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Archive for the ‘criticism’ Category

David Benjamin Sherry

I am concerned that photography is dying. It’s both being whittled away, distilled into an essence that is revealing way too much about the mediums short-comings and at the same time it’s being suffocated by its own proliferation. Film and hand printing is all but an old craft still practiced by people keeping a tradition alive and recording reality is finally ( a myth anyways ) dead.

The more I look around at photography I am concerned that its limitations are that it can be really unoriginal. I see a whole lot of photography that looks the same. Cliche rules being followed and subject matters being examined. I mean I get it we all get old spend time in nursing homes or are little girls growing up and the pains of life. You know, moody light through a window on a quiet still life slice of life weird picture of Mother Mary on the wall or dried flowers, or close-ups of feet or wrinkled hands. Better yet perfect symmetry of suburban homes with manicured bushes or foreclosed homes set up with the clinical exacting  precision of the Beckers.

On the flip side artists like David Benjamin Sherry create strange moments of bizarre-ity with color and penises. The images are new and just weird enough that I stop for a moment. But then I’m left like a piece of Topps waxpack gum. Trying really hard to keep chewing the hard dense quickly solidifying treat going. There is a quick burst of goodness but it fades and then your left with a tasteless lump of filler. Photography that tries to push boundaries seems so hollow. I applaud the effort and I like the newness of such images but perhaps because we’ve reached the end of the line with the medium these last-ditch efforts really have torn off photography’s skin to reveal a tiny little alien peddling super hard to keep the behemoth running.

I love traditional photography but feel like it is just too easy to replicate. It is so utterly unoriginal and suffocating under the pure weight of its own production. Much like Warhol’s endless repetitions just look at Flickr or various blogs and find thousands of people in essence making the same pictures.

On the flip side I am also quickly starting to loath photography’s lazy conceptual “new me” of strange appropriations, meaningless juxtapositions and rotted log hollowness.

So what do I want? I don’t know. What is photography’s next move? Perhaps it has run the same course has painting at the end of modernism. I’m optimistic for   truly original artists to continue to make great work. Just like painting has come back in even better ways both figurative in Dana Schutz, landscape in Lisa Sanditz, abstraction in Gianna Comitto. Photographers like Amy Stein and Daniel Gordon will lead the way in finding meaning and originality in a medium of infinite derivation.

Daniel Gordon

Amy Stein

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Hey everybody I have been following Shaheen’s show choices for a while now and every time they seem to knock it out da park.  Plus I think they like painting, and I like painting. And they like painters that I like. Anyways, you get the picture.

Their newest show is no exception. It’s a relatively small and kind of quiet exhibition of graphite drawings from Charles Kanwischer. Kanwischer just got hired to teach drawing at Bowling Green when I was graduating. My mentor teacher Lynn Whitney knew Charlie from Yale and he came highly recommended. Unfortunately my drawing credits were already fulfilled, all I had left was my thesis and a gym credit-yuck-so I never got to study with him. I remember his presentation when he was hired and thinking that his drawings where meticulously incredible.

Well 10 years later I am seeing them in a gallery. What are my thoughts…hmmmm. Each piece is relatively small, no bigger than 12 x 18 in I would imagine, maybe 16 x 20.  Graphite on gessoed board I think and painstakingly rendered with, at very close proximity perhaps with a loop, a delicate motion. You can kind of see small little hypnotic swirls. A sort of perfection of mark making insanity. The marks of graphite drawn over and over and over at varying pressures create a seemless gradient of tone and turn the once blank white board into a moody wispy value rich image. His technique to me is the drawing equivalent to a drum circle. Relentless repetition of controled motion.

So what does all this craftsmanship make? Banal images of urban sprawl. Somewhat of a “used” subject matter but Charlie, after some careful consideration, I think makes something different. He is clearly referencing photography. Each picture has a 1 inch white border that makes the black and white picture appear to be a silver gelatin print. Especially with the diverse range of value he achieves. They look at first glance like if Edward Steichen lived today in Waterville, out in the country. Moody, vaseline lensed, pictorial impressions. So why doesn’t he just take a picture are my immediate thoughts. But then I think about what I wrote just a paragraph before. If medium is the message then there is real tension between this painstaking craft of graphite rendering and the callousness of urban sprawl. This tearing the land a new a-hole if you will, fast and hard, throw up some houses with very little thought or craft and a slow contemplative drawing style to me really symbolizes reflection on ones surroundings. Perhaps we should  all sit down and think a little more.

