Saturday, January 1, 2011

Beginnings

In the anticipation of starting a new project and a new year, there is no more prompting numerology than 1/1/11. My project proposes a monthly entry that seeks to research, reflect on, and summarize the artistic activities in my immediate community in Sacramento, California. The title Ephemeral ARTicles emphasizes the understanding that this series engages a temporal significance. Since space and ideas are in constant flux, I recognize the distinct ephemerality of both my subject and these articles.

A quick needed overview of the past artistic events I observed upon returning to Sacramento in June 2010, will help establish a point of entry from which to begin this task:

June

Mariana Castro de Ali, Domestication

The exhibition held at La Raza Galería Posada (LRGP) on the work of Castro de Ali was stimulating and refreshing, a show curated by Juan Carrillo who also directed the artist talk that same month. From oils on canvas to installations, Castro de Ali showed strengths in a variety of media; the most notable was the creative and critical use of tampons, a motif bringing to the foreground the female experience as source for artistic expression. However, she does not identify herself as a feminist, but an individual exploring everyday reality.

In examining the use of materials, the most impressive was found in the middle of the gallery: five voluminous sacks containing what first appeared as ears of corn. After close inspection, it became evident that plastic tips of tampon applicators were used to form the kernels. This installation was a part of the series titled Domestication, a double meaning identified by Morgan Levey at the International Museum of Women that points to both “the domestication of the corn seed and the domestication of the women who plant and harvest the corn.” Historically, women tended the crop while men provisioned the hunting. Castro de Ali was able to lucidly weave these traditional concerns while also making a poignant reference to the use of corn today. From a historically, elemental food supply, the genetic modification of maize is now the inexpensive and dominant ingredient within the American food industry, altering diets and the health of a predominantly uneducated and low-income demographic. Castro de Ali achieved a clever yet disrupting simulation of this vital grain.

Ernesto Palomino, Coatlicue: A Farmworker's Truck

Ernesto Palomino, Coatlicue:
A Farmworker's Truck
, bronze, 2009
With eminence, the massive bronze stood in the middle of the Art Foundry. The venerable figure of the Coatlicue referenced by Palomino is the awesome monolith that stands over eight feet. The original stone was uncovered in 1790 in the Mexica sacred precinct that is now known as el Zócalo in Mexico City. As the mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Mexica god of war, Coatlicue is identified by her diagnostic snake skirt. The enigmatic figure perplexes scholars to this day, as the stone is the only known artifact that depicts Coatlicue with a double serpent head and its contextual interpretation continues under debate.

Coatlicue (detail)
Palomino’s distinct figure was positioned in the foundry at first sight. The immense mold that stood next to the bronze suggested the great lengths in which the sculpture was worked. The viewer is presented with the back of the bronze, indicated by the belt fastened with a human skull, which secures the back apron that forms two hanging tiers. The head made of two snake heads that face each other, positions eyes at the front and the back of the original stone Coatlicue; This bronze shows the back pair. However, the front of the bronze is a relief depicting a woman cradling a child, bringing to mind the blessed Madonna and Child. Highly stylized laborers frame the two figures. The relief rests as a plaque on the front legs of the Coatlicue, forming as a whole the instrumental engine of this farmworker’s truck.

Palomino fused a composite of the Mexica past with the Mexican present. The monumentality of the bronze celebrates the spiritual past and present, placing honorable value on the laboring class. Preeminence is given to the traditional role of women—Coatlicue as the goddess of fertility and Mary as the Holy Mother. The revered Mary is crowned with the solidary cry ‘Viva La Raza’, placing Palomino’s work within the history of Chicano identity.

September

Fred Dalkey, The Church Series

Fred Dalkey, The Chruch Series, oil on canvas, 2003-04
This dazzling display filled the Center for Contemporary Arts with a heightened palette and broken brushstrokes. The oil paintings called The Church Series involved fifty-four canvases of two jars painted within reconstituted walls of an empty church. The church had long been abandoned, cleared of its pews, primed entirely white, making the chapel a suitable studio space. The series was executed between ‘03-‘04, some sold and never shown together. Finally, Dalkey was able to gather the series (perhaps two short) and place them on display. One after another, the paintings were hung in chronological order from first to last, along a horizontal path around the gallery walls.

Keen observation of the still-lifes appeared to be the initial approach as the first two paintings presented more definition and an even palette. Suddenly the artist’s hand got looser, the palette range decreased, leaving the last paintings as explorations of monotones. The jars were no longer the focus and instead Dalkey began distributing a uniform brushwork amongst the jar’s shadows, the edge of the table, the cropped window, along with the spaces between them. In observing one painting to the next, blue than red, the viewer questions what prompts the color shift? The time of day? However, there is also the subjectivity of the painter’s eye and an arbitrariness in color application. Dalkey demonstrates technical skill in subtle variations within hues as well as a swift response to shifting color that can happen in the act of engaged looking. The Church Series offered the opportunity to participate in this exercise of viewing and reviewing, capturing a moment and finding another, finally resting on the act, whether painting or seeing.

October

10/10/10 The Grand Opening of the new Crocker

Sacramento experienced the most significant cultural event since...?! (Many of us cannot remember). We have finally achieved a state of the art facility that can offer accessibility to exhibiting and collecting the foremost artists of the past and present.

To begin, the Crocker opened with an honorable tribute to one of our own leading artists: Wayne Thiebaud. The retrospective did not cover his entire career, but the viewer was able to appreciate his signature style of banal objects given heightened vibrancy with luscious color and mastered application. The objectivity and quirky characteristics of the Funk movement were evident yet a new phase in Thiebaud’s oeuvre was also on display. Big Rock Mountain, a large canvas containing a dark looming mound centered within a black abyss, is evident of a somber imminence that shifts from precision and bright palette to dark tones with pigment residue, becoming more visceral. Thiebaud’s earlier fascination with the human topographical imprint of geometrical patterns in agricultural landscapes and urbanscapes, visible across modern California, now give way to a mysterious paysage. Big Rock Mountain contains a more expressive and organic form, rather than the stylized straight lines Thiebaud used to neatly order his earlier landscapes. Perhaps we find here not only formal explorations but possible societal and ecological concerns. Nonetheless, the new approach marks a critical turn in Thiebaud’s art.

Many cornerstones were noted; the Crocker reached its 125th anniversary, and 125 new acquisitions of local and international works were previewed as part of the larger projects to make leading art accessible to a diverse public. The grand opening demonstrated the multidisciplinary approach that is being explored, such as live performances, interactive digital media, on-going films, all are concerted alternatives aside from the traditional gallery wall. The Crocker has spearheaded a revitalizing effort to educate our immediate community about art, and how it can stimulate new ways of seeing, thinking, and engaging with the world. 

November

CSUS Library exhibit, New Wave of Chinese Contemporary Art

This new artistic wave brought in from across the Pacific was curated by Jessica Gesi Qu who has worked diligently the past several years in exposing Sacramento to the recent boom in Chinese art. After the Cultural Revolution brought about by Mao Zedong, over thirty years have past and China has experienced dramatic political, economic, and cultural changes. The development of a rapidly growing middleclass has fueled the creative arts, resulting in an enthusiastic response by artists seeking to exchange cultural ideas. New Wave brings to Sacramento the diverse works of an exceptional cadre:

The cultural exchange is intimately present with the participation of Jian Wang. Sacramento’s notable expatriate, Wang is a tenacious artist that fully embraced the Western tradition of painting, blurring its limits with a sculptural effect. His skilled technique developed under the tutelage of Fred Dalkey and Wayne Theibaud is demonstrated by his controlled agility to push paint on canvas.

As a conceptual work anchored to process and the passage of time, Sui Jianguo offers The Shape of Time—an iron string dipped into a bucket of blue paint since 2006, an act he intends to repeat everyday for the rest of his life. Jianguo documents his process through video and notes, applying a conceptual strategy to envision the results of the project. The work now appears as a partially inflated balloon, leaving the viewer to fantasize on the future progressions the artist will have to endeavor to abide by his proposal.

Wu Jiaz, Heng, Smile, acrylic on canvas, 2010
The blending of Western and Eastern influences is present in Wu Jiaz Heng’s imposing canvas, rolled out from the corner of the gallery. The classical scroll as a support for painting is magnified to monumental proportions, appropriating Western interests in large format painting. However, the canvas is raw and without frame, displayed as a hanging scroll. The tense facture denoting a human form is evocative of the Abract Expressionist Willem de Kooning, which is contrasted by the precision of the Chinese characters at the foot of the canvas. A contributing art writer, Gordon Laurin notes, “Wu’s intensions are to find within this artistic hybrid a new painting language that fosters a dialogue on our increasingly complex world.” If Wu does not fully complete a cogent connection with the viewer, he bridges the gap with the title Smile. Conceptually and objectively, New Wave offers a compelling exhibition that breaches geographical and cultural barriers to express the human condition.

A new beginning for SD Gallery, and the (continual) shift in artistic spaces...

The Sacramento art scene is proof of shifting spaces and constant flux—in the mid to late ‘90s there was major activity around the Studios behind Michelangelo’s, 20th Street became gallery row in the 2000s—but even what seems constant varies to some degree. The Art Foundry and its studios has become a steadfast beacon of artistic engagements. However, R street is posited as the next ‘burgeoning arts district,’ a likely result as the south end of downtown has reconstituted a number of buildings into sizable galleries, including the Crocker.The Solomon-Dubnick Gallery has joined in on the changes. Under the new ownership and direction of Robert Anderson, former art director of the Foundry, SD Gallery is now permanently installed in the same building as Skinner Art. Less than a block away, the Verge Gallery and Studio Project is anticipated to open this summer. What is most intriguing about this juncture is the meeting of diverse generations. Solomon-Dubnick holds a solid roster of well established artists, while the Verge seeks to place substantial interest in scouting the up-and-coming. 2011 marks promising beginnings...

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