Author Archives: Laura

Big Art in a Small Town, Giving Thanks

I’m trying to be an optimist but can’t help thinking this is a year full of lasts for our family.  As our oldest daughter applies for far flung colleges, I’m learning to let go while trying to savor each moment. So on this day of thanks, I’m almost painfully grateful to be seated next to her, even as she ferociously snaps away on her phone.  Time together used to be filled with excursions organized by yours truly. Now I give options like “would you like to sleep in or visit the Dalí Musuem? Would you like to walk to a botanical garden or lounge by pool?” This is how my husband and I find ourselves sans daughters on art outings while on family vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida.

While the small town of St. Petersburg, which neighbors Tampa, is quaint and filled with historic homes on tree lined, brick paved streets, the art scene here is quite cosmopolitan. We have the good fortune to visit the Dalí Musuem, the Museum of Fine Art, and the Raymond James headquarters, which houses 3000 works of art, all collected from living artists and mostly focusing on western and wildlife art. Today’s post focuses on the Dalí Museum which is the largest collection of Salvador Dalí work in the world.

imageWhen I visited the museum in 1991 as a Rollins College student, the collection was housed in a scrappy low nondescript building a few inches from busy commercial 3rd Street.  My, how things have changed. I’d heard about the new building and the architecture which honors Dalí with its asymmetrical lines, bulbous forms and odd protrusions. Emulating the nonsensical structures within his paintings, with unexpected vanishing points, is the central staircase which winds around into oblivion.

 

The collection is magnificent, following Dalí’s life and the evolution of his paintings. The one of his sister (above left), was repainted by the artist after estrangement with his family. He added the upside-down rendering which marks a turning point in his painting style as he moved toward inverted forms and altered perspectives. While famous for surreal scenes consisting of references to warped time, hyper-sensualized female figures, and vacuous land expanses, the pieces that startle me the most are those where Dalí masterfully tricks the human eye. Viewers think they see one image, but step back thirty feet and an entirely different painting composition emerges. There were also several pieces that changed drastically when viewed through a camera or iphone, such as the one below of his brother. image

Dalí’s understanding of illusion, and ability to impact viewer perception is much more powerful than I realized. It is the work of a genius, which is most evident in his large scale paintings toward the end of our tour. Due to the crowds, I am unable to step back and get unobstructed photos, but below are several detail shots of the huge paintings.

The details and various stylistic elements within each of the large paintings is astounding. How the artist composed such enormous paintings with so many dissonant features – and pulled it all together in a cohesive presentation – is awesome. These are paintings one could view for years and make new discoveries with each viewing. For example, the negative spaces and shapes become representational forms, such as animals, sculptures, and human faces. There are hidden images within hidden images, like floating heads that initially appear to be cloud like shapes. Once the heads are discovered, if the viewer continues to study the shapes, we find little faces within the eye sockets. These discoveries are eerie and jolting and joyful. Then we discover those tiny faces Dalí painted within the eye sockets are replicated elsewhere in the painting. His trickery and symbolism is a gigantic puzzle for viewers to ponder endlessly.

imageAfter visiting the main collection, we move on to a special exhibition: Dalí and Schiaparelli.  The two artists, one a painter and the other a fabric and fashion designer, collaborated for many years and presented sculptures, clothing and objects they designed together in hopes of encouraging viewers to see regular objects in a new way. As explained in a display: “Schiaparelli and Dalí desired to surprise and provoke their audiences to help them see things in a new way. A key technique for them was to alter familiar objects. By inverting, penetrating or turning things inside out, they give us new ways to understand those objects. They subverted the domestic chest of drawers into a visual pun – a “chest” of drawers.”

The exhibition provides those of us who lack fashion knowledge with a clear lesson in the connection that fashion, fabric and objects have to art and culture. We see two artists examining specific ideas by collaborating and blowing open the various possible materials that can be used to express those ideas. This, once again, reminds me that artists rarely or never work alone, as solitary as the work can seem. Influences abound and collaboration can elevate and expound concepts that would otherwise remain narrowly trapped in the individual artist perspective.

As always, thank you for reading!

Dali Atomicus, 1948 by Philippe Halsman

Dalí Atomicus, 1948 by Philippe Halsman (This photograph is part of the Museum of Fine Art collection in St. Petersburg, FL)

Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fabulous Philly

With all the fabulous food, history, art, gardens and entertainment in Philadelphia, it is hard to pick favorites. But this post is a quickie, so chose I must. First, a little context…

My daughter and I zipped up (thank you Southwest Airlines!) to Philadelphia for a recent weekend to visit colleges. In addition to the college tours, we made sure to make time for a walk through the historic district, important stops such as Franklin Fountain (for ice cream – yes, it is worth the long line), and a handful of museums. As first time visitors, we accepted beforehand the trip would be a mere glimpse of Philadelphia and throughout the weekend we both mentioned hoping this trip is the first of many.

We visited the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Mütter Museum, the Penn Museum, and the one I have admired from afar for years, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) which will be the focus of today’s post.

Kehinde Wiley

This institution is both academy and museum. The galleries host outstanding visiting exhibits, student exhibits, and work from the permanent collection. Due to a history of training some of our countries’ most established artists, they permanent collection consists of work from past and current students and faculty who are now world renowned such as Cecilia Beaux,  Alex Kanevsky, Vincent Desiderio and Thomas Eakins. There are various learning opportunities for students and professionals such as a Masters in Fine Art program, certificate programs, and post graduate professional offerings. They host provocative, educational lectures for students and guests – I only read about them from home but am determined to attend someday.

There are currently numerous excellent exhibits throughout the galleries. The one that most exceeded my expectations was “Chuck Close Photographs: Stretching the Boundaries of Photography.” I’ve grown up studying Chuck Close and wondered if his photography would meet the standards set by his long career of large penetrating portraits. If anything, he has topped himself.

Kara Walker, 2008 (left photo)
Kara/maquette, 2010 (right photo)

The photography is insightful, beautiful, and disarming. I wrongly assumed that the photography is a recent focus for Close, but these photos span from 1964 to present and have been an important part of his painting process. So they were there all along and only recently displayed as a collection. My favorite, due to my fascination with her silhouette artwork, is the duo his presents of the artist Kara Walker. The photo of Walker is straightforward and intimate. Seeing her profile presented in the same format as her own artwork is powerful. Close has created an homage to the woman and to her artwork.

“Leaves, Letters, Lavender” by Martha Jackson Jarvis

Hidden on the landing between two levels of the historic building is an exhibit titled, “A Collaborative Language: Selections from the Experimental Printmaking Institute.” I’m grateful to the man at the front desk who mentioned the cavernous little gallery space – I might have walked right past without his tip. As a mixed media artist experimenting with rudimentary printmaking techniques in my own paintings, this exhibit sparked my growing interest in the technique. The Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI) draws established contemporary artists to its renowned residency program, which is where this exhibit was created.

The other exhibit that blew me away is “Beyond Boundaries: Feminine Forms.” There are many female artist exhibits currently on display across the country, but this one, well, these are long established idols.  Jenny Holzer, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Spero, Faith Ringhold all in one room – oh my! The exhibition showcases work collected by Linda Lee Alter and donated to PAFA in 2011. Her collection efforts were meant to make “corrections to historical biases that overlooked work by women” and this exhibition “aims to identify the various ways these artists subvert stereotypes of gender by embracing experiences devalued by patriarchal societies.”

Miriam Schapiro

Jenny Holzer

Nancy Spero

Faith Ringgold

This perspective reminds me of the mission statement of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. Some female artists do not want to be labeled as such. They prefer no gender identification in their title, “artist.” But I think an important consideration when considering these female based exhibits is the idea of women’s experiences in the world are different from those of a man. Therefore, the art they make can be inherently different and has often been overlooked throughout art history as unworthy.

I can’t conclude without a mention of one of the best dining experiences of my life. My daughter and I simply started at each other in disbelief over the service, the food, and the atmosphere at Morimoto. I find myself pulling for UPenn so I can – quite selfishly – return for more at this exquisite Japanese restaurant. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura 

 

 

Inspiration in Washington, DC: A Captivating Art Tour

A five-day visit to our nation’s capital, with the unusual circumstance of time on my hands, means visiting exhibits and museums at a leisurely pace. What a treat to read each description, sit in front of work and dwell to my heart’s content, and circle back around to displays I want to reconsider. My first stop is the National Portrait Gallery. After a joyful reunion with my Rollins College Writing Center co-worker and friend, we periodically pause feverish talk of politics and focus our attention on the galleries.

Some highlights include one of my favorites by Cecilia Beaux. Look at that hand, so unfussy, so gestural, so perfect. And the controversial Richard Prince with his snarky sense of humor. I am intrigued by Mark Bradford’s “Amendment #8” because of my own use of text in layers of paint. The artist renders the words illegible and the only way we recognize the meaning is through the title of the work. The loss of meaning in language is something I have had on my mind lately, in listening to language used by politicians.

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“John” by Vincent Valdez

“American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis)” by Emily Prince

Later, I return to see The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now. One should not be rushed through this exhibit. The photographs are intimate and breathtaking. The tiny hand drawn portraits of fallen soldiers are too numerous to take in carefully, and it feels shameful not to look at each and every face, despite or because of the extreme volume of portraits. Vincent Valdez creates a haunting homage to his friend, who survived war but not his return home, in a multimedia display including photographs, film and painting.

NOTE: in reviewing this blog post, something is nagging at me about my woefully inadequate description of The Face of Battle exhibit. It deserves more than I provide in this brief summary of art museums visits. To read an insightful article about the artists and people they portray, please click HERE.

Next is a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art. The elevated annular building is a sight to behold. After circling around and underneath, admiring the surrounding sculpture gardens and the refreshing fountain in the center, I make my way inside to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Initially, I think I can waltz through, briskly taking in the large scale lego mats that present images of faces from around the world. But something makes me stop and read about each and every person. They are each considered political dissidents and live in places without freedom of speech. Many have disappeared, many are in jail indefinitely, many are dead or presumed dead, and few are free. In addition to wanting to learn about each person’s life and heroic actions, one might wonder, why legos? A conflict, or almost embarrassing tension, exists when learning about tragedy by viewing portraits made from a commonly known toy. It seems playful but is not. I try to imagine the installation as a large mat of photos instead of legos and how another medium would impact viewer perception. It is as if the legos keep the images from being “just another” news story and prompt viewers to think about the personal lives of the portrayed people. It is surprising how the common world wide use of legos somehow makes us feel more connected to each individual than, perhaps, photography would. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To watch a short video of the artist speaking about the ideas presented in the installation, the methods, and the materials used, please click HERE.

Moving right along, after a good night’s sleep, is the recently renovated National Gallery of Art East Building which holds a world renowned 500 piece collection of modern and contemporary art. For first time visitors, a tip: Be sure to pick up a map and guide at the Ground Level Information desk. The design of the building can lead to disorientation and it is easy to accidentally miss certain areas such as the multiple towers. It is also easy to feel so enamored with the building, you might forget which levels, towers and corridors you have already visited, and which you have missed.

I am startled by the number of pieces in the collection that were part of my art history studies at UA Little Rock. Below is a slideshow of pieces that we discussed during my graduate program and that continue to influence my ideas about art. It is a joy to see the work in person, especially in order to closely inspect the brushwork and color used by George Condo, Wayne Thiebaud, and Cecily Brown. Seeing, up close, the line work and materials used by William Kentridge and by Sigmar Polke is so much clearer than the prints I’ve studied.

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Finally, perhaps my favorite of all: the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This is my first visit and I wonder why I haven’t prioritized it before. The collection is much larger than I realized and, again, there is no rushing through….particularly in viewing the special exhibit, “Revival.”

My former professor and friend recently expressed ambivalent feelings about the NMWA. When I asked her to explain, she said she does not want to be known as a “female artist” and would prefer to be known as an “artist.” Her questioning the benefit of this museum made me consider whether celebrating women in a separate space does perpetuate the label, “female artist.” However, like many groups of people who band together in order to create a more powerful voice, one that often goes ignored individually, I believe the NMWA exists because it is needed. As stated in the museum’s brochure and along the entry foyer wall: “Gender bias is less overt today, but contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities. Art by women is persistently underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions worldwide.” I recall work at the Tate Modern that addresses this exact issue and am grateful to the museum for providing additional recognition for women in the arts.

Another unexpected thought occurs to me while visiting the museum…collectively, how is art made by women different than art made by men? Or is it? I am intrigued by this observation and notice repeated themes, some overt, some quite subtle. Much of the art is directly about being female. Many pieces are about the female body and multiple catagories within the subject of the body (how we are perceived, how we are objectified, how we cover ourselves, how we judge each other by appearance, how we are strong, how we compare to elements in nature, how we decorate ourselves. etc.).

I’ll sign off with a few favorites below. Often, I gravitate toward paintings and drawings but this time it is the sculpture that stops me in my tracks and makes me stay awhile. As always, thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3)

“Passage” by Dominique Simmons

In Part 2 of this series, I noticed a recurring theme while describing the various venues and exhibits we visited in Bentonville, Arkansas. It occurred to me again and again that art enables us to better understand the perspective of others. That theme continues as I make my way to the Fine Arts Building at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Regardless of your political persuasion, a visit to the exhibit, “Nasty Woman” certainly fulfills the purpose of experiencing various perspectives. It is often said that artists reflect the cultural pulse of society. Of course, no single person, or small group can speak for all. But the Nasty Woman exhibit, like it’s counterparts popping up around the globe, reveals the ways in which many female artists are responding to a political and social environment that feels oppressive for some.

This exhibit showcases multiple themes, materials, and concepts to present the overarching theme of gender inequality. Some of the artwork communicates protest, some celebrates women, some asks for recognition of unrecognized women. Some addresses the roles women hold in communities and families, some of the work addresses reproductive rights or our cultural focus on women’s body parts. Some of the pieces are nurturing, some are aggressive

“Mammary Ducts” by Mia Hall

As women strive to progress, and demand rights such as equal pay, there seems to be a backslide that has developed in the last two or three years. For example, what do we make of the recent shift in public response to breastfeeding? Why has it become “gross” and “inappropriate”? Women’s nipples don’t differ greatly from men’s, so why is the exposure of women’s nipples not acceptable? We even have a biological purpose for them, yet, in a strange reversal, breastfeeding has become an occupational hazard for many nursing mothers. Regardless of how you view breastfeeding, the issue of judging and legislating women’s bodies remains, and it is one that Mia Hall addresses in her installation, “Mammary Ducts.” Our culture places in inordinate amount of critique, shame and observation on women’s body parts. They are just nipples, see?

One of my favorite pieces is by the Curator of this exhibit, Margo Duvall. The small size, circular shape and material (grainy wood) makes each portrait precious, like little artifacts to be revered. They are clean and direct, and seem to ask for overdue recognition. They are beautifully crafted like the women they present and the disks simply ask to be seen.

Regarding my own entry in this exhibit, there is something nagging at me that, I believe, is worth discussing. While reading the exhibit statement at the gallery entry, I wonder, Did I live up to this ideal with my pieces? Dr. Emily Gerhold writes, “While ‘Nasty Woman’ is not meant to promote a specific ideological position, it is, by both necessity and design, a product of the historical and social movement in which we live. Its artists extend themselves beyond the banality of a headline or sound bite to engage, on a deeply personal level, the urgent, powerful experience of being a woman.” 

Actually, I leaned right into the banality of a soundbite. Yup, my work is crass, it is nasty. And I am not proud. But it is a reflection of what I am seeing in our culture today, starting with our highest office. Why are women’s bodies being talked about the way they are? And should we not be outraged? Would it be more proper to whisper our responses to the vitriol, or better yet, silently swallow our responses as if we think the words mean nothing? Or worse, justify it? As if lewd words, and catcalls, and discrimination, and sexual harassment, and being grabbed is all ok and we need to just suck it up and get over it. I admit, I made no effort to make my message pretty, or feminine, or demur. These nine pieces are part of a larger group that simply reflects what I am seeing and hearing about women’s roles, women’s bodies, women’s looks and women’s healthcare policy being discussed ad nauseam in our society and in our governing bodies. The work is meant to draw our attention to language, the meaning and consequences of using words, the deconstruction of words and how language shapes our reality.

