Entries tagged with “Henry Art Gallery”.

Merce Cunningham Antic Meet

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) is coming to Seattle for two dates as part of the Legacy Tour later this week (Oct. 27th and 29th) and several local institutions have programmed some corresponding events, beginning with a lecture today at the Henry Art Gallery. This lecture, Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns, by Roger Copeland (Professor of Theater and Dance at Oberlin College) examines the relationship between Merce Cunningham and the artists that he worked with in his dance company. The thrust of the lecture seams to be an examination of how Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns all broke away from the dominate forces on their respective fields and that this rejection of the current paradigm is their “shared sensibility”:

Between 1953 and 1980, the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns frequently designed décor, costumes, and even lighting for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This lecture will examine the sensibility shared by all three artists. Merce Cunningham began his professional career in dance as a member of Martha Graham’s legendary company. But by l953, when he first formed his own company, Cunningham had eliminated virtually every vestige of Graham’s influence from his own dancing and choreography. Significantly, 1953 was also the year in which Robert Rauschenberg created his Erased DeKooning Drawing, a work which -both literally and figuratively – declared his independence from the ethos of abstract expressionism. This lecture will argue that Cunningham’s repudiation of Martha Graham’s approach to choreography is paralleled in precise ways by Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s repudiation of painters like DeKooning, Pollock and the other great abstract expressionists. Collectively, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns (along with John Cage), spearheaded one of the great paradigm shifts in 20th century art: a transition away from the “hot,” anguished, personal energies of abstract expressionism toward the cooler, brainer, more impersonal aesthetic that would eventually manifest itself in minimalism and conceptualism.

2005 dress rehearsal for Ocean, in New York's Rose Theater

On Wednesday the Northwest Film Forum will present the Seattle premier of the Charles Atlas film of the most epic performance of Ocean.

In September 2008 Merce Cunningham staged Ocean, one of the most ambitious works of his legendary 60-year career, within a massive Minnesota granite quarry. Renowned filmmaker and longtime Cunningham collaborator Charles Atlas was there, using five cameras to document this uniquely epic production.

The film was completed last year and has only been shown by dance companies, festivals and in special screenings like this one. While the performance in the Minnesota quarry was seen to be somewhat of a failure by the critics in attendance it was notable (at least to readers of this blog) for several reasons. The first being that it contains the last piece composed by David Tudor (Soundings: Ocean Diary) and John Cage (Ocean 1-96 completed by Andrew Culver). In 1994 it would have still be performed by David Tudor and presumably for the 2008 performance it used recordings or Kosugi’s realization of the piece.  Furthermore it is possible that the issues the critics had with an outdoor staging of a piece in the round may not be an issue with a filmed version.  The five cameras would allow 360 degree coverage and editing and such could make for a more coherent piece than one could experience live. Atlas was a long time Cunningham collaborator and would I think create a film that Cunningham would approve of.

Daniel Squire in RainForest (photo by Tony Dougherty)

Daniel Squire in RainForest (1968) from the Legacy Tour

The week concludes with the two performances of from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour (which almost didn’t make it to Seattle; see this Seattle Times article) , which I wrote up extensively in this blog post: Legacy Tour comes to Seattle. Lots to see and hear for those interested in Merce Cunningham, his dance company and the composers and artists he worked with.  I’m off to the lecture at the Henry and of course have tickets to both the MCDC performances. I hope to make the Ocean screening as well, any chance to hear some unheard Tudor is not to be missed and of course more Merce is welcome. Look for a post on all of these activities after Merce Week concludes.

Merce Week in Seattle Lineup

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011, 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns
Henry Auditorium, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington

Wednesday, Octerober 26th, 2011, 8:00 pm
Ocean a documentary by Charles Atlas
Northwest Film Forum, Seattle  WA

Thursday, October 27th 2011, 7:30 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour
The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

Sunday, October 29th 2011, 8:00 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour

The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA




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.

William Kentridge’s Stereoscope

Last weekend I returned to the Henry to check out the new exhibits, but primarily as their William Kentridge show was closing the next week.  The last week of shows are always packed so I wanted to catch it while I’d have a chance to experience it in better conditions.  There clearly were plenty of others thinking like me as there was a good crowd, but it was never packed or distracting.  The Henry being part of the University of Washington is free to its students and there clearly were a number of them coming in and doing things for class.  The exhibit took up four of the rooms on the upper floor of the gallery, two of them blocked off with curtains to allow for projection of two of his animations. The initial, largest room contained primarily works on paper but also a half dozen small sculptures and a couple of mixed media pieces.  The fourth room contained more works on paper, primarily images used in various animations, but an independent series and a mixed media piece of a medicine cabinet with an animation playing inside of it.

William Kentridge Preparing the Flute (tondo)

William Kentridge Preparing the Flute (tondo)

Kentridge’s style is more representational then most of the art that’d make up my short list of favorites, but I’ve found myself quite drawn to a lot of his pieces.  The rough and ready nature of how he lays down his lines feels to me a lot like the direct nature of the abstract expressionists even as they are used to sketch out recognizable forms. In many cases it is only the forms that are recognizable, almost like shadows, while the details and parts are total abstractions.  Of course not all of his pieces appeal, but that is pretty much always the case.  Of his works on paper, the more mixed media ones really appealed to me.  Appropriating old encyclopedia pages, creating sculptures out of corkscrews, his use of text in abstract and concrete ways, using deprecated techniques such as stereoscopes, this all added power to each piece.

William Kentridges Medusa

William Kentridge's Medusa

One of my favorite pieces is the pictured above Medusa, which had a fully reflective cylinder placed in the middle.  Reflected in this cylinder the images of Medusa and the man carrying the yoke snapped into a more recognizable form that I found strangely moving.  While I quite enjoyed Kentridge’s works on paper and his mixed-media pieces it was his animations that I found particularly engaging.  There were three of them playing in the Henry, MemoStereoscope and Medicine ChestStereoscope you can check out a five minute exceprt in the above linked YouTube video though it lacks the soundtrack. To get a feel for the soundtrack from Stereoscope check out these two shorter excerpts: Sterescope 1, Stereoscope 2.  Kentridge’s animations, which I’ve written a bit about in my Return of Ulysses report, are as basic as you can get: a series of drawings that animate like a flipbook. There seems to be no use of cells, which allow for cutting down on the amount redrawn per frame (though he could do things to replicate unchanging elements such as printing each page or photocopying them).  There is a directness, a humanness in his animations with the process directly exposed. The images, like his works on paper, seem thrown on the page and highly emotional. The subject matter of Memo and Stereoscope seem to be the banalities of everyday existence, with its office works overwhelmed by everyday activities and dualities of work and infidelities.

William Kentridge Medicene Chest still

Medicine Chest, which was I think my favorite, of the animated pieces and its enclosure inside an actual medicine chest I think was a big part of this.  Taking a normal medicine chest with the door open and seamlessly replacing the back with a video screen, leaving inside three glass shelves.  In a way it reminded me of a modern take on a Rauschenberg combine, which Kentridge’s evocative and rough animation seems to reinforce.  This animation featured things you’d see in a medicine chest: tonics, cups and other toiletries but also reflected faces and then eventually it became a window to an interior world of birds and landscapes.  The reflection of the video in the glass shelves was omnipresent but at times it was clearly worked with, used in the animations to great effect and images were reflected and refracted into the third dimension.  The mirror on the open door displayed the room and, if you sat in the right place, yourself extending the reach of the piece beyond itself.  As I had waited for this video to restart from the beginning I had spent a good amount of time with a charcoal drawing on the opposite wall called Gyroscope. This was a rather plain sketched out landscape with a huge gyroscope dominating it, but shown in overlapping layers of movement so that it looked more like and armillary sphere then a gyroscope.  I was delighted when this turned up in Medicine Chest and you could see as it began spinning its transformation into that image I’d spent so much time looking at. I think this was just a drawing for the piece (it had various drafting marks and notes on it, a feature of a lot of these pieces that I liked a lot) but it could have actually been a drawing from the final film. Which would mean these were really large which makes the whole process even more impressive.

Prior to these shows I really hadn’t been that aware of Kentridge beyond a few images in some contemporary art books that I probably couldn’t have brought to mind on hearing his name.  Seeing the opera and now this show (I’m kicking myself for missing the additional works on paper at the Greg Kucera gallery) I’ve come to really appreciate his work.  I’m pleased to see that there will be segment in the forthcoming Season 5 of Art:21 on him, it’ll be nice to see some of his working process on video.  His work is powerful, constantly struggling against his experiences as a white man in South Africa as well as reflecting the general human condition of the 21st century.  Certainly an artist I’ll be following as I can.

More Kentridge YouTube videos here.

James Turrell’s Light Reign 2003

I’d had some business near the University of Washington a couple of Saturdays back, that had to be completed by early afternoon. Finding myself near the UW with plenty of time to kill I decided to visit the Henry Art Gallery.  I can’t really remember the last time I’d visited the Henry, probably in my teens.  I certainly had not visiting since their major expansion, which was in 1997!  So a well overdue visit. The Henry focuses on contemporary art which is an area of particular interest to me.  Like so many of my peers I find myself attracted to the the art of the middle of the twentieth century but find it hard to get much of a grasp on current trends in art.  I make it a point to visit the galleries in every town a visit, especially those with modern and contemporary art.  Also in service of this quest I have been watching this series called Art:21 that was broadcast on PBS stations from 2001-2007 (so far). I’ll probably do a post on Art:21 at some point, so I won’t go into too much detail about the series. But basically each program devotes 15 minutes to four artists. So while you don’t get a complete biopic or any such you do get a decent survey of their actual work. That focus is what makes the show valuable; you get to see a lot of art, albeit highly mediated.  But like listening to an mp3 of an album that does let you determine whether a given artist is someone you want to explore further.

Exterior of the skyspace
The exterior of James Turrell’s Light Reign 2003

I’ve watched all of the first season of Art:21 and am now onto the second season.  Interestingly two of the artists I enjoyed the most on the series, Richard Serra and James Turrell each have pieces in Seattle. Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park has a large Serra installation that I mentioned and photographed in my visit there this summer. James Turrell is an interesting character who primarily builds spaces to explore aspects of light and to create specific atmospheres.  The Art:21 segment focused a lot on his massive Roden Crater installation but it also highlighted a few of his room based installations, his skyspaces.

Light Reign entrance The Henry Art Gallery has a permanent skyspace installed, Light Reign 2003, in a round room connected to the main building by a little walkway.  Once inside you are inside you find a wood lined room with a bench running all around the inside. The ceiling is an opaque dome with an oval hole cut into it.  It also has a partially transparent lens that covers this hole during Seattle’s (frequent) rainy days.  It was a beautiful autumn day today so I was not to experience, what the gallery describes as altering of the light space a different aspect of its character.  The room glows at night from “thousands of computer controlled LED lights embedded in its glass panels” which I was able to witness just a couple of weeks later. It is an interesting and not overly obtrusive effect adding an aspect of public art to piece you otherwise have to have normal gallery admission to experience.

“I want to create an atmosphere that can be consciously plumbed with seeing, like the wordless thought that comes from looking in a fire.” –James Turrell

There weren’t many other visitors this day so I got to sit and spend a
good amount of time inside the room alone.  It would be quite different I think if the benches had been packed with people. At one point while I was inside a couple came in with a baby but it was fussing a bit so they didn’t stay long.  Their presence alone dramatically changed the feel of the room and with it being so empty their sounds reverberated through the space.  The rest of the time there I was alone and so I was able to move freely around the room and experience it from all angles. The oval opening in the top of the room felt like a pinhole camera giving you this focused view into the sky.  On this day there were some high thin clouds but otherwise the sky was the mellow rich blue that it takes on clear days in the autumn. I imagine that the nature of this image changes throughout the year which would neatly highlight how even what seems just a pure blue sky is different from season to season, day by day. Cloudy days and partially cloudy days would of course be dramatically different.  I intend to visit this piece as time permits to experience the changes of the seasons and its effect upon the atmosphere created.

The atmosphere was very relaxed, meditative even. As is my wont, I spent my initial time there checking it out from various angles, giving it a good looking over.  Then I tried a couple of different perspectives, first one side, then the other, then right in front of the door. Finally I settled down for a time and just let my mind settle and breathe in the air. I found it very peaceful, but also challenging in the way that looking at nature can be if you exercise extreme focus.  The visual aspects of the room pretty quickly fade away, they are uniform and deliberately neutral, and your eye is drawn to the lens upon the sky.  And on this day it was a blue eye with swirls of white from high thin clouds.  You could lose yourself into that and I did for long moments.

Another view of James Turrell’s Light Reign 2003