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Fred Stonehouse

Now showing at Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, Fred Stonehouse explores the relationship between memory and image, re-invested cliches, mythical beasts, beards, bears and taxidermy from the edge of the Horicon Marsh.  If you weren’t there today, you missed the artist talk.  If you go before February 4th, you can still see the art.  Read an article I wrote on it here. And go.  The show is great.

Art in NYC: Color Moves: Art & Fashion of Sonia Delaunay

Review:  Color Moves at Cooper-Hewitt , National Design Museum in NYC

Running From: March 18–June 19th, 2011

By Laurie Marman

The designs of Sonia Delaunay, typified by bold geometric motifs, are alive with activity; instinctively, the eye reacts, cued by relationships between color and form, in endless fluid motion.  With a like instinct they appear to have been composed, by someone with uninhibited intuition, set to a task to endlessly exercise color.

The first American exhibit of her work in 30 years, Color Moves: Art & Fashion of Sonia Delaunay at the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Art and Design in New York, focuses primarily on the fashion and textile design facet of Delaunay’s career.  Known most widely as a groundbreaking Modernist painter, Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) crossed over in to textile design only when economic necessity demanded that she become her family’s breadwinner.  Throughout her career as an artist and designer, Delaunay explored many mediums, always with an unflagging conviction to the principle of “simultaneity”; the sensation of movement that is created when contrasting colors are placed side by side.

The exhibit is loosely segmented in to three parts: Simultaneity, Atelier Simultané, and Metz and CoSimultaneity explores Delaunay’s work outside of the realm of commercial fashion and textile design. It succeeds in illustrating how fluidly Delaunay moved between mediums, guided always by her singularity of vision and belief in “color as the skin of the world”.   A poem by Blaise Cendrars hangs on the wall, printed on a single piece of paper, several feet long, illuminated by Delaunay, creates a dynamic interplay of text, color, and form.  Featured also are painted illustrations of costume designs for stage performances, as well as “dress poems,” in which Delaunay integrated the text of poems by such Dadaists as Tristan Tzara in to wearable garments.

This portion of the exhibit also features the only painting on canvas of the entire assembled collection, Rythme Coloré, a large-scale composition of concentric circles, line, and color.  The decision to show only a single painting while investigating the body of work of an artist who is most famous for her painting is a provocative one.  It creates an interesting point of tension in the exhibit, and is the only instance when it gestures towards the seemingly inevitable dialogue on the social and cultural hierarchy of value applied to fine art and commercial design.  The effect of seeing the painting within the context of a body of work that is constantly pushing and ignoring boundaries, is that it is a comparatively rigid, lifeless, and conventional form of expression. It is an argument, subversively conveyed, that serves a museum of design rather well.

Atelier Simultané is perhaps the most exciting portion of the exhibit, in which Delaunay’s experiments with color and shape take on their most surprising and playful forms.   A series of four skull-hugging driving caps, each uniquely monochromed and embroidered in gradated bands of color, are a soft, sculptural take on a utilitarian form.  With a simple A-line skirt with a graphic diamond print, Delaunay calls attention to the interplay between garment and pattern when one of the diamond shapes breaks the plane of the waistband, creating a pointed continuation of the pattern outside of the usual space of the skirt.  In a series of knitted bathing suits, segmented in irregular, multicolored rectangular shapes, the designer is treating the garment merely as an unusually shaped canvas, constructed from suitable materials.  In each instance, the garment redesigns the body in a brand new, inventive way, through application of color and shape.

Metz and Co. features a survey of the work that Delaunay accomplished while partnered with the Dutch department store of the same name.  Case after case is filled with gouache mock-ups of textile designs, each a deceptively simple composition of color and shape, but always sensually arresting.  Often placed side by side with its printed fabric counterpart, attention is called to the qualities that fabric is able to lend to Delaunay’s compositions that paper simply is not.   Transparency, tactility, and above all, mobility, give the inherent movement of Delaunay’s designs even more life.  Textile design gives way to examples of rugs and home textiles, furniture collaborations, as well as graphic design, in a constant process of evolution and experimentation.

While always remaining centralized around her fashion and textile work, Color Moves: Art & Fashion of Sonia Delaunay openly explores the many different outlets through which Delaunay channeled her vision of color, with fluidity respective of her own style of work.  The subtitle attributed to the exhibit is “the artist who merged art and everyday life,” an attitude embodied by the collection of work on display. The Cooper Hewitt’s efforts do well to celebrate the ethos of an artist and designer who refused to apply value to the different forms her expression took, and sheds much deserved light on a body of work that is marginalized because of a culture and society that continues to do so.

Find more of Laurie’s writing on fashion and thrifting at Operation

Art in MPLS: The Spectacular of Vernacular

Review: Spectacular of the Vernacular at the Walker, Minneapolis, MN

Running from Jan. 29-May 8, 2011

By: Holly Hilgenberg

When Cortney asked me to review the recent exhibition The Spectacular of the Vernacular, I was excited to be able to have an excuse to return to the Walker, and in particular, to see how this curated show reflected any ideas about craft in art.

What I found, however, was a curiously jumbled exhibit that did not seem to know what to make of itself.

The sentiment that seemed central from the exhibition statement was that regionality, or at least a sense of local flair, was central to many of the pieces. While there were certainly pieces that did evoke a regional sensibility, the most obvious were almost some of the most expected—Kara Walkers portray of African Americans in the south, and Walker Evan’s immortalization of the dustbowl on the plains.

Tied to an examination of regionality was the celebration of the amateur (the vernacular). This “celebration,” despite a focal point of the exhibition’s statement, seemed lost among many of the pieces—and many of the pieces that exhibited amateur-like qualities did not appear to reflect any sort of local sensibility. Sure, many of the items contained “craft-like” materials that one may find in a kindergarten classroom or a Midwest mother’s scrap booking pantry, but for all the glitter, yarn, buttons and glue, these pieces were interspersed by more contemporary, “traditional” fine art pieces that could be placed in any number of exhibitions (and most likely have). It isn’t that the inclusion of items that were devoid of a craft sensibility was totally out of place in theory (especially since some of them appeared to reflect the “regional” aspect), but it was harder to see the connection between these items and the more craft-like amateur ones. It was almost as though the latter items weren’t enough to stand on their own, and by this extension, were not enough for an exhibit celebrating popular art forms.

Some artists appeared to embrace the idea of the “handmade,” mostly by incorporating traditional “craft” materials into their pieces. These pieces, such as Ree Morton’s “Off Previous Dissipations” (1974), a larger vaginal looking wood piece with painted words, seemed to embrace craft materials to evoke their personal message. Some, such as Jim Shaw’s collections of “Paintings Found in Oist Thrift Store” (2007 & 2008), appeared to embrace the amateur art of people within a certain region, while others, like Marc Swanson’s pieces that incorporated deer, that seemed to reflect a certain regionality. And then there were those like Marina Abramovic’s “Balkan Erotic Epic: Exterior Part 1 (B)” (2005), a video in which a large breasted presumably Balkan woman massages her breasts while gazing up at the sky as crickets chirp.

Perhaps the most out of place piece, Chris Larson’s “Unnamed” (2010), a white pine structure constructed outside of the exhibition in the Cargill Lobby, meant to some how connect the surroundings of the Walker (bustling Hennepin avenue on one end, a dead field offset by condos and mansions on the other) to this spectacle of the vernacular. The most impressive thing about the piece was how it lived up to its promise to “introduce new…aromas” into the lobby—though perhaps it would be more of an artistic experiment to pump the Cargill Lobby with argi-chemicals of the company than fresh pine.

Equally as annoying—several pieces by Jeffery Vallance commemorating a supposed drawn out performance piece in which he purchased a chicken from a supermarket, paid for a fancy human-like burial and then ten years later, had the chicken’s remains exhumed and tested for “cause of death.” There was also a piece about the chicken’s bloody blanket, but at that point, my eyes glazed over and I could no longer read the back story of the piece.

One of the most interesting, and fitting, pieces was Mike Kelley’s “More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid” (1987), a gigantic wall hanging of handmade stuffed animals flanked by dried ears of corn. While Vallance was busy blabbing on about a Ralph’s-bought chicken (however arresting that is), Kelley tied his work to deeper currents of the handmade, emotion and time. In particular, he connected the handmade to a gift that can never be repaid, that operates in what he called “an economy of guilt.” For Kelley, there is an inherent contradiction in handmade gifts, that “their emotional weight far exceeds the worth of the cheap and lowly materials from which they are constructed.”

Perhaps that is what is so interesting about the embracing of craft as art—that it cuts at a deeper, emotional level than the cerebral shock of so many modern art pieces. Pieces made from things like cartes-de-visite and seashells such as Dario Robleto’s “Demonstrations of Sailor’s Valentines” (2009), are more than just craft projects—they embody the emotion and spirit of the every day crafter and celebrate the made-by-hand.

It’s just too bad that The Spectacular of the Vernacular was not truer to this ethos, or at least reflected its own statement(s). Of course, maybe I’d have understood it better if I had bought the book, but then again, as an artist, that price tag’s a little steep.

Holly also writes a great fashion/thrifting blog at Operation Sparkle and organizes a progressive quarterly zine called C.L.A.P. (Creative Ladies are Powerful) that celebrates women in all their various forms of creative living.

Art in Milwaukee: Stacey Rozich

{Goat Man and a Warning of Doom by Stacey Rozich}

There is a sense you might be missing something when staring at Stacey Rozich’s paintings for the first time.  Each piece hints at an epic saga raging through the imagination of the artist and depicts a sense of quasi-mysticism that whispers at a magical underworld complete with heroes enticed by demons.  To us though, she only offers a glimpse- just a snapshot of a battle, a fleeting moment of ritual or a point of indecision where childlike demons dance and tempt.  She surrenders all other details up to the viewer and leaves them pondering whether the masked faces are fellow collaborators or mischievous bogies.  A lesser-known artist based in Seattle, this tension may be the reason many local collectors are snatching up her work and why her name should become familiar to you in the near future.

Rozich’s paintings are a mixture of watercolor, gouache and acrylic ink.  She mixes the mediums to compose figures draped in imaginary folkloric phantasm; the figure’s faces and eyes are obstructed by masks, their bodies heavily draped in ritualistic costume and their movements are decidedly ceremonial.  The hands are the only hint the viewer has to recognize the human body beneath these bulky and heavily patterned layers.  To further complicate the imagery, Rozich also presents her characters on a stark white background, giving the viewer no clue as to what ceremony she is imparting.  Naturally this combination leads to an ambiguous intent by Rozich, but it is one she embraces.  “I think working with bright colors and benign-looking animal masks compel me to explore the deeper, darker side of my spirits.  There are two sides to every story and I see this in my work.  I want to evoke mystery in these figures, that perhaps it’s not always friendly animal faces that are looking at you, rather a bringer of bad omens,” she explains.

There is evidence of Rozich’s deep interest in the darker spectrum of story telling, yet the dazzling nature of her color palette, use of texture and pattern work along with the gestural nature of her figures which all create a truly inviting scenario for the viewer.  Despite the menacing overtones, the real tension occurs in her work due to her ability to embrace both an essence of violence and welcome.

Her work involves deep-rooted imagery from other cultures and indigenous religions, which give her paintings a surrealist quality.  “It’s a wide gamut that concocts a deep and sometimes bizarre narrative that I only see growing,” she says. Rozich figures have a commonality of costume, ritual and performance that verge on the fantastical.  She is fascinated by how many cultures around the world have a common thread of these three elements.  Eastern European folklore, West African tribal costumes and Native American color palettes influence Rozich’s designs and style, but she re-imagines these characteristics through her own artistic lens developing a cultural reverence that somehow still seems familiar.

You can see these images for yourself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the Union Art Gallery as a part of the exhibition Cautionary Tales or at Sky High Gallery, in a solo show.

Q&A with Stacey Rozich can be read here.