Lin's Latest Posts
About three years ago, I attended my first antiques show after moving to Texas — the Dolly Johnson Show. Although the show had gone more mid-century and industrial than in previous years, the show stopper then was the Susanna Fuller White trunk, from the Mayflower. Americana was still the heart and soul of the show.
The current owner, Jan Orr-Harter, had the vision of broadening the scope and appeal when she bought the show from JJ Frambes in 2009. Only three years into the show, she has successfully transformed the show into an eclectic market that goes beyond antiques and art. That is prominently reflected by the change in the show’s name: Fort Worth Show of Antiques and Art. Its website is even simpler: FortWorthShow.com.
Broadening the scope and appeal has been a trend among antiques shows. The Philadelphia Antiques Show has adopted a more flexible standard by setting different time windows for different types of objects. For artwork, modernism is welcome as long as the artist is deceased. The Metro Show, which replaced the former American Antiques Show two years ago, took a totally different turn by dropping off its pursuit of patina to incorporate a wider range of objects- the name itself doesn’t convey “antique” at all.
To some extent, the current Fort Worth Show has some characteristics of its predecessor – a penchant for folk art and country craftsmanship. Yet through mixing objects of anti-urbane, un-common or untamed by unconventional training, it has achieved an eccentric sophistication that may shock some long-time patrons but can excite a younger crowd. When we were there on Friday afternoon, the traffic was steady.
This year Ken Weber of Vintage Martini, a clothing retailer, participated in the show for the first time. Together with another first timer, Adrienne Astrologo of Ladybag International from Philadelphia, they represent a desired demographic shift from the show promoter. Risking being called a sexiest, I would argue more or less that men collect, women shop. Collecting American furniture or art is methodological and fastidious. You would trust the voice of Wendell Garrett or the hand-touch of Leigh Keno. Shopping vintage on the other hand is fun, impromptu, and spontaneous. In that case, you would be happy to tag along with Martha Stewart, who visited the Brooklyn Flea a few years ago.
Of course clothing, jewelry and accessories can be collectible but first and foremost on the consumers mind is whether it fits and looks good.
Thus it is the emphasis on the shopping experience (mostly targeted to a female audience) that these vendors would contribute. Given the long history of the Dolly Johnson Show, a more complete transformation, if there is to be one, may not happen this year or next. But the equilibrium will be matched once more vintage dealers settle in.
Yet, even within the spacious Will Rogers Memorial Center, the show is not as big as those super markets such as Scott Market, Brimfield or Marburger. The great advantage of “there is something for everyone” also means that, after dividing the limited space by the extraordinary range of selection, a die-hard collector could find fewer items of interest. Variety vs. homogeneity has always been a conundrum for show promoters. The smaller the show (and while not the largest in the region, this one is on the large side), the bigger the problem.
Dealers have taken the cue themselves in anticipating the shifting interests of patrons. Gordon Harrison of Harrison Gallery, who also exhibited at the Heart of the Country show in Nashville, seemed to bring more affordable art here with modern and regionalism-looking works. They offer unique decorative value without depleting one’s wallet.
In contrast Jane Christian of Art, brought paintings of Dallas Nine and Fort Worth Circle. Otis Dozier’s work has been recently sold at David Dike Auction for more than $30,000. Although not everyone can afford a large painting by Dozier, the presence of paintings with local interest helps educate Martha Stewart followers who may just browse between vintage Coke signs or Fort Worth hotel memorabilia, and perhaps ignite their interest for, in the words of Amon Carter who founded the museum not far away from the show, higher attributes of life.
Albany is one of those small towns of Texas- by the time you read its name from a road sign, it’s almost behind you. Its museum has an unassuming name – the Old Jail Art Center. You would expect to be surrounded by bluebonnets or longhorns paintings, and be ready to associate with it the quirkiness and idiosyncrasy of all things Texas, until you walk in. The wonderful art treasure trove should not be a secret kept by the two thousand local residents, but to be known and enjoyed in Texas and beyond.
The museum was founded in 1980 by Reilly Nail and his cousin Texas artist Bill Bomar, who combined their collections with their mothers ( on Asian Art) to form the core collection. Through years, it has been expanded through key donations such as William O. Gross, Jr. Collection of pre-Columbia art, furnishings from Watt Matthew’s Lambshead Ranch, Marshall Young Jr’s fund for the outdoor sculpture garden and European art, and most recently a gift from DMA/MFA Houston‘s Barrett Collection.
Often, smaller museums that grow out of individual collections more or less reflect eccentric and peculiar tastes of its founders. In the case of the Old Jail Art Center, Bill Bomer, who was the leading artist of the Fort Worth Circle, left the collection a penchant for abstract and simplified forms, bridging archaic and Oriental objects with European and American modernism. Bomar, born in a wealthy family, was an avid collector throughout his life. In 2011, the museum mounted an exhibition featuring the extensive cross collection of the artist.
I was told by many collector friends that the museum’s holdings in Fort Worth Circle is strong. Yet even with the greatly expanded gallery space (added in 2009) besides the original two-story stone-walled jail building, the breadth of the collection makes it hard to showcase its deep root in Texas homegrown abstract and surrealist art. A few can be found in the works-on-paper gallery. “The Entertainers” by Bror Utter abstracted figurative movement into distinct angular shapes of playful colors. A landscape water -color by Bill Bomar flattens the distance with weighty repetitive patterns of emerald green.
Unlike Bror Utter who carried a distinctive artistic style through his life, Bomar had worked in many modes, often taking the risk of venturing into directions untrecked.
Thus it is an extremely rare opportunity to learn about the artist through his gifts displayed in the permanent collection. It is not only interesting to see what the artist had collected during his life time, but also tempting to ponder how those personal collections are related to various styles of his own.
The elongated feature can be found both at Modigliani’s Young Girl with Braids and some small Asian and African statuettes. They echo some of Bomar’s early abstract works. For example, The Virgin Future, sold at Heritage Auctions last year, has attenuated anthropomorphic forms with distinct sculptural mass. Paul Klee’s Der Weg ins Blaue, another master piece from his collection, gives a special dull sheen through the use of hot wax mixed with dry pigments. Its naïve simplistic forms recall many of his 50’s paintings, such as Squares Gathered by the Sea, which inject two-dimensional elements like squares and lines, through dry brush strokes, into pictorial space.
At the first floor of the Jail building, I was surprised to see Asian art display, mostly from the collection of Jewel Nail Bomar, the artist’s mother. (Like any other works of art on display, their labels lack the details about when Bomar family acquired them.) It would be interesting to know what motivated her to collect tomb figurines from Wei, Sui and Tang Dynasty. The figurines created in this period have unprecedented liveliness. The sinuous forms with swaying arms or tilted toes capture dynamic moments in happy afterlife. Yet Chinese art is mostly strung by its restrained emotions — Despite some degree of exaggeration in favor of sensual expressiveness, all these figurines keep a sense of balance and fluidity. Considering the varieties of the collection and many heritages from which Bomar could draw inspiration, it occurr to me that the collection manifests Bomar’s openness to the unlimited boundaries of art and his astute readiness in pushing new ideas. What is unchanged is his unyielding belief in the transformative power of art.
At the Sculpture Courtyard, Texas sculptor Jesús Moroles’ Granite Sun greets visitors with its grand gesture. Bill Bomar recognized his talent early on and commissioned him to make this monumental sculpture for the museum. Alternating between unhewed raw surface and the polished one with warm sheen, it stuns viewers with its glorious sun disk, up in the air. The consummate craftsmanship is magnified by the fact that despite of its proportion, it was cut, hewed and sanded on one piece of pink granite. Given the tendency that Bomar often dramatized subjects with basic elements, it could be that he saw in Morole’s sculpture, a medium he could not command, luminosity, texture and abstraction folded in larger-than-life ambition, like his own.
“In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is.”
Hardly ever there will be an exhibition more suitable to manifest Gertrude Stein’s famous quote than Sarah Williams’ current exhibition — Remote America. Yet America has changed since then. What Stein saw as quintessential America more than seven decades ago, would be unfamiliar to GenY and Millennials, raised in the cradles of urban sprawl. (The artist, only at 30, is a Millennial) Williams’ “Remote America” instead shows parcels of a rich land, transformed and lost in its physical isolation among vastness, and recollected as part of our subconsciousness under the car culture.
Stunningly beautiful, it is distillation of our collective memory of sharpened sense of places, when we were dislocated and lost in the anonymous, vast rural land. Growing up in the heartland, Williams drives around Missouri to take pictures for inspiration. The night scenes are ubiquitous. They help wipe out elements unnecessary for compelling compositions. Although it is tempting to ravish viewers with that brute force gravity of a dark background, Williams seeks beyond: Exquisite and extreme colors under artificial light.
That engenders ordinary objects, while still being instantly recognizable, to assume an uncommon appearance. Williams’ daring courage and acute sensibility in color exploration are rewarding. It is visually appeasing (with sort of a shock) to see warm orange on the snow or emerald green on a shed. For example, “Glenstone Ave” is a power-house to showcase the extreme brightness of yellow street light with subdued halos. One has to look close (not through any publication or website photos) to apprehend purples of varied shades in the background. The foreground, in contrast, echoes with lively lavender.
Have we all been there – some unknown parking lot? Perhaps. It gives you chills to see the extraordinary beauty and nuances out of places we deem as monotonous and forgettable.
Most paintings can fall into one of the two categories. Large paintings with distinct rural architecture elements often evoke a staged narrative. In them, empty and impersonal industrial and commercial buildings, engulfed under dark sky, loom large. Their geometry is imposing, the light surreal. We observe them from afar, as if to assume an air of objectivity. In return, they project a sense of stately formality.
