If you’ve visited Mass MoCA, the phenomenal contemporary art museum located in North Adams, Massachusetts, then you may recognize this Pink Picnic Table, which can be found — among picnic tables in other pastel hues — in one of the courtyard areas for the purpose of providing a colorful place for guests to have lunch or a snack, or just to sit and rest from their art adventuring, as the museum is quite huge, and covers many acres of ground.
I haven’t been able to visit this place since Covid. I really miss it.
Image from Ellen von Unwerth’s Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women (All Photos By Gail)
If you live in the tri-state area and are on Instagram or FaceBook for even a few minutes a day, there is very little chance that you have not at least heard the name Fotografiska. Viral marketing ads for the NYC branch of this museum dedicated to modern photography were plastered all over social media for months prior to its opening to the public on December 14th, 2019. The cryptic ads featured dark, purple-shadowed images of the seven-story Gothic structure (built in 1892) housing the museum, which made it seem very mysterious and alluring. Everyone wanted to know: What the Hell is Fotografiska? Some people still can’t figure it out.
I finally had a chance to visit Fotografiska on March 5th, when I was invited to attend the opening reception for an exhibit by Julie Blackmon entitled Fever Dreams. One week after my visit, Fotografiska was forced to temporarily close its doors in compliance with New York State’s shelter-in-place order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image By Ellen von Unwerth Inside an Elevator at Fotografiska
My original plan had been to post a review of the Julie Blackmon exhibit in mid-March, to coincided with the celebration of National Women’s Month. But like so many of us on the planet, my life is completely different now than it was three or four weeks ago, so that did not happen. An up-side of being stuck in the house without the ability to visit an art gallery, or museum or cultural institution of any kind is that I get to bring you my take on Art in the Time of Covid right here on The Gig. Even though you cannot currently visit these exhibits in person, you can ‘Live Through Me’ and enjoy the photos vicariously. I hope this post will give you a sweet taste of what’s inside Fotografiska that will get you excited to check out the place once it reopens. Better late than never.
This was my first ‘exposure,’ so to speak, to Julie Blackmon’s work, but I immediately fell in love with her hyper-realist style. Fever Dreams is a collection of images that brim with fantasy and subtle satire, capturing a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life. It’s not unusual for a gallery to stage an exhibit in dim lighting, but this one is designed to be viewed almost completely in the dark, save for a bit of light bleeding in from an adjacent gallery, and dedicated spotlights focused on each work. While the lack of lighting presented a challenge in capturing decent images of the photos, it definitely set an important mood, which enhanced the viewing experience.
Adding to the surreal vibe of Fever Dreams was the wall-to-wall astroturf covering the gallery floors, which included this singular artificial Dandelion Puff. You will understand in a minute why it was helpful to feel like you were standing in someone’s backyard.
The playfully artful and chaotic nature present in the photographs of Julie Blackmon (b. 1966) are drawn from the everyday people and places that have shaped the artist’s life. These are the familiar and ordinary scenes of Blackmon’s daily routine in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, which she describes as “the generic American town” in the middle of the United States.
Her scenes are often centered around children on their own in backyards, garages and neighborhoods where the absence of adults alludes to a looming potential for danger. Her photographs, otherwise innocuous domestic tableaux, are woven with fantasy and subtle satire that reflect a delicate balance between the darkness and charm of contemporary American life in suburbia.
One my favorite photos in the collection is this scene of children watching a screening of The Sound Of Music in a backyard. To me, it has an almost post-apocalyptic feel. Blackmon carefully sets her scenes, and like film and theater directors, she is in pursuit of unscripted moments that provoke, disturb, and challenged the viewer. Some of the images reference paintings by Dutch Masters, French impressionist, and modernists such as Edward Hopper and Balthus, but they are updated with a satirical, penetrating eye and Blackmon’s belief that artful fiction can capture the truth more memorably than the truth itself.
Speaking of her work, Blackmon explains, “I suppose I could make a work where everything’s just perfect, where the sun is shining and mom is lying out in the grass and everything’s happening perfectly and the kids are happy . . . but that wouldn’t interest me — and it wouldn’t be truthful. My aim is to create a more nuanced, subtly humorous and satirical portrait of the way we live today.”
Fever Dreams presents a selection of photographs from Blackmon’sHomegrown series as well as more recent works. It’s a fantastic exhibit and I hope its tenure at Fotografiska can be extended so that more people get to see it.
“Hey, look at those upside down trees!” I shouted to my friends as we approached the entrance to Mass MoCA, the coolest contemporary art museum in the Universe. The trees turned out to be a work of art by Natalie Jeremijenko called Tree Logic (1999) in which six live trees are inverted and suspended from a truss made up of a metal armature, stainless steel planters, and telephone poles. In Tree Logic, the art of the piece is not found in its condition at any single point, but in the change of the trees over time.
Trees are dynamic natural systems, and Tree Logic reveals this dynamism. The familiar, almost iconic shape of the tree in nature is the result of the interplay between gravitropic and phototropic forces: the tree grows away from the earth and towards the sun. When inverted, the six trees in this experiment still grow away from the earth and towards the sun — so the natural predisposition of trees might well produce the most unnatural shapes over time, raising questions about what the nature of the natural is. I would love to be able to observe the trees as their foliage changes with seasons.
A docent the museum told me that the trees are replaced and replanted in adjacent green areas every four to five years due to their tendency to “grow upwards.”
Mass MoCa is Located at 1040 MASS MoCA Way in North Adams, MA 01247
If you have a young daughter whose heart’s desire is to be a medieval fairy princess for Halloween, you can pick up this very lovely period costume in the gift shop at the Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan! Floral Headwreaths are sold separately!
On a recent, beautiful sunny Sunday, Geoffrey and I took a day trip on the Hudson River line via Metro North to Beacon, New York — about 90 minutes outside the city — to visit the Dia: Beacon Art Museum. This is one of the most fun things you can do to escape from Manhattan on a weekend day and you don’t even need a car! The Beacon train station is a 10 minute walk to the museum and they have signs pointing the way, so it is completely idiot proof. You can even buy your museum admission at Grand Central Station in what they call the Dia: Beacon Package, which includes round trip train fare and museum entry for $36.50 — what a bargain! I will be featuring more photos from our trip to the Dia: Beacon in future posts, but today I want to show you this crazy kinetic neon sculpture by Bruce Nauman called Hanged Man.
Located in a lower level gallery dedicated exclusively the works by Bruce Nauman, Hanged Man (1985) is made up of a series of layered, multi-colored neon tubes that light up at sequenced intervals to simulate a game of Hang Man.
As the game nears completion, a second figure appears. You can see why this piece may be a bit controversial, or not safe for small kids who might has a lot of questions.
This Moss Lamp (1999) exemplifies designer Gaetano Pesce’s use of industrial production techniques and materials to produce unique objects. Here, he pours silicone in thread-like trails to achieve a textured and translucent sphere that casts a soft glow through irregular gaps and varied thicknesses. The end result is dictated by the behavior of the material.
For the famed furniture designers, brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana, startling materials are a hallmark of their design practice. Often evoking the rich street-market culture of their native Brazil, they utilize everyday elements in unexpected ways, such as this looped red cord for the opulent pile upholstery of this Vermelha (Red) chair (2007).
The Campana brothers are most celebrated for their design of the Vermelha chair — an iconic piece handmade from a huge length of rope, wrapped and woven to create the chair’s nest-like structure. “The Vermelha chair is an homage to chaos,” says Humberto. “It’s a portrait of Brazil, a melting pot of culture and races…and I try to manifest this idea into a kind of chair that is chaotic in its very construction.” The chair was the first piece of work exhibited by Brazilians at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Their studio continues to produce and develop furniture made from ordinary everyday materials that have been discarded, such as rope, fabric, wood, cardboard, plastic tubes, and aluminum wire.
Photographed in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in NYC.