Archive for April, 2007

NOT GIVEN at SF Camerawork

Posted by erin on April 29th, 2007

curated by Dore Bowen and Isabelle Massu

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Van Leo: Miss Nadia Abdel Wahed

 

by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

San Francisco, California, Spring 2007

NOT GIVEN: Talking of and around Images of Arab Women

This complex and fascinating exhibition at SF Camerawork, San Francisco, is hardly what one expects, given our stilted knowledge of the Arab experience through news media and Hollywood. Yet we are fascinated with and desperate to know more about the Arab world and the Islamic life given current international politics. The photographs selected from the Arab Image Foundation, in Beruit, Lebanon by curators Dore Bowen and Isabelle Massu reflect its emphasis on portraiture, social life and culture during a period of recent history that certainly undermines stereotypical expectations. Selected works are seen as both large-scale prints and cycling projections with sound in various sites throughout the gallery. Contrasting insights into the more contemporary face of Arabic women, from photographs, writings and personal experiences, and research by the curators are also presented so that the visitor can sit and peruse through books and albums. The audio repetitions of keywords from the archiving system in the image bank, as much as edifying the listener, seem to reveal a process of objectifying the subjects, in an endless search for data. The mystery, the experience and the revelations of this exhibition are realized slowly, leaving the visitor with one certainty: there is so much more to know.

Dore Bowen, who is an Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at San Jose State University and Isabelle Massu, a French media artist, are both interested in photography. Bowen, who received her Doctorate in Visual and Cultural Studies at Rochester University, became fascinated with phenomenology — what (we think) we know through observation of appearances. The photograph, of course, is the site of all sorts of assumptions based on appearance. Further, it explores the consciousness and possibilities for self-representation of its subjects. Massu has given workshops to empower Algerian immigrant women through teaching audio and computer technology in France, and to women displaced through violent politics in Algeria. Bowen and Massu were both working in Marseilles when reactionary politics in France proposed the banning of Islamic head coverings and veils on women in educational institutions. The provocative veil controversy motivated them to find a way to portray Arab women from more than a singular, or simplistic perspective. Discovery of and ultimate collaboration with the Arab Image Foundation became the vehicle for the exhibition, Not Given. Through a wide range of image, sound, text and numerous supplementary public programs, the curators have opened the door for multiple opinions and conclusions about the Arab experience behind the Arab image.

One of the first, greatly enlarged images that greets the viewer to Not Given is an Arabic woman wearing heavy, fifties’ style, Hollywood make-up and a black bustier. Something of a Liz Taylor look-alike, she reclines on a small stage, her legs kicking up toward us. She is revealing a good deal of cellulite, as she improbably pulls off a silk stocking. Is she the same young woman, mentioned elsewhere in the exhibition, that entered the studio of photographer, Van Leo, and asked to be photographed in a progressive and complete strip-tease? Others clearly are portraits of movie stars and famous people taken by Van Leo, the prominent Cairo portrait photographer. Throughout the cycling projections we can see more women who wear heavy make-up, strike poses, wear costumes or dress in seductive and glamorous style. Some of the female subjects pay a nominal respect to Islam through a lacy veil that barely goes from nose to upper lip and is more flirtatious than modest. So many of the women show a relaxed attitude toward the modesty we expect from fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. Many of them evoke a chuckle for their dated fashions. There are the humorous, strange, glamorous, staid, seductive and the demure. Further, there are the couples, the families, the children, and the men. These are all subjects whose worldliness and middleclass economic status allow them to indulge themselves in front of the camera. At the same time, the archive does include family portraits and photographs of people whose lifestyle is clearly simpler, more modest and probably only marginally middle class.

From a phenomenological viewpoint, the digital images, and the way they have been archived, suggest a great deal about social context, gender and class, about language structure, and about self-image and role-playing in front of the camera, for women, as well as for men and children. Careful listening and examination of the texts will reveal that our first takes and assumptions about many photographs are incorrect. The viewer must engage a larger picture and be willing to leave with more questions than answers. As important as what is exposed, is what is not given in this show — extensive portrayal of veiled or submissive women, or — the stunning 60’s portraits of Algerian Women in a book by Marc Garanger notwithstanding, — images of Arabic women painted with a broad brush. The images are surprising and new to our eyes. We begin to realize, from the many possibilities behind each photograph, how a reductive process of objectification works, particularly in a situation where we want to classify, order and label individuals. We struggle not to make assumptions or essentialist conclusions about Islamic society from single examples, or the way that an image is categorized.

