Sunday, July 24, 2011

            There’s a problem in art these days: the double-edged sword that is the Internet. And I would like to draw similarities between the publishing world and the art world in this regard. Take the current state of the publishing world: the printed word is on its deathbed, newspapers are sinking into obscurity, and with blogs (this thing is laced with hypocrisy, so be prepared), almost anybody can type something up and have it be read by an audience. Certain filters are being destroyed – specifically, the publisher. Now, it’s all well and good that someone can just up and write a thing, then push it out and have it be read, but what is the cost?
            The cost is an inundation of drivel. And I do not use the word lightly. The shining example would be fan-fiction; did you know there are 2,797 stories wherein elements of other things (ranging from TV Shows to Comics to “wrestling”) are combined with Doctor Who that are currently readable on That is a single website. After Postmodernism shot Modernism in the back, and we all rejected the false god of impossible standards, people stopped caring about the importance of progress. Why try to develop your skill when you can write multiple thousand-word stories about Time Lords fighting Sith Lords, and receive praises full of positive feedback?
        Things like this do not exist solely on the Internet. Case in point: Twilight. Narrative aside, there is an inarguable truth about it: it is poorly written. Standards are slipping. While I’m sure it’s not the only culprit, Twilight has also brought to bear a whole genre where nothing worthwhile is being said. And this is bad, because these things are selling. It’s the unheeded warning of Brave New World. More time spent on unchallenging entertainment is more time being complacent.
            But this is supposed to be about art.
        The art world isn’t safe from this effect either, but it is much more invisible- you do not need a publisher to make art, and galleries and curators have a much harder time goading artists into changing things than publishers do with writers. There is no “crisis of the gallery representing the artist”. The similarity is inundation.
There is a sea of art blogs – But Does It Float,, the list goes on – and there are thousands of works of art displayed on these sites constantly, all instantly viewable. I’ve spent hours clicking around these places, scrolling down endlessly, just looking. And that is the problem. How often do people stop and look? How often do people critically think about all the (thousands upon thousands) of images they see every day? There’s just so much to see, all instantly available - who wouldn’t try to see it all?
There’s a backlash to this – superficiality. The most visually striking things are oftentimes the things that we look at the longest, even if it’s a difference of a matter of seconds. Which, of course, makes sense – if the visual arts are supposed to be visual (they are), shouldn’t that be the most important thing? I would agree, but what is more important is staying around to see what art has to say. This focus on superficiality is the death knell of Postmodernism. To plagiarize (sorry, “reappropriate”) Kurt Vonnegut, art is disappearing up its own asshole. Commercialization of art is mostly to blame. If the most striking, the most “poppy” art sells, then that is what will be encouraged. Focusing on producing and disseminating what is simply “pretty” refuses art of its most powerful ability: providing society a mirror with which to self-reflect upon.
To end this on a positive note, the death of Postmodernism is approaching. While I have extremely mixed feelings about it, Postmodernism has taught us some important lessons: it singlehandedly destroyed the idealization of a singular goal, it showed us how cyclical things can be, it allowed us to drop pretensions, and ultimately was a good moment in the bizarre lifespan of art. But when it comes down to the wire, this is a dead horse that cannot be beaten any longer. There are oppressive things about it that must be overturned – especially the cynical notion that everything that can be done, has been done.
If you love art, go to galleries. Think about things. It’s our responsibility to bury Postmodernism and put something new on the pedestal.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

            Juried shows are interesting – the juror (or jurors) is the person (or people) who decide what gets in and what doesn’t. What makes it interesting is that art is one of the most subjective things, so what are the litmus tests for deciding if a work is good enough? Shows with extremely broad categorizations are interesting too – by not specifying too much, there can be an awful lot of submissions. The show at the Center for Fine Art Photography, Black and White, which is up til August 6th, fits both of these categories. An annual show, the only requirement is that the image must be black and white.
            But before I talk about that, I really want to talk about Borderline, a series by Kerry Mansfield that is in the North Gallery at the Center. The photographs, which can be seen online, are printed from single negatives onto color paper, using the old-school darkroom approach. They don’t use double negatives or Photoshop. The photographs, which compress interior spaces and the great outdoors, are somehow more tangible because of this. The best part is how you can’t tell if you’re looking out or looking in, which I find very visually engaging.

