higher meaning by the "outsider" art market.

On the other side of the fickle art map, if a highly respected wood craftsman, wood carver, or wood turner were the design architect for such pieces, there might be a raging debate stimulated among craft fanatics and high art scribes about whether or not these works really rise to the level of serious craft (or God forbid art!), especially since the word "craft" itself has become so controversial among those who have a vested interest in protecting the word "art" from the word "craft," as well as among those who are heavily invested in protecting the good and reputable name of craft -- a controversy that, if anything, has only been exacerbated by the American Craft Museum having changed its name sometime ago to the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Design.

That brilliant move, rather than furthering an ecumenical consciousness among the cathedral priests of high art and their lowly itinerant counterparts sloughing it out on the weekend county fair craft circuit, merely contributed to a continued pour of gasoline on the endless fiery debate over craft versus art.

But in Kirkland’s case, he mockingly throws a Sears-purchased Craftsman monkey wrench into the matter by actively asking (polemically insisting actually) that his work be appreciated by its viewers by the high art definition of minimalism. From his artist statement Kirkland asserts that "Art isn’t about answering questions; it’s about asking the most thought-provoking questions possible."

Fair enough. And although there are definitely a lot questions one could ask if one wanted to about that statement, we want go there right now because I’m the one writing this and it is some answers that I’m really after. He continues and preaches that "Beauty, a secondary goal, is a result that I gladly welcome, but only if it contributes to a deeper interaction between the artist and the viewer."

Obviously there’s a logical problem with that statement because once an artist puts his work in the public arena, the public may not care to interact with artist.

Indeed, an art collector may not give a fig about dialoging with the artist beyond signing their check for the purchase of their favorite piece and saying thank you. They may desire, and actually prefer, a one-on-one communication with what they perceive to be the exquisite beauty of the work itself in the privacy of their living room as it hangs above the mantel of their fireplace.

But interestingly, and not surprisingly, the fractured emotional insecurities inherent in much of minimalism find a secure port of therapeutic entry in Kirkland’s continued words about his art: "Successful art is created when I’ve challenged viewers to think about issues, but they aren’t necessarily aware that such provocation has occurred. For far too long, artists have taken it upon themselves to solve the world’s problems through the creation of objects. Finally, the time has come to ask the viewer for a little assistance. The old adage must be true that two heads are better than one. There are but a small fraction of people in this world who are artists, and it is time that the artist received some help. The trick, however, is to figure out how best to get viewers to assist. That is my challenge."

And a major tricky challenge that is indeed!

It has always been the challenge of minimalism to enforce its understanding on its audience by cajoled intellectual assent to a declared higher purpose and meaning--that is, to trick the viewer by words into believing that up is down and down is around and that everything thing is round and rounder (thus minimalism’s natural affinity for holes). What this usually means is that the artist suggests to the typical viewer (whose inner ear balance, by diagnosis of the artist, is often out of whack) that there is great depth involved in their work and that one must accept this proposition in order to really understand what the work truly means, so as to allow the artist to properly adjust the viewer’s gyroscope. If one accepts this proposition, then one is enlightened and hopefully begins to walk straight; if one rejects the notion, then one is an idiot and continues to stumble around. It’s the easiest version of a straw man argument that can be designed in the world of high art. Minimalism establishes itself as being a deep mystery that only the most intellectual can really grasp. When a viewer finally wraps their mind around it, they’re said to "get it." But, if a viewer is inclined to play along with the artist’s ruse and if after being subjected to an intense artist/viewer mind-melding hypnosis session that viewer continues to literally or figuratively find themselves on the "outside" of all this inside knowledge, then they’re declared to simply be beyond "getting it" and they’re easily dismissed by the art establishment’s intelligentsia as being hopeless.

But the con with minimalism is this: it all too often painfully comes down to 'getting it" with the words of the artist, their supportive curator, and acknowledging critics, as opposed to getting it at any level with what the artist’s work may actually have to communicate by itself (with a fuller description of the pain being that you have to wade through a lot of word muck in a big swamp of minimalist art theory to enjoy those rare gems, or perfect tricks, in minimalism --works of art that speak with greater clarity and depth than the artist or their agent provocateurs).

The more I have viewed an endless stream of contemporary minimalism by noncanonized artists over the years as presented in world of fine art through the white cube space -- as well as through a plethora of alternative venues, including every type space you can imagine with the exception of a missile silo -- the more I have become convinced that much of its intellectual pretensions is supported by the words printed on a piece of paper called the artist’s statement.

Indeed, it seems as though the artist statement is essential to the "meaning" and "understanding" of contemporary minimalist art. The dirty secret in the art world is that without a clever artist statement, most minimalist art cleverly, at best, rises to the level of design.

Of course, most contemporary minimalist artists would probably strongly and vociferously object and ask us to examine their works with an open mind toward its content devoid higher meaning and purpose as positioned and manipulated by their words.

From the historical perspective, others will disagree: One of the leading champions of the modernist art of the previous decades, art critic Clement Greenberg, regarded minimalism as a little more than "novelty" art. For Greenberg, the "aesthetic surprise" a viewer experiences when contemplating "true" works of art (Greenberg’s definition being paintings by Raphael or Jackson Pollock) is poignant and transcendental, unlike the novelty item that provokes little more than a "superfluous" momentary surprise.

What’s Greenberg definition of a "true" work of art?

Well, most likely a handmade expression of the artist's feelings and thoughts. For Greenberg, minimalist art, with its deliberate (some might suggest anal-retentive) production of emotionally devoid artworks like Donald Judd’s factory-produced products was in fact closer to furniture than to art, and should be viewed as nothing more than "good design."

Others at the time joined in on rising lamentation that minimalist art was missing something very basic: feelings.

In a review of the 1966 exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum (which included work by Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Morris) art critic Hilton Kramer noted that the visitors to the minimalist exhibition were "rarely moved" by the work.

Beyond its lack of emotion, an indictment approaching that of outright fraud was issued by modernist critic, Michael Fried in his essay, Art and Objecthood 1967, wherein he alleged that a clear disparity exists between the minimalists' claims about their work and the actual experience of the viewer in looking at it. Fried saw minimalism as modernism gone amuck because, by referring only to itself, minimalism attempts to undermine the distinction between art and non-art and seeks to do so through a conspiratorial manipulation of perception by invented language espoused by the artist and their promoters.

Of course, when the critical jig was up on minimalism, the big name minimalist artists didn’t just go gently into the night and take their hits lying down. Quite the contrary -- they went to war.

Back in the day, Sol LeWitt would quickly pull his pen out of his holster and fire off an angry letter or two complaining about how his work was being misunderstood or misinterpreted that this or that critic.

Of course, I’m not breaking any new ground here with this discussion about minimalism – and that’s because there’s really very little new ground to break over an identified art movement that’s now more than 40 years old and has been subjected to endless psychiatric analysis.

But baby boomers and their intellectually insecure therapy obsessed offspring love nostalgia, so it’s inevitable that cool words and cool art things from back in the day that become easily branded in the consumer’s mind never really seem to go away.

And like so many other innovative cutting-edge art advances that occur in a democratic corporate capitalistic society, what was once a shocking and radical art thing soon becomes absorbed by astute corporate enterprises and re-presented, re-contextualized and re-examined for a more sedated and medicated pedestrian audience.

You can verify this truth the next time you’re in McDonald’s inhaling a Big Mac: simply take a close look at the abstract expressionist and/or minimalist works of art hanging on the walls leading to the restrooms and you’ll quickly notice you’re the only one giving these masterful creations a second glance. And that’s because, despite the implied thoughts of some art historians, the modern and postmodern art revolution was indeed televised in all its gory glory and everybody in America, especially the anti-high art masses, got saturated with too much of the self-serving self-referential message.

The more things change, the more they remain the same and it’s certainly easy to understand why some contemporary minimalist artists today, especially at this historic point in the game, might also become extremely hostile in defensive of their work. It’s also easy to understand why these same artists frequently undertake to compose online friendly bullet proof self-serving legal-defense-brief-style artist statements to facilitate their confrontational assault weapon arguments toward influencing a public perception and understanding of what their work means --all in the vain efforts to hopefully neutralize the dreaded design appellation by the more skeptical critics out there in the non-online real art world; that is, old school curators, aging print media art critics, and ancient ivory tower art historians.

Artist J.T. Kirkland’s exhibition, "Studies in Organic Minimalism," on view at the University of Phoenix Northern Virginia Campus in Reston, Virginia, doesn’t raise any new questions about this minimalist circular debate, but it does (whether he intended it or not) provide a rare and refreshingly creative attempt at an answer that is beautifully designed on a human scale.

It was impossible for me to approach Kirkland’s work without the drudgery of the artist statement. I’m very familiar with his work, philosophy and intent; indeed, he has openly shared with the public the intimacies of his journey toward this exhibition on his art blog, Thinking About Art, as well as through interviews about his work and philosophy on other art blogs.

In fact, he may have shared too much. There is, after all, something to be said for the quiet preservation of mystery about one’s aesthetic intentions, especially with minimalism.

I was, however, extremely curious to see how others outside the loop of the niche confines of the art blog community might respond. A couple of weeks ago I went by the venue and asked five randomly selected people who were at the university that day for one reason or another to join me in a minimalist conversation about this exhibition. None were familiar with Kirkland, his work or his art blog. I gave each person a copy of his artist statement for "Studies in Organic Minimalism" and asked them to read it. I also gave each person a copy of Kirkland’s title/price list and asked them, independent of each other’s knowledge about the others participation in this experiment, to walk through the exhibit and examine each piece in the show.

I then asked a singular question to all after they had read the artist statement and reviewed the title/price list and the works of art: "When you view this body of work, what is the first thing that comes to you mind?"

A 27-year-old white female office manager – "It’s pretty, sort of, but kind of cold in a way too. I like the idea of the holes in the wood. I think I get his thing about depth. But these pieces really look to me like they’re unfinished or not completed. I don’t know, really. Honestly, I don’t really understand his point if you want the truth."

A 35-year-old white male data base developer – "It’s why I’m not into modern art. Anybody can do stuff like this. I don’t see the talent in this. It’s just plain dumb to me. It’s seems like a lot of wasted time to do something that has no use or appeal. And the prices are ridiculous. Who’s going to pay that for this?"

A 28-year-old white female legal secretary – "I can’t exactly say I like this man’s work, but it does seem interesting. His statement does explain his work, I think, but I can’t say that it influences me to like it. But I know what my husband would think – 'It’s stupid. What does it take to drill holes in a piece of wood?' When I walked down the hallway and looked at these, they all start to look alike to me. Nothing really grabs me about this stuff. None of these are screaming out at me ‘Take me home!’ That’s what I look for in the little bit of art that I’ve bought.”

A 43-year-old African-American male business consultant – "I guess people can call anything art. I guess I must be in the wrong business."

A 38-year-old white male accountant – "I think they’re kind of cool and like them. But I damn sure wouldn’t pay the prices for it. If I wanted to have something like this hanging in my house, I could easily make them myself. I’ll give the guy credit for thinking this up though. I’m not an artist, or really know anything about art, but that’s the way I understand it works in art. The dude who thinks it up first makes the money. That’s the way it is in business, so why not art? Don’t you think?"

And what did I think? It was impossible to tell that man the truth at that moment because, unfortunately, I had the benefit/burden while standing there in front of him of listening to him speak about the work combined with the reverberation inside my head of the artist statement and interviews about the work combined with the mass of minimalism theory and history stimulating too many neurotransmitters to shoot across my synapses -- and the weight of all that oppressive information was confining my appreciation at a certain level because it was simply too much to think about.

So, what did I think? I didn’t. I refused. I politely declined to answer the gentleman and thanked him for participating in the experiment.

When I finished my conversations, I went down stairs, walked outside the building, walked around the building, walked around the building again, went back in and upstairs and tried walking back through the exhibit with as clear a mind as possible. During that down time I tried to intellectually divorce myself from every preconceived notion about minimalism that has been jammed into my brain cells from too much exposure to the work and its written history, theory and criticism.

