Thursday, September 25, 2008

Women of a Certain Age

Lest we forget.

Reading a review by Richard Kalina in the September Art in America, I come across this passage:

In 1946 an unnamed male critic (not Greenberg or Rosenberg) reviewing Louise Nevelson's first major exhibition writes, "We learned that the artist was a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm. Had it been otherwise, we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among the moderns." And Lee Krasner speaking of Hans Hoffman, the leading teacher of his day, said, "I can remember very clearly his criticism one day when he came in and said about (my) painting, 'this is so good you would not believe it was done by a woman.'"


Nevelson also studied with Hoffman, in the early 30s, when his school was in Munich and before he emigrated to NY. She's known to have said, "I wouldn't marry God if he asked me." Krasner married Pollock which might have been like acquiescing to marrying god, a god, and see where that got her. She lived and worked 30 years after him, yet is mostly remembered as his wife.

Jackson Pollock with Lee Krasner in the background, in 1955.

This is a mid-career Krasner, Thaw, post-Pollock, 1957.

Nevelson in signature fur in a portrait by Cecil Beaton.

Nevelson had a good self-image. "I always thought, bluntly, that I was a glamorous, goddamn exciting woman," she said. "I wanted to have a ball on earth." And she did.

Nevelson postage stamps.

Knocked Out

Most women aren't so lucky and get knocked around—still, into this century—by the prevailing misogyny. It must be bred in the bone, so deeply it is rooted. Only a few lucky ones escape deprecation by self or others. Age by age, it's the same old story.

In AiA there's also a piece on May Wilson who, in 1966, at the age of 61, moved to NYC to become an artist (like you do). Her husband trading her in for younger women was the kick in the pants she needed to launch herself onto the NY scene. She held salons at the Chelsea Hotel, hung out at the Factory, made art. Like Nevelson, she assembled, only her works were much more Pop: spray-painted platform-shoes with baby-doll heads, Pop. She also made collage. When her husband was cheating on her, she took to cutting up Playboy centerfolds. She made them into snowflakes or "doillies" as she called them. Pasted together, image overlay image. Must have been therapeutic.

This is one of a series of collages she made inserting her clowning mug shot into unlikely places. I suppose she was being a good sport about her old face. That's what they say, anyway, she was a card.


These three are by Charlotte Niel. She's saying something different than Wilson with these bits of model beauty superimposed upon her own body. Something about illusion, maintaining it, playing with it, and questioning what's real. At what age do we start doing drag? Female impersonators. Gender impressionists.

These are part of a traveling exhibition of photos, self-portraits by women of a certain age—50 to 65—the Invisible Age, the title of the show. Curated by Jan Potts and Beth Kientzle who, in their statement, explain,

The timing is not precise. Women at around age 50 notice that something has changed. It happens slowly, almost imperceptibly. Heads no longer turn as we walk down the street, older or younger women are served first, the boss calls on others in meetings, few models in magazines or actresses in movies represent women our age. We have reached the invisible age. It lasts a decade or more, and around age 65, it changes again—we’ve moved into another stage of life where the fruits of our longevity are valued, and society can see us again.

The show, seen in Washington DC and Newton NJ, is now at Rayko Photo Center, SF. Most of the works explore the experience of being invisible or marginal and so are vague, obscure, remote. It is rather painful, this sinking from view—or as the subtitle of this photo suggests, Crawling Out.

Perseverance: Crawling Out, by Mary Ramain.

And then some are strikingly defiant in the face of all odds.

Amazon by Niki Berg.

Odds are, we're all going to die, men, women, animals alike. In the meantime though, to be seen is the thing, in our own light and worth. The blatant dismissal of women in the 30s (40s, 50s, 60s...) is an unspoken assumption today. The false premise still plagues us. I want to root it out. In myself and in the culture.

Question assumptions. Defy categorizations. Expand limitations. Good slogans. Add to the list. To Do.

Nevelson quotes from Louise Nevelson Foundation.
Pollock photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institute Archives of American Art.
Beaton photo courtesy of New York Times.
Wilson work on ArtNet.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Koons King

If you haven't seen this article, in today's NYTimes, you must! Jeff Koons in the palace of the Sun King! How fitting!


Divinely inspired, I'm sure!

He says that the placement of his white marble rococo Self-Portrait in the same room as portraits of Louis XIV and Louis XVI was not a gesture of arrogance, “It didn’t have to do with my own ego, but it did have to do with the playfulness and a contemporary monumentality." Absolutely. Koons thinks big and in the Realm of Possibilities just like the sumptuous, over-blown halls and gardens, operas and costumes of King Louis. Koons' works are inflated, larger-than-life, and manufactured to perfection with a mirror sheen just like... the comparisons are endless.

What is it to have the world in your hands? This artist says Anything is Possible, and it is. Monumental. Glorious. Grand!

Article by Elaine Sciolino and photos by Ed Alcock.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hoch und Baltz

Rena Bransten Gallery, SF is showing recent photos by Matthias Hoch. They are beautiful and cold.
An essay by curator Aimée Reed points out a tension in his pictures—a tension between an ideal and a lack—a lack of humanity.

Hoch's new photographs (and video) concern Almere. Almere is a designed town in the Netherlands, a model modern village established in the late 70s with the express mission of providing housing and employment relief for Amsterdam under a plan that emphasized ethical design with a stress on functionality and equality. The end result of such factors is that the streets are easy to clean and the buildings look much like the architects designed them, even twenty years later.

What I noted in my first look at the work is the beautiful composition of his images. These are documents of buildings and interiors but not as straight documentary for they are highly composed shots that focus on pattern and often create an agreeable abstract display. The photos place a stress on design over content.

This, for instance, is a children's playground with faux rock and turf.

In the very act of composition, Hoch manages to echo the subject he is focused on. There is nothing overtly disagreeable about his images—the buildings are portrayed as beautiful or fanciful as they are. The cold light is the cold light of day. There is no movement here—no life, but there is design, and color, and it is pleasing.

This image, Almere #7 recalls the videos he also made of Almere. The first is a series of drive-by shots of these cool, clean-lined buildings. The smooth tracking and even light on mid-range shots of orange doors, lime green trash containers, then copper siding and windows, extends his aesthetic into a longer view. The experience is of stillness and finish—an exploration of buildings at their best, early morning perhaps, when no one is around. Who hasn't taken travel photos of piazzas just after dawn, before crowds, to get the best of the place?

I use that word on purpose. For the building is a container of place; liveliness makes a place a Place (to go to, be in, to be seen). Evidently the piazzas, town squares of this newly built city center are mostly empty. New shops, new bars, the cinema even, all in cool new buildings, don't have the draw that the old city streets of Amsterdam which is where the locals go. Almere is a model town, which is to say modeled on a real town, but it hasn't found it's center yet. People who live and work here, they go out of town.

This image from 2002 could be quite depressing had it been framed differently. But that is Hoch's approach: to present the thing, however banal or troublesome (such as faux grass in a children's park) in such a way as to be compositionally beautiful.

Or arresting, as is this simple shot of blue wall and gray floor.

This show reminded me of one I'd seen this summer in Santa Monica, Lewis Baltz: Sites of Technology at Gallery Luisotti.
Lewis Baltz, after working many years in black and white turned to color. Known for incredible work of the desert landscape, in the late 80s, he explored the strange landscape of institutes of high technology.

This is Cray Supercomputer, CERN, Geneva...

and this Unoccupied Office, Mitsubishi, Vitre (FR), both from 1989-91.

Baltz is working with a very different aesthetic intent than Hoch, though in a sense they are both concerned with the same subject, the human/inhuman environment. In Geneva, for instance, instead of pulling in close to the supercomputer, taking a shot of the blue and yellow, at the corner for instance, Blatz steps back from the scene and allows in the consoles to the side, the empty chair and blank walls. There's no mistaking the strange inhumanity of the place, nor the vacuousness of the unoccupied office space.

It is a painful place, this empty space which is a place people occupy, daily. Baltz's photos convey pathos and this emotional content is what is missing in Hoch's work—yet his are beautiful. It's an interesting dilemma. I am delighted by beauty and moved by feeling. Not either, but both. Cakes and Ale.

Hoch's photos courtesy of Galerie Akinci, Amsterdam and Dogenhaus Galerie, Leipzig.