I do recommend this show, and I do highly recommend Shaheen Contemporary. It is a great space with great art.  Just pay your meter if you plan on going. I thought for sure 20 minutes would be good. Wrong. Great art with great gallery workers whom I talked to for a long time = parking ticket. Oh well, it was worth it.

Charles Kanwischer: Recent Drawings
June 18, 2010 – July 30, 2010

Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art
740 West Superior Avenue, Suite 101
Cleveland, Ohio 44113

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I was checking out a NYC summer group show recap slide show at Artinfo.com and I came upon this great locker sculpture from an exhibition at the Gladstone Gallery. The show titled Mass Ornament was inspired by the writings of the early 20th century German writer and cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer. I didn’t see clearly many of the other works in the show and frankly if I was in New York I’d check it out. But what did stand out to me was in the forefront of the photo on artinfo. What really hit me is the locker wrapped up with two or three ratcheting belt straps. The kind boaters or truck drivers use to secure cargo. To operate the belts there is a lever that when ratcheted back and forth the belt is slowly drawn together and tightened up.

The work alone with the colorful blue and yellow straps against the cool slick gray metal surface of the lockers is interesting enough. But what the artist has done is tightened the belts so that the lockers have actually been crushed and collapsed at the ends of the row. It is a beautiful exercise. The balance of minimalism, squares of the lockers, lines of the straps and the shear exercise of force upon the metal. There is real tension in this piece. I can just hear the slow ratcheting and  the tinny bending of the metal. Like the sound in the movies when a car is teetering on the edge of a cliff right before it goes over. Creaky-creak.

The work at once is quiet and unassuming yet full of energy and tension. I also like how the two end lockers have sacrificed themselves under the pressure and the middle ones seem to remain unharmed. Engineering, physics, art, poetry. I love it. Except I wish I could give credit but because I am here and not there, and Gladstone has no mention of names in reference to actual pieces I have no idea who made it. If you know fill me in. It’s a great work, either way.

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Impoderabilia and Damien Hirst-the master of the object

It’s a strange world artists finds themselves in these days navigating an art history that is so diverse.  Basically what time has done is define avenues, most are paved now with the pushing of previous generations hard work and innovation. Conceptual roads, once dirt and overgrown are now pretty well beaten. Streets like performance art, body art, happenings, and experience. We’ve successfully created a genre for just about anything that anybody wants to call art can call art, backed by some sort of history to prop up the reasoning behind approaching a subject in a particular manner. You can pretty much do anything.

With the success of Tino Seghal’s Guggenheim show and locally  like the Plain Dealers article on the new programing at Spaces, its clear that the object isn’t necessarily the means to the end.

The problem with experience based art, besides the fact that many casual art seekers are turned off by it-just read the comments section on the Marina Abramovic MOMA review on the Huffington Post- is that it is hard to pull off.  Performance work a lot of the times is the most esoteric form of art already and people shut down.

Take for instance the Abramovic piece  Impoonderabilia where gallery goers have to walk through a doorway that has 2 naked people, originally I think her and her husband Ulay,  statuesque standing in it and facing each other. As a viewer you have to participate and face your fear and confront the cultural taboo of nakedness and touching by squeezing through the bodies in the doorway. The piece elicits all types of emotion. Based on your thoughts, feelings and your cultural upbringing, you could be nervous, excited or you could get off on it. Either way it is a head on, direct, powerful and gutsy work of art. An experience that is remembered, impacting and done with nothing more than the human body and a doorway. There are a lot of paintings that are labored over for months with hundreds of dollars in materials that don’t have that impact.

Just as Ambramovic piece is powerful there are dozens others that just fall flat or are lost to too much art speak or lack of execution. The Sehgal show seems to have a good concept, I haven’t seen it but what I’ve read and seen videos of, the ascending walk up the Guggenheim spiral while being probed by various escorts make you as a viewer  be forced to think about life and yourself is well thought out. If you are willing to participate you have to delve into meaning and may discover things about yourself and life you never knew. The very thing a successful 2d or 3d object based piece should do. However,  the choreographed make out session in the lobby could be a hit or miss. I understand the idea but I’d have to see it.  We all can’t be Yoko Ono or born with true fluxus blood. So for me an art “experience” is an extremely risky endeavor.

What I think a common problem is that with a painting or photograph, the attempt can be appreciated on superficial levels so people who may not delve into the concept of a work of art can go through the motions of art viewing. For many just going and walking by “art” on the walls is the experience. Not much thought is given to why or what. So bang, that’s it, hey I saw some art this weekend, it was what I know,  a picture in a frame on a wall. But performance art strips that away and forces the viewer directly into the concept in new ways. No bull shit. Plastic arts can exist on many levels with many not digging too deep to understand what a painting is what it is or a photo is the way it was shot. Traditional methods, even the most controversial, can be consumed with little confrontation.

In the long run, objects and or experience, for me, I’m open to both. But still I’ll always be an object guy, I like to make things. I like to see handmade things by engaged artists. But its clear now that parallel to plastic arts, performance art, or art experience, a hybrid of theater and writing and philosophy is a well blazed trail with modern-day practitioners adding to the 60’s/70’s anti object revolution.

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Jen Davis

Akron native, Yale grad and now NYC dwelling photographer Jen Davis is making some seriously exciting and provocative work.  I recently came to know her work through the Verses show that was on at Hous Projects in New York. A cleverly curated exhibition of photography that matches up photographers who were well established vs emerging artists who follow in similar aesthetic or conceptual ways. A passing of the baton if you will or maybe a look at influence? Either way the work looks great and the talent is top-notch.

Jens earlier work revolved around self portraiture and takes on stereotypes of the body and body image.  Her images revolve around I assume body image and navigating a world of idealised body types as someone who, like most, don’t have the ideal body. But its not self loathing. Her photographs address the sensuosness of skin and show in a confident way her beauty. However not without struggle and confusion the work is a complete story of a human and to be human. It’s compassionate and cathartic. Each picture shows so much more of a person who may struggle with his/her body or with life in general. More than what society may dismiss.

What I like more is her new work that is a documentation of online interaction. The moments in the chatroulette, webcam diptychs are always isolated but at the same time sensual, tender, quiet. Ironically all the emotions 2 people would have in an intimate relationship only without touching or actually being together. It’s weird and relevent and sad but none the less true as we as a culture interact more and more virtually.

Jen seems to really be a humanist who is trying to navigate a cold, disconnected world. Creating emotion, sensuality and life in an age of ideals, brutal expectations and digital worlds. It’s great work and she is a real talent.

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Stratham

Saturday was an eventful day in Cleveland art and it also was my first class as a newly enrolled student at the Plum Academy. I transferred from being homeschooled in the arts, generally practicing artistic visual and verbal witchcraft in my garage, to a film watching dialogue engaging cultural participant. It was the PA’s goal of course to transform passive observers into active participants at ole Plum U.  And tonight I was transformed.

I, after battling for a parking spot on the Superior Viaduct against hundreds of Bridge Project goers, made it to class on time and filed into my chair to hear Deborah Stratman an acclaimed multi-discipline artist who also teaches at the School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discuss and screen 2 recent film projects. The first being an interesting abstract mix of black and white grainy shadowy ameoba and nihilistic quotes about how boring life is that took your mind to dark corners of wonder and contemplation of the meaning of life and whether there is more to it all. I was left with the thought “If that’s all there is….then lets keep dancing…” It was short and fast paced like those kind of thoughts that dash in and out of the mind. Like do we go somewhere after we die or is this really it? Are there ghosts? The dark is scary either physically or metaphorically, darkness is unknown.

Picture 1The second film titled O’er the Land is a methodical and perfectly curated collection of scenes that brought together the zeitgeist of America and the concept of Freedom in a poignant and awesome way.  A film that brought together the civil war, high school football, military training, machine gun festivals all marked with pensive quiet moments of nature, the awe of the quiet and sublime. Nature out does man every time in power and glory. Yet that wasn’t the punch line, there was no punchline rather a reflective rhetorical presentation that opened more questions that it does answer. The film was ironic and humourous in its sheer truth and obscurity, like the civil war reenactments that at first seem like it meant to be about the civil war itself but then when it cut to golf carts and an ambulance with civil war players standing idle off the battlefield the scene is clearly about the reenactment. The ambulance there to help just in case some one gets hurt while “playing war”.

The movie, slow at times and pensive with Ansel Adams or Joel Sternfeld like framing. The production was as much about photography and referenced  past greats artists who have equally tried to define it. Fox Talbot, Adams, Sternfeld all marked manifest destiny in their own way at their time. Stratman dips into that historic bag in her approach .Each shot was tripod-ed and chosen like the way a photographer would use a view camera. She then  let the drama play out in the frame like a Harry Potter painting, truly a moving picture. The pictures were enhanced with the sounds and quotes.  They added complexity to the story.

The piece was great, better than any linear narrative because it took you to so many places yet with an underlying cohesiveness. The cathartic nature of the film at times was absurd with the documentation of the machine gun festival in Knob Creek Kentucky showing a sign that exclaimed, Machine Gun Rentals here. But ultimately was enlightening without judgement.  The players in the film were real and honest.

