Fear no art...unless it offends you.

Speaking of message...I came across an article in ARTNews from September of this year, which addresses the possible tensions between cultural institutions and the new World Trade Center redevelopment site. The Drawing Center, an institution which has been growing in reputation and stature these past few years, was one of the venues chosen to be part of this new downtown site.


But, lo and behold, it surfaced, through unnamed sources, that the Drawing Center, now located in Soho, has displayed art that was "critical of the U.S. government." (Omyword, what a terrible thing!!) So, ever the vigilante, Governor Pataki stated, "We will not tolerate anything on the site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom, or denigrates the sacrifice or courage that the heroes showed on September 11." He continued, stating that arts groups will "have to do that, or they will not be at the memorial site, to the extent I have the ability to do that."

Well, the Freedom Center (another accepted body) quickly said they would comply. The Drawing Center, however, as far as I know since September, is still deciding whether the revitalization of downtown is worth this potential relinquishment of total freedom of speech.

This seems like another ironic instance of a small giving up of an important freedom - that of reasonable dissent (a worthy Jeffersonian ideal) in exchange for a celebration of what those freedoms supposedly caused these victims and heroes to do, and be. There is also a false message here of a unified voice on a particular subject, when really the discussion is quite varied. (Take Professor Ward Churchill of U of Colorado, for instance...remember him?).


Anyway, I see no reason why art institutions of any sort should cowtow to this ridiculous americanism and bowdlerism - no matter how innoccous it may seem at face-value - if they have any self-respect...regardless of how much it might revitalize a certain area. Why not move to (or even build a branch in) Trenton, or Camden, Drawing Center, and struggle there, if you want to "revitalize"? The Drawing Center is an amazing, amazing space with a magnificent mission...it should definitely not put itself in the position of being stifled by politicos with stilted views on free speech.


PAFA...and a sticky question

Had a short visit this morning at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, that fabulous and flamboyant Furness (and Hewitt) Italianate edifiice on Broad and Cherry, complements of the Barnes...I have been, frankly, worn out with pontificating, with recent posts on friend's blogs, so I will simply share with you some of what I saw. It was really fun being back in a museum; it's been a while. No, technically the Barnes is not a museum.

The Ellen Harvey installation is really worth checking out, by Nov. 27th. A series of huge back-lit mirrored walls, with detailed, etched drawings of the grand entrance of the building, along with some subtle changes...it's quite beautiful in its neo-Gothicism, and has the feeling of one of those Modernist takes on Baroque chandeliers, that one occasionally sees in 1970's glam/commercial spaces incorporating faux-luxury, e.g. department stores, except it also plays with the idea of the "romantic ruin." But the installation also incorporates video...and Harvey altered the walls too, which are quite nice.

The other nice surprise was a small Vik Muniz exhibit, who is quite close to being a genius, I think. His re-takes on some of my favorite 20th century photographs, a series by Stieglitz called Equivalents, are wonderful. (I think they are snapshots of patterns on marble, with the flash showing up as a sun...) Very tricky. Above is a take on Peale, with puddled ink. And what do Pollock and chocolate have in common? Go see.

One last note...if you go, check out the special 200-year annniversary show as well, all culled from private collections...between both old and new PAFA buildings - lots of gems. If you get that far, and feel like commenting, I'd be very interested in your thoughts about this question I was considering this morning: is there any reason to believe there is a direct relationship between the GREAT Arthur Dove in the old gallery; the Philip Guston in the new gallery's street level, and the Carroll Dunham on the second floor mezzanine? I have a hunch there is, but with no other evidence except visual, and what other pieces I know of each of these artists. What do YOU think?

P.S. and one of the most amazing Brice Marden paintings I know is in the exhibit as well, Bear. The closest I come to drooling. Bow down and worship, you daubers of paint.


Thom Lessner...catacomb artist?

(above, Thom Lessner, Slade)

This Thom Lessner (from Spector Gallery: www.spectorspector.com) reminded me of the Petrus and Paulus carving from the previous post. The treatment of the faces has similarities. Mind you, Thom Lessner is not really my favorite artist...just a weird connection. That strange, confronting, supplicative gaze. Right.


"Message" stream

(above, Marble catacomb inscription, Pio Cristiano: Vatican Museum)

Good friend Ben Volta and some others have a great stream going, on "messages" in art, on his blog; paticipate: http://benjaminvolta.blogspot.com

This is largely precipitated by a provocative lecture Friday night by Karlfried Froehlich, from Princeton Seminary, as part of the DIALOGUE series at Olivet Covenant PC studios: What is Christian Art? What made it very interesting for me, was his mostly historical approach, i.e., beginning with the most early of Christian artistic expressions - catacombs - and arguing that the term "Christian Art" is a specific time-based term that no longer has much meaning, or at least is no longer applicable. (Part of the post-Christendom argument, I suppose.) His expertise is history of the church rather than art, so it was interesting to have a different take on the subject. But one major discussion that the lecture ended with, was the role of "messages" in art, and his opinion that therein lies the contemporary "Christian" artists' onus...to think about and articulate their message(s) well.

