Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

The world's first commercially produced
 Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for
Henry Cole in 1843

I'll be taking a couple of weeks off from blogging to enjoy the holiday (and to clean out the garage which is starting to look like an episode of Hoarders). I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading, clicking and responding to my various musings on art this past year, and to wish you a wonderful holiday season! See you in January.

Here's my favorite French Christmas carol performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1982 (thanks Kendra for reminding me). Enjoy!




Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

January 8 - February 12, 2012
Bianca Kolonusz-Partee: Countries of Origin
Opening Reception: Sunday, January 8, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, February 12, 2-5pm


January 8 - February 12, 2012
Megan Madzoeff:Cut It Out!
Opening Reception: Sunday, January 8, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, February 12, 2-5pm

January 20, 2012
Offramp Gallery Director Jane Chafin will be participating in a panel discussion at the 17 Annual LA Art Show at the LA Convention Center on Friday, January 20 at 4pm: A MATTER OF DEGREES -- MFA, PhD in Art: Is it all BS?, sponsored by Artillery Magazine. Other panelists include: Betty Brown, Tucker Neel, Austin Young and Anuradha Vikram.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Myron Kaufman's "Horse Scents" | Feud Update: Is The Art World's One Percent Imploding?

Myron Kaufman, Big Bertha Gives Birth, 2011,
acrylic on canvas, 18" x 24"
Congratulations to Offramp Gallery artist Myron Kaufman, on the publication of his first short story, Horse Scents, in Bomb Magazine. Horse Scents, which is also illustrated by Myron, is the offbeat story of a man who falls in love with a horse. It begins with a touching introduction by Myron's son, filmmaker and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. If you're familiar with Charlie's work, you're about to learn that in the Kaufman family, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Hold on to your hats -- it's a wild ride.

Click here for Part I of Horse Scents


Click here for Part II of Horse Scents

Click here to learn more about Myron Kaufman






* * *

Feud Update: Is The Art World's One Percent Imploding?

Last week I blogged about a public feud that had erupted in the upper echelons of the art world. The emperor is suddenly naked and his minions are scrambling to publically cover their asses. Mud is being slung far and wide.

Here is a recap of where things stood when I posted last week:


*Son-of-a-billionaire art collector Adam Lindemann had written in the New York Observer that he wasn't going to Art Basel Miami Beach because he didn't want to be "seen rubbing elbows with all those phonies and scenesters, people who don’t even pretend they are remotely interested in art . . ." And then he went.

*Advertising mogul/art collector and owner of the Saatchi Gallery, Charles Saatchi threw his hat in the ring with an article in the Guardian stating,""Even a show-off like me finds this new, super-rich art-buying crowd vulgar and depressingly shallow."

*New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz jumped in and neatly analyzed the feud with an article titled:
The Prince of the One Percent [Lindemann] Would Like You to Know That Buying Art Is Less Fun These Days.

On Wednesday evening Lindemann responded to Saltz by posting this article, Columnist Adam Lindemann Responds to the Critics of “Occupy Art Basel Miami Beach, Now!” on GalleristNY. Lindemann defends his actions by saying that his article was "meant to stimulate dialogue" and ends with another promise I'm sure he has no intention of fulfilling: "Nonetheless I apologize to any and all of you who in sympathy with him have taken offense, and so that we may be friends again I promise that I will never attend another art fair, buy another work of art or express my views in print."

Early Thursday this video of a secret meeting of Jerry Saltz & Charles Saatchi in a sauna appeared on FaceBook:




On Friday afternoon Jerry Saltz suddenly called for a truce in a FaceBook post:

"Not that it matters to anyone; but it matters to me - so I want to get this on the record. I have met Mr. Adam Lindemann. I like Adam Lindemann. I bear [sic] him no grudge.

"He and I disagree on a lot of stuff. He had his say in print; I had my say in print. We had a critical cat-fight in public (always good to watch critics go at it). But I'm okay with him; and look forward to going at it in print again, or not. Kumbyeya"


German artist Anselm Kiefer got his hands dirty in this article in the Guardian. He started out taking the high road:

"Art is difficult," says the 66-year-old firmly. "It's not entertainment. There are only a few people who can say something about art – it's very restricted. When I see a new artist I give myself a lot of time to reflect and decide whether it's art or not. Buying art is not understanding art."


But then he lobbed this grenade, using Charles Saatchi's own words against him:

"It sounds as though Kiefer, who was born in the Black Forest but has lived in France since 1991,
endorses Charles Saatchi's view that the art world is eurotrashy, vulgar and masturbatory. 'He described himself, no?' says the artist, laughing uproariously. '[These days] art becomes fashion, it becomes [financial] speculation, but Saatchi started it.'"

Mom, he started it!


Finally, this article about son-of-a-car-salesman artist Damien Hirst appeared in the LA Times: Damien Hirst prepares to unleash another blizzard for buyers. In January, Gagosian will fill all eleven of its galleries worldwide with Hirst's "spot" paintings, about 300 altogether, the vast majority of which were made by his assistants.

