The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) currently has a temporary installation up that belongs to their permanent collection. The Penetrable, 2004-2014, is a large installation by Jesus Rafael Soto, born in Venezuela, that was actually designed about 10 years ago, and finally realized this year. He passed away shortly after designing this installation. This required a collaboration with Atelier Soto, Paris, to create such a massive project without the artist.
Not familiar with the work of Soto, there is much information on him available in the museum and online. He is considered a pioneer of the kinetic art movement and is internationally recognized in Europe and Asia for his work, but not in the US. Creating only 25-30 Penetrables in his lifetime, this is the largest and only site specific installation, created for the museum’s Cullinan Hall, a large open mezzanine. The 1st Penetrable was created in 1967, however, many no longer exist because they were only temporary installations. This specific piece is composed of 24,000 plastic tubes weighing 7.5 tons with the hanging system, it is 28′ high and suspended from a reinforced ceiling. This piece also required that each tube be hand painted to exact measurements to create the perfect ellipse, making it also the 1st Penetrable to have an “image” included, and not be monochromatic.
The most obvious difference from the normal museum experience is that you are encouraged to touch the work. It becomes kinetic and is completed by the participation of the viewer. Soto created his pieces to enjoy by being able to move through and be touched and pulled. Children are encouraged to participate as well. When I arrive, there are plenty of people already immersed in the piece with several children running around. The tubes are soft and flexible, moving with me as I walk through the installation. Even with lots of people there, due to the scale, it was easy to still be alone for a little bit. At 2600 sf, this piece is actually larger than my entire house (1450 sf), so there is plenty of room to explore and feel some solitude. It actually feels endless, that I will never come out and walk through the tubes forever, in a forest of plastic. I have never had an art experience like this, something I was fully immersed in, almost part of it. I suppose I was, by activating the space, I became part of the installation. Artwork that involves the viewer is always an original experience, which is why I think it is important to travel to see art in person. Contemporary art in particular, is a genre that requires the participation of the viewer to complete the piece, whether by thoughts or action.
“For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses. He designed the Penetrable to make viewers more cognizant of their spatial surroundings, imagining the work as scalable and situated to both indoor and outdoor settings.”
It is the 2nd large scale installation commissioned in Houston that became the final projects of the artists that I am aware of. The other is the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall commissioned by the Menil, According to their website, ” Just two days before his death in November 1996 Flavin completed the design for the space.” Completed by Flavin’s studio, it is a beautiful, large scale installation taking over the entire front hall. I have visited this building many times, writing about my previous experiences.
Designer Carolina Herrera’s line for NYFW (New York Fashion Week) 2014 was inspired by the kinetic art of Jesus Raphael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez. Watch the collection go down the runway in action here. I definitely see the inspiration of both of these artists. Many patterns remind me of the work of Cruz-Diez, but the clothing mostly seems to be inspired by the fact that the work of both artists must be completed by the viewer, from visual participation to actually entering the work, as in Penetrable. The design of the clothing is only complete once it is worn and actively moving. The movement in the clothing is visually beautiful to watch. Coincidentally, the MFAH also showcased the work of Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time in 2011, which I was able to experience for myself. His work requires the participation to view the work from different angles, otherwise you will never see the complete work. It was engaging and visually stimulating, being full of movement. This is a great video tour of the exhibition, giving you the experience of how to view a Cruz-Diez, something a static photo cannot do.
On the second floor of the museum Europe 1900-1975 Selections from the Museum’s Collection is being exhibited. I am able to see work from recognized masters that I always appreciate viewing. This included Pablo Picasso, which I had the pleasure of viewing Picasso: Black and White at the MFAH last year, Joan Miro, Anselm Kiefer, Henri Matisse, and Georg Baselitz,
whom I also viewed a solo exhibition in New York a few years ago. This just names just a few of the incredible artists on display here, but they all offer inspiration when it come to pushing boundaries, which is something that refreshes my art sensibilities.
