Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Role of Autobiography and Gender in Westermann’s Dance of Death

In a previous post I introduced H.C. Westermann, who is one of my favorite artists. Scholarship on Westermann is increasing of late, and I am pleased to present my paper that talks a bit about Westermann's life and art. The paper examines the 1975 print Dance of Death through the lenses of autobiography and feminism, and analyzes the recent use of the print as a motif in the work of Jeff Koons. My paper is available to read here

Tre Reising: "No Space"

images by Charles Fox and Paul Miller
Tre Reising currently has a solo installation up at Big Car Gallery in Indianapolis called No Space. Reising has worked in printmaking before, but his artistic practice consists primarily of installation art and sculpture. No Space, and art in general at this point in Reising's career, represents somewhat of an internal struggle. Sure, it has deeper significance than what immediately confronts the viewer, such as the concept of being stuck between two pages of an artist's sketchbook and the investigation of drawing and painting's relationship to sculpture. On the other hand though, Reising just wants to make art. As Frank Stella would say, "What you see is what you see." With that said, Reising's art is abstract and its independence from figurative representation is, of course, a definite step towards art for art's sake.

Despite being abstract and in a square room, No Space succeeds in creating the effect of a Cyclorama. In this regard, Reising's new work has some similarity to Kara Walker. Regarding the Cyclorama and its effect, Walker states "It's like the pique of the painter's creative enterprise to make the painting surround the viewer and to create the illusion of depth and of space, and to lure the viewer into the feeling of being a part of the scene." Reising creates illusions of depth and space through his use of similar shapes in varying sizes and lines that do not form right angles. Reising has also explored the territory first mapped by Fred Sandback through three dimensional yarn sculpture in the past, but in this installation the yarn stays on the walls. Painted shapes always take precedence over yarn in No Space, literally breaking the yarn's continuity, and this is also effective in creating illusions of depth. Overall, No Space is an intense and enjoyable aesthetic experience that surrounds the viewer with appealing colors and shapes that really pop off--or into--the walls.

I had a conversation with Tre in three parts, which occurred at an early stage of the installation, during the middle, and after its completion. Check out what Tre had to say about No Space:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nick Allman at Dean Johnson Gallery

images (besides the last two) courtesy of Nick Allman and Christopher West

On Thursday, December 3 a new show opened up at Dean Johnson Gallery called New Design: Nick Allman, Morgen Bosler and Lauren Zoll

Quoted from Dean Johnson Gallery's website is a description of the show, which was curated by Christopher West:

Three local designers put their own unique spins on what are traditionally mundane items. Nick Allman imagines an environment where an entryway table and an iconic Arco Floor Lamp burst through (or crash into) the existing architecture of a home or building. Morgen Bosler handcrafts ceramic urns designed to honor a loved one’s individuality and spirit. Each piece is an expression of pure art and design created to bring a lifetime of comfort. Finally, Lauren Zoll has created a series of vases intended to represent the antithesis of design. Using materials such as rebar, Zoll is able to combine the brutality of the materials with the beauty of a functional vase.

Nick Allman recently won First Prize for a furniture piece in the Herron Galleries Undergraduate Student Exhibition, and the work he has featured in the Dean Johnson show is daring, strong and surprisingly functional. Destroying drywall in order to insert or remove objects, Allman creates furniture pieces that question perception and undermine traditional notions of design, space and aesthetics. Upon first viewing Allman's work in this show looks like a series of disasters rather than intentional design, and it is this element of surprise and rethinking function that gives the work its strength.

I had a conversation with Nick in two parts, during the installation and upon its completion. Hear what he had to say:

Conversations with Nick Allman Part One from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

Conversations With Nick Allman Part Two from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

There is also work currently for sale in the Dean Johnson Gallery. These pieces by Ted Ross are excellent.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

On November 20, Between History and Memory closed at Herron Galleries. It is always interesting when an exhibition goes up or down to see the process and be involved! Below are some pictures of Tony Luensman as we helped him to take down and crate his two pieces that were in the show. I like the teamwork aspect of installation/deinstallation, and it is a rewarding feeling when the work is done!

The submissions for the undergraduate Student Show have already been submitted and judged, and the show opens on December 2. Below is a sneak peek!

There are some exciting things coming up in Indianapolis: the aforementioned undergraduate Student Show on December 2nd at Herron, Nick Allman's furniture show opening at Dean Johnson Gallery on December 3, and then a spectacular First Friday that will include new solo installations in the Murphy building by Jill Marie Mason and Tre Reising. I've been talking to these three exciting young artists during the process of their installations, and when they open I will post the interviews. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Women by Craig Doty at Christopher West Presents

Untitled 19. 2008. Image courtesy of Christopher West presents.

Indianapolis gallery Christopher West Presents recently opened a show of new photography by Craig Doty called Women. Quoted from Christopher West, some information on Doty:
"Craig Doty received his MFA from Yale University in 2006. He earned his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Concentration in Photography in 2003. His exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (solo), the Sydney Center for Photography in Sydney, Australia and Baumgartner Gallery, New York and many others."

The work is quite provocative, and very interesting in what is concealed and what is revealed within each photograph. There is a definite sense of the abject. The viewer is confronted with a piece of a story, with many other pieces of the story intentionally not supplied by Doty and thus left for the viewer to decode or invent. The sense of tension is quite evident, and frankly many of the photographs seem to document moments that were meant to be unremembered, and perhaps therein lies their power. Disheveled, caught in awkward poses (if they can even be called poses), these women are almost guaranteed to provoke a reaction of some sort from viewers.

It would be very easy to label this body of work as misogynistic, but that would be reductive and altogether incorrect when Women is considered in the context of Doty's ouevre. Doty has always portrayed his subjects (or objects---more on that shortly) in compromising positions. Doty shows a definite progression in the quality of his work in Women, and this is the first time that his subjects have not been male.

The following are excerpts from the essay "On 'Women'" by Marc LeBlanc that really put the work into context for me.
Craig, 2001. Image courtesy of Christopher West Presents.

"In one of his better known works, drunk coming down a wooden backyard staircase, Doty himself has slipped and fallen forward, smashing his 40 oz. and his face in the process. Where moments earlier he may have been holding court, we now stop to look at what a failure he has become, a reflexivity that acknowledges that no one escapes the fatalism of our world. Made both magic and terrible, Doty's new photographs of women push for a greater discomfort. The tactics of humor have dissolved; the optimism of comedy is squelched."

"With each image pointing out that no one escapes life seeing them as an object, claims of discrimination are deadened. Being distinguished as an object rejects affiliation with any group, it is sexless, race-less, and hopeless in its dearth of humanity."

"This is not portraiture, these are not models, any thematic pretenses for the purpose of dignity are unneeded when we address the subject whose fate is to be an object. Instead of the socially constructed victim, the marginalized or mistreated subject, what is presented is the subject so tragic it has no subjectivity to assert, determined to exist depersonalized, determined to be the waste they must become."

conversations with Christopher West on Craig Doty Women

conversation with Christopher West on Craig Doty 'Women' from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

conversations with TONY LUENSMAN

Images: Tony Luensman at Herron Galleries next to his piece Literalization of Transubstantiation (A Child's Vision of the Sacred Heart) and his piece Treeblower, also on exhibition at Herron Galleries.

Last week, we at Herron were fortunate to have Cincinnati-based artist Tony Luensman with us for a lecture and studio visits with MFA students. Luensman has two pieces up in the current group show at Herron Galleries, which is called Between History and Memory and is open through November 20. He has a solo exhibition up at Clay Street Press in Cincinnati called ABRADE. Luensman was educated in painting and sculpture at Kenyon, has had multiple residencies in Taiwan, is a recipient of the 2008 Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship among many other awards, and his art is held in many public collections. He has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally in group and solo shows, including a 2007 exhibition entitled Arenas at the Cincinnati Art Museum where his art was placed throughout the space so visitors could revisit the museum's collection while seeking out his art.

Luensman believes titles are very important, and often thinks through words rather than images in his art. "My ideas come verbally," he says. A lot of his art straddles the line between innocence and a darker reality quite poignantly, but through the the more adult-like themes that exist within his art he is also trying to restore the sense of innocence in experiences that would not traditionally be interpreted that way. He views some of his art as "a way of making sexual issues not so serious" for himself. His art's ability to embody completely different meanings and situations simultaneously is its greatest strength. "I like setting up that tension where people may be unaware of what they are doing," he explains in reference to viewers' interactions with his art.

I recently had the pleasure of having some conversations with Tony here at Herron Galleries. Below are the videos, and also some photographs of some of his art, with his explanations.

conversations with Tony Luensman Part 3 from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

The following images are courtesy of Tony Luensman:

Flashcracker, 2007

“I like to occasionally undermine an innocent experience one may have with a work by building in an uneasy history and/or reference. In the case of Flashcracker, the viewer may dance on the circle of sand to activate the 4th of July video firecrackers while being unaware that the 'Flash' in the title refers to a quote I heard on NPR in which a soldier described walking along the desert with a fellow soldier and in the next instant, upon stepping on a landmine, his buddy became a cloud of ‘pink mist and bone chips.’”

Angel Swing, 2009

"Angel Swing refers to the hangings of 2 gay youths in Iran. The neon form in the piece is at once a noose, a 'tire' swing, and a halo. the images released on the internet of this 2005 event, depict a flatbed truck which served as the gallows platform. In my piece i have a chain coming out from the underside of a toy truck which holds the neon transformer - viewers, then, can turn the neon light on and off but, at the same time, taking unwitting part in the executions."

Ladder For Blurred Perspective, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009


Channel 37, 1963

H.C. Westermann is one of my all-time favorite artists. I initially intended to use this blog for living artists, but Westermann is still a "contemporary" post-war American artist and he merits consideration and study. I am surprised and somewhat disturbed in my daily conversations with people who are well-educated and have more than a passing interest in contemporary art that the majority of people I encounter do not know who Westermann is. I also find it interesting that those who do know about him seem to glow when his name is brought up. In the last ten years, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago have taken huge strides in contributing to scholarship and public recognition regarding Westermann through excellent books and exhibitions. Today I came across this great article from Time Out Chicago, which I think does a very nice job of describing Westermann's art and the exhibition "Your Pal Cliff," which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I suppose Westermann has always been a somewhat subconscious impetus for my love of contemporary art. Growing up in the Chicago area, I have been consistently exposed to his art because of the aforementioned museums and their tendency to exhibit Westermann's work. I am in the process of writing a paper on Westermann, specifically looking at his print Dance of Death through the theoretical lenses of autobiography and feminism. When the paper is done, I will post it to the blog. In the meantime, here are a few images of Westermann's art that I have borrowed from a quick Google Image search:

Death Ship of No Port, 1967, and Dismasted Ship, 1956

Dance of Death, 1975, woodblock print

The Jazz Singer, 1953, oil on canvas with artist's painted frame

Monday, November 2, 2009

Know No Stranger Presents Optical Popsicle

Last Friday and Saturday, everyone who attended Know No Stranger's Optical Popsicle was treated to a visual feast. It was advertised as a visual variety show, and it did not disappoint. Comprised of a wide variety of seemingly disparate skits and vignettes, Optical Popsicle left the viewer with a sense of unity and empathy with the human experience. The show felt very contemporary in its scope of thematic material while maintaining a deeply ingrained sense of nostalgia. The skits were evocative of National Film Board of Canada Vignettes in the sense of being short, lighthearted and whimsical bursts of creative energy. It was a lo-fi look at a hi-fi life, evoking the feeling of facing current life issues through the guise of warm, fuzzy memories and "technology" (think projectors) that has become so outdated that it is nostalgic. There was lots of optical trickery incorporating overhead projectors, and although simple it was amazingly fun and effective in stimulating viewers. I have tried to illustrate some of what went on through my photographs, and there is also a link to some video snippets courtesy of Know No Stranger. I can't remember how many sheets of messy notes written on transparencies I've copied from overhead projectors throughout my life as a student, how many times I've closed my eyes as I stepped in front of them so as not to be blinded, but in recent years they have given way to the Powerpoint. I never thought overhead projectors would become endearingly nostalgic!

I recently had the chance to catch up with Know No Stranger's Michael Runge to discuss the show and what lies ahead for No Know Stranger.

Human relations seemed to be the biggest underlying theme that pulsed throughout each skit of Optical Popsicle. The tone was very sober and authentic in conveying the awkwardness and fleeting nature of many social interactions and relationships. It never felt sappy or contrived and there was always a candid, confessional sentiment. “I feel like relationships was the big theme, especially for the Friday show," Runge explains. " I think anybody can identify with that kind of stuff and anybody can relate; everybody has some experience with a relationship." Despite the very personal nature of some of the skits, they were presented in a way that had relevance to everyone. They maintained a lighthearted appeal while seeming to hold a message or epiphany just below the surface. Runge elaborates on the personal/impersonal nature of storytelling:

"The more specific of a story that you tell, and the more individualized you make it, it seems like the more people can relate to it since it’s more sincere, it’s more heartfelt; you know people are going to identify with that rather than trying to make something that reaches everybody. You just try to make something that’s true to yourself and being true to yourself is what’s going to reach people. (The skits) are specific in a way because they’re my individual experience, but they’re vague enough because everyone can relate to them, and I think that’s really powerful. That’s what made it enjoyable for me, something that I was into and something that I felt I needed to express, so that gave me more energy and I think that came through in the actual pieces."

A large aim of Optical Popsicle was to inspire creativity and curtail negativity, specifically regarding the perceived lack of things to do in Indianapolis. Friday's performance ended with Runge beckoning the crowd to stop complaining about Indianapolis. “I think that people think there’s nothing going on," he reasons. "I think there’s just a lack of community; it’s not easy to meet new people and it’s not easy to hang out and develop those really strong friendships in Indianapolis. That’s something that I’ve been trying to fight for a while. (Know No Stranger aims) to connect people to things going on, but also to connect people to each other.”

Using the vignette-style format of short skits proved to be very effective for Know No Stranger both in granting different artists the chance to show their material and in holding the audience's attention. Runge reflects on the format:

"I wanted it to be immediately accessible to the viewer, and they appreciate it right away rather than having to dwell on it and analyse it. It’s almost like watching TV in a way, the cuts were really quick, and you’re immediately satisfied. I guess when I compare it to TV that sounds really disgusting, but I think a lot of people are used to viewing that way, and so bringing them an art source that kind of caters to that kind of mentality, I think we were able to capture the attention of a lot more people because we gave them the art in a way that they were used to…in a museum, you see usual fine arts, it takes a lot of time, you have to really reflect on it, and really kind of analyze yourself and the piece and it sometimes takes a long time for you to get anything back from the piece. I was interested in doing something that was a little quicker."

Ideally, Optical Popsicle will become an annual event. Runge hopes to receive some strong submissions for next year's show as well as apply for grants and search for artists from other places who can contribute to the show, hopefully on a paid basis. The future will also see Know No Stranger placing emphasis on interacting with the local community. Next spring, there will be a partnership with Big Car including activities in downtown Indianapolis and on the Eastside. “I’d like (Know No Stranger) to be a place where we can actualize people’s ideas. That’s what I’d like to see Know No Stranger become: the source to make things happen,” Runge says.

Runge stresses that anyone can be creative and make things happen for other people to enjoy. “Since it was cheap and simple to put together, the only thing that we really needed was our creativity,” he says regarding Optical Popsicle. “It’s fun that we just made it up; none of us had ever done that before and it’s just something that we wanted to do. It was a really big learning experience for all of us, but it was not impossible. We just had the courage to put ourselves out there and make it happen, just step off that ledge and hope that there’s something there." And there most definitely was something there!

Look out for an upcoming DVD of Optical Popsicle (see attached video).

Teaser for Optical Popsicle DVDs coming soon from KNOW NO STRANGER on Vimeo.