Contemporary Art

Taken for Granted


Since it would be appropriate to preempt every one of my blog posts with a nod to how long it has been since I last wrote, I've decided to do away with such statements and apologize for not having the time to update regularly. Having started a stress-heavy job in a kitchen in Portland, I've been trying to take the free time I do have to unwind. I've been modeling on a more limited basis, and I've started writing the occasional article for EDGE (formerly Spotlight), an arts and entertainment publication associated with the newspapers of Portsmouth/Dover area. Being published (read: paid) is exciting, and it's a challenge to tailor my writing to a new format. The cover of my first story, about the Kittery Art Association's drawing group. I'm so grateful it could be my first piece.

I do find myself missing the opportunity to get more analytical. The kind of journalism I've been doing is fun because it is based in the sphere of fun - my job is to help people access things they might find enjoyable. Obviously I can put a slight spin of critical reflection into my pieces if I choose, but it's definitely a give and take, whereas this blog affords me the opportunity simply to take.

Long story short, I hope to exercise my critical thinking and analytical writing on this platform as often as I can. It's important to me to keep thinking about art and its relationship with the world; I'm sure I've expressed before the benefits of multiple perspectives found in artistic communities, backgrounds and endeavors. I believe that this perspective has a huge amount of power, and lately I've been wrapped up in how to practically apply this outside the establish sphere of artistic influence.

I've long been skeptical of the relevancy of a for-profit gallery system of selecting and promoting artists; many young artists I know are abandoning series of gallery visits and show submissions in favor of self-promotion and craft fairs. Removing fine art from an environment often seen as elitist and propelling it into the realm of the upper middle class lends a level of accessibility I like, but it doesn't make it easy on the artist. One either has to spend every minute not working for monetary support making art, or have some sort of financial freedom allowing them to spend significant time on their practice.

A great example of the contemporary artist's need for endless energy, Dorson Plourde works two jobs, makes all his own packaging, casts his own toys, paints, attends craft fairs and maintains his BIG SHOP online.

In attempting to identify an underlying problem I can't help returning to privatization. A good tailored to an certain audience generally reflects the wants, needs and values of that audience. By keeping art as a private-sector good or service, artists are continuously servicing a community by definition more affluent than themselves. The system functioning as it does perpetuates keeping this power concentrated in the hands those who can afford it, and limits the extent to which the power of artistic expression can be realized.

Enter grant funding; my current focus for how to deal with this problem. A good friend from Wooster who works at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art recently approached me about brainstorming a project in light of a call for grant proposals through her work. A myriad of such opportunities are available across the country and globe; money offered to groups or individuals with projects in mind. Many (including the Precipice Fund) have stipulations for public involvement, or some theme that reflects the mission of the organization offering the grant. I think I will wait until later to fully explore the theory behind and the ups and downs of such an artistic funding system, but it's an interesting alternative to the stagnation of art mired in the realm of commodity.

LACMA Wanderings: Time Crunch Edition

I'm sure it isn't hard to believe that one of the first things I wanted to do upon my return to LA was visit LACMA again. Luckily, a friend from college had come up from UC Riverside to the A+D Museum right next door. We agreed to meet for lunch at the food trucks that hang around that area.
As Far as I Could Get, John Divola, 1996 Image Courtesy of LACMA Website
I'm sure it isn't hard to believe I took way too long to get ready, and by the time I got to LACMA I had half an hour before I had to meet her for lunch, then go on to see a play in West LA. Instead of speeding through the entire museum, as I am wont to do, I limited myself to a single gallery of my choosing.
I'm sure it isn't hard to believe I was walking in the direction of the Modern Art wing when an exhibit at the rotating gallery caught my eye. The featured artist was John Divola, a professor at UCR with a focus in photography. Since my friend interned and now works at the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, I decided this was fate and entered a gallery filled with different photographic series.
One was called As Far as I Could Get, where Divola set up his camera on a delay and ran away from the camera as far as he could before the shutter opened. The resulting photographs show the his back as a miniscule part of a pre-set frame that would have been beautiful photos without the person in them. The figure in the photo emphasize the presence of an artist, an artist not content to sit behind the scenes, yearning to push the boundaries of conventional art, his location, and his body.
Untitled, John Divola, 1995 Image courtesy of LACMA Website
Another series called Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit consisted of found photos from the Keystone-Mast collection at the Photography Museum in Riverside. Divola re-printed select photos with burned-out circles around animals in the pictures, ferreting out hidden beings from photos meant as observational tools. Just the few small animals Divola found and emphasized call to mind other hidden elements that could be present. How many other animals are tucked into photos of forests? Even in images taken from the land and hung sterile in a gallery the mystery of the natural world is inescapable. Divola points this out to us in a form we may understand.
Rabbit, John Divola, 1987 Image Courtesy of LACMA Website
Artificial Nature showed documentation photos from old film sets, a variety of goregeous landscapes. Some look stunningly real, some fake and cheap, others with clapperboards or props belying the illusion of nature. This series united the gallery in the message of inadequacies in "the human impulse to dominate nature by creating surrogates for it." As Far as I Could Get and Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit show the necessity of these surrogates, how the natural world will always subvert human attempts to capture it. The last series shows photographs of sculptures Divola created to look like elements of nature, but crudely and loosely.
The introduction to the exhibit (quoted in the earlier paragraph, written by LACMA staff) was thought-provoking and enlightening. Divola presented all different levels of nature imitation, contradictions between them creating a message of inadequacy, yet one vague and ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation. An older man with a group of friends was circling the space, explaining the photographic process to his friends. It evoked an atmosphere of scholarship and thought, and I found myself very pleased to stay in that gallery for the entirety of the time I had (except for the obligatory walk out through the Rodin sculpture garden).