2.28.2009

he is missing a cheek. (jean (hans) arp takes the show)



newly opened at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Surrealism and Beyond In the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (February 15 through May 17, 2009) continues the thoughtful, sweeping exhibition designs that I've come to appreciate at the museum since Aaron Betsky has been around. 

White fabric partitions that evoke the kind of dreaminess of theater scrims meander through one of the two gallery spaces committed to the exhibition. Works by Marcel Duchamp, all basically "readymades" are suspended and spotlit in front of the various screens making a bold, sparse tableau that runs through the more densely hung walls of the spaces. 

Even more breathtaking is the other gallery space where an array of surrealist objects by Duchamp, Man Ray, Jean (Hans) Arp, Joseph Cornell, Meret Oppenheim, and others are sitting scattered across an elevated mirrored platform. The cool lighting and irregular curvilinear edge of the dais is pond-like, almost evoking dreams, levitation, and the innovative installation art settings of Surrealist exhibitions in the time that these pieces were produced.

BUT i should say that I've hardly begun to absorb this exhibition. What I jot here are my initial impressions from a cursory walkthrough. These are the standouts from my first visit, and i expect that as i see this more times, i will write about additional pieces.


He Is Missing a Cheek. 
Jean (Hans) Arp
Plaster, 1964

By standouts, I think that hands down the work I most gravitated towards was the collection and presentation of an unparalleled set of works by Jean (Hans) Arp. The Israel Museum will let you look at their collection online and you can savor all of these pieces on their site, here. 


I work with abstraction in my own art and most easily relate to it in other artworks. Compared to many of the other selections on display, Arp realizes the extraordinary without clashing unnecessarily with the real world outside of the artwork. Simplicity, biomorphic solutions that bear some resemblance to Giacometti's surrealist objects in plaster (before he became disassociated with the movement) are practically psychoanalytic in how they can sustain viewers' projections and assumptions about meaning, no matter how far fetched.  

Mediterranean Group
Jean (Hans) Arp
Plaster, 1941-42

In one space, a group of these stand in a procession down a broad pedestal, acting as an additional division between more two dimensional works. The resulting ghostly population seems to me to premise all kinds of sculptures since the time he made these works.


Navel and Two Thoughts
Jean (Hans) Arp
Bronze, 1932


There is a large Rene Magritte in the exhibition that is being used in most of the promotional material for this exhibition. But it is a small, somewhat crudely painting work also by Magritte entitled The Quandary of Painting, hung alongside a Morandi, whose legacy was recently rewarded with a fine exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here are those two paintings. Together, they are a lovely, contemplative little corner of wall almost near the very back of the exhibition:


















If I were to express some crisis within my experience of the selections presented, it is the alarmingly sexual work of Hans Bellmer. I'm no prude. My aesthetics are a whirlwind of psychosexual, queer theory politics, but Bellmer's work insinuates violence and malevolence to me. That is not what disturbed me so much as the viewing public seeming to find his sex-toy dolls endearing. In future visits, I want to watch more of how the audience interacts with these works to ascertain if my observations from the one night were skewed.



Okay.
I'm off to an opening at Country Club and then to see a French film at the Art Academy.
Adieu.




2.27.2009

a rewarding trip of new experiences at CAM.





wednesday night, the Cincinnati Art Museum put on a multi-faceted event called "The Hair Affair," a gamut of events, including a lecture, a hair fashion show, hairstylists' interpretations of art from the collection, and an impressive spread of slide shows, food, and music in the Great Hall. Hair, as an art material, is of particular relevance to me, as I have used it for some of the objects I have used in installation art for several years. For example, Susan, see below, is a five foot tall pompadour wig that was included in the three person exhibition There Were Three at Artworks last summer:





In hindsight, the promotional material was probably a little ambiguous compared to how the evening actually ran, but the event was an excuse to see several changes within the museum that I hadn't been by to take note of.

Actually, I was there to preview a show for
City Beat. Stewart Goldman: Presence through Absence, which opens this weekend. Keep looking in City Beat's art section for the review!


