Monday, September 22, 2003

  This evening - a look at 9 photography exhibits currently up at galleries on and below 25th street.

First on my itinerary (mapped primarily through pointers at the Photography Guide) was the Leica Gallery with an exhibit of B/W and color photography by Constantine Manos, a Magnum photographer, and the winner of the 2003 Leica Medal of Excellence. Leica never disappoints, staging stellar exhibits by high-caliber photographers year after year. In the black-and-white portion of the show is a selection of Manos' photographs from Greece, taken in the 1960s and 70s. Fragments of life in the countryside, unchanged for generations, are captured in all their quiet majesty. The mundane is incessantly paired up with the extraordinary. Warm and true, stoic and festive, the faces photographed by Manos have the echoes of Electras, Clytemnestras, and Medeas in them.

"Greece. Peloponnesus. 1964. Woman tending her goat", Constantine Manos. "Greece. Crete. 1964. Priest tending his vineyard", Constantine Manos.

The "American Color" section of the exhibit, full of late-afternoon sunlit sidewalks and inhabitants of Florida and California, appealed to me less. But they are undoubtedly masterful, witty and wicked photographs, bursting with color and personality, screaming with them. (Although not all of the images linked to above are part of Leica's exhibition, many that are just as spellbinding are.)

Next on the trip was the wonderful Joseph Jachna retrospective at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery. The various permutations of water are tightly packed into small, exquisite and refreshing prints. The photographs are lush and stylish, and the tiny gallery space makes for intimate and joyful encounters with them.

On to Yossi Milo Gallery for the latest installment of Shelby Lee Adams' "Appalachian Lives". Here, after maneuvering toward a narrow and discreet stairway that's squeezed on the sides by an auto body shop and a warehouse, you're in for a treat. There isn't a single false note in Adams' photographs, with every face terribly expressive. The rooster, the hen, and the cow - included. Although staged and elaborately lit, the pictures and the people appear real, genuine. They're soulful but, thankfully, not mawkish, or, worse, loaded with manufactured angst. The continuation of Adams' Appalachian series is fun, mischievous, and excellent. See more examples elsewhere online. By the way, at least a couple of Loretta Lux's pictures are also on display at Yossi Milo.

At the Klotz/Sirmon Gallery the new double-feature of Pavel Banka and Josef Sudek was still in the installation stage at the time of my visit. Sudek, of course, is always, always a joy. Light, effervescent and profound but short of frothy and forlorn. Well-known and oft exhibited, Sudek's treasures are unlikely to become obsolete or tiresome. Read about Sudek and indulge at leisure - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

There's a good selection of Banka's older images at the gallery's site. I was not smitten with the current offering up on display -- possibly because I looked too hastily at the large prints, obstructed by an installation ladder and a broken light. Klotz/Sirmon's announcement states that Pavel Banka will be in attendance at the opening reception on September 25th.

Photography by Josef Sudek

Over at the In Camera Gallery is a very energetic, gushing collection of B&W photographs of water and bathers by the Australian Paul Blackmore. All of the images can be viewed online but a visit to the gallery is in order to appreciate their great grain and experience being surrounded by this powerful cluster of prints.

Didier Massard is presently showing a group of gigantic conjured up landscapes at the Julie Saul Gallery. While the feat of constructing such elaborate and life-like mirages ought to be commended, the fact that sources of these images are polished maquettes is very apparent and, somehow, almost unpleasant. The smaller pieces are less imposing, more modest, and, nicer. In my view, the fabricated minutia of the landscape models are not interesting enough to warrant 47"x37" presentation. (On an unrelated note, has anyone else been irritated by a louder entrance door than the one at this gallery?..)

Up at the Pace/Wildenstein Gallery is a presentation of 76 (!) photographs by Philip-Lorca diCorcia. The gallery's space is vast (too high and wide, really), and the medium-size prints snaking along all of its walls haver a dizzying, onerous effect. The best among them are photos of the aging and infirm, as well as those with the motif of pairs of children and parents at the beach or in the countryside. Quite a significant number of pictures, I feel, perhaps, could have been edited out of the show without damage to its integrity. Many of the best ones seem to beg to be printed larger and displayed with more wall-space between the frames.

