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.

The (Museum) Trickle Down Effect

museumAs monolithic as the institution of the art museum can seem, its role in society and culture can, at times, be particularly ambiguous.  Sharpening the focus, an art museum’s relationship with the surrounding art community is often no clearer.  An excited  buzz recently flowed through much of St. Petersburg upon word of a new museum, the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, set to open there in 2016.  Local artists, gallerists, art bloggers (including myself) seemed especially pleased with the news.  I wondered, though, if this stemmed from anything other than the excitement that accompanies new exhibits in a new venue and a potential positive economic impact on the arts.  

Really, it brought a larger question to mind.  The local arts community and nearby art museums seem to share a special relationship.  That said, does one actually exist based on some sort of cultural interchange and should it?  Do better/more museums somehow make a better local art scene?

So it might now become clear that the “trickle” in this article’s title is not an economic one (and certainly not a biological one – nasty!)  Rather, it refers to a flow of cultural value from art museums to local art makers.  I’ve given this idea quite a bit of thought in preparation to host the next #TwitterCrit.  I’ve since realized I’m not one of those quick-tongued critics that can form an unassailable opinion in the flash of a moment.  Thinking about this ‘Museum trickle down effect’ has, in honesty, only left me with more questions.  Still, maybe these questions in themselves are noteworthy points.

Why Trickle Down?

I initially made the assumption that art museums should somehow influence and, to a point, shape the local art community.  Really, if a local art community informed a museum’s practice, I would likely call that “trickle up“.  But why up?

Museums are generally thought of as centers of influence.  Consider the generally accepted pinnacle of an artist’s career is the museum retrospective.  Think about the MoMA’s role in defining the idea of Modernism.  Note museum architecture old and new.  Scrutinize museums bolstering of “cultural capital.”  During the twentieth century art museums have inhabited a role somewhere in between “taste maker” and “history writer.”

Believe me: I don’t want to address why or how museums are vested with this power.  Rather, does this model of Museum-as-taste-maker-slash-history-writer still work for us in the twenty-first century?  I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

In a Wikipedia world, art museums do feel a bit like a stack of  leather-bound encyclopedias.  That isn’t to say the institutions should adopt the elsewhere ubiquitous practices of populism and crowdsourcing.  I can only imagine how terrible administration-by-‘like’-and-‘retweet’ would be.  Still, there seems to be a certain sense of pluralism that is missing.  I’m not saying that everyone’s opinion should be included – we’d end up with a museum aesthetically similar to Pier 1.  What I am saying is there should be mechanism to undermine the institutions’ tendency toward a meta-narrative of art and its history.

I’m sorry: I’m not really offering any specific alternatives, and in the end this might be as much an issue to be taken up with institutional curation as the art museum itself.  To be fair, I did say that considering the issue “only left me with more questions.”  If you have any ideas, however, I’d love to see it as a comment below.

Should there be a Trickle?

Perhaps the most basic question on the topic is “Should there even be a trickle down effect?”  It may be that a creative interchange between local visual arts and art museums locally is not beneficial.  I doubt this also, but I feel like I should play devil’s advocate with myself.
There are well-known stories of the Abstraction Expressionists and their near-desperate endeavour to exhibit within the MoMA’s already hallowed halls.  No doubt, to this end ambition served as some sort of impetus for their art making  – personally, a relatively unsavory thought.  Of course, few local artists entertain hopes of exhibiting in the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg or Tampa Museum of Art.  Yet, I suppose, it would require little for aspirations of museum inclusion to overtake nobler goals.  That said, I’d like to clarify that this is a dumb reason to suppress a creative interchange between local artists and art museums – this sort of ambition seems to be an unshakable aspect of the art world regardless.
The second reason against a creative interchange that comes to mind is the possibility that both the local arts community and art museums operate better independently – a sort of separation of powers.  Obviously, this would retread what was spoken about under the previous subheading –  what really privileges one to exert an influence on the other?
An arts community is unhampered by the expectations of a board, donors, the public, and general bureaucracy.  A museum has wide-reaching resources and concerns that spread far beyond the local community.  It may be that mixing the two weakens some of each’s greatest strengths.

Is ‘Trickle’ the Wrong Word? (It’s definitely an Annoying One Now)

The word ‘trickle’ implies movement, and maybe that’s an imprecise way to illustrate the potential relationship between an art museum and surrounding art communities.
It has been wonderful watching the visual arts community in Tampa Bay grow.  Perhaps an inevitable effect of this growth is that the larger nebulous community divides and again coalesces into smaller groups.  St. Petersburg’s art community becomes the 600 Block, Warehouse Arts District, Gulfport, and so on.  Tampa’s art community becomes Seminole Heights, Ybor, USF.
Can museums act as centers that enjoin the manifold scenes into a singular and stronger community?  With some effort and cooperation, museums can be the fulcrum that allows composite art communities to achieve common goals and meet common needs.  Beyond the potential of being a resource for its venue space and organizational support, museums can act as a visible representation of the larger arts community.  This sort of arrangement would also be beneficial to the museums.
It is certainly in any museums interest to foster an environment of cultural literacy and art appreciation.  Advocating surrounding arts communities can concurrently work as a grass-roots effort to nurture and expand a community that produces future patrons.
* * *
So what should the relationship between museums and local art communities be like?  I’m still not sure.  But I am pretty sure, though, what it might involve: A spirit of cooperation with a focus on shared needs and goals, a manner of operating that reflects a modern sense of pluralism, and a partnership that benefits the larger community we share.

A Better Time Signature: Stacy Rosende at Gallery 221

In a way, I was glad I had missed the opening reception.  Instead, I walked the gallery for an hour alone on a Monday afternoon.  Stacy Rosende‘s solo exhibit subSURFACE speaks slowly and would likely rather wait patiently than shout over the din of a crowded art party.  This reveals something about the work itself – there is a peculiar sort of temporality running through it.

Initially, some of Rosende’s new work is reminiscent of the paintings of Todd Chilton.  However, the two artists tackle very different concerns.  Unlike Chilton’s opaque painterly style, Rosende creates a sort of abstract foreground and background.  Geometric patterns of color cover the panels.  Underneath, an arrangement of decorative flourishes can be dimly seen at times and disappear completely elsewhere.  This was inspired by a recent stay in Venice, Italy as the texture, patterns and layers of the city’s walls clearly influenced much of the work in subSURFACE.  The play between foreground and background does add a sense of depth to Rosende’s paintings.  However, a clear and strong sense of rhythm still dominates Rosende’s work.  The paintings may have come from an interest in surface, but seem to be very much about rhythm.

Vertical lines of color, irregularly sized and multi-colored without a discernible pattern, suggest a complex beat and a certain musicality.  Rosende doesn’t offer the eye a place to rest, instead forcing it to play through the composition, dancing over the colors left to right and back again.  In her statement, Rosende draws comparisons between tones in music and color, waves of sound and light, and arrangements both musical and visual.  Perhaps all of these comparisons are most easily discerned in Fertile.

At the center of the space, the sculpture occupies a significant amount of the gallery floor.  Twenty-nine differently sized stone-like objects (they’re actually plaster mixed with natural materials) are arranged in a ‘V’ formation from largest to smallest.  One side of each object is smooth and painted, the largest orange and gradually darkening with each piece down to the smallest painted black.

Fertile contrasts severely against the paintings and prints in the exhibit while offering a sort of respite.  Unlike the paintings which produce a sort of visual syncopation, the size, color and arrangement in Fertile all work in accord to produce a specific rhythm, a particular movement.  The piece draws your eyes front to back to front.  The movement is almost sexual.  The work’s title coupled with the movement suggest the womb, birth, or even the ascension and descent explored in the Cremaster Cyle of Matthew Barney.

Though I may be swayed by my particular gallery visit, what may be most valuable about this show is its slower pace.  Conceptual one-liners, needlessly showy and large work, parties badly disguised as art exhibits: each often coddle and cater to a critical laziness.  Rosende’s solo exhibit doesn’t do this.  Instead, the show makes apparent that it’ll take time.  If you are to honestly like or dislike the work, it’ll be after spending some time with it.  Ultimately, it may be this sort of “time signature” that is key to taking art seriously again.

ART AT BAY Presents: Ryan Trombley

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The Limit, 48 x 48 in, Acrylic on Canvas

The paintings of Tampa based artist Ryan Trombley nearly seem to move – to swell, shrink, and bulge in various pockets of each canvas.  His pieces are often abstracted using a peculiar method of stripes and geometric forms of white canvas.  These empty lines set a sort of tight, almost uneasy rhythm.  In a way they reflect  Trombley’s conceptual swings between simplicity and complexity as well as a viewer’s urge to at once consider each stripe individually while taking several steps back and allowing the pieces to blend together.  Click on the images to enlarge them, and the painting is suddenly very different.  Check out Ryan Trombley’s website here, to see more of his work.

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Gates Test, 8 x 12 in, Acrylic on Canvas

Ryan-Trombley-Trancing-On-The-Past

Trancing On The Past, 36 x 36 in, Acrylic on Canvas

Ryan Trombley - Remember To Forget

Remember to Forget, 36 x 36 in, Acrylic on Canvas

2AM Swim

2AM Swim, 36 x 36 in, Acrylic on Canvas

Through the Code and Back Again: Santiago Echeverry’s Self E-Portraits

The proliferation of digital and New Media Art is not entirely surprising.  Arguably, art makers have had a collective fascination with developing technology for the larger part of the twentieth century.  Insofar as computer-based work, Andy Warhol hopped on an Amiga as early as 1985.  At the risk of calling it prematurely (along with the whole of the New Aestheticians) there is something different with recent developments.  Portions of Santiago Echeverry’s new solo exhibit Modern Saints effectively illustrate them.

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Santiago Echeverry, Self E-Portrait Series 2, Processing/Webcam, 6000x3375px, RGB

His Self E-Portraits in particular nearly work as a metaphor for this idea.  There is a subtle but important difference in the way Warhol and artists such as Echeverry (and by extension us) use a computer.  Echeverry’s Self E-Portraits are a series of self-portraits.  Upon initial inspection they seem to be taken in a dark room or at night, and are built up of many small three-dimensional shapes.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAEcheverry didn’t create the Self E-Portraits as much as create the conditions for their rendering.  Perhaps initially artists sought digitized versions of IRL counterparts in creating art using a computer.  Remember the spray paint, paint brush, paint bucket, and pencil of MS Paint?  This is rarely the case with current relevant digital art, and certainly not in the case of Echeverry’s work.

Instead, the art is in the underlying lingual structure of the series.  Echeverry wrote code using the programming language known as Processing.  The images of himself pouring in through the webcam were manipulated by the Processing code – some images were saved, and a few were printed.

It is tempting to think of the images on the walls of HCC’s gallery as art objects.  However, they may perhaps be more accurately thought of as documentation, visual evidence of the unseen code.  Echeverry nearly alludes to this in his statement saying that he had intentionally left “room for randomness in a mathematically constructed scenario.”

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Santiago Echeverry, Self E-Portrait Series 2, Processing/Webcam, 6000x3375px, RGB

Of course, this “mathematically constructed scenario” was constructed by Echeverry.  Still, it’s in this way that he created the work – not with a computer, but through one.  In a very literal way, Echeverry is looking though computer code and back at himself.  It doesn’t take much to see how this may extrapolate from art making to a general way of living.  As Michael Betancourt mentions, in this new mode “the machine does not augment but supplant”.

Admittedly, I hate the sci-fi sound of this.  However, there is hardly a way around it.  Echeverry is careful to mention  “no Photoshop or digital retouching was done to any of these prints”.  That is to say, the prints are not the result of a steady and expressive hand – the process is much closer to supplanting the hand and eye than augmenting it.  Maybe on some level that’s the point.

This may be tangential, but the name of a series seems to be a pun – Self E-Portraits or Selfie Portraits.  Even the way we depict ourselves (and perhaps view ourselves) is fundamentally different than it once was.  High five to anyone who brings up Santiago Echeverry’s Self E-Portraits during the 10/17 #TwitterCrit.

Santiago Echeverry: Modern Saints is on view through 10/29 at HCC’s Performing Arts Building Gallery.  There will be a reception and gallery talk on 10/17 beginning at 5pm.

Kelly Boehmer Threads the Needle

Kelly Boehmer’s Heart Out at Centre Gallery
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Kelly Boehmer, Flamingo Harpy and the Alligator’s Heart, Mixed Media, 2013

I find myself continually distracted when watching a Hallmark movie, distracted by sentimentality.  Rather than viewing it like any other film, I can’t stop giving attention to the narrative’s mechanisms of emotional manipulation and trying not to get suckered by the emotional cheap shots.  Similarly with visual art, you’ll often find yourself experiencing the piece from without and the art bare of impact.  However, given all of the definite sounding statements above, steering clear of sentimentality while not also emptying a piece of emotional authenticity is still a challenging needle to thread.  It is a challenge artist Kelly Boehmer seems to be meeting with skill.

