The Nerds May Save Us All

There’s nerds and then there’s nerds.  The above ‘PSA’ from Portlandia makes the distinction well.  It’s a distinction that I suspect may be the savior of culture both popular and critical.  The preceding statement might sound a bit inflated, but I’ll explain.

Post Modernism has been around for a long time – long enough for us to hate using the word and for it to mostly remind us of horrible interior decorating.  And though we’ve largely moved beyond many of Post Modernism’s tenants (arguably), one aspect notably remains as a sort of white elephant legacy: not saying what we mean or saying a lot to say nothing at all.  Maybe its due to Post-Structuralism and Derrida, or a hyper-sensitivity to hierarchy and imposition.  Regardless, at times it feels as if critical discourse avoids saying anything definite in order to steer clear of becoming part of some meta-narrative.  Other times it seems to eschew saying anything especially sincere to avoid being pegged as sentimental or romantic.

As can be predicted this practice flowed from theory to praxis, discourse to artwork.  If you remain skeptical, read a recent artist statement.  This typical collection of 200 or so words is like money laundering for ideas.  By the time you reach the last word its unclear where any concept came from or if there were even any actual ideas at all.  For many artists, it seems, saying anything definite about your own work is akin to “imposing your ideas and values”.  Arguably, Structuralist and Post-Strucuralist ideas that initially empowered viewers now disenfranchise artists.  This practice of saying a lot to say very little has moved from critical theory to art praxis, and now from art praxis to popular culture.

Hipster Trap in New York by Jeff Greenspan and Hunter Fine

Hipster Trap in New York by Jeff Greenspan and Hunter Fine

Thus, the rise of the hipster.  Of course the term hipster has been around since the beat generation.  However, we’re speaking about the term’s most recent bearer: the Brooklyn-dwelling, beard growing, bike-peddling, vintage-retro-everything, lumberjack lookalikes.  This is an unfair stereotype but it is helpful.  What ultimately characterizes the definition-elusive hipster is a tongue-in-cheek eclecticism.

A hipster’s taste in music and clothing, for example, can be a bit difficult to pin down – it spans time, styles, cultures.  A common thread in hipster preferences, however, is a shade of irony.  At times, it seems, a hipster doesn’t like a particular book or album, but instead likes liking it.  Even hipster humor is often colored with such deflection, sarcasm a prominent trait.  For example, during the 2012 election I saw a pro-Obama shirt made for hipsters.  It read: “I Love Mitt Romney”.  Also consider the recently popularized terms Hipster Racism and Hipster Sexism.  They are techniques to parade one’s open-mindedness and tolerance by acting racist or sexist…ironically, of course.

Early on, the hipster preoccupation with pop-culture present and past associated the bunch with nerds who shared a similar preoccupation.  Beyond this similarity, though, (and the appropriation of “nerd fashion”) the two are especially disparate groups.  Indeed, their respective approaches to and relationships with popular culture are diametrically opposed.

Hipsters are eclectic in their taste but it cannot be described as pastiche – the various sources aren’t celebrated but the eclecticism itself is.  Hipster preoccupation and reworking of pop-culture is little more than a superficial affectation.  Nerds, on the other hand, unabashedly love their pop-culture object of attention.  Yes, it may be a nerd’s defining characteristic – sincere obsession.

Nerds, hipsters, or Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly?

Nerds, hipsters, or Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly?

Consider the related Japanese group and term otaku.  In Japan otaku are occasionally collectively defined by a certain social awkwardness.  Predominantly, however, otaku are characterized by their obsessive interests.  While otaku originally referred to intense fans of manga and anime, the term’s scope has since widened to include various interests.

Nerds and otaku share some similarities, two of which can be especially important to the future of art theory.

(1) Both are social groups marginalized because of their intense unguarded affection for their respective pop-cultural obsessions.  The otaku/nerd way of interacting with pop-culture and culture in general stands in direct opposition with much of contemporary art.  The otaku/nerd attributes of sincere affection, obsession, and even a certain disconnect from social reality stands in stark contrast to the cynicism, sarcasm, and reticence to make statements that are categorical and/or heartfelt.  Despite their glaring differences certain attributes of nerd and otaku culture are increasingly pervading contemporary art through a certain ‘trickle-up’ effect.

(2) Both terms – “nerd” and “otaku” – had pejorative beginnings that are steadily changing.  It may be no coincidence that both terms were perhaps most disparaging in the early to mid-1980’s – Postmodernism’s zenith.  Regardless, both terms are being progressively seen as positive, people more often self-identifying as one or both.  This is important because it may be pointing to a trend and shift.  Just as Postmodernism’s cynicism traveled from critical theory to art praxis and finally to pop culture, Nerd/Otaku Earnestness is already traveling from pop culture to art praxis, and may eventually make its way into critical theory – trickle-up.

Digital and net art may serve as the mediator between pop culture and critical theory for this Nerd/Otaku type earnestness.  Rather than rejecting or resisting the spectacle many such artists embrace it.  Given, pop artists embraced pop culture in their own way.  However, a new generation of artists embrace pop culture until it says “okay, I can’t breathe, you’re squeezing too hard”, then embrace it further.  The medium’s obsession with pop and net culture seems to simultaneously be an affectation and sincere.  The existence is paradoxical, confusing and exciting.

Perhaps digital art may eventually move beyond its initial obsessions and onto more prescient issues.  Many would say that it already has.  Regardless, my personal hope is that soon it may move beyond digital art into other media and finally into the way we think about art and art making.  I am pleased that we’ve left sentimentality behind with the Romantics and left grandiosity behind with the Modernists.  I think it’s now time to leave cynicism behind with the Post Modernists.

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ART AT BAY Features: Johniene Papandreas

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Massachusetts based artist, Johniene Papandreas, creates large-scale paintings inspired by classical masters, such as Gustave Courbet. With the use of pictorial drama and theatrics, Papandreas aims to illuminate the inner psyche of each of her subjects. In so doing, Johniene reveals what it is to be human.

Papandreas works from photographs and observation by painting thin layers of casein paint — a paint derived from milk or soy protein — on muslin.

You can view more of Johniene’s work at: www.voy-art.com

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Misgivings and Reassurance in Contemporary Painting

We had been driving through Alligator Alley for about an hour suffering just a bit of art fair hangover and reviewing everything we had seen.  After relating a series of paintings at NADA that I had especially liked, my wife asked, “So what in particular did you like about it?”  I found myself fumbling for words and muttering something about composition.

I suppose a lot in regards to personal taste and judging art is intuitive.  It’s difficult to always be explicitly conceptual.  This line of thinking, though, spared me from needing to articulate my opinion save for when it came time write.  For some time I’ve had some nagging thoughts in connection with contemporary painting, and this line of thinking spared me from the need to articulate them.  Well, it’s come time to write.

Misgivings

It’s unclear whether the bias is personal or professional, but for the past several months my preference has leaned heavily toward painting.  I feel the need to say that plainly; I’m not picking on the medium.  Really, it is difficult to find a medium that has had a more caustic relationship with critical theorists and post-modern thought.  At its best it seems painting is perpetually on the cusp of being declared dead.  At its worst it is the receiver of outright rejection familiar to neo-expressionism.  Almost fundamentally the medium seems contrary to a post-modern sensibility.  Thus its current popularity (both personally and generally) is a bit surprising.

Miami’s 2013 NADA and Untitled Fairs definitely made clear that an increasingly expressive painting style is gaining traction.  Each booth seemingly showcased individual styles and characteristics unique to a single hand.  It is difficult to imagine that somehow the art will be separated from the artist.  Will we see critical praise of artwork double as personal praise of a singular talent?  Essentially, I wonder if a more expressive style of art and medium will be accompanied by a return of emphasis on authorship.  Though it would seem unavoidable, I honestly hope not.

It’s tricky severing the brushstrokes from its gesture and the gesture from the mind of the artist.  I don’t want to be presumptuous but privileging one would seem to privilege them all.  Admittedly, a lot of post-modern thought on hegemony, hierarchy, privilege, authorship, and the individual is severely overwrought.  However, I do appreciate the way in which it drastically shifted attention away from the artist and instead toward the artwork.  This shift was seriously overdue and an idea I believe it would be unwise to part with.  Superficially at least, it would appear this new sort of expressive painting could work contrary to the relatively balanced view of authorship achieved over the last three decades.

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Rebecca Morris
Untitled (#05-13), 2013
oil on canvas
79 x 79 in.

This painting style, so-called New Casualism orProvisional Painting(depending on which publication you read), is more than just expressive.  It is a sort of anti-aesthetic, but not quite in the irreverent vein of Dada.  Rather, these artists presumably explore value in imperfection, incompleteness, the meta-narrative of painting art history, and anything really outside the bounds of typical 2D training.  In the Brooklyn Rail article lending the style its name, Sharon L. Butler says, “The idea is to cast aside the neat but rigid fundamentals learned in art school and embrace everything that seems to lend itself to visual intrigue—including failure.”

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Raoul De Keyser
Crossing, 2010
gesso and oil on canvas mounted on wooden panel
12 5/8 x 12 4/5 in.

However, this idea presents two troublesome possibilities.  First, perhaps the shift in painting accompanied by New Casualism doesn’t carry the weight it hopes to and is merely the ugly becoming attractive, or not breaking the rules but just playing by a different set.  This would be like the sudden shift of 1990’s fashion from ugly to chic.  I suppose what I’m suggesting is that it may be that this sort of painting is not exploring new conceptual/theoretical territory but superficial aesthetic nuances – an art ‘movement’ operating more akin to a fashion world on canvas.  It is an especially Tumblr-friendly aesthetic.  This particularly makes me uneasy with the thought that despite what the artist statement may say there maybe little depth beyond the work as a simple image/commodity for the info-economies that is social networking.

