Workshop-as-Collaborator: Uncommon Practice at the Tampa Museum of Art

1660596_10151870842296447_802949080_nUncommon Practice sees an overdue collaboration between two of Tampa’s principal art institutions: Graphicstudio and the Tampa Museum of Art.   Opening its doors over forty-five years ago, Graphicstudio is a workshop and studio based on the University of South Florida campus that has developed a reputation for making advancements in printing and innovative approaches.  A number of legendary artists – from Rauschenberg and Rosenquist to Mapplethorpe, Marclay, and Close – have collaborated with the studio to create their artwork.  It’s this important word – collaboration – that proves to move the exhibition beyond a simple survey of an atelier.

It’s thus that Uncommon Practice, curated by Jade Dellinger, avoids all of the potential pitfalls. Though it includes some of the latter half of the twentieth century’s most recognizable artists, it never simply becomes a parade of art celebrities. Neither does it afford undue attention to Graphicstudio’s boast-worthy technical skill and expertise. Rather, Uncommon Practice sharpens its focus on the products and potential of great collaboration.  The atelier works at expanding on an artist’s vision and giving it new vehicles through which it can evolve.

While perhaps not as dramatic as the larger pieces within the exhibition, this role of workshop-as-collaborator was especially striking for me in the work of Iva Gueorguieva.  Her particularly complex compositions can often be tied to her work’s process and materials, her mix of painting and collage.  However, Gueorguieva’s pieces that are included in the exhibition feature some techniques new to her work, some even new to her.  Smartly, they don’t appear as impositions on her overall body of work but instead add depth to it.  Gueorguieva’s 51 ½ inch by 35 ½ inch print collage piece Rolling Anvil, for example, is distinctly hers.  Yet, it has textural qualities (as well as color choice) unique to this work, thanks in part to its direct gravure, woodblock, and silkscreen components.  (See the piece here.)

On the other hand, printmaking in a more conventional form plays a sort of conceptual role in Allan McCollum’s Each and Everyone of You.  Created in 2004, McCollum researched the 600 most common female names and 600 most common male names according to the US census bureau, printed each name individually as white text in a black field, and finally framed all 1,200.  The names hung as an enormous grid at the center of the museum’s second floor galleries.

Though the digital ink jet printing process is fairly straightforward and common, it plays an integral role in the artwork’s conceptual weight.  Walking beside Each and Everyone of You, the installation quickly reveals a strange contrast.  The pragmatic challenges met by the artist and studio in creating a large number of pieces that are unique yet mass-produced perhaps reflects the much more personal sociological challenge of asserting and holding onto individual identity within an ocean of others.  You can see this on a smaller and comparatively trivial scale hearing others invariably whisper “I can’t find my name” while scanning the prints.

Elsewhere in Uncommon Practice the work of Christian Marclay seems to interact with Abstract Expressionism – a style not often associated contemporary art nor print workshops.  Still, the pieces feel as if they are executed with both wit and weight.  This visual connection to Abstract Expressionism is most explicit in the two pieces Splorch Splash and Whoop Swoooosh Spish.  The pieces are two proper abstract paintings on paper.  However, printed over the paintings are onomatopoeias  as the act of painting may have sounded had the work  been vocalized; these are works of art if they had existed in a comic book universe.  Further, here we may find Marclay’s clever way of giving a nod to both a school of thought and its antithesis.  Further, like in much of Marclay’s work, the artist explores ways in which sound can be incorporated in visual art, and maybe unintentionally highlight how much it had been overlooked in the past.

For many, a highlight of the exhibition will likely be Christian Marclay’s Allover (Rush, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others) [see the image featured in the TMA banner above].  At over four feet high and eight feet long, Allover is an especially large cyanotype – a bright blue and white composition similar in appearance and process to blueprints.  Cassette tapes and their insides of musicians listed in the title are strewn about the composition.  The artist names on the cassettes (some of them visible in the print) and the physical means playback definitely recall the music behind the print (and personally remind me of sitting by my stereo, lovingly creating hours of mixtapes.)  However in some ways, this piece to seems to vaguely point back to Abstract Expressionism.  The long strips of magnetic tape criss-cross the print as if confidently flung off the end of brush.  Allover’s imposing size is also reminiscent of the style’s expansive canvases.  Yet, instead of pained and personal brushstrokes, Marclay’s print is made from layers of unexposed paper left over from pop music cassettes.

These are only three artists of the forty-five included, just few of the artworks of over 100 in Uncommon Practice.  Yet, the examples of Gueorguieva, McCollum, and Marclay illustrate Graphicstudio’s inventiveness, not only in terms of craft but conceptually as well.  They also demonstrate the potential of artists and artwork tapped when provided great collaboration and support.

Warhol Meets Dali…Again

warhol and dali

David McCabe, Salvador Dali and Andy at the St. Regis Hotel, New York

Whether it was to make an awkward situation even stranger, or to simply give them each an excuse to not bother speaking, Salvador Dali was playing opera music at an extremely loud volume during his initial meeting with Andy Warhol.  Further adding to the bizarre tension was a feral cat Dali had picked up earlier in the day.  I can only image the animal restlessly stalking the St. Regis Hotel room, likely agitated by Dali’s attempts to hold it and addled by the blaring music.  All of this, however, was simply scene setting.  Eventually Dali lifted a large Incan headdress, placed it on Warhol’s head and posed beside him for David McCabe, the photographer that had accompanied Andy.  McCabe later related that Warhol was “guzzling back wine”, one of the very few times he saw the artist drink.  The scene – and I mean ‘scene’ in an entirely theatrical sense – illustrates the shared preoccupations yet widely disparate approaches of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.

Dali and Warhol meet again via museum and exhibit, this time without the cringe-inducing antics.  Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. is a very new sort of exhibit for the Salvador Dali Museum in a number of ways.  It is the first solo exhibit of its kind for the museum otherwise dedicated to the singular Spanish artist.  Also, I don’t think it would be unfair to describe both Dali and Warhol as 20th century art history behemoths, the first time the work of such icons both inhabited this venue.  However, Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. doesn’t end with these superlatives.

Perhaps it’s the nature of his practice, but Warhol was obviously an especially prolific artist and his work can be curated in any number of ways.  Naturally, the exhibit would focus on the artists’ shared fascination with fame and mortality as well as their own personal notoriety and death.  Thankfully, for the most part, it doesn’t overstretch in making the connection or divining similarities.  Arguably, Warhol’s relationship with fame and public image is especially complex.  He seems at once to have loved and loathed the spotlight.  Art. Fame. Mortality. explores both aspects.

Biographical and more personal photographs can be found in vitrines or tucked into an alcove – they ask to be considered a bit more intimately.  The exhibit features images of Andy young, Andy in drag, Andy proto-selfies: photographs in which you wouldn’t call the artist ‘Warhol’, but just ‘Andy’.  They offer a bit of warmth  to the often cold imagery like blood under the skin.  More importantly, though, it lends some context to the exhibit that wall texts would otherwise fall short of.

That isn’t to say, however, that much of the artwork also lends itself to a bit of warmth and context.  A drawing, for example, hanging near the center of the gallery is a simple charcoal rendering of a gun with the words “HAVE GUN” above the weapon, and “WILL SHOOT” below it.  Completed about a year before his death, the drawing looks back to a time he nearly died eighteen years earlier.  In June of 1968 Warhol was shot and later that day, clinically dead before he was revived when doctors opened his chest and manually massaged his heart.  Elsewhere the stark red and black self-portrait that has become a postmodern art icon somehow feels less public.  We find a famous and aging artist meditating on his self-image and the image of his self.

For many, I may be reading personal revelations where there are none.  That’s alright.  Art. Fame. Mortality. will also please those who simply are excited to see a Warhol in person, omg!  While the exhibit relies on interesting curation, it pads it with Warhol Greatest Hits.  You’ll find Jackie and the self-portraits if you’re after them.  The exhibition even boasts an interactive component wherein “visitors will get the chance to experience “15 minutes of fame” when they star in their own screen-test video which will be emailed to them to save and share.”

