Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm back.

Looking East. Over the precipice of Angels' Rest, Oregon.

Looking West. On the steps of the Georgia Capitol building.


Friday, July 25, 2008


Landfall Press.
Lithography. Old school.
Trust me: they're professionals.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Railyard District

Panel 1 of Navy/Army/Airforce (triptych) by Shen Jingdong.

Detroit, Michigan, photograph by Eric Smith.

Pork Chop Suey - Oinktoberfest (detail), lithograph by Tom Huck.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lucky Number Seven (Off-Site)

[Continued from below.]

Story Line, multiple installations by Morse, Morse, and Simpson. I found this one at the Institute for American Indian Arts in downtown Santa Fe.

The sculptural "umbilical cord" above, Story Line, is made primarily of reclaimed junk. A continuous clay shell surrounds an inner core of rice, nylon, batting thread, and waddle. The three artists remark:
We are scavengers, exploring the aisles of Wal-Mart for batting material and stopping on the side of the road to inspect erosion blockers.
It's a very loose visual metaphor. Community is based on stories, and stories are connections - a thread of anecdotes told and retold in a mash-up of existing cultural materials. Notice the effort in matching the texture and color of Santa Fe architecture, a somewhat self-conscious throwback to the adobe structures of the Pueblo Indians.

Flashy technique is sacrificed for a kind of simplicity of message. The point is to create dialog – although an awkward and admittedly synthetic one – between existing local cultures and the various national and international institutions that the word "biennial" necessarily implies.

Here, Story Line silently invades downtown Santa Fe like some B-movie parasite. The "host" building is the Institute for American Indian Arts, a fine arts college and museum dedicated to Native American artists.

The sculpture encroaches on a promotional banner for the museum's Fritz Scholder collection. Though Scholder's work recalls the abstraction of Francis Bacon or perhaps Willem de Kooning, his subjects and his colors capture the flavor of the Southwest.

Erick Beltrán (Mexico), installations inside the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors museum. The pedestrians here are checking out the local "Portal Market," where Native Americans sell turquoise jewelry and other handmade tourist trinkets.

Beltrán's pieces are designed to evoke a cemetery marker. Although I'm not familiar with his model, he invites us to consider themes of generational heritage, mathematical diagrams and maps, and statistical trends in population and immigration. Even more so than Story Line, his "mosaics" are downplayed to the level of near-stealth.

There are 20 or more off-site installations, referred to as "Hot Spots," located at 14 partner institutions in the greater Santa Fe area. Sometimes the only clear indication is

a simple metallic plaque, as if to confirm that ghostly feeling:

Yes... You are in the presence of Art.

The biennial piece above was installed at a sculpture garden populated with things like "Mr. Dog-Man" and this serene "Mistress of the Desert":

The effect is seamless; it really looks like it always belonged there. I like to think of it as a simulated ambiance.

A full integration with the everyday, attempted at the risk of misinterpretation or, worse, accidental negligence. The placement causes occasional moments of "conversation" with objects of the established visual order, especially those we tend to take for granted.

Luchezar Boyadjiev (Bulgaria), also located at the Palace of the Governors.


Art as Democracy: as with most elections in this country, the problem is participation. Luchezar Boyadjiev invites passersby to write a response to Lucky Number Seven using seven words or less.

The boards appear throughout town, but the most prominent contributions are naïve little drawings, photos of artistic process, and words by biennial participants "pumping each other up."

Luchezar, another "Hot Spot" at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, juxtaposed with... of the museum's sculptures. We'll call it "Serpent of the Eternal Return."

The idea wasn't a failure; I thought these messages were a lot of fun. But I found the SITE installation at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, for example, precisely because I was looking for it.

It was behind a closed gate, and although the museum guard encouraged me to enter, no one else had entered the courtyard that afternoon. The pen provided, an expense account purchase from Office Depot, was nearly illegible due the rains of Santa Fe's "monsoon season."

The staff at SITE Santa Fe was extremely helpful. Southerners have high standards of hospitality. I wasn't disappointed.

Of course, these pitfalls are natural to a project of this scale. SITE is basically Santa Fe's equivalent of Eyedrum Gallery or perhaps the Atlanta Contemporary. But while the intimidation factor remains admirably low, the range of city-wide partnerships and transnational collaboration is impressive for a town of this size.

Over the course of seven years, the SITE team has cultivated the resources necessary to increase the scale.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lucky Number Seven (On-Site)

Two-level layout at Lucky Number Seven. Click here for more exhibition photos.

Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, the final two credits listed in the initial gallery, donated the design pro bono. The gallery foundation, unfortunately, had to finance the builders through the usual means.

Ideals of community space – SITE Santa Fe's 7th biennial, titled Lucky Number Seven, finds its most direct mission statement in the words of its architects:
We see architecture as an act of profound optimism. Its foundation lies in believing that it is possible to make places on earth that can give a sense of grace to life and in believing that that matters.
- Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
Although the project involved dozens of international artists, staff, and volunteers, the design is what really drives the on-site exhibition. The gallery is divided into cavernous, interlocking cells like a futuristic beehive. Visitors encounter walls at lateral angles and climb long rising inclines; most every installation can be seen from one of two floors.

Everything - including the videos, sculptures, and off-site installations - is executed with the same intention: to maximize the accidental, personal qualities of each viewer's experience, possibly in an attempt at what Nicolas Bourriaud calls "relational aesthetics." I believe the phrase used in one artist statement was “art as democracy.”

Does it work? Conceptually, yes. But in terms of substance and pure aesthetic excitement, something is missing... Unfortunately, I’m not sure what.

The Fourth Ladder, interactive projection by Studio Azzurrio (Italy).

"Mr. Eyepatch" appears in more than one video. He is officially awesome.

As several larger-than-life figures walk from left to right, the viewer can touch the wall and activate a recorded message. The chosen "character" stops mid-stride, turns toward the audience, and speaks, giving directions around Santa Fe, commenting on the weather, or other snippets of local wisdom. Here's an excerpt from the artist statement:
A high potentiality of connection [due to modern technology] corresponds to a low ability of relation … The intense gesture of stopping one of the many characters passing by and detaining him with your hand expresses the desire of contact. It shows the necessity of getting in touch.
- Studio Azzurro, artist statement.
Although the artists generally came from out of town (from the US and overseas), each was required to create their pieces in Santa Fe, using local materials and styles. Judging from my experience, the characters in the projection appear to be bona fide New Mexicans.

10-20 video screens lined a corridor between the first two galleries. I happened to bump into the artist behind this piece; she was surprisingly young. According to website, the team was a diverse "20s and up" crowd.

More and more video. I didn't really understand this piece, but I was struck by the surreal contrast between the completely serene audience at right and the flailing gesticulations of the rock band at left. It was like they were playing a concert for the third world...

"Umbilical" sculptural installation by Eliza Naranjo Morse, Nora Naranjo Morse, and Rose B. Simpson. These were paralleled by off-site creations in downtown Santa Fe. More in the next post...

Unlike the multimedia entires, the two-dimensional works were surprisingly juvenile. In keeping with the mission of biodegradable, disposable ephemera, each drawing was performed on standard size paper and tacked, unframed, to the naked wall surface. I respect the intention – maintaining a casual, and therefore more democratic, atmosphere - but a lot of the drawings just looked poor.

Drawings and found object by Hiroshi Fuji (Japan).

Hiroshi Fuji's drawings, on the other hand, were more inspired. Apparently, his usual media include garbage and abandoned toys. Here, he appears to follow Takashi Murakami's aesthetic of Tokyo pop/fine art fusion. It's too bad I didn't make it out to photograph his epic-scale installation at the Santa Fe Opera, one of the more hyped entries to the biennial...


[Continued above.]