Archive for October, 2010

Stan Welsh, On Land-On Water

Posted by erin on October 19th, 2010

MEDITATIVE AND POETIC ENCOUNTERS AT THE TRITON MUSEUM OF ART

By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Stan Welsh, Yonder, 2010, at the Triton Museum of Art

In a major body of work that changes the tone of his observations of the world, Stan Welsh recasts his old actors in new roles.  His birds and figures as well as backgrounds — the water, the wood — play out their most demanding performances in this exhibition, On Land-On Water.  If Welsh has been the cynical artist, and his characters were once the buffoons representing all our follies, this artist is more contemplative.   The artist admits to being a political junkie who is greatly unsettled by the state of our fragile world.  He still gets pretty angry describing the ecological disasters that presaged each one of these works. He says, “We’ve really screwed this up.  Nature is coming to get us.  Water is a big part of it.” Yet here, he makes the decision to mostly sublimate his critique of the human animal and create a series of mixed media events that focus primarily on the frightening instability of our environment, and a critical balance that could be tipped at any moment.  “We are at the edge of the known and the unknown,” he states.

Stan Welsh’s Untitled witnesses are vulnerable, in denial and shame.

Entering the exhibition and moving to the right, one of the first works encountered is, in some way, an anomaly.  It is a small isolated female ceramic figure, glazed white, draped and like an ostrich, blinded to what is occurring around her, experiencing both denial and shame.  Welsh poses this solitary figure as embodying our doubts, our sense of powerlessness to change the future, the vulnerability and isolation we all feel in the face of major uncertainties.  She is all at sea.

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CURATOR JO FARB HERNANDEZ SELECTS A FOREST OF METAPHYSICALS

By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Italo Scanga’s Meta (Violin), 1985, and Meta (Guitar), 1985, in the Thompson Gallery

The late Italo Scanga, as I remember him from a meeting in Minneapolis, was a stocky guy, not too tall, whose major aesthetic revolved around long tall poles, handles, piping, tree trunks, occasionally the human form — anything that had a vertical central axis.  From this base he hung, extended, contrasted or attached in precarious balance, many other forms.  In the earlier, delightfully odd juxtapositions, most of the references were to farming, purposefully drawing from his rural beginnings in Calabria, Italy.  His installations, very popular in the early 80’s, were extensions of that focus, often spare yet elegant in the selection and interplay of forms. They contained farm implements and some surprising elements such as blown glass forms, a framed painting with Catholic iconography, barn detritus and harvested seeds or vegetables. Scanga showed one of these installations from the series entitled The Potato Famine at the Thompson Gallery (Then called Gallery One) in 1979. Throughout his career, Scanga referenced farming, nature, the human form and art world itself in his paintings and constructions.  While the early work was minimal and carefully designed, it seems Scanga began increasingly to cultivate a more spontaneous, even primitive energy that had not been in the previous installations and sculpture.  He liberally painted the surfaces of his work – the frames on the flat work and the pedestals under the sculpture – incorporating everything into the viewer’s encounter.  Stylistically, his painted surfaces drew from the Cubists and a European fluidity in representational line. Sometimes his assemblage sculptures incorporated a lot of stuff, embracing in The Metaphysical series an explosion of complex forms that were a 3-D manifestation of Cubist inspirations:  musical instruments, picture frames, multiple actual paintings, lathe-turned ornamental wood fragments from furniture or architecture, and full pieces of both small and large furniture.  An artfully placed section of a shoe, an oval frame, a rope or a stringed instrument provides an organic contour in these architectural constructions, an upside object becomes some new entity entirely.

Scanga’s Meta (Clarinet), 1985

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A Woman and Her Islands

Posted by erin on October 6th, 2010

Nova Jiang’s “Archipelagos” Project at the 01SJ Biennial

by Patrick Lydon


Often incorporating works of technological marvel, but never forgetting the merit of old-fashioned mechanical devices, Los Angeles-based artist Nova Jiang has been busy since earning her MFA from UCLA in 2009. In the past year, she has exhibited works in California, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, and Mexico. Her most recent piece, titled Archipelagos, was commissioned for the 01SJ Biennial of Art and Technology in San Jose, California.

Jiang’s bright green, three-wheeled, metal and wood islands that roamed the streets of San Jose during the biennial are interactive, public expressions of struggle and isolation, and in many ways represent a somewhat personal agenda for the artist.

But the islands aren’t just a personal refuge for Jiang; they represent feelings that each of us have from time to time, and by the artist’s design, they call for us to address these issues with interaction. Each asymmetrically shaped mobile island is fitted with it’s very own sand dune, out of which stick pens, and corked glass bottles with empty papers inside.

These tools are provided to the public with the hope of obtaining messages in bottles, which Jiang is using in a web-based format that allows the public to view and respond to the anonymous messages.

