17 February 2010

if a disco ball whirled in the woods, would anyone dance?

When I was in Chicago for the College Art Association conference last week, I stopped in at the Museum of Contemporary Art. There were a number of things that interested me but I was stopped in my tracks by thought on seeing "A disco ball in the woods" by Adam Ekberg (photo above from his website). In the woods behind my sister and her partner's farmhouse at the North end of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, there is a tree with a rotted portion at the base. The tree is out near Carol and Barb's ritual circle and the hole in the tree is called the Fairy Ballroom. When I was up in Maine in January, we saw some fallen trees in the Sunset area on the Blue Hill Peninsula. One of them was a ripe candidate for a faerie ballroom: (You'll please forgive my lack of vocabulary control in using both "fairy" and "faerie." The latter may be used by some of the New Age community but it is also used by the Radical Faeries.) The discovery of the faerie ballroom in Maine has circulated around my brain every time I see the picture in my Flickr photostream or think about that part of our Maine trip.

And it keeps coming back to me. Yesterday, I went on an expedition to Meadville, Pennsylvania to see the "In Between: (re)Negotiating Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality" show at the Penelee~Megahan~Bowman Art Galleries at Allegheny College. The show was curated by gallery director Darren Lee Miller with two non-art colleagues Emily Chivers Yochim and Vika Gardner. I had met Darren at CAA and he had left some tempting brochures in the back of the room during the Queer Caucus panel session. The brochure squawked at me even though there was only one more day of the show (yesterday) after my return from Chicago. There's a nice little catalog but most of the content can currently be seen on the gallery website (linked above). I particularly liked the "Climbing rope" drawings by Cobi Moules, the drawings of nude men by Jacob Kincheloe, and Melissa Boyajian's "Grand odalisque (for Saïd)." Jesse Jagtiani did a video animation called "Paradise" which screamed Bosch to me (I'm partial to Bosch) but in the interview in the catalog, he said he was more influenced by Paul Chan. Whatever. The video seemed to be just sitting there and I don't know if I wasn't patient enough or the video was having a last day of show sit-down strike. I'd seen Mary Ellen Strom's video "Nude no. 5, Ellen Dubinsky and Melanie Marr" somewhere before but can't remember where. It's a takeoff on Courbet but it also evokes Giorgione's recumbent nude women. All in all, lots to think about.

Darren and I had lunch and our conversation drifted all over the place. I'd checked out his website so I had some idea of his work. I was struck by a couple of his pieces that involved getting one's hair cut in patches. My hair has now gotten pretty long (as long as it's ever been) and I've been getting a little tired of it. So the pieces caught my attention when I cruised the website. In our conversing about that, Darren talked about his use of hair cutting and other simple tasks as ritual, especially homosensual erotic. So back we go to the faerie ballroom and perhaps do a little dancing.

There's more to say about College Art. I just love that conference. While I don't know as many people in the CAA circles as VRA, ARLIS/NA or ALA, or haven't known some as well or as long, the content of the conference is probably my favorite. I ran into Chris Sundt and she and I concurred that coming to CAA was practically a necessity for our lives. Lucky Chris gets to go back to Chicago in a couple months for the SAH conference.

Before the conference, Roberto Ferrari had summarized some of the panels he would have gone to, or which raised questions in his mind. I read his summary before going which prompted my going to the "Moguls, mansions, and museums" panel, chaired by Sally Webster from the CUNY Grad Center where Roberto is studying. The paper by Petra ten Doesschate Chu was on the collecting of European art by late 19th-century American robber barons. She talked about the networks of dealers and collectors and showed some slides of George Eastman's collection, with his paintings mostly now in the Memorial Art Gallery. Sounds like another expedition: the Memorial Art Gallery is only a little more than an hour from Alfred. In that session, I also really enjoyed the paper by Kirsten Jensen on the Interstate Industrial Exhibitions in Chicago which led up to the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893. She talked about the taste for Parisian works which was criticized as not American enough. This was the time of the Haymarket Riots and concern about immigration and trade unions. We still hear complaints about immigration but the art world has become mostly international.

It used to be that I would try to figure out how to hear the greatest number of papers that stood out in the program. And then you'd mostly end up missing the beginning or ending of a paper, and arrived in a crowded room without any seats, as you darted from room to room. Now I decide at the panel level unless there should happen to be a couple papers that seem really significant. So this year I heard about medieval costume, "How is "queer art" relational?" (Roberto wondered what that meant and I hope he doesn't ask me what the answer to the question is), design and democratization (all pretty interesting but I particularly liked the paper on Ikea by Jeff Werner), building and managing artist book collections (the ARLIS/NA session), "Desire is queer!" (not what I expected: more the art and spectator than the artist and model), a session on Michael Camille (1958-2002) and the "shifting contours of art history," and a panel on alternative publishing and distributing models in art and curatorial practice (sponsored by the Art Spaces Archives Projects, based at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College). The abstracts are supposedly available on the CAA website but I don't see a link and don't know if you have to login to see them.

Anyway, it was great to go to all of those sessions and hear about stuff I didn't or did know something about. Never hurts to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art or other art venues. I didn't get into the Art Institute but had been there to see the new Renzo Piano wing last summer during the ALA conference. Anne Champagne reminded me it was "Free February" but I still didn't even get in for a brief visit to see my "Mater Doloroso" by Dirk Bouts. Enough of this. I think I'll go dancing or engage in some ritual.