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While direct language was not neccesarily prominent in the exhibit, I did find much of the work to be narrative. The slideshow above exemplifies how the exhibit provides insight into women’s lives and gives viewers ways of piecing together a story, a relationship, an action or an emotion.

Nasty Woman showcases the work of 36 female artists from across the nation and this post will get way too long if I respond here to all the thought-provoking work. The 36 artists included in the exhibition are: Zina Al-Shukri, Heather Beckwith, Darcie Beeman-Black, Megan Berner, Cynthia Buob, Beverly Buys, Susan Chambers, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Norwood Creech, Nancy Dunaway, Margo Duvall, Melissa Gill, Mia Hall, Louise Halsey, Diane Harper, Tammy Harrington, Heidi Hogden, Robyn Horn Erin House, Jeanie Hursley, Catherine Kim, Kimberly Kwee, Joli Livaudais, Angie Macri, Hannah May, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Catherine Siri Nugent Laura Raborn, Emily Rogers, Dina Ropele Santos, Dominique Simmons, Kasten Searles, Katherine Strause, Brittany Wilder, Kat Wilson, and Miranda Young-Rice.

If you are in the central Arkansas area please consider a visit to this important exhibit. Summer gallery hours: 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday. Gallery admission is free. There is a reception on Friday, Aug. 18th from 5:00-7:00 pm with a Curator Talk at 6:00 pm. See you there!
As always, thank you for reading. Next up: Art exploration in our nation’s capital city!
Laura

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 2)

I visit as often as I can, and have blogged about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art several times.  As the museum continues to showcase visiting world renowned exhibits, and reorganize the permanent collection, there is always something new to see and more to say about this special place in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I get to visit this time with a dear childhood friend who has never been to the museum.  I try to give her space and not interrupt our outing with my own perspective and excitement about this place. What a treat it is to hear the amazement of a first time visitor who has seen countless museums elsewhere but can’t help to be impressed and delighted by this one.  It makes me proud all over again and deeply grateful to Alice Walton for providing this resource for her community, home state, and beyond.

We arrive during mid day summer heat and decide to start with the inside tour, postponing a visit through the expanded trail system and “Chihuly in the Forest” until the next morning. The collection is a world class wonder, and I am drawn to my favorites again and again: Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Max Ferguson, Fairfield Porter, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Wayne Thiebaud, Alice Neel, Kara Walker…the list goes on and on.

One aspect of the museum experience I’ve been considering lately, is that of community outreach and education.  In other words, what good does it do to have all this great work here? So often, visitors wander through and don’t feel connected or informed by artwork. Crystal Bridges has established a strong education program for the community, reaching out to all types of visitors through targeted events and programming. Instead of wandering aimlessly, visitors really learn about the work, whether it be through the extremely friendly and informed attendants, through school visits, through guided tours, through accessible displays and explanations, or through the many interactive tablets mounted throughout the museum. What does this mean? To me, it means the museum can reveal to visitors the perspective of another person. What a powerful gift! And don’t we desperately need ways to see perspectives different from our own?

After walking through the main galleries, we enter the “Chihuly in the Gallery” exhibit. As usual, learning about the artist, his background, and his various influences made me appreciate the work more than I did before this visit. Perhaps because I am a 2D artist, one of the highlights are the sketches by the artist. While the glass blowing process sometimes alters from the original plan, usually the pieces were produced exactly as described in the sketches, which is impressive.

We then check into a nearby hotel and explore the town square. The food scene in Bentonville is bustling and picking a place for dinner is difficult because of the multiple options. After rave reviews from a friend (thank you, Terri!) we decide on the Italian restaurant, Tavola Trattoria, which is excellent and affordable. Before retiring after a big day, there is more art to see…the always provocative exhibit at 21c Hotel. I’m starting to think a famous artist is following me. OK, if not the man, his art. For those who have read this blog before, you’ll know I am ecstatic to find the work of, you got it, Hank Willis Thomas!

“Raise Up” by Hank Willis Thomas

His work is part of a group exhibit, “Seeing Now” of which Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator, states, “This multi-media selection of works by over two dozen artists explores what and how we see today, revealing the visible and hidden forces shaping both what the contemporary world looks like, and how we consume and interpret that information—how visual and psychological perception are evolving in the 21st-century.” 

While I want to believe tolerance, integration and acceptance is a growing part of this booming area, I know there is more progress to make to battle racism. Perhaps the work of this brilliant artist can open the minds of people who are still stuck in hate and fear. Willis Thomas is able to take simple-seeming images and allow viewers to understand another person’s perspective, to sense the consequences of our actions, to see how our beliefs can be problematic, and to grasp that ambivalence is actually negligence.

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For example, the two photos above are part of an interactive photography display. Using a phone, viewers can choose to snap pics with the flash on, which exposes details in the image, allowing us to look closely at what is really happening in the photos. Or, visitors can walk on by vaguely aware of the activities and pain occurring in the historic photographs. Brilliant. The artist, in such a simple way, evokes a powerful conclusion: racism will continue in this country if all “races” do not work together as the artist and viewer work together to see and acknowledge what is happening. If white people continue to look away, we will not heal or progress as a society….at least that’s my take-away from another thought-provoking display by Hank Willis Thomas.

Boris Nzebo paintings at The Pressroom in Bentonville

Boris Nzebo painting in the Manchester Art Gallery

Wiped out from long walks and art overload (is that even possible?), we get to sleep early and are ready the next day to hit the trails. First, we visit The Pressroom for breakfast. In addition to the excellent food, I am delighted to spot these three paintings by Nigerian artist, Boris Nzebo. The graphic lines are quite recognizable and I was surprised to see the work in the small Arkansas town – I wrote last summer about admiring his work in a museum exhibit in Manchester, England! It is so strange how, once one pays close attention and develops a a list of  art elements to admire, the world becomes small and repeat finds happen often. Seeing a piece of art by artists we deeply admire feels like seeing an old friend or famous figure. I never tire from the excitement of exploring for this reason.

One could spend hours on the trails around Crystal Bridges but we have to head home soon so we don’t venture far. We enjoy a walk through the exhibit “Chihuly in the Forest,” peek at the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and head for the car. It is helpful to move around before the three hour drive back to Little Rock. Admittedly, the hours fly by as we chat endlessly about art, the ability to incite change through art, and how we can each apply to our own jobs and projects what we learned during our quick adventure. As I drive toward home, my mind is a whirl of ideas and thoughts for upcoming days in the studio. And I think of Chihuly who stated, “I don’t think much about the past. I think more about the future. I prefer to be thinking about what I want to be doing tomorrow.” I completely understand.

Up next, Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 3) which will focus on the current “Nasty Woman” exhibit at UA Little Rock. Thank you for reading!

Laura

 

 

 

Beating the Heat in Arkansas: A Super Cool Art Scene (Part 1)

IMG_1333After a surprisingly mild June, the choking heat of July is upon us here in Arkansas. Consider cooling off by visiting one of many outstanding art exhibits. My favorites so far are at the Arkansas Arts Center, at UA Little Rock, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and at 21c Hotel. I’ll start with the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) which, I must admit, holds a dear place in my heart.

As a current mixed media workshop teacher there, I like to promote the AAC as often as possible. However, I have a lifetime of memories starting with early childhood that make me fond of the place. Do you have a place that you can return to after many years, and the smells and sounds make years rush back in one fell swoop? The AAC does that each and every time I step in the door, especially the original entrance which is now the back door and the quickest way to the museum school.

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More relevantly, I remember hearing my whole life about the drawing collection started by Townsend Wolfe, the famed and beloved Director and Curator from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. During my visit last week, I started my tour with “Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational Retrospective” which re-presents artwork featured in 12 Drawing Invitationals held at the AAC over a 30 year period. The exhibit showcases pieces from well known contemporary artists and the work is sure to impress the most educated art aficionados as well as visitors new to drawing. The variety of work is very relatable, provocative and advanced in concept and technique.

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Bill Vuksanovich, “Untitled”

Take, for example, the direct realism of Bill Vuksanovich, (please pardon the reflections in the glass). The boy’s stare grabs viewers and compels us to stare back, which is when we notice the details: the pressed yet wrinkled pants, the slightly awkward hands, the unsettling contrast between the boy’s expression and the word “Champion” on his baggy sweatshirt. This is a piece to be examined just as the boy is examining us.

It is a pleasure to compare and contrast the variety of drawings in this exhibit. For example, we grasp the breadth of the collection as we move from figurative realism to the mathmatical work of Stephen Talasnik and the alternative surface created by Russell Crotty (both in the slide show above).

IMG_1365Exiting the Drawing exhibition and walking toward the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition (the 56th!), I had to stop and examine a recent acquisition, “Les Demoiselles” which reminds me of my favorite contemporary artists, Firelei Báez. Now I have another artist to study, Zoë Charlton. It just so happens she shows at ConnerSmith in Washington DC which I’ll soon visit (material for another post!). I haven’t done thorough research yet, but find myself hoping these artists know each other – it seems they would have lots to discuss.

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The aforementioned Young Artists exhibit is always a crowd pleaser. I come away enthralled and slightly jealous…the skills and ideas presented by such young artists…if only I’d had half their talent and motivation at that age!

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Savannah Bell, “Popped”

This year, I had the honor of being a juror for the show which is not a challenge I recommend for the faint of heart. There were simply too many excellent entries. It was a pleasure seeing the work in person and I look forward to seeing what becomes of these exceptional students.

From there, I visited the much anticipated 59th Annual Delta Exhibition, a regional show that features contemporary artwork from Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas. There is really too much to say about this fantastic selection of work so I will mention a few personal favorites.

I would love to meet fellow Little Rock figure painter, Baxter Knowlton, whose painting, “Woman and Dog” is exquisite. The composition and drawing skills are excellent with rich, loose brushwork reminiscent of Lucian Freud. I hope to see more work by this artist. And look at the oddly delightful details in “Being Slipshod” by Arkadelphia artist, DebiLynn Fendley! I’m a tad uncomfortable looking so closely at his moles, curly chest hair, low slung comic strip shorts and dirty, chipped fingernails. But I can’t help myself and stay with this one for awhile. I wonder why he covers his eyes…so we can’t recognize him? So he won’t see us looking? Lastly, at least for the figurative favorites, is this piece by my friend, Jason McCann. I enjoy seeing his work evolve over the years and what I like most about this piece is strong evidence and use of line. With drawn line, McCann has a superior ability to capture a person’s inner qualities with well placed marks.

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Pulling myself away from the figurative work, there were many pieces that caught my attention. Looking at these three together, I realize the element of “line” is dominant in each piece, though applied in different ways.

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Wait wait, there’s more! “Part 2” coming soon: The Nasty Woman Exhibit at UA Little Rock, hanging out at heavenly Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the powerhouse exhibits at 21c Hotel in Bentonville. Thanks for reading and please visit again!

 

Laura

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Seeking (and Finding) Provocative Art in Central Florida

Last summer, I filled three posts with observations about art here in central Florida, as well as thoughts on returning to a place from my past. While my visit this time still evokes bittersweet nostalgia as I stroll the tree lined streets around Winter Park and Rollins College, my need to write about memory and the past was fulfilled during last year’s visit. Today, I’ll stick with the art. Once again, the art rich area does not disappoint.

“Then They Came For Me” by Patrick Martinez

Like last year, I’m noticing artist statements about political turmoil and displacement. I’ll start with my Sunday afternoon visit to Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. In his solo exhibit, “American Memorial” Los Angeles artist, Patrick Martinez uses several mediums and strategies to communicate ideas of unrest and fear.

As he states in the exhibit brochure, Martinez uses neon due to its common use in Los Angeles and across America.  It often has a base appeal, an urgent neediness, and a desperate element. In contrast, the words he chooses are associated with deep fear and a dark time in history. The words, “then they came for me” are attributed to Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller who spoke out against Germans during the rise of Nazi power.

In his series, “25 and still alive”, the artist creates birthday cake sculptures with portraits painted on the surface of the cakes. What strikes me about these pieces, in addition to the richly painted portraits and inviting faux confections, are the titles. We initially sense a celebratory message which is quickly replaced with the idea that for some people, reaching the youthful age of 25 is a feat. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another section of the museum, I am delighted to see what feels like an old friend, a collection of Paul Signac drawings and paintings on loan from my own beloved Arkansas Arts Center. Seeing the pieces far from home made me proud of the renowned AAC collection and grateful to the Dyke family for their generosity.

Next up, via the affordable, convenient and comfortable SunRail train system, I visit the Loch Haven Park area, home of the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Fire Museum, Orlando Reperatory Theatre, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art. Lakeside views and trails abound and aside from the heat, walking around this area is a treat.

This tree was here during the signing of the U.S. Constitution!

Approaching the Mennello Museum, I am drawn to the surroundings. Formerly a private residence, the intimate building is ensconsed by trails, gardens, a lakeside view, old trees (such as the one here on the right) and sculptures by American sculptor and installation artist, Alice Aycock.

My timing is off for this museum visit as I arrive just after a Bo Bartlett exhibit and just before a William Eggleston exhibit. I am able to see a Bartlett painting that, I’m told, is being purchased by the museum. And I get to peek at the Eggleston photographs propped against the baseboards ready to be hung. The Bartlett painting reminds me of one of his at Crystal Bridges Museum of Amercian Art due to the seemingly simple composition, the lonley yet brazen position of the figure, the brushwork, and the enormous canvas size.

“Untitled (Veronica)” 2015, oil on canvas

After a short walk from the Mennello Museum, I arrive in the cool comfort of the Orlando Museum of Art. I’m lucky to visit again this summer during the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, which showcases 10 progressive Florida artists. Though the three dimensional structures, photography and video installations are engaging and provocative, my favorite works are the paintings of Chase Westfall. I’m sure I’m drawn to these because of my own penchant for paint on a two dimensional surface but it is his extreme combination, and therefore, contrast between abstraction and figurative representation that I absolutely adore.  It is jarring and slightly disturbing to see the sharply painted geometric patterns imbedded in a tense push and pull with various body parts.  I typically don’t find geometric and heavily patterned paintings very engaging but Westfall’s use of rigid line against loosely painted forms sets up an energetic contrast that is confusing in a good way.

Other favorites at the museum include two pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, a chandelier sculpture by Petah Coyne, and a painting by Lavar Munroe.  Munroe uses found objects and discard in his cut canvases, making the pieces a hybrid between painting and sculpture.

Ravenous after miles of walking, I find a superb Cuban restaurant near the SunRail Station before heading back to the Alfond Inn for more art exploration. I incorrectly thought I was thorough last summer when searching the hotel hallways for art. But this time I find corridors and conference rooms I was unable to access during my last visit. As I’ve stated many times, the work of Hank Willis Thomas is a powerful influence on my own work. After hearing him speak at the Arkansas Arts Center two years ago, I basically idolize his ideas and techniques. And seeing the work in person is so exciting. I also stumble upon these three Terry Winters paintings in a dimly lit conference room.  I hope those meeting in this room when the lights are on appreciate this trio of printmaking masterpieces!

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As I write about art highlights during this central Florida visit, my daughter is in her final day of tennis camp at Rollins College.  I’ve passed my time with long walks, with a couple of movies, and of course, finding as much art as I can each day. But these idle hands are meant for making. I itch to return to my studio invigorated and inspired by the work of so many thought-provoking artists and the collections that thankfully share the work with the public.  Great art makes us think and I have plenty to consider during our travels home. Thank you for reading!