And what I discovered as I re-walked through the exhibit by myself was that I began to enjoy these simple pieces in a very simple way -- that is, I found a naturalistic pleasure in examining the subtle colors of the wood, the play of the grain, the patterns of the holes, the depth of the holes and the rhythmic dance between the holes and the grain. By themselves, apart from excesses of art pretensions, these pieces compel, if you’re receptive and can be left alone to hear it, a naturalistic interaction, a dialogue if you will, between the wood, the grain, the holes and the mind.

Kirkland has posted some alarming concerns on his blog about his obsessive fears of having people touch his work. That’s a shame because these pieces at their most elemental level demand to be touched. They demand to be touched as much as a beautiful tree compels its touch on a walk of solitude through the forest, as much as the moss on a rock in that forest begs to be touched by the hand of a human being.

Pulling myself back from too much information allowed for a brief, silent and thoughtful communication with the work that is exceedingly difficult to hear through the cacophony of a long train of minimalist artist statements and pretentious minimalist theory and boring supportive minimalist history that precedes this body of work. It’s also very difficult to hear the singular voice of the work through the injunctions, commands and reprimands of the artist. Perhaps this aggressive attitude is an intentional minimalist trick on the part of Kirkland – the artist says one thing loudly while the work says something else quietly and the viewer is supposed to think about all of it and figure something out about what it all means. If so, it is an exceedingly difficult distraction and demands a great deal of patience to enjoy the payoff – the payoff being the simple meditative voice of contemplative poetry being whispered by the art hanging on the wall.

But to be fair to Kirkland, as well as to all the other acolytes of minimalism, when it comes to a Dan Flavin florescent light exhibited in the National Gallery of Art, or a vintage rusted neon restaurant sign sadly hanging from the side of an abandoned building in a lonely and forgotten beat area of New Orleans, I’ll easily take the rusted neon sign in a heartbeat any day – but I’m like that because, the truth be known, I’m really a film noir type person at heart.

With Kirkland’s work, I’ll gladly take the wood and grain and holes and what those three things are trying to say to me over the artist statement, the artist’s words, as well as all the marshaled pretensions toward minimalism – I’ll also bravely take my chances of being caught by the artist and arrested by building security for rubbing my hands along and all over his creations. The real work of art in "Studies in Organic Minimalism" is what these uniquely subtle, yet expressively beautiful works of art look like to the human eye and feel like to the human touch. They are works for the blind – literally, figuratively, intellectually. One doesn’t need a nature guru to tell one that being blind to too much information helps to appreciate the relationship between man and nature. Kirkland’s works are speaking that message very clearly in a very quiet manner - but it does require a unique form of silence, a silence that minimalism will never offer you, to hear it. The work is emanating a spiritual form of communication that one usually experiences in a moment by oneself in a Buddhist state of mind within a place that is withdrawn from all distractions. If you’re willing close your eyes that are being blinded by the glare from Dan Flavin’s lights and step outside of the sycophant-packed First American Church of White Male Minimalism with its howling theorist preacher strutting about on top of a pile of Donald Judd box constructions wailing away over the PA system, you may hear a voice you’ve never heard before through this work.

There’s no deep art mystery to me about why some people long to touch these works. In future efforts, perhaps Kirkland will ask-- hopefully he will happily insist -- that his more appreciative audience does so in a joyful celebration between his art and its viewers. The artist has asked his viewers for some help. My advice is that the artist needs to understand that some of us are only human and that like innocent children we like to touch things, especially when we’re told not to do so; and, besides, there are some truly passionate pieces in "Studies in Organic Minimalism" that are quietly and sincerely reaching out to touch some of us as well. It doesn’t take an artist or artist statement or art theory or an art critic to tell us that touching is the most basic interaction among human beings and between human beings and the world that surrounds them. Touching art may be a crime, but God forbid we ever make it a sin.

James W. Bailey
Experimental Photographer
Force Majeure Studios

City Arts Projects

Deadline: June 22, 2005 at 7 pm.

The City Arts Projects program expands the quality and diversity of arts activities throughout the city, supports local artists, and makes arts experiences accessible to District residents.

City Arts Projects expose the arts to the broader community or to persons traditionally underserved or separate from the mainstream due to geographic location, economic constraints, or disability.

Eligible projects include, but are not limited to, festivals, concerts, visual arts exhibitions, and literary readings.

Workshops: The Commission hosts a series of workshops to assist all individuals and organizations in preparing their applications. Workshops are held in several different facilities in Washington, DC. No prior reservations are required to attend workshops.

City Arts Projects workshops will be held:
Tuesday, May 26, 2005, DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Noon - 1:30 pm.
Thursday, June 9, 2005, DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Noon - 1:30 pm.

For more information or to receive an application in the mail, please call (202) 724-5613 or visit this website.

If you want one of these grants and have no idea what to do or how to do it, or are too lazy to take one of the workshops email me.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Art Job

Assistant Director: Irvine Contemporary Art.

Irvine Contemporary Art, a leading contemporary art gallery in Washington, DC, is seeking an Assistant Director for managing the operations of the gallery and assisting the Director in gallery planning.

Requirements: Applicants must have prior commercial gallery experience and have significant knowledge of contemporary art and the art market. Knowledge of Microsoft Office programs and Adobe Photoshop necessary.

Position will begin mid-August, 2005.

Application process: Send an email cover letter and attached resume with description of background and experience to:

No phone calls. Gallery will follow up with phone calls and interviews.

Seven Update

Today, together with a few artists, one of the interns, and Kim Ward from the WPA/C and a photographer from the Washington Times, I walked the seven spaces at the Warehouse Gallery again.

We assigned some spaces already, and selected a few more artists. The WPA/C website will soon have the final list, which now includes Chan Chao, Adam Fowler, David Jung, Marie Ringwald, Rick Wall and many others.

I've also turned Mark Jenkins loose on the building, and I am sure that he will have an interesting tape people army present at the opening and for the duration of the show.

Now closing the loop on a drawing class that I want to have present at the opening. I have focused one of the seven galleries on the nude figure, and on opening night (June 30), I want to have a small drawing class present and drawing from a live nude model or two.


Got my rejection notice in the mail today for Radius250. Oh well!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Wanna go to an opening?

Tomorrow, Sunday June 19, the League of Reston Artists (LRA) is having the opening reception for the show that I curated for them.