My personal favorite is Untitled #59, which looks like the coziest place to sit down and read a book. The ways that the textures interact are fascinating: the ceiling has dense foliage on it, and there’s a stone walkway extending out of a vanity. The scale of the work has something to do with it as well – its being a 30 by 40 inch color print certainly helps creating an interesting experience with the viewer.

But back to the main show. Black and White ended up with 50 images out of 3,000 submissions – and there’s definitely quite a few that stand out. Right next to the entrance, to the left of the juror’s selection (a portrait of a man holding a baby with an oxygen tube coming out of its nose) is a small tintype diptych, totaling 5 inches by 10 inches. I had never seen a physical tintype before, just reproductions from the Internet. Titled Dragon, it’s a wet plate collodion tintype photogram of skeletal remains that the artist, S. Gayle Stevens, doesn’t tell us the origins of. It is part of a series of natural objects that have been visually cataloged in the same manner. It does something very well that all photographs ought to strive to do: it elevates the object from being a collection of bones to something that is visually interesting and worthy of consideration. I’ve always been in love with the idea of tintypes, so I might be a bit biased, but I also think that working in the medium of tintypes only improves this – it brings to mind old, 19th century natural science museums, full of curiosities.

In this same vein, Mask Nest, by Thom Jackson, which is a 20 by 24 inch image of a nude model that is wearing a wasp’s nest for an eye patch. Both Dragon and Mask Nest have a sort of esoteric feel to them, as if they’re alluding to something that you have to be in a secret society to understand. The portrait is direct and unflinching – you will lose a staring competition with this photograph. She seems imbued with power, and is honestly quite intimidating. The way the photographer lit the scene correlates with this – there is just enough soft light to properly describe everything in the scene, but there are subtle shadows that evoke strength. The only thing I don’t quite “get” is the wasp’s nest eye patch – it indicates esotericism, but is mostly unexplained. The artist’s statement mentioned that the eye patch allows the model to be both protected and nude, which I would disagree with – she could definitely beat me up, with or without an eye patch.
As with all the shows at the Center for Fine Art Photography, all the photographs can be seen online, but I urge you to go to the gallery and see them personally – the Center is always free, and it’s always better to see art in person. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My favorite kind of art is the kind that invites you to look at it, and you spend the entire day thinking about what it has to say. And that is exactly the situation I encountered when my friend-artist (frartist?) Kate and I went to the University Art Museum to look at the MFA Thesis work this Wednesday. The thesis gallery shows are usually my favorite shows that Colorado State puts up around campus because they remind me of an often-ignored fact: the art school here, while not the most recognized college at the university, has a surprisingly good output of compelling art. While I really dropped the ball here – the show ends this Friday, unfortunately – you should keep your eyes out for the next show the University Art Museum, called “Vision the City”, which, from what I can gather, is going to have two artists, one being a sort of abstract painter meets street artist, and the other being a photographer. But more on that later.
The MFA Thesis show this year featured five artists, all of which are fairly clever people. While I’m not certain what all the artist’s coursework was in, but there were paintings, sculpture, design, and fiber works. What really caught my eye first, though, were Tammi Brazee’s giant paintings. Since I dropped the ball (again) and forgot to take any pictures, I’m going to link to the artist’s portfolios.
Of the three or so paintings that were up, the one that definitely stood out first was 10 Performing Bears, which is a 72-inch by 144-inch acrylic on canvas painting. The scene evokes landscapes: the foreground is an abstract, atypical National Parks scenic view of mountains. In the foreground are tourists on a railed-off walkway, painted with primarily yellow colors. Amidst the landscape are ten identical, purple bears in a line, as if performing for a crowd. Of interesting note are the two window cleaners in the top, rightmost part of the painting, acting as if the whole painting itself is a window into a different world. Effectively, we are viewing people view nature. Her paintings are commentaries on the disconnected way we interact with nature. And, frankly, I think they are wildly successful with expressing that. The humans are disconnected from the landscape in two ways: not only are the separated by a railing, but also by the hues that the artist chose. And what’s more interesting, they all look mostly bored. It reminded Kate of every sort of scenic stop she’d ever been too: people drive up, walk over, snap some pictures, and then leave. Very rarely do people go into nature and directly interact with it anymore. Some of her other paintings deal with situations like this as well, such as camping or outdoor malls in mountain towns.
Another challenging piece was one of the two works that Sarah Rockett had in the show; specifically, His Ideal Woman, which was a wire drawing made from dark annealed steel wire. Effectively, it is a sculpture of intersecting planes. Each of the planes is a silhouette of women in stereotypical, sexist roles, such as baking, cleaning, laundry, and a receptive, sexual position. Certainly, it challenges and brings to the forefront issues about gender identity, and through the repetition of intersecting planes, it intensifies the power of the statement. Special attention should also be brought to the fantastic, technical work of the medium – the silhouettes are extremely accurate in representation.
Sharing the room with the paintings and sculptures is Whitney Crutchfield’s interesting piece: Plic Plac, which consists of seven combination wall-décor-and-furniture chairs. Or perhaps they’re primarily wall décor? Either way, they combine elements of design and elements of fiber practices, as they are constructed from fiber-reactive dye, cotton canvas, plywood, and hardware, as well as having been screen-printed and hand and machine cut. I like them, because they seem to have solved the problem of functionality with two-dimensional art. Would you rather have art on the wall, or art that you can take down and use when you need more chairs? They use repetition very well, also: the chairs are made up of four similarly sized trapezoid shapes, which also occur in the pattern of the fabric in a repeated way. All these shapes repeating create a very nice harmony, and it’s something that one would definitely want in their house.
Adjacent to the Tammi Brazee’s paintings is a very large wall hanging by Edwina Straub, titled Ripples, which is an interesting abstraction of ripples in a pool of still water, which references organic forms and creates a quite calming experience. These organic forms, created out of nothing but thread, radiate out from certain points on the hanging and slowly diminish in size. Likewise, the colors, which have been inspired by Indian Textiles, gradually shift and change. The size of it makes one wonder how long it took to create such a detailed and labor-intensive work.
In the corner behind Edwina Straub are some sculptures and drawings by Lindsey Phillips, which have something to say about the role of technology in our society today. The sculptures are (more or less) life-sized mosaic replicas of things like cellphones and iPods, referencing digital pixilation through form. These were alright, but the most interesting piece in her body of work is the collection of drawings above two of the cellphone mosaics – abstract, organic-looking drawings done in acrylic washes and ink, which borrow form from circuit boards. They are arranged in a sort of nebulous cloud between the two cellphones, referencing the concept of the “cloud” – that is, how information is accessed, stored, and distributed throughout the Internet.
            When it’s all said and done, the show is definitely worth going to – which sucks because this Friday will be the only chance to check it out before it closes. The gallery, which is at the University Center for the Arts, between Pitkin and Lake Street on Remington, will be open tomorrow from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring a camera and double-check to see when the show ends