Hirst defends the ubiquity and inflated value of his assembly line work by saying:

"You also have to ask yourself as an artist, 'What would be more appealing … to have made the Mona Lisa painting itself or have made the merchandising possibilities — putting a postcard on everyone's walls all over the world? Both are brilliant, but in a way I would probably prefer the postcards — just to get my art out there.'"

It's the merchandising, stupid!

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is the Art World's 1% Unraveling?; A Fantastic Cabinet of Natural Curiosities


In the last couple of weeks a feud has erupted in the upper echelons of gazillionaire art collectors. Three articles making the rounds on social media are at the center of the controversy. First there was Occupy Art Basel Miami Beach, Now! by son-of-a-billionaire art collector Adam Lindemann, in the New York Observer in which Lindemann emphatically states:

"I’m not going to Art Basel Miami Beach this year. I’m through with it, basta. It’s become a bit embarrassing, in fact, because why should I be seen rubbing elbows with all those phonies and scenesters, people who don’t even pretend they are remotely interested in art?"

And then emphatically re-states:

"How many celebrities will I meet? How many mega-collectors will I greet? How many curators will I schmooze and how many artists will I chat up? None, because I’m not going."

Then he promptly did go Miami and did do all of the aforementioned things he said he wasn't going to do.

The next to enter the fray was advertising mogul/art collector and owner of the Saatchi Gallery, Charles Saatchi, with an article in the GuardianThe Hideousness of the Art World. At least Saatchi is self-deprecating as the pot calls the kettle black:

"Even a show-off like me finds this new, super-rich art-buying crowd vulgar and depressingly shallow."

New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz jumped in yesterday and neatly analyzed the feud in his article, The Prince of the One Percent Would Like You to Know That Buying Art Is Less Fun These Days:

"It looks like the art world has entered an ugly finger-pointing period. Call it the Shoot the Wounded Phase: Players at the top are starting to accuse each other of being craven, cronyistic bad actors. Everyone knows something bad is brewing, that some end or explosion is imminent amid the obscene prices, profligate spending, celebrity-artist worship, obnoxious behavior of the rich, and art as entertainment. People are showing up to say, 'It wasn’t me. It was him! It was her! It was them!'"

Stay tuned -- I'm sure we haven't heard the end of this one.


* * *

Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

Albertus Seba (1665-1736) was a Dutch apothecary and passionate collector of natural specimens. After a lifetime of collecting, he commissioned various artists to make copper-plate engravings of his specimens which were first published in several volumes, some posthumously, between 1734 and 1765. Using reproductions from a rare hand-colored original belonging to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, Taschen brings us yet another luscious and affordable coffee table book, Albertus Seba: Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. Eye-popping displays of birds, butterflies, snakes, seashells, sea urchins, exotic plants, crocodiles, crustaceans and more, ignite the imagination and leave us in awe of the diversity of the natural world as well as the engravers' skill in producing these beautifully detailed plates.

In her essay, Albertus Seba's Collection of Natural Specimens and its Pictorial Inventory, Irmgard Musch writes that in Seba's day, "Doctors and apothecaries were pioneers of the empirical sciences, which had been growing significantly in importance since the Renaissance. Unlike today, medications were not synthetically made but mixed together from natural constituents. A whole range of traditional recipes were available to those versed in the art of creating remedies from animal, vegetable and mineral ingredients. But many did not stop there. They continued the search for new methods, collecting natural specimens from distant lands, studying them, and testing their potential uses. Their passion for collecting and researching often extended beyond immediate pharmaceutical applications. In many instances apothecaries started major natural history collections and contributed personally to the growing knowledge of nature."
 

Arrow squids/Flying squids; 7-8 Ovum, Sepia eggs; 9-10 Sepiidae, Cuttlebone of a sepia. Credit: Taschen

Albertus Seba was so passionate about collecting that he would meet ships as they pulled into harbor in Amsterdam and buy specimens from all corners of the globe directly from sailors before they had a chance to disembark. Snakes and mammals were preserved in jars of alcohol, often resulting in distortions in form and coloring that we see in some of the plates. Seba's success as an apothecary and reputation as a collector was well known, even to the Russian tsar, Peter the Great, who often bought medicines from him and eventually bought the entirety of his first collection.


Albertus Seba, Volume I, Plate 39; 1 'Didelphis marsupialis', Southern common opossum, credit: Taschen

Among the thousands of specimens depicted, there are few interesting anomalies thrown in: siamese goat twins, a flying dragon, a mythical seven-headed hydra and a fictive (and very convincing) metamorphosis of frogs into fishes. Three essays round out our understanding of Seba's life and the scientific value of his collections, but it is the plates themselves that provide endless fascination.

credit: Taschen
Click here to buy from Amazon.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Coffee-Lover's Dream Gift; Andy Warhol Survey Results


I won't be recommending electronic appliances very often, but this one is awesome, the perfect holiday gift for the artist or coffee lover on your list -- the Aeroccino Plus Automatic Milk Frother. Fill it with milk, push a button and in seconds you have a heavenly pitcher of perfectly frothed milk. No fussing with that nozzle spewing hot water and steam all over the place, this magical machine takes all the pain out of making a perfect cappuccino. Chaz and I have had ours for over a year and use it every day.





