Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Out of This World" at PS122 Gallery


Amy Talluto
"Silver Pond/Montana"
2006
Oil on canvas
44 x 32 inches


"Out of This World," currently on view at PS122 Gallery, is a two-person exhibition featuring sculptures and photographs by Diane Carr and paintings by Amy Talluto. Although landscape is a principal subject matter for both Carr and Talluto, their approaches are distinct.


Diane Carr
"Forest Floor"
2006
Ink, paper, plastic, foam, resin
14 x 24 x 22 inches


Carr's sculptural vignettes depict woodland glades, starry ponds, icy slopes, or tree covered hillsides, but these pleasant scenics are fashioned of foam, plastic, resin, and painted paper. The brilliant, even startling colors Carr uses are at once poisonous and magical, acidic and jewel-like. Initially, viewers may want to plunge into these cartoon worlds just as they did their childhood day dreams, but there is an air of toxicity about Carr's sculptures. Like the beautiful poison dart frog, the works' vivid coloring seems to say, "Look, but don't touch."

The opening line of the poem "Son," by Brad Leithauser, states that "Memory buries its own." I recall this line as I consider Carr's landscapes. Her body of work is as concerned with memory and longing - otherwise known as nostalgia - as it is with the juxtaposition of natural and unnatural. How do we treat our buried memories? How do we fashion our memories to suit our purposes, or to fit our desired narrative? Likewise, how will we remember this moment? Carr's sculptures are elegies for moments past, but also for the present, reminders that what is will not be. Time, so far as we know, is unremitting.


Amy Talluto
"Pond"
2006
Oil on canvas
60 x 74 inches


Talluto's accomplished oil paintings can be deemed "traditional landscapes," but her choices suggest she is less interested in painting a pond per se, than she is in unfolding and interpreting that pond. Where one expects space to recede, for example, it might suddenly flatten, or perhaps the contour of a reflection lifts, causing the foreground to recede as our brain tries to force the imagery back where we feel it "should" reside. In some passages, the effect is vertiginous; if Talluto's paintings are a window onto another world, they frame a domain in which our brain and senses will are addled. By focusing on the riot of color and form, Talluto strives to reveal the animating force, that invisible weave that ties together all things.


Diane Carr
"Winter Forest"
2006
Ink, paper, foam, resin
24 x 22 x 16 inches


Admiring the work in "Out of This World," I think about the increasing number of artists who are returning to landscape. The reappearance of wild scenery in the contemporary gallery is a nod to our ever more domestic culture, one desperately in need of outside pictures for inside walls. What's more, the language many of these contemporary landscape artists use to describe their work is strikingly similar. I've described my recent paintings as "hallucinatory landscapes, sometimes foreboding, sometimes joyous, always ambivalent." In the press release for "Out of This World," Carr writes of her work, "the environments are sometimes peaceful and sometimes ominous in feeling and are a combination of what exists around us." Talluto states that her work is "sometimes bright, lush and flowering...sometimes dissonant, murky and foreboding." Elsewhere, Talluto says, "a shifting psychological mood pervades the group as a whole, moving between realms of magical fantasy, sparkling beauty, anxiety, and the sinister and mysterious." And that's just three of us! I've read many variations on this theme.

On the one hand, it's unremarkable. After all, Nature is ambivalent. Of course it will be "sometimes foreboding" and "sometimes peaceful." Duh. But the ambivalent language used by so many artists, myself included, signals the sublime. It describes landscape that "subverts order, coherence...bypasses the rational mind and concentrates directly on the emotions."(1) For most of the twentieth century, sublime landscape was deemed a goat, an unworthy cliche. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions, landscape artists of all persuasions have been held in low regard by the art world establishment for decades.

These are turbulent times, however, marked by anxiety and uncertainty. The promise of progress is now viewed with much skepticism and people again recognize the inevitability of cycles, and of growth and decay. Moreover, landscape art has a history of flourishing in countries during periods of intense colonialism. This proved true in China, Japan, and Rome many centuries past, and, within the last five hundred years, in Holland, France, Britain, and the United States. Perhaps today, as wars wage on, as nuclear weapons again proliferate, and as global, corporate colonialism becomes the zeitgeist, artists are returning to sublime landscape, to depictions of an ambivalent world that delights and inspires as surely as it destroys and awes.

