Friday, July 26, 2013

Diane Landry at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio

The Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina presents a major exhibition, Diane Landry: The Cadence of All Things, opening August 17, 2013 and continuing through January 12, 2014.

The exhibition, Diane Landry: by every wind that blows, will open at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio on November 9, 2013.

Jun Kaneko's Public Sculpture at Millenium Park in Chicago

Large-scale ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko are on view in the North and South Boeing Galleries of Millenium Park in Chicago from April 12 - November 4, 2013.

Ann Hamilton at the Spencer Art Museum at The University of Kansas

The exhibition "Ann Hamilton & Cynthia Schira : An Errant Line" is on view at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas from March 2 through August 11, 2013.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Rare 1968 Anti-War Short "Mickey Mouse In Vietnam" Has Resurfaced Online

Its co-creator, the legendary Milton Glaser, says “Mickey Mouse is a symbol of innocence…and to have him killed, as a solider, is such a contradiction of your expectations.”

Created in 1968, Mickey Mouse in Vietnam is a 16mm underground anti-war short movie produced by Lee Savage (who also directed) and Milton Glaser. The one-minute unofficial Mickey Mouse cartoon features the iconic character being shipped to Vietnam. Moments after arriving, he is shot dead.

The film was thought to be lost for many years until April 22, 2013, when it was uploaded to YouTube. The video has created quite a buzz, quickly popping up on various websites, like Reddit and Vimeo.

The co-creator of the video, Milton Glaser is among one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the United States, best known for his iconic I ♥ NY logo. Some of his other well known work includes the 1966 Bob Dylan poster and the DC bullet logo (used by DC Comics from 1977 to 2005). He also founded New York magazine with Clay Felker in 1968.

Glaser has had the distinction of solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Georges Pompidou Center.

In 2009, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Glaser, who shared his thoughts on the video and also the history behind it.
image by Robert Wright/Redux
Did you know the video had gone viral?
Milton Glaser: No — I did it so long ago.

Are you at all surprised that it has all of sudden gone viral in the last couple of days?
MG: Well, it’s interesting that it suddenly reappeared, but I suspect there is some resonance about our involvement in the Vietnam War and our current involvement in the Middle East. It seems that there is a sort of meeting point between those two moments in history.

What is the story behind the creation of the film?
MG: It was for a thing called The Angry Arts Festival, which was a kind of protest event, inviting artists to produce something to represent their concerns about the war in Vietnam and a desire to end it.

How did you get involved with, the director, Lee Savage in making this short?
MG: Lee Savage was a good friend of mine, and he was in the film business of one kind or another, doing small production films — and with a little experience in animation, and all the things you have to know to produce a modest film the way we did.

What was the audience’s reaction when it was screened at the festival?
MG: It was very moving — people responded strongly to it. But within the context of many such events and many presentations, it didn’t quite have the power that you experience when you are seeing it in isolation. But it was moving.

You know, I was just talking about it this morning, because I have not seen it many, many years. It just shows you the power of symbolism, because in some ways it’s much more powerful than seeing a photograph of dead GIs in a landscape — something about the destruction about a deeply held myth that moves you in way that is unexpected.

Speaking of symbolism, is that why you picked Mickey Mouse in particular?
MG: Well, obviously Mickey Mouse is a symbol of innocence, and of America, and of success, and of idealism — and to have him killed, as a solider is such a contradiction of your expectations. And when you’re dealing with communication, when you contradict expectations, you get a result.

Disney is very protective of their intellectual property. Did you ever hear from them after you screened the film?
MG: No… There was some talk about Disney suing us, but I think the consequence of that — everybody realized — would have been negative for Disney and would have no benefit. And obviously no profit was made out of the utilization of the character or the film, so nothing ever happened.

Is there any truth to the rumor that Disney tried to destroy every copy?
MG: I never heard that before or knew about it until you just mentioned it.

Did you continue to show the film after the Vietnam War ended?
MG: Lee died a year or two after that, but our intent was to do it expressly for this one event, and that was the end of it. I mean, we both went on, obviously to other ideas and other things. We certainly continued an ideological resistance to war, but we never followed it around or tried to promote or did anything once it was finished.

Lastly, had you had a platform like YouTube back in ‘60s, a way to make the film go viral, would you have gone that route?
MG: Well, that’s what you hope for, isn’t it? You hope in doing these things that they become visible and public, and up until now there was not a very effective mechanism for that type of occurrence. Now, of course, something hits at an unusual combination of circumstances — something is all of sudden seen around the world in days — and it’s always surprising.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

West Coast Art (Not Laid-Back) A California ‘State of Mind,’ Circa 1970, at Bronx Museum

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
State of Mind Barbara T. Smith’s “Field Piece,” in this show at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. More Photos »

If you’re even just a little weary of the well-made, no-risk, eye-on-fashion fare in so many Manhattan summer group shows, consider a trip to the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where the exhibition “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970” has breezed in from the West Coast, bringing with it a tonic of gawky rawness and moral purpose.

California in the 1970s was one of the weirder spots on the planet, home to radical strains of politics on both the right and left. It was a hub of the nation’s defense industry and a feeder for the Vietnam War, to which disproportionate numbers of Latinos and blacks were consigned. Teachers at the state’s universities were required to take loyalty oaths. Dissidents and deviants of various stripes were under the gun.

At the same time, the country’s most powerful countercultures were born or nurtured there: from the Beats in the 1950s, to the campus Free Speech movement of the early 1960s, to the hippies and Black Panthers later in the decade. Berkeley held one of the first big antiwar protests in 1965. The Watts uprising in South Central Los Angeles happened the same year. So did the first farm labor strikes in what would become the Chicano movement.

What did California art have to do with any of this? A lot. True, you wouldn’t guess this from most history books, which have confined 1960s California art to the high-polish, mostly abstract paintings and sculptures produced by a bunch of guys for the Ferus Gallery, in Los Angeles.

But well before that gallery closed in 1966, a new kind of art — Conceptual art — emerged, which, loosely defined, valued ideas and actions over things. The California version emphasized a commitment to politics a focus on nature and the body, and a tendency to prefer zaniness to braininess.

How this West Coast art developed makes for a fascinating and moving story, though it’s hard to put across in a museum. Much of the work was done in an ad hoc, performance-based mode. It survives, if it survives at all, in funky photographs and videos and bits of ephemera that require some explaining. And if you want explanations, you have to read labels.

Fortunately, in this case, that’s a pleasure.

The curators — Constance M. Lewallen of the Berkeley Art Museum and Karen Moss of the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach — have written short, elucidating comments for almost everything here, about 150 items. Not only do their words bring individual images to life; but they also add up to an absorbing narrative of a place and an era.

In New York, the political content of Conceptual art could be elusive. In California, it was, as often as not, front and center.

Environmentalism was a major issue. In 1969 three young artists — Joe Hawley, Mel Henderson and Alfred Young — used biodegradable dyes to spell “oil” in giant letters on the waters of San Francisco Bay, calling attention to a massive crude-oil spill then devastating the coastline.

Other artists took a quiet approach to environmentalism. Over several years beginning in the 1970s, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, a married couple and teachers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, traveled widely compiling data on global sustainability. They then painstakingly recorded their findings in a grand, handwritten and painted volume called “The Book of the Lagoons,” which sits in this exhibition’s first gallery, its pages waiting to be turned.

A number of Bay Area artists — Mr. Henderson was one — were involved, as performers or aggressive documenters, in the antiwar movement. In Los Angeles, black and Latino artists targeted racism. The Conceptual art collective Asco — Harry Gamboa Jr., Willie HerrĂ³n III, Gronk (Glugio Nicandro) and Patssi Valdez were its primary members — staged elaborate, costumed guerrilla performances, the equivalent of living murals on downtown streets and freeway medians. Even in photographs, their visual impact comes through.

And California Conceptualism was particularly rich in experimental art by women. Starting in 1970, Bonnie Sherk, an East Coast transplant, took on a series of low-paying real-life jobs — waitress, short-order cook — tacitly treating each as an extended study about labor and female identity. Two years later, Linda Mary Montano gave identity an interspecies twist. Dressed in feathered wings and a high school prom gown, she took to the San Francisco streets as Chicken Woman, a character at once human and animal, clown and angel, transcendental and absurd.

