Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Aeneid

For Christmas my brother and sister-in-law got me the new Robert Fagles translation of the Aeneid. I couldn't wait to dive into it. A few points. 1. It's sad to say I've never read the Aeneid. Not only have I never studied Latin, I never cracked the many translations existing. It will good to correct this situation (the translation part, not studying Latin). 2. It's better than I even thought. Sure, it's imperialist propaganda, a potboiler for Empire, but the story reads great -- it dumps you into the Perfect Storm, then gets Aeneas and the guys settled and goes back to pick up the Trojan War right at the climax, with the horse is outside the gates. It looks like there's interesting things going on with the point of view of observation throughout, things like Aeneas and Achates observing a bit of action hidden in a mist, and the different powers of men and gods. 3. The Fagles translation has gotten rave reviews everywhere, and sure enough, the lines read great. I don't know if I can pick a snippet to give a sense of it, but let me try this:

Now Juno made this plea to the Lord of Winds:
"Aeolus, the Father of Gods and King of Men gave you
the power to calm the waves or rouse them with your gales.
A race I loathe is crossing the Tuscan sea, transporting
Troy to Italy, bearing their conquered household gods--
thrash your winds to fury, sink their warships, overwhelm them
or break them apart, scatter their crews, drown them all!

To my ear, Fagles keeps a steady enough foot going to give the lines lots of forward momentum which I find is sucking me right in.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Today's DC jaunt: Hirshhorn

Got down to the Hirshhorn today, along with a brief trip to the Sackler to see Samrin Gill and a stop at the Phillips to admire their new wing and get a look at the Société Anonyme.

The main thing at the Hirshhorn was The Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas, a show of contemporary sculpture by 9 artists. Most of it was messy in one way or the other, and papier machié and Styrofoam were the most common materials. I guess that’s pretty much in keeping with the biennials I see, or a walk in Chelsea. One of the big messy pieces I liked best was Black Hole (Schwarzes Loch) by Björn Dahlem. It’s a huge start burst made up of long wooden boards. Stuck in between the boards and impaled on them are every manner of common object: fluorescent light units, traffic cones, a bass drum, a chain saw, a pet carrying case, chairs, trikes and bikes, strollers, crutches. On one level it’s just a big, cool thing, exciting in a rudimentary way, simply by virtue of its spiky shape. It also keeps to its Black Hole namesake, drawing into itself seemingly the entire physical culture of contemporary life, all jumbled together and condensed.

They also had three of the artists select sculptures from the collection, and there were some pieces there that were not in regular view when I went all the time as a teenager and college student. A Lee Bontecou piece called Cocoon, yellow silk stretched over a balsa frame hanging in a steel cage. Stephan von Huene’s Totem Tone V, two wooden organ pipes that sound off in loud, sonorous tones; it seemed like a random pattern and that it produced more than two notes. Several pieces by Mary Bauermesiter, spheres in and outside vitrines covered with drawing and interspersed with lens. And not part of that show, they had one of Roxy Paine’s artificial fungus fields that got me thinking about the Material Terrain show coming up at Cheekwood which includes her.

One thing that struck me today, something I took for granted when I saw the collection back in the 70s, was that this is a remarkably comprehensive collection of post-war American art and it was basically assembled by one guy. There's one of about everything and multiples of important figures like Clifford Still. It's hard to imagine how much money he must have had.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I finally got to the newly renovated and remodeled Smithsonian American Art Museum (aka the National Collection of Fine Arts) and the National Portrait Gallery. The building looks great, with lots of the old Patent Office’s original features. Details like the visible conservation labs are a great touch. Having grown up in the DC area, it was nice to see things I remember as a kid like the marble statue of Dying Tecumseh (an American take on the Greco-Roman Dying Gaul), or James Hampton’s tin foil-covered garage-built altar.

One of the temporary exhibits is an exhaustive (but not too large) show on Joseph Cornell that includes plenty of the boxes (many from the Lehrman Art Trust), but also less familiar things like portfolios of collages and materials he put together around specific personalities, films he mostly collaborated with other artists on, and stuff collected from his apartment, labeled boxes and envelopes filled with his raw material like cork balls, clay bubble pipes, magazine clippings, and some of his books and the records he listened to. I always enjoyed the boxes in isolation, as small idealized spaces, but this show gives a way to see them with much more context and connected to an artistic milieu.

There’s also work by William Christenberry that shows everything he does – color photos, sculptures, paintings, drawings. In a lot of cases he will take one vernacular building form and show it in a photo, a sculpture and a painting. The photos still work best for me, but there’s value in seeing the form expressed each of the three ways.

