Monday, April 27, 2015

Sculptures by Donatello at The Museum of Biblical Art in Manhattan

{{{click on images to enlarge them}}}
Donatello's Prophet 
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/374
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone

Your priest or minister may not have told you this, but many religious scholars believe that Paul of Tarsus hijacked Christianity. At one time in the very, very early stages of the Christian religion there were actually two rival groups of Christians (this is even before the Gnostics reared their heads). There was a group of early followers of Jesus based around the core group that had known him. They placed Jesus within the Jewish tradition and focused on his message of ethics and personal transformation. Paul was the more cosmopolitan visionary outsider who had never met JC but who fused foreign concepts into the Bible story – especially the concept of the ‘forgiveness of sin’ through the sacrificial crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…’ Ephesians 1:7).  Jesus’ own guys, with Jesus’ original teachings, were slaughtered when the Romans conquered and obliterated Jerusalem in 70AD, leaving Paul and his guys – who lived and preached outside of Jerusalem  – as the only ones left to spread the religion. They spread their message and their interpretation of the significance of Jesus. The crucifixion was central, the teachings of Jesus were peripheral.

Closeup of Donatello's Prophet 
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/374
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone

The Middle Ages belonged to Paul, but the ‘word’ still existed in the preserved texts of the Bible. Among other things, the Renaissance became a time when stuff that had been ignored was actually read. More than anything, I think that these works by Donatello at MOBIA show an engagement either with the ‘word’ of the actual mystical and ethical teachings of Jesus (after folks began to look beyond Paul and his Readers Digest  message of Christianity) or with the word of God in general. These are pieces that show individuals who finally ‘get it’.  We see them reflecting the significance of ‘the word’ (λόγος) – we see them moved by a realization that what they have seen, written, read, heard or experienced is of the greatest possible meaning to humanity.  We see people beginning a process of self and societal transformation based on an awareness of an inner process engendered by experience from without. In the best pieces at MOBIA we see figures who have engaged the teachings of Jesus or the word of God directly on a deep level and who exhibit the actual physical signs of absorbing the significance of the message.

Donatello
St. John the Evangelist, 1408–15
Marble, 212 × 91 × 62 cm (83½ × 35¾ × 24½ in.)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no 2005/113
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone 

Take ol’ zucchini-head for example (folks called this sculpture of a prophet ‘zucchini head’ because his head kind of looks like a zucchini – and I can attest to this because I saw the show on Saturday and just came back from my supermarket – yes, indeed). This sculpture depicts a pre-Christian prophet. We see a guy who has probably been influenced by ancient textual material and whose prophecies come from a deep understanding brought about through the fusion of sacred text, experience in the world and spiritual insight brought about through engagement of the word. Go to MOBIA and stand in front of this prophet and you’ll feel the intensity and presence of someone who has engaged something of consequence and who needs to share this experience, for the right reasons and for the benefit of others.   

Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham and Isaac has always baffled me. I guess the best interpretation of the story I ever came across was that Abraham had put his desire for procreation before his desire to love and serve God and would have lost his son had he not done a quick reversal. When his priorities were finally straightened out, the sacrifice did not have to occur. As a Rabbi once told me, however, one big difference between ancient Judaism and other religious practices in that area of the world involved infant sacrifice. This Rabbi even pointed out that the philosophically brilliant Greeks often casually left children to rot on mountain sides. So I like a more historical interpretation to this story – I think Abraham/Isaac points to that momentous time in history when a society finally placed human life above magical/religious ritual and when the Jewish religion formally eschewed the deaths of babies to bring about better luck for others. Get close to the face of Isaac and look up at Abraham. You see the moment just before the engagement between Abraham and the higher concept, the moment just before the birth of a compelling moral imperative. It’s a deeply moving piece as if Abraham is half-obeying, half-beseeching but is now open to the deep influence of God’s word. Isaac has also placed his trust in his father and you see a look of stoic bravery on his face.

St. John

The other huge piece by Donatello here is his St. John the Evangelist. He sits next to Nanni de Banco’s Saint Luke, who seems consoled by the text he has written and holds on his lap.  Donatello’s St. John, however, looks solemn but eager, aware of the deep significance of the text he has created. The Gospel of John is the most mystical of the Gospels, it’s the gospel with the story of water turning to wine and the gospel that more than any other broadcasts the possibility for inner change and transformation. Luke is content while John ponders the effect the word has had on him and the effect it can have on others, if they can become open to it.

This is not a show of historical stuff; this is, in fact, deeply meaningful work which affected me on the deepest possible personal level. It confirmed my belief that the truth of the Christian message is real – not Paul’s truth, not the Church’s truth, but Jesus’ truth. The word is real – it has a real effect that can be captured through art. It has affected those before me and it will continue to affect others. Peace is possible, kindness is possible, real love, forgiveness and tolerance are possible; water can be turned into wine and life can be a celebration of joy and goodness. Donatello has always been one of my favorite artists, but after seeing this show and engaging his pieces directly I wish I could reach back through time and just hug the guy, just to say, “Thank you so much, this stuff was so amazing – thank you for creating this.” In lieu of Donatello, if I ever see Richard P. Townsend, the Director of MOBIA who brought the show here, maybe I’ll try to give him a hug.

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello
February 20 – June 14, 2015
Museum of Biblical Art
1865 Broadway at 61st Street
New York, NY 10023-7505
Tel:  (212) 408-1500
Fax:  (212) 408-1292
Email:  info@mobia.org
Admission fee: $12, Students/Seniors $9

(The admission fee is worth it.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wasted by Deborah G. Nehmad at Kim Foster Gallery (A Show about Gun Violence in America)

{{{click on images to expand them}}}

Deborah G. Nehmad uses paper as a type of surrogate material for human skin, and, therefore, by extension, for the human body.   On her website Nehmad writes: “…the processes I employ – I repetitively burn, etch, scrape, score, stamp, puncture, type, apply pressure, write and draw – and materials I incorporate – heat, paper, gut, glass, ink, thread, soot and metal – offer a visual vocabulary that seems to parallel the way pain marks a body.”


In her current work Nehmad uses her method to step back and look more broadly at gun violence in America, trying to create a graphic representation that might affect the viewer more viscerally than graphs or statistics. Using handmade Nepalese paper Nehmad burns holes and makes stitches to represent individuals killed through the use of guns. Nehmad represents deaths by homicide, suicide as well as deaths caused by the police. The deaths of children due to gun violence (through homicide and suicide) are also graphically represented to differentiate them from other types of gun-related killings. 


For the central image or background of her graphic representations of the numerical effects of gun violence, Nehmad uses giant circles. The irony is intended – the circles can, obviously, represent gun range targets.  Yet, circles can also represent a type of unity. The blotches caused by the burning and stitching marring these circles can represent the type of harm being done to our communities.  We live in a culture where our education does not extend to teaching each other how to handle our rage or how to address factors more humanely that might otherwise cause us to fly into a rage. Our popular culture, in fact, encourages rage. The consumerist nature of our society also allows us to purchase the means by which we can more easily act out our rage. The pieces suggest that the whole emphasis of our society involves ignoring or denying a type of humane personal development that can resolve conflict and, instead, embraces violence as the best solution to all of our problems. We see this in individual social interactions as well as the overarching ‘ideology’ of American foreign policy.


The show points to a problem right at the heart of contemporary American society. It’s easier to attack and lash out than it is to view the other as a fellow human being worthy of respect and compassion. We teach malice and not compassion or understanding. In fact, it’s more profitable when folks attack and lash out so these unnecessary deaths depicted in these pieces will undoubtedly continue for the foreseeable future. In this show guns become symbols of the absolute refusal to believe that it is possible to live like decent and compassionate human beings. The images show the effects of this refusal to even attempt to establish a humane ideology as the basis of our culture.


