Established in 2004, Big Red & Shiny is an award-winning Boston-based online magazine about art & ideas. Managed by a small group of enthusiastic editors, BR&S features writing about art “with a Boston accent”. We aim to expand critical discourse and coverage of contemporary visual art to foster meaningful exchange within the Boston arts community and beyond, publishing essays, profiles, interviews, and reviews that explore contemporary art from a range of perspectives.

Why the name “Big Red & Shiny”?
The running joke about making a work of art goes ‘If you can’t make it good, make it big. If it doesn’t look good big, make it red. If you want it to sell, make it shiny.’

Big Red & Shiny Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and run by a fully volunteer staff.


Launched in February 2004, Big Red & Shiny published 135 issues before going dark in August 2010. Following a serendipitous set of circumstances, it returned under new editorial staff in September 2012.

Big Red, as it came to be affectionately known, was the brainchild of Matthew Nash and Sean Horton, though it was Matthew Gamber who, stepping in as Editor-in-Chief with the ninth issue, kicked things up a notch. Without the hard work that all the founding editors put into a little pink website, we wouldn’t have the name and range to lead the ambitious plans we have for Big Red & Shiny today. The Big Red & Shiny is current extinct.

Long Live The Big Red & Shiny!




Linguistics in contemporary art is an amalgamated concept developed to provide additional territory to the diminished landscape of the now obsolete avant-garde. It’s strategically similar to other movements in the arts, which have relied heavily on the idea of removing the usual context in which an object is seen and or experienced. Putting my own artistic prejudices aside, I can see how this idea is appealing to a great number of contemporary artists; it could bring an air of authenticity to an otherwise aesthetically insolvent work of art. The science of language and its correlation to text and symbols in art has been a lengthy and intertwined one. In its simplest modern approach you could look towards Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War (1913-1916). You can follow it back all the way to Kufic script, which is said to be the oldest form of Arabic calligraphy. It’s safe to say it’s not anything new.
Linguistics in the context of fine art is a valid model for today’s artists. There is only one condition which I would argue against it. That would be when a work of visual art lacks any understanding of beauty. I am specifically referring to the difference between Aesthetics and Taste. This idea reflects my sentiments in regard to the exhibition “KNOT” by the artist Annabel Daou. “KNOT” is currently on display at the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, from January 24th through March 8th.
Annabel Daou is a Lebanese born, New York based artist. The exhibition “KNOT” is billed as a solo exhibition, but its roots are based in a collaboration project with the poet/writer Davis Markus. The title “KNOT” is clarified by curator Vesela Sretenovic in this quote: “an inherent reversibility between the text and image, reading and seeing, reflection and experience, creation and interpretation”. I wish to bring to the reader’s attention that this collaboration produced a plethora of artifacts. There were twelve words chosen by Markus to be visually interpreted by Daou. The twelve words produce twelve notebooks of Daou’s drawings. A twelve-fold accordion brochure that renders the twelve notebooks into a single line is also a side-effect of this collaboration. The exhibition is broke up into two sections, there is a darkly lit smaller gallery at the entrance of the exhibition, that houses a single pedestal on which the twelve books are arranged; and yes, you can touch any of the twelve books. In a larger gallery there is an ambitious effort at a site-specific wall drawing. Last but not least, to bring this entire production into the 21st century, there is a website, which is a flash version of the twelve-fold accordion brochure.
One thing I noticed about the book section of the exhibition was that the books retained their sense of intimacy. The pedestal, which they were laid upon, was at the furthest point away from the entrance of the room, isolating the books with one spotlight. This, in my opinion, is a very effective technique in reinforcing the inherent sense of intimacy that is in all books. The drawings inside the books, which my traveling companion described as doodles, are just doodles. There was no aesthetic quality of beauty in Daou’s scribbles or eraser marks. To me, they seemed to be manufactured with the intent of pointing directly to linguistics. Even as an object of art they are just boring to look at.
The site-specific wall drawing is anything but successful. I was told in my youth, that in order to make a great painting, you have to have a great drawing. I’m assuming this theory applies to site-specific wall drawings. In order to make a great wall drawing, you need to have great drawing. So I’m not that surprised that Daou never arrived at a great wall drawing made from her preparatory doodles. I have to admit, that the only thing I found redeeming about the actual wall drawing was the floor.
The artist’s decision to paint the floor of the gallery white was successful in creating a disorientating environment. It is meant to produce a visceral response from the viewer, which it does, all the way up to the ceiling, which is in such a state of disarray that it is hard to imagine you are standing in an art gallery in an ivy-league school. I’m pretty certain that Ms. Daou did not intend for viewers to walk away from this piece wondering why the strongest reaction to the piece itself is about an area of the environment that she didn’t draw on; secondly you can’t take anyone very seriously if the standards by which they measure their own aesthetics are rested on inadequate craftsmanship.
Recently I realized that no one has even succeeded in taking Jackson Pollock’s formalistic theory in painting to the next level. It basically ended a year before his death in 1956. Perhaps part of art’s evolution is that Pollock realized that his style of painting was leading him down a dead end road, or that he had exhausted all his possibilities in painting. Historians speculate that the last year of Pollock’s life he went back into the fray to find the edge again. I can’t help but feel the same way about Annabel Daou’s “KNOT”. I keep asking myself the same questions, does the exhibition “KNOT” advance the relationship between linguistics and art? Does it even reveal a greater understanding of the idea of linguistics in contemporary artwork? Or is she, like Pollock, at the end of a dead end road?

Annabel Daou: Knot” January – March 2009 at the David Winton Bell Gallery.




