Monday, September 26, 2016

Slick and Dirty

Dan Schein
Where Do We Dump the Bodies
Through October 8

Installation View
Photo: Mike Weiss Gallery
Dan Schein’s heroically sized canvases feature hill people and swamp people set in
“abysmal landscapes” of sickly grey, green and brown paint. The (largely pinkish Caucasian) figures have the feeling of allegorical characters populating a terrible world of tremendous anxiety. Each painting seems to tell part of the story of a rural hell. What if Max Beckmann had grown up in the world on which Deliverance was based?

Upon entering the gallery I was greeted by Schein’s Seer of Things, 2016. A horrified elderly figure stares agape in profile off the edge of the picture plane, and by way of installation at the world which the rest of the paintings create inside of the gallery. The figure stands before a bleak mountain landscape topped by a mysterious tower, in the manner of a renaissance portrait gone psychologically awry.

Schein’s Raft, 2016 is the antithesis of Copley’s Watson and the Shark, 1778. It depicts two men on a small raft beset by a shark. One man is naked, exposed to the extreme elements, paddling furiously (but to where?). He is clearly terrified of the second man whose face is obscured by blood lust, about to bludgeon his shipmate to death with a club. There is nowhere to escape, yet the victim still paddles against his certain horrible demise.

Dan Schein’s “abysmal” wasteland is not so removed from parts of the country that we can separate ourselves entirely from it. It serves as a reminder that the apocalypse may already be here.


Alex Couwenberg
Left at 69’s
Through October 8

When I walked by Lyons Wier, upon first glance I thought they were having an exhibition of ribbon candy. But I was happy I stopped to look more closely at the work of Alex Couwenberg. In each painting, the artist seems to choose the aesthetics of vintage advertising and sports car detailing, using them to create architectural constructions intricate and interesting enough to get pleasantly lost. Couwenberg uses paint in a variety of manners, creating a varied surface texture as well as an authentic feeling sense of space. If there is a hint of science fiction in the look and feel of the paintings, it is a future of hope. This is particularly compelling for me, having recently enjoyed the Guggenheim’s Moholy-Nagy retrospective.


Alex Couwenberg
Disco Doll, 2016
Photo: Lyons Wier Gallery

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Seurat and Steve McQueen

Recently, while giving a talk about a Seurat painting I was confronted with an interesting problem: how does one make people fully appreciate that an artwork from the somewhat distant past is ground breaking? One can tell them, or make them memorize it in art history class, but it’s hard to feel the drama of revolution when something has become a trope or so well known that it’s become part of everyday life. It’s difficult to recognize the avant-garde when it’s seen reproduced on cubicle walls in offices everywhere.
Paysannes au Travail, Georges Seurat (1882-83)
Photo: www.guggenheim.org

The best answer to this question is to put the work into context. This is easy when speaking with people who have a familiarity with the subject matter. It’s a lengthy proposition when speaking with people who are unfamiliar with the various movements or art history. Because of this, I’ve come up with an analogy I like: the car chase from Bullitt.

Bullitt (1968)
Photo: www.telegraph.co.uk
When I was a teenager, my father told me about the legendary car chase from the movie “Bullitt” (1968) starring Steve McQueen. I was prepared to have my mind blown. And, it is a great scene; cool car, Steve McQueen performing amazing stunts on the hills of San Francisco. It is absolutely iconic. But, I felt that I’d seen it all before. And I had. Ever since Bullitt, the elements of that movie have become conventions used by dozens (at least) of movies and television shows. But the people who saw that movie in 1968 must have been blown away.

In the same way, it’s difficult to convince people that an impressionist or post-impressionist painting was considered radical because most people have grown up seeing these paintings as posters on dorm room wall, as gift shop calendars or refrigerator magnet souvenirs from a favorite museum. So, I’ll keep trying to find the best way to solve this problem. In the meantime, I’ll continue giving the nod to that classic cop movie and maybe make people appreciate it more as well.





Friday, January 15, 2016

Museum Memberships on the Cheap

If you are a regular reader of this online record of my enthusiasms, you know that I enjoy deeply my museum memberships. One of my favorite parts of being in New York City is the access to some of the top cultural institutions in the world, and having memberships to those institutions means that I can drop in for a visit anytime I want. But perpetually on the cusp of being a starving artist, I look for the deals and luckily there are plenty.

I suppose the least expensive way to go is “pay what you want” nights. During these events, you can give however little your conscience allows. There are plenty of moral arguments for artists or really any other of the city’s non-rich community to pay very little. Several of the local museums offer these opportunities. I stick with my quest to acquire actual memberships on the cheap though, because I dislike viewing art in a huge crowd. Museums often offer member nights, where members have the run of the galleries without all the tourists.Also, I have a guilty conscience. 

I’ve already shouted the virtues of the NYC ID from the rooftops, so I won’t get too much into it. Just think, “Tons of free memberships for a year.” Not for privacy/conspiracy theory enthusiasts.

This past week, I was made aware of artist memberships. The Museum of Modern Art had an open house for their artist member program this past Wednesday and for $35 and proof of artistry, (in my case, a postcard displaying work and listing my website) I have base level member privileges at MoMA including the ability to buy one $5 guest pass per visit. The New Museum on Bowery also has an artist membership program for $50 (with your resume). The Whitney also offers a $50 artist membership which I wish I'd known about last year. Benefits include some nice bonuses from which you may choose. I opted for the "education" option which gave me access to lectures and gallery talks. Even paying $85 last year for a base level, non-artist membership, I found it to be a solid value.

If you are an artist, and not so anti-establishment that you still enjoy museums, then I recommend looking into artist memberships at your local institutions. If you can not prove that you are an artist, I still encourage you to look for deals at your local museums. They are out there for the taking.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Need to Demystify Art

When I first went back to college to finish my degree a few years ago, I started in the architecture program. I decided after a year that architecture was far more interesting than I had imagined and also that I did not want to be an architect. One thing I found frustrating about the world of architecture though, was the dense, jargon filled language used to discuss concepts. I felt vindicated in my opinion when I read Allison Arieff’s opinion article, “Why Don’t We Read About Architecture” in the New York Times in 2012.

I feel the same way about a lot of art writing I encounter, whether in academic articles, artists’ mission statements or gallery press releases. I’m not against academic writing. I find it fun to pore through a dense but well written article which communicates an idea effectively. But I feel there needs to be a greater effort to connect modern and contemporary art with the public at large.  It’s discouraging to me when people say “I don’t know…it’s just too modern for me” about a 100 year old painting. After all, modern art was supposed to take art down from the proverbial ivory tower.

I understand the importance of connecting with an academic and critical audience when writing about art, but more casual art fans and potential art fans need to be brought into the fold. There needs to be more writing for the uninitiated in addition to writing for professionals. When people don’t understand something and then it’s explained in a way intended for topic experts, they feel unintelligent or worse, duped. This is one reason why it’s so easy for public funding to be pulled for the arts: people feel angry when something they don’t understand is deemed important. 


I’m starting a new job at the end of the month as a Gallery Guide at the Guggenheim Museum here in New York. It’s an opportunity to address people directly who walk by a piece of contemporary art and say, “I don’t get it. Why is this so great?” I see it as an important mission in this new job and in my life in general to try to demystify the artworks that I love so much. This will allow individuals to have a more enriching experience while viewing art, and it will also help the cause of making fine art more of a part of contemporary American culture.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Obligatory New Year Post

This past year has been a banner one for me. It was the year that I returned to New York City and began again my career as an artist. I also decided to expand my endeavors in the arts past production of work to begin art writing and searching for a job in the service of the arts. On a personal note, I met an inspiring companion who for the purpose of this blog is named Gertrude and is a successful slam poet.

In 2016, I hope to begin showing my work again in New York, establish more connections in the visual arts and be accused of “selling out” for extravagant riches. In this ideal scenario, I will not have actually “sold out” but will simply be capitalizing on the recognition of my genius. With luck, hard work and sociability I will banish the word “day job” from my vocabulary.


In a meta twist as this post draws to a close, I will be writing two blog posts a week in 2016. So, you can expect twice as many reflections, anecdotes and reviews, giving you fair readers insight into what I decide you should know about what is going on in my head.