I also post on www.artefuse.com 

Please 'like' Arte Fuse on Facebook to see many interesting gallery reviews in NY City: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Artefuse/117271301658198?fref=photo

My stuff:



Deborah G. Nehmad
Wasted
April 9 – May 9, 2015
Kim Foster Gallery
529 W. 20th Street, groundfloor
New York, NY 10011
www.kimfostergallery.com


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lucy Jones at Flowers Gallery New York (Self-Portraits)

{{{click on images to enlarge}}}

“How did you get on this canvas?” Lucy Jones at Flowers Gallery


As the title of this show at Flowers implies, Lucy Jones openly defies expectations in regard to who is ‘supposed’ to be shown on a canvas, the purpose for depicting a subject and even who is ‘entitled’ to create art. Inherent in the show is also a reflection on how potently affected we can be by the gaze of others and the extent to which the expectations of others to see the predictable and conforming might be able to inhibit our own actions and the gratification and liberation we should derive from life.


This not-to-be-missed exhibition presents self-portraits from Jones covering the last 25 years. Jones’ first show was in the 80s and her work was found to be so original, raw and engaging that the Metropolitan Museum immediately swooped up two paintings.


The eye catchers in this show for me involved Jones’ frank exploration of desire and sexuality. She suffers from cerebral palsy but the pieces are not about cerebral palsy or the act of physical suffering. The Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi profoundly explored issues of alienation and longing for emotional and physical contact arising from his inability to conform to the physical aesthetic of others, but Lucy Jones takes an even bolder step in a painting like “Flushed.”  We see her wearing a frilly, sexy bra as she claims her right to experience sexual desire despite any overarching aesthetic conceptions of beauty currently adopted.


So the show invites a greater look at what exactly might be stopping us from fully exploring our inner lives and realities and what might be stopping each of us from taking a bold step forward and entering into a state of full and risky (and possibly transformative) experience. Perhaps Jones wants us to think about what it is outside of ourselves that is inhibiting our full human development – whether it be the demands and standards of parents or society to compete and succeed on a superficial or economic level or aspects of our physical selves that we are sure will bring scorn and reproach from others.


In these paintings Jones basically states that she, like everyone, has the right to experience the full gamut of the human experience and that the gaze of others will always be out there, but we don’t need to allow that gaze to penetrate in such a manner as to stop us from truly living. Initially I thought that Jones had to be a little aggressive to actually depict herself in the manner in which she does in these paintings, but now I think it’s not really aggression – it’s a type of liberation and self-acceptance that allows her to be free of the harsh judgments of others. Also, as in the case of Leopardi’s poetry, I sense a deep compassion and humanity (as well as a wry sense of humor) in Jones’ work. From her experiences Jones radiates, through her paintings, a deep love for each individual and a call for greater community and humanity and fellow-feeling in place of critical judgment and narrow standards.



Lucy Jones
How Did You Get on This Canvas?
April 9 – May 9, 2015
Flowers Gallery
529 W. 20th Street
New York, NY 10011

www.flowersgallery.com


Friday, April 17, 2015

Brian Maguire - The Absence of Justice Requires This Act - Fergus McCaffrey Gallery

{{{click on images to enlarge}}}

The city of Juárez Mexico has launched a public relations campaign. Heartened by the fact that the city went from the #1 ranked murder capital of the world, just a few years ago, down to #38 these days, the authorities want you to know that “Juárez is waiting for you!” Yep, it’s right over that big fence the US government put up a few years ago. No need to fear kidnapping, murder, mutilation, torture, gang rape nor extortion, according to a January article in London’s Daily Mail, all of that has conveniently moved east to the Juárez Valley where the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels may still be at war with each other, even though the Sinaloa cartel may have finally secured control of Juárez City (ergo the decline in killings). The population of “Murder Valley,” nevertheless, has dropped from 60,000 to 5,000, fertile cotton fields lie unused, ghost towns abound, folks are tortured, have their heads cut off, ransom money is sought, folks get mutilated. Same old same old – but it’s no longer in Ciudad Juárez and it’s on their side of the fence.


Irish painter Brian Maguire has worked regularly in Juárez since 2010 (when 3,622 people were killed) and has 14 powerful and affecting pieces currently on display at the Fergus McCaffrey Gallery which he completed from 2012 to 2014. His documentary film Blood Rising is also being shown. This is about the ‘feminocidio’ – the murder of 1,400 young women in Juárez since 1994. If you drop by the gallery please give yourself enough time to sit down and watch this.