"You lose yourself in boundless spaces, your whole being experiences a silent cleansing and clarification, your I vanishes, you are nothing, God is everything." That was written by Carl Gustav Carus, in his 1824 "Nine Letters on Landscape Painting." How the pendulum swings!

(1) Malcolm Andrews, Landscape and Western Art, Oxford University Press, 1999

Photo credit: all images courtesy the artists (unfortunately, the reproductions can not do justice to the luminosity of Carr's sculpture)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Alessandra Sanguinetti at Yossi Milo Gallery


Alessandra Sanguinetti
"Untitled, from On the Sixth Day"
1996–2004
Fujiflex Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery


I first visited Alessandra Sanguinetti's exhibition, "On the Sixth Day," currently on display at Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea, with my parents. My father was drawn to a photograph of three dogs running a boar. Obscured by a foreground tree, the boar's expression remains unseen; the heavy-bodied beast has turned to face his pursuers and the body language of the dogs, tensed in excited ambivalence, communicates the moment's urgency. Recalling his own boar hunting experiences, my father said, "You should see how they castrate these boars down in Florida. The sheer power of the animal and the big Florida boys who flip them, tie off the testicles and cut through them with a knife...all in one clean movement. It's dramatic, let me tell you." This, I imagine, was not the typical commentary of most gallery visitors.


Alessandra Sanguinetti
"Untitled, from On the Sixth Day"
1996–2004
Fujiflex Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery


I sometimes describe my rural upbringing as a blood baptism. Fanciful as this may seem, it is, to a degree, accurate. As I told an interviewer for Scrawled, a short-lived arts and culture webzine,

"I was introduced to nature's ambivalence through my own doings in the rural South...Some of my early memories are, quite literally, bloody.  To this day, I find blood-soaked hands on a cold winter morning profoundly beautiful...the neon red glowing on my trembling hands was spilt life...an introduction to "the Circle of Life," even if it wasn't at all what Disney force-fed us...passing through one extreme brings you out at the other."


These bloody lessons are central to Sanguinetti's showing. Most of the photographs she includes are stunning meditations on the reciprocal relationship of life and death. The subjects central to Sanguinetti's compositions are not those creatures God fashioned to "rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."(1) Instead, she focuses on the subjugated parties, both the domesticated - cats, dogs, lambs, horses, pigs, cows and chickens - and wild - rabbits, boars and an unidentified rodent resembling a guinea pig - residents of eastern Argentina. Despite the fact that very few people appear in the photographs, their considerable presence - their dominion, if you will - is felt throughout "On the Sixth Day."


Alessandra Sanguinetti
"Untitled, from On the Sixth Day"
1996–2004
Fujiflex Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery


At times, Sanguinetti's photographs seem over-determined, or orchestrated. Two wild rodents lay dead on a table, surrounded by various fruits, a carving knife and a bottle of wine. An iron pot sits just behind this array and a white cat enters the frame from the left to investigate. Only the cat's entrance seems natural; the dead game, the abundant fruit and the wine all seem didactic, intent on reminding viewers that our meals, even those enjoyed over a bottle of wine and high-minded conversation, are born of killing and butchering. The message - the blood of these animals represents a livelihood, sustenance - is here blunt and crude, even if the photograph itself is no less striking, no less sensuous, for it.

The artist writes, "To portray an animal is to name it. Once named it acquires a new life, and then, is spared death." I am sympathetic to Sanguinetti's appreciation of the animal entity. To view another species as equally worthy of reverence or, more valuable still, to identify with it - to imaginatively merge yourself with another being - is to open yourself to a transcendental experience. In this sense, death is spared, via a broken connection to the corporeal and the conscious, however fleeting this reprieve may be. Importantly, this transcendence is rooted in a reduction or erasure of the individual actors, both the human and the "lower" animal, over which man has dominion, according to the sixth day of Genesis. Essentially, then, the transfiguration is achieved via an explicit denial of the Biblical narrative, by rejection of dominion and of the scalae naturae.

Sanguinetti also writes, "It is possible that by exploring the fine line that separates us from what we rule, we may reach a better understanding of our own nature." Indeed, although I believe we need to dismiss "the fine line" altogether, or at least blur it beyond recognition. Judging by the reaction of some exhibition viewers, Sanguinetti succeeds in doing just that. Bill Gusky, a thoughtful artist and writer, seems almost appalled by the exhibition. He describes reacting to the "wretched horror of animate physical being."

"It's something I don't want to think about as I carve into a roast chicken or a pair of fried eggs. It's something I can only be driven to contemplate. And in contemplating it I almost feel like I'm paying a bill, performing some sort of gut-wrenching penance for my carnivorous sins. It's the kind of penance that brings no redemption, whose chief service seems to be to make you question your own existence, even the parts that only death itself can change."


No redemption? Every time I eat meat - rarely, as I only eat animals that I have killed or caught myself - I am consumed by such contemplation. I think about energy and death when I eat soy and vegetables, as the harvesting and transportation of these foods has a moral price tag, too. Even those people lucky enough to live solely on the foods they tend themselves should consider the death and recycling - again, the circle of life - that all such processes entail.

The food chain is not the only window to genuflection, however. Our bodies are covered with a zoo of miniature species fighting for survival. We share our beds with pseudoscorpions and countless mites, each night crawling and hunting over our mattresses and through the forests of our body hair. Focusing on the often unpleasant realities of putting food on the table or on dramatic shifts in scale - whether micro (the mite level and smaller) or macro (the expansive, breathing universe) - is, for me, redemptive or, at least, transcendental in the manner described above. If I go through a day without questioning my existence, then I have not lived that day.


Alessandra Sanguinetti
"Untitled, from On the Sixth Day"
1996–2004
Fujiflex Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery


I do not intend to belittle Gusky's perspective. I've lived away from my rural roots for some time now, and I imagine it will be at least another decade, maybe more, before I return to the woods. I appreciate urban living and, truth be told, I appreciate rural living that much more for it. The distance granted by my time in New York City has allowed me to more fully understand the evolution of our relationship to other species. The rural perspective is vanishing, and the intimate, often messy relationship between rural folks and their animal brethren is being replaced (and bastardized) by the industrial sector, dealing death on a massive scale, ignorant of moral consideration.


Alessandra Sanguinetti
"Untitled, from On the Sixth Day"
1996–2004
Fujiflex Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery


But Gusky's review of "On the Sixth Day" does worry me, principally because of his suggestion that children be left outside the gallery, "unless you'd like some day to be part of a Menendez murder re-enactment." Sanguinetti's photographs are often distressing, to be sure, but there is much value in coming to terms with corporeal truths at an early age. Admiring the picture of a drying skin, hung between two trees, I am reminded of the exhilaration and disgust, experienced concurrently, I felt as I skinned my first animal or gutted my first duck. Those complicated experiences stay with me, even after years of repetition, and I see no connection between them and violent desire.

Quite the opposite, in fact. I am unable to watch contemporary shock films, like "Hostel" or "Saw." I can not abide their sadism and I'm horrified that torture is turned into spectacle, even though it's of the ketchup-and-rubber-knife variety. On the other hand, those friends of mine most distanced from their food sources, in awareness or geography, eagerly await the next torture "topper," and expect to be titillated and entertained. I'm not suggesting every child be asked to kill, butcher and consume an animal - that's a reprehensible proposal - but I do believe Sanguinetti's photographs are as valuable to children as they are to adults.

I visited the exhibition a second time this past week. Alone with the photographs, I felt something I can only describe as redemption through connection. As an atheist, I'm hesitant to dub anything "a religious experience," but I wrestled with an ambivalent meeting of joy and pathos, a powerful, unsettling union. The grey territory I found myself navigating is that blurred, smudged and partially erased "fine line" Sanguinetti describes. Had she been present in the gallery, I might have embraced her.