Click here to buy from Amazon.com





Andy Warhol Survey Results

Thanks to everyone who responded to last week's survey "Andy Warhol: Genius or Killer of Art?" I asked you to rate Warhol's work on a scale of one to ten. The graph of the results (below, figure 1) shows a couple of interesting things, the first of which is that Warhol is a polarizing figure. Out of the 127 responses, 25 (19.7%) rated him as a ten, while almost the same number, 23 (18.1%) rated him as a one.

figure 1
If we leave out the extremes (1 and 10) in the second chart (below, figure 2), and then look how you rated his work, it becomes obvious that most of you don't think highly of the work itself. It peaks at a three and descends from there.

figure 2

What I'm taking away from this, and from the many comments you left (see below), is that you think Warhol had a huge influence on contemporary art, but not so much for the quality of his work (only one or two respondents actually defended the work itself) but for the change he ushered in. Or as Marshall McLuhan put it: "Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it." For better or for worse, Warhol was decidedly that.

Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell
I think the debate will continue on whether or not Warhol's influence on art was primarily a good one. I agree with most of you that he knocked down barriers and allowed for an expansion of our definition of art. But, as Marshall Mc McLuhan also stated, "Art is anything you can get away with." It's the "getting away with it" part that bothers me about Warhol's legacy. I believe much of the contemporary art world suffers from a serious case of the Emperor's New Clothing, especially the art market that places so much value on Warhol that he accounts for a staggering one sixth of all contemporary art sales.

Here are a few of your comments:

Pro-Warhol

"I am a huge fan of Warhol. Not so much that it has incredible merit for its technical aspects but most assuredly because it makes one ponder. Art for me has to stir up controversy and he most certainly achieved that status."

"He was on the ground floor of appropriat­ion art, now ubiquitous­. But it is not at all a dry conceptual­ism--witne­ss his popularity­--but something ravishingl­y stylish, with an iconic, high modern classicism and Matisse-on­-acid color that does so much to redeem the general kitschines­s of the psychedeli­c aesthetic."

"Is art a soothing, comfortabl­e arm chair after the toils of the day, as Matisse dreamed about? Is there only that one dimension? Should work not conforming to that definition be torn down? We don't need the self-indul­gent grunts of arrogant and wayward elites, do we? Maybe we should just reject the entire 20th Century."

"He completely derailed the pre-existing canonical narrative of art history, defrocked its 'priesthood'; and liberated artists and art to move in many new directions via every medium and formal strategy under the sun. He's as important as Brueghel."

Anti-Warhol:

"I owned a Warhol and got bored with it early on. Delighted to sell it."

"Personally, I can't help but agree with the assessment that Warhol's serious work ended in 1968. When his retrospective was at MOCA, the earlier work seemed radical, the later just commercial. I loved the deKooning quote, "You're a killer of art!". I just saw de Kooning's retrospective at MOMA in New York. He reminded me of how great art can be. One can't help but think that Warhol's enormous influence has had a negative effect on today's art."

"He was an ad man. There's a need for that, but I'm not certain it's in fine art. He was a master manipulator of the media and creator of self image. An ad man."

"It has as much real substance as a can of Campbell's Soup. That is why collectors love him. He doesn't challenge the status quo in any way and the status quo is to make art = easy money."

Bada bing, bada boom

"I remember going to Pittsburgh and while there I visited the Andy Warhol Museum. A friend asked, 'How was it?' I responded, 'I liked it for 15 minutes.'"

Click here to see the survey results

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Andy Warhol, Killer of Art? / Small Books, Big Ideas

I ran across this article from Intelligent Life Magazine, "A One-Man Market" by Bryan Appleyard that leads with the following staggering statistic: "Andy Warhol is an art-world colossus whose work accounts for one-sixth of contemporary-art sales. How did that happen, and is he really worth it?"

Of the Andy Warhol Foundation's role in the creation and preservation of the Warhol "bubble" the article states:

“'The problem is', says Georgina Adam, 'that the foundation wants Andy Warhol to be a high artist with high ideals, they want him to be like Leonardo da Vinci. They don’t want to think that he just signed a lot of stuff without even looking at it, but he did.'”

My personal opinion is that Warhol's work is highly overrated. Yes, he was an icon and a celebrity, and influenced many artists, but was his influence a good thing? Was it the end of the notion of mastery, depth and emotion in art? When you put aside Warhol's very public life and get down to his work, I find it too easy, superficial and vacuous. I expect more from art.

Here's a video I posted last year of art critic Robert Hughes chatting with billionaire collector Alberto Mugrabi. Hughes very easily reduces Mugrabi to babbling inanities about why Warhol and Richard Prince are great artists. Hughes makes a great case for contemporary art suffering from The Emperor's New Clothes.



Willem de Kooning is purported to have shouted to Warhol across the room at a party: "You're a killer of art, you're a killer of beauty, and you're even a killer of laughter." What do you think?


Click here to rank Andy Warhol's work on a scale of one to ten.

Click here to see the survey results.


Small Books, Big Ideas

I’ve had to use great restraint not to order more than a handful of the 50+ titles available in Wooden Books’ handsomely designed, lavishly illustrated main series. Tagged as “Small Books, Big Ideas,” each of the 6” x 7” volumes has exactly 64 pages. One-page chapters are illustrated with a veritable cornucopia of black and white reproductions of engravings, drawings, graphs and charts. For now, I’ve narrowed it down to two titles that I think will be of special interest to you as artists and art-lovers: Perspective and Other Optical Illusions, and The Golden Section.

Perspective and Other Optical Illusions
by Phoebe McNaughton

Author Phoebe McNaughton begins her small volume with a brief history of classical perspective -- man’s attempt to create the illusion of a three dimensional world on a two dimensional plane. From ancient Egypt to the Renaissance, from one-point, two-point, and five-point perspective, to orthographic and oblique projections, McNaughton lays out the basics.

Etchings from Albrecht Durer's Underweysung series illustrate the use of drawing machines from the 16th century, machines that utilized grids and glass to help artists better imitate perceived reality. Chinese paintings from the 13th and 17th centuries illustrate atmospheric perspective. We see how a pinhole camera obscura, used by Vermeer and others, projects perfect reverse images onto a darkened wall.

McNaughton then moves on to optical illusions, things that trick the eye. Prints by Dutch artist M.C. Escher are used to illustrate renderings of impossible objects, figure and ground flipping and rotational perspective. There are diagrams that seem to move and swirl, a stereogram that magically turns into a 3-D image if you align the dots and stare “through” it, as well as depictions of rainbows, moon bows, haloes and glories.
Relativity, by M. C. Escher. Lithograph, 1953.

McNaughton goes on to pose philosophical questions about the nature of reality. Synesthesia, auras and chakras are all touched upon as examples of unusual ways of perceiving reality. Plato's cave is sited.

You won't be bored by this little book -- you'll return to it time after time, as a refresher course in perspective, as a jumping off point for philosophical reflection, or for the pure pleasure of looking at the illustrations.

Click here to buy from Amazon.com


The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret by Scott Olsen

Author Scott Olsen opens The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret with a promise:

"If you are willing to proceed step by step through this compact little book, it will be well nigh impossible not to grasp by the end a satisfying and stunning glimpse, if not deeply provocative insight, into Nature's Greatest Secret."

With that promise, Olsen takes us on a voyage of discovery that starts with the earliest references to the golden section by Plato and Pythagorus to the nature of consciousness itself:

"It is possible then that consciousness may reside in the geometry itself, in the golden ratios of DNA, microtubules, and clathrins. . . Clathrins, located at the tips of microtubules, are truncated icosahedra, abuzz with golden ratios. Perhaps they are the geometric jewels seen near the mouths of serpents by shamans in deep sacramental states of consciousness."

You'll learn about the numerical expression of the golden section through a simple series of whole numbers, commonly referred to as the Fibonacci Sequence:

"Although officially recognized later, the series appears to have been known to the ancient Egyptians and their Greek students. Ultimately Edouard Lucas in the 19th century named the series after Leonardo of Pisa [c. 1170-1250], also known as Fibonacci (son of the bull), who made the series famous through his solution of a problem regarding the breeding of rabbits over a year's time. . . Fibonacci numbers occur in the family trees of bees, stock market patterns, hurricane clouds, self-organizing DNA nucleotides, and in chemistry."


From Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Libri tres de occulta philosophia.

You'll see the golden section at work in classic works of art such as DaVinci's The Annunciation, Van Gogh's The Beach, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Salvador Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper. We see examples of the golden section found in music, philosophy, science and mathematics and more.

Author Olsen delivers on his promise with this lavishly illustrated, accessible guide to the golden section and its presence in the world around us.

Click here to buy from Amazon.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo: A Luscious -- and Affordable -- Must-Have Art Book


As soon as I saw Taschen’s luscious volume Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo in a museum gift shop, I knew I had to have it. I don't have a big budget for luxury items these days, so I was delighted to find how affordable it was. Released in 2010 as one of Taschen’s 30th birthday “Golden Books,” reprints of luxury books at affordable prices, this volume packs a lot of bang for the buck. Encased in a box depicting a detail of Hiroshige's iconic grey tree limbs and white plum blossoms against an organish-pink sky and fastened with faux ivory toggles, this book is a must-have for art lovers.

Inside the box, the book itself is soft bound Japanese style with a silk-like cover, and printed on folded paper allowing printing on only one side of each sheet. The 118 ukiyo-e prints were reproduced from a series of original wood-block prints in the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo, one of the few complete series consisting entirely of impressions from the first run. Later editions, many of which found their way to Europe, were printed with fewer color blocks and did not display the delicate color gradations of the original prints.


Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858,
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo #107, 1857,
"Fukagawa Susaki and Jūmantsubo", Brooklyn Museum
Each of the prints is accompanied by descriptive text, and a map showing all 120 locations depicted is included. An essay by Melanie Trede, Edo: Images of a City between Visual Poetry and Idealized Reality, gives a picture of life in mid 19th-century Edo and Hiroshige's role as an artist in it. The essay details the history of the creation of the prints, including the importance of the woodblock cutters, printers and censors who had to give their seal of approval to every image:

"After the publisher had commissioned the print, the ink drawing had, following a decree of 1790, to be submitted to the censors and given the round seal of approval. In the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, this seal is placed, together with a date seal, either at the top of the print or on the left, outside the image. . . . Following the appearance of a print with 72 different colours the previous year, a censorship law of 1842 restricted the number of colours to eight. Hiroshige's series demonstrates that the colour limitation also had its positive sides."




So sophisticated were the printing techniques used by Hiroshige, that some of the original images, such as the carp banners in Suido Bridge and the Surugadai Quarter, and the eagle plumage in Fukagawa Susaki and Jumantsubo were printed employing expensive mica dust that created a silvery shimmer. The eagle’s talons were printed with animal glue to produce a deep shine.

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858,
One Hundred Famous Views of Edo #107, 1856,
"Kinryūzan Temple, Asakusa (Asakusa Kinryuzan)",
Brooklyn Museum

In her essay, Melanie Trede states:

"It is to the printers that the series owes numerous visual effects, such as the subtle gradations, known as bokashi, which give volume to an area of colour, or express effects of perspective or light and make each print unique. There are various forms of bokashi, for example atenashi bokashi ("not-indicated colour gradation"), frequently used in this series, in which the cloudlike colour gradation is applied to an area of the woodblock not indicted by the artist, for example in the sky or water surfaces."

The prints, which depict over a hundred views of mid-19th century Edo (now Tokyo), were incredibly popular in their time and each was printed between ten and fifteen thousand times. Hiroshige chose to use a vertical format for the scenes, novel in its time for landscapes. The prints depict temples, shrines, public parks, famous trees, pure landscapes, rivers, canals and bridges, throughout the four seasons. Some reflect current affairs, such as the depiction of a reconstructed Edo, rising from the ashes of the 1855 Ansei earthquake in which approximately 10,000 people died.

Of particular interest is the influence Hiroshige’s prints had on European art in the late 19th century. Both Vincent Van Gogh and James McNeill Whistler found inspiration in Hiroshige’s landscapes. Van Gogh went so far as to copy the prints Plum Park in Kameido and Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake, acknowledging Hiroshige in the titles of the paintings.


Click here to purchase Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo from Amazon.com



Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

Click here to read the LA Times review of Susan Sironi: New ABCs

October 23 - November 20, 2011:
Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation






December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Short Takes: David Lynch's Big Fish; A Trip to the Moon; How to Save $60k in MFA Tuition


Have you ever wondered where the dark genius of filmmaker David Lynch comes from? Lynch's 2006 book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity gives rare insight into his creative process and how 35 years of Transcendental Meditation have helped him along the way. The book is comprised of 85 short chapters, some as short as a sentence, describing how Lynch captures ideas and turns them into reality through filmmaking, from Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks to Inland Empire. Catching the Big Fish is a charming, easy read and gives us a refresher course in where our own creativity comes from and how to stay connected to it. Here are some pearls of wisdom from Lynch:

"Ideas are like fish.

Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They're huge and abstract. And they're very beautiful.

I look for a certain kind of fish that is important to me, one that can translate to cinema. But there are all kinds of fish swimming down there. There are fish for business, fish for sports. There are fish for everything.

Everything, anything that is a thing, comes up from the deepest level. Modern physics calls that level the Unified Field. The more your consciousness -- your awareness -- is expanded, the deeper you go toward this source, and the bigger the fish you can catch."

Lynch, who has meditated twice a day for over 35 years, describes how it has helped him overcome negativity:

"When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.  . . . I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It's suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.

Anger and depression and sorrow are beautiful things in a story, but they're like poison to the filmmaker or artist. They're like a vise grip on creativity. If you're in that grip, you can hardly get out of bed, much less experience the flow of creativity and ideas. You must have clarity to create. You have to be able to catch ideas."
Lynch gives the following sage advice for realizing our own creative visions:
"Stay true to yourself. Let your voice ring out, and don't let anybody fiddle with it. Never turn down a good idea, but never take a bad idea. And meditate. It's very important to experience that Self, that pure consciousness. It's really helped me. . . .  So start diving within, enlivening that bliss consciousness. Grow in happiness and intuition. Experience the joy of doing. And you'll glow in this peaceful way. Your friends will be very, very happy with you. Everyone will want to sit next to you. And people will give you money!"
Sign me up!

Here's an ad for Parisienne cigarettes that Lynch directed in 1998:



Click here to buy Catching the Big Fish from Amazon.com

* * * * *
Speaking of wonderfully bizarre films, I came across this article about the color restoration of Georges Melies’ 16-minute 1902 silent film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), and a documentary that is being released about it.

The documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage by Serge Bromberg, which closes with the restored hand-colored version of A Trip to the Moon, will have its world premiere November 11 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (the restored short itself debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year).

