17 January 2009

"Things Fall Apart" so put 'em back together

Julie mentioned a panel discussion at Winkleman Gallery with Paul Chan and members of The Front this afternoon. While I regret she didn't make it, it was really compelling and uplifting. Paul Chan developed a production of "Waiting for Godot" in cooperation with Classical Theatre of Harlem and Creative Time. It was based on his reaction to having been in New Orleans in the fall of 2006 to give an artist's lecture at Tulane. He felt that the landscape of New Orleans was much like the backdrop to every production of "Godot" that he'd seen. When Anne Pasternak of Creative Time approached him about doing a project, he suggested "Godot." Her initial reaction was negative but she soon came back with approval. Part of his agreement was that he could teach while he was in New Orleans, and that his courses had to be cross-listed in all of the colleges. He approached the schools and asked them what they wanted him to teach. He taught two one-evening-a-week seminars: contemporary art at the University of New Orleans and a practicum at Xavier which only had a BFA program and students needed to know about putting together a portfolio for MFA programs.

Out of the courses grew a core of people who became The Front, a collective of fourteen artists. Two of the members who are married were able to buy a building and the group renovated the space. Each of the artists can show their own work but also has accepted responsibility for curating shows of other artists. There is a lot of excitement in the visual arts community currently because of the first Prospect biennial, put together by Dan Cameron. An NYU colleague -- Lucinda Covert-Vail -- was down in New Orleans in December and said it was amazing. The works were interesting but, even more, the spread of the art around the city was very exciting. The two women from The Front -- Rachel Jones and Natalie Sciortino -- also talked about the excitement of the art, the venues, the people. They felt that this was working to convince the general public in New Orleans that the visual arts could be a draw. Music, particularly jazz, has long been a draw in New Orleans and it was heartening to think that the visual arts could join the bandwagon in such a thrilling way.

Natalie and Rachel also talked about the spirit in The Front and in other collectives. An arts corridor is growing up on St Claude Avenue. There is much of politics and activism in the artist community. They, with Paul Chan, clearly indicated that good things can happen even if you don't have a lot of financial resources. When Paul mentioned organizing without resources, I had to think of Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. And just a moment later, curator and panel moderator Joy Garnett mentioned that The Front's web presence was strong. And as I looked at the show "Things Fall Apart" in the gallery, someone in the office said they didn't know how many would come: "you know how these Facebook things are, people say they'll come and they don't." Back to Shirky and the power/chaos of social computing.

"Things Fall Apart" included a wall with works by the artists at The Front and Paul Chan. There were other interesting works including a video by Renata Poljak about Serbia and Croatia, and love and reality. It was pretty interesting and I liked the way it ended: was that a romance as we meandered in Serbia and Croatia, I don't remember, we can begin again.

I went to several other shows before and after the panel, and must admit that I stopped at Printed Matter to find the Henrik Olesen book entitled What is authority? You knew I'd have to buy that one. It's interesting, not quite as groovy as his new Some faggy gestures but then I haven't studied it yet to see if it's compliant with RDA and NACO guidelines.

The vintage photographs by Karlheinz Weinberger at Anna Kustera were pretty interesting but much like the book illustrations I'd seen. The Dirk Stewen collage/reliefs at Tanya Bonakdar are wonderful, mixes of books and photos and dowels. There's a Yuko Murata piece at Casey Kaplan that is really beautiful: just a circle and three horizontal rectangles on a dark background, suggesting a sunset or sunrise. Not big like a Rothko but very evocative. Michael Waugh's drawings of dogs in "The more I see of men" uses the words of presidential inauguration speeches in the lines of the drawing. A mix of Westminster Kennel Show and Obama inauguration, according to the press release. At Trìa, there was a show called "Malescapes" so I went in because I had to see what made a 'scape male. Not sure I know the answer but there was a beautiful encaustic painting by Frank Olt. Last stop was Aperture where they had an exhibit of photos by Luigi Ghirri -- "It's beautiful here, isn't it?" Duh, they were mostly of Italy so of course it was beautiful. There were views of places like the Farnese theater in Parma where I've been and can still remember the smell of old wood. The theater is rather like Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. Must get to Italy!

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