The human body keeps turning up — vulnerable, gross, distressed, embattled — in the West Coast Conceptualism, and sometimes in an atmosphere of stress or danger. The danger was real when Chris Burden had a friend shoot him in the arm with a rifle, but subtler in a 1973 performance by Barbara T. Smith, in which the artist, nude and alone, received visitors one by one, inviting interaction, no prohibitions imposed.

By contrast, the sight of the Dutch-born artist Bas Jan Ader rolling off a bungalow roof in a 1970 video has the goofy air of a Buster Keaton stunt. It’s a reminder of a wide comedic streak in California Conceptualism, though in this case there’s a dark flip side. Ader’s courting of risk as art led him, in 1975, to set out across the Atlantic in a small boat. He vanished at some point en route. He was 33.

The cinematic flavor of his brief career, with its mysterious fade, has made him a romantic hero. Other artists may have been inspired by California’s movie industry to create stagelike installations. In 1973 the filmmaker and digital art pioneer Lynn Hershman transformed a room in a San Francisco transient hotel into an environment dramatizing the lives of two fictional women. So detailed were the results, right down to two wigged mannequins lying in the bed, that a tenant called the police, and the work had to be dismantled.

Two years earlier, in Hollywood, Allen Ruppersberg opened a hotel as a short-term art project. Of its several rentable rooms, one was furnished with cutout figures of Mr. Ruppersberg in various guises: biker, cowboy, freak. From a New York perspective, the project’s wacky humor might have been viewed as a California thing. So might the spiritual content of the deeply serious “Levitation,” a 1970 performance by Terry Fox (1943-2008), in which the artist, who had Hodgkin’s disease, lay for hours on a mound of earth trying to will himself into an out-of-body state.

Now, after decades of AIDS, “Levitation” makes perfect sense anywhere. So, in more global-minded American culture, does the witty, Zen-tinged art of Paul Kos, Fox’s Bay Area colleague and friend, who finesses Conceptualism’s art-as-process ethic by placing eight boom microphones around a block of ice for a piece called “The Sound of Ice Melting.”

Finally, the artist Tom Marioni, a catalytic figure in San Francisco in the 1960s and ’70s and the creator of the Museum of Conceptual Art, brings us from past into present. His signature work, a participatory bash called “The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art,” which had its debut in 1970 and is regularly revived, is basically an example of the trend to turn social interactions into art — “relational aesthetics” before the fact.

In a good, terse essay in the catalog, the art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson points to several younger artists — Ryan Trecartin, Kalup Linzy, Sharon Hayes — who, Californians or not, seem heirs to a West Coast Conceptualist groove. I would add others to the mix, like Tania Bruguera, Paul Chan and Rick Lowe. And, of course, California is constantly producing fresh candidates of its own.

A single profile is hard to define, but you can point to shared links: an investment in social agency, a focus on mercurial identity, an appetite for ideas and an appetite for art that has reasons for existing beyond itself. Their work is meant to wake us up. So is the circa 1970 art in “State of Mind.” If we’re willing to do some looking, reading and thinking, it can.

“State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970” runs through Sept. 8 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, at 165th Street, Morrisania; (718) 681-6000,

Monumental Steel Sculptures Dance Down Park Avenue


[Envious Composure, at 67th and Park Avenue. © Myers Creative Imaging. Courtesy of Paley Studios.]
Abstract forms of molded steel, some reaching 21-feet high and 40-feet wide, have taken over Park Avenue for the summer's biggest (quite literally) public art display. Created specifically for the streetscape by artist Albert Paley, the monumental sculptures weigh between 2.5 to 7.5 tons. They use about 750 pieces of metal, and it took 10 trucks to transport them to Manhattan from the artist's studio in Rochester. Paley drew inspiration from the surrounding buildings, and he told the Journal that he placed "bolder," sharper pieces along the commercial stretches, while the residential areas have sculptures that are "more detailed and intimate." The thirteen artworks will be on view through November 8.