For those of us not in New York City, the black and white version will have to suffice until a distributor is found for the film or it is released on Blu-ray. Not to worry -- it's amazing in black and white!



* * * * *
My blog post from earlier this year MFA: Is It Necessary? -- The Debate has by far been the most widely read one, receiving the most hits of any of my posts by a two-to-one margin. It has been reposted on many blogs and seems to have taken on a life of its own. It's obviously a hot topic of interest to many of you, so I want to pass on the following essay, What I Learned in Grad School, by artist, instructor and curator, Quinton Bemiller. Bemiller wants to save you the high cost of MFA tuition.


What I Learned in Grad School
by Quinton Bemiller

People have debated, literally, whether or not MFA degrees are necessary, whether or not attending grad school is necessary for serious artists and so on. I have many students who are never going to go to grad school for art. The reasons vary. Yet, many of these students desire to further their education.

Honestly, grad school teaches you things that are far different than undergraduate education or individual classes in art. A BFA teaches you how to make art. An MFA teaches you how to be an artist. With or without formal education, one must learn both.

So, I am going to save you the $60,000 in grad school tuition I am currently paying off (with interest) and cut to the chase. Here is what I learned in grad school (each point comes from a particular experience or instructor):

1. Your work is the most important thing. The quality has to be exceedingly high. Do this and the shows, reviews and sales will follow.

2. You are in competition with other artists, dead and alive.

3. The only voice you should hear in the studio is yours.

4. Know art history and contemporary art as it applies to your own art.

5. Be present as you make your art. Be in the moment and honestly connect to each and every step in the process of making your art.

6. Guard your reputation as an artist. Donʼt show your work just anywhere. Donʼt sell your work to just anyone.

7. Teachers/artists never share all their secrets. Some things you have to learn on your own.

8. Assume you are great and that you will accomplish great things. Make choices about your art and your career with the confidence of knowing that you alone call the shots. What kind of art career do you want? Do that.

9. Artists are like crabs in a cage, pulling down all the others trying to climb out!

10. You need to be completely, madly in love with the art you are making.

11. Donʼt fight battles that have already been won.

12. Get beyond yourself to think of solutions that are unexpected.

13. Know what the driving force is in your work, the main concept or premise on which all other things are built.

14. Serendipitous opportunities will arise, so be sure you are prepared for them.

15. Donʼt make art for an audience or “the viewer”. Make work that is sincere and let the chips fall where they may.

16. Recognition does not always come from those around you. Sometimes you will find more recognition far from home.

17. After you are an accomplished artist, it often takes ten years for anyone to notice.

18. Your peers will do more to help advance your career than anyone else.

19. Your work need only touch one person. That alone can make things happen for you.

20. Despite intellectualism, there seems to be a factor of simple attraction that makes people excited about an artistʼs work.

Quinton Bemiller

Quinton Bemiller is a painter, instructor and curator in Los Angeles. Solo exhibitions include the Armory Center for the Arts, Torrance Art Museum and Offramp Gallery. He earned his MFA at Claremont Graduate University, BFA at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and AA at Pasadena City College. He can be reached at quinton.bemiller@gmail.com.


Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

October 23 - November 20, 2011:
Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm


November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation


December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Prelude to Halloween

Detail of Michelangelo's
"The Last Judgement"
 (Sistine Chapel), between 1535 and 1541
I woke up in a nightmarish state recently, haunted by a news image of a bloodied, terrified Moammar Gadhafi being beaten and driven away to his brutal death. The image morphed to the eerily similar self-portrait of Michelangelo with flayed skin in his monumental Sistine Chapel fresco, The Last Judgment. I stumbled to the kitchen for a glass of milk to ward off the evil spirits. I prefer my demons in a slightly less anxiety producing state, without the existential meltdown. All of which leads me to my favorite holiday, Halloween, that festive time of year where we dress up as whatever our imagination dictates to celebrate death, evil, monsters, and other inhabitants of the dark, freak-show side of life.

I've put together a few videos to help you get in the mood.

Let's start with the most amazing pumpkin carvings I've ever seen, created by sculptor Ray Villafane.



This next video, Disney's 1929 "The Skeleton Dance," part of the Silly Symphonies series of cartoon shorts, is classic, early, black and white Disney animation. At the stroke of midnight four skeletons embark on a musical romp through a graveyard until a rooster's crow at dawn sends them scurrying back into their grave.



What would Halloween be without the costumes? This next video was produced by the Metropolitan Museum for its wildly popular Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. McQueen often referred to himself as "the Edgar Allan Poe of fashion." He was certainly one of the most brilliant costumiers of our time.



Click here to see more MET videos of McQueen's runway shows.

Last, but not least, is a happy little Halloween song that my goddaughter recommended to me by actor, singer and comedian Steven Lynch.




Happy Halloween!


Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

October 23:
Opening Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Origami and Fractals: The Shadowy Worlds Between Art and Mathematics

I watched two short documentaries this week about visuals that exist in the shadowy world between art and mathematics. The first film is from the PBS's "Nova" series, Fractals, Hunting the Hidden Dimension. The second is Vanessa Gould's 2009 documentary Between the Folds, a fascinating look at the history and evolution of the world of paper folding.

