August 2009 Archives

The Zapatista. That's the name of the most famous picture in this show - I wouldn't have known its name from looking at it.  Apparently, Picasso was annoyed about it being called the Zapatista by its painter Diego Rivera. Rivera was said to have originally called it something else, something more pastoral, and Picasso probably got annoyed about it becoming a symbol of the Mexican revolutionaries fighting against the status quo.  I think Picasso avoided being political, but probably felt guilty about it. There was a lot of text on the wall of the SMU Meadows Museum of Art that explained Riveria's activities during this time, and to this I added what I know from popular cultural. Rivera would often annoy people with politicalness, I thought  -- remember the Rockefeller plaza mural as we saw it in the Frida movie? He wouldn't take out the portrait of Lenin.
DiegoRiveraDallas.jpgThe show at SMU this summer (running from June 21-September 20, 2009) was of paintings by Rivera from 1913 to 1917 made in Europe. His cubist period.
The first thing I noticed is that Diego is a great draftsman. He can make a simple line tell a lot about form. Cubism has a nice way of allowing a free way to pile up images to describe three-dimentional space, without rigid rules like perspective and things that concerned Renaissance artists. Cubism's free pile up of images worked to Rivera's advantage when he started making murals.
 I find cubism boringly filled with Spanish painters who all look the same: Juan Gris, Georges Braque ( who is French, sorry) and Picasso. But Diego Rivera had a fresh approach, did a lot of portraits, maybe because that was a way to make a living. They were almost academic in the front, side, top bottom view that seemed almost to come from a Cubist Instruction manual and yet were interesting because the guy could really draw a shape and have it mean something.
There was a room of Spanish painting by other artists showing how Rivera was situated in his time period, and a wall with paintings by his teachers in art college. The teacher that Rivera felt most close to was a Fauvist Post Impressionist and between Rivera, this teacher and the other students and teachers of the period is a diversity of work that looks post-modern. A precursor of bit change.
The Zapatista invites a return look. Centered, Mexican, Cubisit and clear, it was hung in the middle of one gallery with another painting on the other side. The other was a painting of a woman at a well. She was recognizable. The Zapatista was not, just his gun. 

WindmillKS.jpgDENVER - Kevin O’Connell and Arlene Shechet opened shows on the same day at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and I rode my bike over to see the work in the quiet of the day before the buzz of the opening hit it. The museum’s glass wall have been covered since Day One with a fabric that lets in light - glows white with it - but filters out the glare. The second floor glows with this absorbed sunlight, but Shechet’s work was placed in a gallery that’s cool like a shady spot.

Heavy felt blankets scrolled from the walls. Text was cut out of these swaths and it wasn’t immediately apparent where the words came from — reference to seeing the mountains - and there was some real poetic beauty to the snippets of words so I thought they were actually lifted from a poet. Poetry is harder to write than you think. Real poetry is in limited supply and I wouldn’t expect it to roll off an artist’s tongue. Or haphazardly land in the negative spaces cut out of this heavy material that sank and piled on the floor.

Coincidentally, the scroll of paper on which Jack Kerouak wrote On the Road was shown in a glass case at the library last year, the 50th year after it was published. And well, the poet was Kerouak, I found out later that evening.

The paper that hung on the rest of the wall space was made by the artist by casting it into molds she made of the surface of water. The cottony paper was made of flecks of blue and white and recycled bits of Asian drawings or patterns of some kind. What these drawings were didn’t matter much more than the words on the scrolls. I’d been guessing that the artist lives here, in Colorado, doesn’t get much recognition world-wide for her work and is trying a bunch of different stuff, not taken any one thing very far. The third kind of stuff were cut-out wood sculptures.

I’m sappily nostalgic about exotic or just nicely finished wood because I grew up in the suburbs where there was none. And these wood pieces are laminated, mixed wood that is very pretty like a nicely made box at a craft fair, which doesn’t make it art. These cut-out sculptures are tracing of topographic maps. Mountains, sitting about knee height, on pedestals.

I’ve always wanted to see a mountain like that - something I could balance on one hand. Mountains are never, for me, three-dimensional objects. For me, they are the best example of the possible 10-dimensional universe of new physics. A possible visual example of something theoretical and hard to understand. I used to live across the valley from a near-Fourteener called Red Mountain and I’m always amazed by how it looks from the other side, from it’s foot, and from it’s top, like a differently measured thing - sometimes as big as my thumb and sometimes filling the sky. And these little laser 3-D cutouts of Lookout Mountain or the mountains around Independence Pass are like the GUT theory - neatly unified.

Nice to have a Colorado artist in a museum as nice as the Contemporary in downtown Denver, I’m thinking, until later when I find out she’s from New York City, and all of a sudden I feel like I’m eating canned salsa. The director of the museum says how nice it is of the artist to create this show that is so site specific to Colorado. Ironically, I’ve given her a little bit of artistic leeway because I think she’s struggling in the boondocks like the rest of us and feel like she understands Colorado. You can see the irony of my compliment.

Meanwhile down in the photo gallery on the first floor are the photographs of wind generator installations on what the artist himself calls “Disposable Landscapes.” Flat, beige, rural land that, well, might be improved in looks by the addition of some nice looking windmills.

Close ups make these generators look a little like sterile spaceships, with doors onto their skinny long shafts that would start a shiver in any claustrophobic soul. But there is a beauty in the arrangement of parts on the photo paper and the space in between them. A beautiful sense of planning. There is a cool precision to the printing and mounting of these photographs that makes me think Universal citizen, but I’m wrong again. This guy, Kevin O’Connell, is a Coloradoan.

One would be silly not to think about landscape in Colorado because it has so much to do with what goes on here: industry, recreation and economy. And the Eastern plains have always been our disposable landscapes. I’ve heard lawmakers talk about development out there, wanting it so badly they can’t even say the word conservation, and it’s so ugly none of us environmentally-minded people give a damn about it. Dry and as beige as the suburbs. I’m guilty. I’ve thought of it as disposable.

Filling the room with cool blue sky against ochre, browns, tans and grass I’m feeling I ought to be a little more available to this landscape if it’s sitting there so available to me. But, I’m not convinced that a big white kinetic version of the Lincoln Memorial is so bad.

There is a nasty construction sound nearby that’s been bugging me while I’ve been thinking here in the photo gallery, and someone says it’s coming from the next room. This room is called the New Media gallery and it often has a boring experimental film. Today, it very precisely and cleanly, shows three different loop videos of wind generators going around. The recurring shadows that the blades produce are beautiful, and the sound, I think, is definitely turned up to annoy me, because I’ve never experienced it that loud when I stand around watching wind catching blades. And I do this every chance I get.

My photograph included here was taken when the wind was blowing so loudly across a 100 degree Kansas landscape that I couldn’t hear the slightest whisper from the generators.

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