California Literary Review

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Art, Architecture and Design

Farewell to the Future: Iconic “Sleeper” House is Foreclosed On

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December 13th, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Charles Deaton's Sleeper House

Charles Deaton’s “Sleeper” House

On November 10, the Sleeper House in Genesee Colorado was sold at a foreclosure. Now, according to the New York Times, the new owner is embroiled in a dispute with the former owner, who will not vacate the property. It’s the opening in yet another uncertain chapter for an architectural icon that seems to embody a future that never quite arrived.

More formally known as the Sculptured House, the mountaintop structure is best known for its starring role in the 1973 Woody Allen film, Sleeper. Other Denver-area structures featured in the movie can be seen here and here. Designed by architect Charles Deaton and built in 1963, the residence — which has almost never been occupied — is also known as the “clamshell house”, for its distinctive shape. As a child I always referred to it as the “flying saucer house”, and made a point of watching for it when we drove by on I-70. Its curvilinear white walls, perched atop a round stem, enfold a wall of windows facing north towards the distant peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park and east over the great plains. It has always had the look of the future – that gleaming, distant future in which we would all drive hover cars. Read more…

Vandalism in the Name of the Lord: Kathleen Folden and “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals”

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November 14th, 2010 at 4:32 pm

The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals

The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals by Enrique Chagoya
[Image from Fred Pirone]

On October 6, 2010, Kathleen Folden, identified in the media as a 56-year-old truck driver from Kalispell, Montana, smashed her way into a display case at the Loveland Art Museum in Loveland, Colorado with a crowbar. Her purpose was to destroy a work of art, a multi-panel lithograph by Enrique Chagoya entitled “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals.” Folden managed to tear up part of the work before she was stopped by a museum patron. Folden was arrested at the scene; her $350.00 bail was paid by an anonymous donor. Google her name, and you’ll find plenty of admirers clamoring to help with the cost of her upcoming trial on a charge of criminal mischief (a Class 4 felony). There is, inevitably, a Facebook page.

Why such an outpouring of support for a woman smashing things up with a crowbar? Because the lithograph in question — or, rather, one of its twelve panels — had been widely reported to depict Jesus Christ – or a female figure with the head of Jesus Christ – receiving oral sex. There’s a man’s head pressed against the figure’s lap, and a protruding red tongue. The word “orgasm” appears next to the Christlike head. There are other words and symbols, what looks like the Spanish phrase “18 años” and a pictograph that may refer to the pope (Chagoya has said the work refers to the pedophilia scandals rocking the Catholic church, and to the corruption of the spiritual). I can’t quite make them all out in the online images I’ve found. And of course I can’t see the original, as Folden tore it up. What’s left of it is being held by the police as evidence.
Read more…

Christo in Colorado

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November 1st, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Christo: Over the River

A drawing of Christo’s planned “Over the River” project
for the Arkansas River in Colorado

[Image from Big Green Boulder]

Two art-centered controversies unfolding here in Colorado have grabbed national attention, in part because they lend themselves so easily to use – in whatever oversimplified and distorted form – in other debates. The first involves “Over the River”, a proposed work of environmental art by artist Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009. (The second, concerning the destruction of an allegedly blasphemous work of art on display in Fort Collins, by Montana trucker Kathleen Folden, I’ll cover in a future entry.)

Over the River” would consist of 5.9 miles of silver fabric draped like an intermittent canopy along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River as it flows through the mountains approximately 100 miles southwest of Denver. The two artists are famous for wrapping landmarks such as the Reichstag in Berlin, the Pont-Neuf in Paris, and the islands of Biscayne Bay in similar lengths of fabric.

Christo’s environmental works have always ignited controversy, and “Over the River” is no exception. Given the polarized political climate, and the project’s location in rural Colorado (not far from the rightwing bastion of Colorado Springs), the debate sometimes takes on the all-too-familiar overtones of cultural warfare: urban vs. rural, outsiders vs. locals, elitists vs. populists. But a closer look at the debate reveals a far more complex picture. Read more…

The Most Offensive Painting Ever Made

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July 15th, 2010 at 10:07 am

Yiull Damaso: The Anatomy Lesson

The Anatomy Lesson by Yiull Damaso
[Photograph: Lisa Skinner/Mail/Guardian, Image source: The Guardian]

Yiull Damaso has achieved a true artistic milestone. He has created what is quite possibly the most offensive image ever made. The BBC reports that the forty-one year old South African artist is completing a large painting depicting former South African president and Nobel Laureate, Nelson Mandela as a corpse in the process of being dissected. Observing this process is a group of South African leaders from the past and present. The completed piece will be displayed in the Hyde Park shopping center in Johannesburg. Not surprisingly, the African National Congress has already criticized the piece, saying that it insults Mr. Mandela’s dignity.

Perhaps we could forgive the artist if he was using this offensive imagery to make an important political statement.  If Damaso was trying say that Mandela was somehow mistreated, or that ANC politicians had somehow exploited Mandela’s revered stature for propaganda purposes, perhaps the painting might make more sense. But Damaso himself has stated that that his piece is not about politics, but about Mandela’s mortality. “Nelson Mandela is a great man,” he told BBC, “but he’s just a man… The eventually passing of Mr. Mandela is something that we will have to face, as individuals, as a nation.” Okay, but why now?  Mandela has not passed away, so the idea of showing his half naked body on a dissecting table while the flesh of his left arm is being cut away is just creepy, arbitrary and disrespectful.

Weirder still is Damaso’s Read more…

Larry Rivers, NYU, and Child Pornography

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July 9th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Larry Rivers

Larry Rivers
[Image source: Havel’s House of History]

It is a popular cliché that artists should not be held to the same moral standards as the rest of us. Frequently, this idea is used to justify misbehavior with extremely young girls. Hollywood celebrities from Harrison Ford to Tilda Swinton to Michael Mann have defended filmmaker and statutory rapist, Roman Polanski.  After all, he made some good movies. So what if he also fed quaaludes to a drunk thirteen-year old, ignored her repeated “no’s” and sodomized her?  Mr. Polanski was just getting his creative juices flowing. The great Pablo Picasso began his notorious affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter when she was seventeen.  Who cares if his young mistress was ruined in the eyes of society and left as an unmarriable single mother? Picasso got some great paintings out of her.

One could argue that while we may disapprove of Picasso and Polanski’s behavior, we should separate our opinion of these men from our view of their art. Picasso and Polanski’s questionable morality never filters into their work. (In both cases, this is debatable. Films like Rosemary’s Baby depict the horrendous abuse of a physically young-looking woman. Picasso’s frequently Read more…

Paul Emmanuel: Transitions: Identity Construction in South Africa

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June 29th, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Paul Emmanuel: Transition

Transition by Paul Emmanuel
[Image source: Spier]

Art has long served as a vehicle for exploring notions of identity and collective guilt.  The German artist Anselm Keifer creates large scale canvases depicting war-scarred landscapes.  His pieces often include train tracks and other reminders of the genocide that took place on his nation’s soil.  The South African artist William Kentridge creates equally bleak environments visibly haunted by the memory of apartheid.  His animated films are populated with characters whose psyches are as scarred as the landscapes they inhabit. Paul Emmanuel: Transitions, a new exhibition at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC shows us a different perspective on collective guilt and societal transformation.  Paul Emmanuel, a white South African artist presents us with a series of images about ritual and identity construction.  Emmanuel’s pieces convey the notion that society organizes a man’s life is into different stages, each marked by a ritual.  He also shows how these rituals can be consciously altered, or can take on new meanings over time.  In this way, societal traditions can become an important vehicle for change.

In 2004, Emmanuel began thinking about how the military creates and propagates notions of masculinity.   He became fascinated by the ritual of shaving the heads of new recruits. Emmanuel spoke to his brother and friends who had gone through the process during the apartheid regime in the 1980’s.  They described a frightening, dehumanizing experience.   Emmanuel decided to see what this ritual had come to mean in post-apartheid South Africa. He attended and photographed the head shavings of the January 2005 intake at the Third South African Infantry Battalion (3SAI) in Kimberley.  Rather than a cold, authoritarian nightmare, Emmanuel was amazed to find “quiet lawns with well tended flower beds full of roses. No shouting…No evidence of the violent breaking down of the human spirit.”    As Emmanuel watched black and white soldiers go through the same seminal moment of transition, he discovered that the process now represented community building, national pride, and the overcoming of past evils rather than prejudice, violence and control.

In Transitions, Emmanuel explores this and other rituals that he calls Read more…

Arizona and the Politics of Mural Painting

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June 7th, 2010 at 9:49 am

Smoke + Gun by Alice Leora Briggs

Artists Pamela J. Smith and R.E. Wall sit on the scaffolding in front of the Miller Valley School Mural titled “Go on Green” in Prescott, Ariz.
[Photo by Matt Hinshaw, The Daily Courier/AP, Image source: USA Today]

Public artworks have always inspired controversy. By existing in communal space, they convey ideas about local residents. When people disagree about what imagery best represents their neighborhood, trouble ensues. Murals are particularly good at sparking debate. Unfortunately disputes over the large scale paintings often reflect fierce, thinly-veiled class and racial anxieties.

A 2008 battle over a proposed  mural in Philadelphia was particularly ugly. When the renowned Philadelphia Mural Arts Program was commission to create a piece in the tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, a small group of elite residents raised a ruckus. Some opponents objected to the mural’s design, which featured construction workers assembling a sculpture of lady justice. These grumblings were quelled once the artist, Michael Webb, agreed to switch out the day laborers for less intimidating conservationists (I’m not kidding). Others opposed placing any mural in Rittenhouse Square. Murals have traditionally gone up in edgier parts of Philly and some residents feared that their upscale neighborhood might suddenly be associated with these locations.

The battle over the Rittenhouse Square mural eventually Read more…

Alice Leora Briggs: Art from Juárez

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June 3rd, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Smoke + Gun by Alice Leora Briggs

Smoke + Gun by Alice Leora Briggs
Published in Dreamland: The Way Out of Juárez by Alice Leora Briggs and Charles Bowden (2010)
[Image source: Hearing Voices]

Death, suffering and evil are concepts that most of us try not to think about. Nevertheless, they are always there, lurking in the back of our minds. Maybe this is why dark times inspire good art. For Alice Leora Briggs, death is not something to be feared or ignored, but an integral part of life to be examined. Her morbid fascination began when she was seven years old, when her brother fell to his death at Grand Teton National Park. Briggs work shows the probing curiosity and intensity of someone who has seen some of what the worst of what life has to offer and feels compelled to bear witness.

The artist found her subject in the violence plaguing Ciudad Juárez. The Mexican border city, home to 1.3 million people, is one of the areas most affected by the drug wars that are devastating the country. In 2006, President  Felipe Calderón dispatched 10,000 troops and federal police officers to Juárez. Despite his efforts, approximately 4,200 people have been killed since the 2006 crackdown, giving the city a higher murder rate than Baghdad.

Exodus by Alice Leora Briggs

Exodus (2008) by Alice Leora Briggs
[Image source: Santa Fe]

Briggs made a number of trips to Juárez between Read more…

Pritzker Prize goes to Bowery Museum’s Architects

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May 24th, 2010 at 1:37 pm

New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York

New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY
[Image source: Art We Love]

The 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize was awarded to the Japanese duo, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.  Their firm,  Sanaa, is responsible for creating some of the most daring and elegant buildings of the last decade, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (2007), and the 21st Century museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan
[Image source: Hankblog]

The Pritzker, which has been called “the profession’s highest honor” and “architecture’s Nobel” is awarded annually to a living artist.  The prize consists of one hundred thousand dollars and bronze medallions inscribed with the ancient Vitruvian saying, “firmitas, utilitas, venustas,” or “firmness, commodity and delight.”  The prize was founded in 1979 by Jay A. Pritzker and Cindy Pritzker of the Hyatt Foundation.  The couple’s passion for architecture was deepened by their collaboration with designers and architects on the development of their signature hotel chain.

In addition to Read more…

Recycling Meets Recreation

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May 17th, 2010 at 11:56 am

Macro Sea Dumpster Pool

Dumpsters refashioned as swimming pools in Brooklyn, NY
[Image source: Laughing Squid]

Great design transcends the coolness factor and makes us re-examine the places and objects we see everyday. One company, Macro-Sea, is launching community-oriented projects that are clever, fun and utopian in their ambition.

Last year Macro-Sea conceived of the Dumpster Pool. The designers constructed what they call a “lo-fi country club” in a trash-filled lot in Brooklyn. The mini oasis consisted of three adjacent swimming pools made out of repurposed dumpsters. Imbued with the DIY spirit, the project was cheap and easy to assemble. A local construction company donated the lightly used dumpsters, which were  then cleaned and lined with plastic. A filtration system was also installed. An unpaid crew assembled the project in exchange for the right to use it. The space was also made homey with the addition of Ikea garden furniture, grills, a bocci court and music via an ipod and speakers. The Dumpster Pool is a prototype for a larger project: Macro Sea envisions duplicating this low budget, recreational space in strip malls across America.

The idea of  placing everyday objects in liminal spaces and somehow creating attractive community centers is delightful and inspiring. Unfortunately, like real country clubs, the Brooklyn project was a wee bit more exclusive than one might have hoped. Last summer, the space hosted a series of lectures and cool events but all were private. There is something a bit unpleasant about a low-budget, pseudo-populist art space that restricts access to the hip and fabulous.

This year, Macro-Sea has topped their previous project with Read more…

The Life and Work of Eadweard Muybridge

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May 7th, 2010 at 11:29 am

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)
[Image source: The Relative Absolute]

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is possibly the best place to see photography in Washington.  In the past two years, the museum’s curators have shown us work by artists as wonderful and diverse as William Eggleston, Edward Burtynsky and Richard Avedon. The gallery’s current exhibition, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change is a comprehensive, thoroughly enjoyable retrospective of Muybridge’s art. Many people know Muybridge as a pioneer of stop-motion photography and moving pictures.  Helios shows us that he was also an accomplished artist, documentarian, businessman and all-around eccentric.

Born Edward James Muggeridge in the town of Kingston, near London, the artist changed his name several times throughout his career. As a bookseller in San Francisco in the 1850’s, he went by E. J. Muygridge. As a photographer, he called himself Eadweard Muybridge (a possibly reference to King Eadweard). While documenting life and coffee production  in Central America, he christened himself Eduardo Santiago Muybridge. An earthly nomer did not suffice when his work was involved. Muybridge named his business Helios, after the Greek sun god and adopted a winged camera as a logo.

The photographer’s tendency to rename himself was but Read more…

Artist’s Blacklist Fights Speculation

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April 30th, 2010 at 10:05 am

Marlene Dumas: The Visitor

The Visitor (1995) by Marlene Dumas

The rise in popularity of contemporary art over the past decade has led the price tag on many living artists’ work to soar exponentially.  One of the painters who has truly benefited from this upswing is Marlene Dumas. In 2002,  the South-African born Neo-Expressionist had sent few paintings to auction and her record sales price was approximately $50,000.  In 2008, The Visitors,  her Kirschner-esque painting of six working girls waiting for a john, sold at Sotheby’s for $6.3 million, making her the most expensive living female artist.

