August 10, 2014


I find the experience of reading a really good book on an artist or art subject nearly as satisfying as the art event itself. Perhaps better in the context that a book can cover many events while at the same time investigating a myriad of ideas related to it. A very good book on a movement, perception, or specific artist does all of this.

So as an alternative to the arduous task of leaving home, struggling across the city through public transportation, and dashing to make sure the seamless doors of galleries don't slam in my face before I have a chance to breathe their rarified air and exist in the same gravity as their images and objects--I plan on spending a lot of time with my art books, and you will read all about it here.

August 6, 2014


In the past the focus of this blog was on reviews, the sort that filled the end pages of many art magazines in the 1960's back to the 30's, a windy sometimes snarky prose that held little flashes of humanity. Starting now I shall not limit my quips to reviews, but will write extensive musings on artists and art subjects, sometimes over several non-sequential posts. Currently I am investigating my fascination with the Environmental artist Olafur Eliasson, and I am reading through the Phaidon Press volume dedicated to his work and ideas. Expect several posts on different sections or aspects of the book.

July 23, 2011

Monkey Spoon at Kim Foster Gallery | Review by Jill Conner

“Monkey Spoon,” curated by D. Dominick Lombardi features work by ten artists who simultaneously create and deconstruct the romanticized myth of bohemian life. The collective quest for the urban legend spurs an array of creative curiosities. But in a city full of diverse cultures and brimming information, the desire to create something new becomes a weight as opposed to a challenge even though one’s reality is not the same as another. “Monkey Spoon,” operates from the space of difference and elicits one paradox after another. Suspended between metaphor and everyday experience, this exhibition captures an imperfect, if not unglamorous, reality.

Nesega Mythology (2011) by Dan Hernandez

The show opens with six mixed-media panels by Dan Hernandez that impose fictitious video-game landscapes upon cracked surfaces, rendering a fake but antiquated, archaeological flair. These pieces not only reveal the a-historic phenomenon brought on by digital technology but also the shortsightedness of the present. However the process of looking underscores much of this show, embedding surprises in the details.

WPA Girl (2011) by Christian Faur

The “Melodie” series (2011) by Christian Faur consists of nine 15-inch square frames that represent the same portrait using a different arrangement of hand-cast crayons. By returning to the physical pixel, Faur explores the artifice of digital imagery. Peter Drake, however, reaches for the discourse of Realism in two paintings titled “Shrapnel” (2007) and “Tripod,” (2008) that represent unfocused depictions of small action figures which once belonged to his father.

Shrapnel (2007) by Peter Drake

Lori Nix and Susan Wides present an even more layered juxtaposition in their photographs of familiar interior settings. “Museum of Art,” (2005) by Nix captures a non-specific museum interior. The title also rings generic much like her piece from 2006 titled, “Vacuum Showroom.” However the objects in this second piece are spindly and fragile, revealing this photograph as the representation of a miniaturized, doll-house setting.

I, Mannahatta (2010) by Susan Wides

“I, Mannahatta” (2010) by Wides depicts a ferris wheel towering over three different shopping levels. The miniature and the gigantic weave throughout the picture plane, distorting the sense of space and time. Additionally, the slight blur in the image gives the impression that Wides was also exploring the staged miniature. However this picture represents a true setting, that within the Toys ‘R Us store located in Times Square, New York.

Act I (2003) by Kendall Messick

Photographic narrative takes further twist in the work of Kendall Messick, who documented the later years of Gordon Brinckle, the Everyman World War II Veteran who lived as a reclusive eccentric in Delaware. Messick captures Brinckle in a number of different settings within his house. Much like Joseph Cornell, Brinckle was a cinema enthusiast. However he transformed his desire into a life-size movie theater, located in the basement of his home.

Red Seat Guitar (2005) by Ken Butler

A series of sculptures by Ken Butler also expands on the marginal but in terms of musical entertainment. Butler reconstructs throw-away objects, such as a laptop or a school chair, into functional musical guitars, challenging the adage “form follows function.” Similarly, Dominick Lombardi’s “Urchin”-series (2011) explores the fictional life of a dog, made out of sand and discarded containers. The ephemeral nature of each piece resonates most strongly.

Urchin #30 (2011) by D. Dominick Lombardi

Throughout this show fantasy and reality repeatedly collide. My reality is not your reality. The odd, alien-like “Flowbots” made by Joseph JK5 Aloi on view are also sold as toys in Japan. These small quirky figures compliment his lyrical, arabesque drawings that delve into his personal history. In addition the precarious tilt and imbalance seen in John H. Howard’s surrealist sculptures challenge perception but not physics. The exhibition “Monkey Spoon,” first emerged from a misheard word. From there, Dominick Lombardi put together this exhibition that explored the undefined, serendipitous nature of subjectivity, confirming the fact that not one thing is ever the same.

