Daily Archives: May 11, 2013

Joan Mitchell at The Poetry Foundation

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” at the Poetry Foundation, is both elegant and sober. It is perhaps too restrained knowing the intensity and expression of Mitchell’s works. As a lover of contemporary art, the idea of visiting the Poetry Foundation may not seem the most appealing, but this is a show everyone can enjoy.

The extremely well funded Poetry Foundation opened its River North home in 2011 at the corner of Dearborn and Superior, designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects. I first looked at Mitchell’s Minnesota (1980) – a large quadriptych painting installed in the entrance of the institution – located outside the building. The transparency of the building and the reflection of the outside trees superposed to the painting itself was uncanny, more than being inside the gallery space. (See the image below)

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Mitchell is not known for her lines. Only as a child did she write poems, but literature and poetry would remain sources of inspiration throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a fiction writer, editor and poet and worked as an associate editor at Poetry magazine. (The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry). Poetry and painting have been in a long and complicated relationship. Clarifying poetry through art exhibitions, lectures and other events, has been a goal of the foundation, to make poetry less insulated and open it up to the public, not just to the academic community. While I cannot conclude that this is successfully achieved here, poetry is perhaps the most difficult of all literary forms to teach. Through Mitchell’s example, the foundation may seek to address the difficulties and rewards of bringing the visual and the verbal into friendly contact.

The exhibition also includes four vitrines in the library featuring several photographs of Mitchell’s childhood and later years, the December 1935 issue of Poetry in which her poem “Autumn” was published, and letters from her parents. Another vitrine showcases correspondence between the poet, art critic and curator Frank O’Hara and Mitchell. One can review gossip-filled letters, an original copy of O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” (1979), and photographs of the two.

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Although Mitchell lived most of her life in France, her childhood memories of the Lake Michigan and the Midwest were always part of her oeuvre. As she said, “I carry my landscapes around with me;” indeed Mitchell also carries poetry with her, another type of landscape.

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” is on view through May 31 at the Poetry Foundation; poetryfoundation.org.

West Loop

It was a sunny day and Mike Hall and I met up to check out some West Loop art action after some much needed hangover penance at The Grange Hall. Our spirits lifted somewhat, we began at Peter Miller, which had some well-rendered nude figuration in charcoal. The work seemed to concern groupings of robust originary human forms, in some way god-like but each time with the attendant awkwardness of their being turned-away from the viewer such that the posterior registered as a unifying feature among the individual works. I couldn’t quite get what was being communicated by the artist in these works, perhaps there was something other than decent rendering, proto-human forms, and a mythic, quasi-spiritual mood. Were these works in dialogue with Böcklin or some other allegorical heavy-hitter in some way?

The gallery itself was kind of a mess. The floors didn’t appear to have been swept and the walls were inordinately marked-up. There was a mood in the space of a distinct lack of caring. Strangely, there was a strong smell familiar from health-food stores; a kind of mixture of bulk grains and spices, vitamins, and produce. Is Peter Miller a hippy? What would a hippy-run white-cube space look like? What would it show? Big Jerry Garcia-looking nudes, maybe.

We knocked around a bit more, eventually staying a while at Rhona Hoffman where Karthik Pandian’s expansive treatment of the multiple spaces there includes an uncredited audio component by SAIC sound alum Robby McBain. The cool, intelligent look of Pandian’s work seems to at times provide an opening into an underlying ontology while carefully remaining obscure enough to bring the viewer from one tableau to the next.

The film upstairs, if less available to phenomenological encounter, does push the reading back into the dark space that nearly consumes it which has been addressed by McBain’s six-channel generative tone study. Such moments are rare in art, wherein something ocular is prohibitive in such a way as to propel the reading to a non-ocular encounter with space. In this case, I can’t say it was deliberate. There’s a clever story behind the film involving a performance for no one which was then re-performed from memory by the performers. But rather than staying true to it’s default reading as a window into something else, Pandian’s staid modernist kitch rejects the interest promptly and in the somewhat vast context of sonically active darkness which must itself be encountered.
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Nate Young at The Suburban

These days I pull back a black curtain and fully expect to walk into a video installation. There’s a language present in the mere existence of the curtain: “this work requires some degree of isolation.” There is a moment of confusion when first entering Nate Young’s installation at The Suburban, however—no video in sight, and an endless loop of what sounds distinctly like James Brown, plus a crowd, plus something else—a kind of religious fervor?

I might not have found the video for “Untouched” at all—I know a few folks that didn’t—except that the space was occupied by a few enthusiastic youngsters who excitedly chimed out ‘It’s here!! Over here!!” and pointed me toward a video screen hidden behind another curtain. An isolated work within an isolated work.

The video is a set of disembodied white-gloved hands. They move in choreographic circles, like a magician’s, as the endless loop of sound plays. In the video, it’s clear where the loop begins and ends—there’s a very sharp visual ‘cut’ where the hands jump positions on the screen—whereas in the listening one feels that the loop is going on forever.

The initial impressions are near-religious—a dark, meditative space where the hands of a near-mystic move in constant rhythm—but what emerges after prolonged viewing is something else entirely. What emerges is a comment on race. On minstreldom. The audio recording emerges as more distinctly James Brown, and in repetition the familiarity of the sound ebbs away. Is the voice tortured? Is this the voice of someone who has been forced to ‘perform’ blackness, over and over, to a point beyond identity or recognition?

The hands move in circles, move in circles. And further. And some point the invisibility of the ‘performer’—invisible in a field of black—comes into question. The bodyless field becomes a minstrel and a universal black performer all at once—black the field, black isolated and encompassing all at once, black race-and-not-race.

The clip, the point where the loop begins and ends—is distracting. It reads like a record skip, takes you out of it. It’s a glitch, in the literal and cultural sense of the word—glitch as in perceived error, glitch as in disruptive entity. It’s irritating and embedded in the work at the same time. It makes the loop laborious, a task that is endlessly repeated. A kind of falling down and getting up, an Sisyphean task.

It takes a minute to stumble back through the darkened room, find the fold in the curtain again, and emerge back into the sunlight. By then the audio has become something else entirely—it’s attached to various unfolding meanings of performance, heavy with multiple meanings. It’s isolating and all-encompassing at the same time. The sunlight hurts your eyes after all the darkness.

Joan Mitchell at The Poetry Foundation

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” at the Poetry Foundation, is elegant and sober. It is perhaps too sober knowing the intensity and expression of Mitchell’s works. As a contemporary art lover, the idea of visiting the Poetry Foundation may not seem the most appealing, but don’t let that stop you from seeing this show.

The extremely well funded Poetry Foundation opened its River North home in 2011 at the corner of Dearborn and Superior, designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects. I first looked at Mitchell’s Minnesota (1980) – large quadriptych painting installed in the entrance of the institution – from outside the building. The transparency of the building, the reflection of the outside trees superposed to the painting itself was uncanny, more than being inside the gallery space. (See the image below)Image

Mitchell is not known for her lines. Only as a child she wrote poems, but literature and poetry would remain sources of inspiration throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a fiction writer, editor and poet and was an associate editor at Poetry magazine. (The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry). Poetry and painting have been in a long and complicated relationship. Clarifying poetry through art exhibitions, lectures and other events, has been a goal of the foundation, to make poetry less insulated and open it up to the public, not just to the academic community. I’m not sure if this is successfully achieved but poetry is perhaps the most difficult of all literary forms to teach. Through Mitchell’s example, the foundation may seek to address the difficulties and rewards of bringing the visual and the verbal into friendly contact.

The exhibition also includes four vitrines in the library featuring several photographs of Mitchell’s childhood and later years, the December 1935 issue of Poetry in which her poem “Autumn” was published, letters from her parents. Another vitrine showcases correspondence between the poet, art critic and curator Frank O’Hara and Mitchell: their gossip-filled letters, an original copy of O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” (1979), and photographs of the two.

Image

Although Mitchell lived most of her life in France, her childhood memories of the Lake Michigan and the Midwest were always part of her oeuvre. As she said, “I carry my landscapes around with me,” she also carries poetry with her, another landscape.

“Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry” is on view through May 31 at the Poetry Foundation; poetryfoundation.org.