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fort Collins is a fantastic and mysterious place. Of all the places I know of, this town’s got the best beer, great people, and beautiful bike trails. The music scene is thriving, the art scene is exploding, and I would love nothing more than to contribute to the culture here. I’ve always wanted to contribute to something great, which is why I’ve decided to start this art blog. I’m mostly just an art student at CSU, who doesn’t know how to not be nerdy about art, so I figure this is the best use of the knowledge I’m very, very slowly amassing. Since I’m no blogger – or that much of a writer, for full disclosure – this thing might be awkward or cumbersome at times.
But I’d like to let you know what I’m planning. This place usually takes second fiddle to Denver in regards to Front Range art centers, but the art here is some great stuff. I want to make it more accessible and visible. Not only is there all the art that gets produced at Colorado State, but the local stuff is awesome too – just take a look at places like the Art Lab, FCMoA, and the new GNU Gallery. I want to make a centralized place that people can check for the gallery shows and artists that are around here.
            In addition to simple reportage about what shows are happening when and where, I want to provide and encourage discourse about the art itself – critiques, gallery reviews, and interviews with artists. Ideally, I won’t be the only writer either, since I believe in the importance of giving other opinions voice – this is art, after all, and of all the things that one can be biased about, this is the most susceptible thing.
            As I’m sure most people know, it’s hard to go about town on a student’s budget, but I’ll hopefully have something substantial up here soon. I’ve got my eye on the MFA exhibition at the Art Museum at the UCA, which is up until June 10th. I’ve been there once already – and what a better place to start than the best that Colorado State has to offer at the MFA level? After that, there’s plenty of awesome artists around town that I would love to interview. Until then, Dear Reader, I hope you have a great day.