It’s that time of year again for me, the end of Contemporary Art Month. Like last year, it is an intense period. This year, I had to leave before the month was over. Seven Minutes in Heaven is my biggest curatorial project of the year and then two weeks later I had a solo exhibition of my new body of work, Practice Makes Perfect, at Plazmo contemporary. As if that wasn’t already enough, there are the tons of exhibits open for Contemporary Art Month. Every gallery and most artists try to exhibit, it’s an important month. Of course I had to go to as many as I could fit in. It is about exposing myself to what people are doing and offering my support for their projects. I also made a major change in my life and left Ruiz-Healy Art. Before determining my next direction, I needed some breathing room.
After my exhibit at Plazmo, there were still shows, including the CAM Perennial 2014 Untitled (Public Display) at the Guadelupe Cultural Center. This was a two-person show of Mark Menjivar and Christie Blizzard. I was one of a few selected for a studio tour by visiting curator Leslie Moody Castro in April. While I wasn’t chosen, I always am glad to have a curator look at my personal work. I may not be right for this particular project, but I may be for something in the future. As a curator myself, I know a studio visit can open up working with different people and offer new opportunities. My friend Alex was also invited to participate in a smaller group exhibition in the Perennial where they took their work off of the walls and walked it around the neighborhood, bring art to the people of the West Side of San Antonio. Blizard gave away pieces of her artwork for free, I took home this pixilated photograph. Menjivar “fixed” candles individually for good luck, wealth, and love, adding a piece of art completed by Blizard. I know Menjivar from when I worked at the Southwest School of Art, so I am always excited to see more of his work. It turns out he only fixed 40 candles, so I was lucky to get one.
One piece I was eager to see was The Lovers, 1928. It is romantic and haunting at the same time. Nearby on display was a photo titled Amor, 1928 that was of two people standing together with their heads covered. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find an image of that on the internet. The image of what was real was beautiful.
However, when I was searching images, I came across this other painting by Magritte and a photo credited as being of Magritte that reminded me of the Amor photograph. I’m not entirely sure of the title, it has been coming up just as Lovers, and I can’t find a date to this particular piece. Sometime, I’m sure I can find some kind of raisonne and get the details.
One reason I’m drawn to these particular images is because I have always been impressed when a photograph captures a surreal moment without digital manipulation. My particular fascination in art is with reality. The last couple of years I have been working with found objects because they are what exists, discarded remnants of peoples lives. During this period exhibited here, Magritte plays with reality in many different ways, including a frame within a frame within a frame, what is (or isn’t) an object, or as in the piece Representation, 1937. Another piece I dedicated some time to, this realistically painted female torso in a shaped canvas entranced me.
This exhibition was amazing. I spent a long time going through, slowly digesting the imagery in front of me. When I was done, I walked through again. There was also a smaller exhibit of his later works where Magritte played with reality through visual texture and patterns, but I was not drawn to them, not like his early works. When I was done at the main building, I decided to head to my favorite building, to see Cy Twombly. Spending time surrounded by the work of Twombly is very contemplative for me. I have written about a previous experience I had at the Twombly Gallery.
This time around I was able to get some images from one of my favorite bodies of work by Twombly, a set of five paintings, Untitled (Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair), 1985. This is another body of his work that consists of one title but are made up of several paintings.
In his despair he drew the colours from his own heart
In drawing, and drawing you his pains are delectable his flames are like water
While I didn’t go to the Dan Flavin installation located in another building by the Menil this time, I did go to the James Turrell on the Rice Campus, Twilight Epiphany. Unfortunately, I lost the photos I took during the the light show. But these two photos from before it began show on a low scale the color theory that Turrell applies.
This was another quick, yet inspiring trip to Houston. Art keeps my thoughts processing and clears my head. I am very fortunate that Houston is so close and regularly has fantastic temporary, as well as permanent exhibits that I love to visit. Being able to just take in the beauty of it instead of having to organize or explain it is such a different experience. At the end of it all, I am able to focus and be calm again.
2013 was an interesting year for me. I made many life changes and forged on with invisible gallery. Accepting a job at a gallery, Ruiz-Healy Art, for half of the year, I have spent my time primarily fluctuating between working on RHA or invisible. It has been a fascinating experience, learning from a commercial gallery many lessons I can apply to my artist run gallery. While my schedule was a little more stable, I have tried to continue travelling as much as time and my finances would allow. It felt like my travel had decreased dramatically, but after trying to recall my trips writing now, it seems I still traveled frequently. While that also seems to be repeatedly to the same locations, I had a unique trip every time. Since I mainly plan my travel around exhibits, art fairs, and temporary installations, it is easy for a fresh experience.
Places I traveled to see art in 2013:
Houston: Picasso Black and White at MFAH in March, James Turrell at the MFAH in July, Houston Fine Art Fair in September, and the Texas Contemporary Art Fair in October, Luc Tuymans’ Nice. at the Menil , and Houston Artcrawl Studio Tours in November
Ann Arbor, MI: UMMA (University of Michigan Museum of Art) in June
This year was primarily spent travelling around Texas, Houston being where I traveled the most. While most of my travel this year has been much closer to home, the art I experienced was fantastic. Not leaving the country this year did not lower the quality of art I saw. The diversity in what I went to see was pretty extreme. This year included many large scale installation and pieces from the James Turrell Retrospective and the permanent installation of Dan Flavin, Cindy Sherman’s huge photography, Louise Bourgeois and her large spider sculpture…the list goes on. While none of these pieces were created this year, size seems to be the theme in what was being exhibited, either touring or displayed from a permanent collection. Working on a large scale with my sculptures as well, it is always interesting to see art that influences your work. I will always expose myself to as many different medias of art as is available to me. Inspirations and ideas should come from all sources. I am also interested in learning about themes or ideas that are different than my own, including the use of materials. Art is a thought intensive process that I appreciate and enjoy experiencing greatly. I am very fortunate that I have many friends that support this and often are the reason I can travel as much as I do.
The top 5 posts read this year:
- 1 Seeking Refuge: Twombly, Flavin, and Picasso
- 2 Cindy Sherman at MOMA
- 3 Banksy hits NYC by Jonathon A. Sims
- 4 Cindy Sherman Comes to Texas
- 5 Heading to the Big Easy: New Orleans
My 2nd year documenting my art experiences has continued to remind me of all the wonderful and exciting things that are waiting to be explored. By continually exposing myself to new thoughts and ideas is how I keep growing. As I open myself up to new experiences, I find many new opportunities arise. At the end of this year I find myself in a much different place. I am (currently) more stable, slowly pulling invisible together in a more secure direction, while trying to continue making my own art. Personally, I have also been going through a divorce this year, another major change in my life. Art has affected my life in various ways and I feel fortunate to feel so passionately about something. My life takes a lot of planning and patience, as well as unpredictability and chance. It’s a slightly crazy balance I don’t think everyone can handle, although I know plenty of people who happily do. It is very difficult to juggle everything, but I feel a little lost when I don’t have several project going on. Sometimes I wonder if I have a short attention span or just really that many ideas. Although finishing several major projects to completion every year, I will go with I have that many ideas. As I visual person, I work best with constantly new imagery to stimulate me. As an artist that likes to discuss ideas of repetition and multiplicity, I notice people patterns everyday. New environments are just as exciting to me as new ideas. This was another unpredictable year. Only so much can be planned, the rest I figure out as I go along.
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.
Since I really enjoy art using light, of course I went to see the work of James Turrell as part of a unique retrospective that is consecutively taking place in three different locations. The largest installation is at the Guggenheim in New York. I also read an article about the installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Much closer to home, I went to the part taking place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). As the press was coming out, I kept reading about the installations at the Guggenheim and LACMA, but nothing about Houston. The star piece of the entire exhibition is the light piece that takes over the main rotunda at the Guggenheim. The images of it look amazing, and I know photos never give light installations justice. Since I couldn’t find much on Houston, I really didn’t know what to expect. I greatly admire and draw inspiration from experiencing contemporary art. The concepts and contemplation that it takes to create some of these pieces amazes me. Contemporary art fascinates me because it challenges preconceived notions in an intellectual way. I enjoy thinking about an art piece and seeing an idea in a new way. Large installations, light pieces, and sculptures are some of my favorite medias to experience. Another light artist I have been following is Dan Flavin. I have seen some of his large installations in Marfa and in Houston.
I have always been amazed at the permanent installation there by Turrell, The Light Inside, 1999, which I briefly wrote about when I was at the MFAH last, in March. This piece takes over a long underground hallway connecting two buildings. The tunnel is composed of a walkway maybe just a foot off the ground. On either side of the walkway is a few feet to the wall, in a light wash of color. However, the way the light is presented makes it seem endless, like an abyss. The more you focus on the environment, the more the illusion takes over. I get a little distorted, it feels like I would fall forever. Art21 did a great interview with Turrell that focuses on The Light Inside in Houston and the Roden Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona. The volcano has been his most ambitious project that he has been working on since the 70’s.
Hands down, my favorite installation here is the Ganzfeld, the only piece in this exhibit that you can actually walk into. No photos, of course. It is meant to simulate a white out, something that occurs during blizzard, where there is no perception of the space. Experiencing this condition for an extended amount of time has been known to cause hallucinations. This was created with curved walls, making the room seem endless. There are people inside to keep you from going over the “edge”. As with the other pieces, the lights are completely hidden, just casting a glow of slowly changing colors. LACMA has a Perceptual Cell that costs an additional $45 entry fee and requires a waiver be signed before entering. That specific piece really may cause hallucinations, being in an isolated cell, just the experience of light.
What is amazing about experiencing work by Turrell is the illusion that is created in the space. He creates an environment, many of his pieces require their own room. Some pieces seemed to occupy both negative and positive space at the same time. This was particularly true of the wall cut outs. The light seemed to be cubes floating in the air, or breaking up the floor. The entire time seeming to fluctuate between a physical object in front of you, and a recessed object within the wall.
Going a few blocks away from the MFAH, we walk onto the Rice University Campus. They have an outdoor permanent installation, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, that sits upon a hill. However, it is actually a man made area, the grass is actually camouflaging the interior seating for the piece. There are two levels to sit on. The bottom space is made of marble seating, with tall slanted backs, on the inside of the cube like installation. The upstairs has the same type of seating but made of concrete, also slanted for you to be at an angle looking upwards. The upstairs chairs are on the outside of the open cube, so both levels can view above. The entire structure is covered by a flat roof, with a cut out facing the sky. This is where the art takes place. Even before the sunset show began, you can begin to see how the piece subtly changes, with the use of both natural and artificial light. I have seen the sunset many times, sometimes able to stop and view this beautiful natural occurrence. But this particular piece utilizes color theory to create or isolate colors. A forty minute light “show” unfolds as the sun sets. The staff requests silence and no photos. As in the main exhibit, outside light will affect the piece. It was a very meditative experience. The sky changed through many different colors – light blue, teal, gray, black, a brilliant colbalt blue. While the light is progressively getting darker, Turrell then uses the artificial lights projecting onto the roof, bringing the colors from light to dark, and back to light again. It was a very interesting experience and experiment. This show also takes place at sunrise. I think I will have to experience that as well, at some point.
A statement was made by the Guggenheim stating the large installation piece in the Rotunda is not a Skyspace, as at Rice. The specific difference is a Skyspace has an opening to the outside, while the Guggenheim’s opening is covered in glass.
Leaving Houston, in the paper was a story about a woman in Florida that realized she had a Turrell in her home and had been using it for storage. Disappointing, the new owner is trying to sell the piece. The bottom of the article has a nice slide show of a few Turrell pieces.
Yes, I am currently dreaming of seeing the Guggenheim exhibit. Unfortunately, there is no way I could make that happen by the closing September 25. It would be amazing if I could make a trip for my birthday on September 23….but that will not happen with my current work schedule and financial situation. However, the show in Los Angeles runs through April 6, 2014. There is a possibility I could make it there before the closing. And save an additional $45 for the Perception Cell. Yes, I would. I already would like to visit this exhibit at the MFAH again before it comes down. I will definitely also be revisiting Twilight Epiphany at Rice, as it is a permanent installation. This exhibit really expanded my mind. The possibilities of what a media like light can create is endless and ever changing. Perceptions of color, space, and what is tangible where all pushed and questioned. I find that exhilarating and the entire reason why I continue to seek new experiences with art. Of course, my pictures do not do this exhibit justice. It is something to experience in person.
The stress of Contemporary Art Month has been creeping up on me. It has been a fantastic, crazy, last few weeks. Beginning with a successful Seven Minutes in Heaven 2013 and continuing with a great inaugural opening of PS102, a new gallery space located inside a business, where I am now curating exhibitions monthly. In between all of this, I have been working on some new work for my open studio tour coming up in a few days, as well as slowly thinking of what I want to exhibit for another upcoming show I will be having in July. If I can get my work together. There is always something to work on, always something to think about. Since March is Contemporary Art Month, it has been my busiest time of the year for the last couple of years. But this year, I have never taken on this many projects. It’s enough to drive a girl mad. Despite the fact that I have a huge load of work, I decide to get out of town. There’s a lot on my mind and I feel like I need a change of scenery. I haven’t left town for no reason in quite a while. Well, isn’t my sanity the best reason? Looking up something to do, there is a Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) that looks amazing. Surprisingly, there is a second major exhibit touring there as well, Portraits of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado, that will be closing soon. These exhibits are normally $20 each to get into, but I find on one particular night this week, they are letting you in for $10 FOR BOTH. I think I have found a place to escape and clear my brain from the now. Luckily, my friend in Houston takes me in, so that is where I head, on the Megabus. The first few hours in town are spent by myself. This is refreshing and fantastic. I ignore my email, facebook, and texts, to just breathe for a while. I decide to just stroll around downtown. I’ve mentioned how I love the city. Yes, there is a lot going on around me, but it feels much different when it’s not me rushing around. I am the one in slow motion as everything is running around me. People watching, architecture, just observing life. As usual, I see art everywhere, as I think of Richard Estes, staring at these huge store windows. While I have always loved and photographed reflections, Estes gave me an appreciation for layered realities.
I hop on a bus to the Menil. Instead of heading straight inside, I turn to go to the little park there. This new route took me on a side of the Menil that I had never noticed before. Enjoying the outdoor sculptures is something I don’t always take advantage of when I am here. There are three negative sculptures by Michael Heizer on the lawn of the museum, created from 1968-1972. Known for creating land art, these sculptures are small scale replicas of three pieces from his “Nine Nevada Depressions” series of work, made in 1967. These pieces laid the groundwork for one of his major works, Double Negative, created in 1969-70. Studying DN in school, the scale of land art fascinates me. The design of Rift reminded me of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind. It is such a beautiful day, just relaxing under a tree is exactly what I needed. I sketched a little and worked on some of my titles for my current pieces, but nothing pressing, nothing that had to be done now. Just thinking and brainstorming. The stress was beginning to melt away. When I finally got up (probably after about an hour), I decided to head to the Cy Twombly Gallery. The Menil is fantastic, the way it has several additional buildings in the immediate area, dedicated to a particular artist or specific type of art. I will openly admit I used to never appreciate Twombly. While not being exposed to many images of his work in school, I had still seen several of his pieces in different museums, but only one or two together. They never really said anything to me, there was not enough of a discussion. Then I went to the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston for the first time. Getting to see so many different bodies of his work let me appreciate the gestures and lines, an important element of many of his works. One of my favorite series here is Untitled (A Painting in Nine Parts), 1988. The deep, gestural greens seem to lead into the abyss. These pieces are full of emotion and gesture. Using a limited color pallet, the work is expressive of something much deeper. Staring into them, I feel a sadness, as if I were Ophelia, letting the weight of everything pull me down. The heaviness keeps me exploring further. Even in this series, Twombly adds lines in the form of text, a poem to Rilke, enforcing the mood he has created in this room, with this painting, in nine parts.
(Ponds) to Rilke
and in the ponds
broken off from the sky
my feeling sinks
as if standing on
For the first time, I fall in love with a new series of Twombly’s work, Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair, a set of five paintings, 1985. Viewing them before, I apparently never appreciated the depth these paintings offer. While these large pieces are composed on white backgrounds, the feelings of despair, continue to hang in the air in this room also. This is an interesting combination using this color. White normally represent things such as youth, purity, and innocence, yet here is in juxtaposition with mature perceptions. The emotional gestures in a seemingly chaotic mess exude complicated passions. The “rose” seems to display a bleeding heart – messy, dripping, and coming out of the canvas. Amid the abstract imagery, the pieces also incorporate text, forming characteristic scribbles. It’s interesting when Twombly uses “legible” text, he creates a distinction from the imagery. Where as in many of his most recognizable works, the scribbles are the work, presented as indecipherable and repetitive gestures. In this instant, quotes from Rilke, Rumi, and Giacomo Leopardi are crammed into a compartmental space above the imagery, shaping the panel. Each series I encounter offers more to the conversation with Twombly. As each room houses a different body of work, more of his thoughts and gestures are revealed. Extending past the canvas, his work also includes sculptural pieces. While not a huge fan of his sculptural work, there has always been one piece in particular that has always drawn me in, Thicket (Jupiter Island), 1992. Made of wood, plastic leaves, plaster, and paint, the media differs greatly from his more characteristic work. I always return to this piece. Something about the way the plant looks like it’s suffocating, drowning in the paint, fascinates me. It is completely covered, yet the plant doesn’t seem weighed down, it is still springing up. Any life is blocked by the plaster, coming or going, yet it has this tenacity, aiding it’s survival. Previously, I discussed an exhibit of huge still life photography by David LaChapelle, referring to a particular piece as “the Suffocating Bouquet”. In both pieces, the “life” is restrained by an outside force. But I never get the sense of something being dead, the life has not been removed, somehow these piece are still breathing. They are both the color white, the color of life. It is captivating to look at. Twombly’s work culminates in Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor), 1994. This enormous triptych takes up an entire room, at 53′ wide and 13′ high, showcasing the range of mark making he utilized throughout his many bodies of work. This particular piece is both minimal and yet very expressive at the same time. Completed over a span of twenty years, this is the full discussion Twombly wanted to exhibit. While the most complete, this may be the piece I discuss the least. It is something to be viewed and contemplated in person. See this piece after you have viewed the rest of the gallery and don’t underestimate it. There is a bench. Just sit down for a while. Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor), 1994, Detail In an entirely separate building a few block away is Dan Flavin. Richmond Hall is yet another building exclusive to one artist, by the Menil. Flavin is one of my favorite artists that works with light and this is one of my favorite pieces. I have been fortunate enough to see quite a few of his works, such as in New York, Berlin, and Munich. But my other favorite Flavin installation I have written about is in Marfa, Texas, at Chinati. His individual pieces don’t compare to the way the light works together when combined to create these massive works. Using a characteristic limited color pallet, this piece incorporates pink, yellow, green, and blue, and uses one additional color I have never seen utilized in another work of his, purple, in the form of a fluorescent light splitting down the middle of the entire length of the piece, anchoring them together. The lights reflect on the floor, extending the work from the walls into the space. While there are the physical components of a light piece, it is about what is radiating and how it works with the environment it’s in, that is the most interesting part of experiencing light pieces. It is about the space, a much different viewing experience than looking at a two dimensional piece of art. When I first walk in, there is actually a contemporary dance troupe performing amid the installation. Their body movements were mesmerizing, I kept thinking how exceptional it is to be able to perform in the midst of such an amazing environment. The piece highlighted motion and gestures using only their bodies, in a space where the art was exuding from the walls. This was indeed a unique experience. The performance was by the MFAH Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art and I talk to the choreographer. I tell her about Luminaria, a huge city art event in San Antonio that is about light, but encompasses all arts, including literature, performance, and dance. I have worked with Luminaria, on a couple of occasions, most recently this year as Site Manager for a fringe location. They give out grants to perform. I write down the info for her and she gives me her card. It really was a special piece, I would love to see it travel. Isn’t that what I do as a curator? Make sure art is seen? While not curating now, I have to share info with this spectacular program. This signified the end of my introspective time alone, this is where my friend met me. After dinner, we head to the MFAH. The special entrance doesn’t start for another hour, so we decide to enjoy the permanent collection, it is free today. The Abstract Impulse: Selections from the Modern and Contemporary Collections is one of the exhibits they have out. A large imposing Soundsuit, 2011, by Nick Cave towers over you at the entrance. Cave makes these suits out of different materials, this one composed of various rugs. The feet are the only reference to a person, yet there is a major presence as you walk around the piece. The suits are meant to be worn and performed in. He will be performing in Grand Central Terminal in a few days. I was very disappointed that I missed his exhibit of these suits at the Austin Museum of Art (AMoA) last year, I heard that was an amazing show. Another exceptional piece is Calavera 4, created by Grupo Mondongo, an Argentinian Collective of three artists. This huge piece is approximately 6′ x 6′, demanding my attention. Made of plasticine and wood, this piece is entirely carved, revealing a rich history, mythology, as well as leading to up to current pop culture. The detail is pristine, as the imagery comes alive from panel on the wall. The depiction of evolution expresses the continuing changes, crammed among each other, as if occurring in a short period of time. Maybe it has, we just assume our lifetime is an eternity. The piece is exhibited along with a touch screen tv, describing in detail all of the intricately carved imagery. There were plenty of other pieces to discuss in this exhibit, but this was not my primary reason for being here today. However, this show is an excellent example of the modern and contemporary artwork in the permanent collection. As a former registrar, I would love to be able to get my hands on these pieces. I promise I’ll wear gloves. MFAH also has an amazing light installation. The James Turrell piece, The Light Inside, takes up an entire underground hallway, connecting one part of the museum to another, the dimensions are 11′ x 20.5′ x 118′. The media is neon and ambient light. The entrance is blocked by a large wall of light, which you have to walk around to enter or exit. There is a solid walkway, while the entire room is filled with light. It is a little disorienting to walk through at first. Even though the walkway is only a few feet above the ground, the color makes it seem endless, as if walking over water. This light piece definitely utilizes the space, creating it’s own environment. And then onto the main attraction: Picasso Black and White. While Picasso is known for experimenting with color in phases throughout his life, this show focuses on his monochromatic work, stripping the color to focus on the subject, something he continued to do throughout his career. Unfortunately, since I didn’t purchase a catalog and the security was extremely tight (as to be expected), I have no photos. It was quite an amazing, as well as ambitious exhibit. With over one hundred works, his subjects varied from everyday life to the horrors of war. While Picasso is of course a master and ground breaking artist, his most powerful work is where he is working with a theme, such as Guernica. The broken fragments of cubism can be used to express emotions of chaos and violation. Of course, that piece is not included in the exhibition, however, many of the studies and precursor imagery were. An artwork so monumental, in both scale and concept, may be worked on for quite a while before realizing the potential of what it is to become. But there are plenty of beautiful pieces every direction you turn. One of my favorites is Woman Ironing, depicting working class daily life. Another is a still life, Cock and a Jar, where the broken imagery brings an incredible energy to an otherwise static display. Yes, Picasso’s work is amazing. On another floor is the other stunning exhibit, Portraits of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado. The polar opposite of Picasso, this exhibit displays the opulence of the ruling class in Spain. Jewels, ornate clothing, and lavish households of the ruling class are the main subject of these paintings. In fact, included were several pieces showcasing their amusement, little people. The wealthy class did not think too much of the commoners they ruled over. Showcasing several major artists, including Titian, Rubens, and Velasquez, the show would not be complete without Goya. Goya’s body of work ranges from the elaborate portraits commissioned by the Spanish ruling class, to his raw and expressive still lifes, reminiscent of Dutch still life paintings, and his emotional work portraying war. The highlight of the entire Prado exhibit was his prints. The subject matter, the details, the emotion. None of Goya’s other works compare to the profound imagery he depicts in his printmaking. The amount of art therapy I had was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes life is crazy and seems to throw unending curve balls at you. But the art today did exactly what it is meant to do – allow me to contemplate, offer inspiration, and add an incredible amount of beauty and skill to my day.
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.