(My apologies to those who may not be of any particular "Christian" persuasion...) I would however make the case that this history, no matter your inclinations now, is important to understand, for more efficaciously moving on to understanding later Christian artistic expressions, as well as the entire grand arc of all art to follow, including Modernism (often, incidentally, becoming reactive/revolutionary). The great majority of art history from the Constantinian era, up through the pre-American and French revolution periods, was concerned with Christian meaning, content and yes, messages...for better or for worse.

I picked up off my shelf, on Sunday, a book that was a little dusty; a gift from a professor several years ago...Art of the Early Church, by Robert Lowrie. And in it he reiterates much of what Mr. Froehlich talked about...but one interesting illumination was how most early Christian art was focused so completely on transcendent themes...resurrection, heaven; the new birth. Part of this I would imagine was simply a matter of context, all of this art having the origin of tomb art, basically. I'd quote it here, but unfortunately left the book home.

Not to detract from Ben Volta's discussion, but I'd be interested in hearing what you wayfarers think of this: what IS the role of "messages" in art making? (Especially as someone who considers themselves to be a serious art-maker?) And, pertaining to my comment on Ben's discussion, is INTENT important in the message? Can we take for granted that all art has a "message" of some sort, and focus completely on how it is conveyed/crafted, according to our intent? I would also argue that, no matter our INTENT at times...it still doesn't come across.


Draw your own conclusions

(top, prize-winning apples; bottom, CO Flag, 2004, enamel on metal).


Little children shall lead them.

Here are two art works from the Oley Fair that I admired...a budding Wolf Kahn; and a future Robert Ryman? Does it really matter?

I've been thinking about children's art, and relatedly, the childhood art of now-professional artists. This was precipitated in large part by the current exhibit at Arcadia College's art gallery, led by the intrepid Richard Torchia http://www.arcadia.edu/visitorcomm/default.aspx?id=1722

The current show is called Very Early Pictures, and features artworks from now-professional artists ranging from Ed Ruscha to Judith Schaechter and Randall Sellers (Spector Gallery; wunderkind of the graphite pencil). It made me wonder if it is ever possible to see the future adult-artist through a child's artwork, however precocious or not. Or is there no real connection; are "all children artists," like Torchia suggests? It made me think back to my Very Early Pictures. I remember one in particular drawn after a trip to, of all places, Dutch Wonderland, in Lancaster county. It shows my dad and I, seated in a weird, yellow bathysphere-type vehicle, dangling from a monorail, riding around with our legs hanging out, above a green and blue park scene. Funny. I'll have to dig out my childhood pictures sometime soon.

In a LA Weekly review of the Arcadia's counterpart show in LA, the author Doug Harvey says, interestingly, "...there's probably as much good art in this show as there would be in a show of contemporary works by the same group of artists." Hmmm. Maybe the whole problem here is that we are, as more "sophisticated and mature" viewers, projecting our perceptions and biases of art in general - largely "professionally-produced" art - on children's art...something not meant to be done, and indeed, disingenuous. Innocence de-based? Well, hardly...several of the pieces in Very Early Work were done in that most self-conscious of times, the teenage years. Yet, we never fully know ourselves; how can we expect children to think about how later viewers will see their work? We can't, and we shouldn't. We should just make sure they have sufficient supplies, and stand back and watch.


Barnes storming

(above, a pre-school marker drawing exhibited at the Oley Fair, September 2005. Eat your heart out, Mr. Twombly.)

Was perusing Fallon and Rosof's ArtBlog this morning; came across a post of theirs about a trip to the Barnes Foundation (where I work), with some interesting comments on the institution, and the experience the group of elderly women, with whom the bloggers were accompanying, had here...the post is interesting, but I will remain neutral, since I work here; take from it what you will. The funny thing is, from the way the group is described, I think I actually passed the group on Friday afternoon, as they were getting back on their shuttle. It's weird to think that I passed through a situation which I later read about from a perspective who doesn't know who I am. Anyway, here's the link: http://www.fallonandrosof.com/artblog.html#112946863861822053


Two Prayers

(two images from the Prayer File series - Confession [top] and Petition [bottom], June-August 2005, gesso, ink and enamel on file folders [not shown]).



For the past year or so, I've been blessed daily by these Daily Digs emails from the Bruderhof Community: little snippets of quotes from a wide array of sources, from Emerson to Dostoevsky, to Eberhard Arnold himself. I'd like to heartily recommend the newsletter to you; it's highly inobtrusive, and quite beneficial. Here's the link:
Quote of the Day

Here's today's Daily Dig as a sample:

Whatever Happens to You
The Didache

My child, flee from all evil and from everything resembling it. Do not get angry, for anger leads to murder. My child, do not grumble, for this leads to blasphemy; be gentle-minded, for those of a gentle mind shall possess the earth. Be patient and have a loving heart.
Do not be one who stretches out his hands to receive but closes them when it comes to giving. If you have earned something by the work of your hands, pass it on as a ransom for your sins. Do not turn away from those who are in need, but share all things in common with your brother.
Your heart shall not cling to the high and mighty, but turn to the good and humble folk. Accept as good whatever happens to you or affects you, knowing that nothing happens without God.

