So after some very long drives through the high planes of west Texas and New Mexico, past grain silos and rolling tumble weeds, and after a lot of coffee, we arrived in Santa Fe with excited anticipation, primarily of visiting the Georgia O,Keefe museum. Before that we come across the SITE (www.sitesantafa.org) an amazing space that really drew us in as we passed by despite it being a little on the periphery of the town centre.
SITE is a non profit arts organisation that opened in 1995 to present what was then the only international art biennial in the United States, and one of a handful around the world. We were lucky enough to catch their current show Feast: Radical Hospitality In Contemporary Art and really enjoyed the show as well as the interesting curating style. The exhibition examines the history of the artist-orchestrated meal and 30 artists explore the social, political and commercial structures that surround the experience of eating together.
I was particularly struck by the documentation of the piece ‘International Dinner Party’ by Suzanne Lacy. Lacy called for participation of women from all over the globe to hold and document dinner parties honouring women important to their own cultures. All parties were to take place in March 1979, in the hope of creating a network of women, acknowledging women that would extend around the world. This made me think of our launch show in aid of international women’s day and to also feel inspired with ideas for our IWD show next year!
I found the documentation of the response to Lacy’s call fascinating and emotive with archives of postcards that she used as a call for participation, along with highlights from a trove of letters, photographs and other materials that participants sent describing their meals. Also exhibited was a wall map pinpointing the countries in which parties took place.
I love the use of found objects in art and feel my fascination with the archives of a documentation of such a happening relates to this love. A sense that an object can so strongly retain the sense of its importance in the past, translated in the present. We were helped by the gallery assistant to search through the archives for the telegrams relating to parties that took place in London, the assistant seemed to really enjoy our enthusiasm for the piece and the show as a whole.
Here is another piece (untitled) in the show by Felixstowe Gonzalez-Torres. We were invited to take a sweet to eat which complemented the spoonful of delicious Slatko, a type of Serbian jam also on offer!
So with our Sweet ‘Art sweet tooth satisfied we head off, next stop; the David Richard Gallery (www.davidrichardgallery.com) to catch an exhibition by Paul Pascarella. This is a really cool contemporary space and the work looked great, the guys in the gallery were also super friendly and welcoming.
Pascarella’s recent paintings are inspired by the powerful forces observed in nature and seen in person convey a dynamic energy emphasised by the large scale of most works.
We also popped in to Charlotte Jackson Fine Art (www.charlottejackson.com) and took a look at the exhibition of works by Ronald Davis.
Davis’ work makes interesting analogies between the materials and techniques of traditional painting and the digital tools of graphic imaging. He seemingly applies the same artistic decision making considered in traditional painting, such as conventional brushwork and perspective, to his use of a mouse and keyboard. Also worth noting, another beautiful airy contemporary space; Santa Fe seemed to be good at this.
And then we finally made it! To the Georgia O’Keefe museum. O’Keeffe is described as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century and was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” She was a leading member of the Stieglitz Circle artists, headed by Alfred Stieglitz, America’s first advocate of modern art in America.
O’Keeffe was one of the first artists that I studied when at art school. I loved her use of mark and colour and her evocative and dreamy washes. I also liked, in retrospect what I feel was a very feminine symbolism in her imagery as well as her character as a person and artist, strong, sexy and compelling.
We spent majority of the show enjoying some of her instantly recognisable works, specifically the works in which she collaborated somewhat with Ansel Adams exploring their interpretations of landscapes in Hawaii, following a visit.
I was particularly struck by seeing Horses Skull With White Rose in person which I remember as being an inspirational and important piece for me when I began studying and developing my own practice.
However, as we ventured further into the show I found my self feeling quite disappointed. Many works I had hoped to see where not in the permanent collection and I found the most compelling and interesting works were in fact photographs of the artist her self taken by other artists depicting her very strong and enigmatic style. I was pleased to have seen these as well as displays of the brushes a pallets that were left in O’Keffe’s studio before her death and an easel holding an unfinished work. The last work she was pencilling out before her death, the outline of a tree.
I began to realise that maybe in some ways I had built up such great expectations of seeing so many works of an artist I had so admired that this was always to end in disappointment, as I tried to fulfil the wishes of the young artist I once was. I am in retrospect so very grateful to have gained a greater insight in to the woman and artist that showed such dedication to her practice.
We were sad to leave Santa Fe although I was relieved to discover that in fact I was not developing a chest infection but was actually suffering a bit from being 7,000 ft above sea level, I had no idea!
So we hit the road again and headed to LA via a weekend in Vegas (you don’t want to hear too much about that!) We were excited to get to LA as we had a few meetings planned and a studio visit with artist Water Kerner (www.waterkerner.com). Water currently has two pieces showing at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and had offered to take us to visit the show followed by lunch and a visit to her studio.
Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG) is a facility of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and showcases art from residents of LA at all levels of their careers as well as artist from other parts of the world whose work is of relevance to the people of the City of LA (www.lamag.org).
It’s an amazing and dramatic industrial space of 10,000 square foot and has breathtaking views of the Hollywood hills from the grounds complete with a great view of the Hollywood sign which gets us embarrassingly excited!
This does in no way faze Water who is excitement personified with a dynamic energy that makes me wonder how she may get by if it were not for her passion for her practice as an artist to focus on. We learn later that Water has had many successful creative careers and this answers my question as it transpires that this energy and creative passion have resulted in many achievements. She mentions in passing later with great humility that she founded Lati2d in the early 90s, a company that specialised in providing cutting edge graphics for TV and film. If I’m honest even after Water patiently explained Lati2d and it’s success I was still confused by the technicalities but the several trophies and awards at her studio for achievements in the field helped my simple mind a tad! Water then went on to be a successful director working on commercials and music videos and again I understood to a greater existent on seeing photos of her posing with Janet Jackson in her studio toilet!
For now however we get to know Water through her works at the LAMAG open call 2014. Unfortunately we missed the private view by just one night but enjoyed looking around the varied works on display. The space is huge and the amount of works a little overwhelming to view but with shows like this I always feel it’s best to let the whole show wash over you a bit and the important stuff will stick.
Here are a few of the peices that stuck….
……..and Water’s work definitely fell in to this category also.
As I have mentioned I love work that incorporates found objects and the first piece of Water’s that we spot stands out amongst the other sculptural pieces. ‘Blue Danube Family Portrait’ combines found objects and the juxtaposition of the chosen objects strikes me as important and interests me as I imagine the cans as actors, taking centre stage for a bow.
The anthropomorphism I attribute to the piece and the sense of theatre comes before I learn the title. Water explains that Blue Danube is the piece of music that can be heard when turing the handle to the music box amongst the cans, her desire being for visitors to interact with the piece. Later she describes her inspiration for the piece and a recurrent theme in her work which appears to be a desire to draw the attention of the viewer to that which is fragile and ephemeral and to Water, precious. Particularly with reference to the environment and our need to protect our planet. Water remembers the film ‘Soylent Green’ saying it had a great impact on her and segues a little into her passion for film and it’s power in conveying important messages. “Sound, light, music, motion!” she exclaimed commenting on what influences her work. I haven’t seen the film ‘Soylent Green’ and Water refuses to give away the ending but for her it began a concern for the environment and our careless attitude towards conserving our planet.
This feels to be an incredibly important issue to her and I get the sense that when something is important to Water it needs to be worked through and extensively explored. She described the piece a little further, her ideas relating to consumerism with the cans having once been a part of this preoccupation and explains the wooden built QR code for viewers to discover and be taken to her website.
She mentions that she finds the many music boxes that she uses in her work on eBay and I notice this also fits with her exploration of ways in which we can reuse the worlds resources with eBay often being a very modern form of recycling.
I also begin to feel that as an artist Water is very process led, taken by an unconscious need to purchase something or manipulate a found object to use, a need that may become clearer to her later. It is this gut lead process that give the work it’s edge. She describes the process of rusting the cans for around a year, spraying them and carefully observing the decay. She then wonders aloud if her interest in rust and the ageing process relates to more personal feelings. Water is keen to discuss feminist ideas relating to women in the work place and views about women in general in society.
For me Water’s work feels incredibly personal, it is this sense that touches me and draws me further in. It is a possibility in her work that I ask if she has considered and this leads us to her second piece at the LAMAG show.
‘Illuminated Tryptic’ is what appears to be a collection of personal artefacts and found objects brought together in a way that feels to me to serve as evidence. A testimony to some thing deeply personal and important, gathered and considered, pieced together like a puzzle, making real something internal and intangible. The complete picture of the puzzle is of course unclear and open for interpretation as I imagine is the intention, yet I am intrigued by the illuminated aspect of the work and the x-ray effect achieved by the use of light, an x-ray being something that searches to reveal the internal, as an aid to healing. There is also an actual x-ray scan included in the piece yet I wonder more about the symbolic than the literal.
Later I ask Water about the piece and she comments that she would not know where to start in describing it. That for her it in some way relates to spirituality, that it holds personal meaning yet with this piece she struggles to share.
What moves me about the piece, that I feel is captured with such dignity, is the representation of the beautiful in that which is flawed. Found objects of little monetary value, discarded and no longer of use given reverence and with good reason. I notice the reference to Water’s name within the piece, the sterile water containers, hidden behind layers of meaning, the tap on top of the piece that feels a little tongue in cheek and I gain a sense of what may need to be revelled or hidden about these personal elements, this very much represented in the overall aesthetic. For me the piece holds a moving sense of the questioning of what is to be valued or discarded. What is beautiful, valuable or important? For me the answer is found far more often than not in the most surprising, flawed places. An idea of the existence of beauty because of flaws, not in spite of them, is communicated, maybe a tricky mantra to maintain in a town like LA!
Inspiring to see the beautiful space and all works in process!