I talk a lot about how much I love teaching, but one of the best parts of it (which I don’t often really mention) is that I get to see a lot of really great art before most other people do. I want to start a new thing on my blog where I sort of highlight the work of some of the most interesting artists I meet during a given time and show you some of the things I’ve been lucky enough to see in person.
It’s been tricky for me to figure out how to best present this info. I actually have four people I want to tell you about, but one of them (ok, it’s a secret, but his name rhymes with Slim Fergstrom) is waiting to finish some stuff up before I post it and… well, I couldn’t wait anymore. I wanted to go ahead and at least show a couple of the people whose work I’m enthusiastic about and then later in the summer I’ll show you the other two. As it works out, this might be the best way to do this, anyway, so that I don’t overwhelm each post with a million words and images.
So, without further ado, please meet…
Michaela just graduated from SVA with her BFA. In this installation, she is presenting – in a perfect, stark white gallery space – a simple motorized machine. Picture a film loop, only made out of white paper, with cut-outs (you can see it on the right in the photo above) of figures; the loop is lit from behind while the a motor turns the scroll of paper matter-of-factly. Here’s an image of the scroll:
It’s ridiculously hard to see in reproduction, thanks to its white-on-whiteness, but there are allusions there to American history in all its rambling glory (astronauts, Mickey Mouse, lynchings, cowboys, businessmen), played over and over. Some of the figures have silhouette images cut out around them; other parts are cut out completely and the light burns through them and hurts your eyes as you look at it.
On the wall she projects a video she’s made:
…the video having been made (I assume?) from the cut out parts of the scroll.
Ok, I’m having a hell of a time explaining this. What I’m getting at is that she has created this really smart/quirky/funny/sad piece that does about ten different things at once, which is exactly why I’m having problems explaining it. But what I really like about this work is that it, like so much work I see being done by people her age (and hers is an especially good example of this, I think) is that it shows this dance, or this “thinking aloud” about the ambivalence that the artists feels about being an artist today.
So on one hand, she shows us this video and perplexing machine which are both beautiful, but look at the machine too long and it burns your eyes. Just when you get sucked into the logic of the video and start to decipher it, the logic changes – are those sparks war, industry, Fourth of July? And the stark white space itself feeds into this – while on one hand, it is the conventional space to show work, by putting so few objects in there it seems all the more uninviting than ever.
(I realize sitting here, writing this, that there is just a problem in talking about installation vs. painting when you discuss it on the web. Installation needs to have you take it through it, where as painting is a lot easier – you just introduce them and then show the paintings. The latter is much more straightforward. So if it seems like I’m not saying enough about the next artist, then that’s why.)_
I met Alana in the fall when I was a visiting artist at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she was getting her MFA. She makes oil paintings – some big, some small – which are loaded with art history references and… well… some of the oiliest oil paintings I’ve ever seen. They’re greasy, gooey and teetering on gross, which is just how I like my oil paintings. And then in one moment there are passages of almost obscene beauty… and then juxtaposed with that, the next passage will thumb its nose at all that is pretty and nice in the world.
One of the reasons why I think her work goes well with Michaela’s is that I think there’s that ambivalence – or almost, in Alana’s case, downright uncomfortableness – with being an artist right now. I can look at her paintings and see passages which clearly refer to feminist artmaking and then parts that are straight out of R. Crumb or Peter Saul, neither of whom are exactly brimming with feminist street cred. So which is she, a feminist or anti-feminist? I don’t know and that’s exactly what I like about spending time trying to figure her work out.
If you’d like more info on Alana’s work, check out her website at http://alanabograd.com. Michaela doesn’t yet have a site, but if you want to reach her just get in touch with me.
Tomorrow… back to work!