Source: "The Early Christians," ed. by Eberhard Arnold

From the history files - advice for daily living from the first Christians.


a long green hour

(above, Alan Ebnother, Detail of February 12th 2005, oil on wood... www.minusspace.com/ebnother/ebnother.html

Just found out about this event (below) happening at the Morris Arboretum, through the ICA. It sounds like it will be really great...I can't make it, but if you go, let me know how it was:


Maybe I should come up with an aural and visual happening based around Eye Garden? If Ben Volta's ESP proposal is approved...now that'll be an experience for ya (roasting fleshdogs...and weird dialogues).



Gierschickwork at Fallingwater


Random image, and return from Fallingwater

(above, a quilt from last century, made from Klan hoods...talk about loaded imagery. Pleasant dreams...).

Back from anniversary vacation to Western PA; specifically Fallingwater. A 20th century masterpiece. More on that later.

Just handed in, last evening, my long labored-over Eastern State Penitentiary proposal. I am generally pleased; once again I waited too long to begin on it in earnest, so the bulk of it was done in one day. It is now, however, in the hands of the Committee. To give you an idea of what the proposal was about, and what it might look like, I had wanted to scan the whole thing for you to see...but haven't gotten there yet. Hang tight.

Described briefly, the project would include creating an inch-to-inch reproduction on a grassy lawn area, of two adjacent cells from the prison space; this would be done with metal stakes and nylon cord, and include the thickness of the original walls. Within this corded off space, I'd allow the grass to grow to its natural height, weeding, watering, fertilizing and otherwise maintaining it, creating a sort of "natural wall." Inside of the walls, I'd have a reel-mower maintained cell-garden area, with the original shared wall eliminated, and two long, rectangular pools sunk to ground level, replicating the cell's original ceiling skylights. These would be filled with water, and their bottoms lined with mirror. The grass area surrounding the installation would be mowed according to normal schedule. So, for visitors seeing this cell-garden, hopefully they would have thoughts of self-reflection, and natural order interacting with introduced/imposed order, upon seeing the living wall and the reflecting pools. And too, think about the relationship between the prison structure and the space it's built on, and how that's somewhat parallel to placing a human in a contrived space, as part of the interplay of "chaos and order" in the entire act of incarceration. Essentially, we can see ourselves, which we often think of as "orderly," reflected in seemingly "chaotic" places, such as the Penitentiary, and realize that, to reappropriate Dostoevsky, the line between [chaos] and [order] runs straight down through the heart of all men...as much as, like evil from good, we'd like to place evil over there, away from us, and disassociate ourselves from it. No use; the line passes right through our centers.

As with most of my work, these thoughts will congeal completely only when I've brought the piece to a more fleshed-out form...but I congealed my thoughts as much as possible for the proposal deadline.


Shoots and thoughts on power

(above, Shoots, pencil on paper, 6 x 2", 2004)

I think this drawing I did last year, which I just entered into an exhibit called War & Peace '05, in New Jersey, is strangely reminiscent of the winning field corn exhibit at the Oley Fair, below. And it raises some of the same ambiguities of concept...of course, the corn actually is just that, field corn, and cannot be much else, unless you live in an area where, on Mischief Night, teens drive by and pelt the side of your house with shelled field corn...so it sounds like a mini tommy-gun.

Link to War & Peace '05: http://www.lambertvillepeace.org/artshow2005/

In Shoots, however, the shape is much more ambiguous as far as its actual form and meaning. Is it a group of bullets; an arsenal? Or is it simply some benign rows of grass, a meadow, or other growing thing? Don't both growing things and instruments of violence have a certain potential power inherent within them? I love this shape, because it can become SO many things, depending on slight changes of context, surface, color or composition. It could even be a stick of lipstick. Even so, everything I've mentioned holds a certain amount of power - potential or actual/kinetic. And thus I like it so: it is not just an icon, it is a polyglottal icon. It, itself, has great power too. Maybe it harks back to the ancient obelisk...which itself is related to phallic symbols, male-power and fingers-to-god. But I hope that my use of this symbol is not relegated to abuse of power, but a critique of power; sometimes by wit, sometimes by joking, sometimes by profundity. This will take some time...


Happy October! ...and new poem

Probably my favorite month of the year...and here's a "new" poem I've been working on recently:

The greens are
tired; hot's not
what it was, and
tawny skippers dip and
quiver on their gathering,
swan-song way;
short-lived things and
things with little life
yet left surround me:
but this is exuberant
dying: an exquisite
death that sparkles,
spins, and toasts its
own demise of

(c) P. Timothy Gierschick II

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