What I took away most from the film was not my admitted disgust with weaponry because that was an internal judgment when seeing the footage of gun-toting and not the aim of the film, was the story of Lt Col William Rankin. It was what I thought to be the underpinning and vehicle for the film. His story, about ejecting from a plane at 47,000 feet and his ensuing 45 minute drop back down to earth and survival through extreme temperatures and a raging storm, was to me, the point.  It was the question of being. Of as Rankin explains, surviving because of training. It was a great juxtaposition of the awe of nature and of our minds and bodies and spirits. It was a culmination of age old questions about existence. The scene was moving and riveting.

O’er the Land really  was the finest in what art can do. It gives you feelings and challenges views and is poetic with a message, it presents everything and nothing at the same time.  It has a clear agenda but the funny thing is your left with only a feeling and your mind reeling with its own questions and thoughts. If you get a chance to see it, do it. It’s on par with Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi in its poetic probing of american culture and psyche.

It has made a prestigious run through many film festivals including Sundance and Cannes. Here are a few links for some more info and Stratmans other works.

http://festival.sundance.org/2009/film_events/films/oer_the_land

http://www.pythagorasfilm.com/oertheland.html

http://www.vdb.org/smackn.acgi$artistdetail?STRATMAND

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med_big_camera

I read an article in the New York Times recently about museum behavior.  How attendees generally breeze through galleries rarely looking anymore than the time it would take to read the label or description on the wall. It seems people subconsciously want someone to tell them what they should be looking for first, glance at the work of art second and then last bask in fulfilled glory as a person who has become enlightened. Like reading a manual or hearing a good joke with a quantitative punch line.  The problem is the best art has no punch line.

The other behavior in which I find most interesting is when patrons flutter around quickly snapping photos of the art with the intent to be viewed second hand, at a later time, and in a different location.  After all, photos provide evidence of an experience and validation of being. I’m sure I’ve said a million times, “ I’ve gotta remember this, let me get a photo.” As if the entirety of the moment wasn’t enough to remember.

Here is the disconnect I have been thinking about. While taking the photo for validation and remembrance what was sacrificed? What hit a nerve with me is, as an artist trained in the medium of photography,  how true the observation of people pillaging images is to us as a photographic culture. And how today with the proliferation of photographic digital mediums, a picture or act of photographing has replace the actual experience. Photography has become HOW we experience.  The image becomes the memory rather than the memory of the experience.  I read somewhere that this phenomenon is a “time-shifted” experience.  We go and see and take and then relive at another moment.  A byproduct of our increasingly filtered and diluted yet condensed modes of both communication and existences.   We live in a frantic society where we run from moment to moment stealing a facsimile of time that because of its visual yet 2 dimensional descriptive nature is a substitute for actually being there. Plus, it is easier to remember and recall from a photo then to have to let you self truly be in the moment.

I took some pictures this past weekend on vacation of a grove of 200 plus year old trees in a park on the coast of Georgia. The Spanish moss,  the filtered sunlight, the glow of the foliage, the heat, the smell, the air all created the moment. I snapped a picture.  When I got home to show off a handful of images I took, what I uttered was “Trust me it was gorgeous, the picture doesn’t do it justice.”

I used to take pictures constantly, I would always be out doing and going but I was always observing through my lens. I got to thinking about the experience as a personal photographer, making stories and waiting for things to happen.  It was great and I did SEE a lot.  I can tell stories of those times and I can look at the pictures. However was I really there, a part of it all, experiencing EVERY thing about the moment. I don’t think so. If I was there with out my camera perhaps I would of noticed smells or certain conversations, or other details not relevant to the image I was trying to make.  Or better yet I would have been a part of the story.  I don’t take my camera out much any more. I just don’t care to make those pictures. I’d rather be in the moment. The funny thing is that this evolution happened over time, it wasn’t a conscious decision. One day I realized I wasn’t taking my camera much with me anymore.

I remember a quote from Garry Winogrand where he was out photographing an accident or something on the street and while he was shooting he thought to himself he didn’t know if he should help or take a vertical.  As a photographer, how true is that. Talk about a mediated existence.  Contemporary society is very scary and perhaps its just an evolved way we make our way through the world. You don’t fail if you don’t try…right.  That’s why I think it is not by coincidence that we refer to the act of photography as “taking” a picture or better yet “ making” a picture because ultimately that is what photography is, making. It can never translate perfectly an experience but it can visually describe and live within itself.  But I feel it can never be a true substitute.

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