Saturday, December 29, 2012

Another Damn List

...©William Evertson, Go Make Another List. (ink on paper)

I feel strangely compelled to jump on the yearly wrap up bandwagon with a few of the exhibitions that inspired me during 2012. None of these shows were huge blockbusters but they did speak to me and in particular with relation to two topics in my own art that are becoming more important in my 4th decade of art making, the narrative and process.

Narrative in the sense that my work is becoming more literal; moving from the symbology of an idea or concept to telling a more personal narrative of my relationship to my milieu.

The other concern is process or the method of making art.  Since my days as a student in the seventies when conceptual art was prevalent to today's incarnation where we seem to be in a post skills generation I often felt that arc of development grating on my perhaps naive, or nostalgic or romantic notions of what it was to be an artist. Frankly, I want a strong idea well executed.  But what happens if you have a weak idea well executed by others? (as many artists do)  Or a strong idea you can only poorly execute yourself, either through lack of resources or lack of necessary skill?

So, it is through those two lens' of concern that I've selected several shows that inspired me in 2012.

Ten Thousand Waves, video installation by Isaac Julien

Just when I thought I had lost the capacity to watch another multi screen video installation Boston Institute of Contemporary Art hosted Isaac Julien's 9 screen projection Ten Thousand Waves.
(Link to ICA press release which also contains a link to a slide show of stills from the project)

Three separate stories are interwoven among the screens and as you wander and pause to view the installation from different vantages the stories blend in infinite permutations. Especially evocative is the use of the green screen images of the ancient sea goddess Mazu, protector of fishermen and sailors, who is said to guide shipwrecked sailors safely to shore as she glides from screen to screen.

Julien has taken a powerful idea for alternative narrative and through collaboration with actresses Maggie Cheung and Zhao Tao, video artist Yang Fudong, poet Wang Ping, and venerable Chinese calligrapher Gong Fagen created a fascinating platform for contemplating storytelling.

Junirui Gassen, The Battles of the Twelve Animals (detail)

The Met hosted a lovely exhibit called Storytelling in Japanese Art.
(Link to Met press release)

This quiet (ie: non-blockbuster) group of works shows the power of narrative in various formats from scrolls to screens to objects.  It also foretells and serves as the precursor to our more modern forms of animation and graphic novels.  

Bernini, terracotta sketch

Another Met hosted exhibit that fascinated me was Bernini, Sculpting in Clay.
(Link to Met press release - and closing on Jan. 6)

This exhibit featured drawings and clay "sketches" that show the development of the artist's vision for his renowned statuary and fountains in Rome.  Detailed yet raw and powerful in their preliminary form they exemplified my particular fascination with that romantic notion of an artist able to conceive and execute at the highest levels while also maintaining a workshop for the fabrication of the full scale pieces.

Quay Brothers

Before MoMA presented Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets I have to admit they were barely on my art radar.

Now, I've visited twice and purchased the DVD of their films.  In this retrospective not only are the films available but also the very idiosyncratic stage sets used in the making of the Quays very strange stop motion pictures.  Their art is a throw back, an anachronism in the art of film and the results are largely indecipherable yet immensely mysterious and rewarding. (on-going until Jan.7th)

Glass, Wilson and Childs,  Einstein on the Beach

Finally, the re-staging of Einstein on the Beach this fall at BAM.

To me this opera/ expression of avant-garde rebellion circa 1976 was like a unicorn; that is, I'd never seen one. (until this fall)  Now, although in many moments of its performance I felt my numb seat like never before, it is one experience this year that continues to haunt me with its odd yet precise construction.  Obviously not the result of the lone genius variety of artist but instead a fortunate collaboration in which seemly disparate elements seem to meld to work as a mesmerizing dream. Truly a marvel of stagecraft.

As I prepare for another year in my own studio, concentrating on authentic narrative and mastery of process, I'll finish with a link to the exact opposite type of art I am at work on.  (Link to Jonathan Jones review of Damien Hirst)  

Concerning Hirst's U-turn from conceptual to traditional; 
"Now he has confessed, with his ambitious yet miserably unaccomplished still-life paintings, that he admires the skilled art of the past, and would love to paint like Manet or Velázquez, after all."


Well friends, may your artistic endeavors meet with much, much better's to a fruitful 2013.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


...One More Agony, ©1979 Evertson, spray paint and chalk on paper...

This ancient piece executed shortly after I moved to NYC from grad school sums up my dilemma after viewing two drawing exhibits recently. Some art is so good I can't stand it.

The exhibitions currently at the Morgan Library and the Frick are sweeping in the scope of history covered and a must see for artists interested in the sublime beauty offered by drawing.

First some links:

One of the dangers for me, as a working artist lies in comparisons.  It's easy to become overwhelmed not only by the virtuosity of these masters, but the fact that the works have been safeguarded and admired for centuries. Just imagine the task of archiving and preserving something as fragile as paper for centuries.  I wonder as I look through my flat files of works what will happen to my work, certainly precious to me but what of their survival?

For example, the Munich collection which dates from 1758 when Elector Carl Theodor commissioned the creation of a kabinett of drawings and etching certainly has required generations of dedicated curators.  It now contains over 400,000 works on paper and is a triumph of will over the horrors of wars, plunder and nature.

Titian, Rider and Fallen Soldier, ca.1537

Indeed war is a favorite subject matter during the Renaissance and Rider and Fallen Soldier by Titian illustrates the horror and frenzy captured as a drawing.  Several pieces on exhibit are intended as more commemorative in nature but the immediacy of the act of drawing struck me as I look over the knees of the fallen man into the vagueness of the victor astride his mount.

The piece contains grid lines so it is a mystery as to its purpose; whether as study for a lost work or a proposed work. The catalogue tantalizes us with mention of a mural destroyed in 1577.

Pontormo, Two Standing Women, ca. 1530

 This Pontormo struck me as having an abstract quality yet with an economy of line and shading conveys a drama unfolding. Or is the abstract and ethereal looking upon its more corporal self?

Huber, View of Feldkirch, 1527

Discovery of artists unknown to me of which there were many in these two exhibits left me a bit chastened.  Huber is a good example.  The year is 1527 and here this man is placing nature in front of the trapping of man.  Very oriental feel about this ink sketch in the handling of the tree and mountains in the background. (....and the eye and observation to be this confident!...)

Friedrich, View over the Elbe, ca. 1816

Exhibitions like this also serve to focus my thinking concerning narratives of influence and how we categorize artists into schools.  This Friedrich has an unmistakable feeling of the surreal about it; from the framing of the half circle world below the bridge to the lonely figure above.  While it could be classified as allegory I find the cropping and composition of the natural observed world particularly transcendent. The piece is rendered in graphite with shading of a warm brown wash.

In our modern sense drawing can exist as a major working method in and of itself and as we move to the more recent works we do see that drawing became something more capable of existing as the final vessel rather than preparation.  Or perhaps it has come full circle, in that drawing first appeared as pictograph intended to communicate directly.  Later becoming secondary or process or training as our human inclination to elaborate developed.  In the case of the early works represented here one can witness both the eye training and the use as preparatory material.

Heizer, Untitled, ca.1968

Some later works represented in the exhibit such as the Heizer piece tend to operate on several levels.  This piece seems to exist first as words, with an erased heading of "Statements" Further erasure of the words and headings and subsequent banding with graphite and ink seem to impose a landscape feel to the piece, perhaps referring to the artists practice of large scale earth works or of obliterating the statement in favor of the visual.

One other fine link is the review by the always knowledgeable and insightful John Haber from Haber's Art Reviews.

Only a few more short weeks to see these drawings - Both exhibits close January 6th.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Little More Babel

 ...And damned if there aren't problems in Art World.
Kalicorp Art Mysteries, Issue # 2, detail page 2

I continue to find interesting tangents to my last post; so based on discussions that took place on my Facebook wall, here are a few more links to ponder.

This first one from by Simon Doonan writing for Slate.

Doonan who describes himself as author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York titles his piece "Why the Art Word is So Loathsome"   He goes on to list eight ways in which the emperor has no clothes.  I think he has some pretty valid points but wonder what actually came first when he claims that exhibitions began resembling Barney window displays in the late 70's.  Quoting item #4, "Artists put down their brushes and stole my objets trouves, my staple guns and glue guns." 
As inspirational as the window displays at Barneys tend to be I still find slightly more authentic expression coming from artists when it comes to installation pieces. 

Then "Why Slates Takedown of the Art World is Totally Wrong", by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic points out that most of these complaints are sweeping generalizations guaranteed to get everyone nodding their heads yet shows more about a lack of curiosity than a real critique. Reacting to Doonan's remark that: "...artists like to be controversial and piss people off", Jillian reminds us that , "Most importantly, telling artists that they should shut up and fall in line for the good of the children is basically a way of relieving art of all its potential value and saying it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter."

 After all the death of art has been predicted for many of the same reasons since Hegel wrote Lectures on Aesthetics in 1818. 

Or when Duchamp created the Fountain.  Or when Jackson Pollock began flinging his paint on a personal favorite, Hirst's world wide exhibition of spots.

I'm reminded of Joseph Beuys' great piece Explaining Paintings to a Dead Hare, when confronted with easy dismissals of artists currently at work.

The point being art is damn robust and simply because someone finds that it is a messy, imperfect and difficult to unravel doesn't make it any less vital than at any other point in history.

Carolee Scheemann - Interior Scroll

 Personally I find that the explaining of art and it's loathsomeness or what it should be or not be....or why it remains as important as ever to be difficult but even a cursory glance through my fellow artists websites or Facebook pages reveal that great and important work is being made every day.

So as writers keep writing about art, artists in turn will keep revealing what it is.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tower of Bable

 Arts criticism in graphic novel form from Evertson, Shulman and Vanden Eynde.
Kalicorp Art Mysteries #3 (detail page 7)

Or...perhaps the better title is "Who hijacked the Bollocks?"  Lately I've been geeking out to the flip side of making art and thinking about those who write about art.  Over the course of the rise of the Internet we've seen the decline of the print media and fewer dedicated arts writers in print.  Blogs, Internet versions of former print titles and more alternative net niches now fill the void, but not without the soul searching of those that write for a living.

Just for fun I'm listing a few of the links I've read over the course of the last month.

Critic Dave Hickey calls it quits on arts writing: from GalleristNY (interview with Sarah Douglas)
On why he hates group shows, contracts and other forms of art-world bureaucracy, why art critics have no power"

More on Hickey by Edward Helmore and Paul Gallagher in The Guardian.

Excerpt - Criticism is..."calcified, self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing."
Excerpt - On collectors - "They're in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It's just not serious," he told the Observer. "Art editors and critics – people like me – have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It's not worth my time."
Predictably this is followed by artists and fellow critics shouting don't let the door hit you on the way out. This Charlie Finch post from Artnet is typical.

Good essay by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times on critics, jargon and collecting.
"...the faster and louder the art world spins, the more it harbours doubt about its obvious froth and mediocrity.  And that doubt hides behind two things: prices and professional jargon."

Also in the news (news in the art world at least since the rest of the world is concentrating on Lindsay Lohans latest meltdown) was Sarah Thortons top ten reasons to quit writing about the art market.

Hint - it's boring, repetitive, unhelpful and it doesn't pay enough.

 Plus it involves a painful level of pandering. Kalicorp Art Mysteries, issue #5 - detail page 12

Recently New York Times art critic Ken Johnson faced accusations (and an online petition calling for more sensitivity) amidst of buried racism and sexism.  Kyle Chayka gives us the lowdown on the blogazine Hyperallergic.

So while the critics sort out their brave new world artists will go on doing what we always do; bemoaning the market and taking criticism poorly while kicking back with wine and espresso after a day in the studio.

Seeking Kali Artist Collective in Paris (Susan Shulman, Ria Vanden Eynde and William Evertson)
PS - The first five of the limited edition Kalicorp Art Mysteries are almost sold out.