The second troubling possibility is this: the only difference between bad painting and New Casualism may be an MFA and a well written artist statement.  I’m familiar with the trope that one must first know the rules before breaking them.  Still, I can’t help but suspect that too much value is being allowed to piggyback an MFA into New Casualist painting.  Both bad practice and New Casualism disregard conventions of painting and one might comment that the artist’s intention separates the two.  However, I feel a frank inspection would reveal that, in reality, working from within a system academicizing art is really what privileges the painter here, not intention.  An “outsider”/self-taught artist intentionally disregarding painting conventions and art history will hardly be considered a New Casualist and somehow this seems wrong.

In the October 2013 Artforum article Pardon My French, Thierry de Duve speaks about an idea which arrived with the 1960’s that “if anything and everything can be art, chances are that anyone can be an artist.”  While this sort of optimism may have since waned, its legacy may be an inclusivity that largely characterizes contemporary practice.  I won’t go so far as to say that a New Casualist style of painting threatens this inclusivity.  However, it does seem to work contrary to it.  Perhaps the relatively recently increased emphasis and value placed on MFA programs is partly an Apollonian swing away from this 1960’s utopian inclusivity.  Still, it seems paradoxical for a style to disregard convention yet still privilege an intellectual class.

Another post-modern precept that much of contemporary painting seems to operate in opposition to is the idea of the art object.  Arguably, the increasing commodification of art led to a reaction from many artists to create work that is less…commodity-ish.  I suppose it seems a lot of a commodity appears to be tied up in its physical objectness – an object that can physically be obtained, owned, sold, and bought.  Thus, perhaps naturally, a popular reaction was to eschew the physical nature of art in favor of its conceptual one.  Culminating, of course, in conceptualism, much of current painting seems unconcerned with this aspect of contemporary art.  Little else embodies collecting, the art market, and capitalism in art than painting.  Its small size, though I do like it, only seems to add a “collect-them-all” appeal to the art form.  It may be recalled that perhaps a small reason Neo-Expressionism faded as it did was that the movement was partially perceived as a sort of market manipulation by Charles Saatchi; he was at least thought to have believed the medium lent itself well to it.  Perhaps, this should serve as a cautionary tale to New Casualism.

Finally, I should mention Jerry Saltz’ scathing article on the same style (which he curiously calls ‘Neo-Mannerism’).  Of course there was the expected rancor from the painting community, in which I can be included.  We may both have misgivings about the same painting style (though I’d characterize Jerry’s misgivings as ‘complaints’), we have misgivings about very different aspects of that style.  Saltz takes issue with the aesthetics of New Casualism, which I admittedly like.  Thus, I was disappointed that he didn’t offer visual examples of his visual criticisms.

I suppose the bulk of my misgivings are rooted in the feeling that a great deal of contemporary painting may be ignoring some of the best thought to come out of art and theory over the last several decades.  I really don’t mean for that to sound so heavy-handed or dramatic.  I don’t reckon that if my misgivings are in fact true this is some sort of regression that perhaps may have been the case with Neo-Expressionism and the Transavantgarde.  Rather, hopefully, may it merely be a temporary conceptual laziness.  Still, perhaps my misgivings are just ill-founded and badly interpreted.  Contemporary painting – New Casualism and Provisionalism – offer several reassurances.

Reassurances

It’s tempting to tie moody dramatic brush strokes to ideas of modernism too often.  Contemporary painting is characterized by a similar stroke.  However, it’s very unlikely there is any considerable amount of Greenbergian thought behind it.  Really, “expressionistic”, a term I used earlier, could be wholly inaccurate.  It may be that such a brush stroke doesn’t refer to the singular vision or experience but to the physical body itself.

The painterly, the “expressionistic” brush stroke in contemporary painting is likely more often a documentation of the hand that left it.  This may signal a return of interest in the body.  Of course this should be expected.  In an increasingly virtual world, the function of the physical body within it is becoming increasingly murky.  Painting lends itself especially well to exploring physical concerns, specifically through such brush strokes that suggest the bodily mechanics that create them.

Regardless, it might not be so bad for painting to return to considering the individual.  Maybe not the artist as individual, but the collective idea of the individual in general.  Art has been preoccupied with its own market and politics for so long that a change of scope may be in order. I can’t tell if I’m getting bored with it or just emotionally tired, but a more intimate subject matter could definitely be welcome.  It may in turn lead toward the elusive balance of a personal artwork that steers clear of sentimentality.

Another apprehension with contemporary painting that I mentioned earlier is its objectness, a worrying regression to the art object.  The multitude of available pieces, the ease of display and exhibition has always made painting ideal for art collecting, contemporary painting perhaps especially so.  The fear of painting’s descent into a simple economic commodity is understandable.  However, the 2010’s are very different from the 1960’s.

Originally, Conceptualism was partly a reaction to, or at least immediately preceded by an art market that reveled in high-priced and highly collectible Abstract Expressionist painting.  New Casualism, however, is partly a reaction to, or at least immediately preceded by a bloating art market reveling in often ostentatious and enormous ‘Neo-Conceptualist’ art.  In their own ways, Conceptualism and New Casuaulism are each, in part, push-backs against the artwork and art market of their respective times.

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Barbara Rossi
Black Rock Top, 1972
Acrylic on Plexiglas with printed satin, oil on wood frame
41 x 33

It should also be noted that, to some extent, by the year 2014 artists seem to have largely made peace with the idea that regardless of intent or form, their art will likely (or even hopefully) wind up as a commodity for sale.  In the rare exceptions in which artwork does not fit in as a commodity (e.g. net art), it is usually seen more as a problem than an accomplishment, even by some of us staunchest anti-capitalists.  Today, the question isn’t so much whether or not one’s art should work from within the art market, but how it should work within that market.

The work that dominated fairs such as Basel leading up to the 2010’s (and arguably still do) were often perceived as imposing, gaudy, and glossy tokens of wealth.  It would require a considerable fortune to simply care for some of whatever formaldehyde dipped object a collector liberated Damien Hirst of.  Eventually, in light of the housing market collapse of 2008 such work could hardly avoid seeming garish.

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Jim Nutt
I’m All A TWit, 1969
acrylic reverse painting on vinyl window shade with enamel on wood

Contemporary painting perhaps reeled itself in partly as a reaction to this recession of wealth – literally as art supplies were more difficult to afford and figuratively as a reflection of a more modest market.  It may be that New Casualist/Provisionalist painting also tired of the cynicism that characterized preceding work and opted for a more intimate practice.  Further, contemporary painting appears ready to take up issues in the medium set aside since the 1970’s, but from a new vantage point.  Though it’s composed of considerably more figuration, it may be little coincidence that  artwork from the late 1960’s and 1970’s such as Funk Art, the Chicago Imagists, and “Bad” Painting visually resemble much of contemporary art.  Thus, though it may not be conceptually perfect, contemporary painting is an appropriate, even welcome, response to much of the dominant artwork that preceded it.

* * *

After reviewing my personal misgivings and reassurances with contemporary painting, a sort of convoluted pros and cons list, I’m left with no substantial judgements.  Really, I’m only left with what was perhaps always obvious: to judge and experience art individually with their larger “-ism” serving as nothing more than context.  Perhaps New Casualism’s and Provisionalism’s most glaring fault is simply the name that, for better or worse, bundles the artwork of many to be summarily judged as one body and sold as one style.

ART AT BAY Features: Cecilia Lueza

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Florida based Argentine artist Cecilia Lueza creates vibrant pieces in a varying range of artistic mediums. From traditional media like painting, drawing, and sculpture- in wood, metal, polyurethane, and ceramic- to much more recent resources, like installation and multimedia art, Lueza showcases deliberate talent, precision and upbeat compositions. Her work was recently exhibited at SCOPE Miami 2013, and in the last year she completed three public art pieces in Washington DC , Miami, and Atlanta.

To see more of her work, you can visit her website here.

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All in the Family: An Exploration of Familial Creativity

This year is off to an exciting start, in Sarasota, with an exhibition bringing together some of the most highly influential individuals within the Sarasota art community – both as artists and educators. All in the Family is exhibited in the newly established Ice House, located right down the street from the primary colored building that was once John Chamberlain’s Studio. The Ice House was established in 2013 by Alfstad& Productions, with an aim to explore new ways to engage with the art community by reimagining art, exhibition spaces, and the art market. [Disclosure: Alfstad& is a sponsor of ART AT BAY]

Tim Jaeger, who’s mission has been to foster and maintain the local arts community along with his own studio practice (so far he’s been doing an exceptional job), curated All in the Family with artistic familial relationships in mind.  All in the Family consists of Ringling College of Art & Design faculty, as well as, their sons and daughters whom are all accomplished artists – featuring installations, paintings, videos, sculptures, drawings, and prints.

Patrick Lindhardt, Untitled 2, Monotype

Patrick Lindhardt, Untitled 2, Monotype

Master printmaker Patrick Lindhardt and his son Matthew Lindhardt, whom works with photography, address landscape as subject matter, however they each approach land space in broadly differing ways. Patrick’s monochromatic Monotypes convey dramatic landscapes that poetically suggest the beginning or aftermath of environmental disturbances.  Matthew’s photographs are digitally manipulated into industrialized landscape spheres – bringing to mind the fragility and sheer power of our surroundings.

Steven Strenk and his daughter Bianca Rylee’s mixed media works exude a playful approach with colorful and energetic color pallets, inspired by the Floridian landscape. For me, Strenk’s most compelling pieces simultaneously appear to be modern kinetic sculptures and Children’s toys. Each piece looks as though they may come to life upon turning the hand crank, and similarly aesthetically pleasing as static objects. Bianca Rylee presents the viewer with a variety of artistic media including lovely embossed Monoprints with suggestive text, such as “THE ECSTASY OF INFLUENCE”.

Kevin Dean, his daughter Molly Dean, and his son Ian Dean each have a more disparate approach to art making, and yet they are equally arresting in their chosen medium. Kevin Dean’s multimedia assemblages and installations are laden with iconography and symbology – you could literally intellectually deconstruct these works for hours and you’re still left with plenty of questions. Molly’s masterfully executed paintings and illustrations inspire admiration for her highly skilled technical abilities and acute eye for design. Ian Dean’s photographs depict delightfully cluttered, colorful spaces as a clever way to describe the individual that inhabits each space, and in doing so, depicts aspects of the individual’s surroundings on a grander scale.

Mark Anderson, his son Jarrod Anderson, and his daughter Sörine Anderson are really good at creating psychologically probing pieces through their use of space, form, and material. Mark Anderson’s sculptures assert their power by the tension that is created from the details within each piece, as well as the negative space between one form and another. Jarrod Anderson creates beautifully intricate graphite drawings — fragments of his experiences and surroundings — to create visual narratives. In order to create each drawing, Jarrod coats paper with latex paint and carves into the paint with great care to reveal the underlying surface.

Sörine Anderson, If you let them, they'll destroy you, 18K gold cast finger nail shards

Sörine Anderson, If you let them, they’ll destroy you, 18K gold cast finger nail shards

With the use of metaphor, and historical and modern mythologies as a catalyst for creation, Sörine Anderson creates intriguing sculptures that look as though they could be an ancient artifact. In this exhibition Sörine’s pieces include a melted candle made of glass, a human jaw with lead teeth, and 18K gold cast finger nail clippings.

What a pleasure to experience a show that celebrates such important figures within the Sarasota art community and the gifts that have been passed down to their children, and shared to enrich the community as a whole. Furthermore, I am delighted by the fact that the Ice House makes available a beautiful  large space that proves to give artists’ the opportunity to utilize it to its full potential, as well as give artists the ability to get quite ambitious with their medium of choice – or offer enough space for quiet contemplation.  I’m looking forward to observing Ice House’s development and impact on the arts. Welcome to the neighborhood!

All in the Family runs through Sunday, January 19th from 12 pm – 6 pm. There will be a presentation by Kevin Dean entitled “The History of Artist Relationships”, January 15th, 7-8:30 pm and a panel discussion and Q&A session with the artists on January 16th, 7-8:30 pm (both not to be missed!). Curator Tim Jaeger will be the moderator.

The Ice House is located two blocks east of Tamiami Trail, 1314 10th Street, Sarasota, FL. For more information about All in the Family and upcoming exhibitions you can visit:

www.icehouseon10th.com

[Support Our Sponsors!] Sarasota Contemporary: Selby Gallery and Alfstad&

Selby Gallery

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Huguette Despault May, Umbilicals, 2009, 50″ X 38″

Ringling College’s Selby Gallery presents its newest exhibit Glass and Charcoal: The Art of Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May through February 12.  The dual exhibition is an expert exercise in contrast using differences in medium and aesthetic to explore similar subject matter.  Artist Kathleen Elliot often works in glass depicting plant like structures.  She says of her work for the exhibition:

“Each imaginary botanical has its own story and its own meaning. Works in this series explore a wide range of subjects from female sexuality, to dancers and infants, to the idea of botanical life in alternate realities. Personal growth and development are continuing themes, and a number of pieces have arisen from imagining the emotional phenomena in our lives in botanical imagery.”

On the other hand, the work of Huguette Despault May is often found in two dimensions – elegant charcoal drawings.  Regarding her work and the exhibit, May comments:

“I chose imagery of knotted or twisted rope to help me describe the felt but unexpressed visceral world of the mind/body. These surrogate “bodies” seemed fitting metaphors for the tension, frayed nerves and entanglements that we inevitably experience as human beings. Use of distortion and exaggerated scale help evoke less pedestrian associations with my subject while enticing viewers to linger with the sensual qualities of surface and medium.” – Huguette May

Glass and Charcoal: The Art of Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May will be on view through February 12.  Luncheon & Artist Talk with Preview: Thurs., Jan. 16, 11:30 am (Call 941.359.7563 for reservations.)  Opening reception Friday January 17, 5-7 pm.  Director’s Tour Monday, January 27, 11:30 am.  Selby Gallery is located on the Ringling College of Art and Design campus, one-half block east of 2700 N. Tamiami Trail on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Sarasota.  Hours are Monday – Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, and Tuesday, 10:00 Am – 7:00 PM.

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Sarasota boasts another exciting venue for contemporary art with an exciting group exhibit: All in the Family at IceHouse.  The complexities and nuances of modern family life have been a rich subject matter for contemporary art.  However, curator Tim Jaeger tackles the subject with an interesting approach.  All in the Family explores the dynamics of familial relationships by actually bringing the family (of artists) into the gallery.  The artwork of fathers and their children will be exhibited alongside each other.  Specifically, the All in the Family will feature the work of Mark Anderson and his son Jarrod Anderson; Kevin Dean and his daughter and son, Molly Dean and Ian Dean; Patrick Lindhardt and his son Matthew Lindhardt; and Steve Strenk and his daughter Bianca Rylee.

It is easy to see the conceptual potential in such a show.  For example, artist Mark Anderson says, “In families, as in art, relations are activated by the spaces between us, how we touch, each of us balanced by the other.”  These similarities between family dynamics and the dynamics in art are an especially interesting territory that isn’t neglected by the artists.  participating artist Kevin Dean says, “So many children of artists become artists it suggests that artists are often born and not made.”

However, beyond investigating the inner workings of the family, children and parents also provide mutual inspiration for artwork.   “My relationship to my children has been influential to my love for playful, active art. Heck, toys are creative!”, artist Steve Strenk says, for example.

All in the Family will be on view January 10 through 19.  The exhibit is produced by Alfstad& – a Sarasota based production company with a special talent for artwork and art exhibits.  Explaining the ampersand in the name, the company says, “While Sam [Alfstad] represents the “Alfstad” part of Alfstad&, it is the “&” part of the name that is most important. That begins with Casey Alfstad and Keith Alvarado, who manage the studio and oversee day-to-day business operations. But & are also the artists, designers, producers, curators, fabricators, animators, technologists, videographers and writers who create Alfstad&-branded products. Each will be fully credited, and listed in on-piece documentation.

ART AT BAY Presents: Jenny Sharaf

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I want my work to be academic and fun. I’m a people-pleaser and I think that my art operates the same way. I like things that are pretty, but a bit naughty. I like art with substance, that could also be admired with just a look.

San Fransisco,California- Jenny Sharaf’s versatility and pristine execution is hard to dismiss. While she seems to be interested in a progressive outlook (one that might be just appreciated by some people), she also appeals to a kind of ‘universal’ beauty, which appeals to all. Her colorful compositions reference an old school vibe, perhaps late 50’s,  early 60’s abstraction, yet also alludes to a sophisticated Microsoft Paint, glitch art aesthetic.

Although painting seems to be her main go-to medium, the artist does works within a multidisciplinary practice that includes painting, collage, and video.  In her more technological driven works, Sharaf’s femininity shines through her choices; in many occasions she uses images of past female sex symbols to create flashy and hypnotic compositions that allude to her paintings’ aesthetic in an interesting way.

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ART AT BAY Presents: Steven Kenny

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St.Petersburg, FLSteven Kenny‘s amazing portraits are a devout homage to old-school portraiture and the bizarre.  The surreal landscapes and the 17th century attire, the placements of dangerous animals in the presence of royal-looking children, and the outlandish but beautiful headdresses are all things that Kenny purposely installs in his artwork in order to intrigue, provoke and install imagination upon spectators.

According to the artist, these bizarre juxtapositions are to be read in two ways:

The first alludes to the fact that we are an integral part of the natural world and subject to its laws. This seems like an obvious statement until we step back and objectively assess our symbiotic relationship with each other and the Earth. Depending on your perspective, these relationships fall somewhere on the scale between harmonious and dysfunctional.

The second turns the lens around to look inward upon the stewardship of our own emotional, intellectual and psychological landscapes. The same pictorial subject matter allows me to make references to our individual journeys of self-exploration and discovery. Again, depending on who is holding the compass, we are either lost or on the right path.


To check out more of his work, you can visit his website or purchase his 24-page art book through here.

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ART AT BAY Best of 2013: Top 5 Things I Didn’t Care About in 2013

Epson_QX10_Sep1983I realize, now that I’ve actually written this article, that I’ve basically made a list of things that don’t deserve to be on an end-of-year list and the effort on a whole may be counterproductive.  But it ends here.  Though I personally lost interest in these five topics over the course of 2013, they nevertheless seemed to continually fetch art news headlines and even found their way onto my own Twitter/Facebook feed (I’m powerless against reposting this stuff.)  Thus, I’m getting it out now and leaving it here in 2013.

5.  Art Review’s Power 100

Art Review Magazine annually produces the Power 100, “a ranked list of the contemporary artworld’s most powerful figures.”  With this year’s omission of any art writers and critics, I thought I could muster some passion over this one.  I couldn’t.  Like many people, I gave it shot and still don’t really care about the list.  In the end, perhaps the worst thing for the Power 100 isn’t for people to disagree with it, but for no one to pay attention.

In some sense the list may be entirely accurate.  However, it seems to often come across as a cheat sheet of people to whom you should suck up.  In a field especially preoccupied with power dynamics, post-colonialism, race politics, and gender politics a list of the “artworld’s most powerful figures” seems like a horrible idea.  I suspect many give it attention because of its list and ranking format (who can resist a good list? Hence the format of this series).  Maybe the ranking’s name should be more specific: “The Power 100 for Dealers and Collectors”.  Personally, I’d rather see a list of people making the best most exciting contributions to contemporary art.

