Sunday, 29 January 2017

Curatorial 101: Kent Jones retrospective

Baldy and Nipper by Kent Jones, acrylic and mixed media on canvas.

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure to open a 45-retrospective exhibition about the career of Kent Jones.  He is a very modest guy but enormously talented and works in prints, paintings, drawing and film.  As part of my duties as a curator I took the opportunity of giving a presentation in the gallery about curatorial practice.  I figured why make people look at photographic representations of the work when they have the real thing.

One of my big challenges in putting together an exhibition is not only selecting the work but deciding about the context for the work.  Next, I need to create a visual experience that supports that context.  The Kent Jones show was going up at the Grenfell Campus Art Gallery that is home to Memorial University's Visual Arts Program.  Charlotte Jones and her staff were a dream to work with and agreed to all my presentation concepts.  For example,  a room was built out of temporary walls just to house the print section of the show that was organized chronologically. 

A special pedestal was devoted to an art book of poetry illustrated by Kent.  Each day a new page would be displayed to encourage visitation.  This is ideal with a gallery in a building filled with students and faculty who are frequently in the building.

There is a dedicated room with seating and earphones so that visitors can experience Kent Jones' work in video.

A pair of paintings are strategically placed to greet viewers, one with a air-streamed locomotive and the other with a pair of farm workhorses, named Baldy and Nipper, are in fact dedicated to Kent's parents.

When I was lecturing about my curatorial practice I realize that three key ideas were operating.  One, was my subject:  Kent Jones; two, was the concept of drawing, which Kent always maintained was the seminal artistic activity; and three, was the idea of the retrospective–as a curator I needed to express the scope of this impressive artist both in terms of themes and technique.
Wyoming For My Mother by Kent Jones

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

He just made wonderful stuff - Akio Takamori

I just got the sad news that we have lost Akio Takamori, whom I consider one of the most original talents in contemporary ceramics.  For my friends in ceramics and those who follow it, I am excerpting a moving, longer article that NCECA has just published:

Remembering Akio Takamori (1950-2017)

The field of ceramic art lost an indelible, creative, and generous spirit when sculptor, teacher, mentor, and friend Akio Takamori succumbed to cancer on Wednesday, January 11. His wife Vicky wrote, “ ... his last day was spent working in his studio and loading a small kiln. He left his studio for the last time in preparation to return the next day. 

The work for his upcoming exhibition at James Harris Gallery in Seattle this February was completed. Despite his cancer and increasing limitations, he was moving forward gathering ideas for his next group of work. He told me once, he had so many ideas for new pieces that it kept him awake at night in anticipation of what to make next.”
Contributing to NCECA’s remembrance are lines from Richard Notkin’s message to NCECA President Chris Staley about their dear friend Akio. Born in 1950, Akio Takamori spent his childhood in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan. His father was a physician whose library of medical and art texts fascinated young Takamori throughout his childhood. Takamori has also shared that his father’s dermatology practice, located near a tenderloin district, drew a wide range of people and influences into his sphere at a young age.

Akio’s passing is a terrible loss for everyone, especially those of us who knew him. A fantastic individual, wonderful spirit, the most creative and inspiring artist I have ever met. Akio made art of everything he touched, from deep within himself, as we all know. For me, he was the epitome of what true artists embody. He just made wonderful stuff. It was never about his ego, just about making art. He will always be an inspiration to me, and, I am sure, to all of us.

Akio's fascination with art and culture further developed as he grew older. Following graduation from Tokyo University, he became apprenticed to a master folk potter in Koishiwara Kyushu. Takamori was impressed by a traveling exhibition of new ceramics from Canada, the United States and Latin America, whose anti-authoritarian posture made a strong impact on his thinking about art. Also around this time, legendary Kansas City Art Institute educator and potter, Ken Ferguson met the young Takamori while visiting the pottery. The two soon developed a rapport, and in 1974, Takamori travelled to Kansas City to study at the school. Ferguson's unique approach to teaching and making had a profound influence on Takamori's shift to his focus to more expressive and personal explorations of content and reinventions inspired by ceramic traditions. After earning his BFA (1976), Takamori went on to earn his MFA from Alfred University (1978). In the 1980s, he moved on to a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana. In 1993, Takamori accepted a faculty position at the University of Washington Seattle where he was named Professor Emeritus.

It will be sad to live in a world without Akio, especially in our Puget Sound neighborhood. He was truly loved by all. But he leaves much behind that is so positive, so beautiful, and, above all, that touches so many people in truly profound ways. Both his art and his wonderful life and spirit. All we have while we are on this planet is our time, and Akio used his time as well as anyone I have ever known. We were all blessed to know him.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Fresh, witty and wicked- pop up events at The Headquarters at 57

With titles like Landscape Goat and Bad Santa, you know The Headquarters at 57 Gower Street is going to be the place to go for a creative time with lots of attitude.  It is almost a cliché to say but it is true that St. John's has more talent than venues for showing and discussing art–commercial or public.  That's one reason why we need pop-up places like The Headquarters at 57.

Originally the brainchild of visual artist Anne Pickard Vaandering, she discovered that her studio space was attracting many like-minded souls.  A signature Headquarter pop-up event has several characteristics that you can count on even though the events range widely.  Humour, social conscience, a little bit of daring and interactive elements are regular features.  Readings and performance art punctuate openings.

Landscape Goat was organized by curator and artist Shane Dwyer and featured the work of 16 artists, most of whom knew each other from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.  And if it proved one thing, it was that there was no one, correct way to paint landscape.  From romantic to political, paper to panel, savage to sassy this show had it all.  The only common denominators were quality and the landscape.  How the catchy title came into being was when Dwyer noticed that they all carried the same brand of sketchbook at school, which featured a Robert Bateman likeness of–you guessed it–a goat. Ever since the The Group of Seven, landscape has been something of a sacred cow in the cannon of Canadian art history.  It was refreshing to have a new look at this old favourite.

 Bad Santa offered visitors the opportunity to interact with an assortment of real-life Santas that definitely came from the naughty list.  There was a paint spattered one–let's call him the Jackson Pollock Santa, another fine fellow sported a sequined jacket and a guitar as if he could be The Santa of Good times, a cool Santa had sunglasses and one chap with a terrific scowl seemed to be channeling The Grinch.  Artist photographer Rhonda Pelley captured these interactions and each visitor got a photo to take home while another was put on display in an adjoining room.  There were crafts to make from recycled newspaper and donations were collected to make up a gift basket for someone in need.

To be in the know when the next pop up event will be taking place "Like" The Headquarters at 57's Facebook page.
The Bad Santa event subversively upended the tradition of photos with Santa.  Various naughty adults and Santas hammed it up for the camera.  Background painted by Frank Barry, photography by Rhonda Pelley.