Possibly the most impressive self-actualizing apparatus of the art world today is just how it manages to reinvent itself. Year after year, idiom after idiom and dialect after dialect, artists manage to find the new black and make art anew.
This idea was reintroduced to me when I heard artist Carla Gannis state in an academic lecture that her recurring theme of Jezebel is a “reconceptualizing” of the idea of Jezebel itself. I’m paraphrasing, of course. I do believe that the idea of conceptualizing something that has already been conceptualized is the clearest evidence that the artists, and the mechanisms that cultivate artists, have far too much time on their hands. Ms. Gannis may have meant to say re-contextualize, but she said “reconceptualize.” I know it’s not a word, I looked it up. It is clearly a perfect example of someone trying to reinvent something. This concept brings me to the real point of this harangue: cave painting, or should I use the re-conceptualized term for it, “Site-specific” art?
Site-specific artwork is conceived, as its name suggests, as art to fill, and or to be in, a definitive location. Sometimes, in its subcategories, it is given the title of “environmental installation,” but either way, it’s art – none the less. For me, Site-specific art introduces a shift in the paradigm about the individual work of art. What would motivate an artist to create a painting with such a narrow definition? If I was commissioned to make a permanent painting in a museum, I can honestly say it would not be about the money. It’s about immortality. It is conjecture on my part, that I even suggest that breaking from the historical method of supply and demand is artistically immoral.
Let’s take British artist Paul Morrison’s recently commissioned wall painting “Exine” at the RISD Museum. The press release informs us that “[t]he artist’s bold black-and-white wall paintings often depict botanical themes… This breathtaking composition features dramatic shifts in scale, with outsized plant life juxtaposed with a distant landscape.” All of which is accurate in its description. I will say this about the actual execution: it is painted with the skill befitting its Museum environment. Whether it’s the artist’s own hand at work here doesn’t really become an issue for me as the viewer; the painting is everything that the press release states. Aside from the flat-files along one of the walls and a large, perfectly middle-tone grey table with six chairs consuming the center of the gallery, the wall painting is a textbook example of Site-specific Art. It is clean, crisp and beautifully completed. Its high-end contrast chroma is strong enough to blend the corners of an understandably square room. Morrison clearly has a command of optical playfulness. The scale is immense and expansive without being imposing or intimidating. Only the monochromatic furniture in the gallery prevents me from wholly filling my peripheral view, which strikes a sour note in the environment Morrison created. The furniture leaves me thinking that maybe “Exine” is not so much wall painting, but wallpaper.
I don’t have a fascination for botanical themes. I won’t be evocative about Morrison’s metaphor of sporopollenin, which is “the outer layer of the wall of a pollen grain”, also known as exine. I felt a greater connection to the process than the content, and I came away with this humorous image of Morrison slaving over a wall-sized linoleum block print with a giant linoleum cutter, though I am fairly certain the artist employs both analog and digital methodology in his creative process. Judging from the quality of the painting’s implementation I would wager that the artist’s process isn’t meant to be on display, but that’s not the point of interest here.
At first I was perplexed by what would motivate a painter to create a painting with such a narrow definition You can’t take it home and hang it over the couch in the living room, and it can only be sold once. If the Museum desires another muralist at some point in the future, the preparators will just paint over “Exine” with a fresh coat of museum white. You’ll never see “Exine” at an auction house; but perhaps the preparatory documentation, like you experience in the work by Christo. Given the essentials about what I know of the history of Site-specific art, I am easing off my opinionated interpretation of what art should be. Instead I remember the word of artist Carla Gannis and her diatribe on the “reconceptualizing” of Jezebel. Then I realize Site-specific art’s invention was only the art world trying to reinvent itself, even if the “site” is a room in a museum and the work looks like that room’s wallpaper.

The exhibition Paul Morrison’s “Exine” is ongoing at the RISD Museum.




The Newbury Street art scene is pedestrian by location and concept. By which I mean, it’s neither dead or alive; it simply exists because of what it once was. It rarely shows any type of art that would be relative to the cutting edge. If Newbury Street was all-encompassing, then 450 Harrison Avenue would have never happened. This idea is not exclusive to the Boston art scene; Soho gave way to Chelsea and, to a lesser degree, the latter to Williamsburg and the lower east side. It is a prevalent scenario when a secondary art market is masquerading as a primary market. I only present this opinion because I never hear anyone openly talking about it. We all know it exists; we just don’t want to believe it to be true.
I’ve developed a similar opinion of Sean Micka “After Images” at Judi Rotenberg Gallery on view till February 3rd. His paintings are Minimalism in vernacular and fashionable by decorum. There is an entire new generation of artists who attempt to carry on the ideas put forth by the forefathers of Minimalism. The only issue I take with this wave of current day minimalism is its “Jackson Pollock Syndrome”, as I like to call it. When an artist or a student discovers Pollock paintings for the first time and realizes just how simple a Pollock painting can be to execute, paradoxically you end up with a stylistically accurate painting but one that lacks the historical content or importance of the original. It is the one guaranteed experience from today’s artistic academic institutions, alongside the dreaded student loans.
“Reductive Art is generally characterized by its use of plainspoken materials, monochromatic or limited color, geometry and pattern, repetition and seriality, precise craftsmanship, and intellectual rigor.” The quote comes from the about section of the website www.minusspace.com; it is a manifesto of some sorts that, in my opinion, acutely defines contemporary minimalism.
Sean Micka easily fits into the category of Reductive Art. Micka’s narrowly optically green monochromatic painting titled “Greenscreen” is made up of 4 30” X 40” texture-free pure green canvases, with an inch or so of white border. As can be expected, the green paint has a subtle shift in value on the edges making the painting somewhat bow in a kind of vignette effect, the 4 panels are hung together horizontally giving you a total size of 40” X 120”. There is a companion painting hanging one wall away, “Bluescreen” 48″ x 144” with the same type of execution. Keep in mind that an important component to this idea of conceptual art, in this minimalist application, is the choices the artist makes. I notice that the sizes of each panel, in both of these paintings, are somewhat standardized. On closer inspection I can see that the canvases are hand built, so I’m left wondering if the standardized size was a choice based on necessity or some other quality unbeknownst to the viewer. Given the limited visual components of minimalism, and Micka’s somewhat ambiguous attempt at conceptualism, the exhibition has a very fast start and little else. The visual experience is perhaps all a viewer has; so whether you see “Greenscreen”, or “Bluescreen”, there really isn’t much difference to the experience. This apparent similarity of visual experience is consistent through out “After Images”. Even when Micka flexes his historical familiarity by painting the many styles of Minimalism you end up at the same place visually. “After Images”, as an exhibition, over-all lacks interest or edge. I will not deny that “Greenscreen”, or “Bluescreen” are painted well, but so many other painters have done this very thing before him.
Conceivably all contemporary fine art is capable of being “conceptual”; we’ve come to believe this as fact. The conceptual quandary inherent to Micka’s paintings is this: why would you create paintings that are nostalgic for art that lacks emotional content? Of all the limited components to Micka’s painting, why would you make the choice to add a quality that is diametrically apposed to the tenets of Minimalism? So it’s an issue of inconsistency for me. Maybe it’s the right artist at the wrong time? Or the wrong style at the right gallery, either way there really isn’t anything about this exhibition that would enable a viewer to pick Micka’s paintings out of a crowd.

Judi Rotenberg Gallery January 10th – February 3rd, 2008.




When is making art – painting in this case – a valid function of expression that acts as anti-art or anti-painting? This question, aside from being an entry-level reflection of 20th century French existentialism, also pertains to Don Hartmann’s current exhibition, “Heads & Tales,” at MPG Contemporary.
An answer can be formulated from several different points of view; I’ll answer it pragmatically. Anti-painting will always exist as long as there is painting to rebel against. In fact, you can view anti-painting, in contemporary terms, as a style. There is a proud tradition of rebellion in painters throughout the history of painting: the French Impressionists rebelled against the Académie des Beaux-Arts; the American Abstract Expressionist had had enough of American social realism; the list grows with each passing generation.
Most recently you can find this succession of dissent in England with the art movement called “Stuckism,” which is a group of British artists, founded by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, rebelling against the Young British Artists. Stuckists prefer fugitive art over the commercialized and Saatchi-Gallery-type conceptual art, so it’s a noble idea that Hartmann is rebelling. In casual conversations with Hartmann over the course of a few years he has repeatedly stated that he is not a painter, but a sculptor. So why is Don Hartmann making paintings?
Don Hartmann’s history with the MPG Contemporary began with a “NEW ART” competition for emerging artists in 2005, resulting in the solo exhibition, “Paintings of Personality & Estrangement,” later the same year. This is Hartmann’s second two-person show at the MPG. I am a fan of Hartmann’s earlier paintings from before his three years of tutelage under MPG proprietor Michael Price.
We’ve all heard those stories about signing a representation contract with a gallery and then everything changes, or maybe it’s just the simple fact that when I first became aware of Hartmann’s painting, he had just given up sculpture and had no experience with the medium of paint. In fact, painting only becomes difficult – or a challenge – to an artist when he or she actually figures out how a great painting is made. From that point on it’s not about being an outsider, conceptual, or even post-modern artist. It’s about being a painter.
Style is regularly referred to in terms of how paint is applied to a canvas, or in this case, Hartmann’s wood panels. The initial quality in his painting is an angst-ridden, youthful sense of draftsmanship similar to what you’d find in a young high-school boy’s notebook. Hartmann’s paintings speak more to a quality of black magic-marker outlines, rather than to the richness of oil paint or in any tradition of rendering three-dimensional spaces.
It’s hard not to compare the composition of “Burnt Toast” (oil and acrylic on panel, 48″ x 48″, 2007) to any Impressionist painters’ technique of closely cropping a painting’s subject. Hartmann places a female figure just right of center, her face and eyes occupy the top right third of the picture plane with her eyes leering out to her left, far beyond the viewer. Her club-like right hand extends out, holding something that may be an oven mitt, while the edge of the painting crops the mitt’s edge. The figure is dressed in a see-through teddy that reveals her two black-outlined red nipples. I suggest Hartmann added this detail to imply some form of sexual tension, but it comes off as cheeky. The painting’s real tension comes from the figure touching every edge of the picture plane. This simple compositional device is what is truly interesting in this painting. It leaves the viewer no other choice but to have to deal with the painting’s image, however garish it may be. As for his use of color: Well, flat color never hurt anyone, but it’s not Hartmann’s strongest suit. You start to see a very plastic sense of color, but his palette is constantly muted or muddy, which, in my opinion, is holding the work back from greater appeal.
The least austere interpretation is that Hartmann is playing the quasi-outsider card, which is fine but only can be taken so far. Art history has shown us that outsider art stays outsider art. The stylistic narrowness of outsider art hasn’t stopped the commercial fine art world from taking the term and turning it into a cottage industry for everything imaginable – which is twisted enough to earn my suspicion. I would never refer to outsider art as a mainstream art movement or a genuine art phenomenon; however, there is an annual Outsider Art Fair in New York. So just how outside is that?
Personally, I’m weary of artistic labels, oftentimes finding myself at odds with an art world that is infatuated with the idea of style. Shouldn’t the viewing public be demanding substance over style? The one thing I will say about “Heads & Tales” is that it’s not the product of someone who is unaware. This leads me to consider that Hartmann, after three years and as many commercial exhibitions, is no outsider.

“Heads & Tales” MPG Contemporary.




“‘America’s Paradise’ and ‘Isla Del Encanto:’ Contemporary Art from the American Caribbean,” is a thematic group exhibition, containing over 20 varying types of artworks, from 12 emerging and established American Caribbean artists addressing the issue of the myth of paradise. As the exhibition’s brochure points directly to “issues of identity, migration, and the complex economic, political, and social relationships with the U.S…” and an “often angst-filled conversation…” the exhibition itself offers a small and narrow view in content and style, of life under the motto “America’s Paradise.”
There is a certain antiseptic vibe that can be found in most academic exhibitions; you come to expect a certain level of professionalism and rhetoric at this type of event. Since an exhibition without commercial concerns can hardly be viewed in terms of America’s capitalistic intent, an artist and curator can claim just about anything. Even though my aesthetic expectations are fulfilled on an academic level with the exhibition “America’s Paradise,” the show still seems somewhat limited. If the theme of this show is innocence lost due to consumerism, tourism, and misguided capitalism, why aren’t these artists offering us any creative solutions, rather than just complaints?
What struck me as odd in the bringing together of 12 artists working against “geo-political clichés about their homeland” is that nine of the 12 artists represented in the show have been educated in the United States, not the Caribbean. Not one artist in this exhibition truly reflects the home-grown art of the Caribbean; there is only a hint of it stylistically.
When did the contemporary art world become so gentrified? If this show was all indigenous Caribbean art in its context, would anyone in the contemporary art world really be interested? I see the need to become involved in the global dialogue of art, but I also feel that the culture of victimhood isn’t doing these artists any good. At first I thought this exhibition would have been a perfect vehicle to decry the ills of Globalization, but given its milieu–the Museum School–there doesn’t seem to be any need to make that point.
I can’t help but be suspicious of an artist’s sincerity in the ideas of art. Artists with comparable technical skills will grandstand current events and content to advance their careers. The funny part about it is that this is how the business of art is now done globally, or should I say trans-nationally?
SMFA Curator Joanna Soltan writes about artist Rafael Trelles, “… he creates politically-charged pieces that, as he says, aim to ‘influence the spheres of politics, economy, and anthropology, among others.’” Trelles is perhaps the most established artist represented in the exhibition. His life-sized painting, “Self-portrait after Paret” (2007), which is an homage to Spanish Painter Luis Paret y Alcázar’s 1776 “Self-portrait,” is an attempt at this concept.
Its background is a purple/yellow pastel-complimentary color scheme depicting an urban cityscape and rendered in an outline fashion with a darker earth tone. He creates the mid tones by padding the whole canvas with a paint loaded towel, creating a transparent repetitive abstract pattern much like a faux decorative painter would do. It seems to have all the material possessions of contemporary civil society: cars, multi-story dwellings, telephone poles and modern sewers. The foreground contains Trelles as Paret with two baby lambs; one of the lambs is balanced on a walking cane and held in his right hand over his left shoulder. The second lamb is at Trelles’ bare feet with its throat cut, by the sword in his left hand. He is a competent painter in his choice of style. I must stress that I use the word style and not content with all that it implies. There is a certain stiffness to this painting that I attribute to the fact the artist was working from a reproduction. For me, the symbolism of the painting is straightforward: the two lambs represent the USA and Puerto Rico, Trelles’ place of birth. I would suggest that Trelles believes one of these two locations has been sacrificed for the greater good of Capitalism and or the American way.
In juxtaposition to the projected righteousness of Rafael Trelles’ art are the more sublime sculptures of Lucas Gasperi. He is more sentimental in his approach to the idea of innocence lost, which is represented by four small (8” X 6” X 1 ½”) wall relief pieces and one pedestal sculpture. Each is a combination of small stones, sea shells, concrete and gesso. Gasperi’s artwork has an organic fossil-like presence and is monochromatic by nature; I get the impression that he’s attempting to preserve his idea of America’s Paradise.
I reacted positively to these pieces because they relate more closely to the process of art rather than to the provocation of a political point of view. I’m not generally a big fan of sculpture or “mixed media,” but with all the bellicose chest-pounding coming off the other walls in the gallery it’s just nice to hear someone whispering to get your attention.
Just as Rafael Trelles employs selective filters to arrive at his working political motif, such as an artistic historical larceny along with his own ancestry, I have chosen to not include the other 10 of the 12 artists in this exhibition in order to be able to question Trelles ideals. I have only once in my life witnessed any realpolitik art that was genuine. I’m not using the term in its pejorative sense. That work is Maya Ying Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. It fulfills every aspect of what art should and can be. No one is confused after witnessing the memorial; you simply just understand the magnitude of the expression.
Just because I disagree with the function of Rafael Trelles’ political art as a form of art itself, it doesn’t mean I am viewing his works with my eyes closed. Imbued with a little common sense, I believe anyone can make their way back to their own idea of America’s Paradise, or at the very least manage to recreate what they think they’ve lost. After all, America’s streets are paved with gold and Rafael Trelles understands this all too well.

“‘America’s Paradise’ and ‘Isla Del Encanto’: Contemporary Art from the American Caribbean” October 2007 at SMFA’s Grossman Gallery.




Given that fine art, by character and presentation, is an objective venture; it would be futile to refute, but not to debate an artist’s concept which yields a contradiction between its aesthetic values and opposed to the object’s conceptual content. Perhaps the human brain is hardwired to make relations from all it witnesses, so only under the threat of some type of Orwellian circumstance, would a viewer see a red painting and describe it as a blue painting.
It comes as no surprise to me that I get an uneasy feeling when I read this quote by Howard Hodgkin, where he states that his paintings are “representational pictures of emotional situations”. Two things strike me as odd in this quote; first he uses the term “pictures”. I’ll put it this way, almost all my friends are painters and most of them paint paintings but very few of them make “pictures”. The difference is that paintings hang in museums and pictures hang at your auntie’s house. Second, the tone of the quotation is somewhat condescending in its assumption that whatever reaction might overtake a viewer will not be equivalent to what thought or feeling Hodgkin demands the viewer to consider.
Hodgkin presents this idea pictorially by using a non-objective format of abstract painting. Hodgkin paintings are executed intuitively; suggesting that the titles are more random than the quote leads you to believe. It’s possible that they are not related at all and that this part of the artist’s process is a secondary concern.
“Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 1992-2007”, 1 FEBRUARY-1 APRIL, at the Yale Center for British Art, is a 15 year sojourn of this veteran painter’s career. The exhibition contains 61 paintings of varying scale and shape. Aided by the oversize elevator that gave way to the foyer of the exhibition, I noticed that both the entrance and exit walls had been treated with gold leaf paper sections. I didn’t realize their full implication until half way through the exhibition. Having these walls covered in gold leaf paper, which then frames one of Hodgkin’s large paintings, only reinforces the idea of Hodgkin’s paintings as objects. He regularly paints on wood, such as old doors and discarded table tops, almost always framed. His gestural mark is not confined to just the two-dimensional picture plane; he freely utilizes the frame as an extension of the painting. If a painting doesn’t physically have a frame added to it, Hodgkin will paint large brush strokes of color to suggest the object has one. This idea is more pertinent if you take the time to visit the second floor of the Museum, which houses an impressive collection of over 1,900 British paintings; from Hogarth to Turner. Aside from the wealth of this historical collection, it’s hard not to notice just how much gold leaf framing is in the collection.
Hodgkin makes references to other painters or paintings by the use of titles or techniques. Titles like “After Samuel Palmer”; “After Degas”, “After Vuillard” are more literal in their nature. In paintings such as “Bedroom Window”, or “Autumn” it would be hard to not read Hodgkin’s brush stroke as resembling the work of Pierre Bonnard. It’s true that when you pick up a paint brush you’ll experience the heavy weight of the history of painting. The level of your awareness in painting determines the weight. What’s so important to me in this context is Hodgkin’s syntax and just how effortlessly he makes the act of painting appear.
What perplexes me about Hodgkin’s work is just how vague the concept becomes after you immerse yourself in it. “Small Chez Max”, 18 inches in diameter, is a memorial painting for the architect, Max Gordon. I found nothing about this painting that would suggest the sentimentality of a memorial painting. Hodgkin actually made a total of three paintings dealing with this subject. “Small Chez Max”, 18” diameter, 1989-97; “Chez Max” 69” diameter, 1996-97, and “in Memory of Max Gordon, 1990-96, 94” X 74”; the latter two were not included in the exhibition. The title “in Memory of Max Gordon” directs you to the painting’s content and not an emotional situation. Here is a quote referring to “Chez Max” “… I was able to distance the subject even more from me than I might perhaps have been able to otherwise, and I think it’s therefore more intense than the other two”. The quote seems to contradict the basic premise of his concept. With all of my questioning and contemplation I’m just not persuaded that Hodgkin is being honest with his idea, which brings me to wonder about his sincerity but not about his ability to make beautiful paintings.

“Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 1992-2007” is on view until April 1st, at the Yale Center for British Art located at at Yale University, 1080 Chapel St., New Haven, CT.




I once attended a lecture where Zach Feuer, ex-Bostonian and proprietor of a number of galleries in NYC, spoke to an audience of 20 or so newbies about how to make it in our current art market. Now, my recollections of the lecture’s concept are very vivid, however, I can only paraphrase Feuer’s comments for I was nursing a hangover of Patagonian proportions. When asked about how to make it his answer came in the form of a short statement; “it’s the gang mentality”. The core of his 25 minute diatribe breaks down like this: You create a group of artists that are, for all intents and purposes, working with the same sense of self-importance. They must be artists with like minds, speaking a similar language, and using analogous visual components with intertwined concepts that relate; but are not identical. They are curating their own exhibitions; they can even go as far as opening up their own gallery. Sooner or later someone from the group breaks out, big time. With any luck, collectors, critics, Museums and everything else that comes with making it, is knocking on the door. A sweet theory; wouldn’t it be great if life was only a theory?

The exhibition Control, Option, Escape consists of seven artist; Mark Chariker, Nelson Da Costa, Reese Inman, Brian Knep, and Harvey Loves Harvey (Jason Dean and Matthew Nash). Throw in a wild card, or what the gallery calls its “Fresh Produce” artist, Kayla Pereira Risko, an artist chosen by the gallery, independently from the guest curator. As Magda Campos Pons (owner and founder) explained it, the gallery likes to keep a hand in the mix of the shows’ content.

Interestingly enough, one of the primary principles of GASP, is that the exhibition is curated by one of the artists involved. Curating an exhibition and also having work represented in that same exhibition can easily be seen as self-promotion. Whether or not the curator’s art work has merit can often become a secondary concern. To historically reinforce these concepts, the gang mentality theory and self-promotion, look at Damian Hirst’s ascent to notoriety. The exhibition Freeze, which was first conceived by the group Young British Artists (YBA) which included Hirst, in hindsight appears to have been a perfect platform for Hirst’s notorious self-promotion. This is not in any way a comparison of Hirst’s first show to Reese Inman’s curatorial endeavor Control, Option, Escape at Gallery Artist Studio Projects (GASP).

Of the 26 pieces shown, the level of the works ranged from the mature to the pubescent. The loosely developed theme of the show, an artistic response to the contemporary experiences of the media-information age, is straightforward enough to peak your curiosity and vague enough to include almost anything. Mark Chariker’s large scale anime oriented painting Even Though I Knew, I Said Nothing Because I Prefer Harmony is executed with the skill of a seasoned professional. Its repeating, flat, patterned background against generic anime characters and its op-art sensibility is interesting enough for a visual experience, but the content of his work reflects the attributes of his academic status.

Brian Knep’s interactive video installation Escape, which features the drawings of Emma B. Marlin-Curiel, age 4, is to react to the viewer’s presence though optic sensors. Unfortunately Knep’s video installation was on the fritz due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control. Knep’s piece was not functioning as conceived, even after a cool down and reboot. It’s important to note a collector had been at the gallery early in the day and was planning on purchasing the piece.

Reese Inman’s three serial paintings, Map I, Map II and Network II could have been the truest examples of this exhibition’s concept. Inman utilizes an industry standard 24” square panel as her starting point, then through the assistance of a computer and algorithms the composition is developed and completed. Her work is the most consistent and refined in the exhibition. The most evident quality in Inman’s painting is the absence of her hand, an inactive sense of application toward painting, which ties in nicely with her concept. The issue I have with Inman’s work is she goes to great lengths to remove the human aspect of painting from her art. So I’m puzzled to why she paints this pieces at all, maybe her concept would be better reinforced if she chose a different medium.

In the embryonic paintings by Nelson Da Costa, I’m vaguely reminded of Henri Matisse’s use of black as a formal hue. Da Costa is using the darkest value of his color palette and the negative space in his paintings to define his microbiological forms. The paintings rely on the tension created when an artist is playing heavily on the foreground-background relationships, and are very decorative. However, I believe that the paintings are contrived and rigid; over thought-out comes to mind. I can’t image how these embryonic forms, as an objective image, can exist in this picture plan, they seem to sit on top of the canvas and have little relationship to the space created in these paintings.

Harvey Loves Harvey’s An Interactive Exploration of the Response to the Random Increase or Decrease of Finances: Money Ain’t Nuthin’, worked as intended. With its 2” LCD centered in a 36” square Day-Glo orange picture plane, two game show contestants within the LCD reacted to the viewer’s input; whenever the viewer pushed a corresponding button. I’m guessing that the scale of the LCD, and the overall size of the piece itself, is meant to draw you closer into the experience of interaction. I believe the scale and color choice are interesting conduits to guide the viewer/ user intuitively through the several staged reaction from the 2 game show contestants.

Fresh Produce Artist, Kayla Pereira Risko’s small scale drawings in the back of the gallery were what really caught my attention. At first I thought it was the relationship between the small room in which Risko’s eight pen and inks hung in regard to the physical dimension of her drawings (19” X 17”-21” X 17”). On closer inspection I realized that it was the illustrative quality in the pen and inks, in conjunction with a noticeable sense of intimacy that I truly appreciated in her work. I can’t honestly say I would have really noticed Risko’s drawings at any other exhibition if all the art work in the show wasn’t so decisive about the nature of itself.

The preoccupation with creating art in relation to the Now is a very slippery slope, which in my opinion is a fool’s errand. You are either making art or you’re not, and more often than not it’s determined by someone else. Everyone who plays this game understands that being talented is a plus, but it’s not a necessity to making it; who your friends are and which school you may have gone to is going to weigh far more heavily in your favor than how talented you are. I’ve witnessed so many artists rushing around trying to match their desire for success, with what they explain to me as their innate need to create works of art. I’m not buying it. Quite honestly, judging from this exhibition, it comes back down to the gang mentality. It’s evident that the exhibition’s premise, an artistic response to the contemporary experiences of the media information age, it’s meant to open enough for all sorts of interruptions. On one hand, only in this subjective realm of the arts can any of this have a sense of inherent wealth; I’m not referring to wealth as a monetary concept but as a sense of artistic value. On the other hand, something happens to art, and or maybe the artist, when they try creating on the edge of history.

 GASP, located at 362-4 Boylston Street Brookline, MA.




When I read a press release that includes words such as; “experiment,” “fusion,” and “collaboration” it’s hard for me to envision installation art without any new age rhetoric creeping into the back of my head. Maybe it’s just that I have such a long history with two-dimensional works that I can’t get my mind around any other genre. It’s a difficult task to read works of art in our current times, let alone works that attempt to break out of every known boundary, which is what you have happening at the Laconia Gallery’s most recent exhibition, “in FLUX”. As everyone who’s involved in the arts understands, nothing can be cutting-edge in the absence of the avant-garde. As I suppress my own artist’s baggage, I make my way through this exhibition with open eyes and open mind.
Curator Lisa Costanzo teams up Mark Schoening and Linda Price-Sneddon to “…create an installation that will pulse with the energy of both the individual and the collaboration.” The interesting part of this concept is that both artists worked together in this environment a week before the opening and will rework the space a week prior to its closing. One of two things can occur with this premise: first, if all the stars are in perfect alignment then this will be the preeminent art installation of its kind in history, or secondly, you will have the two artists marking off their own territory, which leads to a very poorly integrated exhibition. What you have happening here is something in between these two ideas. There are, of course, more variables to consider, but for the most part I never get the sense that these two uniquely stylistic artists ever came together, or more importantly, ever came apart, with any great success. If there are commonalities or dissimilarities then the curator should have exploited them to a much higher degree. For me, what you end up with is a difference in aesthetics.
Neon pom-poms, pipe cleaners, assorted colored masking tape and the usual craft store suspects versus Xerox copies of fractal designs, black ink and/or acrylic paint, some gray thread and spray foam insulation. I’ve seen the pipe cleaner art before, Lucky DeBellevue P.S.1 “New Art in New York Now” February, 2000. Not that all art needs to be new in its sense of material, but I truly believe that a piece of art should be clever enough to transcend its physical limitations. Unfortunately, Price-Sneddon’s contribution to the larger installation seems awkward and clumsy, which I attribute exclusively to her choice of materials. Her mixed media drawings in the foyer of the gallery are another story, they are strangely everything that you want from Price-Sneddon’s installation art but never get. There is a quality of fiction in these works on paper; believable fiction. Surreal at times, this is where Price-Sneddon finds her niche. I’m convinced that her drawings create a conceivable environment within the pictorial plane. This quality is noticeably absent in her contribution to the installation in the main gallery.
Mark Schoening manages to avoid the transitional pitfall mentioned above. Whether it’s one of his 8 small scale works (8”X10”) in the foyer, or his involvement with the installation, his work maintains a consistent presence. In juxtaposition to Price-Sneddon’s neon palette, Schoening’s works are monochromatic, which makes for a very dramatic presentation against the gallery’s white walls. When his work does venture off the wall, or floor, or ceiling, its starting point is a sprayed foam insulation pod that’s been painted black, with hints of gradation to a lighter value. Several lines of gray thread, running from the foam pods to a wall or ceiling, perfectly depict the line quality which is also present in his small scale works. One component of the installation that I found vexing is Schoening’s section of the back wall. Consisting of Xerox copies of fractal designs rigidly arranged on a grid pattern defined by the size and shape of the paper, the right side of the grid resembles a staircase leading down the gallery’s wall. Why rely on a grid if your intention was “…to leave the picture plane and wander through space…”? To this end, I do not believe Mark Schoening actually achieved his intention in the installation.
One possible reason why the cutting edge of art appears to be very dull today is because we are comfortable with the idea that everything is probably art. Truth be told, it’s just not true. I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is a need for art that is BAD, for no other reason than that it can help you to appreciate what GOOD art is. This idea isn’t directed at this exhibition, or the artists involved in this show, I’m just stating an observation based on what I’ve seen in my travels. I do think that what’s going on at the Laconia Gallery during the months of March and April is something that people should take serious notice of. For it, like people’s ideas about art, will change with time.

Laconia Gallery




“Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun?” now on display at Mass MoCA, consists of over 40 groupings of art, 160 individual pieces in total, four of which the press-release states as major new works. One such work, Composition in Red and Green, is comprised of a long, motorized, chute device, maybe 30 feet in length, suspended from the ceiling on an angle and loaded with fresh apples that are dropped every few minutes onto a 20 foot square of AstroTurf. Ok, I guess I’m supposed to be profoundly moved by the title’s implication that this object has the ability to produce an unthinkable number of variations over the life-expectancy of the exhibition. But it’s the smell of rotten apples that I’m left with, literally.

It is a fairly common occurrence to enter Mass MoCA’s galleries to discover signage stating, “object of art temporarily not functioning,” and this happens to be the case with Composition in Red and Green. I can’t imagine who at Mass MoCA thought it would be a good idea to leave this work up and not repair it. It is important to note that this issue is a contemporary one: a defective finished product of art that ultimately diminishes the quality of a museum experience, but also calls into question whether or not this artifact is actually a work of art. Is a broken conceptual work of art, still a work of art? If I don’t witness the work of art in process will I still be able to conceptualize it? With its function no longer following its form, is it conceptually insolvent? This Newtonian apparatus has all the trappings of art by association – it’s in a Museum, it belongs to someone’s collection of art, and it provokes me to think: I contemplate just how poorly this object of art is made, I wonder if the artist feels any sense of responsibility, or if the artist really cares about it at all.

