Tuesday, October 25, 2005

U.S. Death Toll in Iraq Reaches 2,000

Arlington (detail)

2,000 - A Mark on the Wall

Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force's combined press center, described the number as an "artificial mark on the wall."

"I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq," Boylan said in an e-mail. "The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall"

The Huntsman's Eye: At The Portland Museum of Art

I voraciously gather images to use for reference in my artwork. I especially like to collect photographs of artworks that move me in some way. I spend hours in the studio looking at these images of paintings and sculptures and then jotting down my thoughts and ideas.

A year ago, on my birthday, I was traveling in Maine and shot a few photos along the way. Modern Kicks' entry on the Neil Welliver exhibition, currently at the Portland Museum, brought back memories of that journey. On that gray day in Portland, two works in the collection stood out.

Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Sharpshooter, 1863
oil on canvas
12 1/4 x 16 1/2"
Portland Museum of Art, Maine

USMC Sniper Team, 2004
Photo by: Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

Winslow Homer's "Sharpshooter" is as relevant as the front page of today's New York Times.*

Alexander Eliot in "Three Hundred Years of American Painting" describes how Winslow Homer's "huntsman eyes saw the world his contemporaries saw, only much more sharply." For Alexander Eliot, Homer's paintings are "products of intense and reverant looking, carried on for, not for hours or days, but for years."

Hiram Powers (1805-1873)
Bust of "The Greek Slave", after 1845
24 1/4"
Portland Museum of Art, Maine

Hiram Powers artwork,"The Greek Slave", was arguably the most famous contemporary sculpture in mid-nineteenth century America. The bust in the Portland Museum is derived from the full figure sculpture that toured the United States.

Over one hundred thousand people paid to see "The Greek Slave" during its 1847-1848 tour.

Robert Hughes in "American Visions" explains that an American artist could approach the concept of the Ideal "if he lived in Italy, and between 1830 and 1875 about two hundred of them did. Notable among them were the 'American Florentines,' led by a former machinist from Cincinnati, the sculptor Hiram Powers."

Hughes goes on to explain that Power's "Greek Slave" was a modern retelling of the Uffizi's "Medici Venus" with chains added as a cache-sexe: "This, Americans thought was the first truly moral nude they had ever seen."

What I enjoy most about the Portland Museum's bust of the "Greek Slave" is the absence of chains and the anecdotal context that shrouded Power's full scale version. We can look upon this work as a sculpture of a real, though idealized, woman. As viewers, we are not told what to feel nor does her nakedness seem unwilling. Without bound wrists, the overt moral clothing that covered her is absent. The figure is more ambiguous and more modern.

* (As I write this the 2,000th US death in Iraq has been announced)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Rosa Parks died today, October 24, 2005 at 92.

On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks set the modern civil rights movement in motion when she refused to give up her seat on the the Cleveland Avenue bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger. When the front of the bus filled up, the driver ordered Rosa Parks, a seamstress for the Montgomery Fair department store, to give up her seat for a white rider. She refused and was arrested.

Rosa Parks's arrest for breaking Montgomery's segregation laws started a boycott of the city bus line that lasted over a year. This eventually led to the 1956 Supreme Court decision which ruled that segregation on public buses is illegal.

Rosa Parks:
"The famous U.P.I. photo (actually taken more than a year later, on Dec. 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated) is a study of calm strength. She is looking out the bus window, her hands resting in the folds of her checked dress, while a white man sits, unperturbed, in the row behind her. That clear profile, the neat cloche and eyeglasses and sensible coat — she could have been my mother, anybody's favorite aunt." - Observations on Rosa Parks by Rita Dove - from Time Magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.

After her arrest, Rosa Parks agreed to challenge the constitutionality of Montgomery's segregation laws. During a midnight meeting of the Women's Political Council, handbills were printed with the following request:

"We are...asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial... You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don't ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday."

The black population of Montgomery stayed off the buses, either walking or catching one of the black cabs stopping at every municipal bus stop for 10 cents per customer — standard bus fare.

On the day scheduled for her court appearance, Rosa Parks slipped through the crowd outside the courthouse, wearing a black dress, a gray coat, a black velvet hat and white gloves. She walked with dignity and appeared fearless. A girl caught sight of her and exclaimed, "Oh, she's so sweet. They've messed with the wrong one now!"

Rosa Park's trial lasted 30 minutes. She was found guilty. That evening, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a gathering at the Holt Street Baptist Church and declared : "There comes a time that people get tired." At the conclusion of King's speech, Rosa Parks, who was in the crowd, silently stood up. Her powerful presence seemed to say, "We all are tired. We are all tired of false justice and inequality. And now is the time for real justice, for real equality."

Martin Luther King, Jr.
1963, Washington DC, "I Have a Dream."

Rosa Park's courage will continue to provide a powerful example of human dignity in the face of brutal authority.

Civil Rights Protest, Memphis, 1968

Friday, October 21, 2005

The New de Young Museum

deYoung in Fog
de Young Museum in fog

A party was held at the new de Young Museum in San Francisco on October 20th for the local art world. The event was sponsored by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which encompasses both the de Young and the Legion of Honor, and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. We were asked to arrive in festive attire.

A heavy San Francisco fog shrouded the new building which seemed to appear briefly then vanish into the mist. The new structure looked less like a beached aircraft carrier and more like the Enterprise cloaking and uncloaking in Golden Gate Park during one of the Star Trek films.

The new de Young is both spacious and elegant which gives the art room to breathe. The architects, the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects from San Francisco, have allowed the function of the building to determine its internal look and structure. "We wanted to keep the art itself in the foreground," Herzog says.

Looking down on Andy Goldsworthy's "Drawn Stone"

For me the strength of the de Young is its eclectic collection. The new pieces commissioned for the building by Gerhard Richter, Kiki Smith, Ed Ruscha, James Turrell and Andy Goldsworthy only add to the wacky and wonderful mix, which ranges from pre-Columbian art, to African, to Oceanic, to Colonial America, topped off with a growing collection of contemporary works.

Limestone Stela
Maya, Southern Lowlands, Mexico, Guatemala, or Belize. AD 761. 82 x 42 inches.

Harry S. Parker, who heads the museum, was beaming at the reception. He recently wrote in a director's note prefacing the Fall issue of the Fine Arts Magazine, "Inviting these artists to apply their vision and skills to the new de Young meant taking some risks, and we have made bold choices. But art should always challenge us to take risks, to explore the new, to realize as Kiki Smith says,"Making art is trusting the practice."

SFADA Party at deYoung
The Wilsey Court with Gerhard Richter's "Strontium" - A massive piece constructed of digital photos mounted on aluminum panels which have been fitted together to create one work representing the atomic structure of strontium titanate, a synthetic substance often used to create artificial diamonds.

“The units that compose Richter’s mural are photographs based in the realm of nanotechnology, which has tremendous resonance for San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, the capital of the high tech industry. The piece also relates wonderfully to the museum itself in that the pattern of circles throughout the mural is reminiscent of the perforated copper cladding on the new de Young building.” -Daniell Cornell, Associate Curator of American Art.

Viewed from the balcony above, the mass of swirling partygoers beneath Richter's "Strontium" could be imagined as sub-atomic particles whizzing around the room. It was both elegant and slyly humorous.

Many of the artists present at Thursday's reception came up to me and expressed their excitement at finding well known, but sorely missed artworks, in fresh locations.

John Singer Sargent
"A Dinner Table at Night"

The de Young is now so new that the smells of carpet glue, fresh paint and floor wax fill the space. In time the copper exterior will gain a rich patina and the interior will bear the marks of visitors and school tours. In time the museum will find its new place in Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco community.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

House of Oracles at the Walker Art Center

Currently at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is a Huang Yong Ping retrospective entitled "House of Oracles".

Huang Yong Ping
"11 June 2002--The Nightmare of George V"

"The title identifies the hunter as King George V of England. Huang explains that in 1911 the king, while hunting in Nepal, killed four tigers in three days, a remarkable feat. One of the tigers attacked the king, and he donated this specimen to a museum in Bristol, where Huang found it. In Paris the artist located preserved animals from other treks. He attached to a wicker howdah on the elephant’s back a tiger in the documented position of attack, but he replaced the royal howdah–an emblem of empire–with the sort used to protect well-heeled tourists. The tableau looks back to the approaching end of the colonial period."
- Artforum

Crate Logo for Huang Yong Ping Exhibition at the Walker Art Center
Designed by Phil Docken

The Walker's visual arts blog has a wonderful piece on the transportation and installation of Huang Yong Ping's massive elephant:

"A tour-crate bears the likeness of one the show’s key works, a 2,000-pound concrete elephant with a tiger on its back. Installation technician Phil Docken designed the logo after receiving two drawings, sent by a registrar in Paris, on the correct and incorrect ways to lift the hulking pachyderm (the image, above, shows the wrong way to hoist the animal: 'Non!')"

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Geometry of Homer Simpson

This Sunday on the Cal Berkeley campus, the writers of the Simpsons will come clean as closet math geeks. "We couldn't handle the pressures of academia", they might say, "but at least we kept our day jobs in animation."

MSRI’s Archimedes Society invites you to this FREE public event
Mathematical Writers from The Simpsons and Futurama
Sunday, October 16, 2005 • 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Valley Life Sciences Building's Chan Shun Auditorium
(Rm. 2050) at UC Berkeley

Writers David X. Cohen, Ken Keeler, and Jeff Westbrook have kept their math habit alive by sneaking in hundreds of mathematical and scientific references into The Simpsons and Futurama. Join in as the writers discuss their mathematical backgrounds, favorite theorems from Homer and Bart, along with thoughts on the representation of mathematics in Hollywood.

In honor of this event , and in anticipation of the upcoming Simpson's Halloween special, we join The Simpson's episode "Treehouse Of Horror VI", which originally aired on 10/30/95, in progress:

Homer Simpson has disappeared into a wall in the living room. He is trapped in an alternate dimension as a 3-D rendering in a digital world and all the attempts to save him by Professor Frink, Police Chief Wiggum and Ned Flanders are useless -

Lisa Simpson: Well, where's my dad?

Professor Frink: Well, it should be obvious to even the most dimwitted individual who holds an advanced degree in hyperbolic topology, n'gee, that Homer Simpson has stumbled into...[the lights go off] the third dimension.

Lisa Simpson: [flips the light switch back] Sorry.

Professor Frink: [drawing on a blackboard] Here is an ordinary square....

Police Chief Wiggum: Whoa, whoa - slow down, egghead!

Professor Frink: ... but suppose we extend the square beyond the two dimensions of our universe, along the hypothetical z-axis, there.

Everyone: [gasps]

Professor Frink: This forms a three-dimensional object known as a "cube," or a "Frinkahedron" in honor of its discoverer, n'hey, n'hey.

Homer's voice: Help me! Are you helping me, or are you going on and on?

Professor Frink: Oh, right. And, of course, within, we find the doomed individual.

Once again, it falls to Bart to save the day, but he fails when the digital universe implodes, sending Homer into an even scarier world: ours.

I must admit that in a fierce playa dust storm a few years ago during Burning Man, I got brutalized in a game of Simpson's trivia by an old dorm buddy from UCLA. It was uncanny. He seemed to have some sort of inner Simpson's knowledge. Who was this David Silverman and how did he get so smart?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

"A Weapon of Beauty": Shirin Neshat in the Los Angeles Times

(Jennifer S. Altman / LAT)

"I try to find beauty in the middle of the horror, and vice versa," she says. "Sometimes, really horrible things — you can turn into a weapon of beauty."
-Shirin Neshat in an interview with Tyler Green

Tyler Green's article on the Iranian- American artist Shirin Neshat in the Los Angeles Times is well written and provacative. A must read:
Shirin Neshat: Trapped Between Two Worlds

More on Shirin Neshat:
Shirin Neshat: Photo Essays- Time Europe

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"You Just Don't Give Up": The Life of Harold Leventhal

1919 - 2005

Harold Leventhal, died on Tuesday at the age of 86. A renowned folk music champion, Leventhal acted as promoter, producer, and manager for Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and countless others. Leventhal presented a 21-year-old Bob Dylan at Town Hall in New York in Dylan's first major concert hall appearance on April 12th, 1963. Harold Leventhal was featured most recently in Martin Scorcese's documentary "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" in which he provided glimpses into Dylan's early years in New York.

Harold Leventhal enlisted in the US Army during World War II and was stationed in India from 1944-46. These years had a profound impact on his life both politically and artistically. In India, Harold's political interests led him to seek out members of the Indian National Congress. He met with Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.

Harold Leventhal and Jawaharlal Nehru,1945

Jorge Arevalo, in the concert notes to the Tribute to Harold Leventhal Concert at Carnegie Hall on November 29th, 2003, explains how ""the influence of both India’s first Prime Minister and consummate peacemaker would alter and forever affect Harold's life, particularly during America’s civil rights struggles of the 1960s when he met with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King asked Leventhal to recount Gandhi’s ideas on his political strategy of non-violence."

Because of his politics and social activism, Harold Leventhal was tailed by the FBI during the McCarthy era and was unable to even get a passport to travel until 1960. Recently, upon reading the thick FBI dossier on his activities during the 1950's, Harold was taken aback by the detail and thoroughness of the Bureau's investigation.

M F Husain
"Artist and Model"
187cm x 187cm acrylic and lead on canvas 1990

As well as promoting American artists, Harold Leventhal over the years supported the arts of India by arranging painting exhibitions, concerts and theater productions.These included shows of Jamini Roy's paintings at the ACA Galleries on 57th Street in 1952, a solo exhibition of Satish Gujral's works in 1953 and M F Husain's first exhibition in New York in 1963.

Leventhal was also New York's first world music promoter, introducing Ravi Shankar in concert at Carnegie Hall. Harold Leventhal was also instrumental in the arrangements for the poet Rabindranath Tagore's off-Broadway production of "King of the Dark Chamber" in 1961.

The following is from a conversation with Harold Levinthal prompted by the Tribute to Harold Leventhal Concert at Carnegie Hall:

Michael Kleff: "Thinking of the present political situation, is it hard to still believe in America?"

Harold Leventhal: "Well, honestly, I feel somewhat depressed, politically. This is the worst in my history of being around as a citizen. We got an administration that is on the border of [being] neo-fascist, in my opinion. And this is it. This is a calamity."

Michael Kleff: "Thinking about all the years you fought for a better world, how do you feel now? Is it painful?"

Harold Leventhal: "I don’t think it’s painful. Disappointing is the word. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue being in progressive causes, or causes that are for the better of minorities. Those causes are still there. You just don’t give up. You’re always somewhat optimistic that somewhere along the line whatever you stand for is gonna come true. It’s the struggle of getting there that has become very difficult. The atmosphere in our country today is extremely difficult. We don’t have enough forces that we might have had 30 years ago to rally around good causes. We’ve been marginalized. Apparently the right wingers don’t care what we say. They let us say it because they know, or they think, that we don’t mean anything. This is what’s happening to a great extent."

"I’m optimistic because, look, we got rid of Nixon! Whoever heard of a president being kicked out? There is the ability in this country, in spite of its faults, in spite of its difficulties, you can open your mouth. You might get arrested in some places (laughs) but you get out. There’s a lawyer gonna get you out!"

More on Harold Leventhal:
harold leventhal in the times

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Shahzia Sikander's Sea of Stories at Otis

Shahzia Sikander
(detail from dissonance to detour, mixed media on paper)

Shahzia Sikander, who has traveled from Pakistan, to Rhode Island, to New York is now in Los Angeles for a short time, as a guest artist at the Otis College of Art and Design. Her recent work is on view until November 12 at Otis' Ben Maltz Gallery. Shahzia Sikander's exhibition "Dissonance to Detour", curated by Meg Linton, features new paintings on paper, a digital video animation, and a large wall painting.

There is a rich fluidity to this work, especially in the details which play with the idea of 17th century Mughal miniatures. There is an expectation of narrative and resolution within the paintings. But upon closer examination, the works slip into a vivid flux of color and line. By shifting the viewer's expectations from narrative to paint, Sikander refuses to create the works that might be expected. Instead Shahzia Sikander's exhibition evokes an imaginative response. While viewing the work, I put any thought of Pakistani-Indian politics aside and felt the spirit of Salman Rushdie's novel "Haroun and the Sea of Stories".

Two walls of very large paintings on dusty pink prepared paper dominate the room. The watered down paint puddles and skips in these works. Some of the lozenged painterly moments in the elephants (shown above), bring to mind the same sort of abstracted marking found in Chuck Close's recent paintings.

Shahzia Sikander
(still from digital animation)

The digital projections shown in the darkened room off the main gallery surprised me with their force when blown up to wall sized images. At Shahzia Sikander's show in New York at Brent Sikkema (now Sikkema Jenkins & Co.) in 2003, this type of work was presented in small frames that emphasized their connection to Mughal miniatures. Here in Los Angeles, magnified to silver screen size, the flow of images evoked thoughts of Terry Gilliam's rich film imagery.

Los Angeles is a city of many cultures-numerous villages, some almost third world in many respects- with only a thin veneer of Hollywood gloss laid on top. Los Angeles is also a city of images: digital, celluloid, tabloid - with a few hand crafted drawings and paintings scattered about. Shazia Sikander's artwork firmly shows that even in Los Angeles there still is an important place for images created by the mind and the hand.

Otis College of Art + Design
Ben Maltz Gallery
9045 Lincoln Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045 (just north of LAX)

Web site:
from dissonance to detour

Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10am-5pm; Thursday, 10am-7pm

Shahzia Sikander is the inaugural artist in the Jennifer Howard Coleman Distinguished Lectureship and Residency Program sponsored by the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation. A catalogue of the exhibition will be available for sale in late October.

Also see:
shahzia sikander on the practice of art