The last time I had seen Boehmer’s work had been over a year ago at the Dunedin Fine Art Center’s Contain It! show – an exhibit of PODS installations.  Had I known the challenges of storage unit installations that I do now, I likely wouldn’t have been so hard on the show.  That said, her work at the Contain It! exhibit had a certain near syrupy nostalgia that was difficult to see beyond.  This syrupy nostalgia, however, is not to be found in Heart Out, her current solo exhibit at USF’s Centre Gallery.

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Kelly Boehmer, Unicorn Pegasus (Emotional Rescue), Mixed Media, 2013

The gallery space is installed with three sculptural works.  Flamingo Harpy and the Alligator’s Heart dominates the space as the show’s largest piece.  As with the bulk of her work, the piece is composed many contrasting textiles.  Knotty tangles of fabric pile up to create recognizable forms.  A flamingo appears to be pulling the heart out of an alligator, the reptile’s innards caught in the bird’s foot.  The harpy takes its classically mythological form of a bird’s body topped with a woman’s head.  Despite the classical allusion, the scene is clearly that of a lover’s quarrel, albeit a bizarrely Floridian interspecies one.

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Kelly Boehmer, detail of Unicorn Pegasus (Emotional Rescue), Mixed Media, 2013

Near the rear of the gallery is Unicorn Pegasus (Emotional Rescue).  The form of a unicorn type figure is depicted, but not in its typically idyllic way.  Rather, the figure is limp on the cold floor as if it were a carcass that had been heaved across the gallery and dumped.  The feeling of death in the piece is underscored by the animals teeth.  They are not fabric as the rest of the body.  Instead the teeth are real and from the head of an alligator buried in the “mouth” of the unicorn.  As the alligator and flamingo respectively had human-like hair and face, the unicorn possesses exposed human-like breasts.  An atmosphere of animalistic violence further continues into this piece.

On the wall hung the aptly titled Gaudy Gold Frame.  While the piece is a shiny gold, this too is constructed from irregularly stitched fabric.  I found this piece to be the most subtly interesting of the show.  In a way, its quietly meta quality made it the introvert of the bunch: easy to pass over in favor of its louder companions but also concurrently more contemplative.  Interestingly, Boehmer’s “frame” isn’t framing anything at all.  Rather the apparatus for setting an art object’s context, becomes the art object itself.  The piece is pleasantly confusing as it draws attention to an object frequently created with the intention of not drawing attention.

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Kelly Boehmer, Gaudy Gold Frame, Mixed Media, 2013

It may also be this last piece that illustrates Boehmer’s skillfully precise use of bathos in this exhibit.  Heart Out threatens to venture into cheesy sappiness with each step.  However, it never quite does so.  Indeed she says in her artist statement, “Fears of death and heartbreak are reduced to silly scenarios with taxidermy and soft sculpture animals.”  Don’t let this fool you – she doesn’t stop taking her artwork seriously in Heart Out.  As Susan Sontag once pointed out the difference between kitsch and camp is a set of quotation marks.  Navigating this tenuous distinction is a challenging course for artists and a troubling one for viewers.  It is difficult to discern when Kelly Boehmer is holding up air quotes, when she is operating with a certain self-awareness and when we’re being had.  But it is a welcome difficulty that too often many local artists don’t trust their audience with.

There will be a closing reception for the show Fri 9/27 7pm-9pm

Tampa and St.Pete Art Events : 9/20/13-9/27/13

This upcoming weekend and week in the arts:

Pawn Shop-Sat., Sept. 21, 7-11 p.m. at Workspace in Seminole Heights
For those of you that didn’t know, Workspace is Seminole Heights’ newest gallery. They will be presenting Tampa Talent in an exhibition called Pawn Shop. In it there are works inspired by the neon signs, bright colors and in-your-face messages of American Pawn Shop advertising. Chris Kelly, curator, gathers works that explore the vocabulary and iconography of the Pawn Shop language. All works are acrylic on wood panel that are hand-painted and screen printed. Free

pawn_shop_sign_picPhoto Credits: Creative Loafing

6th Annual Artists’ Market , Sept. 21-22 at Leepa-Rattner Museum of Artin Tarpon Springs

Browse original works by more than 35 local artists inside the museum – more festivities throughout the day for everyone to enjoy! Free

Eat this, Sat., Sept. 21, 7 p.m. at Bluelucy in Downtown in St.Pete
Bluelucy, the recently awarded Best of Bay gallery, takes on a difficult task as it tries to convey the power of food through the artwork of local artists. The exhibit’s reception for The Art of Food, will offer an extension of Dan Schmidt’s kitchen service, focusing on home-cooked appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts at 7 p.m. Free

1240428_643819802317801_810535178_n   Photo Credits: Bluency

Stuffed: A Pseudo Taxidermy ShowSat Sept. 21 at The Bricks of Ybor

In the spirit of Dr. Seuss’ “Unorthodox Taxidermy,” this fantasy taxidermy show boasts artists’ stuffed creatures that will be unexpectedly mounted along the walls of The Bricks. Free

Color Acting Discussion-Sun., Sept. 22, 3pm at Museum of Fine Arts

Come join in on the panel discussion with artists Jessica Eaton and Jessica Labatte for the final day of Color Acting- the museum’s most recent exhibition. Color Acting brings together works from the permanent collection–as well as some special loans–that exhibit the properties of color and its effects on visual perception. Both artists, represented in Color Acting, discuss their work, the larger implications of the exhibition, and the influence of Josef Albers. The conversation kicks off at 3pm, don’t be late. $10

Barbad GolshiriMon., Sept. 23, 3pm at the USF Contemporary Art Museum
Iranian artist Barbad Golshiri will speak about his work at CAM in a conversation with curator Noel Smith. Golshiri’s installation, Distribution of the Sacred System, currently in display at the Contemporary Art Museum, addresses the theocracy’s manipulation of religion for political and ideological ends. The work, which combines sculpture with prints of schematic drawings and text in Persian, is full of puns and double entendres that mask its horrific indictment. Make sure to come to this thought provoking lecture. Free

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 9.27.56 AM     Barbad Golshiri, Distribution of the Sacred System, 2010

ARTofficial Intelligence II: The Second Annual St.Pete Robot Exchange– Fri, Sept. 27th, 8pm at The Sake Bomb in St.Pete

Come check out some art, music, and robots. Tampa bay most talented artists and musicians will be exhibiting/ demonstrating interesting works to appease intergalactic robots bent on earth’s destruction! $2 cover

0857526b_artshoww       Photo Credits: Creative Loafing

Let’s Get a Room: Time for a Tampa Bay Art Fair

LETSGETAROOMTampa Bay: I think it’s about time we got a room…or rooms.  I’m not talking about an affair but more of a…fair.

Tampa Bay seems to have hit its cultural center puberty over the past few years.  While we may not be the mature visual arts destination that is New York, Miami, or even San Francisco, we’re clearly and progressively developing.  There’s a particular benchmark, though, that we have yet to meet: the art fair.

Why?

I’ll preemptively ask it: What about the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Mainsail Art Festival, or any one of the other innumerable local art festivals?  Sorry, but they don’t meet our ‘art fair’ benchmark – festivals are not fairs.

The distinction may seem trivial, but it’s fundamental.  While sales are an integral part of festivals and fairs alike, the latter serve a critical function that the former are not intended to.  Fairs are a time for artists, curators, dealers, and gallerists to bring out the best they have – on the micro level it allows visitors to browse the best art of several galleries in one location.  On a macro (and more important) level, though, it serves as a survey of contemporary art – it allows us to determine the progress visual art has made over the past year and where the future will take it.  This can be especially helpful for our twin scenes of Tampa/St.Pete.

As discussed before on Art@Bay, we have a tendency to stick to our home scene – it is surprisingly difficult to cross the Howard Frankland for an art show.  However, an art fair would afford us an opportunity to evaluate and enjoy the latest and best contemporary art of Tampa Bay at a single location and date.

How?

The reality is that a fledgling contemporary art fair is a logistical challenge and holds out little to no profits for its organizers.  A strategy that may make an art fair more financially and organizationally plausible, though, is the Hotel Fair.  That is, in short, a fair that would be based in a hotel in which artists and galleries would each be assigned a room.

I suppose this kind of fair could sound a bit dumpy.  However, some of today’s most critically acclaimed and exciting art fairs are precisely this kind of fair.  Consider New York’s Dependent Art Fair.  Despite taking place in a Comfort Inn on the gritty Lower East Side, the fair consistently enjoys enthusiastic reviews from critics and bloggers (critic/artist Will Brand called it “hands-down, the most interesting, highest-quality fair in town.”)  Also consider Washington D.C.’s (e)merge Art Fair, San Francisco’s ArtPadSF, or Miami’s Verge Art Fair among many others.