That incongruence makes one uneasy. Or at least it would make Gertrude Stein so – how could such a place of “nowhere” so orderly yet at the same time so out of place? In “Campbell,” the blazing spot light sifts through a row of awnings, under which all windows are closed. It is mesmerizing to examine eerie patterns of light and shadow. The patterns get all our undivided attention first, until one notices the patronless business itself, receding as the mundane backdrop. In both “Paint Booth” and “East Monroe Street,” the foreground is tilted to create an emotional suspense for a rather unappealing scene: back corner of a warehouse complex. The suspense is further enhanced with intrinsic diagonal elements such as parking lot markings or car tracks in the snow. Both carry, to some extent, mannerism of contrived tension. What save them from being ostensible is the sense of becoming. They serve as a prelude of the storytelling, leaving viewers as sole interpolators of a plot forthcoming.
A series of pavement paintings, all in a square format and numbered based on the sequence, feature a different aesthetic. The penetrating third-person narrative angle in larger imageries is traded in for an intimate first-person narrative. Introvert in nature, these paintings often have only the closest part of pavement brighten up, as if lit from the viewer’s own pickup truck. The later ones in the series, in particular, shed light in the new direction of Williams’ interests in departing from realism of rectilinear nature of industrial architecture. Flattened up from the downward gaze, the pavement dissolves into abstract organic shapes of restrained colors, intersecting or interlocking. Edges are soft and fuzzy, as if while looking down, we are so devoured by the visual riddle itself that momentarily are lost in our own thought.
If time and place are exacted as potent omens of becoming in the previous case, the pavement series are moody essays of our self-absorption of being. A few paintings seem to derive from both categories as the self-conscious pavement patterns are jested against middle ground architecture.
My favorite is “Route 380.” It exuberates a wry wit on beauty, out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere. The tiny building is overshadowed by its exotic mural painting, featuring a massive building hybrid of Gothic and Byzantine style, against azure blue sky. The palm trees in the painting feel almost vulnerable on the frigid night, when pavement is covered with frosted cracks and black ice. One cannot help but following those intricate laced patterns which lead to the wall. It is through that short journey – from the dark concrete at foot, in the heartland of America, to bright-lit mural imagery, palpable with tropical balminess and ocean breeze – that one is treated with a surprise – a formidable range of colors that stretch and bridge the surreal and real.
“Remote America” is now on view at Art Museum of Southeast Texas until April 7, 2013.
The new show – “Four Into One” – opened yesterday featuring new works by Bruce Monroe, Michael Francis, Bernardo Cantu and John Alexander Taylor. The word “Into” means nothing other than the physical space of 500X, as the four artists are of different mediums and styles.
Mr. Taylor has created a body of work on Penny Whistle Park in digital prints. While the boosted granularity, especially when magnified, is perhaps inborn nature of early film photography, the artist took advantage of it with further processes to mix saturated colors with B&W. As the result, each looks seemingly cheesy and naïve; but as a whole, there is an undeniable under-tone of nostalgia. Nothing is sadder than commemorating the physicality of childhood happiness through old photos. The indoor amusement park became a nursery a few years ago, but Mr. Taylor has focused on the faded colorful past itself. By not adding a current snapshot of the park in the show, he saved the group of prints from being a visual connotation of urban decay.
Bernardo Cantu set up a space for fun and experiments. One could read much deeper than necessary on the beach balls suspended in the air by a set of three industrial fans. The gimmicks work only if one disarms his inner guard on the difference between low and high art and instead enjoys the art in the form of being. But, on that breezy night, kids took the cues better: They ran around and danced with balls’ irregular rhythms. Were such an installation much larger in scale, perhaps in a public plaza with enhanced refinement, they would have a tantalizing effect of joyful beauty, crushing any doubt about what it is.
Michael Francis’ new oil paintings keep exploring his interests in finding the abstract qualities within representational images. Primarily, or sometimes solely relying on the arrangement of lines – dabbed, mottled or articulated – he has further reduced his previously restricted color palette to nearly monochrome, only varying in tonality. In these images, forms and shapes are often discovered much like they are in pure abstract works.
If “Interior Growth” is a natural extension of his survey –“Destroyed Cities” – a series of ink paintings on vellum, then “Farmhouse” seems to shed light on his current subtle modulation in controlling line qualities within the abstract domain. The brushstrokes in those earlier works were amassed to such a great intensity that they seemed to collapse under their own weight, only to decease to exist in the representational sphere. In “Farmhouse,” however, there is such openness in the negative space. Mainly on the left side, thus asymmetric, the white space instills an instant tranquility to the rest of the image – as if, as chaotic and unpredictable as nature can be in reclaiming the forgotten land, the artist captures a transient moment when nature and human consciousness are both at repose.
Unlike others, “Nourishment” is a painting of gray on gray, yet with a sensual delicacy that remotely recalls Chinese Gonbi style. Together with the freely expressive lines and integral negative space, these new works by Mr. Francis, in my opinion, are developing a new set of vocabulary based on a synthetic combination of oriental succinctness and controlled abandonment in western modern art.