Of course, if we look at the history of art, before Daumier and Courbet, social suffering, or the plight of those who had been marginalized or victimized by other segments of society, was, essentially, ignored.  Bourdieu points out that the depiction of social suffering begins more regularly in art during the class conflict of the 19th century.  Basically, the only ‘suffering’ depicted in Western art before that general time seems to have been the suffering of Jesus, Christian martyrs, people in hell or mythological figures.  When social class did become apparent in art, before Daumier, the peasants were often idealized and did not seem to be in any real pain. With the rise of the middle class and representative governments in the 19th century, we also seem to get the creation of a ‘journalistic’ or ‘activistic’ concern for identifying and solving social problems.  The depiction of social suffering, suddenly, in the 1800s, became possible in art.



Many of the images of the Maguire show go beyond mere documentation of social suffering and invite a reflection on our capacity to be inhumanly cruel. It’s Melville’s “Mystery of Iniquity” question restated. What is it that can push a person so far as to calmly hold a telephone over a woman being raped so that her father can hear what’s happening (in order to exact a ransom fee)? Or to contact a relative about a ransom and then to suddenly increase the ransom price because the family was too eager to pay? Where does this come from? Is it circumstances? Do we all harbor this capacity? What stops most of us from sinking this low? What pushes some of us to plumb these depths of moral depravation and insane inhumanity? Maguire is not trying to capture suffering in these paintings, he is shooting for horror. He is trying to convey the abject horror of what was happening across a river and a fence from us in a relatively small city due to the raw greed, lust for power and ambition of human drug traffickers and the federal police in Mexico who were apparently stuffing their pockets while all this horror was occurring.


Indeed, the Washington Post reported that 1,286 cities in the USA have been infiltrated by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Chicago is a major hub for the Mexican drug pushers who use the massive street gang infrastructure (100,000 members) to peddle drugs to African Americans in the racially segregated inner city. So Maguire is also saying that this is not really on ‘their’ side of the fence. The Mexican Federales are not the only incompetent and corrupt buffoons allowing this horro, we may have our own incompetent and corrupt politicians and police looking the other way or stuffing their pockets. Over $20 billion goes back to the cartels from the USA each year. When upscale New Yorkers buy their weed or cocaine, money might be going straight to these guys to support their operations. Some folks won’t eat meat, but they’ll buy drugs and help keep a murderous cartel in business.


So Maguire, weaned on the injustices suffered by the Irish under foreign control, follows brilliantly in the tradition established by Daumier and Courbet. He doesn’t challenge us to stare in mawkish, voyeuristic  wonder, but, instead, he challenges us to get angry, to really become aware and outraged. His images demand that we acknowledge that a fence isn’t good enough. We need to fix our social problems and be aware of the need to help our neighboring ally to address inequity and poverty there as well. He seems to want to shake us out of the lethargy and self-absorption of our safe 1st world society, to demand justice for those our government has put behind a fence to suffer whatever the drug lords decide they can get away with in a society where the government (and ours) might be too corrupt to take effective action to protect its people.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nos Voyages Immobiles – Pefura at Skoto Gallery

{{{click on images to enlarge}}}

Le Corbusier’s intentions were sincere. He saw poor folks living in dark, dirty, unhealthful and crowded slums and felt it would be an improvement to start building up – creating towers in parks which would give each inhabitant abundant sunlight and overall better living conditions.

Le Corbusier’s concept was embraced by many cities around the world and was, unfortunately, a disaster.  Housing projects became places to store poor folks in a state of social, cultural, educational and economic stagnation. Violence became commonplace. A famous journalist in Chicago (Mike Royko) even claimed that these projects were essential to the racial segregation of that city and were exploited for political purposes by the corrupt Chicago Democratic Machine of the Richard J. Daley era (it was convenient for the “Machine” to have most poor black folks isolated in one area so that on election day they could be more easily coerced and trotted out to vote for “Machine” candidates – housing project residents became a reliable huge chunk of votes in any election).


In Nos Voyages Immobiles the French-born Cameroonian artist Pefura focuses on the Le Corbusier inspired projects which lie right outside of Paris and which gained world-wide notoriety during the worst riots in modern French history, in 2005, which lasted 3 weeks and resulted in, among other things, 9,000 cars being set on fire. These high rise slums are the places where dark-skinned immigrants and dark-skinned and poorer French citizens often find themselves. Elevators and lights do not work, mold covers walls, there are threats of violence and the police treat the inhabitants as if they are all potential criminals.


To represent this modernist disaster, the walls of Skoto Gallery are covered with cube-like patterns, some cubes seemingly having white rectangular window panes which, nevertheless, do not reveal any type of life inside the cube. These cubes represent daunting structures which can, conceivably, engender a sense of accomplishment (people are living there after all – nobody is dying in the streets) but also anxiety and a sense of guilt. Is this the best way to help poor folks – it’s a basic service but no real solution. Is it so impossible for a society to find meaningful ways to assist the poor to become racially and economically integrated? Is it right to just stack poor black folks into these buildings, give them subsistence services and, basically, ignore them?


The cubes are so imposing that the thought of potentially tearing them down becomes intimidating. But we also impotently seem to realize that they must be torn down since they are places of stagnation and deliberate racial segregation instead of the places of transition toward social integration and social betterment which is needed. They are a lasting monument to the modernist approach of using science and technology to nominally solve a problem, while allowing deeper problems to fester. They show that politicians often look for solutions that will keep people quiet instead of moving society, as a whole, toward a better situation. Instead of searching for solutions to its problems with immigration and racism, France leaves these buildings on the outskirts as an eternally provisional solution and keeps its fingers crossed that the police do not provoke further riots. They seem to hope the pittances provided for basic survival will be enough to keep the residents from demanding full human rights. These restrictive cubes represent a pretense toward humane approaches in lieu of real humanity.


Pefura seems to want to create a sense of urgency to counteract the apathy we tend to feel when we look at these structures and invites us to focus on these structures – in every city. He is, basically, asking each of us whether we are satisfied, as citizens of a supposedly civilized society, with storing people like this while we blithely go about our own pursuit of excellence.

  

Pefura
Nos Voyages Immobiles
April 9 – May 16, 2015



SKOTO GALLERY
529 W 20th St., 5FL
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Christine Mackey at AC Institute

{{{click on images to enlarge them}}}

The county you live in, in NY State, can mean a great deal to folks from other counties of the state and provide a way by which you might be judged. For instance, there are 62 counties in NY State. If we look at the overall health of folks in the various counties, the Bronx comes in at 62nd even though one-half of Bronx residents receive free medical care in the form of Medicaid. Rockland County is the ‘healthiest’ county. Rockland has a median family income of $96,000 (4th highest behind Westchester, Nassau and Putnam) as opposed to the Bronx’s $38,000. The next lowest county in regard to median family income is Lewis with $49,000.

Christine Mackey takes pieces of scotch tape and traces sections of the borders of New York State counties onto these pieces from a map. She then affixes the tape randomly to the walls of a room in AC Institute so that she gets a type of wild rhizome or dendritic pattern. In fact, when I walked into the room for this installation, initially I thought I was surrounded by numerous cracks throughout the walls.


As is the case with a map of NY State, the borders of a traditional map often indicate divisions between cultural or socio-economic groups.  Think about the cultural division between Bronx and Rockland Counties. The borders on a traditional map act as a validation and reinforcement for insidious social and economic processes that have divided people racially, ethnically and economically. Mackey’s rhizome patterns present a vision of these borders fragmenting, inviting a greater mixture and accessibility than before. They highlight how divisions between people within a state can become reified through the map-making process. Once you draw these lines you know where to go and where not to go, you can start collecting numbers and categorizing folks into ‘us’ and ‘them’. In Mackey’s process the map borders used to mean – “You are not wanted here” or “I will not go there”, but now all restrictive connotations are lost. 


The borders change from barriers to become root-like or dendritic - no longer guided by social or economic patterns but moving in strange contours, kind of like a malfunctioning missile leaving a smoke trail of wild twists and turns. Rhizomes always proceed from some type of node, but we do not see any nodes in the rhizome patterns on the walls of AC Institute – so these are no longer anchored borders, they are no longer connected to race, ethnicity, income: they have become fragile and flimsy or like cracks in a wall or smoke trails in the air. Symbolically then, the map represents something cognitively fixed and predictable and something from which we derive a limited amount of self-satisfying and reinforcing knowledge. To fragment the borders of a map and present the borders as rhizomes, roots or dendrites is to invite a new process of discovery and engagement in which processes that divide us are abandoned and we explore our shared humanity with concern and compassion.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Joan Semmel - a feminist approach to non-objectification of the body (at Alexander Gray Associates)

{{{click on images to enlarge}}}

“I had returned from Spain looking for the ‘sexual revolution’ and instead found sexual commercialization that mostly showed female bodies for sale. I wanted to find an erotic visual language that would speak to women. I was convinced that the repression of women began in the sexual arena, and this would need to be addressed at the source.” Joan Semmel


To a great extent Joan Semmel, throughout her artistic career, seems to have attacked the paradox that Naomi Wolf brought to public attention through her work ‘The Beauty Myth’. In a society where women have attained a great degree of economic equality, why are they so depressed and anxious and why are they so obsessed with notions of beauty that still leave them as male objects of desire? The more freedom and equality women gain, the more feminine and desirable to men they seem to want to be. In her art Semmel has aspired to present a less self-conscious sense of female sexuality through experiments combining figurative and expressionistic elements as well as cropped images based on photos and images containing mirrors and cameras so that we are constantly aware of the usual ‘object’ of male art and desire finally attempting to view herself ‘through her own eyes’.


The eye-catcher for me in this show, the piece which I saw through the window of the gallery and which compelled me to enter Alexander Gray Associates, is an untitled piece from 1971 of a man performing cunnilingus on a woman. To openly distinguish the piece from any semblance of pornography, the figures are expressionistic and portrayed in unrealistic colors.  We see a man engaged in a type of selfless aggression to bring the woman to orgasm. Indeed, that this is a deliberate and voluntary process is revealed through the open eye looking, apparently, to see whether the woman is responding favorably. His lust or commitment toward this selfless sexual gesture for the woman is, also, unquestionable – he is obviously driven and deriving immense pleasure as he performs oral sex. This relatively early piece by Semmel, during  the early stages of the feminist movement in the USA, turns the normal sexual power-dynamic of both art and pornography upside down. It’s an amazing piece which, basically, modeled or hinted at, in 1971, a possible new type of sexual relationship, or public portrayal of a sexual relationship, between men and women.


Throughout the gallery we also see paintings of women intertwined with lovers or alone, or even lying naked next to a lover in an attempt to reimagine “…the nude without objectifying the person, of using a specific body rather than an idealized form.”  Some paintings with deliberately cropped heads are of Joan herself. Heads are deliberately cropped to connote an autobiographical perspective that subverts the viewer’s accustomed tendency to assume the traditional role of the erotic voyeur. In many of Semmel’s paintings of nudes we get a sense of ease and equanimity instead of anxiety to please or conform – instead of the idealized feminine body we get a body at peace with itself, some bodies engaged in a meaningful emotional and sexual union with an equal and equally loving partner.


Long before the term ‘selfie’ was created, we also see various paintings of Semmel, camera in hand, looking into a mirror, photographing herself as she enters a period of life and the aging process which has been prohibited in art. When we see aging women in the Western tradition, we recall the ‘vanitas’ paintings, warning us of the transitory nature of life and need for greater religious commitment. Old women painted by male artists have often warned other males that every woman is a potential hag, female beauty is a deception and women are evil deceivers and spiritual vampires. Semmel challenges this approach as well – she disabuses the traditional pictorial abuse of women with a basic reality which invites fellow-feeling and compassion for our shared human condition.