Is it contrast or contradiction? In Susan Gross’s essay “Spencer Finch Alchemy,” Gross states, “contrary to what one might expect, Finch’s efforts toward accuracy – the precise measurements he takes under different conditions and at different times of day – resist, in the end, a definitive result or single empirical truth about his subject.” At first I thought this idea was conceived to justify Finch’s syntax, which it does. It’s definitely propaganda. The more I thought about this idea the less it appeared to be logical, it seemed to contradict itself. If your art is principally about the process why would you invest time in an endeavor that yields no results? Finch, in theory, could have just swept the floors of Mass MoCA and gotten the same results. It simply wouldn’t make any difference, so why is it a stipulation to believe it does, which is where the contradiction lies.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect me to write about art that isn’t visual. For me, conceptual art is all about 1917 and Duchamp. It is not the watered-down version where we witnessed the Young British Artists ascend to significant unimportance in the early 1990’s when they used the idiom as a euphemism for the avant-garde. I understand and therefore respect the historical aspects of Conceptual Art, which is the idea-based art of the 60’s and 70’s. Just imagine how treacherous it was for an artist to abandon the visual components of fine art to maintain the all too necessary style of the cutting edge. It is this premise, the absence of a strong visual component, that makes my daily inquisitive lust for art wobble with boredom. In the same breath I am completely at a loss as to how this idea of conceptual art manages to leave little droppings of artifacts for my viewing displeasure. I am quite aware of how this argument sounds like George Dickie’s idea of the Institutional Theory of Art, which in a nutshell is defined as art existing due to its position in the art world. But if it is indeed conceptual art, why is it trapped in an object that has no inherent aesthetic value? It is, after all, a visual art experience, no? Museums of Contemporary Art are foundations for the temporal display of objects of art. So is this type of museum the best environment for these artifacts that lack a visual component?

I am under the firm belief that the work of Spencer Finch is neither exciting, nor innovating. Where I venture next will come as no surprise, is Finch’s art good? No, not in my opinion, but it is art – just not the type of art I find compelling. I put an honest amount of thought into the ideas expressed by Finch in this exhibition, at the very least equal to the amount Finch applied to his craft. I was so dissuaded by the idea of contemporary conceptual art that: if I never saw another hypothetical work of art again, I’d be fine.

“Spencer Finch: What Time Is It on the Sun?” Was on view through Spring 2008 at Mass MoCA in North Adams MA.




The human eyes consist of two different types of photoreceptors, rods and cones, which send information to the brain for interpretation. The rods number in the 120 million and are far more sensitive than their counter–part, the cones. The interesting part of human anatomy is that the rods are not in any way sensitive to color. The job of color function is left to the 7 million or so cones. This small little understanding of how the human eyes function may shed some light, no pun intended, on why I prefer black and white, or monochromatic, photography to color. At a recent opening reception in Providence RI, a RISD professor explained to me that a glass of wine will sharpen the ability of the rods and cones to perceive lights and darks. Wine, mmmm. I’m sure the above information is a factor in why I’m so attracted to the Kenro Izu exhibition, Nudes and Still Lifes at Robert Klein Gallery on Newbury Street.

My first experience with the work of Kenro Izu was last winter at theGriffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA. Izu’s cyanotype over platinum palladium prints were included in the museum’s The Body Familiar: Current Perspectives of the Nude exhibition. Izu’s fine art career is only 50% of his work. From the looks of his website his commercial work as a photographer seems to be just as sought after.

Born in Osaka, Japan, he relocated to New York City in the 1970’s. In 1983 Izu committed to working in the contact-printed platinum palladium process for the next two decades. In 2002 Izu developed his cyanotype over platinum palladium process. The platinum palladium process is noted for being a very stable method of processing photographs.

Izu’s current exhibition Nudes and Still Lifes is a variation of the exhibition titled “Blue” which was first assembled in 2004 for the Howard Greenberg Gallery (NYC); then exhibited at Galleria Carla Sozzani (Milan), and finally shown at Shimose Fine Art (Tokyo). The noticeable difference here is an exploration of different subject matter with the inclusion of four platinum palladium landscape prints and five still life cyanotype platinum palladium prints. The four landscapes reveal a more traditional side to Izu’s photography; they reflect the quality that is the standard with all fine art black and white photography.

I can’t help but make some type of association with the cyanotype prints. Whether it is the nudes or the still lifes, the photographs have an undercurrent of sentimentality that seems familiar. It puzzled me at first. Then I realized I was associating the cyanotype prints with Picasso’s blue period (1901-1904). Picasso’s Femme Nue II, from 1902, could have easily been the inspiration for Izu’s “Blue #1010b, 2004; which is number 5 of an edition of 10. Both the Izu print and Picasso painting share the same primary composition. A female nude placed in the center of the picture plane, with legs crossed, back towards the viewer, with the upper torso leaning forward between the crossed legs.

The obvious difference with the two pieces is that Picasso understood what he could accomplish with paint; Picasso in the most direct way is a totally narcissistic painter. As for Izu, it seems to be the subtlety in tonal contrast that matters as much as the traditional subject matter he has chosen. It could also be that Izu understands his target audience. What’s interesting to note is that 4 of the 10 prints of Blue #1010B were sold; maybe other viewers have also had made the connection to Picasso’s Femme Nue II”

It would be hard to fathom, or even separate, the ideas of art as commerce and art as artifact. For some artists, such as Kenro Izu, it’s a natural and seamless bridge between the two ideas. Bear in mind that real life ebbs and flows just as the art market does. An artist will tell you that at the end of the day you have to pay the bills, so if you’re a proficient technician, such as Izu is, you transcend the commercial content and still produce a genuine product without turning yourself into a street walker. Man Ray worked commercially in the 1920’s for Vogue Magazine, without hampering or sabotaging his artistic sensibility or legacy.





Onanism is the act of self-gratification practiced by millions of people everyday. So if an artist chooses to bring his fetish to the venue of fine art, wouldn’t you expect to see art that reflects the true quality of that fetish? Joe Wardwell’s solo exhibit Full Length at the Allston Skirt Gallery is an attempt at such masturbatory grandeur.