However, they all lead to equally interesting lesser known work.  A suite of late career drawings hangs near the entrance of the gallery.  It was interesting to see at the exhibition’s preview some of the press surprised to learn the pieces weren’t prints, but drawn by Warhol’s hand.  Further into the exhibition a real connection between Warhol and Surrealism as the pop artist reinterprets a painting by Giorgio De Chirico.  Nearby Warhol explores abstraction in a series of canvases covered with a copper metallic pigment and adorned by a beautiful patina left from friends and acquaintances urinating on the pieces.

Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. is a successful exhibition.  It does more than bring a high-profile artist and his work to Tampa Bay.  The exhibition initially attracts with cultural icons, guiding visitors to work that may personally be new, and (hopefully) on to a deeper engagement with Andy Warhol.

Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. is on view at the Dali Museum through April 27.

Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 – Best Museum Exhibit

The Prestigious ART@BAY Cyber-Trophy

The Prestigious ART@BAY Cyber-Trophy

December brings with it the obligation of every critic to put forth in list form an unfair reductionist look-back on the year that was.  Being a responsible art blogger, I won’t beg off.

Now, I realize the ‘top-10’ list is generally the accepted format for these types of articles.  Tampa Bay, however, is not New York City – a top ten list here is nearly large enough to be called a ‘bottom ten list written in reverse order’.  For this reason I opted for the ‘Best in Category of 2012’ format.  Take heart if you or your exhibit is not mentioned here: if it makes you feel better you can assume that you would have come in second or third on my top ten list.  First we’ll tackle the year’s best museum exhibit.  That said, on with the judgements!

Best Museum Exhibit

Contemporary Prints by American Women: A Selection from the Gift of Martha and Jim Sweeny – Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Perhaps this decision is easier to understand when I emphasize that it isn’t the artist(s) under scrutiny in this category, but rather the exhibit itself.  (Although, I should mention a lot of the work was simply amazing; prints from Louise Nevelson, Vija Celmins, and Pat Steir (excuse the academic jargon) blew my mind)

There is only one aspect of the Contemporary Prints exhibit that ended up on the wrong side of my pro/con list: it was small.  The MFA’s upstairs gallery that housed the exhibit is about the size of a typical commercial gallery.  This wasn’t entirely surprising, though – the exhibit is effectively a preview of a collection in progress.  A larger exhibit is expected to be hung when that collection is complete.

This exhibition set itself apart as this year’s best by effectively accomplishing two things.  The first is its excellent presentation of the medium. The exhibit offered the prints as a medium unto itself rather than simply a means of replication.  The medium carries a tendency to be culturally undervalued, seen merely as reproductions of originals.  Contemporary Prints underscored the nuances of individual prints, the craftsmanship involved, and even the fact that some original artwork was intended to exist only as prints.

The second is highlighting women artists in the post-war period.  Women are still terribly underrepresented in museums nationwide and Bay Area institutions seemed to sadly make peace with the situation.  Thus, an exhibit that exclusively highlights the talent of contemporary women is especially welcome.  Further, the exhibit was tastefully curated emphasizing each artist’s work rather than their gender – not qualifying the art by sex in a misguided attempt to be politically correct.

In short, the exhibit was based on a thoughtful concept rather than shallow novelty, highlighting an underrepresented and often undervalued medium and artists.

Honorable Mention:

John Cage 33 1/3 – Performed By Audience, Tampa Museum of Art

John Cage 33 1/13 – Performed by Audience was by far the most fun museum art exhibit this year.  Although I may have annoyed a few museum guest, I happily sat on the couch listening to the cacophony of the four turntable I set into motion.  The exhibit is a musical score of sorts ‘written’ by John Cage.  Cage stipulates that about twelve record players be arranged in a gallery along with two to three hundred records.  Visitors are then encouraged to participate by playing the records as they see fit.

Perhaps Tampa Bay’s best curator, Jade Dellenger, organized the TMoA exhibit (as well as a corresponding show at Tempus Projects that ran concurrently) as part of the centenary celebration of John Cage’s birth.

