Friday, July 31, 2009

The Big Show at Lawndale

As I understand it, Lawndale has been doing "The Big Show" every year for the past 30 years. I don't know if the format has always been the same though. This version of it featured works by a whole bunch of artists from the Houston area. They were chosen by a guest curator from St. Louis from works by 409 artists who entered works (and paid an entry fee for the privilege). The show on the walls is what Laura Fried picked. You can see it until August 8.

I don't have any idea what was rejected from the show, but I was surprised by the number of paintings (as opposed to sculptures or video or installations or mixed media work). I was surprised by the number of basically realist paintings, or paintings that used elements of realism within postmodern contexts. It seems like a really conservative show over-all. That's OK. I was impressed by the painting prowess of Houston.

Kevin Peterson, Hope, oil on canvas, 2009

Like this amusing painting byt Kevin Peterson. The artist assures us that the man on the left is not meant to be Obama, and that indeed both men are white. He made this statement at a slide show given by the artists. Not all the artists spoke, though. I am pretty sure we didn't hear from Michael Arcieri, for example.

Michael Arcieri, Nation Builder, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2009

The idea here is kind of cheesy, juxtapozing a baroque style painting with grafitti. I think he may be suggesting that the two modes of expression are both highly coded in ways that their intended audiences would understand easily, even if they are opaque to 21st century gallery goers. I just like the contrast between the flatness of the grafitti and the depth and roundness of the baroque figures.

Michael Arcieri, Slave, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2009

Grafitti played a part in several pieces. Street art has come a long way since I was doing pieces in the early 80s. I like the way David Cobb painted an illusionistic depiction of basically flat grafitti here, and I like the feel of the railyard.

David S. Cobb, Blue Camel, acrylic on board, 2009

Mindy Kober showed slides of her work over time (as many of the artists did). Her work began being done mostly with gouache but she recently changed to using crayon.

Mindy Kober, Contemplating the Universe, crayon and gouache on paper, 2009

The reason she gave was simple--crayons were cheaper than gouche. The recession has hit everyone hard, hey.

Jed Foronda was one of the slide show artists. He showed a lot of older work that seemed fairly loud and colorful, a little like Ben Jones, but now, as he put it, "painting wasn't working" for him anymore. What he was doing now was excavating magazines with a sharp knife, creating these debossed objects that, in contrast to the earlier work in his slides, seem quite elegant.

Jed Foronda, Glory Hole No. 8, primer, wood, excavated Artforum, 2009

I like how they look like colorful, terraced open-pit mines.

Jed Foronda, The Wheels Keep On Spinning, primer, wood, excavated Artforum, 2009

Jed Foronda, The Wheels Keep On Spinning, primer, wood, excavated Artforum, 2009 (seen from an angle)

Foronda said the best magazines to use for this kind of piece were art magazines and porno magazines--because they both have really good colors.

John Runnels, From the Series: Whisky Tango Foxtrot - For Ultimate Carnal Knowledge, encyclopedia and bookends, 2009

There are a couple of punks in the show. This by John Runnels piece amused me. It was also one of the few sculptural pieces in the show.

Jasmyne Graybill managed to get three sculptures in the show. Well-deserved--these pieces are astonishing (and really disgusting in a totally surprising way).

Jasmyne Graybill, Specklebelly, steamer basket and polymer clay, 2008

Yech, right?

Jasmyne Graybill, Citruspur, lime squeeze, polymer clay and plastic, 2008

This is art you can almost smell--musty, gag-inducing. The craftsmanship is astonishing.

Jasmyne Graybill, Crested Buttercream Polyps, muffin pan and polymer clay, 2008

I love them. Perfect art for the kitchen!

Over all, the artists seemed too smart. Lots of references to other art and to art history were worn too close to the surface. When the artists spoke, they often spoke of "exploring issues around" this or that. I kept waiting for someone to say, "I paint X because I like X." For all the skill shown here, I didn't feel much. Even the political pieces seemed old hat. I saw reflections of art from New York and elsewhere, filtered through BFA and MFA programs. This may be unfair because I know not all the artists come out of that world of university art education. And I liked a lot of the work! I just wasn't blown away by much, and maybe part of the reason for that was hearing the artists speak about their work. Maybe that was a mistake.

The earnest, intelligent artist statements perhaps gave me extra appreciation for Jim Nolan's slide presentation. He described his work as post-minimalist, and name-checked one of my least favorite artists of the 80s, Joel Shapiro, but in contrast to so many of the artist here, he felt free to declare, "I try to stay away from craftsmanship as much as possible." After all, he added, "if you spend a lot of time on something, does it get better?"


  1. Does it put you in just the tiniest funk when you do a post like this one and it draws few comments?

    It shouldn't. Put you in a funk, that is. Your material does deserve comment, often, and I'm not sure why (it seems to me) you don't get many.

    I figure people are mostly too lazy even to write a comment. Or maybe, everybody that visits is in total concord with everything you say. I dunno.

    I'm gonna keep your art posts in mind, myself. I enjoy the stuff, though I am at complete odds with much of the opinions required to participate in such pastimes. Don't even bother to protest that all viewpoints are welcome - you know that's not true.

    I do have one other thing - go back to Boyd's Blog, man.


  2. Considering that I only get between 1000 and 1500 "visits" per month, I am not particularly disappointed with the number of comments. My blog is really scattershot, covering whatever I am into at the moment. The kind that get lots of comments are more focused on one subject. People who are passionate about that subject go to that blog, and given their passion, are more likely to comment. I am too much of a generalist to attract that sort of passionate reader or commenter, I guess.

    (Not changing the name yet. If I do, I might change it to "The Great God Pan Is Dead"...)