Visual Arts

Jasper Johns Lightbulb, 1958

Jasper Johns Light Bulb, 1958

If Target Practice was a sprawling survey of thirty years of art around a specific theme, then Jasper Johns Lightbulb is almost its direct opposite with its laser tight focus on not only one artist but only one particular piece of imagery within that artists repertoire. That image of course is the light bulb; an artifact that Johns first sculpted in sculpt-metal in 1958 which he would go on to sculpt various versions of this piece as well as create numerous prints of it. Later he created a sculpture of a light bulb, its socket and a twist of wire all laid out as if baubles on a shelf. This was again the subject of numerous prints. In the early 70s on finding an “English Light bulb” with its distinctive “bayonet” style base he again made a sculpture of it in which it was displayed like a seashell. This was the subject for prints and paintings as were the other sculptures. His final works (so far anyway) involving the lightbulb are a return to his original lightbulb this time as prints.

Jasper Johns English Lightbulb 1970

Jasper Johns English Light Bulb 1970

This show originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and pulled together pieces from public and private collections from around the US.  Most impressive to me was the amount of proofs and pieces from Jasper Johns private holdings demonstrating that he was committed to this project.  Inexplicably the sculpture for English Light Bulb (pictured above) only appeared at two of the three museums that ran this show Seattle not being one of them. The fantastic catalog that accompanies this show does have a nice photograph of this piece as it does for each piece in the show. This catalog, unlike the Target Practice catalog, can be purchased online and I’d have to say would be a worthy purchase for the Johns fan. There are four short essays, informative but not overly speculative at the beginning of the book followed by sections for the sculptures and works on paper.  Each piece is give their own page with no other text or  images there. A nice presentation of these works.

Johns has a reputation of coldness (the “Iceman” of modern art) and remove with a Duchamp-ian use of appropriation and (as Target Practice hammered home) a constant questioning of painting.  He picks a common object, selected for its familiarity more than anything else and explore it over and over in a variety of formats: sculpture, painting, prints and so on. All this is well and good but I can’t say that’s what attracts me to the Johns pieces that I like so much. I find his use of these objects to be closer to how Keith Rowe uses the radio – its a “found object” that owes its conceptual basis to Duchamp, but the intention and use is definitively post-Duchamp.  Duchamp’s ready-mades are a commentary on art and being an artist (among other things, sure) whereas I think that Johns and Rowe use the notion of a found object as piece of something greater.  Johns doesn’t simply pick a ligh tbulb and display it, elevated to the status of art by his signature. Nor does Rowe turn on the radio and let it play as the piece in and of it self.  Its the insertion and manipulation of these objects into other contexts that is the key to their art I think.  It adds commentary and it charges the work with other meanings, but they in and of themselves are part of a greater whole.  At least this is how I see it.

Jasper Johns English Lightbulb, 1970
Jasper Johns Light Bulb, 1970

I’ve appreciated Johns for a while now, but only recently have I become especially taken with a number of his works. It has been a project of my own that led me to this wider exploration of his works.  This project has been exploring the notion of “gray” in music and has led to a series of pieces that I qualify as such. These pieces are all paired with color photographs that I have taken that also express this palette.  Its an interesting musical notion, one that became of interest to me in context of live recordings of silence, as Cage of course pointed out there really is no silence the music continues when the musicians aren’t playing.  In recordings, unless there is something else going on, the “silence” takes on this characteristic that I tend to think of as “gray”.  For this project I’ve been trying to abstract this grayness to capture this essence of silence, but through sound.  As I always do when I’m exploring ideas such as this I look at how others have expressed this notions which led me to Johns. Gray is a constant in Johns work, from the sculpt-metal of these early sculptures, to his prints and paintings.  The expressive qualities of his grays I find captivating and his gray on gray pieces suck in my eye in a similar fashion as solid black painting might.  I spent quite some time at this exhibition lost in the swirls of gray that form the background of many of the prints and the neutral seeming surfaces of the sculptures.  Some of the most captivating were black paint on film whose surface and transparency led to a rich dark gray that seemed to have incredible depth.  As I usually do in a gallery I was listening to music on my iPod and in this case I listened to the current pieces in my Gray Sequence and quite enjoyed the correlations.

In the last month I’ve managed to see a number of fantastic art exhibitions, several in San Francisco and in the last few weeks two in Seattle.  This is the first of several posts covering these shows that I’ll post over the next couple of days.  While chronologically not the first show I will cover this post will be about Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78 at the Seattle Art Museum. I’d been looking forward to this show for a while thanks to some early advertising from SAM who rarely seem to have shows within my interest (20th and 21st century art for the most part with plenty of exceptions).  It promised to have quite a bit of my favorite artists as well as a artists I was unfamiliar with.  The show opened while I was away on my bicycle tour but I caught it the first weekend after my return.  The show turned out to be even more impressive then I had figured, extended well beyond SAMs holdings in getting a number of impressive loans and introducing me to several new artists that I was quite taken with.

The theme of the exhibit is Painting Under Attack which the exhibit organizer, Micheal Darling describes thus:

“For the artists in the show, painting had become a trap, and they devised numerous ways to escape the conventions and break the traditions that had been passed down to them over hundreds of years. This phenomenon occurred in all parts of the world, and the exhibition documents why artists felt compelled to shoot, rip, tear, burn, erase, nail, unzip and deconstruct painting in order to usher in a new way of thinking.”

This sort of exhibit is always interesting  in that it takes an idea and then searches for evidence to support it.  This of course can range from highly speculative in the case of artists who would speak rarely of their motivations, intents and processes to pretty direct from those artists whose published manifestos are an embodiment of your theory.  I’d say in general I accept his basic thesis but barring some of the specific manifesto writings I’d say most of it comes from the struggle that every great artist makes to find their own voice.  Working in the shadow of the western canon and the arising dominance of the New York School it doesn’t seem too much of a shock that conventions had to be pretty subverted in order to overcome them.  The aftermath of WWII with its unprecedented horrors certainly seems to be a catalyst for at least some of the first stages of this phenomenon and it is interesting that the artists that Darling begins with were both from countries (Italy and Japan) defeated in that war.

Shimamoto Shozo Work(holes), 1950

Shimamoto Shozo Work (holes), 1950

Shimamoto Shozo(Japan) whose Work (holes), 1950, is pictured above, along with Lucio Fontana (Italy) nearly simultaneously began tearing into their canvases a gesture that seemed to arise directly from the defeat and devastation of their countries.  I’d been at least passingly familiar with Fontana, but Shimamoto Shozo was new to me and it was the above work that really captivated me in the first room. A large painting its barren surface adorned with almost Twombly like scribblings seems to be more decayed than attacked.  This one seems to capture a sense of defeat and despair but also feels germane to the present day, a timeless work that applies beyond its immediate circumstances. The Fontana works with their increasingly elegant cuts seem much more of their time and place and dwindle as time goes by. The first room seemed to serve as an extract of Darlings thesis, covering more time and more themes. Along with the starting points of the Fontana and Shimamoto’s it included the Johns target that is the advertising image for the show which being an  iconic Johns was great to see in person. As one moved through the first three rooms there were several other works by Johns, around a half dozen in total.  As there is currently a show focusing exclusively on the use of the light bulb in Johns work going on at the Henry right now (more on that in another post) it is a good time to be a Johns fan in Seattle.

Robert Rauschenberg  Erased de Kooning, 1953

Robert Rauschenberg Erased de Kooning, 1953

The rooms were somewhat thematic after the introductory room, focusing first on destruction whose primary attraction to me was Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning (pictured above).  I’ve long been a Rauschenberg fan and this of course was an important milestone in his career.  Being able to see it in person, how faint the remaining de Kooing is, the rather abused nature of the paper to be able to examine it as close as one wants was a heady experience. Other pieces in this room included another Johns (Untitled (Cut, Tear, Scrap, Erase.)) , two Yoko One piece’s one you could walk on (Painting to Be Stepped On), another you could hammer a nail into (Painting to Hammer a Nail). This later work had become a sort of patron bulletin board in that most patrons hammered in a piece of a paper they had written, or drawn on or was some sort of found object.  This event was rather celebrated amongst the local Seattle are art wags but for me it was a lot more indicative of the contemporary art.  While there is plenty of great contemporary art there really is an overabundance of that which is “art, because that is what artists do”. So much of this has little going for it: no ideas, no technique, no style, no engage. While an individual piece can survive without one or more of those, it has to have something.  Modern art critics have to engage with contemporary art and you often find them having to champion these artifacts of self-absorption, which I think is the case here. Yoko probably would find it a larf though.

Jasper Johns Canvas, 1956

Jasper Johns Canvas, 1956

The following room focused on works that questioned the whole artifice of a painting and its frame handing in galleries, mainly by focusing on the backs of paintings. There was a Lichtenstein of the back of a canvas done in his inimitable style, a picture of the back of a Warhol, a neon lit frame and most compellingly I thought the above Johns.  That small picture doesn’t capture the layers of gray ladled onto the back of this painting, obscuring everything but its dimensionality. In contrast to this black hole of grey is Richard Jackson’s SAM, wall painting, which looks as if the most vibrant pop art was created on canvases which where then pressed against the wall and moved around like a five year old finger painting. The canvases were then allowed to dry against the wall their final destination cemented where he placed them, their dusty yellow backs and stretchers contrasting with the bring colors strewn on the wall.  SAM has put out a video of the making of this intriguing and captivating piece which I’ll inline below.

There was a full room installation viewable from this room and the edge of another room, which was of newspapers and paint on the floor, which honestly did little for me. Then there was quite a few video works, most of which I was too burnt out to spend the time with. This is the first exhibit at SAM that I feel the need to return to, having been supersaturated by about half way through.  Two more pieces in the concluding room though, cleared my eyes and demanded a contemplation. One was the first of Rauschenberg’s combines a small little Untitled piece from 1954 that was more painting then sculpture which also included a squeezed out paint tube as part of it. The room this was in featured many paint tubes: run over by trains, in a series squeezed onto plastic and so on.  In the final room there was the most compelling Andy Warhol I’ve ever seen: Oxidation Painting 1978. This piece was twelve panels, each probably around 6″x6″ square that had been coated with a copper paint. Warhol and other Factory members then urinated on it, which led to the paint oxidizing in these intricate patterns. Conceived as the end of  the attack on painting (we have photorealism to look forward to in the next decade) I personally found the aesthetics of this piece to be far more interesting then the juvenilia. As someone who enjoys rust, decay and the futility of man’s creations against time this piece captured much of that essence. Below is an example of one of these, but not the one on view at SAM (I wasn’t able to find an image)

Andy Warhol Oxidation Painting, 1978

Andy Warhol Oxidation Painting, 1978

This was an impressive show with lots of great works and lots of pieces I was unfamiliar with, even from artists I knew fairly well. There is also a fantastic catalog, whose essays I’m still working through, but is well worth picking up for the images alone. I can’t seem to find a SAM online store, so perhaps in person is the only way to get it, which would be a pity (update 09.02.09:  you can now get the catalog at Amazon). The show also includes an audio tour, which I for one rarely indulge in, wanting to form my own opinions. However they did get Laurie Anderson to narrate it, which I have to admit is pretty cool. I’m going to try to visit this one again before it closes and perhaps I’ll see what Laurie has to say.  A preview of the audio tour can be heard here.  Anyway if in town, or coming to visit in the next few weeks, this show runs through September 7th and is must see in my opinion.

Julie Davidows score

Julie Davidow's score

As promised, my report on the closing party and performances of the Scores exhibition at the Lawrimore Project. I had poked around on the Lawrimore Project website as well as the site from the curator, Volume, prior to the show and the score posted above was the one that was leading my list of ones I wanted to perform.  I scrambled around Monday morning getting ready (I’ve not been playing out much for the last 6 months or so, so I’d developed a really non-portable studio setup) but was still able to make it to the gallery 45 minutes early.  There was only one other performer there at that point so I was able to get my pick of scores.  A quick survey revealed to me that my research was correct and that the score that appealed most to both my visual aesthetics as well as having the best musical possibilities was Julie Davidow’s score.  Scott Lawrimore, the gallery owner, helped me locate a table and power and then left me to set up. I got myself setup and then spent a bit more time working out an approach to the score. After I’d spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking about it I finally read the card with the title and description. This turned out to be: Evidence of Tudor in a Throusand Plateaus (a mashup in 3 movements). Well this was pretty amazing in my mind that this score was directly inspired by an experience the artist had with a score dedicated to David Tudor. I consider David Tudor a major influence and hero and I feel it’s no coincidence that this was the score which captured my attention.

By this time most of the other performers had arrived, selected their score and were setting up.  All told there were to be eight performers, most of them solo but there was one duo. Apart from the performers and Scott I’d say there was another dozen people there, a mix of art patrons and music aficionados.  The first performer was Emily Pothast of the band Midday Veil and also of the art focused blog, Translinguistic Other.  She was playing a piece by Steven Hull that directly referenced John Cage, including images from Fontana Mix as part of it. This piece was a tall black boxy sculpture with a train that would run through it and then out on the gallery floor. Emily was doing these wordless layered vocal drones that seemed to follow the path of the train and as it would disappear from her view she would stop.  This was quite nice and seemed to be a direct attempt to realize the score. A video of Emily’s performance can be found on Vimeo.  I should mention that not being familiar with the music of any of the people who performed my main interest was the degree to which they tried to play the score.

Pearson Wallace-Hoyt and Jon Sargent performing Nina Katchadourian's score

This performance was followed by the only duo performance, Pearson Wallace-Hoyt and Jon Sargent performing a score that was six pieces of paper about different birds and birdsong. They were playing tapes through effects and later some vocals and guitar work. This was in a sort of crunchy, noisy droney tradition at first which seemed a bit removed from how I recalled the scores. As an aside it should be noted that not many of these scores seemed to be made with music making in mind. They are art pieces with presumably some connection to music in the artists mind, but they are not like a musician attempting to make a piece of music that is best represented graphically.  Anyway as their set proceeded they began to add various sequels and squawks of feedback and distressed electronics that I felt could be thought of as a reading of that score.  Sort of in the vein of the abstract sounds that Tudor used in his Rainforest to so well capture that environment.  This duo was followed by David Golightly, also of Midday Veil, who did a short solo analog synth performance to a score by Laetitia Sonami that was a Flycatcher complete with flies. He was using an Octave CAT to created a sputtery layered environment that could evoke with gridwork of the piece with a few events perhaps representing the flies. A nice short little piece that you can watch in it’s entirety on Vimeo.

Amplfied Wire Strung Harp with Preperations and simple electronics

Amplified Wire Strung Harp with preparations and simple electronics

I was up after David and while I can’t really comment on my performance I can say how it went for me.  As I sat down I forget to setup a timepiece so I wasn’t really able to judge how I was going. In my experience without using a set time for a graphic score you don’t tend to pace it right.  This piece was in three panels with some common elements between them, but also different tones and feels. Its primary element is a wandering webwork that runs through it.  Personally I felt I rushed the piece at first giving a bit of short shrift to the first panel. I eased back and did better in the later two, but it was hard to sense how it was progressing. My favorite part of the piece was the last panel with its vast expanses of white space.  I interpreted this with a  new approach that I’ve been working with where instead of using silence directly I try to create something that would resemble what you experience when there is silence.

Wyndel Hunt and Fallen Fruit

Wyndel Hunt and Fallen Fruit

Following my performance was Wyndel Hunt tackling Fallen Fruit. This piece, which formed such a striking backdrop for the  Trimpin film panel a few weeks back, is one of the better pieces of art in the exhibit in my opinion.  I can’t see I see it much as a score and based on the process it was created (a group gets together with various jars of jam and jellies and has a “jam session” ha. ha.) I’m not sure how much of that was intended. Wyndel did an interesting interpretation on it that began with a lot of vocal samples, manipulated and distorted and then added rather noisy, perhaps a bit in the Thurston Moore vein, guitar on top of this.  Hard to directly relate the voices to the score though a friend suggested that evoked the group process behind it, but the cascading washes of guitar certainly could be read as following the lines of the image.

While everything was fairly free form w/r/t the performances Scott had decided on an order for us to play. He’d annouced the next performer and the artwork they’d be performing in between each piece.  Mixing it up a bit from the arranged orderd, next up was yet another member of Midday Veil, Simon Henneman doing a solo sax take on a video piece by Monique Jenkinson. This video piece seemed about as far from a music score as you could get, but it was a piece that could use a soundtrack, so perhaps if you think of a film as a score for its soundtrack it works that way. It featured images of a woman from the head down, sort of stripping, or dancing or something. It had a very noir-ish feel to it and Henneman responded with a pretty smokey, bluesy sound. Toward the end of the film he strayed into skronkier territory with sheets of wails and some sharper attacks.  I felt this all worked quite well as a soundtrack to the film.

Timm Mason plays a score by David Schafer

Timm Mason plays a score by David Schafer

The final performance was Timm Mason who did a solo guitar read of a painting of text by David Schafer.  He used the tiniest little practice amp, a little round thing at the end of a chord he tossed away from himself. He appeared to read the entire score and play chords in an angular style as he read.  The tiny little amp made this very tinny and distorted it somewhat, but it was a sort of off the cuff, fairly straight chording with perhaps a nod to Derek Bailey.  A valid approach to the piece for sure, but it seemed to go on and on. Judge for yourself though, a video has been posted of his performance on Vimeo.

After this it was snacks and drinks in the back gallery and Midday Veil did a bit of playing in a side gallery.  I mostly packed up and talked to some of the people who I knew from the Eye Music group. All in all it was a pretty good time and certainly an interesting experience. Only afterward did I recall that this was actually the first solo performance I’ve done. Sure I’ve done two one minute solos and I did play solo at the end of the Vancouver New Music Treatise, but this was the first time in this sort of situation. Must have been why I felt so nervous.

See all my pictures from this event on my Flickr Page.
Find out more about this exhibition at the Scores page on the Lawrimore Project website and at Volume.
Video’s from this event on Vimeo.

Saturday June 13th
“¢ Curated by Volume
closing party and performances at the Lawrimore Project

This Saturday (tomorrow as of this post) is the last day of the Scores exhibit at the Lawrimore Project. I was able to check out much of this exhibit when I visited the gallery for the Trimpin film panel I reported on a few posts back.  I’ve spent a lot of time playing graphic scores and I have to say several of these impressed me with their musicality.  I’ve been trying to get back to the gallery to more thoroughly explore the exhibit but alas its been a very busy period with the day job.  So I was happy to get an email looking for musicians to perform from these scores at the exhibits closing party.  This event takes place between 2-4pm Saturday, June 13th at the Lawrimore Project gallery.  I’ll be performing at some point in that period along with other local musicians.  So if you are local come on down and check out the scores and performances.

I’ll post again with more on this exhibit and how the performances went later. You can check out images of several of the scores at the Scores page on the Lawrimore Project website or from the website of Volume who curated the exhibition.

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