Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two Personal Heroes: Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly (1928-2011) and Dirck Winser Brown (1928-2002)

On the Occasion of “Cy Twombly: Sculpture” Exhibition
The Museum of Modern Art
May 20 - October 3, 2011

To accompany my review of the exhibition in The Brooklyn Rail: "Cy Twombly: Sculpture."

Late in December, 1998, I visited with Cy Twombly in Lexington, VA. He gave me a tour of his house and studio, where I remember seeing several sculptures. He was gracious, engaging and as I recall, slightly bemused. This summer, I was compelled to write about MoMA’s small, but comprehensive exhibition of Twombly’s sculpture (including one he made in Lexington); sadly he died just after the show opened. As part of reconciling with Twombly’s passing and to prepare for writing the review I wanted to revisit his life’s work.  Also, I wanted to graft my own personal associations onto my reassessment; my familiarity with Lexington, I realized, gave me insight into some key aspects of the artist’s background. What resonated even more, were the circumstances of my encounter with the artist, which had been a personal milestone.

Lexington has a beauty that seems to enchant through its disarming physical attributes, but it is the ghosts from Revolutionary and Civil War times who are doing the heavy lifting. As proof, ruminations about past great generals and bloody battles are still part of everyday conversation at the local coffee shops. The white column studded architecture, resting on hedge-lined green lawns, all of which are floating amidst the low blue-grey Blue Ridge Mountains, have a pull my parents couldn’t resist. In 1993 they moved there, as an exercise in nostalgia; they were looking for a town that resembled their hometown in southern Ohio, also a history-steeped, college town, (but wasn’t actually their hometown – too many familiar ghosts.) Correctly, they felt they could pursue their interests unimpeded in Lexington. They are pioneers, my father in adoption counseling and my mother in ecology education. (I, however, wasn’t for the move.  I prefer ghosts of people I’ve actually known.  Their prior home in Orient Point, NY where my grandparents and their parents has lived, had all the charm I needed and it was seven hours closer to my parent’s grandchildren we were raising in New York City.)

In his interview with David Sylvester, in 2001, Twombly refers to Lexington’s subtle charms “… where I'm from, the central valley of Virginia, is not one of the most exciting landscapes in the world, but it's one of the most beautiful. It's very beautiful because it has everything. It has mountains, there are streams, there are fields, beautiful trees. And architecture sits very well in it.” He had first left Lexington, his birthplace and hometown, when he was in his 20’s gravitating to Rome and establishing a life-long pattern of relocating to different parts of the world for each season of the year.  He had been pulled back to Lexington regularly because the area reminded him of his adopted Mediterranean home across the Atlantic.  Based on the epic myths and ancient tales of war he used in his artwork, I can’t help thinking that it was also Generals Washington and Lee or fallen heroes from the Battle of New Market who were calling Twombly back when he acquired his house and studio in Lexington. Coincidently this was the same year as my parent’s move there.

I was personally familiar with regular relocation. Growing up, as a family we had moved many times throughout the United States.  My father’s first career had taken us to several different cities, but I knew our moves were fueled in part by my father’s personal restlessness. He lived with a taboo.  He had been adopted.  The impact of this fact on his psyche was complete and total.  I trace almost every move he made as reverberating from the circumstances of his birth and his adoption.  He came to understand after a lifetime of soul searching and hard work, the impact that secrets and denial related to adoption have on families.  Watching this process as his daughter, I came to appreciate its difficulty and all the considerable insight and bravery my father had facing it down.  This isn’t to say I didn’t feel the bumps and don’t have the scars of someone who was there. In reviewing Twombly’s biography, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of alarm, as I read of his constant travels reportedly for inspiration and work. The parallels between Twombly’s life and my father’s were coming to the surface. 

I don’t really know why Twombly was always on the move. He was a very discreet and private person, keeping a circle of family, friends and associates closed around him. What I do see, however, is the fruits of fighting the same sort of struggle my father faced down:  the single-minded dedication to and defense of subjectivity. Twombly’s inclination and ability to separate himself from the provincial pull of both his hometown and strong conservative currents in American art led to his accomplishments in the art world.  I have a sense of the depth of his intellectual pursuits – his embrace early in life of the founding premises of modern art  -- “progressive art” it was called – and creative milestones in the companion fields of philosophy, literature, and psychology. This, Twombly’s warm humor, skeptical attitude toward authority, independent thinking, and dedication to his work are all qualities he shared with my father.

I can’t separate my association of Twombly with my father for one other simple reason:  he introduced me to the artist.  Since my father had not always embraced my artwork, this was a gift and show of support.  My father made Twombly’s acquaintance at Lexington’s Virginia Military Institute where popular weekly cadet parades occur. They would meet occasionally and my father asked if he could introduce me when I came for a visit from Manhattan. Most thrilling for me, during my visit to Twombly’s home that day, was the time he spent looking at a group of my small collages and images of  larger works on paper I had just finished.  From my journal notes of the meeting I recount that Twombly said my work was “intelligent and sensitive,” and he “loved” the collages – which I’m sure prompted me to ask if he would like one.  He picked one out, which included a chair cut out from a 1984 House & Garden magazine photo-spread of The Villa Medici in Rome, home to the French Academy, which had been lovingly renovated by the painter Balthus.*  I’m slightly chagrined to note in my journal that the next day I called Twombly to ask if I could borrow the collage back to photograph it. He said he had already sent it to his framer and from there it was going to Rome. 

Twombly was born at the Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington in 1928; the same year as my father. Symbolic of the nature of personal exchanges and intersections my father died in Lexington in December 2002 and is buried in the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery.  Twombly died this summer in Rome, his adopted city and from all accounts a place he associated with all he held dear.  I like to think that now, instead of on the VMI parade grounds, my father and Cy will meet again on the Elysian Fields.

* I found the issue in my studio this week; the article accompanying the photographs reports, "In 1961 Andre Malraux, [French] Minister of Culture, had named as director his friend the painter Balthus, who fulfilled his mission [to restore the Villa] over the course of sixteen years with singular prestige and with results that cannot be too much appreciated. " I recall in my conversation with Twombly during our visit, that he said he knew the building. Twombly, himself restored several Italian villas and perhaps had referred to Balthus' sensitive and well-researched efforts.

House & Garden, January 1984, p. 64 (ghost of chair image cut out and used in my collage)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Epilogue: Mourning Tower, Mourning Train

The spontaneously formed crowds of people who gathered beside the tracks to witness the passing of the funeral train that carried Robert F. Kennedy’s body from New York City to Washington D.C. on June 8, 1968 are testament to our capacity for shared grief. The immediacy and magnitude of the expression of public mourning over the loss of such an inspiring public figure revealed in the photographs by Paul Fusco has a fascinating psychological impact.  It is a record of the emotional facts.  It shows that as a country we have the capacity to mourn together, out in the open. Or that we had it once. It also underscores the multitudes of nearly anonymous, officially obscured military-related deaths that currently go un-recognized.  Have we forgotten how to grieve together? 

The idea of “public morning” resonates with me as I’ve recently completed the installation, “Mourning Tower” at Queens College Art Center, which calls for a remembrance of those who have been killed or wounded at this time of war.   A visual link between Fusco’s photographs of the Kennedy train ride and the installation is the iconic image of the American flag.  The difference is that the outpouring of grief after Kennedy’s assassination was immediate, unrestrained, and shared throughout the republic, but the casualties from our current wars are not publicized - there is a public “un-mourning” that surrounds them. Fusco has addressed this in another beautiful photographic series of photographs of grieving families called "Bitter Fruit."

Fusco and art dealer James Danziger talked about that historic day at a panel discussion at Aperture Gallery, the resulting photographs, and what the photographs have come to mean.  The panel was held to publicize the debut of Jennifer Stoddart’s film, “A Thousand Pictures,” tomorrow night on HBO and Aperature’s publication of the book, Paul Fusco: RFK both examining Fusco’s accomplishment.  In concert with the book publication and the film release, 20x200, the on-line art editions gallery, will be offering a limited edition of a pair of Fusco’s funeral train images this Wednesday to support the Magnum Foundation.

Friday, May 6, 2011

“Mourning Tower” Rosenthal Library Rotunda Installation: Inside a Library We Can Enter the Realm of Ideas

“Mourning Tower”
Rosenthal Library Rotunda Installation

By Anne Sherwood Pundyk

Inside a library we can enter the realm of ideas by opening one of the books we find there and turning its pages.

“Mourning Tower” installation begins with unfurled pages -- printed with the sequential history of a painting – that wrap the glass walls of the Rosenthal Library’s Rotunda, simultaneously encircling the large American flag displayed in the space’s open heart.  Printed in color images starting at the top of the tower’s interior (adjacent to the painting Change My Mind/Martian Easter Tree from which the story is derived) the visual narrative repeats, fading to a black and white version as its string of pages descend from floor to floor. A mesh-like hem of empty black paper forms at the base of the rotunda.  Collectively the spiraling rows appear to embrace and safeguard the space of ideas while, as the American flag is glimpsed amidst the lower rows of black “missing” pages, we are reminded of those who have been wounded or killed especially most recently in this time of war.

“Mourning Tower” is an extension of the group exhibition, “Express + Local: NYC Aesthetics,” curated by Tara Mathison, located in the Queens College Art Center.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Express + Local: NYC Aesthetics Group Exhibition, May 5 - June 30, 2011

I’ve translated my experiences and interactions as a participant in the 15-artist residence program Express + Local: NYC Aesthetics at Queens College Art Center this spring into paintings and a large scale installation. These works are included in a group exhibition of all artists' work resulting from the residence program, which opens Thursday, May 5th.

“Mourning,” my architectural-based installation in The Queens College Art Center’s zoetrope-like library atrium, refits the ivory tower with a broadcast tower; tune in - we are in a time of war. The installation sends and receives, reflects and collects evidence through which to consider the relationship between the cultural framework of the art world and our current state of war.

Express + Local: NYC Aesthetics Group Exhibition, May 5 - June 30, 2011

RECEPTION: Thursday, May 5, 2010, 5 - 8PM. Artists' Talks with Curator Tara Mathison from 6 - 7 PM

Queens College Art Center
(part of the Selma and Max Kupferberg Center for the Arts)
Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, Level Six
Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, NY 11367-1597
Gallery Hours: Monday–Thursday, 9 am–8 pm; Friday and April 18–22, 25-26, May 31–June 30, 9 am–5 pm; closed May 30, weekends and holidays
Free and open to the public
For more information: (718) 997-3770

For directions to Queens College, click here.
For a campus map, click here.

Above image: Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Change My Mind/Martian Easter Tree," 2011, 63" x 60,"Oil and Acrylic on Linen

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Artists' Work, War and Museums

Through their work and attitudes, artists ultimately respond to the larger framework of museum culture since it is the platform for those giving them support and credence: patrons, curators and critics. Noted cultural theorist, Viola Kolarov expands upon this and the dependence Freud described between museums and war in her essay “Marlene McCarty: Report to a Museum.” We are now in a time of war. Armed with Kolarov’s insights, I propose a call to artists, patrons, curators, critics and museum leaders to question the moral underpinnings of their work as it relates to the cultural cycle that perpetuates violence, torture, and cruelty.

"Evan" by Anne Sherwood Pundyk, 2010, 24" x 24," Oil and Acrylic on Panel

Kolarov notes that in 1915 -- another time of war -- Freud wrote about a theoretical positioning of the function of the museum and museum culture with respect to war. Freud’s observations on the state of war (which he considered an exception) and its impact on the norm of peacetime suggest the psychic parameters of contemporary artists’ current work. He focuses on the crumbling of the ethical norms that structure the space of the museum at times of war. During peacetime, members of western civilization enjoy the foreign “cultures” hosted within the walls of the museum. In wartime what has allowed this pleasure reveals itself in its pure form: the reduction of the world and its history into a manageable size for consumption. This is possible because the museum’s audience is stuck in an unenlightened, self-focused state of mind.

