Friday, May 15, 2009

Pecha Kucha: MoMA, M.Y. Art Prospects, CUNY's James Gallery, Cuchifritos, Monya Rowe and CRG

I went to a panel discussion at MoMA expecting to learn about the six artists presenting, and ended up more curious about the format of the lecture: Pecha Kucha.  Each presenter is allowed 20 images and has 20 seconds per image to comment.  MoMA is hosting five presentations in this format this spring in conjunction with the exhibition, “Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection.”

Pecha Kucha, which translates from Japanese as “chit chat,” is a recent innovation first used by architects.  In 2003, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, who have a Tokyo-based firm, saw the potential for expanding the role of the design presentation into the realm of nighttime entertainment. Pecha Kucha tightens up the parameters of a traditional lecture presentation relocating it to a bar or nightclub.  Consider Pecha Kucha as a substitute for Karaoke or a drinking game.  In the new, relaxed atmosphere, the shorter presentations allow architects and designers to quickly share their ideas.

So, does it work for artists?  

To get in on the game, I am modeling this post on the Pecha Kucha style. In addition to the MoMA presentation I will cover several recent art events: a lecture on surf blogging and an exhibition of Carolyn Swiszcz’s paintings at M.Y. Art Prospects; Thomas Torros Cordova’s performance, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” at CUNY’s new James Gallery; Josephine Halvorson and Andy Rosen ‘s two-person show, “Close to Home” at Cuchifritos; and Angela Dufresne’s new paintings at Monya Rowe and CRG.  This is more than I would normally write about at once, but I’ll try for short and sweet.

Ready, set, go.  

At MoMA, the artists presenting were Christian Holstad, Kim Jones, Julian Hoeber, Dana Schutz, Dannielle Tegeder and Elizabeth Simonson. Most of them started with older drawings from the exhibition, followed by more recent work in other media.  While the styles and subjects of their work were diverse, by the end all of the artists where united in feeling nerve-racked by the constraints of the Pecha Kucha format.  Disco lighting and a pitcher of beer might have helped.

One side effect of presenting under pressure was a generous outpouring during the Q and A and the end. The artists offered personal advice to the audience about countering some common professional hazards.   Elizabeth Simonson stressed the importance of having a studio and keeping a close circle of friends.  In response to a question about disappointment, Dannielle Tegeder offered, “it is a natural part of the process of making and showing work.” Dana Schutz says she fights doubt by making lists of ideas and running.  Several artists agreed with Kim Jones that doing yoga helps.  Looking back, it may be that the artists’ discomfort came from trying to jam the contents of a more traditional presentation into too small a space. The most memorable moments came after the timer had stopped and the artists were more at ease. 

Moving right along. 

To mark her gallery’s 10th anniversary, Miyako Yoshinga has initiated a monthly informal lecture and discussion series called Telling Evenings (T.E.) at M.Y. Art Prospects. On April 9 -- the debut of the series -- new media artist and filmmaker, Marcin Ramocki talked about the brief history of surf-blogging. He projected on-line examples of this visual telephone game, played by closed surf clubs on the Internet. Surf blogging sprang up from the fertile crescent of amateur pornography connoisseurship and Internet image piracy. The audience’s reaction to Ramoki’s presentation was swift and polarized:  outrage at the unauthorized use of images posted on the Internet, and delighted fascination with the humor and creativity of the results.

Also at M.Y. Art Prospects through May 23rd, “Minnesota Miracle,” an exhibition of Carolyn Swiszcz’s paintings combines a bleak “South Park” aesthetic with pitch-perfect atmospheric effects also found in Hokusai’s ukiyo-e landscape woodblock prints.  The artist’s use of repeating geometric shapes to depict modern suburban architectural facades – they are “rubber stamped” – becomes a commentary on the winter-weary heartland mindset.  Her gaze at an impoverished, strip mall and beer-pong culture is both sympathetic and steady. 


Under the new directorship of Linda Norden, the programs at The Amie and Tony James Gallery at CUNY’s Graduate Center located at 35th and Madison have nearly exploded out of its large-windowed corner gallery space. Performances, videos, readings, and politically charged exhibitions rotate in and out of the gallery at a whiplash pace.  On April 17, 2009, film-maker, performance artist and crooner,  Thomas Torres Cordova screened his 3-D film “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” 

During his performance Cordova narrated and sang over his video montage accompanied by Woody "Uncle Woody" Sullender‘s live banjo playing.  Cordova is a full-time on-the-ground airlines employee whose family runs an air-conditioning business.  Airplane crashes, “loony” astronaut love triangles, the American need for artificially controlled air environments, and the mass merchandising of art, piled together spell out an SOS in sky-writing.  Where, in our airtight, super-sonic space age, is there room for the lonely heart to sing out and be heard? 

Home stretch. 

In “Close to Home,” curators Melissa Levin and Mike Quinn have paired fine art “souvenirs” from a northeastern sensibility at Cuchifritos in the East Village through June 13th. The modestly sized still life paintings by Josephine Halvorson exhibit a wry, deadpan humor and play off the physical comedy of Andy Rosen’s nautical sculptures.   

Last one.  

A double dose of work by painter and musician Angela Dufresne’s is now up at Monya Rowe and CRG in Chelsea in “Modern Times I and II.”  Painting the movie of her life, scored by Bob Dylan and scripted by Charlie Chaplin, Dufrese’s friends understudy for contemporary and classic movie stars. She slides a filmic veneer under her painted forms and strokes reminding me of the late Picasso's, and the paintings of Louise Fishman and Cecily Brown.  There’s a split-screen music video made by Dufresne floating around the Internet I wish would show up in her galleries.


Pecha Kucha for writing:  is the result a haiku collection or a shopping list? I’ll take their word that it works for architects; the jury is out for fine artists. “Chit chat” implies a tuned out superficiality, but it sounds like the process is supposed to be more like skipping rope, it gets the heart rate up, hopefully pumping more oxygen to the brain.  Maybe fine art is less programmatic than architecture, so its harder to regulate.  Or should MoMA be serving cocktails? 

Above Image by Carolyn Swiszcz, "Walker Art Center, Minneapolis," Acrylic and rubber stamp on canvas, 36" x 48", 2009.  Courtesy of M.Y. Art Prospects.  

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Returning Abroad, Leaving Home

The Watercolors
"Souvenir," means to remember. A souvenir acquired while traveling is brought back home (a small crystal bottle from Versailles, let’s say.) Through its displaced physical presence -- it came from somewhere else -- the object disrupts the present. Is that how we remember something? Watercolor brush marks animate small blue and white bedroom interiors rippling the present tense of their photographic source images, like cyanotype snapshots. At 16, the girl’s bedroom at home in New York City, in the year 2007, becomes a point of departure. Her souvenirs remind her that further adventures await her and that at some moment in the future, she will make her own way and her own home.

The Paintings
The last royal resident of The Chateau Versailles was another girl, who at 14, in 1769, left her mother in Austria to become Queen Consort of France and of Navarre. The presence of the paint, in layers and strokes, supports the nearly life-size images of gilt furnishings from Marie Antoinette’s palace, covered in yellow, red and blue. Taken outside like the chairs, the images slip off the edges, as if pulled toward the water. The swirls and curves of the Queen’s carpets and chairs gaze back to the decorative bottle on the girl’s bedside table, across the wake of the Atlantic Ocean. Messages under the waving surfaces are migratory commands. The pattern repeats. The story repeats.

The Video
From the translucent souvenir flows a video of free associations: memories from the trip and from further back in time. With a cross dissolve logic moments remembered vie with the pull of the present. Images collect, connect, sort and fade: a walk along the Rue de Rivoli, a rooftop in Manhattan, and a cloudy day at Versailles. A photographic veneer hovers under the animated flow of paint forms and strokes. Typewritten reflections describe the adorned fountains in the formal gardens at Versailles. A landscape is mirrored across the water.

Later we can see that leaving home happens in marked stages. Making her new home at Versailles, the young Queen shed her girlhood clothes, wearing now only clothes of the Court. New experiences, new responsibilities. Her golden chairs encircle the round table, pulling back toward the water. The North Fork marshes of the girl’s childhood summers flood her dreams. From whose mind’s eye are these images being projected? Who is writing the story? The girl is my daughter. These are my paintings. I hold hopes, as any mother does, for my child to make a home for herself -- to fearlessly define her own world.

Image above:  Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Journal", 2008, 10" x 10.75", watercolor on paper