The main draw was that
Althea Murphy-Price, after her stunner of an exhibition at the Weston (which I included in my 'best of' a few posts back), was invited to speak about her work in a short lecture at the museum. Back to the vagueness prior to the evening, I arrived early to look around the museum before the lecture, which I understood to be at 7 pm. When it was all said and done, Murphy-Price didn't start speaking until around twenty past eight. I was in Columbus at a symposium connected with the Warhol exhibition at the Wexner when she gave a gallery talk in conjunction with her Weston exhibition, but I heard good things from all who attended. This talk was part of the schedule of events for "Race: Are We So Different?" that is taking place primarily at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Aaron Betsky, the director of the CAM, is a fantastic, enthusiastic addition to our community. I doubt I will ever stop being thrille that he is here. He was one of three people who introduced the artist. He expressed concern that the community at large saw the CAM as "a block sitting no a hill; white in all kinds of ways." To be sure, there was a marked diversity in audience, not just in skin color, but also in walk of life. A whole band of hairstylists were on the premise presenting models with elaborate hairstyles in the various galleries of the museum. It seemed like several organizations had encouraged their members to participate in the evening as well. Even still, I am not sure what I think of Betsky's remark.


Althea Murphy-Price
Dunce Cap
synthetic hair + wool, 2005



Murphy-Price anchored her work in personal experience, which seemed amusing and exciting for much of the audience, as she shared childhood stories of hair experiments and hair as an identifying marker in grade school. I find that her sculptures and printmaking are invitingly more abstract than the context she started to build in her lecture, though her family's superstition that hair clippings must be burned or else a bird might steal it to nest with, causing the rest of one's hair to fall out- - - it was a great additional cultural tale to associate with hair sculpture.


One of my favorite artist, cited by Murphy-Price in her lecture as well, created a series of works near the end of the 1990s from woven and braided horse hair and taxidermy. One of these works (that can be seen in this image on the back wall, courtesy of the artist's gallery, Galerie Lelong), is now in the CAM's collection and on display on the top floor of the museum:




Which brings me to the museum at large. If you haven't been upstairs to see the new set of works Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Jessica Flores has overseen putting out on display, go. Go now. Alongside the Stella and Kiefer that we have all known for years, are releatively new acquisitions of work by Mary Heilmann, Petah Coyne, Pat Steir, Julian Schnabel, and Judy Pfaff. The other small gallery space on the third floor has seen a deinstallation of prints by Robert Rauschenberg, and while that space is empty right now, I can't wait to see what comes up next.

A painting that had already been on display, but has now been moved to another wall, now hanging between Kiefer and Steir, is a Jacqueline Humphries painting of surprising subtlety.





It has been some time since I've considered this work. Since my last considerate encounter with "Black Monday," I went to
New Orleans to see Prospect 1. Among other amazing artworks and installations, Humphries, originally from New Orleans, did an amazing installation of paintings, both on linen and hung on the wall, and other spray painted directly onto the walls of a car garage space. See?



Humphries' painting is built from controlled drips and swaths of transparent paint to build an abstract landscape, a superstructure of tendril marks and subtle pinks on chilly black and white.



Another relatively recent acquisition to the collection that I wish I could say I had an image of, is a small framed relief work by Louise Nevelson that has been hung beside there larger, more quintessential assemblage. Untitled from 1958 is a "museum purchased with funds provided by Frisch's Restaurant." and that bit on the label adds to the content of my experience. At the risk of making corny connections, the cardboard and aluminum foil in the work gives me a grin as i wonder if the restaurant had any choice in the work they helped to fund. The materials could maybe be found in a Frisch's, and i find great pleasure in that.


I also got to pay a cursory visit to the new exhibition "Surrealism and BeyondIn the Israel Museum, Jerusalem," but will share my ideas and notes of this exceedingly elegant exhibition in a separate post.

2.23.2009

ugh. series. huh.



"The artist makes what we might call a batch: using the same recipe, but making each work distinct enough so that each collector can have his own slightly different but still recognizable example." 

-Philip Fisher in Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. In a section on ‘The Newness Effect in Modern Art’






I don't work in a series. When I interviewed Tara Donovan for this article, I was surprised that she did say that she worked in series. I couldn't exactly see how this is true, even though her process has a methodology or formula for deconstructing the physical properties of a material and to exploit its extreme positions. So I left it out of the stories and have continued to worry about it. 

And while I have chosen to avoid the "batch" as Fisher calls what most of us might call a series, I am not sure my reasons coincide with what he expresses above. His observation gets sticky. It may empower market more than is due. It expresses a devaluation of the batch as a concept. Sometimes series manage to far exceed the limited expectations issued above. Not all the time. Personally, I feel that a series of artworks runs the risk of becoming a kind of all-over visual static, that looking at any one point in an exhibition results in an experience that is not overtly distinguishable from any other view of the exhibition. 

In particular, I have a concern for many contemporary painters who pay attention only to what happens within the parameters of a number of paintings, leaving the real experience of space, light, proximity, and other physical properties of actual experience ill considered, when, clearly, these elements conjoin the paintings, make up the experience of how to get from one object to the next. Series here suggests a sequence of artmaking endeavors, and maybe implies breaks between them rather than a continuous effort to offer a holistic artistic experience to the viewer (or even to themselves as the makers). It is possible that there are legitimate, helpful reasons that art could function that way. I'm strained to think of any, instead wondering that if the goal of the maker of pictures is some kind of psychic transportation, it does so only clumsily.


The batch. I don't think I've ever minded if a batch of cookies or a series of sushi pieces sitting in a roll are overly similar. Some people, when their pets die, try to recreate the conditions of the previous pet's life/existence as closely as possible. When I consider the Team or the Band, it seems that while each participant embodies some specific skills or unique contributions to the Whole, they all basically share a goal, a visionary destination for the potential they brandish together. To that end, maybe there are plenty of examples of batches of art objects produced by an artist that make more good by being variations on a theme. Sometimes parsing through minutia, distinguishing between similar but not same experiences is an important job for those who feel a personal investment in mapping the territory of our visual landscape.


"Artists, especially in recent times, may be trying to distinguish themselves one from another in the effort to attain uniquely autographic styles. This occurs, in effect, if [Tom] Wolfe is right [in his essay The Painted Word], by beginning with a theory of art and then creating artworks to conform to its precepts, rather than allowing art to follow its natural direction and only afterward taking notice and developing a theory of what artists have independently chosen to do." 
-Dale Jacquette, "Intention, Meaning, and Substance in the Phenomenology of Abstract Painting"


A printmaker I am friends with told me a month or so back that she valued contrivance as a tool contemporary art allows for. I am hoping to better understand what she means by this as we talk more, but it does seem adjacent to some of what Jacquette (and Wolfe) seem critical of in their writings. MY SKEPTICISM is that there is almost no such thing as "allowing art to follow its natural direction." Without assuming that content is the driving force for making art objects, there is nonetheless some M.O. for cultivating an art practice where each of us set loose into material explorations of ideas that hold our attention. I doubt there is another way to do it. But then, I doubt "natural," generally.

Do you? And if I'm inviting a conversation here, I might as well ask questions I am interested in hearing the answers to.

How do you get from one isolated painting to the next in exhibitions where the artist presents a series of similar works? How do you interact with the context(s)?



screaming "Don't Eat It! It's People!" in the middle of the Double Meat Palace and other temples of aesthetic revelation.


an image in my recent installation "A White Hunter, a white hunter is nearly crazy"





"The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.

I personally feel that defamiliarization is found almost everywhere form is found… An image is not a permanent referent for those mutable complexities of life which are revealed through it, its purpose is not to make us perceive meaning, but to create a special perception of the object - it creates a vision of the object instead of serving as a means for knowing it…" 
–Viktor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique"



You can expect this passage to be the basis of much of what proceeds in my writing for different venues in the months to come. Presently I am gathering my ideas for an exhibition I will be curating for the month of May at semantics gallery that centers around the 'politics of abstraction,' as i am presently dubbing it in my notes.


One personal anecdote comes to mind. I live in Brighton, an urban industrial neighborhood and share the blocks surrounding my building with, among other things, a meat processing facility. I was only vaguely aware of this until one morning while I was brushing my teeth. From the third floor, my bathroom window looks down toward our street. On this particular day, I looked out in time to see a truck moving down the street, with what initially appeared to me as a giant, red Lee Krasner painting. Like this:




I looked down at the sinewy marks, the range of red to white through pink, and appreciated it for its spontaneous arrangement, and the radicality of this moving field of color and texture, glinting wet and juicy in a hot burst of daylight. In a word, I was seduced by what I saw.

Until I saw that it was ankles and necks and other leftover pieces of animal. Even then, I was drawn to what were the basic formal qualities of the things I saw, almost totally able to set aside the connotations of such a macabre sight (I am probably one of those shameful carnivores who can't conceptually reconcile my meat eating to my broader belief systems). 

Briefly, I'll bring up a photographer who lived in Cincinnati several years ago and now lives in Las Vegas. Because, as it happens, my serendipitous experience strikes upon a very intentional aspect of her artmaking:




Cara Cole creates these conjoined, diptych like images that involve the pieces of dissected animal, seen from up close so as to isolate some of the physical qualities of these materials. The viewer gets drawn in, usually unable to resist the exacting, lush beauty of the images Cole presents.




What Cole and what the meat truck managed to do to me aesthetically has become more and more a practice in seeing that can initially or indefinitely divorce form from function, exploding visual possibility beyond what a thing is said to be

This is where I want to reside. This is it for me!





postscript: the title of this entry is a clue into how  my experience of television as art is integrated into many of my other aesthetic judgements. i believe that other people will catch these references, but am reluctant to explain them much more than Lorelai Gilmore might. i hope that, if you do get the references, you enjoy them!






2.22.2009

an installation + an artist walkthrough










I wanted to make a general announcement about an installation project that I've created for the lobby of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church (103 William Howard Taft). It will be up for a couple of months, but in particular I wanted to bring your attention to Sunday March 22, 2009 when I will be doing an artist walkthrough after morning services. This will be an opportunity for the church's congregation to meet me and hear about the ideas behind the work, and also for people from the public to visit the installation. Sunday services are at 11 AM, followed by a social hour afterward at 12:30. The walkthrough will be part of the after service activities. Below, you can read more about the installation. If you have any questions or follow ups, please e-mail me. I would be happy to go into more detail as needed.





A White Hunter
A white hunter is nearly crazy.
an installation by Matt Morris
Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church




Boxes of tissues, snapshot photographs, drawings on tissues in rosé champagne and graphite, and ‘doo-dad’ sculptures make up the installation that ascends the multi-level exhibition space at Mount Auburn. What is included in the installation acts as an elaboration and commentary on the spirit and structure of the space it occupies. This collection of objects deal in abstract ideas about the soul and a quiet sadness that always seems to underpin transcendence. Titled after a poem in Gertrude Stein’s collection Tender Buttons, the exhibition reflects the complicated and contradictory efforts at reaching the heart of a matter.






we're going to talk more about this.






Since the end of January, the Saint Elizabeth Art Foundation has been inviting me back bi-weekly to host a new discussion group series based around viewings of Art:21, a brilliant documentary series by PBS that introduces viewers to a broad range (72 and counting) of contemporary artists, offering insight into their working practice, ideas, + biographies.  After watching the segments, we've had lively and profound conversations where artists, thinkers, and the otherwise interested have conversationally connected the content of the film segments to their own lives and art practices. 

Here's what people have been saying about it:

"I don't know why anyone would not want to come. I have attended every session. I find it to be great fellowship and leave feeling challenged to go beyond the everyday." -Kara McNeel

"I really enjoy attending these gatherings." -Brennan Bradford


So tomorrow we continue with the third meeting. These events take place in a mysterious library type building in Norwood. It reminds me of J. K. Rowling's description of Dumbledore's office, because along with walls lined with books and overstuffed chairs sitting on a dais, there is this huge, silver piece of machinery for making coffee and hot tea. The address is 1801 Mills Avenue, 45212. I've found that the number 4 bus runs very close to this part of Norwood and makes this event accessible even to the basic pedestrian. While it begins at the official time- 7:30- I've found that people feel comfortable and engaged enough to stay beyond the ending time of 9:30.