As Semmel wrote, “I wanted the body to be seen as a woman experiences herself, rather than through the reflection of the mirror or male eyes. The fundamental problem of subject and object was always present, and using my own body was one method of dealing with this. More importantly, it made it clear that the artist was female, and undercut the stereotypes of male artist and female muse. I wanted to subvert this tradition from within.”

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bubble Wrap Art - Bradley Hart at Anna Zorina

Berlin Wall - click on images to enlarge them

Bubble wrap owes its proliferation to the computer industry. Initially it was designed as a type of funky wallpaper (which nobody in the Eisenhower era wanted to buy) but, after lying dormant for a few years, it was realized (in 1959) that this would be the most effective protection for the transportation of computers - especially the IBM 1401 variable wordlength. As folks who work in galleries know, bubble wrap is the de rigueur accompaniment to art pieces when they are transported.

It was, in fact, the cavalier attitude toward bubble wrap at art galleries which triggered a type of moral or environmental awareness in artist Bradley Hart. He realized this material was so ubiquitous and commonplace that even folks in the field of art, who are supposed to be sensitive to environmental and social issues, were not thinking of the consequences of using and casually discarding this material into eternally stagnating inorganic landfills. Using bubble wrap as his means of expression became his response to this situation of wastefulness.


Hart uses bubble wrap kind of in the way a street artist might use a wall. Indeed, the Berlin Wall before its take-down by the people of Germany is even one of the images in the show, as, perhaps, a self-reflective gesture. But Hart’s refusal to allow something to go to waste and his desire to make use of the most useless type of cast-away thing requires that he engage in a super-laborious process of creation. He injects acrylic paint into each cell of the bubble wrap, cell by cell, methodically, in what might even be called a type of proletarian process art. I’m assuming Hart doesn’t pay some guy $10/hr to do the injecting – he himself goes through what most would find to be an incredibly tedious process to get his final result. He’s basically a ‘worker-artist’ or he’s like a Japanese full-body tattoo artist, engaging in a repetitive process of injecting ink over and over again into human flesh. Yet, he could also be considered to be in the tradition of the great tapestry makers of the Middle Ages, who worked with a negative image and who looped thread continually from the negative side to the front side of the tapestry and back again to get large narrative images from thousands of little stitches.


In the gallery notes pointillism is mentioned and he also seems to follow from this route. The whole point of pointillism was to apply unmixed colors in little dots so that the human eye would do the mixing if you stood at the right distance from the painting (three times the distance of the diagonal of the painting). By not mixing the colors on the canvas, you get greater brightness. Yet I’m not sure Hart is shooting for brightness in these pieces; I interpreted his work as, mostly, process art, as a way of taking something valueless and inconsequential and finding a hidden quality and potential in it that lay unexploited due to the extreme effort necessary to utilize it. Hart is, however, motivated by his environmental concerns and is willing, therefore, to take whatever time is necessary and he brings out an expressive potential in this material in a similar manner in which bubble wrap’s protective potential was inadvertently discovered. He reveals that within the bubble wrap itself was a hidden emergent quality for the transmission of meaning allowing this material to be saved from the landfill. Hart’s art is also a type of victory over an obstacle, the obstacle being the nature of the bubble wrap which allows the transmission of visual imagery but only through a laborious effort that ultimately requires the active collaboration of the human eye.


Hart doesn’t waste anything. In order to get each cell full of paint he has to over-inject into each cell. This causes paint to seep out the back of the bubble wrap. Hart then peels this layer off as a second painting. So you get the image of the object and then an abstract, dripping, flowing image derived from the image of the object at the same time, which calls the legitimacy or primacy of the visual image into question and points more toward the importance of the effect of imagery on our inner reality, as it interfaces with our experience, memory and emotional responses. Hart also seems to take excess acrylic paint from his floor, pallet, tools etc. and applies them to a canvas in what the gallery notes refer to as a ‘collage’ style. So at first Hart shoots for realism through a difficult means to convey realism but this process results in more and more expressionistic pieces which impugn the notion of a separation of objective and subjective reality and point, instead, to a unity of inner and outer experience.