Sunday, December 13, 2009

Visual Acoustics

Visual Acoustics opened this weekend at the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta. Visual Acoustics is a documentary about the life and work of the greatest architectural photographer Julius Shulman. I have been a huge fan of Shulman for years but never had the opportunity to meet him. It is a fantastic film of a life full of vision and clarity. He died on July 17th, 2009 at the age of 98.

As I watched and listen to Dustin Hoffman recount this great life I couldn't help but think that the hour and 23 minutes of film that I am watching is a meer fraction of the experiences that Shulman had. This is a man that traveled the globe single handedly documenting the modern world. In many cases his images were used to rebuild what had been altered or destroyed.

The film shows the humor and free spirit of the photographer as it documents his interactions with architects and book publishers. He often seems surprised that people are interested in the work, but is always aware of his place in history and very proud of it. Shulman lived long enough to watch retro become retro.

I can't encourage you enough to see the film, it is moving when Shulman receives his honorary degree in his 90's after dropping out of school as a kid. It is a true American film about a wonderful life that actually took the time to take a picture.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A meeting with the Pope.

So i got an email a few weeks ago saying that Mike, one of my best friends, was coming back to the states for three weeks. I hadn't seen him in about 8 years. Of course I had to drop everything and drive back to Des Moines and hang out for a few days before he went back to Hong Kong.

It made me start thinking about my past and how being away from everything I once knew makes me question what I really know or believe. Since I was going back, I thought what the hell, lets go back... way back.

So on Sept. 17th. I got in my truck at 8:00 in the morning and began the drive 14 hours north west to Des Moines, Iowa alone. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I was going to see and how I might feel. At 40, my conscious thoughts of Des Moines and Iowa are equal to my time in Atlanta. I grew up in Winterset and Des Moines, but my life started in Atlanta.

I pulled into town around 10:00 pm, picked up my great friend Tony and went to meet Mike, play pool and get caught up. We hung out until 3:00 in the morning before going back to Tony's house to crash on his couch and chairs. Mike said it best the next morning, "if you could forget for a second about the last 15 years, the fact that we live in different states and countries, forget about jobs, relationships, all of it... nothing has changed". It was the most pathetically wonderful thing I have ever heard and he was right.

So we decided that since we were going back we needed to catch up with our old neighborhoods, family and friends. We had the idea to have lunch with our High School art teacher. Without a doubt, one of the most important people in our lives. We took her to lunch at the Winterset golf and country club, which sounds really posh on a blog. but we ate pork tenderloin sandwiches and sweet potato fries and began to get caught up. The weather was beautiful, sunny with a fresh breeze.

The last time we saw her she was still teaching art in Winterset and we crashed her class, which was always fun. She is in a different place in her life now as she is teaching kids with special needs. When I look back she always had, some were just a little more special and some had more needs. But you could see the joy on her face that some of her favorite students wanted to spend an afternoon having lunch with her, and genuinely wanted to know how she was.

I also went by the Des Moines Art Center where I worked for three years before cutting my finger off in their tablesaw while installing a Warhol show. I love that museum, it is everything a museum should be without trying to be something it isn't. It has an amazing respect for the art it collects and for the architecture that houses it. At a time when so many museums are stopping short of rollercoasters and bears riding bikes, the DMAC pulls out an Isa Genzken or a Rita McBride. Did i mention it is free?

The DMAC was also recently given a collection of outdoor sculptures that were being installed in a 4 acre greenspace downtown. I had helped John and Mary Pappajohn install 12 of the original sculptures on their property before I left Des Moines 15 years ago. I worked on the Kelly, Serra, the Smith and others. but it was wonderful to see them in the publics eye. Now the Pappajohns have given a true gift not just to the DMAC, but the city as a whole.

After two days of reconnecting with my roots, on Sunday morning I got back in the truck to drive home. Driving back through the countryside, passing Pella's Dutch windmills and the Amish buggies on their way to church, listening to public radio and recapping the weekend in my mind. I couldn't help think about how lucky I was to have the friends that keep you grounded and want to you succeed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jennie C. Jones on

It's funny to me that people continue to ask me to write things for magazines, websites and blogs. I can barely write my name or a complete sentence. But i have a new project that i am very excited about. I have teamed up with Mark Liebert ( Mark obviously taking the lead) on a new site on which we have conversations with artists that are exhibiting or living in the Atlanta area. I am most interested in a conversation after a time of settling and reflection.

I am so excited to announce that my email conversation with Jennie C. Jones is the first entry in this new endeavor. This discussion follows her beautiful show at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. I think Jennie's work is wonderfully inspirational, as if i had a kindred spirit in Brooklyn.

I hope that you enjoy the new site and check back for new entries that i am currently working on. The "punk rock wanderer" Bill Daniels is up next. we will be talking about his new show at Get This Gallery and discussing photography as documentation.

Thanks Jennie!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Modernism

I mentioned this house the other day in a post. I grew up about 6 blocks from it and was completely obsessed with it. i had forgotten about the M*A*S*H* styled sign post that sat on the corner of the property at the street. i have always assumed that the cities listed were visited by the home owner. That on it's own was of interest to me. We occasionally made the drive back to Oklahoma to visit family friends. Once in awhile we'd go to Omaha and visit the zoo. My father was not much for travel, still isn't. He claims to be happy where he is, my mother however, doesn't share this contentment in the same way.

Back to the house, one of the things i loved about it was that it was a perfect solution to my escapism. The day dreaming about the home owners and the travel sign, and their adventures. I look back at the sign now and none of those cities seem as far away. Maybe because i have been to most of them for one reason or another. Sometimes i think the most important part of this sign was just putting the idea in my head that there was so much more out here.

I think it would be great to build a sign like that one day, but i'm not ready to stay home yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Highline NYC

Your looking at pictures of the new Highline project in New York. The first section opened this summer and it is about long 5 blocks in length. Cutting through the Standard Hotel as well as two other older buildings. One of which Spencer Finch has created a beautiful site specific installation in the windows.

The Highline is a project using elevated abandoned trainlines to create a greenspace/park. It is brilliant! It is like taking an old car on blocks laying on the side of the street and restoring it to the better than original condition, then letting perfect strangers take it for a spin. I absolutely loved it. The design is amazing every detail that was needed was handled perfectly. If it didn't need to be touched, it wasn't. An amazing balance with so many surprises. Including a rare view of the Statue of Liberty that far north in Manhatten, which is perfectly framed with vintage architecture.

I walked it the first time, turning around I walked back. I could have done it again, But we had people to meet. It's like a wonderful ride with views of the city that you don't get on the street or even from a window.

The next day i found myself at galleries in Chelsea and realized that i could enter on 19th, so i walked it again.

At no point do you forget you are in New York, like the rest of the world you realize that New York is changing too. It is making choices that other cities need to be making to improve the quality of life.

It is also great to see the contemporary architectural history lesson popping up around you. It reminded me of Berlin in that way, the old sitting comfortably with the new in conversation.

The Highline was not only a treat, but the highlight of my trip. It will become a part of my future trips to New York, just like the Met, MOMA or the Whitney.

Monday, August 10, 2009

cinder block photo series

I've been thinking about posting these photos for awhile. You are looking at two photos from a new series of photos that i took last spring in Atlanta, just off of Marietta Blvd. I was driving by the site and the sun was hitting this massive pile of blocks beautifully. It was like a rolling hill in a cemetery with the light reflecting off the stones.

I dropped everything I was doing, went home, and grabbed the camera and tri-pod and headed right back. A half an hour later the light was even better. I took about 30 pictures and everyone of them is incredible. This mass grave of material was lifeless and I was torn between capturing the moment and documenting a loss.

I turned 40 last year, and got married this summer. My life is changing and I have spent much of it running from the first half. Sometimes I feel as though I have entered my work at a half way point, or rather that the viewer doesn't know the whole story. Most people don't know me or my work before I moved to Atlanta in 1995. Oddly, I'm not sure I knew me, but I was searching. I have been thinking a lot about why I am interested in architecture, art, and cars. It could be home remodeling projects with my father or car restoration with my brother. Obviously my high school art program had a huge impact.

I remember a house on my way to school or church. I rode my bike by it everyday, even in the summer on my way to the pool. It was strange by small town Winterset, Iowa standards. It was two stories high, and the only home in the whole town that had a flat roof. With the annual snowfall a flat roof is asking for trouble. It was modern and stood out like a sore thumb. Built in the mid 40's at 420 E. Court Street. i rode my bike by that house for years and could only imagine the celebrity that lived in that house. Probably summered there between shooting movies. I wasn't old enough to understand California modernism at the time, but I was sure the person that lived there was from California, a fantasy land far away from my bland life in Iowa.

The house had a porch on the second floor and a wrap around patio that was covered. A real party house I'd think. Fellow celebrities drinking martini's smoking cigarettes late into the evening without a care in the world, because they were in the middle of nowhere.

A few years ago I was back in Winterset, I took my then future wife to see where I grew up. I took her by the house almost before I went by my own. Winterset was famous for the birth of John Wayne and the 13 covered bridges that Clint Eastwood made a movie about. Its nice, but even with all of its "culture", it wasn't enough. I've always wanted more.

I took pictures of the house, all 4 sides, in preparation for a series of drawings, maybe even paintings. I took the pictures because there is one thing i have learned living in Atlanta. You take pictures of modern buildings because they may not be there when you drive by again. They become rubble and they scoop them up and fill an empty hole in the ground with them. Developers don't think twice. The lives that were lived in those buildings are no match for the profit they will make. So it is interesting to think of a building in terms of a life.

The new series of photos above are the first into my look at the past. I know they seem quite final in their view of destruction. I would really like to focus on what is here now, a documentary process of capturing what is left. I've missed so many. Many of these buildings are not even important examples of modernism, but the more they take down the more important the mundane becomes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

So summer has been pretty crazy so far, still gotta get through August though. I was in New York last week hanging out and talking with some artists about the future. Things have been better, but i think it is making us better artists. It is certainly pushing me in directions to explore some things in a depth that i have never been to before.

This photo was taken by my friend Drew after our conversation about a new photo project i am working on. I've never been interested in photography beyond a tool for documentation. Oddly enough, i see these new photos as documentation even though i am not sure what they are capturing aside from debris.

I am exploring the cinder block as a symbol, a bland, cold hard, gray symbol. I am very interested in the utilitarian design and its functionality on an individual basis. One cinder block is pretty useless unless you are holding a door open. Add a companion and a board and you can make a bench or shelf for a dorm room. Add more blocks and you can construct anything you want. A retaining wall, a structural wall, shelter, on their sides they become a screen. I am obsessed with them and their ability to humanize and dehumanize at the same time.

I am collecting photos such as the one above to talk about just that idea. In art history when artists moved from the church taking frescos and paintings from the wall to wood panels and canvas it gave us the ability to move the earth. From one place to the next, we could suddenly take a picture, a window to the world, and move it. Our favorite landscape, still life or portrait was moved around the room or around the world. A picture window of perfection, and it could be changed, traded, bought and sold. The picture's frame itself created the window's frame and the artist gave us an aesthetically pleasing view of life.

It is interesting to me, as i see more and more actual windows boarded and bricked up. What does that say aside from, "you are not welcome". I have trouble thinking about an architectural space that you can not see out of. No contact with the outside world. We've come so far with our painted representations of life just to brick up the real thing. I think it says something about safety and security, but i think it also says something about the way we want to live. Boards can be removed,bricking up a window seems so permanent, so final, much like the bricking of a crypt.

The new pieces i am creating work in this thought, the picture is gone, the view is bricked up and the future seems cold and gray. I am finding myself at an odd crossroad where the symbol of what i am creating is not only actually taking place, but i am recording it as a gesture or thought that i don't even like. It is an idea that can easily be removed for the wall and replaced by a lush green Struth forest or Gursky's dimestore.

Stay tuned, i'll post one as soon as it is finished.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ART LIES is out!

Stuart Horodner came to me many months ago and asked me to write an article for an issue of Art Lies Magazine that he was guest editing. The topic was "Second Acts" in other words, what are you doing when you are not doing the thing you are known for. For me my "second act" is working with artists, collectors and galleries with efforts to present exhibitions and works of art.

The issue launched last Thursday at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in conjunction with the Avant Garden event. A panel discussion revealed many things about our passions aside from art.

I encourage you to pick up a copy and enjoy the articles. There are some incredible things to learn, like spear fishing for octopus, and the painful events in Joe Sola's tennis career.

Check out the Art Lies website and get a subscription, it is a great magazine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A new I-Beam Sculpture

So as many of you know that have been following my work.  i have been working with wooden I-beams for several years. Today i think they turned a corner. Actually i have been anticipating the corner for while now but today it happened. As you can see in the image on the left from ARCO last year the beams have been positioned on the floor and rather functionless. Today came the next step in the process.

The I-beam is something much more simple than the support in a building, it is a line. it is a material in the most literal sense of the word. The I-beam in modern architecture allows you to follow the hand of the architect as the pencil hits the paper, designing the house. It is erected like a toy, yet can bear the weight of a tree 4 times its size.

For those who saw my installation at the Atlanta Contemporary last month or the larger one at Indiana State University, you will remember i was playing with ideas of support. Haphazardly leaning the beams on each other in a temporary non committal kind of way, or shoving them completely through the wall cantilevered in drywall.

Today the beams were cut, drilled and bolted together. It brought to mind Mark diSuvero's large I-beam pieces, but at a closer look the order simulates a detail of a structure. a fragment of modernism discarded.

The I-beams have an elegance and lack of detail that i think only leaves content in the arrangement. It is the reason Mies van der Rohe used them, for a lack of detail, and the grace of a simple line. the more i think about my I-beam work the more rigid i want to get with them in a textbook fashion. I look at the new structural fragment and think more of a modern Gordon Matta-Clark than a diSuvero, cutting the corner from a modern home set in the hills of California, or the ceiling of a warehouse.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thoughts on Dave Hickey's Orphans

i'm excited about this new piece that Dave Hickey has written for Art in America (Jan. 09, page35). its the first thing that i have read in awhile that has frustrated and inspired me in the same article. i haven't decided if i want to agree with Hickey or not, which is where i am finding my inspiration.  My frustration comes with the notion that Hickey seems exhausted with the current state of the art world. how can you not be? Younger artists no longer seek out a "revolutionary precedents" not because they are not there any longer. they may be, but it's not profitable. the attention span is not there financially for that kind of commitment.

Artists today find their rut and stay in it as long as they can. it is part of the "branding " process. to develop over time means that you may miss your opportunity in the market. i believe most artists working today would probably not be making the work they are making if money were not an issue. That is not to say they are all making money, but they are re-creating art that has a market in an attempt to get a piece of the pie, or at least their 15 minutes.

As an artist working today Ruscha is my Cole, or Church. I mine the fields of modern and contemporary work, stealing, borrowing and cross-pollinating in what are now appropriate ways. I see the art world in it's current state as a reflection of the mess that our world and country is in. We have accepted the fact that we can all do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it, and it is not only perfectly fine, it is our right. The problem isn't really that the art world has gone to hell, it's that everything else has lead the way. The reality that i think Hickey is feeling is that he has been around long enough to watch it all go down. The bitter pill is that permission has been given to these young artists, they have all been given a license to do and say what they want. the truth is that most of it isn't worth paying attention to. 

At the end of the day it was probably free enterprise that shot art in the foot. if you put a Cole or Church on the auction block you could probably strip it of any integrity it has with the drop of a hammer. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

So many of you know my amazingly good friend Drew Conrad. you'll usually find us kicking around Art Basel together or the bars and galleries in NYC. Drew has decided to revisit the ATL scene and present a show of new work for the grand re-opening at Get This! Gallery. i am really excited about this show. it gives the gallery a great energy to start off with and it allows us in Atlanta to see something fresh from NYC.

i have been watching this show come together in his Chinatown studio over the last year and for all of the irreverence that Drew appears to have for almost everything, you will find a very sensitive side that is showing maturity and growth in his work. it's still got all of the edge and grit. and don't worry he may end up serving drinks behind the bar. Come on out. the show opens on Jan 24th and runs through Feb. 28th. Get This! Gallery  662 11th ATL, GA 30318

Also watch out for the fantastic programing that is coming up at Get This! this year. your going to see work by, Fahamu Pecou, Bill Daniel, Ben Roosevelt and more.