Monday, March 31, 2014

Newsflashes Spring 2014

Kate is doing well. Shown here playing with her belly button while flexing
  • I'm headed in a new direction with my recent art project- a collaboration on a music video for the Cleveland band Herzog
  • A few limited edition prints of recent collages are available at Ground Floor Gallery. Visit the space to check them out, meet good people, and see a show
  • I'm headed in a new direction with Gotham SideWalks: tours are all based on NYCs cultural history, and will be more closely alligned with my own art-making process. Specifics about this process will be revealed at NY Travel Fest in late April. There's a blogpost about it here
  • New tours this spring are:
*Street / Art, Gowanus 
*Revolution & Evolution, Prospect Park Bike Ride
  ...or some version of those. Details will be posted shortly on the tour website
  • Another baby's on the way, and it's not a collage or tour. It's a boy, and it's due mid-May
Happy Spring everybody. Hope to see ya around town!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Solo Show "Stacked & Sorted" extended until March

I am a tour guide dad artist. Given the range of people I speak to, it should come as no surprise that I am occasionally ask about my artwork. I could charge into descriptions and summaries, but those truly interested should really take a live look. Like most art, these variously textured collages are best seen in person rather than online or through convoluted text (coming from me, or otherwise). Coincidentally, much of my recent work is still hanging at the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative's gallery in the Columbia Waterfront District. Convoluted or not, here's a short interview conducted just before opening night:
Much thanks goes to the good hosts at BGI for this interview and the entire show. It’s been great working with them in (and out of) the gallery, and they are an incredible asset to all of Brooklyn.

So if you have time on a weekday between 10 & 5:00 please do visit. See art, meet good people, and get hip to the latest Brooklyn Greenway news. This place also happens to be close to a handful of good restaurants and cafes (and a brisk 5 minute walk to one of Brooklyn’s best watering holes, Jalopy).

BGI Gallery is at 153 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11231. Directions: F/G to Bergen or Carroll; B61 to Columbia Street. BGI is open Monday through Friday, 10:00AM-5:00PM or by appointment (718.522.0193718.522.0193).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

BAM Cultural District has venues BIG & small

Here's a short report on a booming arts community, and a story about a sliver of that community that I found in a garden last week. Like most of my blog posts, it's aimed at artists and those interested in supporting them. Here's the scoop.

There's a new arts center in Brooklyn- and it is not a single building or organization. Dozens of sites in the blocks surrounding the historic Brooklyn Academy of Music now host art and generate resources to fight against the reasons that artists flee New York City. Rising rents are always a problem for artists, but affordable options to live and work are a necessity for any true arts community. While those options continue to dwindle in Brooklyn, alternative art spaces that show and support art are thankfully ubiquitous. While BAM has been a focal point of this arts community since it moved from Brooklyn Heights in 1908, it's really geared towards art patrons. But a very artist-friendly little sis has grown up. In fact, you could rightly call the October 3rd opening party for BRICs new facility a debutante ball. A great blurb on the sleekly renovated old theatre, the "BRIC House," lists many spectacular features. Above, Bay Ridge artist Drew Hamilton created this "Street-Corner project" for the BRIC House gallery space. The baby is mine, but the rest of the set-up is a quarter-scale repro of an actual Bushwick street corner. Below, I try to play the 24 foot lamellophone with Kate, but she's a bit distracted by our company. We're surrounded by creepy puppets, TVs, and music. It was incredible, and is the inaugural "Fireworks" artist residency program. Hopefully a harbinger of much more top-tier artwork to make its way into the neighborhood.   
Armchair Parade is a collaboration between designer / director Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter, Big Fish), musician / composer Mark Stewart (Bang on a Can All-Stars), & filmmaker Ragnar Freidank (The Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn)
BRIC is already well known for running its popular Celebrate Brooklyn concert series every summer (among many more events), and accessibility to artists and the greater community is a strand that runs through most of their programming. BRIC House is no exception. The point of this blogpost, however, is not to highlight this new facility. It's aim is to remind people of the value and beauty of alternative art spaces. There are many within just a few blocks of BAM, and here I highlight perhaps the least known.

