Friday, June 16, 2017


Rei Kawakubo’s art fills part of the second floor of the Metropolitan Art Museum this summer.  The show is titled “Art of the In-Between.” The Japanese designer works with what is loosely categorized “textiles” to create stitched, wrapped, and layered cocoons and coverings, human scale, best interpreted on humanesque models. The work includes designs from 1983 to the present.

cover art "The Handmaid's Tale"
This exhibit is a collaboration between Kawakubo and the staff at the Met; the result is breathtaking. Manikins cluster in windowed, pure white pods that look like sleeper cylinders scattered around the room. Viewers may wander in, around and behind. The lighting is perfect.  

But it’s the manikins themselves that extend the story. Human-female sized, they are without facial features and are as white as the shells where they stand. Any measure of “ugly” or “beautiful” is erased in favor of a more relevant descriptor, wabi-sabi, the Buddhist aesthetic principle that rejects the idea of perfection. 

early Amish

It’s the hair on these beings that break the Third Dimension and sends us into Neverland! The hair is coned, braided, fluffed, and dyed into exaggerated versions of both real and alien styles; the styles “match” the story begun as “clothing.” 

In the guide that accompanies the exhibit, short quotes from the artist reside alongside rather lengthy academic explanations of Kawaskubo’s clothing-non-clothing. Sprinkled with words like “Zen koans or riddles,” mu (emptiness) and ma (space), we viewers are supposed to grasp the idea of in-between-ness, clothes-that-aren’t, wearables that mostly ignore human shapes and needs. We get it already! No need to work so hard on the explanations! 

This fashion owes a nod to “cosplay” - a hugely popular hobby that originated in Japan where participants dress in complicated fantasy costumes apart from legitimate stage acting; streets, clubs and festivals are venues for these performers  who, incidentally, call themselves reiya (layers). 

A Quaker dress from 1700s
All wearable art stands on shoulders of a very long lineage of seamstresses-tailors-designers and clearly, Kawakubo borrows liberally. Tracing possible inspirations sends you spiraling down a rabbit hole. I know because I’m barely coming out myself and I’ve hardly scratched the research surface. 

Because this is such a rich visual story, I’ve assembled photographs of clothing that might have inspired the Comme des Garcons (like some boys) collection. I’ll try to twin them with Kawakubo’s work and you can judge for yourself.

toulouse-latrec poster (1800's)


Past/Present/Future (3 stages of separation: birth, marriage, death)

cosplay - Tokyo

Saturday, June 10, 2017


The High Line Gardens

Why would anybody fly to New York City for just one day?  In the category of crazy things to do on Friday, is this as frivolous as flying to Paris for lunch? Or buying a Burberry raincoat lined with mink? Or wearing diamonds on the soles of your shoes? (O.K., nobody would do that last one but Paul Simon’s lyrics are nothing short of brilliant so don’t quibble with The Simon!)

I flew to New York City Friday to attend a lecture given by one of the world’s greatest landscape designers, Piet Audolf, have lunch with assorted people I’ve never seen nor ever will again in a  converted factory building (very chic! Sushi and wine spritzers) and walk the High Line.

the High Line, well-designed benches
The event was planned by the Garden Conservency, an organization formed to show and protect significant gardens. The Conservancy plants the seeds of delight into wanna-be-gardeners  through visits to private gardens nationally and leads an educational and preservation effort in nearly every State.  This lunch/lecture was a fundraiser for the organization and as a momento, all attendees left with a copy of the magnificently illustrated book compiled by Mr. Oudolf (the chief High Line garden designer) and Rick Darke (2nd in command), GARDENS OF THE HIGH LINE.

I was in New York City ten years ago to walk through the Cristo “Gates,” a temporary art installation in Central Park. For those of you who think I somehow live on the outskirts of the City, Rochester is approximately 300 miles away. When I worked in the art biz, I got Downstate often.  But now, it simply isn’t on my way to anything. 

But here are some Friday observations.

One view from The High Line
  1. New Yorkers have no choice: they spend a lot of time and money planning local travel.  I spent 4 hours of my total 12 in NY just getting from one place to another - at a cost of slightly over $100.(Not including airfares.)  Brookings Institute says that Americans spent 175 billion hours traveling to work and play last year - mostly in private cars. Something’s wrong with this picture. As a country, we are ignoring the question of transit. It’s biting us in the backside, wallet and health. 
  2. Well-planned green spaces attract people and investment always follows people.  The High Line in NYC is absolute proof.  Built on an abandoned railroad bed, a walker on this ribbon of linear park now looks across the once derelict railyards to mushrooms of highrises. We counted at least six sky cranes. The High Line Gardens are nearly too successful! Crowds of people use this strip of planted sidewalk (with ample, well-designed benches) every day. It’s become a huge tourist attraction but locals use it as an elevated pleasant sidewalk system. Forget sports stadiums Cities: build a garden! 
  3. Thomas Friedman wrote a column for the New York Times lauding the technological advancement of China. He writes that China is out-stripping the U.S.(maybe the entire Western Industrial world) in know-how, will soon lead the world in technology and its manufacture and one of his observations: every person in China has a smart phone attached to his/her hand.  So? Has he been to New York City lately? The place is crazy-crowded and every person carried (and most, stared at) a smart phone. It looks like an invasion of zombies.  Weird…
  4. If cultural institutions measure success by numbers of visitors, The Metropolitan Museum must be #1 in the U.S.  The place was so packed that one could hardly move through the lobby. Those wide entry steps were covered with bodies. I was there to see a particular show upstairs (I’ll write about next week) and could hardly wiggled through the crowd to get close enough to see some of the exhibit. The Met is a jewel of a place. Go just to see those huge flower arrangments that grace the entry lobby.  Admission is  “what you can afford.” There’s a chart of “suggestions’ but if you spent all your money on taxi fare to get there,not to worry. You’ll still get in.  I wonder how this strategy is working?  Given numbers of attendees, is the “gate” more or less than if rigid admissions were charged?

I’m home again nursing the blisters on the bottoms of both feet, complaining about my sore knee and back and asking “was the day in NY worth the expense and effort?”  My answer: “yes, but maybe not for the reasons I expected before setting out.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017


One of the series of Color Band etchings by SOL LEWITT
A friend of mine is moving. She lived in a spacious apartment for several years but now she’ll be sharing a townhome with a partner who lived in his own -  but not-quite-so-spacious  - apartment.  “Two hearts may beat as one” as the song goes but two adults sharing a house bring mountains of stuff!

I was struck by how much prioritizing will be necessary when I visited mid-move and looked around at rooms full of HER domestic collections (his will arrive in a few days) and caught sight of a bookcase IN THE KITCHEN filled with cookbooks! They own a computer so why spare the energy, space and responsibility of owning cook books? Am I missing something?

Next will be the duplicates - wine bottle openers, brooms, coffee makers -  never mind the things that come with “history” or “sentimental attachments.”  Sharing life with a partner is hard; division of closets and shelves is HUGE.

Offset lithograph by CARMEN HERRERA
I believe in “less” (the Japanese concept is called ma - open space) but I always called it “clutter free.” Today nearly sixty books (I counted) are available through Amazon with titles like “The Joy of Less,” “The Everyday Minimalist,” “The Minimalist Mom: A Rich Life with Less Stuff” and one written by singer-songwriter Ani deFranco, “More Joy, Less Shame.” Add to the reading list blogs galore. Miss Minimalist is a list maker: “100 Things Don’t Own” (more than one credit card, T.V., desk chair, video or board games, not more than 35 kitchen items.) 

Formal minimalism is the cult of extreme simplicity. Its architectural roots grow from traditional Japanese design where light, form and obsessive attention to detail were cherished goals. Landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted was a minimalist. He envisioned grand, sweeping landscapes absent the fussiness of carefully manicured boxwood edges and cleverly clipped topiaries. And so were musicians John Cage and Phillip Glass.