A grant(s) and sponsors could secure rooms for juried individual artists to use for installations or simply to exhibit work.  Galleries, collectives, and other artists would simply pay a fee equal to that of the cost of the hotel room in order to participate.

This type of fair would not aim to replace or even be an alternative to international contemporary art fairs or local arts festivals.  However if scheduled nearby in date and location to the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, for example, it could be an exciting, popular, and surprising event for visitors of both the festival and the fair.  

Such an event would furnish us with the opportunity appraise our local contemporary art, artists, and galleries and enjoy the best of what we make.  Would you support such an event with attendance or participation?    

5 Art World Trends Yet to Roll Through Tampa Bay

Trends rise and fall in the art world, each (hopefully) a step toward the best art we can collectively make.  Some, though, don’t seem to have stopped by our little art world by the bay just yet.  I’ve listed five here and some of their inevitable (and awesome) exceptions.  I honestly don’t intend this piece to deride my beloved art scene.  Rather, it should serve to highlight those that are pushing our envelopes for us, and let’s say a personal wish list of the kind of art I’d love to see even more often.

1. Smaller, Subtler, and Subdued

If there is one actual overarching trend generally making its way through the art world at the moment it’s this.  This ‘trend’ was detailed by Jerry Saltz in his survey of the Whitney Biennial last year.  Perhaps it’s in reaction to the post-2008 market collapse, or maybe it’s a response to the swelling art market.  Regardless, a lot of artwork seems to have pulled itself inward, scrapped the factory staff, and scaled down its dimensions.  The sell-out show stopper pieces are just a bit fewer.  Also, as Saltz points out artists are more frequently looking for routes around irony and cynicism without relying on sentimentality or over simplification.  The best of this work is a refreshing respite from the out-of-control market hype of the past few years.

In terms of scale, most local work is relatively under control.  However, I suspect this is more closely tied to limited resources and venues than aesthetic concerns.  Subtlety, though, is a virtue rarely praised, often passed over for gimmicks and quick reactions.

Exceptions:  A notable exception is perhaps one of favorite local artists (I’m still considering her one of us though she’s now based in NYC): Ryann Slauson.  Slauson created a piece that I’ll always regret not purchasing.  On a pedestal sat a deflated basketball constructed from paper mache, each dimple carefully painted on.  The ball sat there lonely and perfectly useless.  Much like this particular piece, her work generally has a peculiar way of being earnest without being sentimental, smart but not cynical, and serious but not stuffy.  Her understated work asks for time, and returns on what you give it.

2. Net Art/New Media

Computer art has arguably been around since the 1950’s – even Andy Warhol joined the party as early as the mid-1980’s.  It’s at this moment, though, that it is growing out of novelty and into respected form.  Considering the amount of time that we spend on the internet and the profound changes it has made to the way we live we may rightly say, “About time.”  GIF’s, Tumblr, social networks, interactive sites, among many other forms are becoming standards of the heady fringes of art and are poised to enter the mainstream.

The reasons Net Art and New Media have been virtually absent from the Tampa Bay scenes are most likely practical ones.  Locally, artists that can also code are a bit of a curiosity.  Also, there are the complexities of exhibiting and selling work that is typically confined to a computer monitor.  Though, I’d like to see this trend roll through more than the others, I fear it may be one we won’t see for a while.  Somebody prove me wrong!

Exceptions:  Artist Hunter Payne is an unapologetic fan of the interwebs.  I realize that sounds absurdly vague but there honestly isn’t any better way to say it.  He’s produced several new media pieces, GIFs, and “games”.  Further, he curated the exhibit TRU_RL: Tight Artists Offline at Studio@620 – an amazing group exhibit featuring the work of artists from the Net Art quasi-collective known as Tight Artists.  This was one of the area’s rare exhibits that would’ve even been too hip even for the Chelsea white boxes.  I’d pay money to see a show like this again.

3.  Contemporary Art Fairs

2012 seems to have been the year of the art fair – oddly both for the art world’s unabashed revelry in and simultaneous hating on the institution.  Regardless of where you fall on the opinion spectrum, these fairs act as more than just a venue for the obscenely rich to relieve themselves of wads cash.  Contemporary art fairs serve as a time for the art world to gather together and figure out where this crazy thing called contemporary art is headed.