From October 5th through 13th the Rockwell Place Community Garden (behind the rotating BAM sign) hosts a fresh and fun art installation by local artist Dianna Leidel. Community gardens are increasingly seen as alternative art spaces, and this exhibit shows you why. The garden is brimming with life of all kinds, though my untrained eye can only identify some obvious green beans and figs. Various flowers and trees run along a curvey path dotted with small clearings. The plants are obviously well cared for, and as I walked around the garden, it was relaxing even despite the opening night crowd. The art exhibit can be seen as a playful take on typical plant identification signs... like the ones you would find at the nearby Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Liedel installed sixty signs printed on commercial corrogated plastic. They are convincing as oversized didactics, but minus the plant info and long latin label. Seemingly random bits of dialogue or instruction appropriated from books and newspapers alter the usual garden experience. The art turns visitors from traditional garden relaxation into active partners in dialogue with the plants. Open-ended questions and comments hang from brambles and blossoms: "Right now, of course, they are asleep." or, "Tell us a dog story." forced me into an odd relationship with these flowers and saplings. I suppose its not that far off from seeing Little Shop of Horrors, but with the fresh air of a live garden. And the quotes are delightfully ambiguous. I challenged myself to understand each quote in the context of the plant, and looked at them from different angles. How do the leaves look? Does the plant have flowers or fruit, and where are they in relation to the quote? Is the flower male, female, or both... and how old (a question prompted by the feminist quote below)?

Is this plant a 3rd generation feminist?
Its not all that different than trying to make sense out of what real people say. Sometimes they're speaking another language, sometimes they're just plain crazy. Either way it's helpful to imagine what they're trying to convey. Below I added a couple photos of my daughter, Kate mingling with the art. Can you glean any meaning from these scenes?

"I wasn't there, or you got someone who says I was?"

"On a surveillance camera everyone looks guilty."

With so many arts organizations in one neighborhood its easy to forget about the small spaces like Rockwell Garden. So please don't, and take a peak en route to the MoCADA, Mark Morris, Franklin Furnace, Theater for a New Audience, Urban Glass, or the Irondale Center one day. The gates may just be open, and if you don't see art, you'll at least appreciate the vibrancy of the greenery. So, of course you should check in to all these great institutions, but pay attention to the garden art (and street art) all over the district. It will be serving Brooklynites for years to come, and it looks like we can look forward to plenty more surprises.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

3 great art shows- in 3 boroughs- from the summer of 2013

Kate dipping toes into the Hirschhorn installation
As the summer fades into colored leaves and sweatshirts, here’s a recap of some of the best collage-related art exhibitions from the summer of ‘13. The first two examples have come down (though their memory lives on through detailed web pages linked below), but the third show is alive and kicking at an art gallery on Hester Street. It closes on October 16th. I picked three radically different art settings, each with a unique lens: a museum, a public housing project (brokered by the DIA Foundation), and a gallery. The medium used by each artist varies, but I think you’ll find that each of the three shows reflects some form of collage. I’ve also included a few photos of the art I describe, and a few glimpses of my sidekick Kate.

Kate sits between a couple of El Anatsui's big 
sculptures in the Brooklyn Museum

At the Brooklyn Museum the El Anatsui Gravity and Grace show looms large over nearly all of my experiences this summer. The curators and designers had something to do with this, but it was Anatsui’s innovative art that created meaningful connections everywhere I looked. From a general standpoint, the artwork here showed off monumental sculptures and their preliminary pieces. The scale of the huge pieces worked especially well in the museum's skylit rotunda, and I’ve never seen anything like it (think Richard Serra sculpture on acid for the larger pieces, and three dimensional Robert Motherwell for the smaller, earlier art). White-walled spaces were filled with the collaged, painted, sewn, and glued detritus of life. Many of the pieces hung or sat in ways chosen my the curators, an important element of the work that encouraged contextual thought, and empowered the exhibitors. The Brooklyn Museum took full advantage. This show had all the glitz and glamour of a tech-heavy installation without leaning on the tech. The only digital media in the galleries was unobtrusive iPads showing short clips of the artist’s process alongside interviews, and a tab that collected  museum visitor feedback. A glance at the visitor comments (that are still up on the Museum’s website) shows the diversity of the connections El Anatsui created. The most accurate summation that I saw was, “My son says this exhibit is as varied and as beautiful as a flower garden.” Cultural and political references in this work ran deep, but never at the expense of masterful formal content. Whether you are Ghanaian (as he is) or an Ohioan (as I am), wealthy or poor, formally educated or not… this is good stuff.