The reception is from 2-4PM. Directions here. See the award winners here.

See ya there!

25th Biennial Exhibition

The Creative Crafts Council recently announced the winners of the 25th Biennial Exhibition Awards at a reception held at Strathmore Mansion in Rockville, Maryland.

Awarded "Best in Show" was a fused art glass piece by artist Robert Wiener, a native of Washington, DC. The winning piece is entitled "Beauty in the Breakdown" and it is a wall triptych that includes over 2,250 individual murrine pieces handmade by the artist. Each murrine is approximately a quarter of an inch thick and consists of seven layers of hand cut art glass specifically created for fusing. See it here.

The Creative Craft Council is made up of ten local craft guilds, including the National Capital Art Glass Guild. The purpose of the Council is to present to the public a biennial exhibition of high quality crafts made in the metropolitan area. For the 25th Biennial Exhibition 214 artists submitted close to 600 pieces including works in clay, enamel, fiber, glass, metal, mixed media, polymer and wood.

The juror was designer, craftsman, teacher and artist Donald Stuart served as the juror for this special event. Mr. Stuart traveled from Canada where he has won numerous awards for his own work in metal and precious stone inlay.

The Creative Craft Council’s 25th Biennial Exhibit runs through July 9 at the Strathmore Mansion.

DC Art Beat

DC Art Beat is a new (new to me anyway) site focusing on art, music and ideas.

Visit them here.


Kiosk is an artists' collaborative formed by DC area artists Karen Joan Topping, Ian Jehle and Alan Callander.

Visit them here.


Ming-Yi Sung, the artist whose work was censored at the "Not the Knitting You Know" Sculptural Knitting and Crochet exhibition, emailed me some "before" and "after" images of her "offending" work from the "Settlement with the Monkeys" piece:

Settlement with the Monkeys Uncensored
Settlement with the Monkeys (Uncensored)

Settlement with the Monkeys Uncensored
Settlement with the Monkeys (Censored)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Georgetown Openings Tonight

The five Canal Square Galleries (Alla Rogers, MOCA, Parish, Fraser and Anne C. Fisher) will be having their new show openings or extended hours tonight.

The openings start at 6PM and go through 9PM. They are catered by the Sea Catch Restaurant and are free and open to the public.

We will be hosting mixed media pieces by Andrew Devlin, who was the winner of last year's Georgetown International Fine Arts Competition.

See ya there!

Cover the Penis

All the way in the earthquaky Left Coast I've been hearing about "Not the Knitting You Know" Sculptural Knitting and Crochet exhibition at Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space (located at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue, in DC).

One reader emailed that this exhibition is a "cunning content-driven craft spectacle!"

The exhibition is curated by Binnie Fry and features work by: Ann Citron, Katharine Cobey, Jeanne Garant, Kathleen Holmes, Norma Minkowitz, Elizabeth Lundberg Morisette, Karen Paust, Carien Quiroga, Gayle Roehm, Blanka Sperkova, Alex and Viviana Santamarina, Ming-Yi Sung, Daina Taimina, Andrea Uravitch, and Joyce Zipperer.

The show has apparently caused some controversy, and I am told that the work of Ming-Yi Sung has been "sanitized" in order to keep it in the show. A reader notes that the "management didn't seem to mind the breast exposure, but the dicks had to be covered up."
She even crafted a cute little cod piece for her Hermaphrodite on the window sill.

And has put some fig leaf on others

The exhibition runs through September 10, 2005.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

When Everything is Art

Anything, no matter how silly or tasteless, becomes art. Read it here.

New DC Art Blog

Marsha Stein has a new art Blog. It's called Synergy.

Visit it here.

End of an era

Kodak has announced that all black and white silver gelatin photographic papers have been discontinued. They will sell what they have in stock until the end of 2005.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Kirkland reviews a few shows around town.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Target Gallery Seeks New Director

The fair Claire Huschle, who'd done a spectacular job as the Director of the Target Gallery in Alexandria has accepted a new position and will soon become the Program Director at the Arlington Art Center. Congratulations to Claire!

And thus the Target Gallery is now looking for a new director!


To Kriston, who's getting a new BLOG gig with the Smithsonian. Read it here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

In California

I flew today from Dulles to San Diego - Boy are my arms tired! (Sorry - old Henny Youngman joke).

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Reads like a good read

I'm going to get this book once I get to California and read it on the flight back.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Shafer on Bethesda Painting Prize

Karen Shafer of The Gazette discusses the inaugural Bethesda Painting Prize and the final eight. Read it here.

The opening of the show was last night, although the winners were announced two nights ago.

Some pictures...

Dr. Claudia Rousseau

Dr. Claudia Rousseau, one of the three jurors, discusses the jurying process.

Bethesda Painting Prize Awards

Carol Trawick with the $10,000 winner (Joe Kabriel) and Catriona Fraser. The painting on the background that looks like it's about to deliver a knockout punch to Catriona is "Jacob" by Andrew Wodzianski.

Andrew as a Ninhja

And six foot five Andrew Wodzianski as the world's tallest Ninja.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Weekly Reviews

In the City Paper, Louis Jacobson reviews our current Gabriela Bulisova at Fraser Gallery Georgetown.

In the WaPo, Michael O'Sullivan reviews Craig Doty at Strand on Volta. Earlier, Jonathan Padget discussed "Queering Sight -- Queer Insight," at the Warehouse Gallery.

The Weekend

I'll be away all weekend at an art fair, so posting will be done later on the day. Then on Monday I leave for a week on the Left Coast and return on Friday.

As usual, my trusty laptop will come with me and posting will continue for California.

Bethesda Art Walk Tonight

Tonite is Bethesda's time to showcase their galleries, as it is time for the Bethesda Art Walk, with 17 participating galleries and art venues.

Free guided tours begin at 6:30pm. Attendees can meet their guide at the Bethesda Metro Center, located at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Wisconsin Avenue. Attendees do not have to participate in tours to visit Art Walk galleries.

We'll have the winners of the Bethesda Painting Prize.

See ya there!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Course in Art Appreciation

School of Art and Design at Montgomery College: Summer Session II 2005

This course format sounds like fun! One full day a week for five weeks; lecture in the morning and field trips to local galleries in the afternoon for on-site discussion.

