Monday, April 23, 2012

Ancient Chinese Costumes

by Drew Martin
I saw a picture today in the May/June 2012 issue of Sierra magazine of a cute panda cub being cuddled by humans wearing panda costumes. The panda humans are disguised employees of the mountainous Wolong Nature Reserve in Southwest China's Sichuan province. They dress up to minimize the impact of their intervention with the cubs, who are born in captivity. Even so, I would think any cub with such parents is going to have some social issues when he is introduced back to the wild. Previous attempts have had fatal consequences when the newcomer is rejected by dominant males. My heart goes out to these cubs but at the same time I can appreciate the pure performance value of these biologists who look more like Teletubbies than pandas. If I combine two of my past odd jobs, I totally qualify for this job: I worked in a zoo in Europe for half a year where I fed and cleaned up after animals from all over the world and I also once dressed up as a Pound Puppy for the opening of a warehouse-style home improvement store during a summer in New Jersey. The former employment was the most interesting work I have ever had, the latter, not so much. I stumbled around in the summer sun tripping over little kids. I could barely see through the little screen eyes in the front of my big, furry head and the temperature inside the costume was unbearable.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Language of Rain

by Drew Martin
Rain is a very interesting medium. It is an amazing delivery method for water and as a visual system it makes surfaces shiny and reflective. It deepens colors and changes withered browns into lush greens. Rain also has its own language. It shares the dynamics of music such as pianissimo and fortissimo as well as the changes of these dynamics such as crescendo and calmando. It comes dal niente (from nothing) and leaves morendo (dying away).

Last night I listened to the rain falling on the roof. Separating the sound from what I knew it to be, it reminded me of the chewing noises a mouse that lives above the ceiling makes every night. It also sounded like dry corn kernels popping. Rain's Morse-code-like rhythms send notices of relief to drought-stricken areas. There are also more ominous messages about ruined plans and cancellations. I get stressed when it heavily rains in my area because it tells me my basement will flood.

Pictured here, Rue de Paris, temps de pluie (Paris street, rainy day) by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Holy Shit Tasmania!

by Drew Martin
In 1999, then-mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani stepped into a big pile of pachydermal poop when he threatened to cut off city funding to the Brooklyn Museum because it displayed Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary made with elephant dung.

So where does art that even New Yorkers are not ready for end up? Ofili's Madonna is now at MONA (the Museum of the Old and New Art) in Hobart, Tasmania. I had my peripheral experience of the museum this afternoon when I awoke from a siesta with the May 2012 copy of Smithsonian on the bedstand, waiting to be read. I became thoroughly immersed in Tony Perrottet's article Tasmania's New Devil. The online version is titled Nudity, Art, Sex and Death – Tasmania Awaits You with the subheading: With one big bet, an art-loving professional gambler has made the Australian island into the world’s most surprising new cultural destination.

Perrottet strips down and takes the after-hours naturist tour, which he was encouraged to do by a museum attendant because "if you're going to confront sex and death - or even just the art world's latest depictions of them - you might as well do it naked."

David Walsh is the millionaire funding his creation to house his passion for art. At the age of 12, Walsh dodged church on Sunday mornings and spent the time this freed up at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Their mash-up collection of art, history and natural science, combined with his interest in Wunderkammer, the eclectic "Cabinets of Wonder" kept by Renaissance aristocrats that predated the orderly national museums of later eras, were his inspiration for non-chronological displays of art. Walsh understands art to be created by base, primitive drives that span all time.

Walsh's first art purchase came by accident in South Africa because he could not bring $18,000 of gambling earnings out of the country as cash. He purchased an elaborate Nigerian door with it. Walsh opened a small museum of antiquities, where MONA now stands, but fell into the white cube design trap so he reinvented the museum with a $75 million building that has "labyrinthine passageways and Escher-like stairways." Walsh estimates that MONA, with its own "Bilbao Effect" brought an additional $120 million to Hobart's economy in its first year.

The best video I found about the museum is on YouTube: ArtBreak MONA, which is narrated by Nicole Durling, the senior curator, and Adrian Spinks, the exhibition designer and head of operations.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


by Drew Martin
I just watched Daisies (Sedmikrásky) for the first time, which is hard to believe since I lived in the Czech Republic for five years and watched movies there all the time. I had a cinephile friend at college in the late 1980s who loved this 1966 film, which was landmark for the new wave movement and modern surrealist cinema.
Daisies follows two young women who decide that since the world has become a bad place, they will turn bad. These wanton teenagers spoil themselves wining and dining with a string of sugar daddies, steal from a bathroom valet, trash their apartment, and in a grand finale, devour and wreck a catered banquet hall where they are ultimately crushed by a falling chandelier after trying to undo their damage when they decide to reform. Daisies was written and directed by Věra Chytilová but the brilliance of the movie is how it was filmed by Jaroslav Kučera, edited by Miroslav Hájek and creatively scored by Jiří Šlitr and Jiří Šust.

Click here for an uninterrupted cut of Daisies on YouTube

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

by Drew Martin
Cave of Forgotten Dreams has been lingering in my mind for the past week. Werner Herzog’s documentary spelunks Chauvet Cave, which was first explored by modern humans in 1994. A rock slide sealed the entrance tens of thousands of years ago. Cavernous chambers extend a mile underground and contain drawings and paintings that have existed for 32,000 years, twice as old as any cave art that was discovered before this collection. 

One of the personal delights of the film was that many of the images were made by one prehistoric man, identified by his tell-tale crooked pinky finger. My grandfather and mother have this same hook, so I entertained the idea that it was a distant relative whose descendants walked to England, which was possible to do at that time from this site in France.

The documentary hits a somber, if not sobering, note. You feel privileged to enter the cave but you also feel restricted in the same way the skeleton crew must keep to the two-foot-wide protective walkway. The limit complements the medium. You are given a taste of the discovery but you also want to continue the narrative on your own and explore the cave. This feeling is strongest when one of the specialists stops out of reach from the only detailed human figure, a naked woman.  You can only glimpse her left side; the rest of it is blocked by the suspended rock formation where it is drawn.

Aside from this Venus and hand prints, the majority of the images are of the animals that roamed that land at that time: horses, bears, woolly mammoths, cave lions (and other large cats) and rhinoceroses. Some of the depicted creatures have eight legs and multiplications of their heads to suggest movement. This work was created in a time when the area was also occupied by Neanderthal, but these fellow bipeds are not depicted and they themselves never created any kind of art work.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sight Adjustments

by Drew Martin
Visual art is the manifestation of how artists see the world. An artist's imagination, insight and conceptualization combined with a material technique yield paintings, drawings, sculptures, movies and performances. It is remarkable that we have the ability to share a unique perspective with everyone on
Earth. Most art is media because it is a mediated form of communication, and artists often use methods and devices to supplement their own sight to attain their product. The most commonly used apparatus by artists is the camera, which allows anyone to freeze a frame in a point in time. As photography slips into the world of digitization, I am always excited when I see the creative hand at work. Last week I bumped into Shawn Lux, an illustrator from California. We were waiting in a long, slow-moving line at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Lux was holding (pictured here) a digital Nikon camera mounted to a device he made from wood and mirrors in order to create three dimensional images. The trick of three-dimensional photography is to simulate our natural binocular vision. Lux's setup captures almost identical images, at slightly different angles. Most three dimensional cameras use two lenses, set apart or manipulate one image digitally in-camera or in post-production with software but Lux captures the illusion with one frame. Lux uses a Loreo Lite cardboard 3D stereo viewer to look at his diptychs. Click here to see Lux's photos from this trip on Flickr.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Starting Out in the Evening

by Drew Martin
I recently watched Starting Out in the Evening (click left to see the trailer). Movies about authors and books can be hit-or-miss but I like the pace of this movie, and the casting of the handful of actors is good. Frank Langella plays Leonard Schiller, an author who has outlived his audience's interest except for that of a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduate student, Heather Wolfe (played by Lauren Ambrose) who is writing her masters thesis about him. Schiller and Wolfe’s characters develop as she slips into his personal life and draws comparisons between Schiller’s work and his own experiences. She accuses him of taking his characters with him into a sheltered space after the death of his wife, who had left him for another man. While Wolfe is a constant pursuer, working her way into Schiller's world, his apartment and eventually his bed, Schiller flops between cautious rejection and a lustful embrace. What I like about the structure of this film is how these two characters are drawn out on a long, thin line of crafted words while Schiller’s daughter, Ariel (played by Lili Taylor) is completely cinematic and raw. To Ariel, Schiller's literary feats are tangents from the real world. She is a former dancer who teaches yoga and Pilates, and goes to performances and movies, and struggles with the relationship of her boyfriend, Casey (played by Adrian Lester).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Itsa Small, Small Video

by Drew Martin
I went to the opening of Hennessey Youngman's (Jayson Musson) show Itsa Small, Small World last night but the art-crammed space in Maurizio Cattelan's tiny gallery, Family Business was packed with people and was a bit disorienting. So I returned today to see it in a more sobering light without the throng, topless body-painted model and buzz of the evening. It is still disorienting because the art is everywhere; hanging from the high ceiling, trampled on underfoot and layered on the walls. You could spend an hour in any one spot of the space if you simply slowly turned on your heel.

I took a short video in the gallery to try to help explain it better than I could with my pictures from the opening.

>>> Click here for a short video tour

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Itsa Small, Small World Opening

Hennessey Youngman's (Jayson Musson) show Itsa Small, Small World openend tonight with a small crowd that inched through the tiny space packed with hundreds of contributed artworks. Maurizio Cattelan was there at the beginning and then rode away from his gallery, Family Business, on a folding bike. Here are some pictures from the event: