How the Audubon House Inspired my “Birds of Vacation” Snapshots.

I spent last week in Key West, Florida–the sun, sea, and saltwater were such welcomed departures from the terrible New York winter we had this year. As I’ve looked over my trip photos, one theme has really emerged:

Birds.

Of course, I took many pictures of the Hemingway House and six-toed cats, as well as the requisite images of my travel companions smiling in posed clusters. But the birds appeared again and again. Both live birds, such as herons hanging out on the coastline and pelicans being fed by local fishermen, and etched ones, seen at the Audubon House.

John James Audubon visited the Florida Keys in 1832, and stayed on a property remarkably close to the current Audubon House while researching his “Birds of America” folio. The house boasts several prints from the original Havell edition, including this fantastic White Pelican:

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Also on view: an artist’s proof from this series, of the White-Crowned Pigeon, which I absolutely loved. This proof allowed Audubon to approve the direction of the print before the full edition was made, and reminds me how collaborative the process between artist and skilled printmaker can be.

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Inspired by Mr. Audubon, I found myself observing birds around the island. Whilst my approach to documenting them varied slightly (no birds were killed, no beautiful watercolors were made, and no science will be advanced!), I did understand how Key West could’ve energized his work. Three of my favorite snapshots:

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While I’m no Audubon, there is a real joy in following his lead and observing these creatures, however differently.

Food as art, art as food, and the luxury of eating beauty

I have long viewed the world as an aesthetic wonderland. I love Art (with a capital A), but one of my great joys is finding beautiful and challenging things amidst activities of everyday life. Seeing art in a museum is always a joy, but to me, seeing defaced posters on a scaffold on the way to the subway is often more exhilarating, because it makes my routine just a bit more memorable.

I went to Japan for the first time last year and noticed, immediately, that aesthetics permeated everyday space in wonderfully delicate and subtle and seductive ways. The packaging for even the smallest purchase was perfectly folded, beautifully designed, and elegantly presented upon completed sale. The fruit in specialty stores was rich in color, rounded, and plump, shown as luscious objects whose looks could be rivaled only by implied flavor. The chocolates looked more like Donald Judd sculpture than confections:

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The food has stuck with me, perhaps more than anything else. The idea of consuming beauty was not new to me: every time I look at a painting, I consume with my eyes. But digesting in an actual sense–imbibing and chewing and swallowing–gives the absorption another sort of richness. This became clearest for me during a meal at Narisawa exactly one year ago. The pictures can speak for themselves:

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“Essence of the Forest”

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“Chiayu, Sweet fish”

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“”Ash 2009″ Scene of the seashore”

 

On The Art Show 2014

Last week, I wrote about the Armory Show and its ability to overwhelm me annually. Today’s post is about another fair that took place that same weekend in early March: The Art Show. With a smaller-scale format (a tighter space, fewer galleries, and generally smaller artworks) than the Armory Show, The Art Show is sometimes overshadowed. I, however, found this fair to be worth my visit in every way. Congrats to Sanford Smith and Associates (and fair director Emily Christensen!) for a job well done.

Where the Armory Show exhausted, The Art Show invigorated.

Here are a few of the artists, artworks, and ideas that stood out:

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Sean Kelly Gallery’s display of Kehinde Wiley’s work immediately caught my eye. The opulent gold leaf and bright red booth walls drew me in. The stunning execution of works themselves, which present contemporary figures in formats borrowed from Russian icons, kept me there.

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Kehinde Wiley, St. Gregory Palamas, 2014, 22k gold leaf and oil on wood panel, 40 x 24 x 2 in.

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Having worked on multiple exhibitions featuring art by James Castle, a well known American self-taught artist, I had a soft spot for the selection of his constructions, books, and soot-and-spit drawings on view at Peter Freeman, Inc.. I was particularly impressed by the gallery’s display, as they borrowed installation ideas from Castle shows at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Museo Reina Sofia.

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Whilst the Wiley and Castle displays held such impact because of their “solo show” approach, there were some wonderful individual pieces visible within group displays also. One of my personal favorites was this etching from 2000 by Lucian Freud, on view at Matthew Marks Gallery.

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And finally, I was most impacted by Ann Hamilton’s photographic work-in-progress at Carl Solway Gallery. Hamilton was in residence throughout the fair, photographing attendees as part of her ongoing ONEEVERYONE series. Pictures were printed on newsprint and displayed in the booth (seen above). As part of this project, each sitter will be mailed one of these photographs of someone else who participated in the experience.

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Here’s a photo of me having my photo taken for this project. As you can see, Hamilton shot participants behind a hazy membrane so as to distort features not pressed directly against the surface. The dreamlike effect creates a unity amongst the sitters, removing many specifics of each person and creating connections between all. I will write another blog post about this project–in more detail–when I receive an image of another participant in the mail!

On the 2014 Armory Show

Holland Cotter’s recent review of the Whitney Biennial included a line that stuck with me: “I left feeling pretty much the way I do when I leave an art fair, full but empty, tired of dessert, hungry for a sustained and sustaining meal.”

I usually feel a little empty after art fairs. As though–to borrow a statement from Sherlock Holmes (and a concept from dear friend and author Maria Konnikova)–I’ve seen but not observed the objects or experiences around me. The Armory Show is consistently one of the most overwhelming fairs I attend. And sheer numbers make it hard to see art: the number of visitors, number of galleries, and number of different artworks on view all conspire to draw attention away from any individual object.

This year, I left the Armory Show exhausted and frustrated. I could barely edge through the crowds at Pier 94, let alone look at objects.

A few days later, with some time to digest, I realized that this frustration was trumped by some other, more lasting impressions.

Art fairs are terribly important for the art world and for galleries. They can connect clients and dealers, promote previously-unknown artists, and show the state of a particular art world at a given time. For me, art fairs are important because they make me hungry: for information, for understanding of artists I may not have previously encountered, and for in-depth viewing of individual objects away from the buzz of these dynamic and electric venues. They make me appreciate quiet time in a museum or gallery, standing face-to-face with an artwork. While Cotter’s “full but empty” statement speaks to the immediate aftermath of the show, the “hunger for a sustaining meal” can and should be the far more powerful–and far reaching–outcome.

With that, here are some snapshots of favorite artworks from the Armory Show:

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Nick Cave Soundsuits at Jack Shainman

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David Scher at Pierogi Gallery

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Michelangelo Pistoletto at Galleria Repetto

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George Widener at Ricco/Maresca Gallery

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Sol LeWitt and the Philadelphia Wireman at Fleisher Ollman Gallery

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Thornton Dial at Andrew Edlin Gallery

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Alice Neel at Aurel Scheibler

Displaying Art at Home

I couldn’t imagine living without art. Every time I move, art is the first order of unpacking business–and until it is on the walls, an apartment cannot feel like home.

Suffice it to say, as a New Yorker with an art habit, a theme has emerged: little wall space and lots to hang.

I have never shied away from hanging works in clusters or “salon style,” but I’ve always been careful not to overcrowd a surface. Too much art, and I can’t appreciate each piece. Too little, and most of my collection remains in a closet. Below, I have a few snapshots showing how I’ve chosen to display art in my 700 square foot home!

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Here’s the main wall in my apartment, organized in clusters. On the right are some fabulous prints after 19th century engravings; on the left are works by self-taught and contemporary artists.

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A better look at the cluster seen above, including works by JJ Cromer and Chris Hipkiss, among others.

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Further along that main wall, into the hallway: two fantastic large drawings by Thornton Dial as well as works by Donald Mitchell, Shepard Fairey, and others. One of the problems with a small New York apartment is getting enough distance from a work to read it in its entirety, so I’ve placed the Dials (the largest works I own) in the space where the hallway opens to the living room. That way, you can both encounter them up close, and then step back to read them from a distance:

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Also in the hallway is a play on black and white and different textures: an etching by Swoon, and a drip painting by Paul Richard.

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I have never believed that works need to be hung together based solely on their time/point of origin, material, or defined genre. All sorts of interesting combinations of objects can emerge if you let them. Here, I have a paper mache giraffe head, an Edward Tufte chart, and a fabulous watercolor of a morel mushroom with goat legs by Amy Ross. I’ve arranged them together based on color and scale, and I think each is made more interesting because of the conversation between the three.

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And, lest you think art is reserved for walls, I’ve made excellent use of built-in bookshelves as well! Here, I have a bird shadowbox, a duck decoy, and a drawing by Malcolm McKesson. While most of my shelves are used for books (and, as an art historian, I have PLENTY of beautiful books), every once in a while, it’s nice to reserve a nook for an intimate cluster of objects. These pieces, which are relatively small, would get lost on a larger wall. In such an enclosed space, however, they have a chance to shine.

Viewing without Art Historical Baggage

As a child–and even a college student–I relished art museums as places where I could step away from day-to-day life and encounter other cultures, ideas, and beautiful objects. Since I began working in the art world, in my early twenties, this conception has steadily evolved. Where I once saw art museums as repositories for aesthetics (and could turn a blind eye to their inner workings), I now experience them as loaded places, filled with very distinct commentaries on public and private collecting, taste, and ongoing cultural agendas. To see museums as a series of definite calculated choices makes the art recede at times, and every time I visit a new art museum, the vista is no longer one of awe, but one of questions: Why did they acquire this and hang it here? Who donated to this exhibition and why? What is this museum’s overall collecting strategy?

To see art museums this way is not a bad thing, but it is a different thing. To regain some of that childlike wonder–and to remember why people love museums so–I occasionally have to go to a different type of museum altogether.

The American Museum of Natural History, in New York, always refreshes me. It reminds me of my childhood, when visits to such museums were a frequent enterprise, and it reminds me that aesthetic beauty can be found beyond the art world and in animals, plants, and everyday objects. More importantly, its collections are often so disconnected in style, subject, and approach that I do not even try to find the overarching theoretical agendas at play within the museum walls. I know that museums like AMNH are just as complicated as the art museums I visit all the time, but for some reason, the experience is just enough removed from my daily life that I can relax and suspend my questioning mind. I do not let myself focus on the ramifications of showing tribal art as ethnographic study material, and instead absorb the experience for what it is: a series of seemingly random displays of cultural, natural, and geological phenomena that, as a visitor, are a joy to discover. Below are a few of my favorite things at AMNH, spotted on a recent visit.

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The Metro Show and Conversations on Collecting

The annual Metro Show took place in NYC this past weekend. Still not sure of its overall identity, the fair hosted more than 35 dealers with a variety of specialties. Objects on view ranged from works of “old master” American outsider art, to Asian ceramics, to whittled walking sticks; each booth was its own microcosm of the art world. A few views (in the form of my less-than-stellar snapshots!):

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American Primitive Gallery’s display, which included stone carving, walking sticks, and works by collector and artist Mike Noland.

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Cavin Morris Gallery showed a range of ceramics, as well as works on paper by self-taught visionary artists.

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Ricco Maresca Gallery included some late works by Martín Ramírez alongside pieces by Bill Traylor.

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Susan Baerwald, of Just Folk Gallery, discussing Bill Traylor, the focus of their booth this year.

The portion of the weekend I was most involved in, however, was the series of lectures and panels that accompanied the art fair. Organized by Randall Morris, of Cavin Morris Gallery, this two-day conference included lectures by scholars, panels of curators, and talks by collectors. I participated in the panel “Life After Venice,” which considered the relevance and benefits of exhibiting works by mainstream and self-taught artists together, alongside fabulous curators Lynne Cooke, Massimiliano Gioni, and Leslie Umberger, and brilliant scholar and dealer Randall Morris. I also gave a lecture about the collection of outsider and vernacular art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Here’s a snapshot of me during my talk (thanks Maria!).

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And one of Randall Morris introducing the event.

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One of my favorite parts of the weekend was listening to John Foster talk about how he became a collector (seen in the above image). He believes that a collection need not be expensive to be important, and that objects of all types–and market values–should live happily together. I was particularly struck by the fact that he sees the world as a constant series of aesthetic explorations. He’s the sort of collector I aim to be, and aim to nurture!