A separate audio component consisting of four stories beginning with a woman’s verbal description of herself in her native tongue‚Äîinspired from a self-selected photograph, which is then reinterpreted by a series of other listeners who form their own mental picture of her and the photograph — is an illustrative case presented in the exhibition. We have all played that parlor game where a secret is passed, by whispering from ear to ear around a group, and had a hearty laugh to learn what it had become when it came back to its origins. Why are we so rushed to make sense, on our own terms, of everything we see and hear?

Not Given includes a film made by Akram Zaatari on the life and work of Van Leo. Among the stories told by Van Leo is one of photographing his grandmother in ongoing states of undress until she was completely nude. Van Leo took the pictures in 1959, but eventually saw the country changing, felt that even keeping these pictures and other nudes he had shot was too risky, and so he destroyed them. Bowen notes that undress, as a keyword in the archive, will call up many images of women and only one man (this is displayed in the back room). Further, any images of men showing flesh are strong men, muscle men or sportsmen. Other examples of ways the photographs in the image bank are gendered further suggest a cultural regimen is behind certain selections and omissions, or within the entire process of photographing and collecting for posterity. But, again, early assumptions are dangerous.

The archive consists of more than 75,000 images taken between 1872 and the 1980’s, the great bulk being from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. This is a period when the Middle East was in relatively peaceful relations with the West and some of the most interesting photographs reveal the degree to which the subjects had incorporated Western fashion and Western photographic portraiture into their lives. I found one recent publication in the exhibition that, in strong contemporary graphics, satires the foolishness of George Bush invading Iraq — something of an anomaly in this show.

Bowen and Massu emphasized Arabic women in the first showing of Not Given, in Marseilles, France. In San Francisco, they decided to include other pointed groupings of figures that question the way costume and make-up allow us to configure ourselves, change gender, deny gender, how children may begin to form a self-image, and the posture we all assume in front of the camera.

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Studio Shehrazade: Hashem el Madani

 

 

Bowen and Massu bring together one group of projections where men are dressed as women, women dressed as men, a pair of men are dressed as bride and groom, and yet the digitally archived collection has no keywords for calling up images of homosexuality. Bowen offers that the classification of images in the Image Bank is done in a French system, but the fact that words like homosexuality are not included leads us to another surprise. We learn that the photographs of two men or two women kissing or posing as bride and groom were not necessarily homosexual in content. In parts of a society where eye contact between unmarried men and women is strictly forbidden, certainly touching and kissing before marriage are out of the question. Anticipating the big event might bring two young men or two young women to the photo studio to kiss and pose before the camera, with one of the pair standing in for the bride or groom.

At the very beginning of the exhibition, in books and prints, are images of costumed children from the ages of perhaps three to twelve. I am still amused by the formal portrait of boy of about three, in his knit suit with short pants, astride a giant cylindrical form that could be seen as part of an architectural column, or a bullet or a well-worn lipstick. The portraits of the rest of the children leave little gender ambiguity. The boys are dressed as generals, cowboys and Lawrence of Arabia. The girls may be cowgirls or geishas, ballet dancers, or angels. Still, one questions whether children simply choose one of the costumes offered by the photographer, who may think in terms of gender appropriateness, or if the costumes are chosen by parents, or if a child with a strong self-image demands to dress according to his or her fantasy. Are childhood experiences of “dress-up” formative in adult identities?

It is important to note that although this image bank calls itself the Arab Image Foundation, it is unclear how pan-Arabic the sources of these photographs actually are. Lebanon, itself is one of the most multicultural, multi-faith countries of the Arab world. Recent news tells us that a young Iraqi lady in exile in Beruit is the winner of an American Idol-type talent contest. Cairo, the source of many more of the photographs, has long been the hub of international commerce, and worldly coexistence politics. Yet, the Arab world, we are reminded today, also includes Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, and at least politically, other nearby Islamic countries such as Afghanistan and Iran: each one westernized to varying degrees and fundamentalist to other extents, and divided into economic classes, North and South, East and West, city and countryside.

I am recalling now, that at the Cuban Bienale in 1989, I met a young artist from Egypt whose beautiful black and white lithographs were all abstract patterns in deference to an Islamic prohibition against any kind of depiction of the human form. Yet Egypt is also the center of the Arabic film industry. Imagine film without human drama. The very existence of an Arab Image Foundation seems yet another fascinating contradiction.

Questions of human representation aside, could such an image bank ever claim to fully represent the spectrum of Arab experience? Actually, it does not attempt to do so, focusing instead on the collected works of particular photographers of the Arab world. But the danger that we make more assumptions, based on the limited information or relative truths any photograph provides, remains.

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by Josh Russell

San Jose, California, Spring 2007

Arts and culture are an integral part of our everyday lives. They are a powerful force for inspiring social change, personal growth, academic achievement, economic prosperity, and improving the quality of our lives. All great cities and civilizations are remembered for their architecture, music and art. Truth is – it is the art in our societies that makes them worth living in.

Founded in 1982, Arts Council Silicon Valley (ACSV) is a private, nonprofit arts organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for Santa Clara County residents by creating and nurturing arts and culture throughout the region.

As the largest nonprofit Arts Council in the State of California, ACSV enhances the Silicon Valley community by providing funding, advocacy, technical assistance, arts education opportunities, and marketing and visibility services through artsopolis.com to more than 600 local arts and cultural organizations and individual artists throughout Santa Clara County. The Arts Council recognizes that small and midsize arts organizations and our region’s artists are an essential part of the Silicon Valley ecology. In fact, throughout our history we have distributed over $8 million to arts groups and individual artists throughout the community.

One of this region’s critical components is the visual arts community which not only plays a role in the economic vitality of the area but helps create a unique environment that businesses want to locate themselves in and residents are proud to call home. The Arts Council recognizes this role and annually awards on average more than $200,000 to visual artists and arts organizations through a number of different funding programs.

But the visual arts sector does face some challenges. “One major asset here is the San Jose State University School of Art and Design which brings a lot of recognition and credibility in drawing up-and-coming artists to this region,” said Bruce W. Davis, executive director of Arts Council Silicon Valley. “However, the external perception of this visual arts community is that it not known for being a place where highly accomplished mid-level and higher career artists choose to make their home.”
Another challenge that this visual arts community faces is the lack of media visibility. ACSV has dealt with the issue of visibility and the arts for years – which is one of the main reasons why In August of 2003, Arts Council Silicon Valley launched Artsopolis.com. Artsopolis.com is an online calendaring website which consistently features more than 1,000 events and includes a directory of nearly 600 local arts and cultural organizations, as well as venue listings, artist profiles, public art listings, classes and workshops, user reviews, jobs, audition notices, local directories, online ticketing, and more.
With nearly 2 million visitors to the website last year alone, Artsopolis is now firmly entrenched as the go-to organization for the majority of the region’s arts marketing efforts.
But visibility for visual arts still remains a challenge. “For the volume of visual arts that is around, visibility and exposure is really embarrassing,” notes Davis. “That and literary arts tend to get the least amount of ink.”
Davis also noted that since the San Jose Mercury News visual arts writer left the paper more than six months ago, the position is still vacant Рleaving a large void of much-needed press to promote this region’s thriving visual arts scene.
But, there are good things happening too. Over the past year, Arts Council Silicon Valley has been chronicling all of the positive things happening in the world of the Arts here in Santa Clara County. The following are the success stories from some of the local visual arts organizations:
On April 28, 2006 the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art became one of a handful of mid-size arts groups to own their own building thus ensuring institutional stability well into the future. Planned renovations to the new ICA location include a 40% increase in gallery space and expanded educational programming, including a permanent printmaking workshop, an artist-in-residency program, printmaking classes, and a contemporary art library/resource center.

The San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles has also expanded and moved into a larger gallery space
Currently in progress are plans for the Gilroy Center for the Arts and the Stanford Arts Initiative, which will help realize the vision of the arts as a central and vital force at Stanford;
The Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center opened its doors, providing a new venue for visual and performing arts;
The San Jose Museum of Art has consistently closed its year “in the black”, while offering an amazing schedule of exhibitions and educational programs.

Recognizing these constant challenges, the Arts Council continues to push ahead and offer support to individual artists and arts organizations alike throughout the year. Below are all of the opportunities that visual arts groups and individual artists have to apply for funding through the Arts Council’s programs:

GRANTS FOR ARTS ORGANIZATIONS:
Applied Materials Excellence in the Arts: enables Arts Council Silicon Valley to provide funding opportunities in two focus areas (1) organizational infrastructure through “Leadership and Organizational Enhancement” grants and (2) artistic programming through “Artistic and Program Excellence” grants. Fore more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/grants/for/amat.asp

Community Arts Fund: provides project support for arts activities reflective of our multicultural region, with an emphasis on encouraging small, community-based, volunteer-driven organizations. For more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/grants/for/community.asp

Regional Arts Fund: provides general operating support for the administrative and artistic development of arts organizations with emphasis on encouraging professional and semi-professional groups. For more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/grants/for/organizational.asp

Arts Enrichment Grants Program (organizations): funds programs at participating arts organizations to increase their involvement with young children through new or existing programs that will involve children ages 5 years and under and their parents in the exploration of the arts. For more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/grants/for/arts.asp

ArtsEnhance: empowers arts organizations to heighten their visibility, promote their programming and strengthen their audience development activities. Fore more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/Artsenhance.asp

GRANTS FOR INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS:
Artist Fellowships: Arts Council Silicon Valley annually awards Artist Fellowships in rotating categories to recognize professional working artists and to enable them to continue to pursue their creative work. For more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/grants/forindividual/artist.asp

Arts Enrichment Preschool Arts Grants Program (individual artists): is an artist-in-residency program that brings artists into preschool classrooms to provide and demonstrate appropriate art experiences to young children and early childhood educators at targeted preschools. For more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/grants/forindividual/aeg.asp

ArtsConnect: is an arts education program that provides year-round arts instruction through comprehensive artist residencies for at-risk youth between the ages of 13 and 18 in classrooms, children‚Äôs shelters and juvenile halls, as well as expand to organizations serving special needs populations such as the homeless, battered women, Alzheimer’s victims, and persons with disabilities that can be influenced in a positive way through arts education and exposure. For more information, visit: http://www.artscouncil.org/grants/programs/artsconnect.asp

“The grant I received from the Arts Council will enable me to continue my studio practice. This is my goal as an artist, to continue working on my craft, ideas and inspiration. I believe success is measured by more studio times.” – Binh Tai Dahn, photographer and former Arts Council Artist Fellow

Below visual arts organizations and well as visual artists that have received funding and/or artist residencies through Arts Council programs last year alone:

Visual Arts Organizations
Alliance of Visual Artists, Monte Sereno
Art Docents of Los Gatos, Inc, Los Gatos
Art4Service, Gilroy
Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI), San Jose
Community School of Music & Arts, Mtn. View
de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara
Euphrat Museum of Art, Cupertino
Montalvo Center for the Arts, Saratoga
Palo Alto Art Center, Palo Alto
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
Triton Museum of Art Santa, Clara
WORKS/San Jose

Individual Artists
Artist Fellowships Visual Arts (Ceramic & Glass)
Susan Longini
Una Mjurka
Stan Welsh

Arts Enrichment Grants Program Artists
Mark Engel
Gertrud Turner

ArtsConnect Artists
Sarah Baldik
Mark Engel
Claude Ferguson
Judy Gittelsohn
Lori Kay
Kristen Parker
Joan Ruiz Stefano
Gertrud Turner

Throughout 2007, the Arts Council will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. We will continue to play a significant role in ensuring arts organizations and artists are resilient and positioned to survive changes in funding and valuing of the arts. As one of the only regional sources that provides project and general operating support, the Arts Council is looked to as a stable, ongoing funding source; this role has become increasingly important over the last few years as other funding sources have dwindled.

Jane Salvin’s Striking Shows at Heritage Bank

Posted by erin on April 29th, 2007

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Robert Larson: Peace, Love and Camels

OBSSESSIVE NATURE

by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

San Jose, California, Spring 2007

One of the most consistently sophisticated venues for viewing strong San Jose artists, mixed with occasional talent from San Francisco or Oakland, is the somewhat unlikely site of the Heritage Bank. In gallery-starved San Jose, it is not surprising that artists and curators are willing to show art in unconventional spaces. The surprise is that -surrounded by file cabinets and bank furniture – Jane Salvin’s shows totally transcend what one might imagine to be limiting. Utilizing the lobby, large conference rooms and smaller offices that have glass enclosures, and walls that appear to have been saved specifically for hanging larger art works throughout the bank, Salvin manages to give each of her artists spaces that showcase their work in series. Viewers can get, even in the case of artists who work large, a sense of an artist’s style through clusters of work. Her thoughtful installations never feel cramped, nor does the art feel compromised. Further, visitors who come simply to see the art are welcomed by a friendly bank staff, and allowed to wander throughout the facility, even into private offices.

“Obsessive Nature” is the Heritage Bank’s 2006-2007 winter exhibition of 100 works of art. We can say that artists are nearly always obsessive by nature, yet the title seems most relevant in this case to the works of Robert Larson, Charlotte Kruk, Chris Eckert, Kara Maria, Kathryn Dunleavie and Anne Healey. Full of small details, repetitive elements and painstaking craftsmanship, there is richness in their work, and above all, obsessiveness.

Two large works by Robert Larson are seen in the lobby. Peace, Love and Camels is 104 inches high and consists of thousands of discarded Camel matchbooks lined up side-by-side, row upon row, and mounted on linen. It is a weave of colorful little swatches of primary color in varied states of abuse and age that manage to transcend the unforgettably ugly nature of detritus from cigarette smoking. It is conceptually whimsical and intriguingly handsome on the formal level.

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Robert Larson: Untitled Collage (Marlboro)

Another direction by Larson is seen in more intellectual works like Witness, where the white faces of plain matchbooks or the white tops of Marlboro boxes – the red printed layer mostly worn away, as it might be found in a wet gutter – are lined up in rows, with very little color introduced. Here one must engage the tiny details and variables of a nearly white, gridded surface. In some cases, a pattern of isolated red-print box tops interrupts the white field. Residue of the smoking habit, yes, but these works are basically formal.

In this exhibition, Larson’s digital prints, made from the original works mounted onto linen, are also shown. They are absolutely true in color, life size, and almost fool the eye into thinking they are three-dimensional.

Charlotte Kruk is a San Jose artist who has delighted us with her fashions made of hundreds of candy wrappers for years. Kruk collects innumerable wrappers and labels from a single sweet source, and defying the logic of consuming candy and modeling elegant fashions at the same time, she obsessively sews them all together and creates an astounding garment or gown. At some exhibitions, delicious young artist-friends whose lovely figures seem untouched by eating excesses, have modeled them.

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Charlotte Kruk: Matador (left) and Peach Nectar (back view)

In Obsessive Nature, Kruk introduces four new designs. Peach Nectar is a sleeveless spring dress with full skirt, made of Flagstaff peach nectar box labels, ornamented with real peach pits, a ruffle of canned cling peach labels down the back, and presented on a black poodle-like fur dress form. This dress is a link to earlier Charlotte Kruk creations. Her See’s Worker B uniform has all the polite white sterility of a See’s Candy shop, yet it is made of See’s milk-chocolate-with-almonds packaging and gold lam√© piping. In Diva, Diva, Godiva, Kruk plays with legend and creates a long slim coat in chocolate tones that inadequately covers the form beneath. The design utilizes the thin membrane inside a Lady Godiva box of chocolates alternating with fake fur, assembled in a royal diamond pattern. Ornamentations are Godiva ribbons and heavy fake jewels. Kruk’s tour de force in this show is probably her glittering matador’s Traje de Luces, made of M&M wrappers, multiple fabrics, beads, sequins and porcelain.