Fractals, Hunting the Hidden Dimension tells the fascinating story of how mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot came to discover the mathematics of fractals. Always considered outside the mainstream of mathematics, Mandelbrot was one of a group of "oddballs" hired by IBM in 1958 to develop the then fledgling computer field. Mandelbrot was fascinated by a problem presented to him about noise created by transmitting computer data over jammed phone lines, often resulting in data not getting through. When he looked at the pattern of the noise and zoomed in on a small area, he was surprised to find how similar the small area was to the whole.



Mandelbrot thought classical mathematics was great for describing forms with smooth edges and curves, primarily man-made forms, but found it lacking when it came to describing rough-edged forms as found in the natural world. Once he started pointing out fractals in nature, he was usually confronted with the response "of course!" Many of us associate fractals with the eye-candy of psychedelic posters and videos, but fractals are all around us in the natural world in the form of leaves, trees, lightning, blood vessels, mountains, clouds and even galaxies. Mandelbrot was eventually able to write a formula, "the Mandelbrot set" for the repeating "self-similarity" of the patterns within patterns within patterns that he discovered.

The fractal shape form of a Romanesco broccoli

Mandelbrot's discovery of fractals was eventually put to practical use in the first-ever computer generated special effects sequence in a feature film (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), as well as the small fractal antennae that are used in cell phones and other electronic devices.



After watching Gould's film about origami, Between the Folds, I went into high procrastination mode and instead of sitting down and writing this blog as I had intended, I found myself folding a large sheet of paper into a hyperbolic paraboloid. (I did this mainly for the bragging rights -- it's not as difficult as it sounds.) What I learned from this little exercise was how easily one could be seduced by the endless possibilities of something as simple as folding a sheet of paper. Gould's film chronicles the work of 10 artists and scientists who took the plunge, abandoning careers and hard-earned graduate degrees to devote themselves to origami.




Akira Yoshizawa (1911-2005) is considered the father of modern origami. Self-taught, he abandoned a factory job to devote himself to the study of paper folding. He supported himself working odd jobs and by selling soup door-to-door. He was the first origamist to keep his paper moist while folding, allowing him to make softer, more organic looking figures. He made some 50,000 models in his life time, none of which he ever sold.

The film looks at other modern day practitioners whose styles range from realistic to abstract, kinetic to work by
le Crimp, a group of French origamists who make their forms from randomly crumpled paper, and a teacher in Israel who uses origami to teach geometry to children.

Perhaps most interesting is the amazingly gifted father/son team of Marty and Erik Demaine.
Erik Demaine was home-schooled by his father Marty, a single parent, sculptor, glass-blower, self-taught computer scientist and avid puzzle maker. Erik entered college at the age of 12 and got his PhD at the age of 20. He was the youngest professor ever hired at MIT and two years later was a recipient of the MacArthur genius grant. Together, the Demaines have pushed the boundaries of what origami can be -- from saving lives by designing folds for air bags to looking for cures for diseases by folding proteins.





Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

October 23:
Opening Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

October 30:
Reading and book signing: Author Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s, 3pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Outer Limits of Visual Experience

I have always had a fascination with the outer limits of visual experience -- outsider art, mental illness and art, psychoactive drugs and art. What happens as artists when our "cerebral reducing valve," as Aldous Huxley termed it, is stuck in the open position? How do we classify these works in the canons of visual art? Do we in the West tend to undervalue the visionary, the hallucinatory, the spiritual in art?

Rather than trying to answer these complex questions, I've put together a series of videos that addresses some of these issues and, I hope, provides food for thought.

If you follow the instructions on the screen of this first video, you will experience a brief and very real visual hallucination at the end. Nothing scary pops out at you. If you are prone to seizures or are afraid of this sort of thing, I suggest you skip this video.


 


This next video is about a series of nine drawings done by an artist under the influence of LSD 25 as part of a government research program in the 1950s.



This video tells the story of English artist Louis Wain (1860-1939) who was well known for his anthropomorphized drawings of cats. He developed late-onset schizophrenia at the age of 57 and continued to draw increasingly psychedelic cats.



This last video is of Chinese choreographer Zhang Jigang's Thousand Hand Bodhisattva (Guan Yin). While technically this is a dance performance, I think you'll agree that it qualifies as an intensely visual experience.




Panel Discussion Video

Thanks to everyone who showed up last weekend for our panel discussion Sincerely Whose? Authenticity, Irony and Uncertainty in Contemporary Art.





Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery


September 11 - October 9, 2011

October 9:
Closing Reception for
Lisa Adams: Born This Way, 2-5pm
Book Signing for Lisa Adams's Monograph: Vicissitude of Circumstance, 2-3pm
Artist's Talk by Lisa Adams, 3pm

October 10-22:
Closed for installation


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October 23:
Opening Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

October 30:
Reading and book signing: Author Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s, 3pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Trip to Boston and a Documentary Add to My Gardner Museum Heist Obsession

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), The Concert, ca. 1664,
Oil on canvas, 72,5 x 64,7 cm
Stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
I was in Boston for a couple of days last week. On the top of my list of things to do there was my first ever, long overdue visit to the fabulous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Adding to the mystique of the beautiful outside-in Venetian palazzo that Gardner herself designed and its dazzling array of masterpieces and artifacts, was my curiosity about the still unsolved 1990 Gardner Museum heist. Thirteen masterpieces, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, were stolen. Some were slashed from their frames -- frames that still eerily hang where Gardner originally placed them.