I realize it is unrealistic for Tampa to ever be home to anything the size of Miami’s Art Basel and its satellite fairs.  Still, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to host a quality Contemporary Art Fair.  Consider relatively similarly sized cities.  Washington D.C. has Emerge, Houston has Texas Contemporary, San Francisco has artMRKT.  I hate to say it but the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (Tampa) and the Mainsail Art Festival (St. Petersburg) don’t count.  They are frankly little more than temporary art flea markets (though, I suppose in a way, the same argument can be made of Art Basel.)

Exceptions:  I debated whether or not to even include this ‘trend’, because this is the single trend I could not pair with an exception.  Perhaps we can take a page from the playbook of the Anti-Warpt music festival.  That is, could a fledgling Contemporary Art Fair could coincide with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts or Mainsail Art Festival to act as an alternative event?  I’d love to see that happen.

4. Shocking Art

It’s difficult calling this a trend or even using the word shocking.  Regardless, it came and went back in the 1970’s.  That’s forty years ago – I’m not sure if I really care to see it roll through town anymore.  In a way, at that time art stretched itself to lay claim to all it could be.  It sought to provoke moral sensibilities, upset ideas of art’s relationship with the market, and upend all assumptions about what art was and could be.  It was nearly a time when art could be shocking simply for the sake of shocking – at the time is was something the art dialectic needed to pass through.

Our scenes produce very little truly shocking work, and perhaps that’s alright.  It would be difficult to present that kind of art now without it appearing adolescent.  Maybe its time to make peace with the possibility that we’re just going to skip this important phase in art’s progression.

Exceptions:  Last October’s drama on the 600 Block and his recent dual exhibit Strange Fruit set artist Allen Leper Hampton apart as one exception.  His work has been some of the most shocking to local sensibilities.  Beyond that, though, I like to think his work teaches people to critically read art instead of simply reacting to it.

5. Post-Modern and Post-PoMo Concerns

There are several interesting topics and concerns that seem to receive scant attention in the Bay area – feminism, post-colonialism, Neo-Marxism, modern identity, immigration, and so on (and on and on).  These concerns address the most basic and important ways we interact with each other and how we process our environment.  They encourage us to question complacency, to ask if things can and should be different.

I realize these topics can sound terribly academic and deathly boring.  However, good contemporary art is much brainier than it has been in times past and demands its audience dedicate deep thought to it in addition to romantic feeling.  Further, these themes are much more relevant and less played out locally than themes of generic self-expression.  In a way, this kind of art is much more easy to relate to than the adolescent confessional work that seems to have acquired a strong foot hold locally.  I suppose it is the difference between artists talking about themselves and artists talking about all of us.

Exceptions:  Tempus Projects‘ recent exhibit, Piracy Redux, applied some of these concepts locally – the POD installations touched on topics such as Post-Colonialism, Marxist Historicism, Private Property, and power relations among others – it urged revisiting our local heritage and ideas of our collective self.  (Disclosure: I was a participating artist in Piracy Redux) Also, the work of artist Becky Flanders has addressed feminist issues in a way that’s been poorly lacking locally otherwise.  Her art often demands us to be confrontational with ourselves, in reconciling women with our deeply held archetype of woman.  Her work is a great example of art that can be very moving without relying on sentimentality.

Tampa Art Events 2/06 – 2/12

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Hillsborough has a lot worth your time this week!  At the moment I’ve got a few really exciting projects eating up all of my time (I’ll elaborate on them later this month) so I won’t be able to detail these events.  However, this is not a listing – these are my earnest recommendations.  Of the all of the events happening outside of Pinellas county this week, these are the ones you need to see.

Gallery 221@HCC – Ruby C. Williams: Farming, Family and Folk Art

Ongoing through 2/28

MAZE Gallery – Happily Never After

Opening Reception Wed 2/06 4pm

Bleu Acier – Thom O’Connor: Polymer Prints

Opening Reception Thur 2/07 5pm-9pm

USFCAM – SYCOM: Music for Open Score

Thur 2/07 6pm-8pm

Ringling Museum of Art – Ringling Underground

Thur 2/07 8pm-11pm $10

Tempus Projects – Love Lit

Sun 2/10 6pm-9pm