This week, we will be watching the segments that feature Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, and Ida Applebroog. All three artists somehow involve mythologies and history into their own biographies and invented fantasies. Their sculptures, prints, and paintings are all forms of storytelling and will hopefully open up discussion about how each of us choose to integrate ourselves into civilizational histories and how our personal reconciliations and resistances to culture affect or inform our artmaking or other creative output.


Ida Applebroog's work is one of the first I think of when I consider humanism, the self-constructed identity, personal empowerment, and the radical humor of static situations. Her earlier works with sequential images (that are discussed in the documentary) remind me of Samuel Beckett or the extremely prolonged scene in Baby Mama starring Tina Fey where she and Steve Martin's character make eye contact for a long period of time.




I was first introduced to Nancy Spero's work because of her materials- using print media, drawings in gouache, and other forms of pictures in larger installations. April Foster, one of the knowledgeable professors at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, showed me several of her works in, oh, it was probably 2004. But it wasn't until my visit to Centre Pompidou during my stay in Paris in 2007 that I saw some truly monumental installations of her art that challenged and inspired me. 





For further information about this and other St. E events, feel free to contact the program coordinator Laura McNeel at laura@stelizabetharts.com or 513 378 3069.

I hope all kinds of people will be able to make it out!




2.21.2009

is it too late to tell you i love you?




I was asked by one of the publications I write for to compile a top ten list of the best shows I saw in and around Cincinnati in 2008. By some sweeping fates, these lists didn't get put to use, so I thought as I start building a base of information on this page, I would share them with you, trying to show you as many images of the exhibitions as I can find. I wrote about most of these for City Beat in Cincinnati, so my images and brief notes here can be expounded on in various articles archived HERE.
Almost everything in the post is linked to websites of the artists and gallery venues in which I saw these exhibitions. I borrowed these images from all over the web; I hope no one minds terribly. Obviously, copyright credit goes to the artists whose work is depicted in each image. If someone does mind, by all means let me know, and I'll adjust as needed. 



They are in rough order from which ones have stayed the most memorable in the time since:

Suzanne Silver @ the Weston Gallery





Maria Lassnig @ CAC



By clicking on Meromi's name, you can read the review I wrote about this conceptual, generous exhibition.



Paper Chasers @ Artworks Gallery
"Paper Chasers" was one of a string of impressive exhibitions organized by the fantastic Elaine Lynch during her tenure as gallery coordinator for the muscly organization. Physical, philosophical, and hugely varied, the group exhibition compelled me to keep looking. And keep looking. The motley cast of artists is represented here by a paper sculpture made by Lauren Clay:


Caroline Thomas @
Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Full disclosure = I know Thomas from our years living in Louisiana and I may have personal insight into a longer span of time that allows me to see where this work has grown from. Nonetheless, I am boldly listing her thesis exhibition for her undergraduate degree in painting from the Art Academy as one of my favorite exhibitions of last year because of its bold, racy, mythological, arcane tone and the jewel-like, incredibly desirable paintings that resulted from her insightful, probing, imaginative mind. Her work was actually shown twice- at her thesis exhibition and then a month or so later in the Cincinnati Visual Fringe Festival- both times at AAC.

(this photo was taken by Liz Murray, another recent graduate of the art academy).


Althea Murphy-Price @ the Weston.
This exhibition of sculptures and lithographs generated from clipped, fused, braided, and otherwise sculpted synthetic hair made it on 'best of' lists and was the talk of many circles I make my way through. We were all so impressed by the solidity of the exhibition, and, personally, I revered how Murphy-Price dedicated herself so wholly to a material and really discovered what she was capable of doing with it. (as it happens this wednesday Althea will be returning to the Cincinnati area to give a presentation at the Cincinnati Art Museum entitled "Hair Affair." As I understand it, she will be employing pieces from the collection to discuss the semiotics of hair, an area of sociology that I have a personal interest in as well. It is at 7 pm and is free, to the best of my knowledge.)




The dear Nick Paddock who ran this space is now working with Visionaries & Voices to do more exciting art projects in Cincinnati. His beautiful little gallery is missed. He brought Riley's paintings from Chicago just in time to shake us out of wintry solace with color and a sophistication in manipulating paint media that stunned all who approached them.



We should be so fortunate to look back on 2009 with such a rich set of shows. Not as if we haven't started off strong: I have been amazingly impressed with the Donovan exhibition at CAC, Rebecca Seeman's solo show at the Art Academy, "Almost Certain" a freshly opened 2-person exhibition at Aisle featuring Paige Williams and Jeff Cortland Jones, the Joan Snyders at Carl Solway, the stunning new Prairie Gallery in Northside (and Voss Finn's work in the inaugural show)... lots to love.






my tiger, my heart: upcoming exhibition at semantics gallery



as some of you no doubt know, i help run an alternative gallery space in the Brighton neighborhood of Cincinnati (just west of downtown) called semantics. for the most part, i try to keep some kind of separation between my role as critic and my role as teammate/conspirator/co-curator of the gallery. as i work my way through this blog, i will have to decide how much i will use it as an additional platform for semantics gallery, which i love dearly. but for now, i want you to know from me about an upcoming exhibition a close friend has put together.

so today starts my torrents of support for Eric Ruschman's first solo exhibition. i share a studio with Ruschman and have watched this body of work develop with anticipation. for now, i'll let the press release spark your interest rather than waxing to excess over my own interpretations of his artwork. i will no doubt continue reminding you of this exhibition as we get closer and closer to the opening date.



semantics gallery
1107 Harrison Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45214

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
my tiger, my heart
paintings and improvisations by Eric Ruschman


(a detail of his painting St. Kitten as Salome; oil and enamel on MDF panel)


March 7—28th, 2009
Opening reception: Saturday, March 7th, 7—10 pm
Show & Tell: Saturday, March 21st, 7—10 pm
Visitors to the gallery are invited and encouraged to bring an object, song, film clip, game, toy, story or anything that brings them joy to stimulate discussion about life’s simple pleasures.
Between Aging & Anti-Aging: Film Night at semantics: Saturday, March 28th, 7—10 pm
Visitors are invited into the gallery for an evening of short films and video presented by the artist that further explores themes represented within the exhibition.
Gallery hours are 12—4 pm on Saturdays.
Gallery appointments can also be made by contacting the artist at 859-409-0549



In his first solo exhibition, Eric Ruschman will present a new body of small, highly crafted oil and enamel paintings on panel, accompanied by installations of figurines and other gathered products, offering a playful arrangement of colorful objects and imagery for viewers to explore. Fueled by a taste for good design, celebrations of friendships and pop culture, and a love of animals and color, these works are smart, concise dialogues between personal iconography and Modern approaches to image.

Ruschman’s paintings populate color fields of hard-edged, geometric abstraction with a cast of anthropomorphized characters and objects. The resulting coming-of-age stories are steeped in the nostalgia of simpler, childhood memories and attempts to define an aesthetics of regained innocence.


In one series of paintings created for this exhibition, the artist has depicted the various adventures and encounters he has observed in the life of his black cat, Saint Kitten. Like Virgil, she guides the viewer through encounters with squirrels, a wish list of new
IKEA furniture, and other experiences that are keyed to the maximum potential for the viewer’s disarmament.


Whereas Ruschman’s paintings are rigidly planned then executed, the installations of objects on shelves and pedestals included in this exhibition employ intuition and critical play as a means of cultivating surprisingly direct compositions and narratives. These physical situations draw some of the formal qualities represented in the two-dimensional paintings out into the viewer’s space, encouraging wonderment and imagination into realized environments.



welcome, and i love the oblique.





Welcome to this new location for my thoughts and writing. I've begun this blog to bridge my activities as one of the writers for A.C. Frabetti's online journal of art criticism Aeqai with some of my other approaches to visual culture. After discussing this blog component with my editor, he (A.C.) offered this quotation as a possible explanation for my writings here:



"A good critic is one who narrates the adventures of his mind among masterpieces." - Anatole France





So, by way of introduction, I am going to post the talking points from a lecture I gave on November 23, 2008 as part of a lecture series called "Making Sense of Contemporary Art." Gary Gaffney, a professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and a local artist, invited me to speak from the perspective of the art critic. In my talk, I presented as many unanswered questions as I did solutions. I talked heavily from my own bias as both a writer and a visual artist in my own practice (as Matthew Collings, Jerry Saltz, and others have done before me while they 'tried to do both'). It was a pleasure to speak in the same session as Jean Feinberg, a seasoned curator and critic who has created exhibitions, catalogues, and catalogue essays that have left indelible impressions on me. At one time, she was the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Our perspectives contrasted one another vividly, and brought up an important point: what I think is not absolutely truth, nor do I purport it to be. Perhaps that is obvious, but I thought it important to make that clear at the front end of whatever may occur in this written space.







The range of possible meanings of an art object compels criticism into action so that the artwork may be liberated from the confines of the artist's intentions in making it.

My beliefs and ideas about criticism depend largely on my own experiences, reinforced through a personal practice of reading, research, and inquiry. I don’t and have no interest in vouching how it stands up to a canon or to some standards of “what criticism should be.” Criticism should stay as experimental, optional, an practical as art making itself.

While I work through these talking points, there will be images of work projected in the room. I will tell you about what the images are. Their function here is to show you a smattering of paintings, sculptures, installations, and films that I have had deeply profound experiences with, ones that defied initial or continue to defy critical analysis all together. I bring them up as a way to deflect any absolute conviction that may seem to leak out as I speak. The best work, it seems, renders the critical part of my consciousness temporarily or wholly mute. It is a kind of spirituality where art gives new relevance to ineffability. And so we proceed.


Criticism, as I use it, is the OPPOSITE of the text panels that are often presented in museums. Actually, in the American Folk Art Museum there are even docents that wear tags that say “art explainer.” I question what we can totally know about art; it is mutable. As concrete as most of it is, it is radiant with potential changes, deflecting easy interpretations or solid categorization. For me, criticism is often about knowing that I know less than I thought and appreciating the broad psychological terrain that I can access through an art object.



People generally look to restaurant, book, film, and art reviews, to determine whether they should spend the time or money to entertain or be entertained. The media recognize that although so many deny relying on what some stranger has to say, the reviewer has the power to secure patrons. … Because Morris spends too much time beating his chest and our heads with art theory … he, ArtWorks, and the rest of us are left to rely on City Beat’s red “Critic’s Pick” that graces the review. Morris’ review thus risks not only alienating loyal art patrons, but reducing the role of the reviewer to a mere editor’s stamp.
-Kathy Stockman on her Cincinnati Art Snob Blog

To be sure, my goal as a writer is not to offer a final judgment about the work that either condemns or approves of it. I am usually much more ambivalent. Instead, in my writing and in the way I experience art for myself, I aim to map my experience, being awareness of distinctions between one aspect and another aspect of what an artwork is doing to me. Sometimes it is pleasurable, sometimes disturbing, and sometimes studious in how it recalls vast references to history, society, philosophy, and other information. When I write, I try to offer a portrait of the work from my perspective.




Yes, of course, I am excited by the totally integrated work of art. But the truth is that there is something far more important to me than this unitary idea, than this emphasis on quality as the achievement of wholeness and consistency and perfection. What I really want from art is a variety of qualities, qualities that are as varied as the artists who create the works of art. And I suspect that when artists are shaping and deepening and clarifying the qualities that mean the most to them, then the quality in the sense of wholenss and oneness takes care of itself.
-Jed Perl in Antoine’s Alphabet


Criticism is less useful when restricted to the artist’s intended message. As a viewer, I am resistant to obviously didactic message that an artist hopes to communicate in an artwork. I can’t think of any work that is not rife with oblique possibilities and those are what I pay attention to.
More than anything else, I look to the object itself to inform me about its qualities and nature. Its scale, materiality, color, placement, space occupation, and how the elements (if there are more than one) of a work are composed into the experience that is offered. In other words, the form that an artwork takes provides its greatest meaning. Its superficial qualities are, in fact, its deepest possible meanings.

