Friday, March 27, 2009

Where You At, Jax?

Photo courtesy of Michelle Brea, via Flickr.

You might have noticed that I'm a little slow to post these days. I'm currently working on my grad school thesis -- three more weeks! -- as well as doing two internships, plus a freelance magazine project. Needless to say, Finding Five posts will be sporadic at best for the next few weeks. Bear with me and I'll get back to daily posts by mid-May!


Monday, March 23, 2009

The Quay Brothers!

Film still from the Quay Brothers' Street of Crocodiles (1986).

Maybe it's too early to write about this-- but maybe I just wanted an excuse to mention the Quay Brothers. Parsons is mounting "Dormitorium: An Exhibition of Film Decors by the Quay Bros." July 15-Oct. 4, and you should mark your calendar because this will be the first time the tiny, macabre sets from the twins' shatteringly beautiful, spooky stop-animation films have been displayed in North America. The show will also include continuous screenings of some of those works.

"Exploring the design process in relation to how we construct narratives is an important part of a Parsons education, and Dormitorium is an exhibition that goes beyond retrospective to really investigate the nature of creative work," Parsons dean Lydia Matthews said in a press release. "This exhibition gives our students an opportunity to see how the Quay brothers create intricate fantasy worlds, from set design to finished film through their compelling engagement with literature, their command of sound and lighting design, their uncanny use of focus, color and texture, as well as their mastery of digital editing processes."

You don't have to be a student to go: The exhibition will be up at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, which is open to the public, and admission is free.

The Quay Brothers-- born in Pennsylvania in 1947 but living in London since the 1970s-- seem to scrape the cobwebs from the darkest corners of our minds, harvesting shreds of Eastern European literature and lore, fairy tales, and childhood nightmares, mixing them up, and pairing them with haunting music and sounds that hang and sparkle in the air. Disassembled dolls, lonely specters, and twisted storybook animals slink silently through enchanted shadow worlds. It's pretty much perfect.

Stephen and Timothy Quay described their films best in an interview with Paris Premiere, caling the works "an alchemy of silences and objects and things inhabited... They're frozen. They're caught in the last breath of Victoriana ... the beauty and sweetness of an epic that suddenly died... "

You have to see the films to appreciate them. Luckily, you don't have to wait until July to at least get a taste: Good excerpts from Street of Crocodiles (their most famous) and Are We Still Married (my personal favorite), are on YouTube, along with that Paris Premiere interview.

...Pleasant nightmares.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Women and Art

Sotheby's announced on Friday that it is mounting an exhibition April 2-14, focusing solely on women. Let me clarify. The artworks --everything from Andy Warhol's Turquoise Marilyn silkscreen to Henri Matisse's bronze Figure Decorative sculpture --all depict females. They are on loan from mega-collectors Steven and Alexandra Cohen.

While it's great that the Cohens are willing to loan works for a free show, it's always tricky mounting a show that focuses on gender, and it should always be done with deep consideration for context. It irks me that Steven Cohen's explanation for the "Women" theme is that he simply finds "focusing on one theme intriguing," and Sotheby's explanation, via The New York Times, is that it helps build the auction house's brand and relationship with the Cohens. What we have here is a huge missed opportunity to take a serious, in-depth look at how females have been depicted in art and how this has shaped our attitudes about women, sexual roles, sterotypes and attitudes toward gender. Given that Sotheby's announced the upcoming exhibition during March, National Women's History Month, it almost seems like a no-brainer.

Speaking of Women's History Month, the New York Public Library's blog has a month of great posts about female writers, artists, and others who have made a difference.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ain't Your Granny's Embroidery

One thing I saw quite a bit of at this year's Armory Week fairs was embroidery. Embroidery, knitting, crochet, and other fiber crafts have, in recent years, busted out of the realm of grannies' parlors and into the cool girls' and boys' clubs. They've also gone even further, making their mark on serious contemporary art. Works like Alicia Ross' cross-stitched nudes (pictured above, at Black & White Gallery's booth at Pulse) create tension and dialogue between the traditional and avant-garde.

