Sunday, April 23, 2017

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE NEEDLE

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.  

Oscars
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.”

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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 BROTHER DIED LAST WEEK


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.
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“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”
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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.

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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

YEAR OF THE ROOSTER

"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.)

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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.

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This is the Chinese Year of the Rooster.  (Just thought you should know.) 
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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 MISHMASH (AGAIN!)



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 

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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.
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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

A MASH UP

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

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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

MELEKO MOKGOSI AT MEMORIAL ART GALLERY

PAX KAFFRARIA 
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

A POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE



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?

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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.