Thomas Hirschhorn’s “Gramsci Monument” has been dismantled, and its many useable parts (chairs, art supplies, books, etc.) have been distributed around the South Bronx by its hosts at the Forest Houses. For those unfamiliar with the South Bronx, the Forest House is not a museum or gallery with a clever name. It is classic, high-density public housing built in the 1950s. And for those not familiar with Hirshhorn’s style, he is known best as a creator of unique environments. Similar to Anatsui, he uses common materials to craft mini worlds of wonder. This Gramsci installation was much larger than other works I have seen him present, and incredibly collaborative. Cardboard, plywood, and duct tape form ramps, stairs, and rooms (and even a small pool and bar) popped up between the benches of the Forest Houses’ courtyard back in July. When Kate and I visited in early September there wasn’t a note of disappointment from any of the hundreds of Forest House residents that swarmed around the installation. They had clearly invested in this project alongside the artist, and were clearly enjoying the change of scenery. Daily events were constant and varied, and did not all target a universal audience. The theater production (yes, there was a theater) I saw was loud, with avant-garde techniques and philosophy-laden content. Just prior to the show, the resident emcee introduced himself joyfully and solicited opinions about the Gramsci Monument. He seemed to relish the spotlight, and the fact that his sessions were broadcasted live on the radio. A handful of those seated were locals, and their introductions were short, comedic discourses with the emcee. One young lady, an academic visiting from the Midwest, questioned the quality of this re-thought "monument." It seems to me like she missed the point of the artwork, though if others agreed with her I couldn’t tell. A school group from nearby Fordham University strolled into the show late. A few of these art history students exchanged jest-filled introductions into the microphone, but as the show got started their professor was already leading them away and to their next class. It’s a real shame they could not explore the place on their own. Their impression of the artwork was probably heavily weighted by the half-performance that they witnessed, which seemed to me a less successful aspects of Hirshhorn’s project. In any case, I have never felt such a part of an artpiece as during my time in this re-thought “Monument.” I can only compare it to my participation in a Spencer Tunick installation years ago in my hometown, but with the added spice of political grandstanding. After nice chats with some of the Forest House residents—especially in the “library”—it was time to depart for a surprisingly quick, and contemplative subway ride back to Brooklyn. As we bisected Manhattan and passed the mighty museums of Midtown, I wondered for a brief second if those big institutions might do more harm than good. 

Quotes by Gramsci were everywhere, 
even in this community art studio
"An idea is not efficacious unless it is expressed in some way artistically-
that is, in a particular manner."

Of course, artists are still making traditional collage, and doing it quite well. In fact, collage art is all over gallery walls these days. One gallery, Lu Magnus on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is hosting a show by mid-career artist Jonathan Allen full of large poster-sized paper and paint collage. Though the paper is two dimensional, each piece has plenty of depth. Skillful managing of negative space and an accomplished crafting of perspectives (plural intended) leads viewers into sci-fi space worlds and surrealist interiors. From afar, some look like realistic settings. But upon close examination perspectives clash, and explode or crumble. These breakdowns—along with tears, wrinkles, and layers—reveal the artist’s hand. The gluing and painting process is clean, deliberate, and viewable… a welcome break from the digital technology referenced in the name of the show, Loading. “Loading” is also the name of one collage, and other artwork titles offer accessible visual cues that are vaguely familiar and reinforce the mystery and abstraction of each piece (i.e. “Taught, fragile” and “Like the future”). Allen’s been working in this way for years, and has developed refreshingly uncommon skill with his materials that many of today’s artist regrettably bypass. Use of gently sprayed paint fades away from hard edges that were presumably taped off. Bits of pages from books and magazines fit into Allen's frames neatly, with carefully cut figures and architecture mixing into illusions of depth. There is a tension between layers that makes you feel somewhat frustrated… but a powerful redeeming quality lies in the fact that you are not in front of a computer or phone. You’re in front of beautiful artwork and not killing time waiting for a video to load. This is no means to an artificial end. It’s real, it’s enjoyable, and there’s no rush to get through this experience...
Above photo of Jonathan Allen's art and it's caption are courtesy of Lu Magnus gallery. 
All other photos in this post by Rich Garr.
That said, get out from behind your digital screen! This gallery show runs until October 16th, and is a pleasure to witness. Thank you Jonathan Allen, Thomas Hirschhorn, and El Anatsui for contributing to yet another great summer of artwork here in New York City.

Also, if you enjoy collage art and are curious about this blog's author, there's an eclectic mix of my art showing in Brooklyn right now. Consider visiting 20 of my own collages at the BGI Gallery on Columbia Street. They're all fairly recent, and many are made of materials I find on my long walks around town. Unfortunately it’s generally not open on weekends (though it will be Sunday 10/10 from 1-5:00), but there will be a closing reception on October 16th from 6 to 8:00pm. I would love to see you there. Happy Fall, ya'll!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Born Artists?!

"I found myself in class. I had a Camel cigarette in one hand, a piece of charcoal in the other, and a beer on the table next to me... and a naked woman in front of me. What the hell! I’m gonna be an artist."
- Garry Knox Bennett
  artist quote from PBS's "Craft in America"

Kate in my studio w/ Jim Brown; & posing below w/ some in-process art
Just last night I was at an open house for the new art supply store on 13th Street, and some old lady munching on cheese was telling me that I can't raise my daughter to me an artist. While I don't disagree with her per say, I cringe when I hear people tell me that "artists" are just "born." So the environment has nothing to do with it? Parents just wait and see what comes out? Parental support, tools, and confidence just don't play a role, eh? Bullshit.

If Garry Knox Bennet were to have found naked women, cigarettes, and beer in math class instead of art class, would he have become an accountant? Maybe. But the chances of finding those frills in a math class are pretty slim. So you see, I'm always skeptical of a black and white picture. All of the paintings in the recent Picasso Black and White show at the Guggenheim Museum were fraught with grays. I guess gray isn't so easy to talk about, so they left it out of the title. This "born artist" issue is a gray one: a complex issue involving genetics, education, and philosophy.

Studying vases in the Brooklyn Museum
 I'm not a newsman, so please spare me any soundbites if you see me around. Kate is an artist, and I'm very proud of her. Happy 6 month birthday, Katherine. I can't wait to see what kind of artist you'll be tomorrow.

Friday, October 26, 2012

See the Mickalene Thomas show.

My daughter's 9 weeks old and loved this one.
The Brooklyn Museum is featuring another black artist. And it's a female, which is even better. They're still underrepresented, et cetera, et cetera. I get it. And she's a Brooklyn artist that embodies the promising, progressive art that the world expects of our fine borough. The critics love her. These are all reasons why I approached this show with skepticism. Shame on me.

I had seen some scattered pieces by Ms. Thomas in galleries, and read a couple gushy articles about her work. Now I understand. These pieces were lush! They were huge and shiny and sensuous. Patterns wrap their way around figures and through planes of unexpected color. Light glimmers off lines of rhinestone, sending patches of scattered light onto the floor. Textures of paint--considerately thick or thin--fit like puzzle pieces into skillful depictions of wood grain, upholstery, and flesh. A family of about ten of these large-scale paintings overshadow everything else on the museum's 4th floor. One of these collaged oil painitngs, Monet's Salle a Manger Jaune, was made especially for the show and is the crown jewel. A photo will absolutely not do it justice. Go see these layers of beauty for yourself. If Matisse was a strong black woman in 1970's America, this is what he would have done.

Ladies and gentleman, this is not a full-on review (I have a baby, a wife, and an art studio to attend), so you should just go and see the show. Besides the aforementioned main attraction, there's plenty of supplemental art to look at. There's a big wall installation at the exhibition's beginning, and even a video by Mickalene about her mother. And did I mention the period rooms she put together? The details are intriguing.

I'm sure some people will find this exhibit a bit overdone, but I think most will deem it remarkable. Look closely and past all those rhinestones: there's a brushstroke whirlwind in these afros. Mickalene Thomas's art may occasionally shock, but it's more that just a shimmering flash in the pan. More than "collage-based painting" or "artist on a glitter kick". Here's the official details and photos. I hope you can visit.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Other Collage Art Around Town

After a nice weekend of art studio visitors and chat, I've got scoop on two good Brooklyn shows. Both collage:

Artist Erica Harris is showing and selling recent collages at b. conte in Williamsburg. Crafty in a very beautiful way. Technically good. Not a lot of insider art history mumbo jumbo like my stuff. It's on view until October 25th, and is definitely worth a look if you find yourself strolling around under McCarren Park. 

I haven't even seen this show yet, but I'm sure that at least the comparison of these four collage artists is worth a look. The four artists in "Revisions" are Carol Keller, Sandy Litchfield, Mario Naves, and Rob Swainston. It's in the Trestle Gallery until October 11th, so get going. And yes--this is the former Brooklyn Artists Gym. Now it's the Brooklyn Art Space (and still the hub of the Gowanus visual arts scene). There's a reception on Saturday, October 6th from 6 - 9:00.

*Also, don't forget about AGAST (Annual Gowanus Art Studio Tour) on October 13 & 14. In the coming weeks you'll see our maps stacked inside bars and shops all over the city. Here's an online map with a list and images of featured artist. This is a great chance to see a huge variety of contemporary art, eat and drink for free, and meet great and interesting people. If you're in the market for art, this is the time to buy. Lots of artists--including me--will be selling work.