"American Typologies" by Jeff Brouws i currently on view at the Robert Mann Gallery. This too is a rather large show and one that is arguably more digestible thanks to its categorized and partitioned nature. Most of the photos can be previewed online, but, when possible, an eye-to-print encounter is still desirable. Though at this particular exhibit the majority of the images are not given the dignity of frames and (plexi)glass and are simply pinned to the walls. The offering is diverse enough to appeal in part or in full. Strangely enough, I preferred the color series of beautifully lit barns and whimsical multi-color California homes to the long an uneventful compilation of B&W gas station portraits.

My final visit of the day was to the new, lovely, and friendly Miller-Geisler Gallery, where the exhibition of Jocelyne Alloucherie's art happened to be surprising, inspirational and affirming at once. From the liberating three-quarters frames to the magic of tree shadows on pavement (for which I've always held the highest regard), this rare, for the U.S., look at Alloucherie's work reveals her creations as succint, sweet, and unique. This show, especially, is not to be missed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

  Earlier this week, as well as today, wood s lot featured the topic of rock balancing as a form of art and therapy. Coincidentally, last Sunday, Thirteen.org ran Living Edens: The Lost World, an exquisitely filmed and narrated account of a trek to the summit of Mt. Roraima and the history of Venezuela's Canaima National Park region. Inspiration for Conan Doyle's "The Lost World", home to the globe's highest waterfall and to multitudes of species of vegetation and animal life seldom found elsewhere, this locale, situated on the border of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana, offers many amazements. But it is the collection of rock formations atop Mt. Roraima, licked by wind, water, and other erosive forces, and shaped into unbelievable anthropomorphic sculptures, that fascinate me most, from afar.

from "Living Edens: The Lost World" photo essay

The vicinity of Mt. Roraima is remote, rugged, and still seen only by handfuls of visitors. Although there are many advantages to prolonging the relative wilderness status of the area, in-depth information and quality imagery of Roraima and other tepuis are lacking, at least on the web. Here is what I have been able to dig up.

"Mist, Rock Formations, Plants of Roraima", Ed Darack.

Although the explorer and photographer Ed Darack has been to Mt. Roraima, the smattering of his photos on the subject is faint in comparison to the sights he captured in other regions.

The writer, producer, cinematographer and narrator of PBS' special on the "Lost World", Adrian Warren, has the most extensive collection of Roraima images online. His aerial photographs are the more impressive of the bunch, while most others are relatively bleak, having been taken in unfavorable, mid-afternoon light.

Photo by Adrian Warren. Photo by Adrian Warren.

Several expeditions and touring companies that have traveled to Mt. Roraima and offer opportunities for future excursions contain descriptions, maps, and photos of the famous wonders. A few other compilations and individual images are available. Some are of desperately low reproduction quality but any fish is good if it's on the hook. The web stroll can be rounded off with additional glimpses of creatures and plants that live on the slopes and summit of Roraima.

And for another angle on adoration and emulation of rocks and stones, consider Vija Celmins' "To Fix the Image in Memory" series, which consists of "11 bronze casts of stones which have been meticulously painted to imitate the originals. When the real rocks are exhibited alongside the fictive ones, it is impossible to tell them apart." (*)

Monday, September 15, 2003

The tapestry of circumstance is intricate and dense.
Ants stitching in the grass.
The grass sewn into the ground.
The pattern of a wave being needled by a twig.
When I see such things, I'm no longer sure
that what's important
is more important than what's not.
-- "No Title Required", Wislawa Szymborska

Scratched, punctured, bruised, and oozing -- such is the land as seen from above in Emmet Gowin's "Changing the Earth" series. In sepia photographs taken mainly during the 1990s in the U.S. and abroad, Gowin plunges the lens downward to record scapes scarred by large-scale nuclear and chemical experiments turned ecological disasters. The images are somber and unsettling, as well as magnificent and serene. Abstracted destruction and malady are paradoxically, guiltily comely and entrancing. Bodies of water, fields, and desert -- fiddled with, maimed and abandoned -- expose gaping wounds and parched derma. Fissures and sores masquerade as innocuous dents and dimples. Cavities, chasms, and other concentric figures hide spreading and pulsating cancerous growths.

