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Art-Wise Lately

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Just some of the art I have consumed lately . . .

An anonymous pop-up "art installation" seen recently in an alley near my house. I swear it's not my handy work!

The short but sweet "artist's statement" above sort of says it all. Everybody loves the arts--music, literature, poetry, fine art, museums, theater, dance--because all of these creative endeavors can bring moments of beauty, passion, wonder, and emotional release into our everyday lives. Can you imagine a world without any of them?

A recent art acquisition of mine by local DC artist Matt Sesow.

This is why one of my "Artist's Rules of Operation" is to support other artists. As you can see from the small painting above, I don't necessarily spend a lot of money on all the art that I buy. My main rule is that it should make me happy and that it will bring me joy every time that I look at it! I love this "Tree Pipit" by Matt Sesow (bought from the fabulous gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD) and I have it on a shelf in my office where I can enjoy it everyday. Plus, the little dog-like creature (bottom/center of the painting) reminds me of my dog Tulip : )

I am a book person, I love to read, and I love books. So whenever I can, I actually buy the book instead of taking it out from the library. But I also have a Little Free Library in my yard as well, and I pass on any books that I don't want to keep for my own personal library. And believe it or not, when I really like a song or an album, I actually pay for it instead of streaming it online!

Although, I do know that for many people, spending money on these kinds of things might be a luxury. So this is really not a judgement on my part. I just try to make a small difference when and where I can.

There are also many instances of free public art available out there for everyone to enjoy. Especially in a major metropolitan area like Washington, DC, where we have easy access to the (mostly free) art institutions situated along the city’s historic Mall and downtown. And many of them have all sorts of free programing that include artist talks, concerts, movies, and even yoga classes.

The Gallery at Glenstone in Potomac, MD.

Speaking of free . . . I recently went to the Louise Bourgeois exhibit at the lovely and free to the public (with a reservation) Glenstone Pavilions and Gallery in Potomac, MD. Glenstone is a private art museum that was first opened in 2006 by Mitchell and Emily Rales on the grounds of their home in Potomac, MD. What originally consisted of one gallery building and outdoor sculpture space, has now been transformed into a sprawling 230-acre campus of buildings to showcase their private modern art collection. The Rales's collection is now up to 1,300 objects and it is considered by many to be "one of the greatest private collections of American and European contemporary art in the country.”

Detail of an outdoor sculpture by Richard Serra, "Sylvester," 2001.

They don't allow photos of the art in their indoor galleries, so you will have to make do with the image above of this fabulous Richard Serra sculpture, which is just one of the outdoor sculptures sprinkled throughout the grounds. But honestly, what I was really there for this time, was the Louise Bourgeois exhibit ‘To Unravel a Torment (on show until June 30, 2019).

It was clear from her work, that she was not only an artist with plenty of moxie, as evidenced by both her creative concepts (let's just say that she wasn’t afraid to make big phallic references), as well as through the sheer variety of mediums in which she worked (there were paintings; sculptures made of wood, metal, plaster and stone; needlepoint; fabric pieces; artist books; collections of glass; and installation rooms). But I was also moved by her ability to admit vulnerability through her work. In one of her installation “rooms” she had embroidered on the sheets of a small bed “I need my memories they are my documents” and “Art is the guarantee of sanity,” both of which were seemingly odes to her art practice and its preoccupations with her past.

The exhibit ended with a series of large paintings on paper entitled I Give Everything Away that were made in 2010 the year of Bourgeois' death, and which encompassed hand scrawled notes on them that combined, seem to be a goodbye letter of sorts:

I give everything away

I distance myself from myself

From what I love most

I leave my home

I am packing my bags

I leave the nest**

**I am guessing at the order in which Bourgeois intended these to be hung and read (or even if she had that intention at all) because one of the docents indicated that the paintings were hung slightly out of “order” due to size restrictions in the gallery. I have listed them as they were hung in the Glenstone gallery for this exhibit.

The exhibit ended with a small white marble sculpture The Curved House, also made in 2010 and supposedly—as told to me by the docent that was on duty the day that I visited—the very last artifact that Bourgeois ever made. The Curved House’s smooth simplicity appears to be the somber ending punctuation to Bourgeois’ creative legacy. A small, but solid monument to her life.

Some of the artwork in "abstraction, we thinks" at MONO Practice in Baltimore, MD.

A few weeks ago, I also got to spend the day gallery hopping in Baltimore, MD, with my fabulous artist mentor Amanda Burnham. We started off at the beautifully renovated space MONO Practice, where we enjoyed the show abstraction, we thinks, a 'sindikit project curated by Tim Doud and Zoe Charlton. The show presented works by six artists who "utilize abstraction to explore the contradictory nature of the genre itself." Participating artists included Robert Burnier, Adrienne Gaither, Alexis Granwell, Amanda Hays, Clint Jukkala, and Tarn Mclean.

Studio shot of the Director/Artist-in-residence, Ruri Yi of MONO Practice.

We were also treated to a quick studio tour of MONO Practice's director Ruri Yi, where we got to enjoy seeing her colorful, graphic, and geometric abstractions. Both the gallery and studio were open, light-filled, minimalist spaces that truly allowed all of the attention to be on the art. MONO Practice is certainly a very inspiring environment in which to see and create art.

An installation at School 33 Art Center in Baltimore, MD.

Next Amanda took us to School 33 Art Center, which "for over 30 years, has been the bridge between contemporary artists and the viewing public. Through [their] exhibitions, studios for artists, classes for adults and children and special events and workshops, [they] work to insure a vibrant future for contemporary art and artists in Baltimore. [Their] goal is to remain an engaging and relevant community art center, by showcasing and sustaining emerging and established artists, and training budding artists from Baltimore and beyond."

Ben Piwowar was giving an artist talk about his installation piece soft obstacle. The installation had been on display for a few months and was about to be deinstalled by the artist. We were able to hear about his creative process which includes a studio practice that "combines drawing, painting, and sculptural strategies which deploy an abstract visual vocabulary to evoke states of vulnerability and flux."

A section of the project space that made up Ben Piwowar's "soft obstacle."

The project space included drawings, paintings, and a "series of cast abstract forms" combined with found materials and objects. It was very interesting to get the artist's in-person take on his work, and to be able to ask him questions. This is something that the viewer of art rarely gets to do! The one question I forgot to ask him though was, "Why the name soft obstacle?" As nothing about the installation appeared particularly "soft" to me.

Finally, we ended up at Resort (a gallery cleverly hidden behind the awning of a storefront with a sign on it for the "Sharp Dressed Man") where the exhibit A Gentle Excavation was on view. And I must have been tired by this point, because for some reason I forgot to take any photos!

A Gentle Excavation was curated by Allie Linn and "transforms the gallery into both the subject" (which was discovered to have previously been the sight of a residence, uniform company, a tailor, shoe repair, and printing press) and the "site of research, production, and installation for work by seven artists and collectives based in Baltimore, Richmond, and New York: Keenon Brice, A.K. Burns, Janea Kelly, Nicole Ringel, Wickerham & Lomax, agustine zegers, and Lu Zhang. Some of the works in the show reference specific points from the building's history . . . while others explore the city of Baltimore more broadly."

Site of Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return" in Santa Fe, NM.

Finally, I was lucky enough to get away for a few days to Santa Fe, New Mexico and while I saw a lot of wonderful art while there--including beautiful handmade jewelry and pottery, multiple galleries along Canyon Road, and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum--the highlight was Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return.

I have been finding it hard though to come up with the proper words to accurately describe the experience that is the House of Eternal Return. And I am starting to think that wordlessness might be one of the main points all together. You really just have to experience the House of Eternal Return in order to understand it, and even then, you may still not “get it.” The best I can do is to say, that it may be more akin to the Disney World of art themed amusements, than to an art museum’s galleries.

The house and its initial contents (which you are encouraged to touch and interact with) seems to have been suddenly and inexplicably abandoned by its inhabitants, and upon inspection provides multiple portals into the otherworld that lays behind.

These new worlds provide a kaleidoscope of psychedelic imagery, color, and sound that seems to go on forever.

How you experience and interpret all of these elements is totally up to you. The options are seemingly limitless, and at times slightly overwhelming.

From the artist’s perspective, the freedom to follow your creative whims in this way, must have been intoxicating. This element, combined with the ability that the Meow Wolf collective provides artists to support themselves with their art, are probably its most enduring features.

I also wonder, could this type of “art” be the closes entity to avant-garde art that there can be in today’s materialistic, high priced art world? While Meow Wolf is definitely benefiting financially from the endeavor, nothing about these works is precious and considering the “wear and tear” brought onto it by the traipsing, curious crowds, probably has to be replaced and refreshed periodically. The work is not intended to be sold, only the experience of it is. This could be the textbook definition of “art for and of the people.”

Meow Wolf has grown from a group of loosely connected artists who funded themselves “through grants, donations and ticket sales,” into a for-profit collaborative art collective that has investors and a CEO/founder, Vince Kadlubek. The House of Eternal Return is Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation that was opened in 2016, and it has plans for installations in other cities including Las Vegas and Denver.

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