Given the subject matter of the photographs included in "On the Sixth Day," it's all too easy for someone with my interests to fall into a rabbit hole of moralizing and hand wringing. This review, then, is really more of a reaction; it's a temporary exorcism, a cold shower for the mind, I suppose. But I feel I should end by stressing the aesthetic success of Sanguinetti's pictures. Her technical and compositional choices - particularly in regards to focus and perspective - come together marvelously, and that's exactly what I do: I marvel at their poignancy and their beauty.


Alessandra Sanguinetti
"Untitled, from On the Sixth Day"
1996–2004
Fujiflex Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery


(1) New International Version of The Holy Bible, International Bible Society, 1984

Photo credits: All images: Alessandra Sanguinetti, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery

Thursday, October 12, 2006

In honor of the recent acquisition of YouTube by Google, I'm posting a video of man reinventing the wheel, or rather man playing with unintended uses of the wheel.



Whether you're an evolutionary biologist, artist or just a gee-whiz-ain't-life-spectacular-kinda-kid, you have to marvel at technological flux and the spandrels of cultural development. Rock on, world. Rock on. (Even if, on some level, it's all about the money.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Questions of gender as content


Jennifer Dalton
"Art Guide"
2006
Map, colored pins, painted wooden frame
9 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches


Of late, there's been a lot of protest, commentary, and debate concerning the shamefully low percentage of women showing in the art world. It's true; the contemporary art world is dominated by men. Furthermore, I'm assuming that the majority of these men are heterosexual Caucasians, meaning the art world, reflecting the 20th century American teenagers read about in their high school textbooks, is white, male, and straight.

The art blogging community, ever expanding, has fed well on a steady diet of relevant posts, especially following the publication of Jerry Saltz's recent "Where The Girls Aren't" piece in The Village Voice. I generally enjoy Saltz's writing, and this piece is no exception. Saltz writes, "According to the fall exhibition schedules for 125 well-known New York galleries—42 percent of which are owned or co-owned by women—of 297 one-person shows by living artists taking place between now and December 31, just 23 percent are solos by women." Wow; that's astonishing and embarrassing, especially when I note that 60 percent or more of my artist friends are women, and I feel this number representative of the working artist population in New York, if not the United States at large. We have reason to take stock of the situation; there is no ignoring the numbers.

And yet, I can't help but feel the subject itself a bit, well, dated. Is the sex (or sexual preference) of an artist still so important? I mean, sure, most folks across our great, prudish nation are very concerned with sex and sexuality. Debates rage about female golfers on the PGA tour and the sexuality of politicians. But we're not talking about the general public here (no matter how much I'd like the art world to expand it's reach). The voices involved belong to a relatively small, very progressive group of educated individuals.

The question may sound a bit naive, but why are we still "seeing" skin, sex, or sexuality in art that doesn't focus on these issues? Frankly, most art that does take on these issues is didactic, a breed of intellectual illustration which, while worthy of consideration, fades from memory and relevance in much the same way an excellent piece of journalism does. By contrast, most artwork I see these days, whatever the medium, lacks an overt agenda. Until I see the name or, in some cases, until I read the press release, I don't know much about the maker's makeup. Frankly, I don't care to. The art will either ring my bell or it won't. If I later learn about the artist's background and find that these details inform the work further, hooray, but until I want to peel back that layer, I don't need to know hooey. Art, I feel, is a beast best viewed apart from the artist.

At times I feel like shrugging off the issue. Shouldn't we be concerned with the product as opposed to the personality or biography? Yet the imbalance of the sexes is real, and it mustn't go ignored. I'm proud to be friends with ambitious artists and curators who are devoting energy and thought to addressing and, hopefully, rectifying the problem. Still, I can't shake the longing for that day, a millennium or more on, when miscegenation and a dissatisfaction with ol' time fundamentalism will result in our wearing one skin and being more tolerant of varied beliefs. Maybe then we can set to the business of real - meaning global - humanitarian and environmental progress...and artists can expend more energy thinking about art rather than who made what and why.

Photo credit: ripped from Winkleman Gallery; Normally, I would have asked Edward for permission, but he's out of the country and without frequent Internets access...and I'm compulsive.