Although the market has been good to Ms. Dumas, the artist’s distaste for speculative art buyers has led her to create a ‘blacklist’ of individuals to whom Read more…

Suburban Gothic: A. Clarke Bedford’s America

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April 28th, 2010 at 9:53 am

A. Clarke Bedford Hillyer Exhibit

A visitor admiring A. Clarke Bedford’s installation at the Hillyer Art Space in Washington, DC

A. Clarke Bedford loves old things.  As an artist, he is adept at bringing out the charm, personality, and inherent strangeness in all things outmoded. While quirky, his collages and assemblages are also beautifully constructed. His seamless craftsmanship is likely a product of Bedford’s professional training. When he is not creating a new piece or adding to his collection of fine antiques and esoteric junk, Mr. Bedford works as a Conservator of Paintings and Mixed-Media Objects at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

A. Clarke Bedford Hillyer Exhibit

In his new show, Wundergarten: Salvaging the Family Archive at the Hillyer Art Space in Washington DC, Bedford explores how old photographs and discarded objects can serve as repositories for our collective memories.   For this installation, he collected Read more…

How to Get Your Work in the Louvre? Hang it up Yourself!

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April 26th, 2010 at 4:47 pm

The Louvre interior

The Louvre

A few weeks ago, contemporary artist, Pascal Guérineau  entered the Louvre, looked over his shoulder, and surreptitiously affixed his small painting of two skulls to the wall.  This strange incident was not Guérineau’s first act of gerilla curating.  The previous month, he hung another cranially-themed work at the Musée Maillol. The offending piece was discovered a few hours later at closing time.  The museum’s director, Olivier Lorquin was less-than thrilled by the stunt.  He referred to the artist’s actions as “ignoble” and dismissed the proffered drawing as “bad, useless, a real piece of crap.”

Guérineau’s actions highlight the frustrations of contemporary artists who are unable to gain recognition for their work. Guérineau claims that he was not simply seeking attention, but offering a symbolic gesture towards the throng of under-appreciated, rarely exhibited artists who are ignored by France’s museums and galleries.  He explains  “A museum like the Louvre has thousands of people coming through every week. They should be able to discover some of the message of contemporary French art – on society, on their lives, on pain, on poverty.”

Ironically, while Mr. Guérineau has indicated a desire to infuse France’s museums with fresh blood and new ideas, his recent stunt is essentially an imitation of Read more…

Running Fence: Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Masterpiece Revisited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

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April 19th, 2010 at 10:44 am

Christo: Running Fence

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76, photograph 1976
Color photograph by Wolfgang Volz, mounted on aluminum panel, 149.8 x 224.8 (59 x 88 1/2)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Promised Gift of a Private Collector in honor of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel 2001
© Christo 1976, Copyright © 2010 National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Christo: Running Fence

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76
[Image source: Paul Michael Richards]

Many critics and viewers of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 2005 project, The Gates, found themselves wondering “what’s the big deal?” The piece consisted of thousands of rectangular sections of orange vinyl, each hung between two matching posts and arranged in a line stretching across Central Park.  Christo and Jeanne-Claude  sought to temporarily unite New Yorkers in a moment of aesthetic contemplation, admiration for man’s ability to alter his surroundings, and enjoyment of being outdoors. Instead, the work left many viewers cold. Critics called it an eyesore and parkgoers complained that the posts posed a danger to cyclists.

Christo: The Gates

Christo, The Gates, 2005
[Image source: Wired New York]

While one might be tempted to attribute the project’s failure to grandiose ambition, the success of Running Fence, an older Christo Jeanne-Claude collaboration, shows us that The Gates was not nearly ambitious enough. An exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Remembering Running Fence revisits this extraordinary work.  In 1976, the artists completed the construction of a 24.5 mile-long ‘fence’ that stretched across Northern California’s gentle hills before disappearing into the ocean.  The fence consisted of an endless ribbon of white nylon secured by intermittent steel posts.  In the wind, it swelled gently, like an engorged sail or white sheets hung up on a clothes line.  Running Fence‘s visual success did not lie in the structure itself, but in its interaction with the monotonously beautiful surrounding landscape.  A gallery of photographs in the SAAM exhibit shows us that the piece looked different depending on the time of day and where one stood.

Ultimately, it is Read more…

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