Monday, January 23, 2006

Great Rivers Biennial 2006

I once asked my 13 year old nephew if he liked one of my paintings. He answered "I don't understand it." Such a clever dodge from one so young. I know how he felt. This is how I feel about contemporary art. I don't understand it and find it aesthetically lacking. I try to understand it. I recognize the importance it carries. I wish I could appreciate it. I just don't get it. The Contemporary Art Museum St Louis sympathizes with my plight. It is trying to save me by offering exposure and education.
"The Great Rivers Biennial 2006 is a collaboration between the Contemporary and the Gateway Foundation designed to strengthen the local art scene in St. Louis." Three local emerging artists were selected for award ($15,000) and exhibition (1/20/06 - 3/26/06). The opening was well attended though the focus seemed more on the art of conversation. That's ok, a group centered on creativity makes interesting observations. It is a great space, well designed for a large gathering.
Interestingly, just as important as the well attended opening, was the artist's talk which occurred the following day. This is a regular routine at the Contemporary. Here, we were able to meet the artists and get an idea of what they were thinking. A rare opportunity when it comes to contemporary art. Moses, (pictured here) spoke first. Titled "The Audiophile Series" this work is comfortably straightforward. It deals with the way music is intertwined with our lives everyday. "The Audiophile Series" took root when Moses lived in Portland where recycling is encouraged. He came across speakers and turntables which were no longer functional but could still symbolize the music they once played. This is the foundation of Moses' work. To invoke memory's of the importance music has played in our lives. The piece "Two Turntables and a Microphone", 2002 has 1500 LP covers filed as though they may have been someone's album collection back in the day. Moses takes heart in watching viewers thumb thorough the covers as they recall memories of their favorites. Next to this is "Soundboard" 2004, (108" x 144") a block of 160 receivers, rack mounted as unit. It is 7" deep so it is just the fronts, but they were wired, and turned on so they light up, displaying the beauty of their youth. Many also had vu meters which bounced to the bass coming from another piece: "American Dream: We Like The Cars That Go BOOM!" 2004-2005. A completely black Chevy Blazer upon which the cones of 300 black speakers are mounted every available surface. Inside is a working speaker playing a deep base sound track. This piece pays homage to those auto audiofiles who own the upper bass decibel levels on the street. A most ambitious work and interesting indeed. The last thing he discussed was the three large photographs of Boom Boxes of the '80's. These recall a time when the birth of Hip-Hop music was brought to the streets by these portable devices. It was a form of a broadcasting system for the people. From all this, I gather symbolism and meaning are important elements of contemporary art.
Matthew Strauss was the next artist to speak. His work, "Dead Language" is comprised of nine large canvas paintings. Flashe, acrylic, acrylic latex, silkscreen ink and pencil. He explained in his exhibition, the concept behind the piece is the important element. He used an example of his work: "Notes from Pisa (How to Dig Yourself a Hole) to explain. The story was about a poet during WWII who produced hateful propaganda. After the war, Pisa was imprisoned in a gorilla cage on the tarmac. Strauss' goal is to formalize an idea using representative art. He built models and silkscreened photographs of them to tell the story. However, one could only make the connection if they already knew the story. Even if I did understand, I would question the use of a bird cage on a bench to represent a gorilla cage on the tarmac. None the less, I find the concept of what he is doing really interesting.
The third artist, Jason Wallace Triefenbach, worked in performance art and video. A very tough medium to deal with owing to its prevalence. He used music, spoken word, sculpture and props, taping for two days at the Contemporary to create a 4 part autobiographical narrative.
The Contemporary is doing much to deepen the experience while there. Upstairs, in teaching Gallery One and Two, a piece of contemporary art is reviewed and examined, currently Ernest C. Withers and Glenn Ligon: I Am A Man. "The teaching galleries will function as a tool for consideration of art work as the information is presented in simple format to provide the viewer with an intimate viewing experience.
Also, there are questions on the wall for visitors to think about and reply using post-its. One question, "What is Contemporary Art?" to which was replied: "Art keeps the patient alive during the operation of life" and also "Mostly Crap"

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Photography: Daguerreotypes to Digital

At our annual Holiday party, everyone in the photo section brought a print to exchange. We drew numbers and chose a print accordingly. The print which I brought went unselected. It was the last print standing. Ouch. As it was a party and I was well into the "spirit" of things, I tried to make light of the situation with a few jokes. They didn't like my jokes either. Ouch again.
None the less, I was grateful. It was a great form of feedback. It forces a honest opinion. All to often, among friends, work is appraised with the aim of offering encouragement. Actually, a painfully honest review would better help the artist understand what is "working". I just read a great article by Jerry Saltz in the Village Voice concerning criticism. "in most reviews there's no way to know what the writer thinks, or you have to scour the second-to-last paragraph for one negative adjective to detect a hint of disinclination. This is no-risk non-criticism." Offering genuine criticism is a risky endeavor. Since it is by nature subjective, offering it bares elements of oneself for others to see. This seems only fair as the artist is often naked too.

Another part of this, and the toughest of all, is self-criticism of ones own artwork. This photograph, shot by yours truly, is currently on display in the show titled "Photography: Daguerreotypes to Digital" until March 4th at the Saint Louis Artists' Guild. It was taken at the flood wall just south of St. Louis. Harsh light, flat subject, sharp elements, strong contrast, it is quite different from the nature photography I usually do. The photograph is interesting but I don't know if that is sufficient to consider it successful.
The utilitarian function of electrical conduit and panel on the concrete flood wall give way to an expression of art in the urban wilderness. Stenciling is used as the printmaker takes to the streets. It is interesting to note I saw the stencil of Curlie used in another show so I now know one of the hands that touched this wall.

This photograph of the Rocky Mountains is another piece which I have in the show. Critically speaking, for nature photography, it lacks strength in the mid tones. However, my goal is not really traditional nature work but to try and create a more contemporary effect and in this respect, I feel the piece works.