"Aeration Pond, Toxic Treatment Facility, Pine Bluff, Arkansas", 1989, Emmet Gowin.

Gowin's "Changing the Earth", a collection of nearly 100 photographs, began its nation-wide tour at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2002. Accompanied by a book, it has since traveled to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. (Several good web reproductions are available at Corcoran's site but you'll have to click through to "Previous Exhibitions - 2002" and wait while this very slow site loads.) Additional images and a short interview are to be found at PBS.org, in an archive of the series' presentation on "NOW". Read viewers' reactions to one of the photos online. George Eastman House's collection also features several of Gowin's aerial pictures. A stunning and unusual for the series photograph of the Chemopetrol Mines in Bohemia is on the web as well. Plus, there's this phantasmagoric image from Turkey, but I'm uncertain whether it belongs to the same body of work. Another photo was part of "Chronic Beauty: Art and Environmentalism" exhibit at Bowdowin College in 1999. Through September 24, 2003, Emmet Gowin's exhibition is on display at Vassar College's France Lehman Loeb Art Center. The photographer will give a lecture at the gallery tomorrow, September 16.

"Copper Ore Tailing, Globe, Arizona", 1988, Emmet Gowin.

Although only a few of Josef Koudelka's images from the "Chaos" collection are aerial, virtually all of them present land, structures and surfaces in a topography that's kindred to Gowin's. The sweeping panoramic format of Koudelka's series emphasizes this connection. Koudelka is an absolute master of composition and space, slicing, piercing, and craning an image's plane incessantly, obsessively, and always harmoniously. An eerie, gritty, grainy, and utterly sad, world emerges from abandoned factories, stalled construction sites, and other industrial shambles. Unpopulated, unwanted, and unsalvageable, it does not, however, warrant a requiem. At least some images in "Chaos" are semi-neutral -- marked but not necessarily marred by human presence. Koudelka's partitioning and contouring of angles, arrows, patches, and fragments is feverish, as it cascades multidirectionally in the massive, severe prints. Halos, void of contents or swarming with them, are frequent in Koudelka's pictures, as they are in Gowin's.

"The Black Triangle region (Ore Mountains). A former mining area." Josef Koudelka.

Unfortunately, no exhibitions of Koudelka's work that I am aware of are scheduled for the near future. But Magnum's site makes so many of his photographs available that one can't complain.

"Paris. Bois de Vincennes." Josef Koudelka.

Nubar Alexanian, whose photography I came across through his review of Koudelka's "Chaos", and whose portfolios have just appeared at Photo-Eye, also favors the panoramic format. However, it is this dazzling photo that I admire most by Alexanian. Its loss of a sense of scale and its mute, astounded stare link it to Gowin's and Koudelka's imagery.

"Striped Bass", 1998, Nubar Alexanian.

Finally, another occasionally aerial photographer and a disciple of Emmet Gowin is David Maisel. He works in color and is also concerned with calamitous consequences of unsound ecological management. Some of Maisel's images are considerably less remarkable than Gowin's and Koudelka's, while others are quite mighty and marvelous. The Fall 2003 issue of Aperture magazine features a portfolio of Maisel's aerial work.
"Owens Lake #9281-4", David Maisel.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

  Although I realize that most of the U.S.-based readers are already familiar with the glories of PBS and indulge in the station's nectar, I want to extend the paean to its programming, triggered by the last post on ART-21, the series. If you have drifted from tuning in to public television or have not explored its newer offerings, consider what's cooking there now. Here's a list of some of my favorites.

EGG: The Arts Show - always lively, stirring, and intense. Past episodes have featured works by such folks as Bruce Gilden, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, and Connie Imboden.

I will stop whatever I am doing to watch an hour of Globe Trekker, the show that takes you around the world and off the beaten track. The adorable and irresistible Ian Wright is the host you will see and will want to see most often.

Wide Angle features fresh, up-close perspectives on international socio-political developments and phenomena, and is often rewarding and insightful.

NOW with Bill Moyers and Religion and Ethics Newsweekly are also very good, diverse, and informative.

This season's premier of note is Sacred Balance with David Suzuki, a four-part documentary on interconnectivity of all earthly processes and forces. The series is attractive and enlightening, though its aims are insurmountably broad and factual deliverance sometimes meandering.

I also happen to relish things like The 1900 House, Frontier House, and Manor House. Plus, I take in a dose of the Antiques Roadshow (gasp!) once in a while, opting for older British airings when possible.

I'd be happy to learn some of your PBS favorites, if you feel like sharing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

  "Beauty is just an accident. Beauty is just a happenstance. Beauty is the remainders of being a painter. The work become pretty because I wouldn't be able to look at a work about something as grotesque as what I'm thinking about and as grotesque as projecting one's ugly soul onto another's pretty body, and representing that in an ugly way. I have always been attracted to the lure. Work which draws a viewer in through a kind of seductive offering. Here's something to look at, stay a while."
-- Kara Walker

When the next installment of ART:21 - Art in the Twenty-First Century rolls onto air of your local PBS station, be sure to treat yourself to it. Thanks primarily to persistent reminders at Modern Art Notes, last night I tuned in to Parts 5 & 6 (Season 2) of the program. Few pursuits rival the time spent watching this series. It is absorbing, tingling, and simply smashing. Seek it out and see for yourself.

All seven episodes featured in yesterday's 2-hour program are vivid, memorable, superbly produced. Almost all of the artists articulate their visions, working methods, aspirations and insecurities with enviable skill and eloquence. I'm tempted to say that some speak, perhaps, too well, or of things not exactly channeled in the art they make. Still, the people and works highlighted by PBS are fascinating to watch and discover. The website for the series is also a mighty resource, full of interviews, clips, and links.

For her visual narratives that span multiple gallery walls, Kara Walker chisels large-scale, highly detailed and pronounced silhouettes out of black paper. The stilled theatricality of her puppet-like cutouts is dynamic and flamboyant. Walker revisits the antagonism that plagues the American South, using literary and oral mythology of slavery as her springboard. The physical expressiveness of her characters, the contextual grotesqueness and anguish have the power to entice and repel. Walker speaks of her art with great sophistication.

"Camptown Ladies", detail. Kara Walker, 1998.

Kiki Smith is terribly prolific; her output impossible to encompass. Transmogrifications of the body, the animal world, female icons and sorceresses figure prominently in her sculptures, prints, and installations. Looking a bit like Mother Earth, she seems very down-to-earth and candid.

"Untitled", 1992. Bronze with patina. Kiki Smith. "Wolf Girl", 1999. Etching. Kiki Smith.

Many of Do-Ho Suh's sculptures are tremendous, novel, and ethereal, regardless of their weight. He excels at conceptual art that is mesmerizing in its elegance and absolutely accessible -- a rare constellation. He is positively obsessed with the tension between the notion of multitude, crowds, masses and the idea of individuality. There's also an odd blending of the gentle and the stern in Suh's work. He transitions effortlessly from constructing a jade-colored canopy in size and likeness of a traditional Korean house to filling a room with a gigantic glistening armored suit, crafted from thousands of dog tags. Soft-spoken and pensive, he is clearly one of keenest contemporary artists.

"Some/One", 2001. Do-Ho Suh. "Public Figures", 2001. Do-Ho Suh.

I found the work and the conjured up world of Trenton Doyle Hancock to be probably the most esoteric and the least fetching of the artists featured. But it's likely that I have my own indifference to science fiction and comics to blame. I also was not impressed with the visual enactment of his technique, at least as it was depicted in the program. The method of foot-pounding slabs of multicolored fabric onto canvas didn't exactly appeal to me, and neither did the resultant collage, as far as I could judge from the televised glimpse of it. Though I must say that there's something almost endearing about this TorpedoBoy.

The second hour, Program 6 of ART:21, loosely titled "Loss and Desire", showed some evidence of deceleration but was still extremely interesting, albeit at times less awe-inspiring than most of Program 5.

The photographer Collier Schorr is exceptionally silver-tongued, laying out the framework of her motivations and endeavors lucidly. Her reasoning, sentiments, and the general discourse are very convincing, sensible, profound. Most of the photographs, I fear, reflect dismally little of her rhetoric. Many of them are ...nice, but mute on the topics with which Schorr says she imbues them. I don't feel that her photographs of high school wrestlers emanate teenage confusion with identity and masculinity. Neither do I sense that the photos of contemporary German boys who don Nazi uniforms and, occasionally, brooding expressions convey anxieties of yesteryear youths coerced into service in WWII. The baggage Schorr attempts to string onto the images and the characters is left unclaimed. The photos are good on their own, and some, like the two below, are extremely good.

"Herbert. Weekend Leave (A Conscript Rated T1)", 2001. Collier Schorr. "Helmet. Kindling and Deer Feed", 2000. Collier Schorr.

Gabriel Orozco's work strikes me as rather uneven, inconclusive, disparate. One pervading element is Orozco's fondness for unexpected juxtapositions that are peculiar enough but aren't truly bizarre or even mildly remarkable. There's an abortive quality to the collection of his works as a whole. The proposition and the prelude are almost always exciting but the execution is just short of lackluster, dissipating futilely, soon after an early climax. In my view, one example of Orozco's art presented on the PBS program stands out and sails above the rest. It is the 4-pole ping-pong table, where the net is eliminated and the center consists of a small pond filled with an aquatic plant. The succession of moves where the ball bounces from the server to the adjacent player, to the one next to him, to the fourth one, thereafter bobbing quietly into the pond is simply sublime. (Update: An exhibition of Gabriel Orozco's new work is scheduled to open in mid-October at NYC's Marian Goodman Gallery. Via MAN.)

A similarly majestic and pure moment exists in a work by Janine Antoni called "Touch". In this video piece, the artist walks on a tightrope hung above a strip of beach in front of her childhood home in the Bahamas. The shooting angle and the rope's height create an illusion of Antoni's feet tickling the horizon line with each step and each dip of the rope. Experience the thrill, minute and grand, yourself. Antoni willingly features her body in other works as well, by plunging herself into a tub of lard, drawing with her hair, submerging nude into a cow-feeding vessel. The latter is documented in a couple of photographs of startling and comforting beauty.

ART:21, the series, concludes with Programs 7 (Time) and 8 (Humor), scheduled to air around the country either tonight or at a later date. Catch them if you can.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

  "The swift drop to the floor signaled eager forces into play: gravity was the trigger, clay and shape the material, the loving hand that shaped the bowl-had unconsciously stored an unguessed form in it. With the crash transmutation worked, metamorphosis took a deep breath and an object found itself. The death of the bowl was the birth of an object."
-- Minor White

An undeniable mystique is connected with photographs from the times before ours. Even the plainest faded snapshots from the early decades of the 20th century and beyond command a glance marked by reverence and reverie. Old anonymous misplaced and displaced photos are no exception. Their adulation has spilled into an autonomous category of "found photography". The label isn't limited to aged images and is sometimes affixed to pictures as young as hours or days -- so long as they were spotted, picked up and retained by a stranger. But, I think, it is safe to venture that vintage "found" photographs hold indefinitely more enigmatic interest.
found by: Rob Philip from Deventer, The Netherlands. Kunst/antiek/curiosa shop, Noordwolde, The Netherlands, 2003

Timetales is one of several sites featuring a terrifically intriguing collection of photographs found in attics and flea markets of Europe and America. Thanks to the site authors' editing skills and taste, very many images here are far from ordinary. A lingering visit is a must. (via yasse.org)

found by: Ralph Schwarz from Mannheim, Germany. Second hand store Mannheim, Germany, 2003.

At over 300 found photographs, Look At Me is an imposing resource. While Timetales is tentatively sorted by periods, the entrails of Look At Me are arranged rather chaotically, making consecutive browsing pretty unnerving. It is rewarding nevertheless, thanks to pictures like this, that, and more.

found by: Elsbeth Volker from Deventer, The Netherlands. 2nd hand store, Groningen, The Netherlands, 2001. Found by Mitch O'Connell, Chicago, IL.

The photo section of Found Magazine features a slightly less inspiring collection of found imagery, most of which are color and date from the last century's mid decades.

The Mimosa compilation is impressive and thrilling. Its focus is everyday life in Russia of years past. It may not qualify as "found photography" per se, as the site's author makes a somewhat cryptic reference to featuring the work of "two professional photographers", without providing any other details.

For those with more than a passing curiosity in the subject, "The Found Photograph and the Limits of Meaning" by Prof. Barry Mauer may be a worthy read. In this essay he examines "the challenges posed to our sense-making apparatus by three stages in the life of "found photographs": their original context in the family photo album, their loss and discovery, and their recontextualization in the museum exhibit."

found by: Rob Philip from Deventer, the Netherlands. Gift from a friend - Sibiu, Romania, 2003

More examples and more rhetoric are offered in "Found Lives: A Collection of Found Photographs", a book by James Nocito.

Debatable and ticklish issues abound in the consideration of "found photography". Few gems destined for the world's recognition are found among anonymous photography. Similarly, not all photos made by the masters of the medium are meant for the public's eyes. Factors that determine preciousness and greatness are often unpredictable and wobbly. Marketing and hype are omnipresent and unpleasantly influential.

Discovering things and facts previously unbeknownst is stirring, addictive, bewildering. The finds rarely lead to closure and dotting one's i's, and more often -- to ellipses. Take the case of a roll of photographs shot by Andre Kertesz months before his death and not discovered until years later. (By the way, while on this site, do not miss the magnificent archives of exhibitions at the Hungarian Museum of Photography.)

Finally, here's Minor White on the different but related case of photographing "found objects" and of photographs finding themselves.

At the heart of it all, you see, is serendipity...:)

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

  Graphomaniacs everywhere love to pen haikus. Few adhere to original guidelines for form, flow, and content. Fewer still sprout verses that are memorable and clever. But the activity is often engaging, entertaining and wholesome. Innovative approaches to haiku that stretch and remold the practice of poetizing are especially peculiar. Here are two examples of haiku's latest incarnations.

Haikoo.Com is described by its creator, Joanna Briggs, as "an internet directory that mimics the structure and architecture of Yahoo! While Yahoo uses 25 words to describe web sites, Haikoo uses seventeen syllables and the format of haiku poetry to describe sites. Similar to Yahoo, users submit links with descriptions that are approved by an administrator before publication on the site." The idea is spiffy, though the undertaking seems to have stalled in the early stages. Pickings are slim, and witty entries are far between. Nevertheless, the idea is a lot of fun, and the project has much potential, in the right hands. (via Reflections in d minor)

Haikoo Directory
Home-Social Science-Site Listings for Social Science

Their language was hope
For neutrality in speech
But more speak Klingon.
Haikoo Directory
Home-Entertainment-Movies-Site Listings for Movies and Film

A party with a
Vegetarian in fur,
poison and a knife.
Honku.Org is the brainchild of Aaron Naparstek, a Brooklynite who turned to haiku as a way of combating pestering sounds tooted by raging drivers crawling through traffic in his neighborhood. The first verse, taped to a lamppost, spurred a local movement of like-minded anti-honk haiku fanatics. Words on the phenomenon soon spread to the media, a book followed shortly thereafter. Honku has since evolved to poetry about cars and traffic in general. The notion, again, is marvelous and constructive. However, I've had trouble finding even a couple of genuinely interesting examples online. Perhaps Naparstek's book is more abundant. Here's a glimpse:

Need a few days off
after Sunday night drive from
the vacation house.
-- Aaron Naparstek

For a substantially more sublime and humbling experience, see Children's Haiku Garden, a site with poetry and illustrations by children.
Sean Engstrom, grade 10, School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

the child waves
every ten seconds
-- Will Brideau, grade 9, School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

Finally, if all of the above doesn't satisfy your craving for wordplay, consider "Passing Gas", a photographic glorification of quirkily named small-town America. Gary Gladstone's project will acquaint you with residents of such charming locales as Ding Dong (TX), Good Grief (ID), Knockemstiff (OH), Scratch Ankle (AL), Stinking Point (VA) and so on. The pictures are punchy, hearty, and bubbling. This hee-hawing and spirited compilation will make for chuckles and good spirits galore.

"Intercourse, Alabama.
Nancy B. Ezell, widow"
Gary Gladstone
"Sweetlips, Tennessee.
J.C. Pickett, surveyor, construction worker"
Gary Gladstone

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