Monday, December 25, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
Few notes because I don’t have time to write a real entry right now:
1. The worst service on planet earth can be found at the Starbucks on Poplar near Highland. It’ll be delivered to you by the dark haired girl at the drive-thru. Also, be warned that they apparently haven’t calibrated their espresso maker since 1997.
2. The nice people in North Mississippi (where I spent my weekend) are incapable of delivering me a Diet Coke. Upon ordering one I received: a small Coke, a large Dr. Pepper, a medium watered down orangy thing, and a Pepsi in a bottle.
3. Pepsi tastes like Christmas. (I’ll explain later)
4. We need a new word for installation art because it’s a bifurcated tradition. There is the responsive sort (“I’m going to go into the space and make art that uses what’s there”) and there is the other sort (“I’m going to go into this space and make it something else entirely”).
5. I was tempted to work in the word “assimilate” in the description for the last one, but I’d just end up quoting Star Trek and we can’t have that.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
Since people are starting to notice, apparently I need to get off my ass and write something.
The last two weeks I’ve been seriously dragging. I was really glad to get some time in with my Dad over Thanksgiving, even though privately I think both of us were having a rough go (what with mom and all). The trip turned out to be a bit more driving than I'd intended because I had to make the round trip back to Memphis to pickup clothes for a funeral.
Holiday stuff aside, I just can’t seem to get enough sleep. I slept until noon on Saturday and was still in bed by 8:30. Then again, since I spent most of the time in between studying for my final, it was probably just the exhaustion of reading so much course material that did me in. I took the test last night and made a 92. Not stellar, but considering that it’s just a certificate program, I can live with it.
Friday night was the first art I’d seen (not counting the MCA holiday bizarre) since the Wangechi Mutu show at Powerhouse. We got off to our usual late start so I didn’t get to do the Fountain Gallery or R&W, both of which are new to me. I wasn’t even sure that I was going to go out, but since Lisa Kurts had Jeff Koons on the card I figured I had to make an appearance.
Upon leaving Lisa Kurts Gallery a dear friend of mine once remarked, “Wow. That must be where fun goes to die.” Friday night’s show did nothing to make me think she was wrong. Apart from a really nice set of interior C-Prints by Michael Eastman and a series of quixotic little paintings of glowing birds by Brad Durham, there wasn’t really all that much remarkable at the show.
What’s worse from my perspective is that most of the artists on the card for this particular show weren’t even represented on the walls. I’m not saying that I could necessarily tell a Koons from any other white ceramic Scottie dog filled with silk flowers, but couldn’t they at least make the effort? Perhaps it was there and I just missed it, but that would also mean that I missed the work of at least half a dozen other artists who were supposed to be represented in the show. Is there a secret passage in that place that I should know about?
Next up on the list was the group show at L. Ross. I know that it’s generally considered rude to talk about the catering at an opening (we’re all theoretically there for the art), but the folks cooking were well and truly on their best game here. The work selected for the show didn’t seem to fall into the usual schizophrenic trap that so many similar shows do. To my eye, the strongest work was probably along the North wall as you come into the gallery. It starts with a notable sympathy between the Anton Weiss piece that confronts you when you walk in and the set of three engaging Butler Steltemeier watercolors on your left. The Steltemeirs were work I’ve seen and meant to write about before, but never quite got around to it.
Continuing down the North wall, I was confronted with a stellar piece by Jenny Balisle. Popular university shows not withstanding, there are more than three paths to abstraction and Balisle has captured this one beautifully. The impenetrable title, “JPB2538”, does nothing to really illuminate the artist’s process or concept so one is left to work out the density of this piece all by oneself. At first blush, work like this seems to be devoid of detail; art as a series of grand color motifs. Closer examination proves, however, that every inch of this panel has been carefully studied and crafted by the artist. I would see a still better example of this later in the evening.
Next heading down that same wall was a pair of paintings by Bobby Spillman, whom I’ve written about earlier. Not surround by his other, more frenetic work, this quiet set of paintings strike a more subdued and perhaps more ominous tone than what I’m used to seeing in his work. I can’t promise you that I hadn’t seen these paintings before, but in this setting they make an intriguing pair.
One of David Lusk’s shows managed to do something that doesn’t happen very often for me anymore. It takes a hell of a lot for me to get genuinely excited by a piece of abstract painting. Not that I don’t like it or know a good one when I see it, but it’s extraordinarily rare that I see a piece of abstract painting that literally forces me to emote. Brian Rutenberg’s work for “Pine and Jasmine” did exactly that.
The subsequent conversations I’ve had among my circle of art going acquaintances suggest that I was apparently the only one (other than perhaps Amber) to have such a strong reaction to the work, but frankly I don’t care. I heard a number of historical critiques and dismissals by reference (“Oh yeah, X did that better”) but I can’t really say that I bought any of them. Sure I’ve seen gestural expressionism before, but there was something all together different in this work.
First, there is the issue of craft. I’m often confronted with the notion that abstraction is done simply as an excuse to be lazy, either technically or critically. Technically the painter figures “hey, my four year old could do that” and sets upon slinging paint at a canvas figuring that “if it’s good enough for Pollock, it’s good enough for me.” Generally, this renders a bad Pollock knock-off. Critically, the lack of discipline often falls along the same lines. Either the artist decides “I don’t know what any of this shit means, so why try to do something explicable” or else “Wassily Kandinsky was the greatest painter ever so I’m just going to paint everything just like he would.” I’ve actually heard that last one more than once.
To anyone faced with that choice I can offer only this advice: Wassily Kandinsky gave us all the Kandinsky’s we will ever need.
To my admittedly untrained eye however, Rutenberg seems to fall into neither of these two traps. Unlike with so many abstract works, the closer you get, the more the artists hand confronts you in every nook and cranny. This wasn’t random chance evidenced by the accidental drop of paint in that “the artist wuz here” kind of way, but in deliberate and conscious choices of a serious painter practicing a disciplined art.
Secondly, and more importantly to me, Rutenberg’s pallet is an absolutely balls-out explosion of genuinely daring color. This isn’t “safe” work, nor do I think the artist was just having fun pushing paint around; the work was too well crafted for that. The paint literally leaps off the canvas. I hate to use it, because the metaphor gets trotted out in art criticism so much, but the work is almost musical: in some places lyrical and in others nearly symphonic. The paintings each had the subtle ebb and flow found in the better color field painters, one tone gently giving way to the next, but each maintained a kinetic momentum that drives the piece to it’s crescendo.
The Holiday Group Show at Lisa Kurts runs through January 6th. The group show at L Ross is up through the 31st. Brian Rutenberg and the Holiday Group show are up at David Lusk’s Gallery through the 23rd.