Taught by Dr. Claudia Rousseau, Professor of Art History and Art Critic for the Gazette Newspapers in Montgomery County

Per the school news release, students will look at art from an art critic’s point of view. Topics will include looking at design, themes, subject matter, and historical context in drawings, paintings, sculpture, and other art media.

Open to credit and non-credit students

Wednesdays, June 22 – July 20
Montgomery College Summer Session II
AR 127 School of Art and Design -
CRN# for credit 14143; CRN# for non-credit 14146

9-12:30: Lecture at the Montgomery College Westfield South Center, Room 306E (at Wheaton Mall)
1:30 – 5:30: Discussions on site at local galleries.

For more information call the School of Art and Design 301-649-4454
(For non-credit registration, ask for Yvette).

Open Studios This Weekend

The Mid City Artists Open Studios will be held on the weekend of June 11 and 12. Many artist studios within walking distance of the Dupont/Logan Circles will be open for visitors. This is a unique opportunity to see some of DC’s most exciting artists in their home environment.

The Mid City Artists participating in June’s Open Studio weekend are Sondra Arkin, Kristina Bilonick, Tanja Bos, Robert Cole, Gary Fisher, Glenn Fry, Charlie Jones, Regina Miele, Byron Peck, Miguel Perez-Lem, Brian Petro, Peter Romero, Nicolas Shi, John Talkington, Kelly Towles, and Colin Winterbottom.

Details here.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Cuban car boat

Am I the only one thinking that GM needs to hire the desperate Cuban genius who designed and built this water taxi?

Arts Beat

Jonathan Padget in the WaPo today covers "Queering Sight -- Queer Insight," at the Warehouse Gallery.

Padget also announces the winners of the Bethesda Painting Prize.

Read it here.

Mobile back up and moving

The Calder mobile is back up at the National Gallery of Art.

Read it here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


The winner of the Bethesda Painting Award and other prizewinners from that award's $14,000 prize package will be announced tonight.

These are the finalists.

LRA Show

Last Monday night I curated an exhibition for the League of Reston Artists... they had about 300 entries, and I selected 62.

Best of Show was awarded to Andrei Shoumikhin, whose work I had never seen before, but that showed that superb technical skill that a lot of Eastern European artists seem to acquire in their educational systems, and it was coupled with a very unusual and noticeable artistic vision.

There was $1,500 in cash awards that I distributed among several artists. I'll get a list of award winners posted here a bit later. The opening reception is June 19 from 2-4 PM. Details here.

Seven Update Four

The entries are pouring in for Seven; the deadline is June 10.

I really want to include in this show as many (in terms of number) WPA/C members as possible, with a healthy measure of those who are not seen too often around DC area galleries, and couple them with some well-known names like Manon Cleary, Sam Gilliam, and others. That seems to be working well so far, but expect a very large show.

The latest addee is Margaret Boozer, whose brilliant last solo show at Strand On Volta Gallery I reviewed here.

Boozer will be making a long, low shelf/trough that turns a corner somewhere, and pouring the liquid slip in it, and maybe letting it run out just a little at the end and puddle on the floor. She's thinking it might run along about 18 inches above the floor, and it seems like a logical progression to a similar idea of the "wet" piece that she had at her last solo show.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

David Cerny on Hirst

David Cerny's Saddam

David Cerny is having fun with both Hirst and Saddam Hussein at the Prague Biennial.

Story in German here.

The Worst New York Gallery Experience in History

Herewith an email from a DC artist that I know well... it is a personal and sad story; but one that offers an experience... experienced!
The Worst New York Gallery Experience in History

I fully realize that beginning with that title is tantamount to throwing down a gauntlet to every artist who reads this, but bear with me.

In the end, you'll be the judge.

I will, for the sake of this article, remain nameless.... as shall the events and the gallery discussed here. This is not an effort to protect the gallery, but an attempt to make this experience a little more universal. Remember, this could have happened to you.

My tale begins with a common enough event... a charity auction. As artists, we participate in many such events. This one was particularly prestigious and national in scope. As luck would have it, my piece ended up in the live auction section and with spirited bidding created quite a stir. It was at this point that I was first approached by the "New York Gallery."

"Your work is incredible!" they said, "We would love to represent your work in our Chelsea gallery and also take you to Expo!" (the biggest show in New York in my type of art).

What a fantastic opportunity... finally New York representation... and at Expo to boot! All seemed right with the Universe.

As a non-New York artist I share a commonly-held belief that if I could just procure gallery sponsorship in the Big Apple that my career would definitely take a big leap forward. No longer would I be a regional artist; I would become nationally known. Naive perhaps, but I entered this ordeal with these rose-colored beliefs.

My first hint of unease came when the gallery insisted that I do an "installation." I knew that Expo is not about installation work and neither am I, but hey, what the heck? It's about time I moved in that direction. Don't all great artists? They also claimed to have many clients who were museum curators who bought installation work. Ok.....done!

And video..... they want a video from me. Not just a bio.... but a video art piece. Great again! I've had a video I've wanted to do in my head for years, so here at last was my chance. The gallery owners say that they had numerous clients for videos who pay from $5,000 to $7,000 dollars for a single copy.


Ok..... sure... I was skeptical, but I wanted to believe so badly! Here I was heading to New York as a video and installation artist. Pretty cool, huh?

New York is just waiting for me! Unfortunately, the Universe has a tendency to punish such hubris.

Lessons need to be learned the hard way. Let me also clarify. This story is not about money... it is about validation that a New York gallery can imply to those of us outside of New York.

I spent the next 6 weeks making all the components for the big day. My regular art is quite labor-intensive. Throw in the video and I was kept very busy until the day I left for New York.

Now the fiasco begins.

Day One

My team gets to the Expo space an hour ahead of me and calls to say that no one from the gallery is there, and that all the artists are confused as to where to install.

We knew the exact size of the space for our installation, so they have measured and decide that only one space is the correct size. They begin to install.

I arrive to Expo..... not as an observer as in years past, but triumphantly as an honored participant! I get to the space and discover that my space is the only space in Expo that actually faces the wall... not the aisle where the people are.

