Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Houston Art/Houston Museums

Robert Boyd

Randy Tibbits wrote an article guaranteed to get some artists' blood boiling. "MFAH and the Menil Are Depriving Us of Local Art" appeared in the April 23 issue of the Houston Press. The subtitle was equally blunt: "Houston museums should display some Houston art." Now this is a bit ironic since a few days after this article appeared, the Contemporary Art Museum opened a huge one-person exhibit of drawings by Houston art star Trenton Doyle Hancock. But Tibbit's point is still well taken. Even though the MFAH has a lot of Houston art in its collection, it only shows this art occasionally. In my experience, you'll find it in themed group shows. For example, last year's Calaveras Mexicanas: The Art and Influence of José Guadalupe Posada included work by Earl Staley and Trenton Doyle Hancock and  Playing with Process: Explorations in Experimental Printmaking had work by Mel Chin. And of course every year they put on a show by the Core artists, who are artists who come and live in Houston for two years (and many over the years have stayed past their residencies and become important parts of the local scene--Sharon Engelstein, for example).

Tibbit's article has a lot of problems. He weirdly dismisses photography: "I'm not counting photography, or the decorative arts in Bayou Bend's Texas room — those are fab, but different beasts from the big 'A' art at the MFAH main campus." But he is correct that neither the Menil nor the MFAH has any particular desire to show us the art history of Houston: "We rightly (though perhaps a little too often) give ourselves lots of credit for a vibrant contemporary art scene. There's art everywhere. The city is full of galleries and studios. It's no challenge to see art that's being made in Houston. But art that was made in Houston? Seeing that is almost impossible."

The article includes a slideshow of some of Houston's earliest modernist art. This doesn't help Tibbit's case because the work shown is not that great--mostly of historical interest. After being energized by his righteously angry article, I was deflated by the lame art in the slide show (fortunately a couple of slides towards the end--a Richard Stout and a John Biggers--pep things up a bit). Tibbits has made a reputation for his interest in very early Houston art, including some excellent original research (see “Our Little Gallery” Of Abstract Art In Houston, 1938, for example) and curatorial work (Emma Richardson Cherry: Houston's First Modern Artist at the Houston Public Library in 2013), so the slide show reflects his interests as an art historian.

Devon Britt-Darby wrote a response to Tibbit's article in Art + Culture Texas. He also criticizes the work in the slideshow and asks reasonably what work from the permanent collection on display should be taken down to show this "tepid, tentative, conservative" work. (For example, Amy Nude by Leila McConnell below.)

Leila McConnell, Amy Nude, 1948

Britt-Darby accuses Tibbits of shilling for CASETA, the Center for the Advancement and Study of Texas Art, an organization for which Tibbits is a board member. I don't think this is entirely fair (he doesn't mention CASETA in the article), and anyway, he presumably is a member of CASETA because he's interested in this kind of artwork.

But the argument that a museum shouldn't lower its standards to show "local" work, which Britt-Darby makes ("The relevant period for the Menil spans roughly from the 1940s to the 1970s. What would Tibbits remove from the Menil’s walls to make room for David Adickes and Henri Gadbois?"), is a very serious one, one that has been used not just here but all over the world for decades. And it's one I'd like to argue against, because I think the premise is wrong.

Museums have a lot of missions, and perhaps the most important one is to display good art--the best art, if possible. But the definition of "good art" varies over time and is ideologically fraught to boot. Western culture has spent the past 40-odd years coming to terms with the realization that its definitions of "good art" excluded art by women and by non-white artists; that aesthetic theories masked white supremacist ideologies. As Thomas McEvilley pungently noted, "Abstract art came to seem the ultimate self-delusion of Euro-Modernism, no longer to be viewed with a reverent gaze but with a knowing smirk. Malevich's Black Square became the flag on the masthead of the slave ship, flapping sinisterly in the breeze of history" (Thomas McEvilley, The Exile's Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era, p. 6, 1993). So when someone makes an argument that we are excluding a certain class of art for reasons of "quality," I am suspicious.

