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Surrounded by little theaters, DC-based artist J.Ford Huffman stands in his dining room and excitedly tells the narrative of each box, two dozen of which will be a part of his upcoming solo exhibition at Politics and Prose, Little Theaters, opening February 28 with a public reception on Saturday, March 2.
“This is called ‘Map Room.’ It’s from a series involving impressions of the White House,” Huffman explained, pointing to a re-purposed wine box. Inside the box, an upside-down grandfather clock and monstrous fragments of a Greek temple set the stage for an unknown scene. Amid gaudy pink accents, an imposing street map of Washington DC hangs on the back wall, as if in a wartime conference room.
Many things hang on the walls of Huffman’s miniature worlds, each created with the intention to evoke the viewer to complete the story’s sentence.
Cook Books stars a tiny bronze man, reaching up to stir a disproportionately large holiday pot holding what else, but, a book. A picture-less picture frame extends beyond the wall and seemingly life-size primary color bricks are stacked upon one another, scattered around the curious kitchen. Peering into the miniature stage, one is instantly reminded of Alice in Wonderland.
“It’s playful at first glance,” said Huffman who explained his interest creating a challenge for the viewer to contemplate “why.”
In Upper-case ‘BOOK’ Case, one of the capital “O” in the big yellow “B-O-O-K,” has fallen from the top shelf and lays defeated, knocked over, resting on its side.
“Did the ‘O’ fall because it just toppled over or did something more ominous happen here?” Huffman implored.
Cook Books and Upper-case “BOOK” Case are not the only theaters with a book theme.
“I love challenges so I wanted to see what I could come up with working around the venue. So for this one, books because Politics and Prose is a book store,” Huffman said.
Permabooks lines up gorgeously colored African wood samples along a bookshelf supported by makeshift legs, and is paired next to a vintage Barclay doll for scale and a barely translucent paper bush for depth. Table of Contents stacks a series of books, each one’s aesthetic beautifully flowing into the other to create a composed composition, all tied together with a red background, red 1887 marbleized paper floor, and red accents such as the miniature figurine’s apple. In contrast to the witty word play works, Content Context takes on a more modern feel, its white letters naturally spliced in half by a wood shelf in the top half. On the bottom, a white plastic figure gazes into an image from an 1879 edition of “Recreation in Astronomy.” The work is successful in making the viewer think, as the box’s beholder gazes into the set the same way the miniature man looks out into a distant land.
“When I give lectures on journalism, or writing or editing, I always emphasize context versus content,” Huffman said about the inspiration for Content Context.
Not all theaters in the show, priced at $300 and above, are book-related.Volts per cell is an interactive theater that requires the viewer to flip through anatomy profiles of the human head. Sisters pairs the 1889 painting of The Abbess of Jouarre with a plaster statue of Saint Theresa Little Flower of Jesus. Huffman includes a carefully placed mirror in the corner of the box so that one can clearly see the two nuns are looking at one another. The viewer wonders if they are looking at each other in admiration or contempt.
Huffman’s typically playful, sometimes provocative, and always clever little theaters, take the viewer on a delightful journey into a tiny, magical word beyond his own.
Little Theaters is on display at Politics and Prose from February 28 until April 4. An opening reception will take place on Saturday, March 2 from 7- 9 PM.
Politics and Prose is located at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 and is open Monday through Saturday from 9 AM- 10 PM and Sunday from 10 AM- 8 PM
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On January 9th, to kick off the new year, I attended the Hemphill press breakfast to do a write up on their latest show for our affiliate post on Borderstan. It only took minutes to realize that Steven Cushner’s show was one of, if not, the best show I had ever seen in a gallery in Washington, DC. In case you have not had the chance to see it yet, his work in this show includes large, symmetrical, over powering and familiar works on oddly shaped canvases. It was only a week ago that the work of Steven Cushner’s genius started to come together. Visiting Steven in his home studio, I was able to really understand his creative process and get a sneak peak at what he is currently working.
After seeing the show at Hemphill, it surprised me that one of the first things that Cushner told me was that his relationship with color goes back as far as he can remember and at times can get out of control. His studio is surely full of it, different from the muted tones of his current show. Every space on his wall is covered with his latest pieces and watercolor “sketches” of the images he hopes to put on canvas. Color, color and more color! With the overwhelming color in his studio, I immediately wanted to know what led to his, almost entirely, black and white work currently at Hemphill. This work came from an overload of color in the early 90s that Cushner says included work with awful, crazy colors.
Cushner’s work is very physical and gestural but he considers it “fake gesture”. He tried to explain that the “fake” part comes in the editing stages of his work. He explained that each of his works consists of many layers and most works may have even started out a completely different, color, size or shape. He often has trouble figuring out which colors to use and where to take them, even if that means eliminating them all together.
My favorite work currently in Cushner’s studio, is hardly a work in progress. In fact, if it doesn’t find a home, I hope to own it one day! It is a work that he hopes will evoke the idea of infinity and a forever journey. His inspiration was very clearly mountains and like the work currently at Hemphill, Cushner very deliberately worked on creating a drastic sense of space with illusion. While the colors were more muted that he thought the final product would be, it was captivating, calming and gave the feeling of seeing a gorgeous sunset. Like the work at Hemphill the works size in itself is truly remarkable and powerful.
Working with smaller canvases is more difficult for Cushner. In our discussion of his technique, he expressed several times that he was more comfortable with large canvases and that they just feel right. Clearly, the large-scale works translate in a truly unique and powerful way, whether in color or, as currently seen at Hemphill, in black and white.
I was honored to have had the chance to look through a small window of Steven Cushner’s creative through process. His show at Hemphill will be through March 9, 2013 and is worth everything minute spent sharing the space with his works of shaped canvases.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Hair. It’s chaotic, it’s ordered. Clean and messy, it is a sense of frustration and joy.
“I’ve been combing hair since I was a child,” said Clark who has been working with hair as a medium in both hairdressing and fine art for over twenty years.
One of Clark’s more recent works, Pigtails, is evocative of youth. Resting on a wall-mounted shelf, a young girl’s stiff braided pigtails are woven from tactile black thread. Though the work suggests innocence, a hairstyle removed from the human head challenges the viewer to consider the means in which a young woman’s hair was taken. When hair is so deeply attached to one’s personal identity, a hairstyle without an owner begins to lose its character, lose its playfulness, becomes limp and empty. The effect is intensified looking down at the work, implicating the viewer as responsible for subjugating the hair and its human counterpart.
“Hair is basically a piece of someone’s body. It’s a very intimate experience of selling a piece of someone’s body to someone else,” said Lauren Gentile, Contemporary Wing founder and director.
The emotions surrounding the oldest work in the show, dating from 2003, complements with the power elicited from the suggestion of stolen youth in Pigtails. Long Hair confronts the viewer with age. A brilliant digital print of a dread is so rich with depth and texture, the viewer cannot help but yearn to reach out, to touch the hair fibers clearly pulsing with life. Astonishment and disappointment converge when the illusion is realized. 30 feet long, the work represents the length of a dread grown for 30 years.
“At first, I thought it was strange to use someone’s DNA and then sell it, with the history of selling bodies in this country,” said Clark who is inspired in part, by the infinite hairstyles that became available to black women after the Africa Diaspora.
Unbreakable fashions together black fine-toothed combs branded “unbreakable” in a composition that is inherently broken, demanding the viewer to consider the societal and cultural pressures associated with issues of straight hair. Cotton to hair is at once filled with beauty—flowers touched with bronze are forever preserved behind glass—but quickly becomes bewildering when one considers the materials are cotton and African American hair. The ties to slavery are inescapable and uncanny.
Though the subject matter is what compels the viewer to engage in dialogue, to contemplate his own notions of race, class and culture, it is Clark’s superb craftsmanship that makes her work truly standout.
“When you see her work, there is something so elegant and subtle and thoughtful,” said Gentile, “The craftsmanship is always going to be perfect, the concept is always going to be well-thought out.”
To execute Quadroon, Clark revitalized the 1990s art of stitching, by fashioning cornrows into one fourth of a canvas, and from the other three-fourths of the canvas, a heavy mass of thread, stitched together to resemble dense, but straight, hair fibers, is pulled together at the very center of the work. A ponytail extends and falls naturally into the viewer’s immediate space.
Quadroon is exemplary of Clark’s extraordinary ability to deeply engage with her subject while maintaining exceptional hold on her medium and craft. A reference to race classification, Quadroon has roots in an experience traveling through Ghana, where Clark, an African-American, was called “bruni,” the Ghanaian word for a white person. Clark explained that in the context of African culture, because Clark has a white grandparent, she is considered white, whereas in the United States, Clark being three-quarters African American, is considered black.
As Clark said, “I’m the same color in either place but the context is different.”
Albers Study captures this question within an art historical narrative, using Josef Alber’s canonic texts on color theory to take five colors and make them appear as six, by simply juxtaposing the colors in different ways. But Clark does not simply re-contextualize the lessons of Albers. She extends the ideology by taking two different shades of green and making them appear the same.
AHEAD OF HAIR is on display at Contemporary Wing until March 2.
Contemporary Wing is located at 1412 14th St. NW and open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Reverence hits the psyche faster and harder than the cold winter air hits the skin, when walking into Walter McConnell’s Solo Exhibition, New Theories, now on display at Cross MacKenzie Ceramic Arts in Dupont Circle.
An almost overwhelming sense of shock and surprise, contemplation and enrapture, envelop one’s thoughts standing in front of the nearly monumental installation that stands just inside the gallery doors.
An intriguing amalgamation of porcelain and slip cast objects stack upon one another to create a temple-like structure, asserting its presence and demanding the viewer’s attention. Eerie skulls dripping with an umber cast are juxtaposed with solemn Buddhas and sensual female figurines; and expertly executed vases, cups and birdhouses stand together with characters reveling in evocative silent laughter.
It is difficult to step away and view the installation in its whole form, as the individual elements are both haunting and humorous, and call for carefully scrutinized personal attention. However, when one is able to pull away, to enjoy a prolonged gaze, the installation begins to take form as a historical timepiece, as if one had happened upon an antique bounty, eternally preserved in a holy monument.
The true treasure however, is found along the back wall of Cross MacKenzie, where two striking “wet works” compel the viewer to confront seemingly living objects.
A professor of ceramic art at the Alfred School of Art and Design in New York, McConnell is perhaps best known for his brilliant technique of molding raw clay on-site to create delicate human bodies, that when left unfired and encased in a plastic sheath, take on a tangible life cycle.
Condensation builds within the environments, and like their human viewers, the pregnant woman and her affectionate husband grow old, their skin cracks and their features transform. Examining the miniature couple inside their fabricated world, one is compelled to experience an intimate moment with a sorrowful slant, knowing that the private paradise will come to an eventual demise.
New Theories is on display at Cross MacKenzie Ceramic Arts until February 27, 2013. An artist talk and closing reception will take place on February 27, 2013 from 6- 8pm. Cross MacKenzie is located at 2026 R Street NW, Washington DC 20009. Regular visiting hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 12- 6pm.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Saturday, February 2nd, Lisa Marie Thalhammer opened at the Fridge. Lisa Marie’s current exhibition is not just a collection of beautiful art, but also a social statement. Her art portrays the quest for equality regardless of sexual or gender identity.
If you have not yet checked out the Fridge, it is a unique gallery and quite worth the trip. Lisa Marie’s art filled the space in an engaging and elegant manner. It encouraged the viewer to walk through and explore each piece. Featured were several larger paintings of women, the backgrounds were beautiful rich with colors and texture. The faces and bodies of each subject were elegantly painted. Lisa Marie used immaculate techniques to create skins tones that enhanced with blues and greens, each subject seemed alive, as if present in the room with the viewer.
As I walked by each painting I was led by graphic prints, small lines colored into one thick line with all the colors of the rainbows. These pieces had the creative title of “Rainbow Network” added with their number in the series. Upon reading this title, I began to think of what a network was, one definition is “the interconnected group.” Lisa Marie has not only created a literal network of lines in this art, but apiece reflecting the bonds of the LGBTQ community.
In the open space of the Fridge gallery, Lisa Marie’s art takes up the space in a welcoming and inspiring manner. As Shauna J Miller, Senior Arts Editor at the Washington Post, eloquently states: “Lisa Marie’s portraits are too hot to freeze anything. They have pulses and heartbeats. Their subjects – with giant eyes, elongated limbs, bared breasts - exaggerate themselves just enough to tell their story to the viewer: These are our bodies, our sexuality, our connectedness at this moment.” To read more on the subject and discover more of Lisa Marie’s work check out her webpage click here, and next time you’re in the neighborhood check out the Fridge located in the rear alley of 8th Street.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
The art world is one of the few professional spheres left, where passion trumps all, where one will joyfully abandon money and security, will defy the warnings and wishes of peers and parents, in order to dance, paint, sculpt, write, and otherwise live, one’s ecstasy.
This notion is perhaps no more clear than in the recent anthology Bourgeon: Fifty Artists Write About Their Work, in which Leonard Jacobs writes in the preface, “If you are an artist you have got to do your work. It’s that straightforward. You do your work. You let nothing, you let no one, stop you. You do your work.”
The captivating and insightful anthology, edited by Robert Bettmann, takes the reader on a powerful journey through the intensely unique creativity and dedication that is the DC art scene. It is one in which Megan Coyle says, “I like surprising my viewers—I like it when they don’t realize I am a collage artists and not a painter. Or perhaps I could say I am a painter—I paint with paper.”
Bourgeon depicts the DC arts community in a way similar to how Coyle creates her collages, with an ever evolving, yet always astonishingly imaginative and expressive work process and methodology.
Joan Belmar describes his 3-inch thick worlds under glass, explaining, “The result I hope for is an organic and mysterious world that is in constant movement,” while Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Chair of the Theater and Dance Department at George Washington University explains, “When it is time to start a new work, I suddenly dream lucidly and see scenes from the new dance. It’s as if my subconscious gets filled up, and then moves all the ideas to the forefront of my conscious mind.”
Bourgeon is written in the context of an evolving art world, one in which great debate exists questioning the value of a college degree.
DC-base painter Prudence Bonds defends self-teaching methods of trial and error and “listens more keenly to intuition,” but with an honest tinge of anxiety, recognizes, “It seems galleries are less likely to take a chance on someone like me.” In the dance realm, Artistic Director for Gesel Mason Performance Projects argues, “If a student’s academic training can teach them how to suspend judgment and navigate fear, then that is a degree worth having.”
Though Bourgeon incites important dialogue surrounding such controversies as formal training and the age-old debate of creating work for the market versus maintaining artistic integrity (DC-based hip-hop teacher and choreographer Aysha Upchurch demands, “Can Hip Hop maintain its integrity as a dance form with so much focus on its entertainment value?” while Executive and Artistic Director of the DC Cowboys Dance Company states, “We actively seek corporate sponsorships and patrons to keep the organization financially stable.”), Bourgeon is at its best when illuminating the buoyant spirit shared among the culturally diverse arts community.
Perhaps we can all learn from dance scholar Laurel Victoria Gray, who writes about Bollywood dance, “In these times of woe anything that brings people together to dance with shared joy should be celebrated.”
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Despite some recent opinion that Miami might be irrelevant, over
priced and obnoxiously overdone, I wish I was there.
Beyond the obvious reasons… Sun, beach, good food, and the best of the art world. I should be there because the fairs of Miami are still one of, if not the, best places to network in the art world. Networking is an essential part of being successful in the art community. For artists specifically, networking is crucial.
In today’s competitive art world, networking can make the difference between your success and your failure. Networking is all about
developing a relationship so that when you have something to offer, you have a constituency to go to. For an artist, this is how you sell and promote your work. To network with people in Miami would mean to find potential buyers or people to promote your work to potential buyers.
Even though I am not an artist, networking for me in Miami would be about meeting new potential clients, including artists. Hearing from artists
about their work and creative process helps me to secure their
business and to learn more about currents trends. On the flip side,
speaking with peers in the art world in other capacities (buyers,
dealers, gallerists, etc) helps me to understand different points of view, the work that others are doing and will hopefully be a mutually beneficial conversation to further
each other’s goals.
As much as I’d love the sun in Miami (DC has been a bit gloomy this week), I wish I was in Miami this weekend to meet new and interesting
people, and to network both for myself and for the artists I support. I
hope that everyone down there takes the time to purposefully network and
come up with meaningful outcomes to further their goals!
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
The Hillyer is an intimate gallery hidden down one of DuPont’s bustling streets. On Monday, November 12, Andy Grundberg was the featured curator in this month’s Curator Lecture Series. In an open room of the gallery with paintings surrounding the audience, Grundberg spoke about a wide range of topics related to art and his career. Although it was not a one-on-one conversation, it was a comfortable and casual atmosphere in which it was acceptable for the audience to ask any question that crossed the mind.
Andy Grundberg is a curator and professor at the Corcoran School of Art. His lecture focused on photography as a fine art. Soon it became clear why he is such a well-respected curator. Not only is he well educated about the arts, he is passionate about them. Grundberg spoke with precision and elegance describing the significance and value of photography in the fine art world. He stated, “Photography is swimming in the same pond as contemporary art.” Keeping the talk personable and relatable, he also added in many details about the history of photography becoming a fine art. He mentioned Andy Warhol’s use of photography in screens in paintings and how that was when they first entered the realm of fine art in the 1960’s. This was an arena in which someone with a degree in fine arts or art history could learn so much, but also someone who had little to no background in the arts would be able to comprehend and enjoy Grundberg’s lecture.
During the talk he discussed not only his career path but also specific artists whose exhibits he has been the curator of. One of the most famous photographers he has worked with is Anne Leibovitz. He graciously discussed what an honor he thought working with a living artist was, and admits that it was one of his first goals as a curator. Although what he did not expect was the challenges that living artist pose when setting up an exhibit, this he comments on with a chuckle, and state this helped him improve his compromising skills.
As he proceeds on with the lecture, a slide show of exhibits he was the curator for is playing. Occasionally he’ll stop to admire some of the work and tell a story. One of Leibovitz landscapes crosses the screen and he drifts into a story about the dark beauty of her photography and how she views things in a transcendentalist manner. At one part while discussing Leibovitz landscapes, he stops and looked up at the audience and said, “the beauty of the outside world is perceived in different ways, therefore each artist can bring something different to a photo.” His passion translates to the audience, encouraging us to look closer at a picture. After an hour that went by surprisingly quickly, Grundberg thanked the audience and the presentation comes to a close.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,
A giant nude man holds a bright red bowling ball in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He has a dazed, almost bewildered look on his face and as he peers at the viewer through wire-framed glasses, the on-looker cannot help but to giggle at his knee-high socks and protruding belly.
Part of a triptych exhibiting mighty men emasculated, stripped of all but their socks, the Martin Swift paintings are some of the less confrontational artworks that have recently flooded the vacant H Street venue as part of the nine day flash ‘art happening,’ Submerge.
Presented by No Kings Collective, the group that brought the Waterstreet Project to Malmaison at the Georgetown Waterfront in April, is back with its 2nd annual “ode to the District,” a temporary art space that features the works of 23 local artists in a range of mediums, from performance and graffiti to photography and installation.
Dancing to the beats of DJs sponsored by Listen Local First and munching on bites by H Street newcomers Impala and H & Pizza, arts patrons engaged with Michael Owen’s striking graphic paintings by slipping on a pair of 3-D glasses.
“It felt like I was in the car next to this one, just zooming by,” said Columbia Heights resident Rashaan of the painted racecars that appear to be propelled off the canvas.
Though all distinct in theme and medium, the curated works shared a sense of challenge.
DC-based artists collective Truth Among Liars provokes a range of emotion among viewers with their installation of blow up-sex dolls. Lined in rows with paint-smeared faces that erase any individual characteristics, and orifices exposed to unequivocally identify gender, the “Latex Warrior Burial Artifacts” directly confront issues of contemporary feminism.
“Are we this interchangeable? “ said 33 year-old Angela Michael of the imposing objects that captivate their audiences with not only disquieting aesthetics, but also with troubling scents of plastic and paint that inevitably seep into the viewer’s space, implicating him as a proprietor of the female position.
Turning away from the captivating accusation of society, one is confronted by Victoria Milko’s examination into the extraordinary life of a firefighter.
“I wanted to show the family and the bonding, the everyday life,” said Milko who lived with 15 male volunteers at the Hyattsville Fire Department for eight months before creating the installation.
Haunting images of heroes defeated and victims helpless in the wake of natural forces are framed by yellow tape reading, “FIRE LINE DO NOT CROSS.” The spellbinding black and white photographs are shown within the context of a fabricated fireman’s locker and simulate an evocative environment.
“It really creates a nice environment,” said 25 year-old breakdancer James Wu, “You don’t immediately gravitate towards a burned down house but these photos really draw you in.”
On display from 1 to 6 p.m. until November 18 at 700 H St. NE, Submerge hosts nightly events for free in collaboration with such groups as Listen Local First, Somaphony and KOLTON.J.
Bringing the Art in DC to You,