Sunday, 11 June 2017

MASS MoCA - NICK CAVE installation & new huge 105,000 sq ft building

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) opened in 1999 in a converted 19th century factory building complex in the run down mill town of North Adams.  

It began big -100,000 sq ft of exhibition space, & has grown bigger. A week ago it expanded again. With over 250,000 sq ft & 10 buildings of galleries, at 16 acres, it is now one of the largest  centres for contemporary visual art & performance in the US, & a magnet for international artists.
It has no permanent collection but its shows are spectacular. The new main 3 storey Robert W WILSON Building 6 (cost $65.4m) features long-term (15 to 25 years) installations from James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Jenny Holzer, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg, 
with another entire building given over to wall after wall of colourful Sol LeWitt.  What a joy. 
model of Mass MoCA's 15 buildings 
The vast size of space is breathtaking. In the new building each floor is an acre. Total space is a 4 mile walk.  Beautifully developed, retaining the original wood floors, exposed brick, steel beams plus 100s of amazing rows of windows, even empty, the spaces are stunning.  

The current centrepiece is by Nick Cave, who uses MASS MoCA’s signature football field-sized space of Building 5 to memorable effect, 
suspending 16 thousand wind spinners (lawn ornaments) to create a glittering force field of silver & metallic iridescent colour 
with at its centre a crystal cloud or 'crown' of glass chandeliers reached by 4 yellow ladders. 
A series of giant 30ft draped nets of millions of beads woven into colourful pattern lead into a dark grotto of 14 stream dramatic videos. 
The allure of these dazzling kinetic playthings & lavish materials evokes a joyous, spirited, uplifting air, so despite the very occasional gun silhouette design glimpsed in the centre of the odd spinning circle, Cave's  political message is rather easy to overlook. So easy that I bet few noticed
The title of this massive installation, Until ...comes from the legal “innocent until proven guilty. 
The suspended cloud crown evidently contains the main anti-racist message. Among charity-shop ceramic flowers, birds & animals, it features lawn jockeys, (metal statues of black American boys dressed as jockeys) that were once used as hitching posts for horses.) 
Now seen as embarrassing, humiliating & racist, Cave uses them to send a message. We didn't make the climb, few did, so unfortunately it was lost on us. 
The beaded drapes are supposed to resemble military tents to evoke a sense of danger, but again their opulence disguises his message of discrimination & American gun violence.
The show is enormously entertaining. We loved it.  
                                             But it's sober side is lost among the fripperies.
The whole huge room seems full of suspended metallic rain drops falling from the sky!
See my video of the room on Facebook! 
Cave's video room is great too

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

PHOTOGRAPY by SERRANO, Sandler, Hellermann, Donahoe & Bowen

The beautiful Hudson Valley north of Manhattan is full of galleries, big & small. 
Within 5 miles we currently have a huge retrospective of the famous Andre SERRANO & a small but terrific photography show celebrating New York City.
SERRANO is of course best known as the controversial "Piss Christ" picture from 1987. In fact it could have been lemonade or Pepsi! But the bubbles etc and its taboo violating aspect made his name. Especially when he went on to create Black Supper; a beautiful classical statue of a Madonna & Child; Crucifixion and in 1990, Piss Pope

His photos, beautifully displayed at the impressive JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY - The School in Kinderhook, here date from early 1980s up to 2015. 
Heaven & Hell, a pigment print from 1984 juxtaposes a suggestive nude with a red robed bishop - so this 'religious edge' was present early on. In fact as u enter u are greeted by a huge 225 in long BLACK SUPPER (immersions) 1990. 
Downstairs later work from 2002 just after 9/11 celebrates NY's personalities: Postman, cook, Sikh, woman airline captain, detective, bishop, etc. These are large scale, dramatic portraits.
Some more worrying than others. 
Serrano explains his work well and one of the joys of the show is the excellent explanatory labelling - really good. Re American, he says, " I wanted to define ‘Americans.’  So I started with the obvious symbols of September 11th – the fireman, the policeman, the soldier, the airline pilot – a man who is a Sikh but happens to look like a Taliban because we were all concerned about the Taliban in 2001.  And then I went on to photograph people from all walks of life.  There are over 100 portraits in America.”

Also on show a disturbing series 1995 History of Sex and recent staged images Torture. He explains, "Usually, when I’m in my studio, the assistant sets up the equipment, takes a Polaroid and shows it to me.  I don’t meet the model until I’m ready to take the picture because that’s the most important time, the only time that matters.  That’s when I get to know my models, when I take their picture, and later, when they become part of my work and I speak about them and remember them.  I live with their images and they become my friends, my family, my memories and my art.”
The Sex pictures are taped over with bright red repair to vandalism- which almost looks as tho it was originally intended.  Maybe better that way, and why Serrano has retained the red slashes of tape. 

This is a difficult show so needs more than a first surface reaction. Pushing boundaries, shocking the neighbos etc, requires more than the superficial freedom of expression argument. 

                 EYES OF THE CITY 
In HUDSON 4 photographers tackle NY city images of rush & dive; day & night. 
RICHARD SANDLER has spent the last 35 years recording events: the 1980s graffiti spray paint encrusted subway - before cell phones or digital cameras. These silver gelatin prints capture the feel of those days before Manhattan was tamed. 
As he says,"NYC was a mess. Above & below ground, crime and crack were on the rise, rents were cheap, many were homeless, & tourists avoided the city."  Times Square & the East Village, though dangerous, were also a haven for an edgy art scene with dozens of galleries & music clubs. In mid-town & on Wall Street the rich wore gaudy furs, & like now, the extremes of wealth & destitution were on parade. 
My favourite - of Grand Central. Such a famous place but a unique, perfect shot.

Sandler shot 4 – 5 rolls of film everyday: what a historic documentation!  His bookThe Eyes of the City was published in 2016 by PowerHouse Books.

Peter DONAHOE was also a street photographer in NY in the 1970s & 80s while driving a nightime Checker taxi at the start of the Reagan recession when it was impossible to get photography work. These silver gelatine prints appeared in the 1990 monograph The Night Line "We were the surplus labor population that got New Yorkers where they wanted to go,” he remembers. Driving a cab gave Donahoe the chance to record working class life & the streets of Manhattan from an unusual perspective, sometimes dangerously so. The images are now in the Museum of the City of NY. 
Donahoe, who studied at Pratt Institute, now works with pinhole cameras, creating special portraits & Hudson Valley barns & landscape. 
SUSAN BOWEN documents NY today, in New York Walking Her focus is people in motion, the intense pace & vitality of urban life. "I like the spontaneous, to shoot fast & furiously, to be swept up in the tide of the moment, " she says.  
On busy street Manhattan corners, Bowen - tall-  gets down on the sidewalk to record the swirl of activity from a very low vantage point; she crouches on the ground with a small tripod. 
Legs Legs! All racing somewhere. 
In the 1980’s, William Hellermann did a lot of walking around New York City, especially Hell’s Kitchen, at night, shooting 35mm Kodachrome slides.  He was fascinated by small buildings, mom & pop stores, the sole-proprietor shops & Irish bars. 
These were shops & bars with failed dignity; hopeless enterprises. In the 80s he shot them head on. Glowing colour slides. What an impact!
Sadly he died just before this show, aged 78. Hellermann was also a well known experimental composer. As a curator at PS 1 in NY, & the Clock Tower, + Alternative Museum, he launched some of the first exhibitions of sound sculpture audio art, & brought into usage the term “Soundart.”
Here is Richard Sandler studying Hellermann's work

Thursday, 11 May 2017


SCOTLAND at the VENICE BIENNALE 1990: Tre Scultori Scozzesi . 
The Venice Biennale, opening this week, is the Olympics of the art world
Scotland+Venice was first pioneered 27 years ago. in 1990 the Scottish Sculpture Trust, conscious of Glasgow's position as European Capital of Culture, secured Scotland's representation at the official 44th Venice Biennale. 
At the invitation of the Biennale director Giovanni Carandente, three sculptors, David Mach, Arthur Watson & Kate Whiteford were given prominent place at the heart of the Giardini, across a large open air site right at the Biennale entrance. 
Tre Scultori Scozzesi were impossible to miss and made a unforgettable impression.    
Photographs capture the scale and ambition of Whiteford's 10x20 metre land drawing, Sitelines

Mach's 5 giant steel bonsai trees 
and Watson's sunburst sail pyramid. 
As the official 1990 Biennale catalogue said, "All 3 found a way of taking the Scottish landscape tradition off the gallery walls, and into the contemporary public arena, a move totally in tune with the new spirit of excitement generated by Scotland's recent international success in all the visual arts; a success reflected in this unprecedented Biennale exhibition."
This participation,  Scotland at the Venice Biennale 1990, Tre Scultori Scozzesi, from an original idea by Richard Demarco, was carried out on a tiny budget by Barbara Grigor, (1944-1994) chairman of the Scottish Sculpture Trust, plus Angela Wrapson and selector curator Clare Henry. 
Funding from the Henry Moore Foundation & the British Council made the event possible. In 2017 the Scottish arts council budget is 350,000. In 1990 the Scottish Arts Council gave £10,000 & Glasgow gave £5,000. Talk about a wing & a prayer!
Lost in this synopsis are all the dramas inherent in a Venice project of this magnitude: logistics of Venetian transport unions, resignations, technical problems in digging deep without hitting water, not least some sculptures impounded by Italian customs. 
Yet in a matter of a week, and with a mere 5 days use of a crane, 
Dave Mach's installation team in front of his Bonsai tree at the entrance to the Biennale. 
the works were installed, ready for the international art world and 16 European TV news cameras!   
                                        Clare in front of Mach Bonsai trees in the Esedra.
Scotland at the Venice Biennale 1990  was a critical and artistic success, deemed "thoughtful and serious" "a Venice triumph for Scots sculptors" and set a precedent for future Scottish exhibitions in the Venice Biennale. 
27 years on, the problem of funding or building a permanent Scottish official pavilion remains, but with the swell of SNP nationalism may it one day be solved? Hope so.  
Piper leading towards the Scottish installation in the Venice Giardini 1990.