This exhibit consists of four different components. Wardwell’s debut LP album Full Length, a lo-fi production completely self-composed and recorded. An installation of 40-plus sepia drawings representing preliminary studies for his paintings, pushpinned to the main gallery wall and bookmarked by a home stereo system continually playing his LP album. An assortment of paintings varied in size depicting the final resting place of rock stars doing their thing in heaven. Finally there is what the gallery calls a zine, an artistic manifesto. It is a seven page explanation of the artist’s influences, dreams, lusts. One odd characteristic of this manifesto is that it is written entirely in capital letters, its funny how a few years of text messaging and now the use of capital letters boils down to yelling at you.

If you look at this exhibition from a conceptual point of view, rather than its aesthetics, you’ll find that Wardwell spent some time contemplating his choices. He’s certainly intellectual enough for the stage of Fine Art. The stumbling block for me is Wardwell’s subject matter. What type of audience is interested in the kitsch of rock and roll stars? Is the reality of a rock stars life tasteless enough? Don’t they deserve to be left alone? Maybe the reason why Wardwell is generating interest is because the viewers are living vicariously through the art or the artist, who’s doing the same thing with the rock star; which is the creepy side of this fetish. The bottom line is moving commodities, whether conceptual or monetary, Joe Wardwell has contemplated every possible idea. One man’s fetish is another man’s commodity fetishism.

I made 2 passes through the front end of the gallery and finally concluded that Wardwell was trying to make self-conscious studies of rock stars in a post-baroque style of art. Some of the studies in the installation portion of this exhibit were so sophomorically rendered that I realized that there must be some underlining inside joke to the work, honestly it eluded me. You have to deal with the fact that the artist is trying to represent himself as a bit naive. Wardwell states, in his zine, rather absolutely that “NOW WITH A MASTER OF FINE ART”…, so you know he was been subjected to some form of academia and perhaps that is why he is exhibiting. I would almost prefer that he didn’t know how to draw, then at least the work could maintain its cheap appeal.

The obvious reference for Wardwell’s drawings is that they have a similar sense of execution to the work of Elizabeth Peyton. There is nothing wrong with emulating someone else’s work, the contemporary art industry is one of pilfering by nature. But in this context imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery. They may even be born from similar ideas but end up in very different places. Both painters share a similar impression of celebrity-ism, the only difference is that Peyton’s clumsiness transcends most of the trappings of being a celebrity and starts to suggest the idea of androgyny. Whereas Wardwell’s work contains a sense of the perfunctory, mechanical if you like. Peyton seems to be more interested in exploring the commonalities of her subjects, and Wardwell’s fixation comes off as self-absorbed.

With his integration of the concept of Rococo art, Wardwell buys a little bit of street credibility, adding a level of seriousness to art work that could easily be written off as decorative. In his larger square paintings the repetitiveness of his structural composition, one large circle touching all four edges of the canvas to define the pictorial foreground, is anything but visually tense. It is really difficult to create a strong painting on a weak foundation. This composition appear oddly familiar, after a few moments of contemplation it dawned on me, it’s source was the wear marks that are created on an album cover by the record placed inside for protection and then stacked together.

To understand the true nature of rock and roll, you need to keep in mind that most great rock songs are 3 chord progressions and nothing more, pure and simple. The punk rock movement was born out of frustration with the 70’s corporate music industry, by disenfranchised youth with no musical talent. This exhibition keeps in step with that philosophy of punk rock.

Allston Skirt Gallery


I went to see Katz. Honestly, I really did. The single, self-serving reason I drove to the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, MA, was to see a panoramic painting by the artist Alex Katz. I don’t know what else to say, I just really dig this guy’s paintings. As for the importance of Katz as an artist today, I have one word to define it: consistency. Alex Katz has managed to sustain a 51 year career in an industry that suffers from a textbook case of ADHD. Without Katz’s exploration into portraiture the art world would have never been fertile ground for artists such as George Condo, Dana Schutz, and Boston’s own Don Hartmann.

The painting I went to see was Harbor #9, oil on canvas, dated 1999. It is 96 inches tall and 240 inches wide. The idea that Katz’s process led him to paint 9 of these harbor paintings, as the title suggests, was enough to make me pause and wonder about the artist’s state of mind. What couldn’t Katz say in the first painting that he could in #9, which is just one of more than 100 works by 82 artists currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibition entitled Painting Summer in New England (PSNE).

You have to give a round of applause to the guest curator, Trevor Fairbrother, for the way in which he handles not only the scale of the exhibition, but also the content. The placement of two paintings in particular brought to my attention this curator’s understanding of how to connect paintings. The two pieces in question are stylistically a hundred years apart, but hang side by side. James Edward Butterworth’s painting is “Yacht Race off Boston Light”, dated 1880 and Paul Resika’s The End of the Hurricane, is from 1979. Butterworth’s Yacht Race off Boston Light is a realistically painted maritime narrative with a schooner cutting through a deep green ocean, while Resika’s The End of the Hurricane is an expressive gestural painting that depicts the moment when the sky releases all the built up tension after a hurricane. Both paintings have a loosely similar palette and a proportionate relation in physical size. A viewer might make the connection that both of these paintings, although representing different styles, are speaking about a specific moment in time. An astute viewer, however, would realize that Fairbrother also chose to be involved; the curator consciously places these two paintings next to one another, becoming an active participant in the continuation of the theme of time.

PSNE is laid out over five separate galleries encompassing the entire third floor of the museum. When you think that you’re at the end of the show, there seems to always be one more gallery just ahead of you. At this point I need to openly admit to a long-standing suspicion, it’s what I like to call “The Big Name Museum Show Syndrome”. It’s when a museum designs an exhibition around a few works of art by a famous or almost famous artist that, coincidentally, my mother would like.

I’ll go as far as to argue that the traditional role of a museum as a steward of culture, a place where artifacts are stored, has been replaced with the idea that a museum is now in the position of one that defines culture, confirming the idea that fine art is truly elitist, all the way to the bank. Much to my surprise, the gift shop is located nowhere near any of the galleries at the Peabody Essex Museum. If the exhibition you’re viewing – with or without the assistance of an audio device, its sole purpose being to guide the viewer – ends at the front door of the Museum’s gift shop, you should be suspicious. (In that circumstance I try, whenever possible, to see the show in reverse.

“Painting Summer in New England”  September 2006 at the Peabody Essex Museum, located at East India Square in Salem, MA.


Kodak Color Scale,