reclining female torso, style of the Goulandris master, Greece, Cycladic Islands, early Cycladic II, late Spedos variety, 2500-2500 B.C., white marble

Furthermore, museums have a historical mission as well. Some of the art shown is shown not because it is by some measure "the best", but because it helps us understand a moment in time--a particular bit of art history or human history in general. When I look at the Greek antiquities at the Menil, I don't see ahistorical aesthetic objects--I see remnants of a vanished civilization (several civilizations, actually) and the hands of artists and artisans who made practical and ritual objects that still manage to move us thousands of years later.

The MFAH and the Menil are Houston museums, whatever else they are. And Houston has its own history, and that history includes a history of art. In order to explicate that history, these museums (and the MFAH in particular) would probably have to take down work on view now and replace it with work that was aesthetically inferior. I don't know how this would work. Britt-Darby seems to think such a move would "come at the expense of other American artists’ representation, not the Indonesian gold galleries or the European galleries, etc.", but since we're talking about a purely hypothetical situation, I won't speculate.

But the upshot would be that if the MFAH did something like Tibbits suggests, it would be doing something to address Houston as Houston. It would no longer just be an art museum that happens to be in Houston, it would be an art museum dealing with Houston and its art history. Perhaps this would be an intolerable expansion of the MFAH's mission. Perhaps it is naive and indeed provincial to think that because an art museum has "Houston" in its name, it should have any interest in the art history of Houston.

But some institution should care. This history threatens to be swallowed up, tossed down into a memory hole, forgotten as its participants die. We let Houston history vanish every day, and that includes its art history. And the MFAH (and to a lesser extent the Menil) must shoulder some of the blame for that.

Chris Sperandio's response to the article was to suggest that the Menil and the MFAH "open up project spaces in your institutions." I agree but only on one condition--that these spaces show not only contemporary local art but also put on shows of older local art. I think we need both, and in some ways, the need for the latter is more urgent than the need for the former.

(By the way, some work has been done to remember Houston's local art history. I recommend this lecture by Richard Stout.)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sculpture as Playground Equipment

Robert Boyd

Recently they tore down and rebuilt Frostwood Elementary, which I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. The new building is very nice, although it feels a bit grandiose. The new playground, on the other hand, is an obscenity! When I was a kid, they had steel monkey bars and jungle gyms and several very excellent climbable trees, and I'm sure these were the cause of many a broken arm and bitten tongue. And beyond that, we kids built our own "playground equipment" in the wooded playground; we made increasingly large bike ramps (we were enthralled by Evel Knievel) and forts made of twigs, vines and pine needles.

Later they replaced the steel playground equipment with some very lovely wooden equipment that seemed a lot safer for kids, but still provided plenty of opportunity to climb, fall, cry, and get back up to climb some more. This stuff has been replaced by new playground gear made out of cheap ugly plastic with no sharp edges. And more freakish is that it is not set on good clean dirt but instead surrounded by a spongy rubber material, so that when junior falls off, there is no chance of scuffing or bruising.

This generational shift from dangerous but thrilling playground equipment to today's boring "safe" playground equipment was spelled out in depressing detail recently in "The Overprotected Kid," an article by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic. It's an astonishing and dispiriting account of how we got to today's litigation-proof playgrounds.

I was thinking about this transition when I saw Sharon Engelstein's new sculpture group, Dillididae, in Hermann Park. This is part of Hermann Park's Art in the Park program that has been installed as part of the park's centennial, which I've written about before.

Sharon Engelstein, Dillididae, painted concrete, 2014

From a distance, these blobby sculptures resemble Engelstein's great inflatable sculptures. As I drove by, I wondered how they were going to maintain inflatable sculptures in a public park. But they're actually made of concrete and are literally solid as a rock. But despite their rock-like nature and the lack of spongy rubber ground, kids were climbing on them during the dedication ceremony.