April 27, 2011

Eliza Thomas at Wally Workman Gallery, Austin TX | Review by Jill Conner

Untitled Moon and Branches, 2011 by Eliza Thomas

The new series of black and white paintings by Eliza Thomas are intricate. They navigate the viewer through fields of gray, the motif of uncertainty, while bringing one into thickets of branches, blossoms and leaves. Naturalism is a significant subject for the artist since its form is at once lyrical and rhythmic, bearing a strong resemblance to Asian calligraphy. Also known as the dynamic moving line, Thomas’ paintings connect nature to the larger scope of humanity by embellishing the illusion of the third dimension, located within the representation of the outlying landscape. Her palette, moreover, captures a wishful, open space that is immediate yet ephemeral. This selection of work marks the artist’s foray away from color and into the complexity of two tones, created by the wash and line of ink and paint across the sheer surface of rice paper.

Oak Study I is a large piece that features a web of black branches intersecting within similar silhouettes of gray, stalling movement and bringing pause. Two larger panels titled Distance and Oak Study V expand on the visual vista even though the second piece appears interlaced with branch-like forms. In both paintings, a horizontal line splits the composition in half, rendering a foreground and background, which pushes the eye to wander throughout the artist’s layered traces.

Untitled 9, 2011 by Eliza Thomas

The rush of white that appears in No Return suggests fluid movement rather than a static portrait of naturalism. However Shadow Study is less elusive, capturing the spider-like gray form of vines that are nearly swamped by the pale color of rice paper. An exceptional series of blossom studies appear in For Gary, Wild Orchids, and Untitled 9, using the traces of ink wash and acrylic to define these icons of nature as objects of a contemplative ambiance.
Eliza Thomas’s abstractions stand out as the strongest works of art in this new selection of work due to the fact that their ambiguity keeps them suspended within the space of interpretation. Having studied sumi-e ink painting with the Japanese Zen master, Shozo Sato, Thomas utilized her studies in black and white to commune with the moving line that has wound itself throughout the vast history of Asian art. The artist’s paintings, however, remain contemporary as each panel reveals a different kind of creative experimentation with traditional Western media.

August 8, 2010

Brent Green at Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York | Review by Jill Conner

House Opened Up, Mixed media, 2010

Since 2005 Brent Green has transformed unique but mundane narratives into quick, sporadic short films that appear as ephemeral and authentic as found objects while exposing the jitteriness of a self-taught artist. This characteristic sets Green’s work free from the bind of history and keeps it original rather than redundant. The artist’s most recent work titled, “Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then” (2010) initially appeared in two locations, at the International Film Center and the Andrew Edlin Gallery. Along with the artist’s blue-grass style of music, the film and the movie sets recreate a sentimental story about an outsider who lived in Kentucky and built a tall, winding house in order save his ailing wife’s life. Sanity slips away as reality meets fiction and quickly becomes another place, spinning Green’s most recent piece into a transgressive tale.

Mary's First Memory, video still 2010

Several years ago, Green was notified about an architectural anomaly outside of Louisville, Kentucky, shortly before it was torn down. While the artist studied and documented the structure, he got to know the life story of Leonard Wood, someone nobody knew but who worked at a small hardware store. With barely any money in his bank account throughout his life, Wood was clairvoyantly resourceful, inventing solutions to problems that had no answer.

“Gravity” is the artist’s first short film that involves actors rather than puppets or plastic cells of animation. True to style, these actors are not professional and their dialogue is mostly substituted by Green’s spirited narrative. Filmed in the backyard of Green’s home in Pennsylvania, this piece embellishes the details of an odd life lived in the rural countryside.

Mary with Moon, video still, 2010

Nobody knows where Wood came from, or his wife for that matter, but when they met their friendship carried a unique chimera. The crux of the movie shifts quickly into Wood’s focus on illness and his intent to build a tall, winding house into the sky as some sort of healing machine, destined to save his wife. The Andrew Edlin Gallery featured Green’s rendering of Wood's interior, which looks like it came straight from a fairytale. In France, this type of fanciful thinking is referred to as “Art Brut.” At the edge of sanity, a creative avant-garde swirls but often leads nowhere. Green states that Wood continued to build this structure, long after his wife’s death, until he fell to the ground and spent the rest of his life in a nursing home. Regardless, this short film is deeply memorable due to its erratic, nontraditional structure.

Julie Mehretu at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | Review by Jill Conner

Atlantic Wall, 2008-09

In November 2007 Julie Mehretu appeared on a panel held at Carnegie Hall titled, “Canvas Berlin: Europe’s New Capital of the Visual Arts,” where she expressed a newfound amazement with a city that has been legendary for its history of prolific artists, intellectuals but most of all anti-Semitism. As part of the “Berlin in Lights,”-festival, this panel attempted to clear the air and bring renewed visibility to this historically volatile city, a characteristic that surfaced in the diaries of Harry Graf Kessler, first published in 1971 with the same title. Unlike American abstract paintings which are visually weighted down by the density of the medium, Julie Mehretu has constructed different notions of space, similar to New Objectivity paintings that initially appeared at the Guggenheim when it first opened in 1959. Set within one of the museum’s small side galleries, Mehretu’s paintings immediately wall the viewer into a small space while setting them free, visually. Each painting is 10-feet by 14-feet and pulls one into the scope of illusionistic space, one that is so random such that light and movement work together and entirely skirt metaphor.

“Fragment,” (2008-09) for instance, features a swirl of black and gray clouds that burst out from the intricate line- and lattice-work seen below. Slight outlines of architectural structures appear in the margins but their skeletal forms are entirely secondary, an afterthought. On the other hand, “Berliner Plätze,” (2008-09) captures a layered, terraced and woven image of various motley stone buildings that populate each one of this city’s famous gathering points. Unlike most urban centers, the metropolis of Berlin consists of many, speaking not only to its vast population but its character of complexity.

“Atlantic Wall,” (2008-09) reveals an even more dense selection of markings that tag, cross-out, highlight and deconstruct the subject all at once. “Believer’s Palace,” (2008-09) and “Notations,” (2009) are less colorful and carry a dense gray-scale. However both reflect an intensity that surpasses the others, confirming that the subject of these Berlin-inspired paintings is that of construction and destruction, a dichotomous relationship that is never reconciled. “Middle Gray,” (2007-09) rounds out this small suite and, as the oldest, reflects more of the arabesques and color palette that is characteristic of Mehretu’s style.

In the Spring of 2007, Mehretu was awarded the Guna S. Mundheim Visual Arts Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin which led the artist into a two-year investigation of the city as well as its space, history and people that ultimately culminated in “Grey Area,” a series of six paintings that premiered at the Deutsche Guggenheim in October 2009 before traveling to New York City in the Spring on 2010. Berlin is a complicated city for too many reasons to name. The 1927 silent film titled, “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City,” attempted to capture this Post World War I metropolis as one that was still very much connected to the world, an international hub where many desired to travel to and from. But that was six years before Germany’s decade-long fascist era, one that nearly eliminated the city’s prolific history. Now that the German government has relocated its headquarters to Berlin, along with a handful of curious artists, intellectuals and voyeurs, Mehretu suggests that this can be done again, successfully.

John Wesley at Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, New York | Review by Jill Conner

Leche, 1973

By 1970 critics had decided that abstract painting was dead, an empty genre, while the industrial forms of Minimalism populated galleries and museums, heralding in the new. Following the cosmetic characteristic of Abstract Expressionism, when color and beauty trumped catharsis and reality, the success of figurative painting was identified in the articulation of flat forms, as seen in advertising graphics. Artists such as James Rosenquist, Alex Katz, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann and Roy Lichtenstein satisfied consumer demand, providing viewers with sterile icons and images of themselves that were empty of criticism but flush with fantasy. John Wesley’s pop-style paintings features in “May I Cut In? Important Paintings from the Early ‘70s,” at the Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, balanced reality with fantasy depicting men, women, children and animals as stoic as Henry Darger’s “The Vivian Girls,” but even more sexually subversive, with a focus on bestiality.

Canada's Toughest Soldier, 1973

Canada’s Toughest Solder (1973) portrays an identical man and woman standing together staring blankly out at the viewer and framed with an array of Canadian maple leafs. In a dark twist, Wesley exposes the flake of Canadian society caused by the shadow of America and its thirst for international war. Yet at the same time, the artist utilizes this irony as a progressive suggestion for the USA. Mail Order Blues (1972) however, depicts a reclining nude woman and associates her untouched body with the guitars above. A series of hands scaling guitar frets appear below, and add a teasing flair to this flat, blue background piece. A similar theme of sexual longing appears in Sleep (1971) Pastel yellow fills the background as a nude woman reclines against her partner’s feet, with her face turned away. Wesley is a master of mystery since it is not clear if the subject is experiencing sleep, rejection or a combination of the two.

Mail Order Blues, 1972

A new take on Greek mythology appears in Leda and the Man (1972) a spoof on the legend of Zeus as goose who once seduced Leda, the Queen of Sparta, as she slept next to her husband. However Wesley turns this theme around and portrays a sock-footed nude man who chases a frantic goose, Queen Leda. This strange sexual tension continues to assert itself in “The Last Gray Hound,” (1971) that portrays an old man bending down in front of a tall-standing gray hound dog. Two others appear on the right, arching back and lying on the floor, but wearing pink clothing like the one seen on the left. Whether this is intended to be a joke about extraneous sports like dog-racing or gymnastics, Wesley suggests that beast and man have managed to exist far more closely than thought.

Sleep, 1971

Leche (1973) broaches the fiery topic of racism in a very multilayered fashion. A blonde woman wearing a blue skirt-suit sits on a stool to the left holding a glass of milk, or “leche,” as it is known Spanish. Three identical young girls lean in this woman’s direction, except the one closest to the glass is slightly darker than the other two, suggesting a bi-racial otherness that almost camouflages with the other figures in the painting. The savagery of class differences appears in Slave (1971) which simply portrays three gray kangaroos facing each other in the background as one holds onto the leash of small gray dog who stands at the center in the foreground.

Slave, 1971

This selection of paintings by John Wesley utilizes the style of Pop art to render dreams, fantasies and taboos that have been continually left out of mainstream discourse due to their sensational content. Moreover, by setting these frozen moments upon yellow and blue backgrounds, the artist creates a psychological ease and frames these ideas as separate icons even though they first appear to be further from any truth. Dreams are never linear but are rich in everything disorderly, telling us more about our orderly selves. Despite this bit of insight, fantasies cannot be packaged and sold like products, leaving them tucked far away within the margins of society.

June 24, 2010

For All the World to See at The International Center of Photography | Review by Jill Conner

Sanitation Workers Assemble in Front of Clayborn 

Temple for a Solidarity March, Memphis, Tennessee,

March 28, 1968 by Ernest C. Withers

“For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” curated by Maurice Berger, reveals the divided nature of African-American identity that has been distorted by the mass media. Reality and images were two different phenomena rather than one and the same. Stars from sports and Hollywood like Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson captured how Americans wished to see blacks in America. However it did not counter-balance or even reflect the racism that was practiced across the country such as lynchings, segregation and random assassinations, as see in the case of young Emmett Till. 

Missing: Call FBI, 29 June 1964

This exhibition opens with movie footage of Paul Robeson and stills from The Beulah Show. However on the wall opposite, a group of segregation signs appear, openly revealing the instructions for blacks and whites to stand separate. This odd juxtaposition of opposites plays out in another room that features two posters of Caucasian school children, framed with texts that read: “This is America…Keep it Free!” and “Don’t Let that Shadow Touch Them. Buy War Bonds.” Images have functioned as mirrors of identity. When set within the context of mass media, identity turns into a layer of perception that encapsulates specific narratives and prejudice.

Sepia, November 1959
Collection of Civil Rights Archive

CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland

In this exhibition, popular culture is exposed as the root of racism. The house-maid and butler, for instance, were objectified in the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose Salt and Pepper Shakers made around 1950. All of these images and ephemera culminate in photographs of black men assembling in Memphis, Tenessee for a civil rights march, holding signs that read, “I AM A MAN.” This show confirms that there have been no fictional heroes in the mass media who represent the real-life struggles of African-Americans except for the citizens themselves.

May 30, 2010

Objects of Desire: "Vetrinetta delle Meraviglie: Cabinet of Wonders" at Spoleto, Italy | Review by Jill Conner

May 21 to June 1, 2010 / Spoleto, Italy

Aqua, 2008, collage, 15 x 15 inches by Yi Chen

“Vetrinetta delle Meraviglie: Cabinet of Wonders,” revives the romantic love-triangle of fantasy, myth and memory with a series of small-scale collages, found objects, drawings and paintings by Yi Chen, Benedetto Marcucci, Fulvio di Piazza, Sapna Shah and Nicola Verlato. Numerous glass vitrines display these contemporary works of art, evoking a mysterious longing that bridges one back to the heart of imagination where dreams percolate, simmer and abound. Set within the ancient Italian city of Spoleto, this group exhibition overlooks the 13th-century Duomo and appears like a handful of jewels that contrasts thematically with the bountiful landscape seen in the surrounding hillside.

Lady in Black , 2008, collage, 15 x 17 by Yi Chen

Reality breaks away in Yi Chen’s paper collages, which contain layered cutouts found in fashion magazines, distorting the allegories of advertisement while suggesting an association of someone new. “Tiffany,” (2007) finds its title from the blue bag of Tiffany & Co. located on the composition’s left side. A halo of hair hangs around an unknown face with the S-curve of a model’s body positioned directly below. Three additional pieces titled, “Lady in Black,” (2008) “Aqua,” (2008) and “Afro Lady,” (2008) reflect the same technique but feature various colors in the background that add a sense of depth to these spritely, lightweight portraits. Chen’s single oil painting, “Self Rejuvenation,” (2010) continues to flatten form and reflects the use of sharp-angled brushstrokes that render an edgy figural abstraction as seen in his earlier work.

Sulla strada (On the Road), 2008 by Bendetto Marcucci

Benedetto Marcucci’s collection of jar sculptures feature books sealed in a low-acidic oil, treating these objects of the printing press as relics of a by-gone era. Like Chen, Marcucci explores the flattening of knowledge and culture. “Sulla Strada (On the Road)” (2010) by Jack Kerouac became the narrative of Beat culture upon its publication in 1957 and paved the road to freedom for generations that followed. However “Dizionario delle idée (Dictionary of Ideas),” (2010) strongly hints that the Internet, and other new forms of communications technology, has created a larger a-historical moment leading to a downgraded Western society. As the son of a collector, Marcucci became familiar with methods of assemblage and preservation early in his career. As seen in the two previous objects, “L’Arte dei rumori (The Art of Noise),” (2010) “Il contratto sociale (The Social Contract),” (2010) and “Il restuaro (The Restoration),” (2010) capture paperback editions of classic texts although the artist presents them as rare, archaeological objects of study.

Cascalcada, 2008, oil on board, 31 x 50 cm by Fulvio di Piazza

Fantastical landscapes spin forth in four paintings by Fulvio di Piazza. “Cascalcada,” (2008) for instance, is a phenomenal depiction of knitted yarn and plastic house plants. However when seen from a distance, this painting feels otherworldly. “Catedral,” (2009) and “Fog,” (2009) are saturated with blue, green and black hues that depict volcanic-like masses, punctuated with small areas colored either bright red or white, signifying either lava or smoke. Similarly “Nativo,” (2009) draws upon the details of some fairytales and portrays a face emerging within the surface of a large tree trunk. Fantasy shifts to myth in the small pencil drawings of Nicola Verlato, which set up a heroic narrative. “The Beginning,” (2010) conveys a male figure walking past two Greek-style murals that depict warriors in battle. “Warrior Spirits,” (2010) represents a cave-like interior with limp, male figures floating in space waiting for selection whereas, “The Shield Room,” (2010) reflects the transformation of society’s man into someone who is ready for military battle. “Ritual,” (2010) and “Ritual 2,” (2010) furthermore, portray men and women wildly celebrating Dionysus, the god of excess.

Ritual, 2008, drawing in pencil, 11 x 8.5 inches by Nicola Verlato

The colorful abstract paintings of Sapna Shah add a meditative effect to the earlier themes of distortion, archaeology, fantasy, loss, and betrayal. “Philosophical Fragments XV,” (2009) “Philosophical Fragments XIV,” (2009) and “Philosophical Fragments XXV,” (2009) consist of blue, red, yellow, green and white that interlock and pull the eye into the paintings’ pictorial depth. Two additional color studies titled, “Purple Rain,” (2008) and “Stained Glass,” (2008) focus on the vertical movement of colors using blue, red, green and purple. The subtle color contrasts appear so quickly lending both studies a pleasant, shimmering impression. As part of the larger exhibition, Shah’s paintings provide a quiet, subjective conclusion to a larger group of ideas that are free-floating, imaginative and also undefined.

Purple Rain (from Color Study series), 2008, acrylic on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches by Sapna Shah

This unique collection of curiosities that comprise “Vetrinetta delle Meraviglie: Cabinet of Wonders,” brings together a group of cross-cultural genres that play on feelings of longing and desire. The virtue of this particular cabinet of wonders is the way in which contemporary works of art, such as these, expand upon the narrative of fantasy and offer a new space for dream-like meditation. Encased in glass-covered compartments that recess into sheer white walls, these charms of metaphor not only convey where we come from but also lead us back to the authentic origin of the new.