Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Walk in Chelsea

Yesterday, I found myself reinvigorated around the NY art scene in a way I have not been for a while. I was getting concerned that I could only find the thrill in Joshua Tree these days.....

The afternoon started with a visit to Jack Pierson's studio. Jack is my original connection to the desert, he has a house in Twentynine Palms, as he has been for several other people who have become habitues. We had a good chat about the connections and divisions between NYC and JT, and he made me aware of several artists working in the desert whom I had not met. Future look.

I then set out on a gallery walk which yielded several surprising and inspiring experiences. The most surreal moment was encountering a woman standing inside a piano playing the Fourth Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. From her orientation, she had to play backwards and upside down and she managed this perfectly. Only the notes that corresponded to the strings she as standing in place of were missing. This courtesy of the Gladstone Gallery.

Then there was a sublimely subtle show featuring just two works in the entire Andrea Rosen Gallery space. A faux window by Robert Gober and a pair of mirrors by Felix Gonzalez-Torres faced each other across the expanse of the floor. The effect was one of quiet contemplation, a rare moment for me in the Chelsea buzz.

At the other extreme, I navigated a most comprehensive retrospective of the work of Piero Manzoni which was installed at Gagosian 24th St. I learned a lot about this scion of modern art and marveled at the scale and scholarliness of the exhibition. This was a museum-scale effort and I felt privileged to be able to have this type of experience gratis in NYC.

The nugget in this stop was a sign indicating that there was a show of Hiroshi Sugimoto photography at the Gagosian space on 21st St. I made my way down there to find an astonishing exhibition of contrasts. At first, I saw six large images of the horizon at sea, par for the course at a Sugimoto show. Then the guard actually spoke, a rare enough occurence on the gallery scene, and directed me into a dark room I hadn't noticed. Here there were six more images, extremely dark, in a dark room with the walls painted black. The images floated in a wonderful band of dim dim light and I was transported. Walking back into the white room was an almost blinding experience. This show has rightly been held over for several months.

A block away there was another wonderful contrast in light and color. Robert Irwin's Red Drawing White Drawing Black Painting
is an instalation worthy of the Dia heritage that haunts the Pace space on 22nd St. In a typically human moment, I was looking for the blue drawing for a few minutes before I reread the title and saw that this was not another symphony of red, white and blue a la inauguration. The space, light and design of the room combined to another wonderfully transporting effect.

Last on my list of memorably good shows, is one entitled Masculine: Interpretations of Manhood at the Charles Cowle Gallery. Much to ponder about our definitions and roles as well as much to just enjoy ;)

Overall, a very rewarding trip through the galleries and a real appreciation for the gift of art experiences that would not be so easily accessible in another place, where galleries and museums are more distinct. Even in the face of the art market crash in motion, NY's institutions of art commerce continue to provide and provoke even as they continue to promote.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's It All About?

I'm working to get together some cogent thoughts on what is attracting me to the art, and artists, in the Joshua Tree area. I am strongly drawn to the physicality of the region - dramatic mountains, warm sun, exotic vegetation, sparseness, dry air. And I am also drawn to the sense of possibility and responsibility that I see in the community there.

Many of the people I have met are in the area to take control of their lives. They have left the structures that define and run big cities and sleepy suburbs. They take responsibility for themselves and their surroundings. Everyone has a project and they are working on it. I have become concerned at how far we have strayed from the sense of making anything, and I am overcome by the sense of empowerment I feel when I do make. And, I have much admiration for what people in the desert make - their homes, their gardens, their art and their contributions to the community.

There is a utopian sense in the air. Not of perfection a la Arcadia. A utopia that is achieved when one exercises free will. The relative remoteness of the area, the relatively low cost of living and the fine weather, all combine to give a sense of freedom not felt elsewhere. A freedom to determine one's own path and to act decisively. In fact, the aesthetic imperfections from the landscape to the architecture to the art, reverberate with utopian energy - freed from the strictures of post-colonial and post-modern ideals.

Speed is another aspect of the experience. Post-modern life has become so deeply entwined with speed, particularly through technology, that we have become uncomfortable with quiet and moments of reflection. With the limited internet connections and a general lack of frenetic energy, the desert community provides a space for moving at one's own speed. This is not to be confused with slowing down. The result is more the possibility again of choice - choosing the speed at which you want to move/do/act. An entire spectrum available for your personal preference.

Many modern schools of thought aimed at alleviating the general sense of malaise in society, point to understanding the automated patterns of thought and behavior we have developed. With an awareness of our thoughts and actions, we can create a modicum of space in which to choose instead of merely reacting. We can begin to see how we make our own reality. And then we become empowered in the knowledge that we are free agents.

It is this sense of possibility and empowerment that I find for myself in the desert. And it is this optimistic note that I seek to share, so that more people may experience a moment of freedom and begin to exercise their choice toward creating a renewed culture around us.