In art, minimalism draws a straight line back to the Bauhaus and works by painter Piet Mondrian; it became a recognizable “ism” during the 1960s and 1970s. Minimalist painters aim to strip away all reference to metaphor and expressionism. To be achieved: equality of parts, shape repetition, and neutral surfaces (flat - no texture please).  Quite often a simple geometric shape (cube, square) are starting points for endless exploration. 

To the uninitiated, minimalist art seems “easy,” cold, mechanical. With a little more time, the work reveals itself as cerebral, based on mathematical suppositions and physiological responses. Go visit the pop up gallery on 1328 University Avenue throughout the month of June.  Art representative Deborah Ronnen shares her expertise and print collection in an exhibit called MINIMAL MOSTLY.  

The space, borrowed from a studio photographer, is perfectly lighted, appropriately nude of extraneous fluff and open to the public afternoons Thursday through Saturday.  If you are very lucky, Deborah herself may be in the gallery.  Few people in our area are as tuned in to this art form as Deborah; she’s been handling work from these artists - these print houses - for decades and visitors may take advantage of her encyclopedia of experience and knowledge just by asking a few questions. 

Meanwhile, to my moving friends:  “Do not own anything that you do not believe to be useful or beautiful.” William Morris  And prepare for the compromises - he loves that picture that was his mother’s and she won’t part with that ugly plate, a gift from a grandchild. 

(But you might want to give her most of the closet and he deserves more book shelves.)
screenprint by AGNES MARTIN
(These prints are representative of pieces on view at MINIMAL MOSTLY through June, 2017.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Hello Kitty/Virgin Mary
I never heard of Elsa Hansen Oldham but there she is, standing tall at 30 years old, in today’s special New York Times Style Magazine. I want to scream HOW DID SHE RATE THIS?  I’m pretty sure she’s very nice, very sweet and probably, most deserving of special NATION WIDE coverage for her talented…cross-stitching?   Says right here on page 82, “ her work… is gaining attention in the art world.” So they must know something. 

Ms. Oldham lives in Louisville, Kentucky, so there goes that theory, namely: anybody who lives and works in New York City has an unfair advantage on the path to art fame. She is, however, married to a musician and that may score a few extra points.  

Enough of that. About her art: Ms. Oldham makes cross stitch pictures of famous people, sometimes surrounded by tiny Atari-like characters, and other times, surrounded by super-significant figures from the personality’s life and experience. Apparently it matters who is paired with whom…Jimmy Buffett partnering with Hunter S. Thompson, Shelley Duvall and Coco Chanel, and Daniel Day-Lewis bedded into peopled scenes from productions he’s starred in. Some pairings - I confess - are pretty funny while others are simply head-scratchers.

Elsa has not one but TWO exhibits opening in New York in September which must be really stressful for her and all I can advise is “ Take an Advil. You’ll survive.”


Lucia LaVilla-Havelin, various stitchery techniques/antique postcard
It isn’t as though I don’t respect needlework. I do! And here are two artists I brag about with pride.

Lucia LaVilla-Havelin is one of Rochester’s own. Her husband Jim, a poet, worked in the education department of our art museum in the early 1980’s when I first opened Dawson Gallery. Lucia was one of the first artist whose work we “showcased” and I’m delighted to own one of those very early impossibly tiny stitched petit point broaches.  

stitchery and antique postcard on linen
She and Jim left Rochester over thirty years ago and live in Texas now but I keep up with Lucia and her changing work and am pleased to report that I still think she has something special going on in that artistic head of hers.  The newest pieces combining antique postcards and a combination of stitchery are full of nostalgia and humor and clever use of technical know-how. Here are a few illustrations.

antique postcard "Campsite"
I fell head-over-heels with Kathryn Clark’s “foreclosure quilts” the minute I saw them a few years back and when I read her back story, I was even more smitten.  Kathryn was educated as a civic planner and architect and turned to fabric as her art medium of choice.  I’m not the only one who recognized the foreclosure quilts as something special; the Smithsonian now owns one of these pieces installed in its permanent collection at the Renwick.

Disappearing Aquifer
Now Kathryn is embroiled in the tradegy of migrants and war-torn refugees of the middle east. These new fiber pieces have grown in size but then, they are tackling a global catastrophy which requires some space. Her committment to her art is commendable; her commiseration with the issues of the voiceless is more than that. I bow to her courage and her talent. 

(detail/stitchery on Tyvek)

Idiom Series (an older piece but I love its minimalism)

Sunday, April 16, 2017


My beloved brother died last week.  We were born nearly four years apart and even after both our parents died, Tom stayed close to his Oklahoma roots while I radically pruned, discarded and moved away from that place and sad history.

After adulthood, with two thousand miles separating us, we rarely saw one another but I am grateful for the late-night hours of conversational therapy we had on rare face-to-face visits and that he found Cindy, the perfect foil for his curmudgeonly facade.

Mostly, I am grateful for the computer age that allowed us to continue sharing: reviews of books, movies, music sometimes and always politics! How will I keep up with the insane goings on in Oklahoma without his wry reports? And which books to read next? Whom can I ask “Remember the neighbor down the street who gave us popcorn balls at Halloween? Remember that actor who was in that play we saw that one time when you were visiting? Remember when we rode the train from Montana to Texas and I was 13 and in charge and you were 9 and didn’t listen to me?…” 

“Remember?”  That’s the question I can never ask anybody again because nobody was there besides Tom.
“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
Naomi Shihab Nye from her poem “Kindness”

Spring! Greenery and flowers and sunshine…and elderly men in Washington D.C. making decisions to curtail medical care for women here and abroad. What’s wrong with this picture?

I grimace to think of the options left to women when professional medical care is beyond reach but it’s nothing new. Women since the time of Eve turned to plants for remedies for menstral pain, barenness, abortion.

New Zealand photographer Ann Shelton, after reading extensively about the organic world of female medicine, co-ordinated efforts with ikebana masters who used medicinal plants in beautiful floral arrangements which Ms. Shelton then photographed.  These are lush with color, elegant in every respect and sometimes, as deadly as a direct knife to an unborn embryo.  The exhibition is titled “Jane Says.” I don’t know exactly what the title means.  More research required?  We may need to know more - a lot more!
I am leaving plants unnamed for your own protection.

Meanwhile, half way around the world in Dallas, Texas, Norm Diamond goes to household sales.  (Doesn’t everybody?) And just like the rest of us sale-goers, he was struck by the intimate objects left for strangers to paw through, consider and take away as their own regardless of the meaning or history embued by the former - and rightful? - owner.

Mr. Diamond began taking photographs (leaving behind the flotsam and only taking away the photographs - there’s a deep moral message here!). The results are in an exhibition and book titled “What Is Left Behind.”

(Again…I consider photography to be a truly democratic art form.)

(Doesn't this picture break your heart?)

Sunday, April 2, 2017


"I", 2011, mixed media sculpture by African-AmericanBrenna Youngblood
My brother is sick. As teen agers, we were orphaned but I, the older, escaped into academics and an early marriage while he, four years younger, was left to swim out the other side without much of a life jacket.A dear friend is recovering from serious surgery. Another is threading through the process of self re-acquaintance after surviving a debilitating stroke. Me? There are days like today when arthritis in my shoulders make combing my hair an olympic event.

I’m soaking up episodes of “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix - a series featuring two women in their 70s with a basketful of troubles and unplanned for situations who confront all with charm and wit. In the episode I just finished, Frankie has a mild stroke and discovers it isn’t her first. She laments that the knowledge changes everything - her life, how those around her respond, how she herself responds! She begs the question that we all ask sometimes. When is intimate information helpful and when are we best left in the dark?

We are all rusting like old cars. Now what? Diagnosed with a fatal illness? Isn’t everybody?  You just have more information than the rest of us. Sure -  eat well, exercise lots, sleep soundly, love truly. And while the body says “no,” the spirit says “what the f…! I will if I want to.” (But I’m giving away the hair dryer and curling iron.)

A painting by abstract expressionist Richard Diebenkorn
Troubling times.  No ordinary President. Where did statesmanship go?Remember those Bible verses? “Care for the least of these…” When did we get so mean - so stingy?  So today when I read:
To sin by silence when we should protest, makes cowards out of 
men. (Elda Wheeler Wilcox, 1914)
and: My silences had not protected me.  Your silence will not  protect 
you.  (Rachael Carson)
and: Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion and you can say ‘I don’t 
know.’ (Richard Diebenkorn
The words seemed especially relevant. I pass them along.

This is the Chinese Year of the Rooster.  (Just thought you should know.) 
A parklet is often an adorable public gathering/resting area typically carved from parking spaces or under-utilized parts of streetscapes.
The idea began as an experiment in 2005 in SanFrancisco with a single parking space.

This photograph of the newest public art park is sitting outside the Mighty-O-Donuts shop in Seattle; it’s the 9th parklet in Seattle. It was paid for through “crowdsourcing funds” which I hardly understand but I guess it’s a “thing” these days - with some additional funds from a grant from the Department of Neighborhoods.  While this parklet clearly has a history on the water (it’s an old boat - get it?), the design was helped along by architect David Squires.  

Parklet, the Mighty-O, Seattle, Washington

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


A Kindergarten with vertical colored exterior tubes
I thought to write about architecture.  I’ll try to stay on topic but my mind is wandering (wondering?) into everybody else’s backyard.  My nose pricks at the possibilities.  But here goes.

The 2017 Pritzker Prize for Architecture was awarded to a trio of Spanish architects that nobody ever heard of before and there is some hope that this signals the end of “starchitecture.”  

I’ve loved good architecture always but I’ve come to have serious concerns about the field after walking through too many buildings that are all about “look at me” and not enough about “how do I make you feel and how do you relate to people while you’re here.”  A good building should lift one’s spirits and incite delight. Architect and writer Susan Susanka “gets” it. Read her small house books - popular long before “small” became fashionable. 

Anyway, Rafael Aranda, Carne Pigem and Ramon Vilatla (RCR Arquitectes) use a lot of recycled material which I always applaud. Their buildings are simple shapes and here are a few photographs of award winners.
art center  built inside castle walls
RCR Arquitectes, Winners of 2017 Pritzker Prize 

Meanwhile, across the globe, Banksy - remember him? He’s the British satirical graffiti artist who works under cover of night and anonymity to comment of social and political ills.  His tongue-in-cheek talent turned to designing The Walled Off Hotel.  The hotel was finished in secret by Palestinians in Bethlehem only a few feet away from the west bank barrier wall commonly called the Apartheid Wall.  You can actually stay overnight in a Bunker for $30 a night - after putting up a $1000 security deposit. 

Tongue-in-cheek? Bullet in head! I saw headlines about the hotel opening in several news sources; I didn’t hear anything about how hard reservations  are to get. Aside: Charlie Booker and Diane Shakespeare , art critics, write about Banksy “(he) glorifies what is essentially vandalism; his work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots.” Hmmm…I’m not the only person who isn’t totally sold on graffiti art it seems.
Room with painted mural
Guest room in the bunker
Tamara Kostianovsky is from Argentina and immigrated to Philadelphia in 2000 to study art.  Shortly after she arrived, the international market for pesos dropped through the rabbit hole and she found herself too poor to purchase art materials so she turned to what she already owned:  clothing, towels, upholstery bits.  From these she fashioned sculpture - specifically weird dead birds - in a statement about consumerism and the environment.
An exhibit of her work is on view at Y Gallery, New York, until the end of March.  (Yes, these pictures of her sculpture are all made of cloth. No real birds were harmed.)