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.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017


The Little Library competition, Italian entry
Have you noticed those little boxes sitting atop posts in some neighborhoods, what at first look like mail boxes but not?  These might be “Little Free Libraries.” The first one was built in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin.  Todd Bol placed a birdhouse sized box full of books on top of a post on his lawn, shared his idea with partner Rick Brooks and the rest (as the cliche says) is history.

Little Free Libraries became a nonprofit organization in 2012, quickly won all kinds of kudos from such places as the Library of Congress and today, there are more than 50,000 of these small weathertight boxes standing on neighborhood lawns throughout 70 countries. 

What good idea couldn’t stand a little improvement?  Last year, the American Institute of Architects opened a competition for designers from around the globe to design unique “little libraries.”  The containers had to appeal to both kids and grown ups, could be any size, shape or form, but be equipped with lights. 300 submissions poured in from 40 countries; the first place winner was a four foot oval that holds forty books, designed by a firm in London. 

Here are two entires that did not win - one from Italy and the other from China.  For information on how to become a part of this effort, go to their web site at littlefreelibraries.org


Little Library competition entry, China
Collage: a technique of art production where the artwork is made from piecing together smaller sections of a variety of materials, affixing these to a backing (canvas, paper, wood) to create an entirely new art “picture.” 

I love collage…I love quilts which I include in collage…I love the combination of materials that popped up in sculpture 30 or more years ago.
It’s always thrilling to discover new artists whose work is fresh - especially if they work in this genre.

Check out David Shrobe’s collage exhibit (hyperallergic.com) and read the description by Seph Rodney “…elements in his works that are evocative of other artists, like flavor notes I recognize for having tasted them before in other wines.”
(Don't you love that " flavor notes I’ve tasted before" bit?)

Collage by David Shrobe
Detail of another David Shrobe collage
Gina Adams is a descendant of John Adams, part American Indian and a working artist. She’s turned antique quilts, purchased at flea markets, into subversive folk art.

Adams was caught up in news of the Dakota pipe line protests and spent time looking up past treaties the U.S. government struck with Native American Tribes.  She hand-cut calico letters repeating these abandoned promises and appliqu├ęd them to the quilts in a spiraling maze of meaning/history.  A solo exhibition of her art is on view at Colorado’s Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.   

Broken Promises quilt installation, Naropa University

Broken Treaty Quilt: Fort Laramie (detail) by Gina Adams

Sunday, February 19, 2017


PAX KAFFRARIA (a series of paintings created between 2007 - 2011) is the title of the installation at Memorial Art Gallery; the artist is Botswana-born Meleko Mokgosi.

As I walked through the exhibit at last night’s opening, I couldn’t help remembering ANOTHER BROOKLYN, a novel written by Jacqueline Woodson.  Her story is loosely tied together through a series of vignettes - a young girl’s biography strained from the soup of memories.  It is poetry as memory - or memory as poetry.
Mokgosi’s paintings felt much the same - snippets of memory loosely placed together on huge canvases.  

Do you remember in elementary school or Sunday School as a kid working on story boards?  Figures - people, objects, animals - would “stick” whoever you placed them on the flannel covered board and could be removed and re-applied endlessly.  This was “storyboarding” long before any of us associated that term with cinema. 

That’s what Mokgosi’s canvases remind me of. Figures  - nearly life-sized - float in negative space over wall-sized canvases with sometimes a hint of scenic content (a veranda, a segment of fencing) but most often stranded in mid-air. Like paper dolls, felt backed costumes could be interchanged to further the time and place on flannel storyboards and just so, costuming is equally important to establish time, place and caste in Mokgosi's art.  

In PAX KAFFRARIA, Mokgosi attempts to tell the story of South Africa,  particularly post-1950 after the Population Registration Act when the country’s population was divided and registered into 4 groups - white, natives, coloreds and Indians.  It’s a history of xenophobic attacks on black foreigners, injustice and struggling national identity.

Is he successful? In whose terms? Is Mokgosi a gifted painter technically? Does that matter if the ideas behind the paintings are strong enough to carry the viewer into the maker’s hemisphere? This is a young painter working at a time when the art world is entranced by political statement work - no subject more so than the politics of African experience.  What does this mean for a life-time career?  Is it important to ask these questions at all or is the only thing that matters this: the gallery looked smashing last night.  The place was crowded with a young, diverse audience. Some were even looking at the art! 

(The exhibition runs a Memorial Art Gallery until May 7, 2017.  Another panel of the same series is on view at Rochester Contemporary Art Center.)

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Does each generation of elders think “This is the end! Life as we know it is on the brink of destruction! I’m glad I won’t be around to see the cataclysm!”?  

In PASSAGES, her book on adult development, Gail Sheehy proclaimed the twenties as the time for “breaking away” - a necessary decade of emotional upheaval before finally allowing the individual to stand alone without the crutches of childhood. 

Are the ancient decades - the seventies and eighties - another version of tearing away from the life we’ve known - a preparation for our next passage, the ultimate lonely jump? 

We expect the twenty-somethings to act out, gyrate from wanting total independence back to needing - metaphorically and sometimes, actually - parental protection. By the end of this transformative decade, we hope that our teenager will be an adult ready to take responsibilities of a grown-up. 

Now I am in the epicenter of the aging years and I swing far into despair and it’s often hard finding the counter-swing back to optimism. And for good reason. In the face of the uprising of horrid movements (fascism, nationalism, white supremacy), for self-preservation, I have nearly stopped watching and reading news reports. I make telephone calls to congresspeople and write Senators and sign petitions but when the votes are taken, it feels as though the side of reason loses anyway.  It doesn’t seem to matter; more to the point, I don’t matter!

Jay Griffiths writes in her piece on Today’s Politics of Hate for Aeon Magazine: 

Fascism begins as something in the air, stealthy as smoke in the
dark. It likes propaganda, dislikes truth and invests heavily in 
performance. It is anti-intellectual and champions a Darwinian 
survival of the nastiest: “Might is Right.”  It detests the natural 
world (biophobia), adores machines and considers 
environmentalism as “Public Enemy #1.

Sound familiar? 

But what if identifying the disease is the first step to returning to cultural health? Is that what this is all about? Then I am among the luckiest generation - a front row seat in the arena of seismic change!  The lion tamers are among us.  Don’t you sense a community growing? Do you notice yourself stopping and talking to people whose aura tells you they need acknowledging just as much as you? Do you see expanding empathy? Does it surprise you that more and more people are talking about getting involved in - anything!? Everywhere I go I sense less hand-wringing and more determination - an “enough is enough” attitude.  

Fascism may begin as something colorless and odorless but I’m betting that it’s counter-weight is blowing right alongside.  I may indeed be an old crank, forever looking in the rear view mirror. My eyes are not what they once were but my perspective is better and I’m not turning over the car keys just yet.   

But seriously, couldn’t the anti-fascist army wear something besides those revolting pink hats?

A few Cy Twombly paintings. If you happen to find yourself in Paris before Feb. 18, go see his exhibit at the Gargosian Gallery. I would volunteer to go with you but my calendar is full all next week.

Friday, January 27, 2017


People running art organizations sit around most of the time wondering how to explain the divide between the art community and the American public. How do we get attendance up? How do we attract minorities? millenials? How to shake the money tree?  And now - facing abolition of the National Endowment for Arts -  how do we convince Washington to continue support?   

 Results of a recent marketing study conducted by the research firm of YouGov PLC have just been released. The study was conducted last November, 2016. 1,105 American adults took part and here are some statistics to consider.

82% of Americans don’t know who painted “The Girl With the Pearl Earring” (I guess they didn’t see the movie. Answer: Vermeer)

42% couldn’t name Grant Woods “American Gothic” (This is unclear to me. They couldn’t name the painter? or the painting?)

1 in 14 believe that art is too pretentious and they “don’t belong in/of/by the art world”  

4% buy art regularly (WHAT?!  Where? Walmart doesn’t count.)

85% of those who buy art say they will spend $500.  (I think that means their ceiling limit.)

Chip and I spent the past several months working through years of art left behind in one of Rochester’s premier senior residencies. My job: separate the good from the bad, re-install the good and give a ballpark estimate of its value.  This artwork was purchase by some of our cities leading citizens - doctors, lawyers, academics, judges.  

We sorted through and donated over 400 pieces of art - pictures that were so bad that they shouldn’t be re-hung in the renovated facility. Over 200 abandoned pieces of art were kept and added to another 200 or so owned by current tenants and re-installed in public corridors.  Of the 400, my guess is that perhaps fewer than twenty (20!) have any value at all.  Mostly what is installed is the work of hobbyists, pieces purchased at local outdoor art shows or from sidewalk vendors during vacations.

I’ve always considered Rochester to be a sophisticated “art city.” This experience has proved exactly the opposite. Fit this together with the research results and the picture is one of continuing failure.

Winston Churchill, when told during WWII that arts funding should be cut, said “Then what are we fighting for?”  But I think we’ve lost that war.
John Byam was born in 1929 in Oneonta, New York.  He spent his entire life in Oneonta except for a couple of years in Korea (he was in the U.S. Army). 

John came back home to Oneonta after Korea, became a grave digger and in his spare time, whittled. These small carved wood pieces were autobiographical.  One might wonder - with such limited world experience - what interesting biography John drew upon but on examination, there are various tools, machines, lots of army related equipment and a collection of space ships. (1950s movie-type space ships)

Like so many untrained naive artist, these carvings stayed in his house until 2012 when the State University of New York, Oneonta Campus, exhibited his sculptures in their art gallery. They were “discovered” and exhibited in a New York Gallery in 2013; John died shortly after.

The Andrew Edlin Gallery in Manhattan has a solo exhibit of John’s whittling now on view until February 26, 2017. Not bad for a grave digger.

And speaking of graves…I wrote some time ago about ceramic artists who were designing for the morbid market but here’s a new slant on “everlasting life.”

For a mere $3500, Vinyly, a U.K. company owned by Jason Leach, will take the your ashes or those of a loved one, press them to produce a vinyl record.  Their motto:  “Live on from beyond the groove.”  For another small sum, artist James Hague will mix whatever ash parts are left into paint for the portrait he will paint as your custom record cover.

I don’t know if you can actually play this on your record player (does anyone still have one of those?) and  I wonder if you can choose the song - like picking your casket? - or if you take one from their Top 10 Hits? Good grief!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


the Comfort Woman Statue
During World War II, the Japanese invading armies forced Korean women into camps as sex slaves.  The humiliation and abuse they endured were beyond imagining.  Called “Comfort Women,” the women who survived were shunned by their communities and families after the war and lived out their lives in shame as permanent outcasts. 

The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery  by Japan was formed in the early 1990s and began what became called the Wednesday Demonstrations. After nearly 20 years, at a Wednesday Demonstration in 2011, Yeongiong Kim proposed a work of art subsequently built by Unseong Kim and Seogyeong Kim.  A 51 inch tall statue of a Comfort woman - a girl wearing a simple blouse and skirt with short hair and folded hands in her lap sitting in a straight backed chair -  was installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in South Korea. 

In 2015, Japan paid $8.3 million in reparations to be divided among the still-living 46 women.  

(Korean women were put into sexual service again in the South/North Korean conflict when the country was invaded by U.S. and United Nations servicemen.  The South Korean government is suing both U.S. and U.N. forces for a total of $1.2 million in reparations.  The klinker in this deal is that the South Korean government cooperated with the prostitution.  The women were taught english, given courses in etiquette and regularly tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases by their own government.)

The Council for Women requires a formal apology from Japan to put the sordid history to rest but that hasn’t come.  Instead, the art piece named the Statue of Peace remains in place outside the Japanese Embassy. An irate Japan has pulled out of economic talks with south Korea in counter protest.   

Comfort Woman statues have now been installed in cities where there are large populations of Korean immigrants -   one is in Bergen Co., New Jersey, another is in Glendale, California - and have become a symbol of war abused women worldwide.

Neither the U.S. nor the U.N. has responded to the Council for Women or the South Korean activists charges.

High School Art, banned by U.S. Congress
Meanwhile for any of my blog readers who also are Facebook friends, you know from my posts this week about the brouhaha in Congress over a high school senior’s painting - one of 435 pieces selected competitively from teen art works nationwide and given the honor of hanging for one year in a congressional hallway.  The young artist who painted the controversial piece lives in St. Louis and painted a street scene where chaos, mayhem, violence and racism reign.  Two central police figures are depicted with animal heads as they appear to shoot an unarmed black … a wolf in human clothes? …while another police officer (white) looks to be pulling a black male back and into safety. 

If left alone probably no one would ever have noticed this painting….after all, one painting hanging among 435 is hard to put into the limelight unless you happen to be a proud parent or grandparent in which case, you will imagine your art genius at center stage.

But a congressman intent on having his 15 minutes of fame on FOX News, pulled the painting off the wall and announced that it was anti-police, Black-Lives-Matter propaganda. The painting hit the big time - national 6 o’clock news. Within hours, the Republican led Congress proclaimed that the painting would be removed permanently.

I am sick. As an adult, instead of casting this painting as a portrait of disrespect, I feel humiliation and rage that a teen living in my country confronts this neighborhood every day.  His viewpoint is unique and valid and if the point of art is to show the human condition, he has hit the sad reality smack in the face for many urban children.

Comfort Women=war casualties. Urban black children=war casualties. Art can point the finger, can make us squirm on the hot seat of our conscious and I can only hope that it can play a role in bringing about …not revenge but a bit of justice - maybe monetary reparation along with a heartfelt apology. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Public art leaves an itch in the back of my brain that I can’t quite reach.  Today a public art discussion must include art used as  placemaking strategy - when it works, when it doesn’t and why.

(Placemaking: purposefully using art or architecture to emboss a particular geographic space in a way so as to instill pride of place, uniqueness and memorability among its visitors and users.)

I’ve served on panels, written articles and even made speeches about this “perfect storm” and still, I confess, I’m no closer to answering some basic questions. Does the practice of placemaking diminish artists’ creativity and art-making? Do artists give up one goal to make another one more attractive - especially when committees, space planners, corporate buyers or patrons are involved? Is public art no more than a product? 

If you follow my blog at all, you already know that I hate painted murals…except sometimes.  I have no time for those huge paintings that interchangeably deface the world’s dilapidated factory districts.  They seem dishonest, generic - without soul.  I’d rather leave the aging structures alone, no matter how ungracefully they break apart. 

On the other hand, I wrote a while back about the painted oranges that sprang up on building surfaces in Dunedin, Florida, a small town known historically as the place where the Orange Belt Railway began. The murals were painted in secret; spontaneously plotted, the artists remained anonymous. Had the project been planned as a mechanism for placemaking with committees, art judging commissions, etc., would it have worked? Why or why not? (My answer: maybe.)

An orange mural in Dunedin, Fl, photo:  Elizabeth Agte
This is public art filling a market-driven goal - whether the artists intended that or not.  Is this ultimately the unspoken but understood placemaking objective?

The Troutman Chair Company is in Statesville, North Carolina, a small town just north of Charlotte. They’ve been in the business of making classic rocking chairs since 1924. 

In 1997, the Charlotte airport installed a temporary photography exhibit called “Porchsitting” and borrowed a few rocking chairs to use as props.  It took hardly any time to realize that travelers were drawn to these chairs. Porches, rocking chairs are all part of the southern idiom. Now there are more than 100 Troutman rockers in the Charlotte airport; people sit, rock and watch planes come and go - or other passengers. This is “placemaking.” Is it also public art?

Troutman Rocking Chairs, Charlotte, N.C. airport
(How many other airports have you been in that now have rocking chairs without ever questioning the historic significance behind the Charlotte decision? The spreading infection of “homey” rocking chairs from Alaska to Texas turn all airports into friendlier places - at least, that’s the airport management intent.)   

Public art can evolve organically (10 painted oranges became hundreds) and placemaking can be an accident of marketing (the first Troutman Chairs used as display in a very public place.) 

Next week’s blog posting:  art used as public conscious.  When does art cross the line? With so much emphasis on public correctness, can art address one event/memory and be both honorable and objectionable simultaneously?