My favorite aspect of the show was seeing photographs together that he took of the same buildings and scenes over time. There’s a barbeque joint in Greensboro that undergoes a name change, subtle architectural changes, then starts to decay and ends up an empty lot. Or the Klan bar in one photo that has been replaced by another business in another. And two shots of the same pear tree, one in winter, one in summer loaded with fruit. An abandoned palmist’s shop that gets overtaken by kudzu, then by other vegetation, some of which finally gets cleared away. There’s also a series of photos of a green warehouse that doesn’t change that much over time, obviously still in use.

The photos show all sorts of time and change. Social time, seasonal time, environmental time. There’s decay, cyclicality, and even progress (the Klan watering hole replaced by something more benign).

Tomorrow I may write about one or a couple of the pieces in a portraiture contest at the museum. We'll see.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More yearend recapping

I did a year-end piece for the Scene and found myself gravitating towards things that I didn’t actually review in the paper. The piece in this week’s paper ended up with a mix of stuff I did and did not review, but at one point I set myself up to see what I would come up with if I did 10 items that I hadn’t reviewed. Here’s the other five that didn’t make it into the article this week.

  • Clear Box Project, Ruby Green. For a fundraising auction, the gallery got a really impressive group of local and out of town artists to contribute pieces, all of which somehow used a clear acrylic box. In some cases it was just a case for a work, but a lot of the pieces were pretty interesting. A bunch used it as the setting for a diorama, which worked great for say Emily Holt, who is going for something like that in many of her pieces all the time. Andrew Kaufman used the box in a completely integrated way for a quasi-electrical apparatus—it seems a natural material for him. Terry Glispin might have gone the furthest, embedding the box in a bunch of colored foam. showed what could be done in and with a clear acrylic box. For many, the format revealed new dimensions of their work. I hope they do this auction again next year. It’s the kind of thing that could catch on if they can give it some time to build.
  • Valerie Lueth and Paul Roden, TAG. Two printmakers (husband and wife) new to town and to TAG—Lueth makes finely detailed, vaguely obsessive etchings and Roden does accomplished woodcuts with political themes.
  • Hamlett Dobbins, Frist. I reviewed some of Hamlett’s work at Zeitgeist, although I don’t think I’m doing justice to his stuff. He also had an exhibit this Spring in the Frist project gallery (check the Early Morning series here). The best thing about that is that they were running their show of African art from Seattle at the same time, and the patterns and some of the colors in Dobbins’ paintings have a surprising resemblance to the geometric forms of African textiles like some of those in the exhibit. The coding of Ashanti cloth tells you something about Hamlett’s patterns, which usually have associations with people but the average viewer can’t really make it out – like a non-Ashanti viewer and those patterns in the Kente cloth.
  • Wes Sherman, Arts Company. Sherman is an abstract painter, but his method involves letting famous paintings lead him into his compositions. This exhibit set his pieces next to reproductions of the masterworks that inspires them, showing how he picks up colors or general massing and turns them into abstract forms. It was a great reminder of the value of abstraction as a kind of painting essentialism, and of the way a life of viewing seeps into every artist’s vision.
  • Cynthia Reynolds, Samantha Callahan, and Rusty Johnson, Dangenart. One of my favorite Dangenart shows included these three artists (although with the permutations of shows this year, they overlapped to different degrees. Reynolds made these exquisite sculptures of packing peanuts cast in metal or glass, set up on high small pedestals, and dramatically lit, taking the disposal stuff meant to protect precious contents and turning it into the precious stuff. Callahan took an old idea – flowers as symbols or tropes on female genitalia, and pushed it further by giving big colorful flowers genital piercings. That addition made the association undeniable and just a little more fleshy and sexual. Johnson’s paintings have crusty surfaces made of odd materials like baking soda that change and even self-destruct over time. Some of the paintings sluff off some of the surface, scattering particles on the ground below.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Susan Alcorn, LaDonna Smith and Misha Feigin tomorrow night

It's been so long since I've posted, who knows if anyone reads this, but I've got a few things I need to post over the next few days. The first is to plug this concert at Ruby Green tomorrow (Thursday) night. Susan is a friend of mine who does amazing things with the pedal steel guitar. I've posted on her previously at length (a long piece, shorter piece, and link to an article she wrote), and Jonathan Marx did a nice piece in the Tennessean about this show.

This show also features LaDonna Smith, who has created a nexus for improvisation in Birmingham and improvises on violin, viola, and voice. Some of her stuff has a strong theatrical element, others stays more in an area of musical abstraction. She's playing with Misha Feigin, a Russian guitar player now based in Louisville.

Last I heard the plan was I was going to play some with Susan. The show will start at 8:30 or 9, at Ruby Green on 5th Avenue.