Perambulating the Bounds

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Couple of Watkins Senior Shows

I finally got over to Watkins to see a couple of the student shows.

Mai Lick has an utterly likable exhibit, Earthly Delights. It's a dizzy paean to things that are bad for you--sculptures of candy, cupcakes, pills, lollypops, and cigarettes (and real condoms) piled up, with paintings of the sweets, all of it done in a palette that needs a name--sugary pinks, reds, oranges, greens, it made me think of Amy Sillman's colors, but this pops up lots of other places. The parts also reminded me of Wayne Thiebaud's cakes and Red Grooms' stuff, and the accumulations of material made me think of Vadis Turner, who's on my mind since they included several pics of her work to go along with my article in the latest issue of Number (now discretely stacked in galleries all over Nashville). Mai makes a point that's kind of obvious, but worth making, that all this stuff that's bad for you is undeniably pleasurable. That's why we want to indulge in these things. Pleasure gets drowned out in the emphasis on fear.

Fear runs through all of Adam Nicholson's work here. It's an extended riff on government secrecy and conspiracies going out of control, taken through an interesting lens--Dwight Eisenhower's promotion of the interstate highway system and his warning against the military-industrial complex. Nicholson includes several cartoon-style narrative drawings, sculptures, and video. They cast the interstate highway system as a kind of invasive growth that wraps its tendrils around the folds of the human brain and that introduces "development" that really consists of knocking things down, all the while people work in underground labs on fantasy weapons. The capstone element is a sculptural bust of Eisenhower perched on a stand made of auto parts--seat belts, shock absorbers, wiring. The exhibit as a whole sure has a strong paranoid element, casting the interstate highway system not just as something wracked with unintended consequences, but part of the takeover of society and politics by shadow forces trading destruction and liberty for profits.

These exhibits will probably be up through the weekend if you are in town and can swing by Watkins.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Viewing Notes: de Balincourt

Finally got over to Vanderbilt to see the Jules de Balincourt show. The pieces Joseph Whitt put together make a lot of sense as a group. I want to just run through impressions in sort of the sequence they occurred to me, taking some license. And these will be rough notes tonight. I might polish them later.

The first thing that struck me was how vivid some of the color is. Several paintings are dominated by the bright, almost day-glo colors of spray paint and tagging. It's a quality that doesn't come across in jpegs. A reddish/pinkish color dominates the first painting (going through widdershins), a picture of a bulletin board covered with blank notices. I'm pretty sure I read someone else point out the connection to the postings after the WTC attack. So you start with this image of disaster, the apocalypse that happened in real life, not just our imaginings.

You have images of collapse throughout. The postcard image for the show is one where a group of masked characters have invaded a Hollywood hills house, hanging out and partying. In another, masked figures steal or carry animals away from a house in the hills, a helicopter overhead blaring down its searchlight. Another image of a desolate street, post riot, has a multi-colored beam of light shooting overhead. These Southern California images of desolation and disorder reminded me of Octavia Butler.

Against the images of desolation you've got images of a kind of self-indulgent cluelessness--naked people at picnic table on a tropical beach, some sort of Club Med, or people scatterred through a room, disco ball overhead, blissing out on a raindbow that winds through the room. They've got candles burning in little bunches, which is another connecting element--the interloping partiers on the terrace have candles lit, and one sculpture is a sort of mannequin corpse laden with bunches of candles. The candles bring to mind meditation practices, a leisure time activity for priveleged people, but also power outages, as civilization temporarily stumbles backwards.

The images reflect the cultural environment as much as the political or social environment. One almost incidental painting has Neil Young's name in a cursive script, highlighted with different colors. It's like a high school student's fan-boy or fan-girl doodling. It's all about the pleasure of pop culture. And a lot of the material in here connects to pop cultural reference points. The colors remind me of graffiti, and some of the paintings, like the one of the people grabbing the rainbows, are in part done in a spray paint technique. Even the images of catastrophe and collapse speak as much to the world of movies and TV shows where the apocalypse is a popular trope, going all the way back to Twilight Zone episodes where someone finds themselves alone in an abandonned city.