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Charlotte Kruk: Diva, Diva, Godiva (left), See’s Worker B (center) and Peach Nectar

Anne Healey’s “paintings” are actually mixed media relief works that have no paint in them at all. They are startlingly beautiful and odd. The backgrounds of these small, framed works are embroidered semi-abstract landscapes. Floating in the foreground on a light scrim are exquisitely embroidered, exotic flower shapes made from embroidery yarn, sequins, beads, pearls and soft yarn or cord. The frames ironically contradict the illusions of deep space and references to sublime mother nature by revealing the wooden stretcher with crude nails that supports the scrim, or by a frame of heavy steel that seems intended to suppress the airy landscape. The series says a lot about traditions in Western painting, and the feminist struggle for recognition in that context.

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Chris Eckert: Auto Masochist

Chris Eckert is an artist whose sculptural creations – often electronic or kinetic – amuse and intrigue us. Auto Masochist is a device that looks something like the original Singer sewing machine, with a cast black body, and silver and gold ornamentation and old fashioned lettering. Its mechanized dagger hangs over a wooden platform with a depression where the human hand will fit. The viewer is invited to participate and bravely assume that the stabbing gesture of the Masochist will only circumnavigate his hand. In Hand with Rock, Eckert’s perfectly molded and colored synthetic hand emerges from the wall, palm up, clutching a real black rock that is cracked through the center, begging a question of brute strength.

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Kara Maria: Pattern

Explosions, vapor trails, zigzag paths, dot patterns, swirls and stripes in a celebration of pop action scenes are the staples of Kara Maria’s vibrant paintings. Into these woven layers of space, she occasionally introduces more concrete actors such as birds, fruit or jet aircraft. Works like Flowers for a Crow or Almost Paradise revive all the consummate rendering of the pop iconography of Roy Lichstenstein, with Kara Maria’s own energized color sense. These paintings may be reliving a comic book event or be a response to the character and pace of history in our times. Certainly their intense plastic colors and the complexity of the imagery are frenetic and breathtaking.

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Kara Maria: Flowers for a Crow (left), Almost Paradise

Kathryn Dunlevie has developed a technique of collaging photographs to canvas that requires, in varying degrees, a seamless merging of painted and photographic imagery. In Obsessive Nature, her paintings play with photographic repetitions of architectural elements that frequently become flat and pattern-like, contrasted with glimpses of deeper space such as an interior patio with ornamented columns, or – as in Eiffel Tower Tennis (study) a manicured green field that is doubled up in mirror image, and seen beyond the web of trusses of the Eiffel Tower. The result of the careful selection of particularly enchanting sites and these repetitions and juxtapositions, is a magical world, sometimes resembling the vivid view through a kaleidoscope. Dunlevie’s Au Bon March√© is one of the most obsessive and fanciful. Here many repetitions of a lacy balcony in a Paris department store, viewed from below, are repeated to become a giant web of scallops against the soft focus warm field that is the ceiling above it.

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Kathryn Dunlevie: Eiffle Tower Tennis

Also seen in Obsessive Nature are interesting works by Sharon Chinen, Richard Karson, Terry Kreiter and Chris Alexander.

Pictorial Faculty at San Jose State University

Posted by erin on April 29th, 2007

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Lucy Sargeant: Sculptor, David Middlebrook

by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

San Jose, California, Spring 2007

In the sixties, the San Jose State College Art Department was still in transition from status as a teachers’ college to a more professional and modern university. I was an undergraduate, and there was a faculty show every year, if I recall correctly. Like most of my classmates, I entered the gallery in great anticipation to see what my faculty did as artists. Like most faculty shows, at most colleges in those days, it was a mixed bag. There were several inspiring works by the few active artists on the faculty and a lot of drivel that made me cringe. I used to complain bitterly.

A lot has happened in the art world and colleges and universities since the sixties. The MFA has replaced the MA in Art. All art programs from painting to sculpture to time-based media have become more rigorous and their graduates compete fiercely for teaching positions. Schools of art and art departments have raised the bar in hiring and promotion of faculty. The old adage about “‚Ķthose that can’t, teach.” no longer applies. In California especially, the under-funded State University system has had to replace full-time faculty, when they leave, with mostly young, but hip, part-time faculty. The current pictorial arts faculty show in the Natalie and James Thompson Gallery at San Jose State University reflects all this.

As difficult as it is to show fifteen artists without a unifying theme, in one small gallery, this show works. Jo Farb Hernandez’ decision to separate faculty exhibitions into small periodic shows of such disciplines as sculpture or photography or pictorial arts helps to highlight the strengths of this faculty. Further, all the art represents an engagement in contemporary issues and is executed with exemplary craftsmanship. I feel pride for the students and my former colleagues.

Yet there are questions raised by this exhibition. Students, future students and the public go to a faculty show to learn more than simply what each of the individual faculty does artistically. This is a chance to form an impression of the department as a whole. Of fifteen artists represented, only four are full-time faculty. Is this a bad thing, or is it not unlike the faculties of most private art schools, in terms of student contact, where the faculty routinely teaches only two classes per semester? I know the balance at SJSU reflects a reality where a heavy obligation of self-governance and student advising is heaped on a few, while the part-timers suffer a lower pay scale and lack of clout. I wonder too, about the absence of important senior faculty like Rupert Garcia, now in an early retirement program and teaching only in the fall semesters. As a student, I would have liked to see his work included. Another question about faculty might arise concerning the number – eight – of former SJSU graduate students that teach in the pictorial program. I’ve heard objections to such incestuous hiring practices. But, is this a problem, if the work is really strong and diverse as we see here?

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Patrick Surgalski: Untitled

Still, the most singular thing to viewing this show is, indeed, a sense of the art itself. I had a lot of favorites. One is Lucy Sargeant’s large portrait of David Middlebrook, which captures the sculptor at an intense moment with a light source such as one might expect from a bronze pour at the foundry. Robert Chiarito’s Romp is a playful figurative abstraction that uses the figure as a point of departure for rich brush strokes, and vibrant color played against subtle fields of transparent, layered and scumbled whites – all the beautiful classical qualities of oil paint on canvas. Patrick Surgalski shows a large untitled monotype that is handsome and rich with painterly qualities in its dark red field. In a loosely-gridded format, Surgalski introduces big shapes of cut, torn, and collaged paper (an illusion of the monotype process) that bear type, newspaper-sourced photographs and smudged graphic marks from crayon.

Ema Sintamarian and Erik Friedman show works that reflect popular culture, a youthful affinity for crisp graphics and delightfully idiosycratic approaches to drawing. Sintamarian’s Everybody Loves a Cowboy is a complex, brightly colored wooden cutout. Her indecipherable and infinitely meandering lines and patterns, mixed with letter forms, turtles and astronaut suits form a field that surround the wistful, double (read out-of-focus?) image of a young cowboy. Erik Friedman’s Floaters (Day 1) are a grid of small drawings in pen and gouache on layers of duralene. They all play with teetering, falling, crashing power lines and poles in a light brown, clouds of energy or dust or carnival ferris-wheels, or mazes of razor wire, depicted by fine parallel lines in a light earthy colors, and finally, wildly distorted, crunched-up, flying vehicles depicted in the same careful, meticulous, parallel, but slightly darker lines. Is this Friedman’s commute from Oakland to San Jose?

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Ema Sinatamarian: Everybody Loves a Cowboy

The graphic, mixed-media works by Gina Pearlin, Lynn Powers and Theta Belcher have a more poetic, mystical quality, evoking a hope for harmony with nature or the spiritual, and even a transcendence. Varying degrees of abstraction are seen in the paintings of Leroy Parker, Christine Canepa, Mel Adamson, Marlene Angeja and Don Feasel. Gale Antokal’s drawing of a skater in grays is nostalgic and quiet, like a walk through the forest after a new snow. Brenda Jamrus’ elegant work is, rather inexplicably, a mirror-image photographic print of a river landscape framed by dense, bare, tree branches.

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Gale Antokal: Place (study)

If you have ever been disillusioned or bored by faculty exhibitions, now is the time to give them another look. They are inevitably informative and demonstrative, as a continuity with the past, but now I think you certainly will see consistently strong art, as well.