To really even know what it is you are seeing takes time. Don’t wholly trust your initial impressions of a work. Allow your impressions to compound over time, or even multiple visits to work. As Wayne Koestenbaum said of Warhol’s work at the Wexner last weekend, “Things will start to happen.”


Once an object is put out into the world, the artist’s involvement with its interpretation is not of primary importance to me. An artwork may note all kinds of periphery references or aspects of art history that the maker is unaware of, with no need for the artist to legitimize these additional meanings attached to the work.

This depends on what you want out of art. Surprisingly, Duchamp seemed to want to be in contact with the maker through the work they made. This is not of primary concern for me as a viewer, and almost totally unimportant as a critic and writer. The presence of the artist in the work is useful insofar as their biography does or does not obviously inform the object itself.
What is possible through a critical intent in looking at an artwork is that a dialectic is possible between object and viewer. The art object projects a range of potential meanings that the viewer responds to with sensitivity, analysis, reflection, and articulation. (The best works are animated and can uphold their end of the discussion.) What results are these trains of ideas that are spread out in the space between audience and art. What results is a reassurance of the connectedness of ideas and of the nearly endless possibilities that can result from simply looking.



Certainly, the roles of artist and critic are different, and it is one of my life works right now to operate ambidextrously as both a maker of visual objects and a writer of criticism, theory, and poetry. But criticism is more of an instinct than I thought it was, and I’ve come to see that it has been a part of my life when I was a student and as an artist for some time.

As a young artist especially, but this is true of anyone who is interested in visual art experiences, or any experiences at all, articulating your experiences back to yourself is a means of learning from them. I can see even early on in my sketchbooks how I came to implement lessons from master artists into my practice by way of exercising a critical dialogue about what I was seeing.

Trying to maneuver as both artist and critic simultaneously is rarely successful; however, I have learned that as well as approaching other people’s art critically, there are stages in my own creative process when I can step away from the work and carry a line of inquiry to what I am doing, discussing what I appear to be accomplishing in the work and formulating strategies to proceed based on my half-baked conclusions.Having said that, I believe it is important that the artist understands that we are hardly objective about our own work and are not ideal candidates to represent common taste or the implications of what we’ve made to the society we are presenting it to. Most often, artists really barely know what it is they’ve made, even the best of them. I have innate mistrust towards artists who presume to have designed clear communication in visual objects. Yeah, but what about all this extra information lying about?
When Laura James at City Beat wrote about my recent solo exhibition, she read this installation with potato starch and flour sifted onto the floor as a reference to cocaine at parties. And perhaps with good reason, because the title of the piece was even Glamorama, taken from a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, that, like most of his books looks into the bewildering decadence of the 1990s in America. Nonetheless, I approached that material as some of the ingredients of the powder used on wigs in pre-revolution France. Nearby, a video piece played where Glenn Close, in Dangerous Liaisons, smashed canisters of powder and perfume in her boudoir. Fragmentary installations with poetic potential strung between them, allowing powdered wigs, cocaine, baking accidents, Zen sand gardens and a number of other references to be called to mind in viewers. While this is as much due the abstraction in my work, I have had as ambivalent of experiences with all kinds of art. What are the motivations of the characters in this Girodet painting? Why did Bonnard need to paint women and cats instead of just being Fiona Rae way before she was born?


I don’t mean to take away the responsibility of the artist to his own work. But I believe that an artist’s attempt at understanding what he is doing is to improve and refine the intent with which he is working. As we come to question ourselves about what we make, our art becomes more specific. I also don’t mean to suggest that the artist is totally excluded from a discussion of his work. On the contrary, the artist is a storyteller, enabled to regale audiences with where the work came from and the conditions (mental, social, psychological) that surrounded it as it was realized. The artist is the keeper of the art object’s past: we know where our art comes from better than we know anything else about it.


Does art change because of criticism?
Do viewers’ impressions or understandings of art change because of criticism?
Should anything change because of criticism?
Some of the most astute writing about art is after the artist has died, where everything that they will realize is realized; we have as much evidence as we are going to have in understanding the person and place that the art came from. In the meantime, I continue to be watchful.