A few pictures step out into more concretely political territory--an open boat filled with dark-skinned passengers cruising into the lights of a big city, or stern men seated around a big table (this one reminded me of one of Oswaldo Guayasamin's paintings, it was a series of paintings called something like Meeting at the Pentagon).

Overall, I was impressed with how densely stuff piled up in these paintings--political and cultural overtones, a willingness to indulge in the pure pleasure of bright colors, overlapping elements that tie the paintings together into different packages. Some of this sensation is due to Joseph's choice of paintings and position in the gallery, and he's certainly brought out those qualities through his curatorial choices.

The density of the work means that a work like Remembering Our Great Dead Heroes--its those words underneath multicolored curlicues--could be a reference to war dead, but in context those words and traces of color could be heroes from any cultural realm--maybe the heroes are Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Visual Arts events update but really self-promotion

I’m sending out a late month update primarily in the interests of self-promotion, but will add a few other events to salve my conscience. The self-promotion part is that I’m playing a show this Saturday afternoon at noon at Twist. That’s right, noon. We’ve set up this show for a group from North Carolina, Savage Knights, who are on their way to gigs in Louisville and Chicago (playing at the Hungry Brain there). As an opener or closer (we’ll see), Joseph Hudson and I are playing. He plays piano and accordion with my saxes. We’re working with material that has a lot in common with one of my great heroes, Fred Anderson of Chicago, but that might not be entirely obvious since it’s overlaid with things like minimalist obsessive repetitive patterns.

So there’s a few other events and openings coming up this weekend. And then it’s Thanksgiving—I hope everyone has a great holiday.

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Nov. 20

Frist, Susan Edwards lecture on photography. The director of the Frist Center takes center stage to deliver a lecture “Is the Medium the Message?” as part of the center’s photography lecture series to accompany their exhibit of works from the Eastman House. Yes, it is a consideration of McLuhan’s ideas as they relate to photography from a phenomenological, sociological, and aesthetic point of view. The lecture is at 6:30.

Nov. 21

Gallery F, Wish List. The second show at Gallery F features work by students from the TSU art department. This department really seems to be blooming, as evidenced by the work on display at the Frist last year. This might have work by some of

those artists. Sabine Schlunk tells me the students are pushing into some experimental territory in their pieces for this show, and I think she’s been encouraging them in this direction. In that spirit, Ash Lusk and Jared Freihoefer will provide “spontaneous sound performances” at the opening.

Watkins, Krstine Larsen, Adam Nicholson, and Mai Lick. The second round of Senior Thesis exhibits for this semester.

Nabit Gallery, Sewanee, April Hannah. Hannah is a Brooklyn-based artist who integrates chance elements into 2- and 3-D work by start with forms generated by automatic drawing.

Nov. 22

Twist, Savage Knights and the Hudson-Maddox Complex. This is that show at Twist. Jack Silverman did a nice write-up in th

e Scene with this description of Savage Knights: “instrumental music that blends the noirish intensity of a Tarantino soundtrack with Ethiopiques-style harmonies, splashes of Moog, droning horns and dissonant explosions.”

Plowhaus at TALS, Something Green: A Children’s Art Show About the Environment. Plowhaus asked 50 children ages 5-10 to make art works showing what the environment means to them. This is

an inherently good idea and I do not doubt it when the Plowhaus’ PR says the children have made some amazing works of art. This show nicely continues Plowhaus’ tradition of community engagement. They will have the opening from 2-6 on the 22nd (so come to our concert at Twist, then go to TALS) and is only going to be up through November 30.

Cumberland, Small Packages. Cumberland’s annual holiday show of small works mostly by gallery artists intended to be a bit more affordable, more in the gift range.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

It happened!

I wish we all could be in Chicago tonight.

They asked John Lewis whom he thinks of at this time. I want to remember Harold Washington. Tonight reminds me of how happy I was when he was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983. Thank you Harold for giving us some hope then, you were taken from us too early. May Barack Obama fulfill that promise.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Now's the time