This is the third year the Texas Contemporary Art Fair has been in Houston, but my first time attending. The art displayed here differs greatly from what is exhibited at the Fine Art Fair. It’s less traditional, more experimental, and as I would expect, pushes the boundaries further. Contemporary Art is one of my favorite types of art to experience. Sometimes I want to experience art that makes me think and is relevant to the world today. While there is beauty in more traditional ideas of art, I’m not sure all of those ideals still apply today. To be able to view art from recognized artists such as Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Ann Hamilton, and Andy Warhol is always a fun experience for me. Immediately walking in, there was a huge pink sculpture looming in the entrance created by Ann Wood. A small structure with animals on the roof, everything was covered in layers of pink rubbery goo oozing down the sides. Also covered in flowers, this piece was very tactile, alternating between tacky and smooth plastic. It was pink, girly, shiny, and attractive, yet grotesque all at the same time. The animals are very skinny, showing ribs, and covered in this goo as well. When something is entirely covered, I always think of suffocation and being restricted. I have previously discussed this particular feeling regarding a sculpture by Cy Twombly and a photograph by David LaChapelle. My thoughts are also about the objects being merged together, bound by this goo like substance. The structure itself may be a shelter for hunting, but I’m not entirely sure. With no other explanation but the title, One More Reason to be Good, I am left to decipher what this piece is about. Walking further into the entrance, was another building, a laundromat covered in graffiti. A familiar place to most people, the inside is lined with brightly colored bottles of detergents that extend to the playful and colorful imagery taking over the walls, spilling out from within. This has a more welcoming environment that’s well lit, inviting the viewer to enter. The ritual of doing laundry is something the average person would experience on a regular basis, going to a laundromat to perform this cleansing. Created by the Clayton Brothers, this piece is titled Wishy Washy. I get the sense that something should be cleansed, all the components are there to do a load of dirty laundry. This idea of a structure, a familiar place, a shelter, domesticity were strong concepts presented in these two very different installations. The 1st is a sticky, layered mess, while the latter is a clean, organized location that serves a specific purpose. The 1st structure is a curious type of place, not existing prior to it’s creation while the other represents a familiar place where you would clean your clothing. The choice to juxtapose these two different structures as you enter is an interesting choice that I hoped was the beginning of an engaging display of art throughout the fair. There were many major art dealers here. The Kristy Stubbs Gallery from Dallas had an impressive roster of artists that included Damien Hirst and Robert Rauschenberg. The Hirst butterfly pieces were priced at $225,000 each. Well known artists with familiar pieces at serious prices. This is only the 2nd time I have seen his butterfly pieces in person, the other time in a small gallery in New York that represented more modest pieces by Hirst and Jeff Koons. In contrast with my 1st experience, these pieces were more intricate. One of my new favorite light artist was presented here, Chul Hyun Ahn. I had included his work when I wrote about last year’s Houston Fine Art Fair. His work appears endless, creating repetition with the use of lighting and mirrors. A new element existed that I don’t recall seeing last year, was the lighting changed through a spectrum of colors. His work is now ever changing, both in color and depth, each view point offering a slighting shifting perspective. Every time I have seen his work, people are always drawn to it, enjoying the illusion created, looking into infinity. Another great neon piece is by Tim Etchells. I have written several times about light pieces, including art I have experienced by James Turrell and Dan Flavin. I am very drawn to them and will take every opportunity to view them. The contemporary use of a message is something I am particularly interested in. Bruce Nauman is one of my favorite pioneers, smartly displaying similar words or shifting text, changing the original context. Neon has traditionally been used to give information, such as open/closed, enter, XXX, etc. Now it is often used to express a sentiment, another type of information that is now documented. With so much intriguing art, it is difficult to just discuss a few pieces. One thing that did stand out was the amount of art that sold. Many limited edition pieces sold out. Red dots seemed to be everywhere. It is always a good sign to see many pieces of art being sold. The fact that it is contemporary art also says the art market is currently playful and open minded. Art fairs are an experience. The opportunity to visit with many galleries from different locations is a rare opportunity. However, it is just a sample, as most are small spaces displaying a quick view of their most sell-able artists. My goal is to get to Art Basel (Basel Switzerland or Miami), Pulse (New York), and Frieze (London) someday. All of these fairs exclusively exhibit contemporary art. This is just one way to experience art. I recommend mixing art fairs in with studio visits, as well as regular visits to the museums of any city you are in or visit. The more art that I experience, I find I am able to have a better understanding of contemporary art, a better idea of topics being discussed, and often am introduced to new ideas I have not come across before.
With the new year ahead of me, or maybe I just got the itch to travel, I planned an impromptu trip to New Orleans. I was planning a regular trip to Houston to visit a friend, when I decided to go to New Orleans for a relaxing time. There is also the New Orleans Museum of Art, which I have never visited before. So I rented an apartment, headed to Houston for free on the Megabus (there is a promotion for free travel if seats are available, through Feb 29! Promo code: TRYMEGABUS), where a friend picked us up, and we drove about five more hours, into New Orleans. Although, quickly, some (fun) work is added. On the way there, I get an email confirming Antonio Diaz from Austin is still in Seven Minutes in Heaven II. It has been a while since I invited him, so I am glad he will still be joining the group. I found his prints insinuating and erotic, a perfect fit for SMIH II. I also get a text from the Southwest School Gallery Shop, my now former job. I have been on the list to purchase some of the display pedestals. Everything from the store is for sale, since it closed. Of course, I would be out of town, and unable to go in and pick them out now. Lucky for me, I already know what’s there and what I want. Making some quick decisions, I make some purchases through text, calling after we arrived to pay by credit card. Since Vanessa Centeno, one of the Seven Minutes in Heaven II artists, is living there, working on her MFA at the University of New Orleans, I set up a little more work, meeting her at a local spot. It is great to see her, it has been since last April, when I originally invited her. Already known in San Antonio for her paintings, she presented her idea for video for SMIH II, which I am excited about. My curating style of working with solid, intelligent artists makes it easier to encourage experimentation. I want to work with artists pushing limits and that often involves unpredictable results. A lot of risk taking is involved in making and exhibiting provocative, thought-provoking art. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but ideal. It was chillier than we would prefer and it is foggy as hell. Standing at the water, you can only see about a hundred feet into the Mighty Mississippi. That was a little disappointing. However, everything else was absolutely fabulous! Our two bedroom apartment was cute and walking distance to everything. There was plenty of amazing art, beautiful cemeteries, fantastic buildings, great food, and definitely interesting people! NOLA never disappoints! Visiting the New Orleans Museum of Art is high priority for me. The building that it is located in is beautiful. My friend, Katherine Marquette, worked here prior to moving to San Antonio. How amazing would that be to come here every morning? Is that too much to ask, to work in a historical building surrounded by world-class art? Sigh. That is
the goal one day. They had an amazing exhibition up, “Lifelike,” that I really enjoyed. The exhibit focused on contemporary realism, comprised of objects that were distorted by their scale. Spanning from the 1960’s to the present, the work discussed various ideas from over fifty artists. Unfortunately, there were no photos allowed and the gift shop was currently sold out of the catalog right then, but said I could buy a copy on Amazon. I will have to do that. Their permanent contemporary collection was also impressive, including Yves Kline, John Chamberlain, Joan Mitchell, Richard Diebenkorn, John McCracken, Basquiat, and Warhol. These artists are always incredibly inspiring to me, I have previously posted about most of them already. Mitchell is an artist I wish I had an opportunity to see more of in person. Her bold, gestural work is beautiful to look at up close. I think this may only be the third piece I have had the pleasure of viewing. I was fortunate to see Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series in Fort Worth last year. The layered, worked over, and revealing subtractions are what I find the most interesting about his work. John McCracken always reminds me of a contemporary art class I took in college. One student looked at photos just like this one and kept asking “what color is it?”, because of the light reflecting on it. Even this photo shows light and dark gradations due to the lighting. Isn’t that the point of using such a highly reflective surface? I’m so glad to be out of school. But I guess I do have some affection towards McCracken, I did also post a photo of his beautiful red piece at SAMA. The slick, polished Minimalist planks are perfectly crafted, made using industrial materials. I enjoy the simplistic expression of Minimalism. I could never explain anything that basic, my layered work relates to what a complicated person I am. As with Donald Judd, I am particularly attracted to the simplicity of the presentation, perfect aesthetics, and exploration of space. The space these pieces occupy interests me because they simultaneously engage two spaces, placed on the floor like a sculpture, but also positioned on the wall, a place normally reserved for paintings. This is characteristic of this particular series, his other work is comprised of free-standing pieces. A surprise for me was the largest collection of Joseph Cornell I have been able to view together. Considered a pioneer of assemblage, Cornell’s pieces interest me because he has assembled objects once considered precious, often still recognizable, invoking feelings of nostalgia, while at the same time, their original beauty, and sometimes use, has been lost. The raw, real, everyday objects discuss collecting and time, while creating enigmatic narratives. The format of assemblage put together in boxes is also very inviting. I want to further investigate these collections of things. His work extends also into collages, which I consider 2-D assemblages, or assemblages as 3-D collages, connecting by creating new thoughts out of existing remnants. They are fun to view, placed in a room on their own. Since Marfa, I appreciate a little more when a larger collection of an artist is kept in context of their own work to contemplate together.
The most fantastic discovery of all was the Sculpture Garden. I finally got to see one of Louise Bourgeois’s “Small” Spiders. There are quite a few of them displayed throughout the world. While a small one, it stands above me as I walked in and out of her long, elegant legs. I have seen many of her pieces, however, this is the first outdoor, large-scale piece I have seen. She is represented in most collections, considered an important artist, discussing fears, anxiety, confusion, and sexual desires in her works. Of course, it is always exciting to see Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Their massive sculptures of common, everyday objects are elevated by being increased to a monumental scale. At 21’, Safety Pin towers over the park, demanding your attention, one of my favorite characteristics of Pop Art. It’s always fun to see their pieces, I love their Horseshoe in Marfa. It is not clear in the photo, but the Ladder piece by Leandro Erlich is not held up by anything in the back. It is amazing to look at. There are so many pieces I could discuss. This fantastic Sculpture Garden was so fun to explore. There were many other great sculptures, including pieces by Rene Margritte and Fernando Botero. Nearby the museum, we randomly find St. Louis Cemetary #3. New Orleans cemeteries are beautiful. There are graves, as well as places where ashes of families are together that range from boxes to buildings. French influenced, many of the above ground structures remind me of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. There are still many differences that make it unique to NOLA, which is what I want to capture. When I go to cemeteries in different regions or a different country, I am searching for how that culture celebrates death and those who have passed. Marble, sculptures of Saints and Angels adorn many sites. It doesn’t take long to discover some rituals that you would only find in New Orleans. One site has Mardi Gras beads strewn around. I bet during Mardi Gras the grave sites will be covered with them. That would make some nice photos. Another has simply a bottle of oil, something I have never seen before, and I wonder if it has something to do with Voodoo. One site has a jar of some kind of food. It looks odd, and may be aged, rotting food left a while ago, or something else possibly related to Voodoo. I am excited to find new customs that I have not seen before.
At this point, I have been working on this large cemetery photo project for about twelve years, possibly towards an exhibit or book or, hopefully, both. My fascination with cemeteries has been since I was in high school. It’s interesting to think how something cultivates and captures your attention for that long. I have always found them beautiful. When I was in Munich a few years ago, there was an exhibit on Hermann Obrist at the Neue Pinakothek. An accomplished Art Nouveau sculptor and designer in Germany, this exhibition focused on his sculptures and “funerary monuments.” Unaware of who Obrist was, running into that show was purely coincidental. I squeezed in the Modern and Contemporary Art by myself on a day off. It was nice to see I wasn’t the only one who appreciates the beauty that lies inside the cemetery gates.
This was a quick few days during the week, but that didn’t stop it from being a fun, inspiring, and productive trip. It’s been about ten years since I was here last and it was just as fun as I remember. There is definitely still a lot to explore – gallery spaces, plenty more cemeteries, architecture, and the vibe that the entire city gives off. I will definitely be back.
There is a huge Lucian Freud exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Over ninety pieces are included in this exhibit. It is also the only US stop for this show that was put together by the National Portrait Gallery London. A large number of these pieces were painted in his studio, portraying life – the studio as the background with many subjects vulnerable, yet comfortable, posing nude, seeming to just be hanging out. There are so many things to take in when looking at his work, composed largely of portraits and nudes. The scale is immense, making these figures larger than life. Painting his subjects as they “posed” for him, full of emotion and intensity. The permanent collection at the Modern is always fantastic to wander through. There is a wonderful selection of Modern and Contemporary art, including Joseph Cornell, Richard Hamilton, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, and some huge pieces by Anselm Kiefer. The Greeting, 1995, by video artist Bill Viola is a provocative piece to watch. The video is of two women talking, when a third woman walks up and joins the conversation. While this is an ordinary occurrence, Viola captures human emotion as he plays the interaction in slow motion. This changes the entire way this encounter is viewed. SFMOMA has a great video of Viola discussing this piece, and how the composition of the figures are based on an image of The Visitation. This makes me think of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. He would film people for the length of the film, a couple of minutes, but would slow it down and extend it to four minutes. Warhol felt a person either had a presence or they didn’t. Warhol was also interested in capturing real life and human emotions, as in his early art films Sleep, Eat, and Blow. I was fortunate enough to see several of the screen tests played at the McNay, when they exhibited Andy Warhol: Fame and Misfortune. Another highlight in the collection is the Minimal art. This particular type of art is clean and simplistic. It is interesting that next month I will be heading to Marfa, Texas for my annual pilgrimage to Chinati, and here in Fort Worth many of the artists I will see there are on display, such as Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre. This large piece by Judd is from the floor to the ceiling. Even in this image, you can begin to see how the translucent plastic or glass material bathes the work in a soft haze of orange, extending from the piece to the surrounding environment.
However, I do prefer to view these artists in the setting that Chinati presents. One or two pieces from an artist doesn’t seem like enough. Even though that is primarily how art is viewed. Well, that’s not entirely true, maybe just regarding permanent collections. I make a huge effort to see an artist’s solo exhibitions. It is important for me to see a large body of work from the artist or experience several series, such as in a major exhibition or retrospective. Since viewing the huge installations that are presented in Marfa, I think I am spoiled. Maybe Judd was onto something. I think I do prefer his isolated, large permanent exhibits of an artist’s work. In that context, I can get an idea of what they are trying to convey through their work. If you are drawn to a particular artist, it is also logical to want to see more. Installations on such a large scale are also an experience in itself. That cannot be expressed in one or two pieces.
Richard Serra also has a small piece, however, his amazing work here is a massive outdoor sculpture. Rusting metal overtakes several stories, towering over you. As with many of Serra’s outdoor sculptures, I was able to walk around and inside. With an opening at the top, the light shined in. The size, material, and tall shape also made the piece bounce echoes of any noise or yelling from inside. That was an interesting experience. I have always found it interesting that Serra is one if the few artists that has had his work rejected by the public. Having to walk around the large structure in a plaza proved too much for some New Yorkers to appreciate, and Tiled Arc was dismantled, apparently still sitting in a warehouse. Another public work by Serra that has caused some controversy is the outdoor piece, Shift, located in Canada. Although the issues surrounding that piece have to do with land rights being sold, with the new owners trying to remove the work. The highlight, however, may be the actual building itself. Built fairly recently in 2002, it was designed by Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. This modern building is a brilliant extension of the art collection within. The forty foot glass windows allow an incredible natural light to enter, while outside it reflects the serene pond, outdoor sculptures, and an amazing view of downtown Fort Worth. With plenty of space to walk around, it is easy to enjoy the view. The unique design places the building within the 1.5 acre pond, the water coming right up to the large glass panes, creating the illusion that the building is effortlessly floating.