The very act of going into the desert is an art action. There is a sense open-ness and possibility. As one ventures into this space, there is room to create. A choice is made - one creates something new, literally become someone new, or one recreates oneself as in the past. The beauty of entering into this adventure is the opportunity to see yourself act as you do, to see yourself as you are, to have the nothingness mirror yourself back to you.

Entering the desert is also a lesson in environmental impact. It's not possible to go to the desert and not contemplate the impact man is having. Why do we build? Why do we pave? Why do we clear fragile ecologies? How to get power? How to get water? What to do with the garbage? Where to drive and the impact your tracks are having? All of this is laid bare. Again, the open-ness as a mirror back to the consequences of one's actions.

The primary means of discourse I'm seeking to enter into is through the art of the region. There are many artists who have chosen to work in the area whom I respect and would like to share with a wider audience. This is the founding impetus behind BoxoFFICE.

Andrea Zittel is well known and well represented in NY/LA and beyond. Her work, and the experiential piece titled "High Desert Test Sites", is what originally drew me to the area. Andrea is concerned with other/better(?)/more efficient/more efficacious ways of living. Her work reminds me strongly of the modernists, particularly the Bauhaus and architects working to improve everyday life for everyone. Her work allows us to consider how we live, the choices we make and how we might change things up a bit. A core insight Andrea propogates is that there is freedom in structure - we need some in order to exercise our free will. At the extremes, freedom can be paralyzing and structure can be suffocating. So choosing one's own structure seems, to me, a good way of approaching this koan.
Andrea's open attitude and decisive energy inspired me to explore the region and she has continually encouraged me to buy some land there.

John Luckett: Living and working near Joshua Tree, CA, John is a self-taught artist who began painting in 1997. Before that, he spent many years as a graphic designer and art director in the design and advertising business. John has become a good friend and I respect his work greatly. His media include painting, assemblage, "readymade" art, and photography and he has concentrated on three main bodies of work: expressionistic faces, nature forms and minimalistic compositions.

John is the inaugural artist for my art space called BoxoFFICE.

Randy Polumbo: a true original and a good friend. This video tells you everything you need to know.

Tina Bluefield: I saw a show of Tina's at the Creative Center in 29 Palms and was fascinated by her skill. Tina is equally adept at fascinating and evocative desertscapes as she is with animated abstracts. She moved to the High Desert from Colorado and represents a strength and pioneering spirit I'm drawn to.

Gretchen Grunt: Gretchen was the first member of the creative community that I met when I arrived in the High Desert. And she has remained a touchstone for me. Gretchen runs the Creative Center, a gallery and resource center for art and artists. She is also a highly skilled print artist and painter. I have taken lessons on the print press with Gretchen and have learned a lot about monotypes, reductive linocuts, color, life, love and the Universe from her.

Shari Elf: Shari is a singer, artist, gallerist, seamstress, comedienne, art therapist, teacher and so much more. Her work with found objects is generally modest in scale yet big on insight through humor. Shari raises questions of value and legitimacy by involving herself with objects, people, actions that my be typically overlooked or discarded. Her pointers on approaching the making of art and involvement in the art community have been invaluable to me. So have her friendship and company on the dance floor.

Chantale Doyle: Chantale is a Canadian artist who made her way around the USA in a biodiesel vehicle, paying her way by catering art and other events. She is a skilled cook and expert at various frying techniques including delicious fried green tomatoes. Chantake then used the oil from her catering venture as the fuel that moved her from place to place. I find this simple cycle very poetic and inspiring. Also inspiring is Chantale's conservationist stance and her blog on the subject. Chantale has since settled in Pioneertown, and has opened a refreshing gallery/store called The Mount Fuji general Store in Joshua Tree. Go visit.

Boxo 3/1/09

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Beginning the Year as I mean to Continue It

Start as you mean to continue. So, after a warm family Christmas outing to the Flickers of Fairfield, I spent the week over New Years out West.

First, an overnight outing to see Candice (and Poppy) in Laguna Beach. Long life chats, nice walks and tasty sushi. Ahh, the joys of Laguna.

Then my favorite drive in the area - state highway 74 all the way from Dana Point to Palm Desert via Lake Elsinore, Perris, Hemmet, and Mountain View (atop Mt. Jacinto). Having rented a smart car (!!), I was a little concerned about road conditions following the recent significant snowfalls in the High Desert area. A call to the friendly CHP informed me that all was clear to I toodled off and had a lovely country drive. The scenery is varied, the roads in good condition and the vibe very chilled.

I popped in to Carl in Rancho Mirage and we grabbed a quick dinner at the nearby shopping center. What recesssion? 35 minutes waits at several of the the mega restaurants. Glad to see it too.

My stay at Jamal H's Joshua Tree property in the Spring had been so great that I rented another of the studios for the week. It's a sexy number with an all concrete bathroom completely open to the rest of the space. Nice to look at, yet cold!!! Several logs in the stove later, and an open air vent closed, I warmed to the place.

The next day started with a leisurely breakfast followed by a coffee rendezvous with John Luckett over at Ricochet. Natch this also involved an impromptu meet up with Randy Polumbo whose New Year's eve housewarming party was shaping up as the place to be.

From Ricochet, John and I headed over to the Historical Society in Landers for the Out and About Christmas lunch and secret santa. I'd found a wonderfully apt wooden rainbow set at a local thrift store and was keen to see what I might get in the deal. The answer, to save you the cliffhanger, was a DIY teddy bear santa kit with stuffing included.

The Historical Society is housed on a property that belonged to the daughter of the founding family in Landers. It now serves as a local research library for the area and has rooms preserved as they were when it was occupied. The garden has an accomplished bottle garden, said to have been created to mark the edge of the runway at a time when access was by light plane. The grounds also house the first post office which was moved here when a larger replacement was built as well as several strange structures in which bobcats were raised. Yes.

The lunch was a delicious event attended by about 60 locals. I met several new people including Phillip and Scott, an accomplished pair of ceramic artists who have moved to Landers from Upstate New York. I managed to see their latest show, in Palm Springs, the very next day and look forward to visiting their storied property next time I'm in the area.

That evening I popped into Pappy and Harriets for the usual Sunday evening music happiness. My regular dance partners were absent yet I managed to relax into the music and have a good bop.

Monday started with a long walk around the Joshua Tree Highlands neighborhood followed by a jaunt down to Palm Springs. Amongst other things, I saw Phillip and Scott's show at Maloney Fine Arts temporary space where I also met Michael Maloney. The day ended with a delicious dinner kindly hosted by Al Loup in his Yucca Valley house with with a view. We were joined by John L as well as Regina and Dimitri, two friends I hadn't seen since the Spring. A delicious time was had by all.

Tuesday dawned and I was off for another day of printing with Gretchen at the Creative Center in 29 Palms. Monoprint, collage and etching were the order of the day and Gretchen was amused at my new found canvasses made of recycled shopping bags. We had a leisurely lunch at the Inn and a good long, productive day over all.

New Years eve was spent over a fun dinner with John L at my place followed by Randy P's house warming. Tout Joshua Tree was there and it was good to reconnect with a range of folks. The house is a work of art in and of itself. Congratulations Randy! As my head hit the pillow at almost precisely midnight, I felt that I was off to a good start for the year.

New Years Day started with another long hike all over the Monument Manor neighborhood with another local buddy who is renovating a house high on the slopes of the Park. After a quick lunch it was over to new friends Cheryl and Brian's for a generous open house. There was a bounty of food, drink and guests. I made some more reconnections and marveled at how many people had had a great 2008 and were looking forward to 2009. It was nice to be out of the dark story of the recession and falling 401k's and into the celebration of flying a new plane to Big Bear, completing some beautiful house renovations and opening a new gallery in Joshua Tree.

My final stop was back at John L's to plan a show of his work for NYC. We picked through some pieces, did some planning and I left filled with optimism and inspiration for the year ahead.

Having scoured Virgin America for flights to extend my stay, I ended up leaving as planned to travel back to NYC and spend the weekend recouping before the work week commenced. Just as in the Spring, I felt that the trip was not long enough and decided this was the best reason to leave promptly so that I could return soon.

Thanksgiving in London?

Thanksgiving in London is not so obvious. Until you remember that it was Thanksgiving Day 1990 when Thatcher finally gave up and resigned. And until you consider that in 2008 it coincided with Emma Kentridge's 6th birthday. So off I went, bearing pirate paraphernalia and no chocolate as per household instructions.

It was a great few days including:

1. Birthday shenanigans with swashbuckling Emma and Lex

2. Catching up with Sally and Paul at Imagination's HQ

3. A 2 hour, 2 course lunch at Pied a Terre. The City banker next to me was not amused at the pace. I loved the theater of it all.

4. Francis Bacon at the Tate, with my good friend Ana Sanchez. Some surprises in the show and from her.

5. Lunch at the Tate Modern with Marcus, Satomi and friends followed by the eye-opening Cildo Meireles show. Walking through talcum powder a foot deep in the dark was sublime. The Unilever Series installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster was mystifying although the huge Bourgeois and Calder replicas were impressive.

6. Emma's Peter Pan and Pirates party extravaganza - great cappucino and mini burgers to my surprise

7. Dinner and a catch up the the OXO Tower with Simon Yates

8. Lovely meals and chats with Janet and Matthew

Lots to give thanks for indeed.