If you want to get in on the action, try your hand at embroidery for art-- Etsy has its "Embroidery as a Drawing and Narrative Tool" class coming up on March 29 at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn.

I'm also a fan of the group Knitta Please,"guerrilla knitters" who take fiber arts to the streets, tagging up city street furniture, poles, and anything else they can get their stitches on. You can get involved by contacting them through their Web site.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Life Imitates Art Imitates Life

All photos courtesy of Marc Lafia.

At the Pulse art fair on Saturday, I came across Marc Lafia, who was asking people to pose in front of various artworks in the booths. Turns out, Lafia is an artist himself, and he was photographing fair visitors who resembled people in paintings they happened to be walking past. Some of Lafia's subjects look remarkably similar to the portraits he paired them with, and the resulting images riff on identity and individuality. Check these out:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Reasons to Love Swoon

Detail from a Swoon paste-up in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Trois Tetes, via Flickr.

The artist Swoon is having a benefit party for her next project on March 14, and you should go. Why? Because Swoon is awesome. Why is she awesome? Well...

Because of the fragility and toughness of her paste-ups that linger around the city, getting better as they disappear, decaying exquisitely and suggesting layers of stories with each crack and peel. I love that her art is both unabashedly feminine and unapologetically raw.

Because of this honest, straightforward interview she did with SWINDLE a few years ago. When I first read it, I was just learning about street artists and had developed a particular fascination with women making their mark on the city. Since then I have come back to it again and again, not only for background on Swoon but because it makes me think about context, living with art, and overcoming failure.

Because she's really, really nice. I happened to be in the middle of interviewing Swoon just when the Great T-Mobile Blackout of 2008 struck, and she was very laid back and went waaay out of her way to make sure we cobbled together answers to my questions through email, texting, and what spotty cell service we could latch onto. All this while she was floating down the Hudson on a raft (See #5)!

Because Swoon manages to straddle the line between street artist and gallery artist without selling out or compromising her work. Her gallery exhibitions are as contextual and meaningful as her paste-ups. See? And I already showed you this.

Because of her boat projects. Swoon first gathered a group of artists and creative-type friends in 2006, made some rafts, and floated 800 miles on the Mississippi River-- giving art workshops along the way. Then in 2008, she took the idea a step further with a fleet of floating sculptures that carried 40 artists down the Hudson River. They stopped to perform music and a play about the imagined origins of the boats, written by the multidisciplinary artist Lisa D’Amour. I love the comparison Swoon made between the boats and her more stationary artworks when I interviewed her last year: "They are hugely different kinds of artwork, but they function in the same way, showing up where you might not expect them and speaking to the landscape they are in as well as to the people who see them. I try to create artwork that lives in a daily setting and has relevance outside of art institutions and doesn’t depend on them for context."

Next, Swoon and crew will navigate the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia to Venice, Italy on three intricately crafted vessels.They plan to crash the Venice Biennale in June, and that's where you come in. They need your help raising money to make it happen, so go to this auction, dance a little, listen to some music, and bid on some art if you can.

  • What: Benefit Silent Auction
  • When: Saturday, March 14th--- 7:30pm - 10pm, Dance Party 9pm - 3am
  • Where: Secret Project Robot--- 210 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (at Metropolitan)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Break from the Fairs

Greg Haberny's art in McCaig-Welles space at Fountain. Photo courtesy of Art Comments, via Flickr.

Gothamist described this year's Armory Show as "the usual small percentage of memorable work scattered throughout the vast shopping mall of unremarkable crap," and I have to agree, having spent Thursday afternoon wandering forlornly through the booths. Hopefully we'll all have better luck at some of the smaller fairs, but if you've really had enough, you can escape to any of these other events and exhibitions:

Fountain: Fountain might technically be an art fair, but the guerilla-style show is not like any of the others. With only nine galleries in 12,000 square feet (on a barge!), the exhibitors have a little more breathing room. You'll feel it in the laid-back atmosphere, and you'll see it in the edgy design of the spaces.

