Thursday, September 26, 2013

Miler Lagos at MagnanMetz Gallery "The Great Tree of Water" (26th Street)

This gallery has really distinguished itself as a gallery that brings some of the more meaningful and incisive art work from South America to New York City. 

In the current show by Miler Lagos, we see work by a contemporary Colombian artist who incorporates religious and mythological themes from an indigenous culture.  

In many ancient cultures the tree was considered to be a type of bridge between the earth and the sky (or between people and God or our animal natures and our spiritual natures).  The roots stretched deep into the soil and the branches extended outward and upward into the air.  

For the Tikuna people, however, who reside in an area between Peru and Colombia, there was one great tree which was quite sinister.  It was so immense that it blocked out the sun and extinguished life. 

Twin brothers thus went on a hero quest with the animals of the forest and, by felling the tree, inadvertently created the many branches and tributaries of the Amazon River. Lagos uses paper reliefs and graphite images to depict this 'great tree of water' in what might be called convex and concave manners throughout the gallery.  This approach highlights the positive, creative force of the tree and the imprint in the earth caused by the force.

In particular, however, he has created some amazing tree trunks (made of thousands of sheets of paper, stacked and glued one on top of the other)  which bear beautifully painted scenes from Asian art on the top surface of each trunk.  (Thank you Giulia A. for snapping these photos for me...I miss you - come back soon!)
click on images to enlarge them

The images are often of trees or traditionally clad Asian women or just scenes of everyday equanimity.   
This set seems to connect more with the 'tree as bridge' concept than the 'great tree of water' concept.  These natural connection points between the earth and the sky have been destroyed, yet the plane caused by the severing of this connection now serves as a type of canvas.  The images of trees, fishermen, the sea and women represent an idealized traditional world of tranquility that has also been lost (if it ever existed), but which provides beauty and solace.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Martin Honert Life-Size Sculptures at Matthew Marks Gallery

Take a look at this group of people, and think about who they might be, and from what period of time they might be from:

{{{click on image to enlarge}}}

What's your general impression of these folks?

My friend Giulia and I pondered this group for awhile and thought it was a family (from the 1960s) at some type of family function - like a wedding or anniversary party.  We identified the eccentric, somewhat wealthy uncle (who looks a bit like Nelson Rockefeller), the uptight, frigid but attractive aunt who might have married beneath herself,  the suburban salesman and his housewife etc.

And we were close!  This is a group of German teachers (from the 1960s).

When we learned these were teachers, the pieces of the puzzle came together for us.  Of course this is a group of teachers!  And if you took a group of teachers now, photographed them, and showed someone the photo 40 years from now, you'd probably get the same response.


The French have a term called 'professional deformation.'  Basically they say that any profession changes a person so that after awhile everyone in that profession kind of looks and acts like everyone else in that profession.  Someone once said a cab driver in Paris is identical to one in New York or Tokyo.

So I love this sculpture as an example of the professional deformation of a teacher.  When I taught, for a short time, I noticed this deformation as well.  This is because a teacher is not just a dissembler of information.  A teacher is a civil servant of sorts who is expected to get various administrative jobs done and to accomplish goals.  The teacher is a classroom manager first and foremost, and an educator afterwards.

Indeed, the teacher is the prime promoter of the 'hidden curriculum.'  This was a concept created in the 1960s (like most good concepts).  Basically it means that while the teacher seems to be teaching math or science or literature, he/she is really teaching discipline, order, obedience to authority, a blue-collar work-ethic etc.  Benson R. Snyder of MIT apparently created this term.

So in this amazingly funny work by Honert, we clearly see a corps of hidden curriculum engineers in their traditional garb, which changes periodically.

Please go to Marks and see this in person (as well as the other amazing galleries in that neighborhood).

I am Daniel Gauss, The Proletarian Art Snob.

Actually, it turns out these teachers were from Honert's own boarding school in Germany when he was a child.  You can read more at Marks' web site:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Michael Brown at the Mike Weiss Gallery in Chelsea

I think that Novalis is definitely a writer who should be revisited.  Looking at Brown's work at the Weiss Gallery, a few of his quotes ran through my mind:

"The path of mystery leads inwards..."  and "The world becomes a dream and the dream becomes reality."  I also recalled Schelling's "Nature is visible spirit; spirit is invisible nature."  Yes, I still read the German 'Romantic' writers.

If you go to Mike Weiss' web page, you can read details about how Brown creates these pieces. What I liked was that Brown first sketches a scene from nature.  Basically he sketches a barren landscape.  Over this sketching he then places rusty iron bars curved into circular shapes.  In many of his pieces the circles overlap each other in various patterns.

I took the above photo from Weiss' web page (so I hope he doesn't sue me) but you can see a closeup of one of Brown's pieces below.  My friend Tomoko might have been a little tipsy because the photo is crooked, but that's OK, I was tipsy too considering that it was the big opening night in Chelsea when we saw this work and free alcohol abounded.

Yes, we were both a bit tipsy.

Giulia A. took this photo while she and I were completely sober (am I ever completely sober?)

So why do I like these pieces so much?  Well, to me two processes are represented here. I would argue that two inner processes are represented here.  I think that every meaningful work of art is about our inner lives or inner reality and I believe Brown's work can be interpreted in this manner. I think he is illustrating two processes that occur when we perceive aspects of our inner life.  I guess a person could describe these processes as 'perception' and 'reaction,' or 'perception' and 'construction.'

Initially, in these pieces, we get 'nature' in the form of a landscape sketch.  To me, the perception of an aspect of inner nature necessarily leads to a cognitive process akin to Novalis' idea that a 'dream' becomes 'reality.'  We conceptualize what we perceive or feel.  

When language was created or developed, it must have been created or developed to express what happens in the outer world, because when we attempt to describe processes in the inner world, we are forced to use metaphors or symbols from the outer world.

When we conceptualize, we use metaphors or symbols and this leads us away from 'nature' and into another inner process altogether.  This new inner process can be represented by the curving and rusty iron. Like the circular pieces of iron, this process is a coherent whole.  And regardless of the differences that can be perceived, the process is always the same for every aspect in regard to trying to understand the nature of our inner lives.  

The aspects of our inner world exist for us independently of the nature of the aspects, through cognition, and they become other entities.  Like the rusty iron, our conclusions about what we perceive in our inner nature become separate from nature in a coherent and identifiable (and mostly useless) manner.

One can even mention Hume's Law or George Moore's "Naturalistic Fallacy" here.  Hume pointed out that often when we describe a situation, a judgment about that situation often then occurs.  I can't remember his exact quote, but he said something like, "How is it that we jump so easily from an 'is' to an 'ought'?"

So if I engage in some form of introspection and perceive some type of motive or emotion or inner conflict or something I feel to be problematic about how I am responding to the world, this perception leads to a type of transmutation whereby the natural becomes cognitive. I like Brown's work because, to me, it represents this process whereby nature becomes cognition or the 'dream' of the world becomes the 'reality' of the world.

So the cognition about nature becomes a thing in itself, and not necessarily a reflection of the individual details of nature.  The sketches represent 'nature' to me, while the rusty iron hoops represent our 'cognition' of nature and the new, empty world this divorce from nature brings.

The Mike Weiss Gallery traditionally shows thought-provoking work!  Here's their web page: