Month: April, 2012

In the Doghouse

William Wegman shows off the talents of his 13-year-old dog, Bobbin.

When you think of Maine, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For some unexplained reason I felt compelled to read Gerald’s Game last week, so I can’t help but think of Stephen King. Then I dig a bit deeper and my mind wanders to slightly less Gothic, and more Arcadian territories. I think of turning leaves, the crisp smell of fresh air. I think of hiking, biking, and true American landscapes. I think of William Wegman’s Maine.

For over 30 years, the artist has been creating Maine-inspired artworks. From his  beloved Weimaraner photographs to his postcard paintings, Wegman’s work has largely been informed by the majesty and excitement of nature. On Thursday I had the opportunity to tag along with Robin Cembalest on a visit to the artist’s Chelsea studio where he further discussed the role that Maine has played in his life, career, and upcoming exhibition at Bowdoin College, William Wegman: Hello Nature.

Aside from being able to meet Wegman’s famous Weimaraners (who were infinitely more friendly than the dog from Gerald’s Game, I might add), a highlight of the visit for me was learning about the sources that have actuated Wegman’s work . He explained that his appreciation for nature and desire to depict it in a manner that is simultaneously nostalgic and transcendental was largely inspired by books and magazines that he read about the outdoors. These literary influences range from camping catalogues from the 1950’s to Hardy Boys Mysteries like The Twisted Claw and the Secret of the Old Mill.  This diverse collection of texts will be included in the exhibition, along with over 100 works by the artist, allowing the viewer to better understand the great sense of adventure and wistfulness evoked by Wegman’s work.

William Wegman: Hello Nature will be on view at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art from July 13-October 21, 2012


How We Met

Divine consort figures from the Lila Acheson Wallace Galleries of Egyptian Art

In Kant’s Critique on the Power of Judgement he writes, “Everyone must admit that a judgment about beauty in which there is mixed the least interest is very partial and not a pure judgment of taste. One must not be in the least biased in favor of the existence of the thing, but must be entirely indifferent”. Essentially, he asserts that to truly experience and critique a work of art, one must be disinterested in its content. On my recent trip to the Met with ARTnews Editor Robin Cembalest and her Cre8tive Youth*ink galleristas, we took a slightly different approach to interpreting art. Rather than disinterest, we focused on interest–what we like, what we are drawn to (and want to draw), and what we want to learn more about.

In keeping with the theme of the museum’s new marketing campaign, What’s Your Met?, we embarked our tour with only one goal- to learn how to experience and enjoy the museum on our own terms, keeping in mind our personal interests and curiosities. With tens of thousands of objects on view throughout the grand, two-million-square-foot complex, the Met can seem like an overwhelming and even formidable place. But by taking a less formal approach to museum-going, it becomes possible to have a uniquely personal experience in a the sprawling public institution. On our tour, for instance, we tried to see as many exhibitions as possible, without overexerting ourselves. The result was a diverse survey of the museum’s permanent collections of Egyptian, American, African, and Oceanic art, with pit stops in the Arms and Armor galleries and at Andrea Fraser’s satirical 1989 film,  Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk.

While we were able to cover quite a bit of ground over a relatively short amount of time, our trip was far from a Bande à Part museum sprint. We were able to sketch, take notes on, and learn from each stop, discussing everything from accession numbers to Institutional Critique. This was by far one of the most enjoyable museum visits that I have had in a long time, due in large part to the the low-pressure, high-energy tenor of the trip, and of course the expertise and positive attitude of our awesome guide!

Where the Wild Things Are

Simen Johan. Untitled #159, 2010. From the series Until the Kingdom Comes. Digital C-print. © Simen Johan, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

In honor of the American-Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship Program’s 100th Anniversary, Scandinavia House presents Unnatural Formations. The exhibition features the photography of Stephen Hilyard, Simen Johan, and Lydia Anne McCarthy, who were each recent recipients of the grant. The photographs all feature majestic, breath-taking Nordic landscapes which have in some way or another been manipulated by the artist in an effort to blur the lines between the natural and the man-made. Stephen Hilyard’s light box photographs, for instance, feature images of craggy, formidable mountains beneath  a seemingly supernatural skyline. After speaking with the artist, however, I learned that these photographs were not taken high above sea-level, but rather far below it. Hilyard used images that he took while deep-sea diving and then digitally paired them with other images that he took of the Nordic sky.

The works that I found to be the most striking, though, were the stark, icy photographs of Simen Johan. The pieces simultaneously capture the cruelty, beauty, and Romanticism of nature through the juxtaposition of non-native wildlife with sweeping Scandinavian landscapes.

For some unexplained reason these images evoked some visceral, Chris McCandless-esque reaction in me, causing me to long for a personal, intrepid encounter with nature. Though I don’t anticipate unleashing my inner Katniss in the Scandinavian wilderness anytime soon, I found this exhibition to be a welcome reminder of the grandeur, mystery and splendor of nature.

Unnatural Formations: Three Contemporary Photographers is on view at Scandinavia House through June 30, 2012

Image provided courtesy of Scandinavia House

Fine Print

Felix Gonzalez-Torres (American, born Cuba. 1957-1996). “Untitled”. 1991. Installation view at MoMA. Billboard. Dimensions vary with installation. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser. Photograph by Jason Mandella. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

MoMA’s current exhibition, Print/Out, explores the dynamic nature of prints and the role they have played in contemporary artistic culture. Particularly apt is the notion that prints can function as didactic tools, possessing the ability to catalyze social change and incite activism. Felix Gonzalez-TorresUntitled (1991), for instance, was created at the height of the AIDS crisis in America. At a time when the disease was virtually ignored on a federal level, artists like Gonzalez-Torres produced insightful, emotional images, sharing his personal experiences with AIDS in an effort to break the silence and raise awareness. Two decades later, Print/Out took Gonzalez-Torres’ message to new heights (literally) by featuring the Untitled (1991) image on six large-scale printed billboards around the city.

This type of accessibility (and visibility) is one of the facets of the medium that makes it so appealing to contemporary artists. Prints are affordable to make and easy to distribute, allowing for a larger audience and greater exposure. Subscribing to a Benjamin-esque school of thought, one can assert that prints can be an extremely influential device because they have the power to educate and raise social and political awareness.

Print/Out is on view at MoMA through May 14, 2012

Image provided courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York