NYU Open Studio: If you've been to any of the fairs this week, it will be interesting to contrast those artworks with the ones students are producing. Plus, the opening reception has a live performance by Chairlift's Caroline Polachek at 8 p.m., and a dance party. What more could you want?

Vanessa Beecroft Performance at Deitch Projects in Long Island City: Vanessa Beecroft is doing her first public performance in New York since 2000. Beautiful and austere, "VB64" juxtaposes live models with identical gesso sculptures.

Kick My Heart's Ass: Short Films About Love
: Curated by FOUND magazine creator Davy Rothbart, this film exhibition has the same voyeuristic appeal as the mag.

Artists' Books as (Sub)Culture and INTROspective: If you need a little peace and quiet after all that, head over to the Center for Book Arts for these shows. One explores book arts as a social mission, while the other features tomes transformed into mysterious, layered sculptures.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Armory Week Art Fair Madness

Photo courtesy of pt, via Flickr.

Art fairs can be overwhelming-- the sheer number of works almost guarantees fatigue and makes it nearly impossible to have a meaningful experience with any one piece or exhibition-- but they can also be a fun way to explore the scene. I like the feeling of excitement that hangs palpably in the air during a big event like Armory Week, and I enjoy taking the pulse of the art world: Seeing the trends, finding out what is generating the most buzz, and brushing elbows with some of my favorite artists. And this year's events in NYC should be especially telling, revealing how the economy has affected all kinds of artists and galleries.

If you get as confused as I do about what events are held where, what you should skip, and what you should absolutely NOT miss, the following Web sites have some great tips:

1) Art Fag City's interactive map and event guide

2) The Armory Show's official Web site

3) New York Magzine's guide to "This Week's Six Unsnobby Art Fairs"

4) ARTINFO's Armory Week coverage

5) Time Out New York's Arts Week Miniguide

P.S. I would also appreciate hearing about your favorite events, most coveted artworks, and general impressions of this year's fairs.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Honey Space Turns One

Installation shot from Tiberius. Photo courtesy of Chadwick Tyler.

When Honey Space opened last year in New York's posh Chelsea district, the scrappy new art gallery raised more than a few eyebrows-- mostly because its founder, Thomas Beale (who is also an artist), announced it would run sans staff most days. Yes, Beale and the other artists who planned to show work at Honey Space were going to do the unheard of: They were simply going to trust visitors not to steal or vandalize the art. In fact, that was the whole point.

"This is kind of a radical idea for New York City, where we have such a security-conscious culture," Beale told me when I interviewed him on opening day for ARTINFO. "To do something where you put complete trust in people, and to see whether people end up respecting it or not, is a powerful idea."

A year later, Beale still thinks the idea is powerful, and, besides a few minor incidents (someone stole the guest book and Beale once discovered a confused man sleeping off his hangover behind one of the exhibits), people have generally behaved themselves.

Honey Space has hosted some amazing exhibitions by top-notch artists during the past year, including my personal favorite, this creepy-fabulous installation by Swoon and Tennessee Jane Watson. The current show, "Tiberius," a collection of haunting and achingly beautiful portraits by Chadwick Tyler (running through March 14), is also one of the best.

I recently caught up with Beale, who said Honey Space will most likely close within the next couple of months. The leaseholder, with whom Beale currently has a deal to use the warehouse space for free, is planning to develop the building. If you haven't checked out Honey Space yet, this might be your last chance to experience one of the most heartfelt, innovative arts endeavors in the city.

"I knew it wasn't going to last forever," Beale told me, chatting by phone a few weeks ago. "And that's okay. I still think it's one of the best things I've ever done."

For more information about Honey Space, also take a look at this article from The New York Times.