As Jiang sat inside of her artwork on South First Street during the nighttime Absolute Zero street festival, her head seemed to float – sometimes happily, sometimes broodingly – atop her island, and under her fabricated plywood palm tree, which spun slowly with each brisk gust of early-autumn wind. It was here that she offered a chance for the public to envision themselves the same way… and hundreds took her up on the opportunity.

Jiang also gave me the opportunity to pilot one of the three islands during the street festival. The interactive element of her artwork put the Archipelagos pilots and the public in close contact with one another, perhaps belying the lonely island theme and even making it an island party of sorts. It was revealing to witness thousands of passers-by stopping in their tracks, at first to smile, gawk, ponder, or criticize Jiang’s works as they floated gently amongst the tides of people.

The few hundred who stopped to interact with the particular island I piloted seemed to have an instant connection with the piece, yet they were often confused about what to do.

The simple line of “fill out a message in a bottle” seemed to start some rusty, forgotten, gears turning in the heads of most people.

“OH! I get it! Clever!” quipped a few participants, while others simply gestured with smiles, wrinkled foreheads, bit lips, blank stares, or a combination of such looks as they filled out a piece of paper, placed it in one of the bottles, and sent it down a PVC tube, into the rear collection unit of the Archipelagos. Not everyone appreciated the rather innocent notion Miss Jiang was attempting to convey however; a handful of visitors, perhaps not ready to envision themselves as an island, let out a grumpy “humph!” at me as they spun around and stomped off to the adjacent food lot, burning man vehicles, or concert stages.

In a general sense though, Jiang’s roaming artwork connected with a good number of 01SJ biennial visitors who wanted to touch, see, connect, or take a joy ride themselves. Whether these visitors were artists or computer programmers, Archipelagos communicated with each one on common ground, giving them at the very least a tactile opportunity for interaction both in public and private senses.

Although we may not have our own green plywood islands to drive around town, Jiang reminds us that at times, we can all be islands ourselves. For a short few days in downtown San Jose, California, Archipelagos gave people an opportunity to reach out from these bubbles we construct … even if it was only in the form of a message in a bottle.

Article and photographs by Patrick Lydon

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For more on the Archipelagos project, or on Nova Jiang’s work in general, visit www.novajiang.com

MODIFIED at the ART ARK

Posted by erin on October 6th, 2010

FOUND OBJECTS, RECONFIGURED MATERIALS, PUNS AND MORE

By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Nancy Sevier’s 2010 Reconfiguring Memories, at the Art Ark, combines piano parts with old slides, a funnel and electric light.

Assemblage is art in spirit of finding, reconfiguring and inventing.  In some senses it is recycling. The first sculptors who dared to gather discards, unconventional and mundane materials and assemble them into art objects and sign their names were audacious and scandalous.  Dubuffet gets credit for coining the term “assemblage”. Duchamp, with his urinal and “ready-mades” found esoteric meanings and puns in his juxtapositions. He was vilified by the academy and became a hero to subsequent generations of artists who embraced his defiance and complex yet extremely personal and secretive projects. Picasso took a couple of found objects and made handsome sculpture with an economy of means.  Joseph Cornell made his historic mark in the context of a collection of forms within a box.  California favorites, Ed Kienholtz and Wallace Berman continued the tradition with everything from large tableaus with narrative to flat collages of collected images.

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David Middlebrook at the Triton Museum

Posted by erin on October 5th, 2010

ELEGANT AND LASTING  HOMAGES TO TRANSIENT NATURE

by Chris Hofer Borror

The Triton Museum in Santa Clara is the site of David Middlebrook’s most recent exhibit, The Nature of Things, which runs through December 5, 2010. The 25 works in this show span the last ten years, which have been very productive ones for this artist.

Middlebrook’s Collision Course seems to suggest a parable on gravity.

Middlebrook’s work is about celebrating the Earth and the sanctity of nature. At the same time we see threads of cautionary tales, and one can’t help but feel that we are being urged to preserve Mother Earth. The pieces in this show don’t stray from his overall message, which questions the establishment and the known world with humor and grace. In his usual fashion, Middlebrook puts everything into question, even gravity. For example in Collision Course, you’ll find a precariously balanced assemblage of large eggs of endangered birds whose habitats have been encroached upon by airports in flyways. And in Apparition, you’ll see a cast marble tree stump raised high above, while balancing on slender birch branches.

All of the work is stunningly beautiful. His wall piece titled The Price of Beauty is at first glance a large wooden comb with a twig protruding from it. But this is more than just a two and one-half foot comb: it is representative of the old growth trees that are being strangled out of extinction. The bronze twig that grows out from one of the tines represents the 1.5% of old growth trees remaining on Earth.

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