4.  Banksy’s New York Residency

“Better Out Than In”, Street Artist Banksy’s month-long New York City “residency”, took place this past October.  For the duration of the month, Banksy would create a street art installation and announce it on his website the next day.  Despite the hefty press coverage (you know it’s serious when CNN calls in Jerry Saltz to explain the matter), my attention level hardly rose above ‘bored’.

Banksy’s work invests itself with little more than empty wit.  Satisfied with good intentions and little forethought, his street art pieces are conceptual one-liners.  They are funny or interesting at first but offer little beyond an initial reaction.  There is a lot of street art with substantial thought and concept behind it (e.g. check out the work of Mata Ruda) – Banksy’s isn’t it.  For all of the finger-poking at art-world-economics, Banksy seems to ignore the fact that his work is worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  He essentially leaves a fortune in public and politely excuses himself from the inevitable feeding frenzy – it’s either naive or irresponsible.  This doesn’t make me angry as much as it informs me that Banksy is not an artist worth taking seriously.

3.  ArtPrize

ArtPrize is a city-wide art fair held annually in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The fair is a giant competition with two main prizes: a popular prize and a critical one.  It’s easy to foresee what kind of art typically wins the popular vote prize: like politics, it’s hardly ever the most deserving and almost always the easiest on the sensibilities.  The juried prize feels like an afterthought, a last-ditch effort at salvaging credibility.  Indeed, the prize monies seem to reflect this.  The total juried prize is less than half the size of the total popular prize. Maybe ArtPrize condones a short-attention-span-coddling sort of art.  It definitely makes for a boring fair dominated by gimmick and kitsch.

2.  Celebrity Art

2013 seems to heretofore seen more celebrities involved with art more than any other year.  I’m not blanketly condemning celebrities practicing in fine art.  But a rapper rapping at a gallery?  A movie star sleeping at the MoMA?!  I don’t call my day job performance art.  It’s a sad day when one can accurately call James Franco the hardest working celebrity in art.

I suppose the point is that all of this art is interesting because these “artists” are famous.  However, their fame is minimally to never addressed in the work.  Thus, these “pieces” are robbed of the very little they had going for it in the first place.  It’s a waste of time, attention, and exhibition space; it’s a regression in fame and class; it’s boring.  Please, celebrities: really give art the ol’ college try or just stick to your field of entertainment.

1. Art Auctions

Despite all of the price tag record-setting, self-congratulatory press releases, and art news headlines, 2013 is the year I stopped caring about high-end art auctions.  I’m not saying this out of some anti-capitalist sentiment.  Not entirely.  Sales for a single work of art reaching into the tens and even hundreds of millions is meaningless to a middle class person like me.  My daily life provides me with absolutely no points of reference that shed light on what $142.4 Million dollars means.  Saying that amount is about the same as 783 of my mortgages doesn’t help very much.

Further, when it comes to art auctions the conversation is typically limited to topics such as ‘who is purchasing the piece?’, ‘how much are they paying for it?’, and ‘where is the piece going?’  These may possibly be the most boring and trivial aspects of a work of art.  I’m also concerned that continuing to tout these absurdly high auction earnings only ensures that the art world will be the first against the wall in the upcoming homeless revolution.

ART AT BAY Best of 2013: This Year’s…Was Last Year’s…and Will Be Next Year’s…

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It’s a fun exercise: looking at trends over the past couple years and predicting how they’ll take shape in the coming one.  I suspect many feel similarly in hoping that art is some how above the sort of trend cycle fashion is subject to.  Still, some cycles are persistent.  Thus, it’s easy for this sort of thing to degenerate into a Joan Rivers style snark party.  To that end, I’ve included some lessons I’ve learned from the review and goals of personal improvement as an art appreciator.

This year’s James Turrell was last year’s Gerhard Richter and will be next year’s Paul McCarthy

Gerhard Richter and James Turrell are artists that have enjoyed a largely pleasant relationship with the art world for considerable portions of their respective careers.  However, over the course of a year the said art world seems to have overshot love and landed in obsession with each artist – a sort of reputation bubble, minus the popping.  It seemed, for a bit at least, Richter’s paintings couldn’t sell for enough then Turrell’s reviews couldn’t stop short of orgasmic.  So who’s up next?

I predict Paul McCarthy reluctantly.  “Reluctantly” because two other people would’ve nearly been a better fit.  Frank Lloyd Wright has upcoming exhibitions at both the MoMA and Guggenheim – that sort of cosmic alignment slash institutional validation is often all that’s needed to precipitate an art world freak out.  Additionally, the work of Mike Kelley has deservedly been gathering momentum over the past couple years.  It’s difficult to not tumble into thinking about what he would have accomplished had he been alive.  Regardless, he would’ve likely been one of the most important working artists for years to come.  That said, I went with Paul McCarthy because of the similar point in his career and his two high-profile pieces during 2013 – his giant balloon dog at Frieze and saucy Snow White of ‘WS’.  In the past McCarthy’s work may have perhaps been too irreverent to ever characterize him as an art world darling.  However, both of these pieces were both very well received.  If 2014 sees a genuinely great piece from McCarthy, he may enjoy the same critical near-infallibility recently afforded to Turrell and Richter.

The lesson I learn here is to be wary of getting caught up in my own words and the words of others.  These artists all create great work.  However, as a writer in a world of sound bytes and hasty judgement its easier to repeat whats heard than generate new discussion.

This year’s Bushwick was last year’s Williamsburg and will be next year’s Ridgewood

I believe the rise in awareness of hipsters can partly be tied to Williamsburg’s popularity.  The neighborhood is not unlike Haight-Ashbury to the hippies, just much less romantic and much more ironic.  Though the tide of hipsters hasn’t waned, gentrification has pushed back (though an argument can be made that hipsterdom is gentrification).  Many art galleries obviously arrived to Williamsburg with the low (relatively speaking) rent and influx of creatives.  Perhaps partially due to the aforementioned gentrification some importance in Brooklyn visual arts has since shifted to Bushwick.  Some of the off-Manhattan NYC art world already seems to be seeping into Queens.  Specifically, Ridgewood may soon find itself the inheritor of a considerable portion of Brooklyn’s art scene.  The recent closure of 3rd Ward is definitely ominous for those clinging to Kings county.

I mention this all because we have Tampa Bay neighborhoods that we hold dear.  Though the sluggish real estate market spares us from the sort of gentrification chasing the creative community out-of-town in New York, we aren’t spared entirely.  Last year’s battle between Seminole Heights’ locals and the Family Dollar chain highlighted this issue.  Perhaps more importantly, it underscored the nature of the fight and the near impossibility of artists ever winning in the long-term.  The way the rules are set, we are necessarily an exodus-prone bunch.  The rise and fall of New York’s neighborhoods illustrate this clearly.  The struggle against gentrification and being pushed out needs to start early and be thoroughly tenacious or just not be struggled against at all.

This year’s Marina Abramovic was last year’s Damien Hirst and will be next year’s…I have no idea.

This is a very specific sort of artist/set of circumstances and is why I didn’t think I could make this prediction well.  It requires a  respected artist making a series of poorly regarded decisions, followed by one surprisingly bad one.  Remember Hirst’s multi-Gagosian solo exhibit (aka Art Scavenger Hunt for the Rich)?  This year Abramovic produced a gala performance that seemed to unnecessarily denigrate the performers.  Her piece “The Artist is Present” seemed powerful to some, pretentious to others – caused uncontrollable crying in both.  Finally, there is her collaboration with Jay-Z – a marathon performance of his song Picasso, Baby.  However implausible, the performance seemed to cheapen both performance art and hip hop simultaneously.  This was followed by a Kickstarter project that was largely viewed as borrowing from the poor to build a vanity institution.  In the eyes of many, this left Marina at the end of the year bereft of much of the authenticity she had at the beginning of 2013.

Though I sincerely hate seeing reputations take a tumble like this, they are inevitable.  Thus, who has set themselves up to make a surprisingly bad call in 2014?  Well, the nature of it makes this prediction difficult.  Part of what makes these decisions so bad is that they come from artists that we were sure knew better.  That’s why Jeff Koons wouldn’t fit the prediction.  We weren’t surprised by his boring and tasteless Lady Gaga album cover.  Had Cindy Sherman, for example, produced that cover, we’d have next year’s prediction.

The lesson I learn here is that authenticity is valuable.  Further, authenticity squandered draws the ire of the critical art world.  Remaining authentic may be difficult but ultimately leads to success…whatever that is.

This year’s “sloppy” abstraction was last year’s geometric forms and will be next year’s figuration

No more crystalline shapes, no more stripes.  There was a moment in the recent past when you could not throw a stone at an art fair without hitting a triangle on a canvas.  This is the bizarre world of painting, where shapes fall in and out of style.  Seriously, though, this at least gave way to the paradoxically sloppy yet well thought out abstraction that seemed to dominate painting this year.  More importantly it made painting in general interesting once again.  Artists and viewers alike seem ready to explore the nuances of the medium, to take the medium seriously in a way that hasn’t been done in a very long time.  I may sound like I’m overstating it, but I don’t think I am.

It is because of this more deliberate approach that I think that fans of the medium are ready to consider figuration again.  For a long time figuration has been a sort of conceptual obscenity in painting.  Thus, I’m excited for its return.  This is the prediction I’m probably most confident with.  I’m pretty sure before you get to Miami in 2014 you can say something like “NADA is definitely going to be dominated by figurative/representational painting this year” and not look like a fool.  If I end up being totally off, send me angry email –  I’ll promptly read it delete it.

The lesson I learned here is how much a medium can conceptually blossom once given the consideration it’s due.  Great art seems to be the product of an animated give and take, the result of boring things like accountability, refinement, conversations, practice, persistence.