Sharon Engelstein, Dillididae, painted concrete, 2014

The pieces look like worms or bugs. The name, Dillididae is short for armadillididae, the scientific name for doodle bugs. When I posted a close-up of the central pink figure's "foot" on Instagram, people identified it as looking like a Kong chew toy for dogs. They definitely seem like cute, weird organisms, not just abstract shapes.

Sharon Engelstein, Dillididae, painted concrete, 2014

But kids seem to see these things as things to climb on. And why not? The sculpture is adjacent to the Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children. A six-year-old is not going to make a distinction between art and playground equipment. Not while there is fun to be had.

Sharon Engelstein, Dillididae, painted concrete, 2014

One of the issues facing public art is its relationship with a public that is not necessarily looking for art. Public art has to be multivalent to be effective--it can't just be an art object. While Dillididae looks like it was literally plopped down into the park, I think it avoids being stereotypical plop art because children will have a significant non-art relationship with it.

Sharon Engelstein, Dillididae, painted concrete, 2014

But perhaps its most subversive aspect is that it does an end-run around the trend of litigation-proof super-safe, super-boring playgrounds. It doesn't have to be surrounded by a rubber mat because it's not actually part of the playground. The pieces don't have to meet the guidelines spelled out in the Public Playground Safety Handbook because this is a sculpture group, not a playground. I don't know if it was the artist's intention to create sculpture that kids could play on, but I would be surprised if that weren't part of the plan.

The park has a contract to display Dillididae for three to five years. I hope that once they reach the end of the contract, it will have proven so popular with kids that they decide to extend the contract indefinitely.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paintings and Drawings at Art Palace

Robert Boyd

Jamie Davis, Unfinished Graph Paper, ink on paper, 11 1/2" x 11 1/2"

Art Palace has a reputation for showing art in non-traditional media by such artists as Jim Nolan, Linda Post, Charlie Morris, the Bridge Club, etc. But their current exhibit, Wabi Sabi, goes back to art's old favorites, painting and drawing, and even dares to dally with that old aesthetic whore, beauty. Jamie Davis resists the temptations of beauty, preferring humor instead. Unfinished Graph Paper reminds me a little of the Art Guys.

Jamie Davis, Purdae Peg Board, ink on paper, 8 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches

Davis is a 2014 UH MFA, and her work is pretty damn unassuming for someone with years of art education. In both Unfinished Graph Paper and Purdae Peg Board, she takes things that are normally quite precise (carefully designed and then manufactured by machines) and gives them a humorously clunky hand-made look. And not just hand-made; they're crudely made. They reminded me of the way Philip Guston drew buildings. Guston, too, made humorous, crude-seeming images. Davis' work at the thesis show at the Blaffer was fairly conceptual, which is kind of boring to me. I'm not familiar with her work as a whole and I don't know what direction she's going, but as Guston demonstrated, there are still drawings to be drawn. Purdae Peg Board suggests that this might be a fruitful direction for Davis.

Michael Villarreal, Amass, oil on panel, 54 x 75 x 3 1/4 inches

Amass is the largest piece in the show. It's one you have to see in person to get the full effect. For one thing, I think the image above darkens the painting a bit--it is quite creamy and pale in person. But more important with all of the Michael Villareal pieces in the exhibit is the sculptural thickness of the paint.

Michael Villarreal, Amass (detail), oil on panel, 54 x 75 x 3 1/4 inches

Villareal is one of the impasto boys, slathering the paint on with a garden trowel. That automatically makes one think of Geoff Hippenstiel, but Villareal's style--more or less flat areas of color representing highly abstracted figures--is very unlike Hippenstiel's more expressive work. In the abstraction of the figures, Villareal reminds me of Howard Hodgkin. In his thick application of flat colors to form the figures, the work recalls Wayne Thiebaud. Since these are two of my favorite painters, I approve. But admittedly, no artist wants to someone whose work reminds you of someone else's work.

Michael Villarreal, left: Busy and Active;  right: untitled (purple), oil on panel, 8 x 5 x 4 1/2 and 8 x 5 x 3 1/2 inches

Michael Villarreal, left: Busy and Active;  right: untitled (purple), oil on panel, 8 x 5 x 4 1/2 and 8 x 5 x 3 1/2 inches

Still, it is interesting to me that there are several regional painters working in a mode of extremely thick impasto--Villareal, Hippensteil, and Julon Pinkston off the top of my head. Such an approach certainly emphasizes the objecthood of a painting while remaining part of the tradition of painting. As someone who loves painting but worries about its relevance, this seems like a useful approach to me. But more important, Villareal's work is gorgeous visually.

Kirsten Macy, untitled, oil and enamel on linen, 36 x 36 inches

Dallas artist Kirsten Macy does paintings that look like highly graphic depictions of explosions of some kind. My first thought was of a cream pie hitting someone's face, but I guess they look a bit more like bombs going off. But the extreme whiteness of the explosions is very creamy. The backgrounds show a horizon line and not much else. The colors are poster-like in their flatness but quite pale. Looking at these pictures, I don't imagine the roar of a Hollywood-style explosion, but instead a faint "pop."

Kirsten Macy, 2 untitled paintings, oil and enamel on linen, 15 x 12 inches each

The paintings seem mainly like formal exercises with various combinations of formal elements. YOu have a horizon and an air-burst--where do you put them in relation to one another and to the edge of the canvas? How big do you make the image of the explosion relative to the canvas?

But at the same time, these unassuming explosions might remind one of how we think of our distant wars. The explosions in Afghanistan or Pakistan of Yemen that destroy so many lives and sow so much terror seem to us, by virtue of distance and our finely honed ability to tune out unpleasantness, at most like faint, distant "pops". Perhaps these paintings reflect that.

Ludwig Schwarz, two untitled works, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches each

Ludwig Schwarz recently had a "retrospective" at the Oliver Francis Gallery in Dallas consisting mostly of found objects claimed by Schwarz over the past 25 years. His website is a series of humorous, enigmatic videos and images. But despite his post-painting practice, he still puts paint on a flat surface--oil on canvas, even--just like Rubens or Kandinsky did. Schwarz's anti-painting practice was addressed by Bill Davenport in Glasstire: "It’s worth noting that, since 1995, Schwarz has been a prolific producer of paintings, or rather, of flat, painted canvases that struggle mightily and unsuccessfully against painting as a way of consuming artistic ideas. He’s made paintings that face the wall, paintings which can only be seen only on the Internet; paintings packed away in unopened crates; and paintings notable for their intentional unappealing vacancy."

Ludwig Schwarz, two untitled works, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches each

But if you didn't know about Schwarz's other activities and walked into Wabi Sabi, you would come to a diametrically opposed conclusion. The series of five identically-sized paintings here are not unappealing in any way. Their "vacancy" recalls Rothko or various minimalist painters--it certainly doesn't come off as an anti-painting gesture. On the contrary, it feels like it belongs in the continuing tradition of painting. Ludwig Schwarz is hardly blowing up the tracks of the art history train here. Instead, he's boarding the train. And these generally calm, minimal paintings fit in well with the general demeanor of the entire exhibit.

Wabi Sabi runs through May 24 at Art Palace.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Real Estate Art: 2526 Bellmeade

Robert Boyd

The house at the corner of Bellmeade and Westheimer is for sale. If you have ever wanted to live in River Oaks and can afford a $4.2 million dollar mortgage, this house is for you. This modern house is full of art, which is visible in the realtors photos. It seems mostly pretty subtle, with lots of work on paper. I only recognize one of the artists. How about you?

This James Surls sculpture is quite beautiful. This spinning wheel is a form he has used many times. If you are in River Oaks and want to see a James Surls, they just installed a new one on Kirby a few weeks ago.

on the left: four monoprints by Terrell James

As for the other art in the house, I just can't tell. (Update: The four monoprints on the left above are by Terrell James. Certainly quite different from the work she recently showed at Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas!)) But I like the look of these pieces in the dining room.

Update: According to a commenter, one of these pieces is a Robert Wilson.

Update: A commenter says the image over the couch on the left here is a photo by Casey Williams, the recently deceased Houston photographer.

The people who live here are collectors. Their tastes are low key--this isn't visually aggressive art for the most part. My feeling is that anyone who would buy a Surls for their home has reasonably sophisticated tastes. But I can't identify any of the other work, so I will toss it out to you, the readers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lonestar Explosion 2014 - Man Under Blue Board by Raindawg

Dean Liscum

Man Under Blue Board by Raindawg at the Houston International Performance Art Biennale was literally what it says, a man standing under a blue 2"x10"x2' board. It was both minimalist performance art and truth in advertising.

Raindawg, Man Under Blue Board, performance, 2014

In the main gallery of Box 13 amid the other performances, Blue Board was the most compact, the least intrusive performance. It's just there. In being just there, the performance forced the audience to wonder what this silent man standing against the wall under a blue board symbolized, to wonder what would transpire and to anticipate it.

What's he doing? What's he going to do? Am I supposed to interact or intervene? Is that all? Am I missing something?

Raindawg, Man Under Blue Board, performance, 2014

In this minimalism, the performance's philosophical and political weight built. What did it mean? Was he referencing other performance artists? Was he emulating living statue street performers? Was he alluding to early 20th century pole-sitters, ironically? Was he referencing non-violent sit-ins? Was he referencing the homeless, not the aggressive panhandlers but the passive, shy meek masses, the invisible that we (or at least I) stare past and walk past everyday? Was he alluding to people's tendency to treat each other as objects? To view each other as commodities: tools or furniture or art or entertainment? To expect a Candid Camera-Punked experience in which a cohort questions the audience about it's reaction/non-reaction?

Raindawg, Man Under Blue Board, performance, 2014

No one interacted or intervened (at least as far as I observed) and to be fair, the piece didn't overtly invite participation.

When the piece finally ended, Raindawg slowly lowered himself to the floor, and groaned as he rolled and stretched his aching limbs. The audience, as if conditioned by his piece did not offer succor of any kind, it just stared on.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cardinal Points

Robert Boyd

A few weeks ago, I was at Scott Charmin Gallery, deep in the East End, and ended up in a discussion with Emily Peacock about whether or not Scott Charmin was the easternmost gallery or art space in the Houston metro area. While Houston is pretty sprawled out, most of the art is inside the 610 Loop is a few specific neighborhoods. But as I thought about it, I thought that Kallinen Contemporary, Randall Kallinen's home/law office/gallery space on Broadway was probably further east.

Unit K, Bill Daniel's studio and location of Cali Four Nication

Then a week later, I was at Bill Daniel's studio in Pasadena, and Emily Peacock was also there, and she mentioned that this surely had to be the furthest east for any art space in the Houston Metro area. Daniel was hosting a photo show of four California photographers (Eric Zo, Ralph Coon, Dave Schubert and himself) called Cali Four Nication in his studio, which for the night was being called Unit K. And if you count Unit K as an exhibition space--which it certainly was this night--it is easily the furthest east of all Houston area art spaces. That I know of, at least. (All the photos illustrating this post are from Unit K and Cali Four Nication.)

Bill Daniel, photos of bike messengers

That got me thinking, what are the furthest north, south, east and west art spaces here in the Houston area?

Eric Zo photos

EAST: To start with, I thought Unit K in Pasadena is the easternmost art space. As far as I know there is nothing in Baytown, and then you leave the city (and don't come across any more art spaces until you hit Beaumont). But there are two problems with this. First, Unit K is not really an art space--it's a studio that got temporarily turned into an art space. So if that disqualifies it, next up is Kallinen Contemporary on Broadway by the Ship Channel. But really that is a law office that sometimes doubles as an art space. So that takes us back to Scott Charmin Gallery on the East Side. Surely that is the easternmost of all the "full time" art spaces, right?

Eric Zo photos

Wrong. The problem is that while we think of Galveston as being south of town, it's really southeast--farther east than Pasadena. So the furthest east art space I could find is MíArt Gallery.It's a place that I've never heard of, and seems like a gallery that probably caters to the tourist trade, like so many other Galveston galleries.

Ralph Coon

SOUTH: So is MíArt Gallery the furthest South, then? Nope, because the east end of Galveston happens also to be its northern tilting side. I was hoping the southernmost would be the Galveston Art Center (a very fine institution that brings small temporary shows by some of Texas' best artists to the island), but instead it is Affair d'Art (which is a terrible art gallery in my opinion).

Dave Schubert prints at Unit K

WEST: the westmost art space is pretty unambiguous--it's the Katy Contemporary Art Museum. I've written about KCAM before and will probably do so again. They haven't been around all that long, but KCAM has already mounted several exhibits, including a very nice Ibsen Espada show. And KCAM is working hard to be an all-purpose community art resource, with classes and events in addition to exhibits.

photo by Ralph Coon

So it's definitely KCAM, right? Well, maybe. I know Blinn College has shown art at its Sealy campus and maybe in Brenham. Prairie View A&M also has an art gallery. Do we consider them in the Houston metro area? So the answer to westernmost art space depends on where we define the edge of town. Katy is obviously a part of the Houston metro. Sealy and Prairie View? I'm not so sure.

Unit K (with Ralph Koon in the blue tshirt  foreground)

NORTH: I mentioned this idea of finding the cardinal points to a group of artists I regularly have breakfast with, and they immediately nominated the Pearl Fincher Museum for northernmost art space. Not even close. Nor is the Lonestar Community College-Kingwood art gallery, which has hosted several notable exhibits and is slightly further north than the Pearl Fincher Museum. The thing is that the Woodlands and Conroe are significantly north of these two institutions but still decidedly part of metro Houston. The Woodlands has several art galleries as well as its own Art League.

Unit K's record collection

But even further north is Conroe, which also has an Art League. I have never been there, but it seems like it is worth a visit just to see its building. The Conroe Art League is located in the Madeley Building in downtown Conroe, a 100-year old office building. Who knew that Conroe even had 100-year-old buildings? I guess that should teach me to get off the interstate a little more often. There are apparently several galleries close by (including a Thomas Kinkade gallery, Gallery Off the Square), but as far as I can tell, the Conroe Art League is a little bit north of them.

Unit K

After Conroe, you get into rural areas and the Sam Houston National Forest, so I am willing to say that Conroe (and maybe Willis) are the north edge of the Houston Metro Area. That means Huntsville, with the Gaddis Gleeslin Gallery and Phoenix Commotion houses, doesn't count for this purpose. (That said, it's well-worth visiting and if not a part of the Houston Metro, Huntsville is definitely a satellite of the Houston art scene.)

Unit K odds and ends

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lateral at the Mission

Robert Boyd

During FotoFest, I find myself getting photo-ed out. I like photography fine, but so much of it feels similar--here are some interesting images, well composed, arresting, beautiful or disturbing or thoughtful, of some intriguing or important subject matter. And here are some more. You get tired of images during FotoFest. It makes me want to put on headphones and close my eyes after a while.

So I wasn't expecting much when I went to the Mission to check out their FotoFest shows. At least it was a group show, which guaranteed variety. But my favorite thing happened--I walked in having no great expectations and walked out really pleased by what I had seen.

Bryan Zanisnik, 18 Years of American Dreams, 2010, photograph, 60 x 83 inches

The Mission is hosting a group show called Lateral featuring 10 photographers. Bryan Zanisnik had a room to himself, creating a small solo exhibit within the larger group exhibit. Zanisnik created fairly elaborate tableaux in rooms that he either constructed or which already had an unfinished look (for example, an attic space). In this way, the work reminded me of some of Nic Nicosia's photos of constructed rooms, but Zanisnik's images are much more cluttered and visually busy.

Bryan Zanisnik, 22 Monoliths and a Rolodex, 2011, photograph, 42 49 inches

Part of that visual clutter is from what he puts the rooms he shoots, but a big part is the way he papers the walls. 18 Years of American Dreams has a wall covered with baseball cards. The baseball card motif continues in 22 Monoliths and a Rolodex, where the stuff pinned to the walls are pieces of paper (they look like printed out emails) onto which is stenciled a prose narrative about selling baseball cards to a collector.

Collections and attics and basements--it suggests the kind of person who gets involved in collecting something and storing it in underused places in one's home, until something makes the collector sell. It's a common enough obsession--I'm certainly that kind of person, and I've known many like myself in my life. The density of these images makes me think of the environments that collectors develop for their collections. A living collection is always one step ahead of anyone's ability to seriously organize it; we collectors are simply socially acceptable hoarders, if we're honest about it.

Jeremy Bolen, Bioluminescent Communications (in Mosquito Bay), 2011, archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper, 44 x 34 inches

Jeremy Bolen's work in the show belongs to a classic genre, nature photography. But their all-over composition suggests something different. When I first saw them, I thought of blurry stars or maybe the flashes of light from sub-atomic particle reactions in a cloud chamber. If fact, they are photos of bioluminescent organisms taken under water. To me, the fact that I could mistake this image for something very small (charged particles) or very large (stars) when it is actually something alive suggests a thing that repeats throughout the universe. If I weren't so suspicious of the term, I might use the word "sublime" to describe what I was seeing.

Jeremy Bolen, Bioluminescent Communications (in Mosquito Bay) #4, 2011, archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle paper, 44 x 34 inches

Erica Bohm, Astro II, 2010-2011, digital photograph mounted on plexiglas, 24 x 20 inches

Erica Bohm's photos are intriguing in part because they include images that she couldn't have taken--Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the moon, for example. My assumption is that she took these photos at NASA, either photographing other photographs or exhibits of actual space hardware. But what she does with the photos gives them a majestic and somewhat mysterious look. Astro II is positively ghostly. Given the danger involved with being an astronaut and the high number of deaths in the profession, this haunted photo feels appropriate.

Jeroen Nelemans, The more I see the less I grasp #GR386300, 2011, lightbox, 25.8 x 25.8 inches

The more I see the less I grasp is a series by Jeroen Nelemans of lightbox photos seen from the back. The photo image is a somewhat generic "majestic nature" image, but what makes it interesting is the literal foregrounding of the fluorescent lights. I can't explain why (which makes me a pretty inadequate critic, I guess), but for me, the image was somehow made more beautiful seen like this. It may be partly the defamiliarization effect of seeing the mechanism normally behind the lightbox, but that seems too facile an explanation. I think the light itself shining back onto the image is beautiful. Certainly Dan Flavin found this kind of light beautiful; he was careful to not combine it with anything--just lights and walls. But why not combine it with other images? In any case, it seems to work here.

I was also impressed with the work of John Opera, Daniel Shea and Marcelo Grossman. There was a lot in Lateral to like. It runs through May 15 at The Mission.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Here's What Happened to Mimi Pond

Robert Boyd

Back in September 2009, I wrote a post called "Whatever Happened to Mimi Pond?" I had been introduced to her by her husband, Wayne White, who had just built a big installation at the Rice Gallery. Pond was a cartoonist I had been aware of in the 80s but who had dropped off my radar. Not that she was not working during those years; I was just unaware of it. By the time I met her in 2009, she was working on a book about her youthful days in the late 70s working as a waitress in Oakland. She had some pages up on her blog. I couldn't wait to read it, and finally four and a half years later, Over Easy, is here.

The brief outline is that Margaret (soon to be renamed "Madge" by her new boss) is an art student. She runs out of money in her final year of art school and drops out to work at the Imperial Cafe (a fictional version of Mama's Royal Cafe). In essence, that's it. The book is as much about Madge's co-workers and boss and customers as about Madge herself, but what appealed to me is that it's about work. Work is an under-explored subject for comics.

Mimi Pond, Over Easy page 43

The fact the the Imperial is kind of a bohemian hangout doesn't lessen the working class vibe, but it complicates things. As I was reading Over Easy, I was thinking about Ben Davis' 9.5 Theses on Art and Class. He wrote the following:
3.0 Though ruling-class ideology is ultimately dominant within the sphere of the arts, the predominant character of this sphere is middle class.
3.1 "Middle class" in this context does not indicate income level. It indicates a mode of relating to labor and the means of production. "Middle Class" here indicates having an individual, self-directed relationship to production rather than administering and maximizing the profit produced by the labor of others (capitalist class) or selling one's labor power (working class).
Madge is someone who is constantly escaping the working class. Her family background is working class (and her parents display flashes of class consciousness), and going to art school is a way to become middle class in the way that Davis describes. As an art student, she displays class consciousness in a funny aside on art history majors:
If I had any interest in art history before taking her class, it had been squelched by Mrs. Feiffer's dry delivery--that, and the fact that Patty Hearst had been an art history major at U.C. Berkeley, just two miles away.
Patty only reinforced my feeling that art history was a subject fit only for a spoiled debutante, someone who'd take up with a bunch of whacked-out revolutionaries at the drop of a hat. They'd finally caught her in San Francisco, during my first semester at art school.
I wondered: if she'd chosen any other major, would any of this have happened?
But by losing her grants and scholarships and grants for her fourth year of art school, Madge was suddenly thrust out of the middle-class back into the working class. She starts at the bottom--dish-washer at the Imperial, eventually working her way up to waitress. By the end of the book, she is having some success as a freelance cartoonist, which can be seen as stepping away from her working class existence as a waitress.

I realize I'm making Over Easy sound like a Marxist novel, turning Mimi Pond into some graphic novel version of Upton Sinclair or Theodore Dreiser. I think this stuff is sort of a substructure to the book, but it isn't everything. A big part of the book deals with la vie de bohème as witnessed through the characters. Madge's coworkers are poets and punk rockers (at the dawn of punk rock, when it was still quite scary to suburban moms and dads); they sleep with one another, they explore their sexuality and gender, they take too many drugs, etc.

Mimi Pond, Over Easy page 222

Over Easy is so episodic that it's sometimes hard to keep track of events. Time shifts suddenly, sometimes compressing and sometimes expanding. Her first day as a waitress is depicted over the course of 53 pages--about a fifth of the length of the entire book.

Over Easy reads like a bildungsroman, but the ending is inconclusive (but lovely). I wonder if that means Madge's journey will continue.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Real Estate Art: 2630 West Lane Pl.

Robert Boyd

Swamplot caught this one. This Afton Oaks townhouse is packed with art, some of which looks familiar.

For instance, the blue-grey painting in the top center of the photo above looks like a Dorothy Hood. Is it?

And this red painting with torn white lace on it--could it be a Mark Flood?

The rest of the art doesn't appear familiar to me. So as usual, I'm tossing it out to you readers. Do you recognize any of the art in this house? Were my guesses right?

Update: The red piece on top of the cabinets is a Laura Lark, who happens to have a show up now at Devin Borden Gallery.