Last week I went to about a dozen exhibits and, while I liked some of them, the one show that really got me thinking was Peter Coffin: Here & There at the Hirshhorn.
Coffin’s art covers a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively. Outside is a never-ending spiral staircase that just loops into itself; downstairs is an oversized dog sculpture that takes up an entire gallery; running the length of 2nd floor landing are framed 3-color fade combinations (they were used as poster backgrounds by Colby Poster Printing Co); one room is dedicated to his photos and assemblages and then a separate room offers a cleverly-animated light show projected onto 12 paintings from the museum’s collection.
The installations are scattered throughout the museum and while they don’t seem to relate to each other, the overall effect (on me anyway) was to slow down and think.
My first inclination was to dismiss the work as referential, my second was to think it mundane and then (albeit fun) a bit gimmicky. After leaving the show though, I can’t help but think that was all by design. When I looked at his work it was easy to draw connections to other artists, but I think that missed the point.
Physical works and materiality are key to an artist’s way of exploring concepts and ideas. I find myself thinking back to each of the installations and about the artist. It’s funny because I am an artist also, and I often joke that I have a million ideas, but unfortunately ideas don’t sell themselves. It’s that execution thing that holds most of us back -well, not Peter Coffin.
When it comes to his larger body of work, it is easy to see that he is prolific. He is smart too – he uses art to engage the senses: sight, sound, feel…believe me, I got to thinking about and so I looked it up, he even uses taste & smell. Coffin’s work explores art history, social media, and interaction with the environment to challenge perceptions. Colorist, earth artist, performance artist, photographer, sculptor, videographer – he is an artist that uses a full bag of tricks.
I will definitely watch out for what he does next.
Last weekend we headed to San Diego for a few days; it wound up being one of the nicest weekends I can remember.
We flew into L.A.’s Orange County Airport instead of San Diego because we could take advantage of less expensive airfares. It was ideal because it gave us the opportunity to check out some of the beach towns between the two cities.
Our first stop was Laguna Beach where we toured Gallery Row on Coast Highway. If you haven’t been to this stretch, it is worth the visit – of course, the beach is gorgeous and there are tons of restaurants there, but also the art scene is pretty impressive. There is an art museum, and a couple dozen galleries lining the road. Of course, there were the typical seascape paintings, but also quite a few contemporary galleries with international artist rosters. My three favorite were the Peter Blake Gallery, Joanne Artman Gallery and The George Gallery.
We lucked out when we called a couple friends who live up in Los Angeles and found out they were spending a few days on the beach. We joined them in San Clemente and caught up over a nice dinner before driving down to San Diego.
The rest of our visit was a treat – we stayed in La Jolla and the weather was perfect, the food was good and, best of all, we got to visit good friends who live there. We spent time on the beach and walked around the shops and restaurants. We went to Mission Beach and to Balboa Park; we saw the Museum of Contemporary Art and the San Diego Art Museum.
Sunday, we drove back up to Newport and spent some time on the beach. We had dinner in Irvine before flying home. The problem with short trips – they end all too quickly; still it was a pretty perfect weekend.
My top picks for this visit:
1. JoAnne Artman Gallery – it was funny after I saw James Verbicky’s glossy collages there, I started noticing his work all over the place. I saw his artwork again down in La Jolla and then once I got home I opened The Week and there he was again. I also really liked Alberto Murillo’s colorful acrylic abstractions and Anja Van Herle’s expressive portraits.
2. Peter Blake Gallery – I love the cool white walls with minimalist works. Currently, they are celebrating the gallery’s 20th anniversary with a group show going on right now. My favorites were Jan Maarten Voskuil’s monochromes.
3. Arnold Newman: Masterclass at the San Diego Museum of Art. This exhibit takes a comprehensive look at how some of the photographer’s most iconic portraits were composed. On display are 200 black and white images along with sheets revealing his crop marks and his notes on how to compose the best images.
4. The George Gallery – I was excited to see Lisa Stefanelli’s effortless tangles of color on display. The gallery focuses on contemporary art by women.
5. Approximately Infinite Universe – The exhibit focuses on artwork inspired by science fiction writing. While the show was not my favorite, it did have a few works in it that I really liked. I enjoyed Luke Butler’s “Star Trek” paintings and to Andrea Bowers’ drawings of Patti Smith and Yoko Ono.
6) Murals of La Jolla – We wound up parking next to a 108ft. mural “53 women” by Ryan McGuinness. It turns out that over the past few years, the La Jolla Community Foundation has put up 11 public works, all temporarily-installed murals by well-known artists throughout the community…others I saw were by Julian Opie, Roy McMakin, Kim MacConnel, John Baldessari, and Fred Tomaselli.
7) “Pleasure Point” by Nancy Rubins – I have seen this mass of boats and surfboards catilevered over the edge of the museum a few times now and I get a kick out of it each time.
8) Joan, Joan, Joan: One Subject, Many Artists at Orange County Airport. I like checking out the art exhibits at airports. Many of them have rotating shows – this one was a surprise: it includes 190 portraits of Joan Quinn (she was the West Coast Editor of Interview Magazine) by many different artists including Shepherd Fairey, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, and Ed Ruscha.
Nick Cave: Sojourn at the Denver Art Museum is far and away my favorite show in Denver right now so I am setting it apart from my list of 10.
I have seen his work in museums in LA and Seattle and at the Jack Shainman Gallery in NY a couple times over the past 10 years. I always find myself struck by how his art which seems all-at-once to express carefree, optimistic creativity while hinting at an intense personal narrative filled with caution and perhaps melancholia.
His fancifully embellished soundsuits have taken the world by storm and this show dazzles viewers with the latest and greatest – there are 20 new ones strutting the runway. In this exhibit, I am in love with the 16ft. tondo; it’s an enormous round canvas made out of shimmering beaded black cocktail dresses. I guess the depiction of the night sky is more expression than actual representation; it deftly conveys the artist’s nostalgia for simpler times – just looking at it transported me back to those summer nights when I’d lay back and stare up at the night sky.
I have been back to the museum to see this show a few times and find myself really drawn to two new series – his “Rescues” and his paintings. In the former, he takes porcelain dogs and props them up, comforting them in cocoons crafted of other flea market finds: grandma’s birds, flowers and beads. The latter are somewhat 3-dimensional bas-relief compositions of birds, flowers, fruit, beads, beads, and more beads and offer an opportunity for Cave to explore new directions.
There are so many great shows going on in the area; here are 10 of my favorites:
- Figure to Field: Mark Rothko in the 1940s at Denver Art Museum – For anyone who is familiar with Rothko’s color-field paintings, this is a must-see. It really is helpful to look at works that bridge the figurative to abstract. I was surprised I hadn’t seen more of the them since they mostly come from the collection of the National Gallery and I have been dozens, if not hundreds of times.
- Guillermo Kuitca: Diarios at MCA – I was struck by his retrospective exhibit the Smithsonian did with the Albright-Knox a few years back, so it was a treat to see some of these records and how they reveal his ongoing practice.
- Catalyst: Colorado Sculpture at Denver Botanic Gardens -it is fun to check out what some of Colorado’s most accomplished sculptors are doing in the public works arena – highlights include Fleming, Lovendahl, Marold, Saito and Surls . Ana Maria Hernando’s large-scale paintings inside the Boetcher Center are stunning.
- Jeanette Pasin Sloan & Kevin Sloan at William Havu Gallery – Wow! You really won’t find two more accomplished painters anywhere. Every single work is stunning!
- Victor Vasarely and Yaacov Agam, selections from the David Goodman Collection at the Arvada Center. Op-art is hot this year and this exhibit focuses on two leaders in the genre.
- Playground by Margaret Kasahara & Ashley Benton at Sandra Phillips Gallery – Margaret is not only one of the nicest people around, her artwork is among the most compelling in the state. I love her work – the contradiction of art so colorful and playful that at the same time tackles such difficult issues of xenophobia, race and gender bias. Everytime I look at her work it pulls me into her conversation and confronts me to think about my own prejudice.
- Art Abstracted by Sally Stockhold & Virginia Maitland at Museum of Outdoor Arts – two of my favorites!
- Corpus Exuberis by Pangloss Gravitron at Emmanuel Gallery – this collective group of artists put together one of the most cohesive shows in the city; I like the steampunk appeal of the work juxtaposed with the old Episcopalian Chapel.
- Influence at Mai Wyn Fine Art. The re-conceived Sandra Phillips space on Santa Fe Drive (SP is now in Golden Triangle) is part studio and part gallery. This inaugural exhibit showcases some of the many talented artists that have influenced Mai Wyn as an artist. It is a beautiful, well-curated show.
- Urbanism – artwork by Paul Ching-Bor & Sharon Feder at Goodwin Fine Art. Another great show in a beautiful gallery. The show focuses on the urban, industrial lines of the city. While the two artists have decidedly different styles, I am drawn to their painterly approach.
I was in Ohio this past week for a family emergency and while I spent most of my time with family, I did take a few breaks to clear my head. I wound up driving to nowhere in particular, I spent a couple of hours rolling through green landscapes of elms, maples and sycamores; seeing horses and cows and hay bales dotting the hillsides. It all reminded me of my childhood – that time before life really sped up…back when my cousin, who is long-since passed, and I would catch crawfish in the stream and make lanterns out of lightning bugs; when we would see how many of us could pile into the back of a car to go to the drive-in and we’d watch the nightly amusement-park fireworks from the back yard. I remember sitting on the porch to watch the tornadoes go by and going to my brothers’ Friday night football games. I thought of my old tree house and of eating the pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes that sustained me 40 years back.
During the week I saw two exhibits that reminded me that we are all influenced, not by one artist or one experience, but by the cumulative layers that build to create our personal histories. The first one was Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey at 21c down in Louisville and the second one was Patti Smith: The Coral Sea at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.
I guess it was because I was in an area that I once called home that I was feeling especially nostalgic, but I really enjoyed Michael Combs’ show. Combs’ exploration of societal norms connects with viewers because it examines those personal memories that we each carry. His story might be exactly the same as yours or mine, but he confronts us to recall those rites of passage that shape our ideas of gender, race and class.
At the CAC, I checked out Patti Smith’s The Coral Sea. The museum provides a somber setting for this site-specific installation which showcases her reflections on art, on death and rebirth. The centerpiece is a veiled room-within-a-room, resembling the Kaaba; inside the trance-like recording of poetry read by Smith and Kevin Shields set a spiritual tone for the exhibit. The museum’s concrete walls stand as stark backdrops for the hospital beds and silverprints that pay tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe.
21C is an exciting hotel concept that displays art, not only throughout the hotel and restaurant spaces, but also incorporates gallery space to make each hotel a contemporary art museum. I’ve been to the ones in Louisville and Cincinnati; there is also one in Bentonville, AK that I know I will see eventually. I understand ones in Lexington, KY and Durham, NC are now in the works.
The Contemporary Arts Center is one of the nation’s oldest contemporary art institutions. It is a non-collecting museum devoted to presenting contemporary art from around the world. Coincidentally, 21c (Cincinnati) is located just next door.
“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Who’s to say that a circle is more significant than a square or a triangle…shapes are shapes. Letters are shapes too – if you can divorce the symbolic connotations from letters grouped together to form words and just begin to admire the individual letters for their shapes, you can begin to understand the world of Roland Bernier. For Roland, words are compositions of form, worthy of admiration.
There are many text-based artists whose works are really focused on the meaning of words or phrases – I immediately think of Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, and Lawrence Weiner. Not all of Bernier’s work is devoid of reference, but that is not the main focus of his work.
It’s so rare to see anything truly new, but Bernier has been a pioneer; he started working with text-as-form some 50+ years ago. Since then, any number of artists have followed suit – consider Nancy Holt’s photograph “Concrete Poem” and Mel Bochner’s “Blah Blah Blah” paintings and even more recently of Thomas Müller’s ceramic forms in his show “Nothing Rhymes with Orange”, Fionna Banner’s “Concrete Poetry” and Jaume Plensa’s “Figurative Sculptures.”
I have visited Bernier’s studio a number of times to check out his archives (some is missing, but he has inventory dating back to 1965) and have seen eight or so shows at the Denver Art Museum, Spark Gallery and Walker Fine Art; I love his stacked words, the words on wheels, the cross words, his hysterical “What a Dump” series, “Talking in Circles” and his hands series.
My all-time favorite pieces are his more recent signature series. After seeing some of his other shows, I went to see this body several years ago and initially tried to dismiss them. I found myself going back – the second time I saw his empty frames with nothing more than his signature, I recognized he was onto something. The third time I visited that show I understood: so much of art is about the signature – people rush up to look for the name.
Roland is now in his 80’s and for the past 5-6 years he has been acutely aware of his own mortality. His introspection leads him to explore the merger of art with artist. He now prefers the use of his own name in favor of more randomly selected text, covering literally anything and everything with his signature over and over and over …and over again, the latest pieces only with his last name. He is not morose, “This might be my last show, so I am only using my last name,” Roland says smiling, happy with his clever use of words.
Roland Bernier is represented by Walker Fine Art where “The Last Picture Show” is on view June 7-July 12. www.walkerfineart.com
Some other artists using text as compositional form:
Some artists using messaging in text-based artwork:
If you only get to see one show in Denver, you really should check out the David B. Smith Gallery.
Michael Theodore fills the main gallery with an installation called “endo/exo.” At first glance (and I think probably in most of the image shots) it looks like industrial scaffolding; the lighting effects on the complex web of fibrous knots hint at stage design. It takes up the entire space and ultimately, he’d like to make it even bigger – like hundreds of feet bigger!
Take your time with it because it has so much to offer. I got the chance to chat with Michael the other day and he explained a bit about his fascination with rhythms – both organic and mechanic (this makes total sense – he is a music professor); he envisions an increased interdependency…a symbiosis of man and machine. It’s more than just man and machine, but really an exploration of the increased layering of complex systems and how they interact.
It’s easy to infer an influence of other artists who are working with light – Olafur Eliasson, James Turrell, Leo Villareal, and perhaps that’s right, but the work is more than that. It actually reminds me a bit of the installation in the Fuse Box at the Denver Art Museum; coincidentally, Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza have installed an interactive light display on rope. Their imagery responds with movements and sounds that draw the viewer’s attention away from the actual rope and into the digitized realm of human/computer interaction.
Micheal’s ropes never leave his story, they are held captive by the confines of the machine – there is a human/computer interaction here too: lights change, the tick, tick, ticking of the clocks (okay, not actual clocks, but motorized ticking rods that could be clocks) speeds up and slows down, pausing for effect. I find the narrative to be compelling – spellbinding, a bit sinister, and absolutely of the moment.
The rest of the show includes gorgeous generative loops on paper, delicately engraved scratchboards, and a series of video works and printed stills on view in the loft space.
There are a lot of shows in Denver right now that I have already written about – many of which are closing soon, but this one is up for a couple more weeks (June 15th). If you haven’t seen it already it is the one to rush out and see.
We just got back from Vancouver; it really was a perfect week. My partner was running the Marathon and I was up there to offer support and to enjoy spending time in one of our favorite cities. It was our fourth visit up there and we find ourselves loving it more each time. This time we made our first visit to Victoria, which was a treat. In Vancouver, we spent almost all of our time downtown managing to check out Mount Pleasant, Granville Island, Kits Beach, English Bay, Davie Street, Stanley Park, Yaletown, Gas Town and a little bit of China Town. Outside the city it makes sense to have a car, but downtown it is easy to use public transit and mostly to walk to just about anywhere. Although the city is very cosmopolitan, it is compact: a population similar to Denver is crammed into less than a third of the space.
My sense is that there is real energy around the growing art scene – it was just announced that the museum just brokered a deal to build a new facility from the ground up, the area’s art schools are strong, nascent art districts are becoming more defined with galleries and studios and more & more public works dot the city.
I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and saw a fun retrospective of Art Spiegelman’s comics, and to the Contemporary Art Gallery and saw a great Nancy Holt photo exhibit. I checked out the totem poles at the Royal BC Museum; there were more in Stanley Park (one of the most spectacular things we saw were the nests of the great blue herons). I found a lot of craft stores and design/home-furnishing stores were practically everywhere. There were not so many great galleries for contemporary art, but I found a few of them, with Jennifer Kostuik, Trench Gallery and Madrona (Victoria) being my favorites.
The tribal art of the Northwest really peaked my interest. Of course, The Bill Reid Gallery (check out his massive relief “Mythic Messengers”) is at the top of the heap; Coastal Peoples had “Haida Masterworks II” which showcased generational continuance of aboriginal art; the Douglas Reynolds Gallery has a gorgeous array of works including prints, masks, totem poles, bronze and stone sculptures, bentwood boxes and jewelry. It was a treat to meet Elaine Monds over at the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria; she was happy to talk me through some of history of First Nations art and basics of formline design and the significance of different spirit animals.
Public works are easy to find in Vancouver, thanks in large part to Vancouver Bienniale – it has established a unique program of installing works throughout the city every two years. Because the works stay up for 11-18 months or so, millions of people get to enjoy them. The foundation typically acquires a couple of the sculptures from each Bienniale, increasing the city’s inventory of public works.
My Top 10:
- “Traces of Time” by David Burdeny at Jennifer Kostuik Gallery
- “Stenten: The Resilience of Line, Locale and Intuition” at Trench Gallery
- “Selected Photo and Film Works” by Nancy Holt at Contemporary Art Gallery
- Galleries on South Granville, esp. Bau-Xi, Ian Tan & Marion Scott
- “Amazing Laughter” by Yue Minjun
- “The Drop” by Inges Idee
- Totem Poles at Thunderbird Park in Victoria
- “Walking Figures” by Magdalena Abakanowicz
- Norval Morriseau at Eagle Spirit Gallery
- “Pictures” by Erin Shirreff at Contemporary Art Gallery