The premise for Freud’s speculation, Kolarov suggests, is that the museum contains products of war. War opens the doors of culture to looting (a close relative to creative transgressing) and also reignites the hungry aggression that powered the construction of the museum in the first place. In a sense, museums honor the aggressive acts with forms of celebration that mimic mourning by using funeral procession-like arrangements of objects in cases and in rows. Psychologically those aggressors must put a distance between themselves and their violent acts by framing the contents of the museum as being from the past, from faraway, or to be kept and considered for the future (and forever.) The museum maintains a distance between the housed artwork and its audience – preventing the process of mourning and allowing for the denial of the violence and transgressions of war.

How do contemporary artists, creating new art, grapple with this distance required by the museum: the source of their support and credibility? Kolarov formulates two possibilities: one, that artists can choose between denying that the original works they create are connected to or refer to western civilization and its violent practices – in other words – their creations come out of nothing. But in so doing, they eventually have to admit that the work then means and is worth nothing. A second choice is to embrace the museum’s culture of war, even to enhance the attractiveness of violence by connecting it to sex. This option promotes the image of the artist as having a destructive, transgressive character – a distancing devise familiar to those versed in museum culture.

We are now in a time of war. Are there other possible responses besides completely denying our state of war or worse, participating in the insidious hidden-in-plain-sight consequences of war culture? Is it possible for all involved to acknowledge the wrongs and transgressions of our participation in war, to fully mourn the losses of war together as a “civilization,” and to rebuild our collective conscience?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Look at my other blog: Express + Local: NYC Aesthetics

For the month of April, I've been working at The Queens College Art Center as part of the Express + Local: NYC Aesthetics artist residency program. Take a look


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lindsay Captured Red-Handed and Seven Other Outlaw Stories

Anne Sherwood Pundyk,  My Atlas: Lindsay/A Report to an Academy video stills 2010


Lindsay Captured Red-Handed and Seven Other Outlaw Stories

Artillery Magazine presents a selection of 8 Video shorts empathically framing behavior outside the norm: celebrity martyrs, social outliers, sexual taboo detonation experts, and obsessed rocketeers. The 30-minute program culled from a nation-wide open call will be screened at the Standard’s Purple Lounge in West Hollywood on April 5th.  The line-up includes artists and filmmakers from Los Angeles and New York City many of whom will attend the screening:

Zig Gron: ApocoLips, LA filmaker
McLean Fahnestock: Grand Finale, LA artist 
Readymade 777: It's My Desire, LA filmmaker
 Jules Marquis: Just You and Me, NYC art collaborative
Anne Sherwood Pundyk: My Atlas: Lindsay/A Report to an Academy, NYC artist
Lindsey Schulz: Rabbit Hole, LA artist
Sister: The Cutter, LA film Collaborative
Meghan Weinstein: Keepin' it Real With Keisha, LA artist

The judges, Tulsa Kinney (editor of Artillery), Steve Cioffi (videographer), and Paige Wery (publisher of Artillery) selected this outstanding video footage to be screened at the event, after which the audience will vote on the winners.

April 5, 2011
The Purple Lounge
Standard, Hollywood, located at: 
8300 Sunset Blvd. 
West Hollywood, CA 90069

The evening will begin with a wine reception at 7pm, followed by the screening at 8pm and is free of charge.  The Standard offers $8 valet parking with validation for screening attendees.

Contact: Paige Wery, Publisher
Phone: (323) 243-0658

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Performance in Art

  Tom Thayer, Paper Puppet and Scenery from The New World Pig, 2009-2010, paper, tape collage, graphite, 12 × 17.75 inches. Image courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery

I write about Adam Marnie, Tom Thayer, and Ruby Sky Stiler at Derek Eller Gallery and Tom Thayer's performance, "Scenographic Play," at Tracy Williams, Ltd. in the January 2011 Issue of The Brooklyn Rail.

 "The beating heart of the three-person exhibit at Derek Eller is Adam Marnie’s larger-than-life, floral bouquet collaged and carved directly into the entrance foyer’s sheetrock. Color Xerox enlargements cut, torn, and glued; flower shapes, negative space, and shadow edges traced and carved out of the wall; and drips of adhesive all form elements of the rhythmic composition. They also underscore the undeniability of the artist’s actions as they are tied to his thought process. It is the only piece in the gallery that pumps its own life-blood into the space; his red gerbera daisies hypnotically pulse in a perpetually blooming elliptical zoetrope..."

Click here to read the entire article.