After my visit, I arrived back in L.A. pleasantly haunted by the history-laden cobblestone streets and cemeteries of Boston, and decidedly under the spell of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Finding Rebecca Dreyfus's 2006 documentary about the Gardner heist, Stolen, was the perfect segue from an all-too-short vacation back to my hectic life.

In an interview, Gardner biographer, Douglass Shand-Tucci, sets the tone for the present day visitor and echoes my own feelings: "The Gardner Museum is now touched with evil as a result of the robbery in a way that has deepened the experience going through it. Many people made it into a pretty postcard kind of place. Mrs. Gardner was not a pretty postcard kind of person . . ."




The story of the heist is set against a background of grainy black and white footage of turn-of-the-century Boston, voice-overs of Gardner's letters read by Blythe Danner, and the ongoing investigation of fine art detective Harold Smith. Adding to the complexity of the investigation, we intermittently hear snippets of voice messages left on a tip line -- even one from a who woman claims the culprits were John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Beatles did it!

We learn about Gardner's motivations for amassing her collection:

"They say that Isabella Stewart Gardner is the original Victorian salvage hunter. She'd go off on a rummage hunt, often a salvage hunt. Mr. Gardner would be, at times, very upset. She wouldn't leave a note at the hotel, she'd be out looking for her favorite pieces of salvage that she could save and then resurrect them. Broken columns, balconies, fireplaces from Northumberland, were in attics and basements of churches, stained glass windows from 1150 a.d., [unclear] Cathedral covered with vestments and cobwebs, and she recycled all the things in Europe that no one seemed to care about."

In a letter to her art agent in Europe Stewart wrote: "Dear Berenson, I suppose the picture habit, which I seem to have, is as bad as the morphine or whiskey one. And it does cost. I am drowned in a sea of debt. You would laugh to see me. I haven't had but one new frock in a year."


Titian, (1490–1576), Rape of Europa, 1559-1562, oil on canvas, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

A museum docent recounts Gardner's frame of mind after acquiring Titian's Rape of Europa:

"One evening so ecstatic, after a wonderful dinner party in the Titian room, she swirled into a frenzy and said, 'Tis I who have hopped upon the back of Zeus and become Europa, the mother of Europe' and left her ball gown. Of course as we all know in the portrait the goddess is upon the back of Zeus flying around the heavens in a night gown. So Mrs. Gardner disrobed her ball gown, ran through the long gallery back up to her dressing room on the fourth floor, changed into another gown and came back downstairs. So, for posterity, the green moiré fabric, Worth’s Paris gown, is in the wall, under the Titian as sort of a replica and souvenir of the enchantment that Bel Gardner felt when she received and purchased her Europa. She was ecstatic with joy."

We meet dicey characters from the underbelly of the art world such as master art thief Myles Connor, antiques dealer and ex-con, William Youngworth and, through a Scotland Yard connection, reformed art thief, Paul "Turbocharger" Hendry. Much speculation surrounds the role Boston mob boss and then fugitive Ray "Whitey" Bulger may have played in the caper:

"In 1990 at the time of the Gardner heist, Whitey Bulger was the absolute lord and master of the Irish underworld. . . . Whitey Bulger had a dark presence that cast a very long shadow over Boston. Chilling is the word. . . He ruled through violence and intimidation and fear. . . . In this town, if a consortium of thugs pulled off the Gardner heist, Whitey Bulger would hear about it in two seconds flat. "

By the end of the film, the investigation has widened to include IRA connections and never realized plans to use Senator Ted Kennedy as a go-between to negotiate for return of the stolen work. Art detective Harold Smith stayed on the trail of the theft until just a week before he died in 2005, and many others continue the hunt to this day.

Ray "Whitey" Bulger was arrested by the FBI in June of this year and is in custody in Boston charged with 19 counts of murder. Some speculate that Bulger knows the whereabouts of the stolen Gardner paintings and is using the information as a get-out-of-jail free card.

We can only wait and hope!

Click here to rent or learn more about Stolen.

Click here to read my review of Ulrich Boser's 2009 bestseller, The Gardner Heist.



Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery


September 11 - October 9, 2011

October 2:
Panel Discussion: Sunday, October 2, 3pm
Sincerely Whose? Authenticity, Irony and Uncertainty in Contemporary Art

October 9:
Closing Reception for
Lisa Adams: Born This Way, 2-5pm
Book Signing for Lisa Adams's Monograph: Vicissitude of Circumstance, 2-3pm
Artist's Talk by Lisa Adams, 3pm

October 10-22:
Closed for installation

October 23:
Opening Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm



October 30:
Reading and book signing: Author Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s, 3pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm