Mathew Barney’s River of Fundament


Scene at a drydock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Act III of Mathew Barney & Joanthan Bepler’s “River of Fundament”

On a frigid February night, I made a pilgrimage to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) to see the 6 hour epic of Mathew Barney‘s new film, River of Fundament, loosely based on the 1983 Norman Mailer novel, Ancient Evenings. In the Mailer’s novel, the protagonist, an ancient Egyptian named Menenhetet I seeks to reincarnate three times in the hope of achieving immortality. According to the BAM program note, River of Fundament “borrows its structure from Mailer’s text, corresponding to the seven stages the Egyptian soul undergoes in its journey toward new life.” Conceived as a nontraditional opera (with the music by Jonathan Bepler), the movie’s narrative (or whatever narrative might be) is driven mainly through the music that is percussive and meditative at the same time (also the most enjoyable element in the movie).

Much has been said about the overflowing of feces in Barney’s new movie (Review in Hyperallergic can be found here). To me, the obsession with feces seemed entirely superfluous, neither shocking nor interesting that seems to overshadow Continue reading

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Palette Exhibition and Lecture at Salisbury University

I participated in a fun, food themed group exhibition, Palette and also gave an artist lecture to enthusiastic students at Salisbury University in Salisbury, MD last weekend in February. In Palette, Salisbury University Art Galleries exhibited artworks by artists who use food as subject, material or content. From carefully contrived still-life paintings, to humorous time based videos of drinking milk, the participating artists showed us that our stomachs are not the limit. In conjunction with the exhibition Palette, the Salisbury University Art Galleries has invited local chefs to create artworks out of food to explore the art and culture of the foods we eat, which celebrated the closing of the exhibition. Here are some of the photos (Click the post to view more photos). Continue reading

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The Metro Show: outsider and folk art

Last weekend of frigid and snowy January, I went to the Metro Show to see some very inspiring works that I have seen in recent years. Held at the Metropolitan Pavillon in Chelsea, the Metro Show features very manageable 37 exhibitors who deal antique prints (C&J Goodfriend, for example, who brought etchings by Dürer, Rembrandt, Piranesi and Picasso, among others) to folk art sculptures to contemporary art and everything in between. I was mostly interested in viewing what is generally termed as “outsider art.”

The term outsider art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972 as an English synonym for art brut, a label created by Jean Dubuffet to describe art created outside the boundaries of official culture; Dubuffet focused particularly on art by those on the outsides of the established art scene such as an insane asylum inmates and children. German Expressionists particularly fell in love with the schizophrenic artists such as Adolf Wölfli, Karl Brendel and August Naterrer and Continue reading

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Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AK

Another memorable place that I visited during my Christmas holidays is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, a diaphanous shrine to American fine art. The museum, founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, opened on 11 November 2011 in an area that lacks any large fine art museums. First major art museum opened since 1974, the museum had $488 million in assets as of August 2008, of which over $317 million has been donated by Alice Walton. The museum first attracted public attention with Alice Walton’s purchase of the coveted Asher B. Durand landscape entitled Kindred Spirits  (Photo 4) from the New York Public Library for more than $35 million in a sealed auction in May 2005. Calming the concerns that a major American work of art will be forever disappear from the public eye, Walton revealed the extent of the ambition for the museum. I found the museum’s collection of  Colonial and 19th century work one of the best in the country covering well-known paintings such as Charles Willson Peals’s George Washington, 1780-82, Kindred Spirits, many strong Hudson River School paintings, excellent Thomas Eakins (Photo 9) paintings, including Professor Benjamin Howard Rand, 1874 and amusing oddities like Edward Dalton Marchant‘s portrait of Samuel Beals Thomas family (Photo 7).

The museum continues its ambitious acquisition program: in September 2012, the museum announced the acquisition of a major 1960 painting by Mark Rothko entitled No. 210/No. 211 (Orange). The abstract expressionist painting had been in a private Swiss collection since the 1960s and had only been shown in public twice. When I visited last month, the museum also unveiled the new acquisition of Andy Warhol, Coca-Cola (3), 1962 (Photo 21). The museum’s permanent collection Continue reading

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Precious Moments: An American Sistine Chapel?

Over the Christmas break, I visited St. Louis, MO area where my boy friend is originally from. It is always a bit of a culture shock to leave the coastal enclave of cosmopolitanism (or den of atheism :)) that I am used to and visit the “heartland” of America. Here in Midwest, people at every store and restaurant are incredibly patient, pleasant and accommodating (almost making my inner New Yorker feel uncomfortable). Also refreshing is the utter avoidance of trendy diet fads (no carbs, no fat, paleo, gluten free diet, anyone?), foodie excesses (no artisanal hand-cured proscuitto made by a bearded hipster, who grew and butchered the pig himself) and stressed-out hollow-eyed women picking at salads for lunch. Instead, we see families of men dressed in matching camo hunting gears, who go out in the early morning to shoot the ducks, but refuse to eat them. (Apparently due to weird taste. See Anthony Bourdain‘s travel TV series, No Reservations, Season 10, Episode 5: Ozarks)  In this spirit of exploration of “the other,” we went to Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO.

Precious Moments Chapel is a theme park, run by Precious Moments, Inc., a catalog order company that sells “giftware” of figurines, but nonetheless cloaked in Christian spirits. The Chapel, designed by Samuel J. Butcher, is touted as inspired by Michelangelo‘s Sistine Chapel in Rome. It is decorated with gigantic murals with doe-eyed (or tear drop shaped, according to the promotional material) cartoon characters (Precious Moments messengers), depicting heavenly salvations and stories from the bible, and arranged indeed like classic Renaissance chapels like Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel (rather than much grander Sistine Chapel, but perhaps Giotto was too obscure for the target audience). My first impulse upon entering this kitschy yet pious sanctuary (after passing through obligatory gift shops and candy stores where you can buy many different figurines depicted in the murals) was a total dismissal and an outraged disdain at the audacity to compare itself to Sistine Chapel. It is perhaps pointless to Continue reading

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Mike Kelley at PS1 MoMA and Isa Genzken at MoMa

This winter New York museums seem to have many interesting retrospectives of contemporary artists, and two of the best are Mike Kelley at MoMA PS1 and Isa Genzken: Retrospective at MoMA. The recent suicide of Mike Kelley (1954 -2012) was shocking to many people in the art world as he seemed to be at the apex of an art star career. The exhibition at at PS1 covers his entire career including early works from his MFA thesis shows at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) in Los Angeles County (Photo 2) and gives viewers very good understanding of the oeuvre of Kelley, whose work encompasses performance, sculpture, painting, video, etc. all based on the esthetic of craft. The setting, a vast former public school turned into a contemporary art space is also perfect as Kelley was deeply concerned about the formative years spent in American public schools. What comes through clear after examining all the work spanning more than three decades is his commitment to skewer the myth of innocence and the sanctity of childhood, utopian fantasy of home, egalitarian social structure, and the dominance of masculinity in America Continue reading

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October 2013 Gallery Round Up: Minimalism Rules

As it sometimes (or maybe often) happens in Chelsea or Lower Eastside, many galleries, either organically or not, decide to show very similar types of work at the same time. It seemed that October was a monochrome month in Chelsea. Matthew Marks showed Anne Truit‘s work from the 70s (Photo 1) and David Zwirner‘s new space on 20th Street looked good with John McCracken survey (Photos 3 & 4). In addition, there were many others: Morgan Fisher at Bortolami (Photo 2), Robert Ryman at Pace Gallery (Photo 5) and Josh Smith at Luhring Augustine Chelsea (Photo 6). Josh Smith might have shown painterly aspects of his monochrome paintings at his Chelsea show, but by the time I went into Luhring Augustine, I could not look at another monochrome/geometric abstraction. Smith’s show at Luhring Augustine Bushwick (Photo 7) provides Continue reading

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Chris Burden: Extreme Measures at the New Museum

The New Museum is showing LA artist Chris Burden‘s first extensive New York survey and his first major exhibition in the United States in over twenty-five years. Occupying all five floors of the Museum, “Extreme Measures” is not quite a career survey, but an important opportunity to see the arc of an epoch-defining major American artist. Interestingly enough, this exhibition is defined by what is not physically there rather than massive sculptures enacted on each floor. Burden’s career defining performance pieces from the 1970s are barely physically present at the museum unlike the re-enactment of many of Marina Ambrovic‘s work at her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. When you enter the Museum, the ticket taker advise you to view the exhibition from top down. On the fifth floor of the Museum, there are binders filled with laminated photographs of Burden’s performances from the 1970s accompanied by type-written artist’s descriptions (There are also handful of videos). This simple presentation of the old performance pieces seemed more direct and personal than re-enacting the pieces with surrogates. Particularly wrenching was reading two seminal performances of Trans-Fixed (1974) and Shoot (1971). In Trans-Fixed (Photo 1), Burden is laid face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and has nails hammered into both of his hands while he was screaming in pain, as if he were being crucified on the car. The car was pushed out of the garage and the engine revved for two minutes before being pushed back into the garage. The idea of personal danger, central to the artist’s main concern, seemed even more palpable in this static documentation than a video presentation, particularly in Shoot, which ends so swiftly to diffuse the true sense of danger. Continue reading

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Paris Galleries: Rentrée, 2013, Part III

This is my final post about the galleries in Paris, which focuses on abstract paintings and installations, which stood out for diverse and interesting use of materials (particularly Eduardo Terraza’ show at Almine Rech Gallery, Photos 7-8). I am always grateful that I am an artist and interested in seeing as much art in any place that I travel as I get to search many different neighborhood in different cities, which always turns out to be an adventure. Exploring galleries in Paris is particularly engaging and exacerbating endeavor. On the one hand, most galleries in Paris are in a vibrant and commercial neighborhood in 3rd and 4th Arrondisement, where one can enjoy not only some great art but also some serious window shopping. In addition, there are so may pleasant places to take a break for a cup of coffee or a drink on an outdoor cafe and watch the beautiful people go by. (I particularly recommend Café Suédois inside the court yard of Institut suédois for the most serene repose and good desert.) On the other hand, it is almost impossible to find a well organized gallery guides with a reliable map and exhibition information online as most Paris art information online is dedicated for more “touristic” art galleries than contemporary art. Once you get to Paris, there is one gallery guide that can be found in many blue chip galleries with all the pertinent information (address, exhibiting artist, opening date, etc) called Galerie mode d’emploi, which is online, but in a particularly French twist, never comes up in a Google search, and has an impossibly long and peculiar web address. So I always end up just going to Yvon Lambert (very convenient location on 108, rue Vieille du Temple, 75003, Paris) and Continue reading

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Paris Galleries: Rentrée, 2013, Part II

This is Part II of my Paris gallery report with the focus of installation art. Aside from Lee Bul‘s show at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac and a fun group show of functional art at Galerie Hussenot, most of the installation shows at Paris were what I call a “floor” art show, where some ready-mades (raw canvas, empty frames, etc.) are either laid flat on the floor or leaned against the wall with the ostensible purpose of examining the legacy of Minimalism and Duchamp with a renewed emphasis on the exploration of materials. These strategies was already becoming stale in the 1970s, but there are still many artists with conceptual bent insisting on mounting these colorless and joyless exhibitions. I am not opposed to all Post-minimalist work; I thought that French artist, Eric Baudart‘s show Continue reading

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