The owners arrived about this time and tell me not to worry. Everybody sees everything at Expo. "Jeez," I think, "but what can I do? At least I'm at Expo....and it won't be the first time I've overcome bad placement in a show."

Now that the owners have arrived it is clear that they have had a huge fight. They are a couple going through a painful and public divorce. For the purposes of this story we will know them as Joe Young and Joe Old.

Not surprisingly, Joe Old is the one with all the money, but Joe Young is the one with all the power. For some inexplicable reason Joe Young (and I mean young) has been given total control over the gallery, without a clue how to accomplish this. He is on a mission to become the cutting edge gallery in Chelsea. (see prior notes regarding hubris).

By this time my team and I have installed my work..... a little tight and very hard to find, but I'm at Expo. So Joe Young says, "Hey, before you guys leave, could you help us move a pipe? Its another artists work, but its over at the gallery and we have to move it here."

"Ah.... ok, sure. We'd be happy to help!" and besides, I'm dying to see the gallery space. (I know.... and no, I hadn't ever seen the gallery).

It turns out there are six of us riding down in an SUV. Wow...this must be some pipe! This could not have been truer, as the pipe is 4ft high, 2ft. wide and 1/2 inches thick. This is one heavy pipe! With all of us helping (except the owners...who have strangely disappeared again), we get the pipe in the SUV. Now we enter the gallery.

It is in a wonderful building, filled with wonderful galleries. This is a good sign. This is a building I have always wanted to show in. Ok.... they have the smallest and most buried space in the building, but they are still here. We enter the gallery.

Standing in the middle of the gallery is a coat rack filled with coats and a picnic table covered in trash. Trash also covers the floor. Empty Coke bottles, mustard jars, Boone's Farm, Cheez-Whiz...... it's some explosive leftovers from a Tennessee picnic.

"Oh my God!", I say, "What on earth happened!?!?".

"What do you mean?" they say, "This is an installation. Its all about consumerism."

Oh Lord.... I remember when kids would put a box of S.O.S. pads on a pedestal and called it consumerism art.... is that fad back again? I sincerely hope not. Maybe I'm just out of touch; I mean after all, I'm a non-New York artist. What do I know?

My work has been thought out for weeks. Every piece has been scrupoulously made and the installation subtly and thoughtfully tells a story common to us all. Maybe this heavy-handed consumerism approach is back again. I hope that I haven't made a mistake!

OK.... home to bed... I want to get lots of sleep before the big day.

As I walk into the booth the next day, I see that the other artists have had time to install their work.

Boy have they!

I should say that there is a glass artist, a wood artist and a ceramic artist sharing my booth (and who also share my fate).

In front of the booth they have forced the ceramic artist to put her work into a structure that looks like a puppet theater.... complete with red velvet curtains.

Next to me is another pile of picnic refuse as well. It seems that it is the brainchild of the gallery owner.

It's what he thinks the wood guy should be doing. "It's all about chaos theory," he says. Well... I agree about the chaos part.

On the other side of me is a huge installation titled "Dictator." This consists of two walls completely crammed with coffee mugs, t-shirts, pillows, thongs and boxer shorts with the word "Dictator" on them. Again..... its about consumerism (they say).

The giant pipe is also there.

Now..... it's now very very tight to get into the booth..... maybe five feet of entry space left. Let's see..... how can they close it off more?

I know!...... let's paint a foosball table grey and completely cover four of the last five feet of entry space.

And let's put DVD players right at that last opening (although they never show the video that they had claimed they would show to curators).

The booth looks like a grocery store and a Thrift shop have mated. If you manage to wiggle in to see my work, it's extremely difficult to see it at all because it is surrounded by so much stuff.

The owners have also hired three youngsters to "sell" at the gallery. One seems to know what she is doing.... the other kids just talk about who's getting laid by whom while all the while congregating at the only one foot entrance into the booth.

Its now 5PM and the big black tie opening event has started.

All the big collectors, museum curators, etc. are there....... but no owners.

At 5:15; however, another 20-year-old kid runs in and says he's supposed to be hanging there too.

He's a painter..... and this is definitely not a painter's show..... but up go his paintings.

Nothing makes sense in this explosion.

There is no theme, there is no order (and there is no way to get into the space).

The owners finally arrive towards 6PM. In the meantime the painter has begun to drink heavily.

Meanwhile, the owners have decided that their space was too simple, so in order to create a "happening" they have hired a performance artist.

She is from Italy. It is her job to walk around the entire event and put red dots on all of everyone else's artwork.

Now people are getting upset.

So upset that she is escorted out of the event by the security director.

The security director believes that I am to blame because I am the only one at the booth.

I assure him I am not; this is not our last contact.

The painter.... very upset over the gallery's seeming inability to sell even one painting, has really started drinking. In fact he has had five large wine glasses filled with Scotch.

Straight Scotch.

The security director comes over to me again. "Is this your boy? " he asks. "He's peeing on the ground right over there. We are going to put him out for good."


I had better at least try to get him into a cab. After all, he is one of my fellow artists from the gallery (The owners are nowhere to be found).

I go outside and try to talk some sense into him and send him home to his girlfriend. He is immediately hot..... so I start to go inside. Out comes one of the gallery owners, Joe Old.

Bad timing.

The kid is really wound up about promises not kept by the gallery. The painter takes a swing at the gallery owner and knocks his cell phone into traffic. The painter dives for it, narrowly missing being hit by a passing cab.

The painter grabs the cell phone, and throws it onto the roof of the neighboring building. He then turns around and punches the gallery owner full in the face. The gallery owner runs inside. Now I am left with a screaming, flailing kid on the middle of the street.

I'm holding him back as he rants.

It looks like I'm having a huge lover's quarrel with my child bride.

As this thought crosses my mind, I look up.

There... on the corner... is the entire staff of the most prestigious gallery for my kind of work in New York. They do not look amused.

Great! .... perfect.... just what I needed to boost my career.

How on earth could this get any worse?

I know.... let's have the gallery owner from the biggest DC gallery for my type of work walk up.... and lets have her joined by the cops, who have arrived on the scene with flashing lights.

Ok...that's worse!