The show stopper is from Bruce Monroe. The single figurative sculpture, made of fiberglass and plastics (for the intricate hands and fingers part only), is unequivocally standing alone in its own space. The biomorphic shapes of holes are inspired from his doctor’s metaphor on human vulnerability – The safety net of a human body can only sustain so long before it gives in to the incessant attacks of virus. In creating such a work, he, like the virus, attacked a mannequin by cutting the designed labyrinth into the body — a constructing process out of deconstruction.
Mr. Monroe would like to ultimately use his own body as the model to cast the figure, but he concurred that the cost of a customized mannequin could be prohibitive. Even with a ready-to-use alpha-body-type male mannequin, such a process, laborious and occasionally noisy, takes approximately three months to complete. The current one is, in fact, the second he ever produced. (The first has found its home in Florida.)
During the conversation with the artist regarding technical difficulty, it occurred to me that judging from the work’s challenges and complexity, it is only a matter of time before the artist has to pause to think how many more he could ever produce without exhausting himself in either the drudgery of physical labor or dwindling variation in mannequin’s poses.
Yet, that makes the current one more valuable. He stands tall and proud. (The industry standard for male model’s height is six feet two.) Under the spot light, a beautiful shadow is cast, in which paths and holes reconcile into varied degrees of gray. The fiberglass, in pure black without reflective sheen, is a marvelous choice for the subject. It engenders the body with many layers of duality — solidity vs. feather lightness, athleticism vs. fragility and fear against nobility.
It is also intriguing to read into the artist’s statement, regarding the personal and social impact of HIV/AIDS. The vulnerability of our own body and mind can be too much to bear, until it recedes into a metaphysical presence of an anonymous body, on which the first person and third person perspective are lost in our own thoughts.
“Four Into One” is shown at 500X gallery till Nov 25, 2012.
Situated north of downtown San Antonio along the famous River Walk, the San Antonio Museum of Art is housed in the historic Lone Star Brewery building complex. From the outside, the complex lacks the grandeur of Beaux-Arts facades. Multi-floored, with a subdued sun-fade yellow, the brick buildings give the feeling of a genteel southern living in a marriage with trendy industrial lofts. Even though the city is the seventh most populous city in the United States and the second largest in the state of Texas, the depth of breadth of the entire collections will stun anyone who only associates the city with its NBA team or the river walk.
Its small American art collection spans from the colonial era to modernism with a strength in the 19th Century portraiture. The unexpected large presence of human faces struck me to digest the fact that a Texas art institute, not too far away from the Alamo mission, braves artworks beyond the Jacksonian period and seek no particular focus in Texas or western art.
If the sitter matters, William Dunlap’s Washington portrait has its immediate appeal. Yet the rather crude portrait does not carry the kind of subtlety and vivacity quintessential in Stuart’s Athenaeum. The fully illuminated head sits inanimately on a formless neck and Dunlap’s quick and heavy hands show no interest in the interior setting or clothing, which are reduced into simple geometry with colors as the after thoughts. Yet the result is still intriguing; he is not in the same caliber as Stuart, but that cannot overthrow his sincerity in projecting a convincing familiar likeness.
Charles Willson Peale’s half length portraits of the De Peysters demonstrate the artist’s supreme power in easing the unflattering truth with a sympathetic touch of humanity. Both radiate charms and amicability that is more often associated with Ralph Earl. The couple, seated and illuminated from the light above, emerge from the dark with a convincing roundness. Ann De Peyster is particularly interesting. Moles, bumps and wrinkles are depicted with relentless accuracy and hence drawing viewers into her eyes. If the smiles from her slightly lifted mouth corners are not exactly discernable, her rosy complexion and relaxed gesture speak of contention and confidence of bourgeois class of a young nation.
Two full length portraits from the later period carry the theme to other walls of the gallery.
John Singer Sargent’s Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt was painted in 1888. Sargent painted her daughter Alice Vanderbilt Shepard in the same year, but in a much smaller scale. (It is shown at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.) The red color of her dress is so vibrant that it seem to bleed through the canvas. Unlike the previous portraits, Sargent utilized the succinct interior setting not only to balance the composition and enrich the textures, but also to compliment the sitter with a materialized aristocratic elegance. A French empire center table with a marble top is painted next to her. The gradation of reflected colors at the rim of the table top addressed onto different materials (metal, wood and marble) is a tour de force of Sargent’s remarkable technical facility.