Off the Wagon – Your Weekend Art Binge 5/31 – 6/03

Your weekend begins tonight!  Don’t worry: I’ve already worked everything out with your boss to get your weekend started early.  They may act a bit surprised (and maybe a little upset) when you return Monday.  However, rest assured – it’s only a ruse to prevent your workmates from becoming jealous.  You’re welcome.  Tonight, we’re headed to the FMoPA!

Cube at Rivergate, 2012 © Chip Weiner

Florida Museum of Photographic Arts – The Secret Paris of the 1930s: Vintage Photographs by Brassaï    5/31 6pm-8pm

The FMoPA brings the work of legendary photographer Brassaï, to Tampa tonight.  The museum opens its doors at 10am with an opening reception tonight beginning at 6pm.

I’m sufficiently excited to describe myself as “totally stoked” to see this exhibit .  Perhaps mostly because the photography of Brassaï operates as a starting line for a sort of gritty ultra-modern aesthetic that nearly always catches me off guard.  Brassaï’s gloomy urban landscapes seem to anticipate Film Noir that would flourish ten to fifteen years later after he first rose to fame.  It’s difficult to see Vienna depicted in the film The Third Man without Brassaï depicting Paris in his particular style fifteen years prior.

More important (and perhaps more recognizable) is Brassaï’s subject matter.  Photography at the time was still relatively new as an art form.  Leaving behind still-lifes and studios for bordellos and opium dens is significant.  His photos, at times, can be downright gritty, even by today’s standards.  In a strange way this always made his 1930’s Paris much more real to me, his subjects that much more relatable, and his work always relevant.  Brassaï’s Paris isn’t the Paris of silent films but rather marginalized individuals that are so familiar it’s eery.  Though nearly eighty years old, I’m sure you’ll find Brassai’s photography relevant in a way that’s rare even for contemporary work.  Make sure to stop by the FMoPA while the exhibit is in town.

The Starving Artist’s Guide to Bay Area Museums

Change for the new Biggers' exhibit, sir?

For all the vulgar excess and catering to the 1%, art love can be relatively friendly for the cash strapped (though being cash strapped in itself isn’t all that friendly).  Gallery receptions and exhibit openings are generally classy yet free affairs – something that can’t exactly be said regarding film or music.  The museum visits may require prying the wallet open.  If well-timed, however, you can stroll several local museums with your wallet pleasantly tucked away.  With that said, here is a quick museum guide for the frugal art nerd.

Tampa Museum of Art – every Friday evening – This is the first program I learned about and perhaps my favorite.  Every Friday TMoA presents Art on the House – free admission between 4pm and 8pm.  I should give a mention to Hill Ward Henderson for making the program possible.

Museum of Fine Art St. Petersburgfirst Saturday and Sunday of each month…sort of – I should start by saying that this deal also applies to the MFA as well as the TMoA and the Florida Holocaust Museum (which has respectable art exhibits of its own from time to time).  You can get free admission to the museums on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month by presenting your Bank of America debit or credit card (or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card) and a photo ID.  If the Saturday or Sunday falls on the last day of the month, the deal will apply the following weekend.

Ringling Museum of Art – every Monday – $25!  That’s how much you don’t have to pay if you visit the Ringling on a monday.  This includes free admission to their permanent collection as well as the special exhibition galleries which currently houses Sanford Biggers’ new installation.  Call in sick to work, bring two dollars for the Skyway, and how about some falafel for lunch – sounds like a rad Monday.

Polk Museum of Art – every Saturday morning –  Not to be left out is the runt of the museum bunch.  You can save your five bucks if you stop by on Saturdays from 10am to noon.  Interestingly, local favorites Theo Wujcik and Krik Ke Wang will be exhibiting at the PMoA in a couple of months.

I’m obligated to mention that visiting the museums at these times is free of charge but not free of cost to the museum.  I’m sure any of these venues would appreciate a donation if you find yourself less poor than usual.  Regardless, whether you plan on making your way to a gallery or museum, it can be done on the cheap.  Being sans-cash shouldn’t be an obstacle to enjoying art in and around the Bay.