The cops don't know what's happening; they are just responding to a call.

Their belief is that he and I are both creating a disturbance. I tell the cop that I barely know this kid, I'm just trying to get him a cab. The cop says that I have one minute to do so or he will run us both in.


I hail a cab and pay the driver $40 out of my pocket to get this kid to Brooklyn; why I will never know. The cops finally say that I can go.

By this time the huge black tie party is over... my collar is torn... and I'm out 40 bucks. Time to go home, lick my wounds, and try again the next day. Thus ended the longest day in my art career.

Day Two

Day two started off much better. I was full of hope and determined to cast off the bad mojo from the first day. I arrived on time, and again... no owners.

But hey....who needs owners? I'm at Expo... I can sell my own work. Which I did almost immediately. Three pieces in fact. Alright.... this is gonna be great! Then in comes the three staff members.

Now the booth is too packed to get into again. This is when the testimonials begin.

All throughout the day artists keep coming up to me and pulling me aside. "Get your stuff out while you can!" they'd say, or "I had to sue them to finally get my money!" This happened six times that day.

And these are artists I respect; Where were all these guys when I was asking about this NYC the gallery in the first place?

And it's not just artists.

Its other gallery owners. They look at me consolingly and tell me how sorry they are for me. They without exception, they advise me to get my work out of there before the train wreck occurs. I sold nothing more that day; I left with a sick feeling.

Day Three

Day three continues along those lines, only today it's the other artists and gallery staff that offer tales of terror.

The most lucrative artist they show there tells me that while he has sold lots for them, he has yet to receive money. He is told his work is hanging in a millionaire's home and that the gallery hasn't been paid yet.

This was three months ago.

He also tells me that the owners are furious with me. "Why?," I ask.

"Because you sold three pieces of artwork."


Seems that if you sell artwork and they don't, they get upset...supposedly because it points out they can't sell.


The woman whom they have hired to run the gallery is pretty sharp. She tells me the ship is sinking... try to get your work out ASAP.

She says that the are the laughing stock of the Chelsea art scene.

Lord knows we are a laughing stock here; except to the art collector who came into the booth to loudly accuse the owners of stealing a 100 dollar bill off of his dresser while they were in his home.

Day Four

Day four is known as "Skank Day."

The owners have decided that they need more notice. They decide to hire two 20-year-old girls and have them dress in thongs and skimpy t-shirts and hand out water bottles with the booth number on it.

Being that the average age of collectors attending the event is 65, you can imagine how well this is received. Enter my new friend (the security director); Out they go.

Today the owner yells at the staff, "We are NOT here to sell artwork.... we are here to sell the gallery!,"

That sure explains a lot.

Wish they had told me that going into this. I am standing in the middle of a three ring circus, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Last Day

Last Day; Word has gotten out about this train wreck. Everyone comes by to offer advice. Unfortunately, I can't leave with my artwork because I have a contract with the gallery. People tell me to break my contract, but I know I can't. I check into the booth before heading to the train station. Since before I'd arrived and all during this event I have told the owners how to move my work when they de-install.

Now as I leave they start freaking out... they are uncomfortable moving it. God knows what will happen.

I am writing this on the train returning home. I have no idea if I will ever see my artwork or my money ever again. The general consensus was that they will shortly file for bankruptcy and fold me into that. So much occurred that I didn't even report here (in the interest of brevity). Suffice it to say they lied to me daily and obviously.

So..... you non-New York artists out there: Let this be a lesson to you all.

Learn the easy way for a change; not the hard way. Maybe being a regional artist is not so bad. And when you plan to stretch to the Big Apple, try and get a recommendation first. This was an incredibly costly mistake for me, but I won't stop trying. You can be sure though.... the next time I will have a lot more questions to ask.

Signed... an artist too embarrassed to sign his name.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Superbusy during the day today and then tonight I'll be jurying a show for the League of Reston Artists (LRA).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Tapemen Hit NYC

Mark Jenkins in New York City.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Mark Power on Hoi on Levy and the Corcoran

DC Art News reader Mark Power, a retired Professor of Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, read former Corcoran Dean Samuel Hoi's letter about David Levy's resignation with interest, and he says, particularly this paragraph:
"The Corcoran owes its presence today to president and director David C. Levy. He took over a dysfunctional institution after the Robert Mapplethorpe fiasco, stabilized it, gave it new vision and built enough resources for the museum to aspire again. Both the museum and the art college expanded their programs and reached into the city as never before, becoming a renewed force in the region."
Power notes that earlier on DC Art News, former Corcoran teacher Rex Weil had this to say:
"...Levy's strategic plan: Treat your major constituencies (members, students, employees and faculty) with contempt and buy your way out of problems with a celebrity building. Well, it might have worked, but it hasn't. As the Corcoran's new Board Chairman learned recently "support for the Corcoran is 'superficial.'"
Weil continues:
"Meaning (I suppose), that, although everyone would like to see the Corcoran succeed, most people (a) just don't feel like they have a stake in it; and/or (b) are disappointed with current management. Let's face it: practically everybody in Washington knows someone who has left the Corcoran in frustration or disgust. (I left in December, 2004 after teaching there since 1996). That's bound to have a major snowball effect in terms of community support.

What Levy has apparently failed to grasp from the beginning: You have to build support from the bottom up with good programs and good relationships. Build the base - with satisfied, dedicated employees, enthusiastic students and their proud families, members invested in ambitious programming, and a committed long-term faculty advancing the institution. Those folks are, in turn, your best fundraisers.

Instead, (according to the Washington Post), the Corcoran has spent over 22 million on the Gehry addition. One way or another, a good deal of that 22 million has come out of the hide of students and their families, employees, faculty and admission paying visitors in poor facilities, shameful employment practices and dreary programming. All in all, the institution's core constituencies are bitter and alienated."

As a former teacher at the Corcoran myself, I {Power] find Weil's observations to be much closer to the reality I experienced. The Corcoran's press release on the current crises barely mentions the school which suggests business as usual with the new board. Being a photographer, of course I like Blake Gopnik's proposal to turn the museum into a center for photography which would address the identity problem and have the added virtue of making people forget about the Gehry debacle. Contrarily, it might even prompt some imaginative donor to revive the prospect of a Gehry building were it to be a museum of photography. Such a move could be financed by selling off the American Collection to the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art where it probably belongs anyway. But it would take a prodigious act of will and imagination for the board to take this action, qualities which have been conspicuously absent from previous boards.

Mark Power, Professor, Photography, Corcoran College of Art and Design (retired 1988)

M. Cameron Boyd on Gopnik on Intelligence of Art Public

A few days ago, Blake Gopnik, Chief Art Critic for the Washington Post, wrote a review of the Patriot show at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore.

DC Art News reader M. Cameron Boyd responds to Gopnik's review with the following:
Does Mr. Gopnik know what time it is?
By M. Cameron Boyd

Blake Gopnik’s review of the "Patriot" exhibit at the Contemporary Museum ("In Baltimore, Delving Into the Notion of Patriotism") does little to help the cause of either contemporary art or art criticism. His cursory redress of this show fails to engage any of the worthy ideas the exhibition apparently represents, i.e., the social construction of national identity, or the redirection of mass media promotional material against the interests of capital.

Does Mr. Gopnik know what time it is?

Back in the '80's, art critic Brian Wallis called on "future critics" to "address particular audiences for art and criticism and establish new means of distribution to meet such audiences."

Instead, Mr. Gopnik contends that art is "set up to be basically powerless," that "we’re all taught that art is wacky," and that we (audience, critics and artists, I presume) avoid any art with the kinds of ideas that "make us uncomfortable." Besides being a disservice to both the art and the artists who make it, these broad generalities ignore the intelligence of a viewing public that is capable of developing their unique interaction with contemporary art.

I suggest that we artists and art critics begin to establish a community discourse on the "uncomfortable" ideas associated with contemporary art to foster the nascent art audience. Mr. Gopnik is aware, too, that the Washington Post is an institution that functions like a museum as a "high profile public space."

He could begin to direct his considerable energy and influence to exploring the potential connection of difficult art to "mainstream thought and culture" rather than avoiding the true critical issues and labeling "challenging ideas" as "officially marginal."

M. Cameron Boyd

Friday, June 03, 2005


I can't recall if it was Time or Newsweek, but a couple of days ago I read a piece in one of them about the newest BLOG in Cyberspace that ranks BLOGs by their celebrity status or importance.

There's an A-list, a B-list and a C-list...

It's all here.

And there are quite a few Washingtonians on the list too!

About Time...

Cudlin is back in the CP with a review of the Kehinde Wiley show at Conner Contemporary.

These are such a kewl couple of paragraphs (that an older art critic could have never birthed) because they deliver a great insight into the show:
As he once stated in an interview, "We live in an age where the distinctions between high art and popular culture are finally starting to melt. Thank God. In a sense, that’s the strength of my work."

As it turns out, it is. Wiley’s art is all about the erosion of such differences—between past tradition and present moment, masculine display and effete decoration, Fragonard and FUBU.
And (I for one) love having a skilled painter as an art critic (as well); an intelligent person who can quickly note that:’s almost hard to believe that Wiley uses oils, not acrylics. There is no slow accumulation of glazed transparent layers here — only the flat immediacy proper to commercial illustration.
But it is this paragraph that drives the show home for me:
The tendency of much postmodern art has been to reject old hierarchies by making artistic activity more conceptual, less dependent on any one ancient medium’s troubled history. Wiley shows us that sometimes the most radical act is to continue with the seemingly insupportable.
Bravo Wiley, Bravo Cudlin, Bravo Painting.


As you can tell from the relative brevity of postings, I have been incredibly busy with many things at once.

It will get better... I hope.

This weekend is the last weekend to see "Compelled by Content," which has really hit a new zenith for sculpture shows for us, and judging by the huge amount of discusssion it has caused in the online glass community, has also left an important footprint on fine art glass.

Laughing at Chris Burden

Laugh here.

Thanks Joe!

Hoi on Levy

The former Dean of the Corcoran College of Art and Design from 1991 to 2000 chimes in on the David Levy firing with a letter to the WaPo.

Read it here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Policed Postcards

Kriston with some interesting words on Frank Warren's PostSecret project and specifically Warren's possible curatorial hand at work.

Read it here.

Art League Talk Today

One of the things that I notice consistently is how common an artist's poor presentation skills (for their artwork) is; and the worst offenders are often experienced art professors.

Acidic mats, fragile work backed by corrugated cardboard, hand-cut mats, scratched frames, scratched plexi, kitschy frames, colored mats, dirty mats, huge signatures, unsigned works... you name it and every gallerist has seen it.

So the Art League asked me a while back to give a presentation on... presentation.

It will take place today at the Art League Gallery in Alexandria.

Call them for details at 703/683-1780.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bethesda Painting Awards

Thanks to the generosity of Bethesda area businesswoman and arts activist Carol Trawick, and the sponsorship of the Bethesda Urban Partnership, our Fraser Gallery of Bethesda presents an exhibition of the eight finalists of the first annual Bethesda Painting Awards.

Opening on Thursday, June 8 through July 6, 2005, the exhibition features works by eight finalists selected by the three independent jurors.

On opening night (Friday, June 10) the jurors will announce a $14,000 Best of Show prize, a $2,000 Second Prize, a $1,000 Third Prize and a $1,000 Young Artist Award.

The competition was juried by Churchill Davenport, Professor of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA); Chawky Frenn, an accomplished painter (represented by us) and Assistant Professor of Painting at George Mason University and Dr. Claudia Rousseau, a contemporary art critic and Professor of Art History at the School of Art & Design at Montgomery College. More information on the jurors is online here.

The eight finalists are: John Aquilino, Rockville, MD, David R. Daniels, Silver Spring, MD, Inga McCaslin Frick, Washington, D.C., Joe Kabriel, Annapolis, MD, Catherine Lees, Baltimore, MD, Sue Ousterhout, Chevy Chase, MD, Dominique Samyn-Werbrouck, Alexandria, VA, and Andrew Wodzianski, Washington, D.C. (represented by us). More information on the finalists is online here.

An opening reception, free and open to the public, will be held on Friday, June 10 from 6-9PM as part of the Bethesda Art Walk.

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