Robert Henri’s El Tango was painted two decades later. The large portrait is squeezed into the narrow walkway that makes one hard to fully appreciate the total effect. The famed dancer, Manoleta Mareques had no difficulty in looking directly with viewers and mesmerizing them with her big smile. Both artists have favored the direct and vigorous handling of paint, yet they were far apart with the final impression. While Sargent’s Vanderbilt is confined within her refined luxury and social protocol, Henri’s dancer seems to be able to step out of the canvas at any moment. With her upper body twisted, left foot forward and hat tilted, she is as lively as the bright paint that was jauntily dashed against the dark background. If Sargent’s society portrait is miraculous in its technicality, Henri’s tango dancer reaches viewers deeper with her affable and outward personality. Humanity truly shines when the symbolism of who she is gives in to the expression of what she is.
The Texas town of Handley was established in 1876 and named after the confederate Major James Madison Handley. The city, a mere seven miles drive from downtown Fort Worth, was eventually annexed by cow town in 1946. Today, the small area called Historic Handley Village is famous for antique and furniture stores and other neighborhood retailers.
Our first stop was Eastside Antiques, owned by Gary, a Chicago transplant. At the store front, a tiny cute sign says “Attack Cat on Duty.” It turned out there is a tuxedo cat guarding the store. According to Marie, Gary’s mother, the cat is the real boss and has absolute freedom to jump from one cabinet to another. However, it is only a feat which can be accomplished by a cat, the store is a gem filled with such a variety and quantity that you must look up and down and all around because you would never expect what to wait for you at any corner. The store has many vintage jewels such as necklaces, broaches, braces or even cuff links. Some date back to Victorian times. Glassware and flatware are another specialty. Eric spotted one glass comb sanitizer, probably used by a barber shop.
Gary frequents Northeast to find treasure and bring it down to Texas. Although the store has the old-fashioned charm, Gary has adapted his business to the fast growing social media and also relied on SEO to help improve his business presence online. He has a Tumblr site, which is how we found out about Handley. Gary will be exhibiting at the Dallas Vintage Clothing and Jewelry Show.
Our next stop was Antiques Café. The store has multiple dealers, and is more spacious compared to Eastside Antiques. One thing we noticed is that it has many big items such as furniture or machines. (Do you need a vintage sewing machine?) Eric found a wonderful cloisonné lamp, probably from the early 20th century for just $25 dollars. An Eastlake style chair, with green Damask fabric, sat quietly with a vintage doll on it.
One benefit of the store is that a café is adjacent to the store and provides great service and good food. Of course, the café is also decorated with antiques. We even found a vintage photo of Dallas Streetcar in the restaurant.
Our last stop for this brief trip was at Weiler House, owned by Bill Ryan. The house itself is worth the trip. Built in 1906 for William Weiler, the first station master and prominent citizen in the town of Handley, the Weiler House showcases some of the finest original art in Fort Worth. Eric commented that the house has a wonderful feeling once you walk in, and those artworks certainly makes it even better. We noticed some still life works by Maureen Hyde. The kind of humble ordinariness of daily produce projects a kind of marvelous quietude that soothes the eyes. The style reminded me of Sarah Lamb, who is having her solo show at the Spanierman Gallery of New York City. We also noticed a fresh from easel work of an urban street scene by Steve Miller.
On the night of Nov 19, PDNB Gallery hosted a book signing event for Keith Carter. A quarter century has passed since the first print of the book “From Uncertain to Blue”, the almost incessant visitor-line proves that the book provides freshness to new readers like me, or still resonates with those who have seen those pictures before.
Unlike Robert Frank, who took a Guggenheim scholarship for his road trip to searching for the meaning of “The American,” Keith Carter’s work is more accidental. The photograph series started from a 10-year-wedding-anniversary trip of small Texas towns that were picked by the couple simply because of their interesting names – Fairy, Uncertain, Paradise, Welcome, and Blue. It would have been totally uninspiring and perhaps wearisome for someone who expects scenerios that match the names, but Keith has an uncanny capability to present something ordinary, extraordinarily beautiful and poetic. If it is the excitement of an alien in a foreign land that provided unique angles in Robert Frank’s road trip photos, here it is the familiarity (the artist’s family moved to Texas from Madison, Wisconsin when he was three years old) that brought the depth and candidness to the photo series.
When I asked whether there have been some changes in those small towns seen in two different millenniums, Keith’s reply was surprising. He didn’t talk about the highways, or shopping malls, but spoke of the word “innocence.” That innocent looking, from the people and their towns, becomes a haunting and dictatorial theme of the photographs for the modern viewers. I am not sure whether the artist meant that innocence has been totally lost, through a mere twenty –five- year time span, but the media, the roads, and the internet, for sure have made their marks on the life and destiny of people and their towns recorded in the book.
In the introduction chapter, Carter mentions that he tried not to make association between a photo and its town name. (In the final edition, he only chose one photo for each town that he visited and the title of each photo is simply the name of the town.) A few photos, however, can still be read that perhaps the photographer had the whimsical town name in mind when a peculiar image was taken, such as the sign of a bread store for the town Comfort; but mostly he succeeded in capturing just the “normality” with no hint of the quirky names.
At Bebe, the gas-station/grocery store owner and postmistress stood in front of her bottle collection. Those ordinary bottles are now probably piled up in some soon-to-closed antiques store. Her overbearing neatness, through details such as her blonde back-combed beehive hair and the striped blouse, is incongruently presented against an array of every one-of-the-kind bottles on the shelves. It reminded me of my childhood in China when you knew the name and the temperament of the owner of the unnamed corner store. A quick search on Google shows that there is a Wal-Mart within 10 miles of Bebe — That’s probably where the locals shop now.
At Oatmeal, a forlorn theatre was captured in quietude. Local advertisement took so much space of the curtain that the staging background looked out of place. The come and go of small town stories happen everywhere, but the harshness of Texas perhaps has withered some before they could even flourish. I searched a few business names including “W.F. LaFarge Hardware, In Business for 14 Years,” noting that all the chairs were facing away from the stage (directly toward viewers), made it surreal.
In fact, for most photographs featuring single or double portraits, Carter has often chosen the ones with direct eye contact among many studies. More often than not, the livings, when isolated in the vast rugged land, find their peculiar ways to form a harmonious relationship with the nature and a tighter and stronger sense of community. Looking through them as a whole series, I felt touched by the homogeneity of the humanized lands, the self-sustained happiness, mellowness of main streets before there is a main street and the Waldoian internal strength under a hot sun.
It also occurred to me that the traditional film has given black and white photos an elegiac tone. The fuzziness through enlarged particles understates the narrative but projects poetry. Scott Hilton, a photograph artist who led a group of his students at University of Texas at Arlington to display a mobile photo exhibition (which was essentially a container towed by a truck) just outside of PDNB, suggested the seductive visual qualities of the chemical film. (Scott himself shoots tin-type photos.) The richness in grayness and layers of intensity engenders film photographs a particular degree of depth that defies the kind of immediacy associated with photography, especially digital photography. The fact that these prints were handheld and manually treated by someone from some negative film rolls echoes the loss of innocence in photography itself.
When we left the gallery, Eric and I both commented how magnificent those portraiture photos were. After all, the gigantic size of the land, the eccentric names, the crude geological characters and the harsh climate have stereotyped Texas as a land of insensitivity and silliness; but in his book, Carter captured individuality who all shares the common ordinariness. These individuals, leaving scarcity and remoteness behind, hold steady and calm in front of the cameras, show the kind of affections and belongings that we all long for. In this way, they were magnificent.
The new exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Dallas Museum of Art opened last weekend. After the huge success of Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American museums have found a new domain, neglected mostly in the past, to engage and enlarge their audience, especially the younger crowd. (The exhibition tickets we bought were time-stamped, but we didn’t have to wait to get in.) It is interesting to notice that while the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth went high-brow with its current exhibition Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome, the art brought in by the institute in the big D makes sure that looking and looks can be interchangeable. You might call it pedestrian, except you won’t see too much of this stuff on the street.
In fact, the concept of branding and proprietary values hovered around in my head when I walked through the exhibition rooms. One of my friends commented that you can spend as little as forty bucks to get a piece of Jean Paul Gaultier. To counter such skeptics about the overly-stated commercialism, the exhibition labels often put down the number of labor hours spent on a single piece of garment; as if the increased manual labor covers merchandise with a coat of high-brow art.
The installation should have no worry that visitors would confuse these special pieces with some main-line products. Most of them, if there are any, are not publicly presentable (with the exception of the cocktail preview party). Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion world is rebellious, revolutional, and to some extent, revolting. These flashy, funky, decadent garments, by eliciting comments from viewers, annotate and challenge our societal views of self-expression through fashion – whether it is about injecting feminism into masculinity for boy toys with kilts, skirts or bra cups, or fetish leather suit with suggestive bondage and sex staging, or print patches of religious iconography/the Eiffel Tower or tattoo-like; loom large his personal statements. And his idiosyncrasy overwhelms both visual elements and sartorial achievements such as textural layers of plain or graphic or seamless assembly of different material as if they were organically grown together.
It is no wonder that Gaultier found his most support from MTV, Madonna, Lady Gaga, and movies where unconventionality is the norm. Some costumes are used for movies such as Pedro Almodóvar’s Kika or Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. If the sci-fi nature of Bresson’s movie justifies the avant-garde of Gautlier designs, Kika, which remains one of my favorite Almodóvar’s movies, matches perfectly with Gaultier’s underlying sexism.
Two particular garments on display attracted me the most. One is a seemingly ordinary man tartan mohair coat. The strong tartan pattern of dark green and bleeding red reminds viewers of their original usage– Scottish kilts. Yet it is the soft mohair texture that makes it unforgettable. The hair, shuttering in the air flows created by walk-by visitors, breaks the distinctive square patterns into Rothkoish continuity and blurring of two contrasting colors.
The other one showcases how genius designs are best achieved through consummate craftsmanship. I was actually first scared by the sight of an evening gown with leopard skin and wondered where the animal rights groups were. Then after realizing the whole gown is made of bead embroidery, fastidiously sewn together to create Trompe L’Oeil effect, I looked closely at each rosette patterns on the “coat” through a mosaic assembly of tiny beads, and that self-conscious awareness of the process added another dimension of appreciation by mentally getting me involved in that laborious adventure. — It is a state of wonder to be able to decipher how it is made and comprehend what it has achieved. (It took more than 1,000 hours to complete the dress.) The rhinestone claws that the mannequin is holding are also astonishing but also serve as the punch line: The most treacherous is often the most precious. It is a fashion reinterpretation of beauty and beast.
The exhibition features a sensational installation and in some way the multi-media installation almost steals the show. The Montreal-based Denis Marleau and Stéphanie Jasmin team created video clips from live models, which are projected onto bland mannequin heads. With their eyes moving and lips in sync with accompanying songs and messages, they look full of life.
But it does not take one long to realize that they reside in their own world. They may have seductive smiles, yet they are aloof and allusive; as much as the clothes that cover their plastic bodies.
Even though North Texas had its 70th triple-digit-temperature day in 2011, no one would doubt it will get cooler in no time – not only weatherwise, but also culturally. On the first weekend of September when Dallasites can finally walk leisurely on the street, gallery openings were found everywhere from trendy uptown to Deep Ellum.
The first stop was Nasher Sculpture Garden for the opening of Seeing Things by Tony Craag. It’s the first exhibition by of the artist’s work in decades. Cragg is lauded for his innovative and varied forms, which draw upon the artist’s broad intellectual interests in science and literature, as well as an intuitive and emotional response to form and material.
Ro2 Art gallery had its opening reception for September Group Show on September 8th in West Village. It was not surprising to see hand-made jewelry displayed in the center on the Fashion Night Out day. I was first attracted by an etching by Marian Lefeld. Marian’s view of Venezuela, her homeland, is a gritty image of urban slums so densely packed that the form and space contract into an abstraction while individual shanty is reduced into raging lines of varied width.
Michael Francis’ works were appropriately placed nearby in which colors have been deliberately removed. Yet the two are far apart from the temperament. In Lefeld, the black ink has a disturbing power, while in Francis, both works (Obstructed Window and Washed Out) are painted within a narrow range of grays, nostalgia but serene. Rows of shanties have an unnatural suppressed order that calls for an inescapable disorderly outburst; yet the seemingly graphic lines in Francis’ works play harmoniously in values, directions, widths and solidity, all forming a convincing representation of humanized landscape that nature re-claims.
Obstructed Window challenges viewers to examine the intricate spacial relationship between obstruct and being obstructed. It reveals when colors are removed, the worn nature has its own beauty, in a way like an orderly chaos. There are few green patches, indicating the last leaves. Surprisingly, expressive as it may be, the addition of the only color pushes the picture away from representational.
Eric’s favorite is Daniel Birdsong’s Cream of Mushroom on the opposite side of the wall. Among Daniel’s other works, mostly collaged elements of different media, this small oil painting on board looks whimsically different. Any painter who paints a Campbell soup can could not escape the comparison with Andy Warhol. Here Daniel treated it as a realistic still life, not much different from some other larger-than-real donut paintings in the same show; yet he stripped off surroundings to almost bare. And to further defend his objectivity, he defiantly placed the soup can in the middle and lined the eyes at the can level. For me, the can seems to confront me and ask me the simple question: Will you look at me seriously this time?
On Friday night 500X had its new members’ show in Deep Ellum. The used-to-be warehouse district was dark and quiet at night. The air was hot. The gallery hotter and noisy. It retains a funky atmosphere, attracting a much broader demographic. It was there that we saw Michael Francis’ work again. Frankie’s Tunnel and Safe Passage require a much bigger space that even the gallery unfortunately cannot accommodate. It could either be the giant size or the siren music that the two paintings lack the intimacy that I have enjoyed at Ro2 gallery.
I almost squeezed to the front to see why a group of people trying to see a mirror before I realized that it was a setup by a performing artist, who rigorously faced the mirror during the whole time I was there. But the young crowd moved quickly. Seldom did one stay to watch her, and if one did, that’s through their own camera viewfinders.
Scott Hilton, the president of the 500X gallery, displayed several still life tintypes. What Francis failed in his big canvases seemed to re-ignite in those vintage cabinet-sized photos. It is hard to take photos of plants and flowers in B&W or vintage tone; yet in some photos, the branches and leaves are tangible and look crisp without losing subtlety.
Our last stop is at UT Dallas Centraltrak gallery for the opening reception for Liquid Analog by Houston native El Franco Lee II. El Franco has the talent to pack more drama into canvases than what even Spike Lee can do with a two-hour movie. Some paintings would have to be rated as NR if MPAA stepped in. But the artist is not shamed by the vibrant colors, the showy dress or the violence – many facets associated with African American life. Together with these action packed pictures, one experiences his anger, protest and resignation.
Nasher Sculpture Gallery, Seeing Things- Through January 8
UT Dallas Centraltrak — Liquid Analog, September 10 – Oct0ber 8, 2011
500X Gallery- Annual Member’s Show, September 10 – October 2, 2011
Ro2 Art Gallery – September Group Show, September 5 – September 23, 2011
The beauty of sunny San Diego may be a distraction to any indoor activity, yet art is ubiquitous. Amidst the lush green of Balboa Park are a few art museums, mostly housed in the original buildings from the Panama–California Exposition in 1915. Due to the limits of time, we chose just two: San Diego Museum of Art and Timken Museum of Art. Neither is as mammoth as museums of the east coast; yet I felt invigorated and grateful when stepping out of them. The experience once again proves perhaps too many great artworks seen at once only deludes our excitement and confounds our true feelings. It is in those smaller art institutes where you feel connected to one or two master pieces. Those works leave life-time memories of our initial raw sensual response to something extraordinary that transfer our mind of being to a different world. It is also in those lesser-known museums where you don’t feel pushed to cover the floor and instead look at a painting long enough that for an instance you break down the physical distance (usually an arm length) and live within its realm.
“Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber” by Sánchez Cotán is one of the most celebrated still life works in the world. But seeing it in person brought me an overwhelming sensation that could never be matched from those refined photographic copies. I have never stared at those humble vegetables intensively for so long, and the truth of each unique identity has a revelational beauty that can make me shudder as if suddenly some inner truth hit me like a thunder: through the strong raking light with volume and form against pure darkness, through the carefully balanced design with curved fresh objects against rectilinear background, the painting casts a spell with its mysterious stillness. What we behold is a perfect self-contained universe composed of five objects, yet it is exactly the kind of perfection that comes to touch our subconsciousness and psyche so that with examining each one in awe, we come to understand everything must be at its exact location and gesture , no less and no more. Yet we know that’s in vain as a light exhale may move the string or the tip of the melon, already overreaching the outer edge…
In the end, I came to the conclusion: if there is only one still life painting that can to be rescued from Armageddon, this is it.
At the center of the opposite room is a painting by Francisco de Goya – “Marqués de Sofraga.” Sofraga, the newly appointed director of the Royal Academy of History, is depicted in his official attire and formal pose. Yet there is a peculiar intellectual aloofness that makes Sofraga difficult to approach. His slight downward gaze has the air of superiority, and Goya’s perhaps faithful rendering of his heavy eye-lid gives him powerful authority to remain indiscernible against all discerning viewers.
Timken Museum of Art is the only museum free of admission in Balboa Park. The fact that it is free and the relatively small size makes it a perfect and unfair rest stop for visitors looking to break the walking boredom between buildings. The museum was built in the 1960’s to house the collection of Amy and Anne Putnam, two avid art connoisseurs and collectors. In fact, Cotán’s master piece was donated by the sisters to the San Diego Museum of Art (the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego then) before they decided to open a museum to host their own collection. The museum’s European old master collection is filled with “A” works by “A” artists: Reuben, Rembrandt, Frans Hal…. But it was in their smaller American gallery that I found a work that I would always remember: Eastman Johnson’s Cranberry Harvest.
Nothing is better to describe it than to use Robert Vose, Jr’s own words. Vose sold the painting at the firm price of $400,000 in 1970’s to the museum: This painting is the greatest by an American artist that I have handled in our one hundred thirty years in business. Mr. Vose told Walter Ames, the founding director of the museum that both the Met and the National Gallery of Art were in line to grab the treasure if he did not act fast. Twenty days later, the check was sent.
I can hardly think any other outdoor genre painting by Johnson which has a more meritorious overtone. It is an ambitious work with many figures, the majority of whom are women– cheerfully working in the cranberry field. The strong light sculpts out their movement in a harmonious rhythm that viewers can comprehend; the entire neighborhood of activity at once. The landscape is also picturesque. Eastman Johnson captured the moist texture of the meadowland, dotted by bags of overloaded scarlet berries. The extreme long horizontal format helps viewers to read around and in a certain sense feel involved in the activity. Painted at the height of the Gilded Age, Johnson’s Cranberry Harvest reflects a growing nostalgia toward idealized agrarian life.
Curiously, I also spotted a painting by Raphaelle Peale. “Cutlet and Vegetables” is a rare example of a work by Peale which features meat and vegetables. Its relative large size and its extreme naturalistic detail gives any viewer a reason to stop and ponder. It is a testament of the inclination and intellectual curiosity toward nature and science of the Peale family who built the first American museum with comprehensive collection ranging from dinosaur bones, natural stone specimens and paintings. This reminds me of Gregory J. Kleiber, the treasurer of the Philadelphia History Museum who commented on Peale’s fish painting sold last year in Christie’s. “It’s a picture of a fish.”
p.s. The Timken Museum still makes 35mm slides available of some of their collection. I now have a wall-sized pork cutlet at my disposal.