Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Darren Foote and Sheila Gallagher: ASTRACASTRA

Multimedia rock star Sheila Gallagher and “extreme woodworker” Darren Foote will be exploring the issue of divinity in relationship to our western everyday lives.
Gallagher, known for her experimental mediums, will be contributing a video, three smoke paintings and a digital Mandala made from the pages of her daily planner. She explains “All of the work is interested in what happens when the quotidian or the daily or the everyday bumps up against the eternal or the non-time. They’re all meditations on that.” Her work is largely conceptual but very beautiful which many theorists have described as aesthetically divine. “I think a lot of people consider conceptual art to not revel in the physical or the beautiful and I’m just not willing to throw that baby out with the bath water.” Making things beautiful is a clever way to seduce one’s audience to consideration of critical concepts. “I definitely try to use the visual as a hook to start to deal with some other issues.” And she is successful. We can’t help but look, and when we do we can’t help but reflect.
The Mandala, made from pages dating from 1987 up until 2009, is a very interesting piece, exploring the Western approach to bliss through time control. It is a relatively passionate view of our crazy overbooked lives. People look to the east for wisdom about how to slow down but this piece almost validates our pursuit of bliss through incremented time. “I’m of two minds. On one level I really yearn to be a monk but my daily life I function much more like an air traffic controller – trying to avoid disaster on a millisecond basis. “ she says. The Mandala is directly based on the Tibetan Kalachakra Mandala. With this project she was exploring “what would happen if I took the geometric rigor of the Kalachakra Mandala, which is a tool for meditation, and had it bump up against my daily list of things to do and my daily calendar going back like twenty years.”
Gallagher is famous for her smoke paintings. The process for these is strenuous and heartbreaking. She suspends a canvas from the ceiling of her studio and burns different substances like birthday candles and tea lights to make different carbon marks. An entire smoke palette has developed through her experimentation with different smoke producing materials. “I like trying to order chaos” says Sheila. “Its like painting with a genie”. There is a grappling with mortality that comes with these massively impermanent mediums. “A lot of the materials I use have a limited life span and in that way they act as reminders of our existential condition.” Sheila is trying to remind herself of the imminent possibility of death. “When I’m thinking like that I tend to be more appreciative.”
Foote is completing his light series, a collection of wooden sculptures depicting light rays made of wood interacting with household objects like tables and chairs. The light in these pieces, according to Darren, represents a higher power. “I grew up with a very outside perspective on strict religion.” Darren grew up non-Mormon in a Mormon community. He has been exploring people’s relationship with the divine ever since.
“ I think this is a reflection of how I see people responding to It.” he said. The initial part of the collection shows a series of chairs and tables being unaffected by the light rays shooting out of the lamps. In this portion, the light rays are interfering – violently. The light has agency and is affecting those around it. “Not only is it physical but its actually manipulating objects that its interacting with. “ says Darren. “While there’s a place for those earlier pieces and the tranquility that I hope was there, the more I thought about it the more I felt like it wasn’t the whole story. There’s more to this element than just being there.” All of the sculptures – light and furniture - are made of the same wood. “I think that’s just my way of saying that we’re all made of the same thing” says Foote of this choice. The furniture is so simplified it has become completely nondescript. Speaking of his motivation to use common objects, Foote said “They’re a very quick means to tapping into a person’s sense of nostalgia or memory”.
This show is writhe with wit and existential exhilaration. Both artists are making interesting challenging art and it will be excellent to see the final collection.

Judi Rotenberg Gallery
February 5 - March 1, 2009, Opening Reception February 12th, 6-8pm

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Adel Abdessemed: Situation And Practice

Abdel has constructed antibiotics to treat the violent tendencies of humanity. He thinks that he can save the world with his art (according to his opening lecture). The idea is to feed us little bits of violence and then we will not need to create it anymore. His show at the MIT List Gallery explores both pointless violence and violence with a purpose. He looks at necessary victimization – putting one’s self into another’s power in order to survive. These themes are explored through short looped videos projected onto all the walls of the gallery as well as shown on small television sets set around the floor interspersed with sculptures.
Born in war-recovering Algeria, Abdel is familiar with violence. He is careful to point out, however, that he is not a postcolonial artist. He is not taking a stance on international affairs and he is also not stuck in the national finger pointing game. During his lecture he said “Western guilt and culpability do not interest me”. He is simply showing us the basic, borderless human tendencies towards sadism and the reality of some violence being necessary. He is exploring the relationship between humans and aggression – along with the different forms that it takes.
To begin with, the pieces exploring necessary violence use animals as examples of necessary brutality. Birth of Love 2006 is a wall-sized projection of a feral cat graphically devouring a mouse. Muscles and ligaments slide around its lips and hang from its chomping jaws. There are several ideas at play here. One of them being violence for sustenance – in this case, violence towards the mouse. The violence for sustenance is then turned around when a series of feral cats put themselves in harm’s way in order to drink the milk being offered to them by Abdel in Self-sufficient sustenance through violence. Abdel calls this violence because the cats are subservient and “dependence on the kindness of others” for their food. It is strange that he picked cats drinking milk to prove this point. Prostitution gone wrong, or something where actual violence instead of the threat (a weak threat at that) of violence in order to obtain sustenance. Rape for food versus possibly being swatted by a human hand would be more appropriate – but I suppose it is aesthetically most fluid to keep it within the cat arena.
Unnecessary violence is his most interesting topic. Appropriately, he uses humans as the instigators for these acts. The comparison of animals committing violence versus humans committing violence is important in Abdel’s work. The conscious being (i.e. human) is capable of choosing not to commit violence and to find an alternative way to go about something. Also, we are the most diversely hedonists species. We do things left and right for our own pleasure. Humans do not prioritize necessity over pleasure. We can even go against functionality – like in the case of unnecessary violence. He makes this point with his installation piece, which consists of a series of human feet stomping on things that hurt them – for no apparent reason. One is a soda can. This is a pointless violent act, which will damage the foot and will therefore make it unable to walk for a while. He therefore, for the sake of pleasure (being art and social criticism in this case), depleted functionality. That is essentially human. Animals do not break their own feet. Animals are all superego. So, the conscious being is capable of performing unnecessary and unconstructive violent acts whereas animals cause harm out of necessity. The pointless harm of the other was shown through a piece where Abdel paid a black man to get milk continually and almost violently poured on him for a long time, so that he is gasping for breath and suffering quite immensely, stifled by the white liquid. It is very difficult to watch, particularly when acknowledging the unavoidable racial issues and the relationship to our recent history of slavery. This was a terrible thing to do to someone and there is motivation but pleasure through artistic engagement to do it
These pieces also raise the question about how different necessary violence and unnecessary violence for pleasure is. He did something wrong as an art piece to examine the foundation of ethics. These pieces suggest that ethical violations are as natural to humans as eating mice is to cats.
MIT List Visual Arts Center October 11th - January 4th.

Laylah Ali: Notes/Drawings/Untitled Afflictions

Laylah Ali: Notes/Drawings/Untitled Afflictions is the newest show of Laylah Ali. She combines her drawings with fragments of conversations she hear, newspaper clippings, things she things, plans for her art and other random things. These excerpts are numbered and laid over the images in a justified centered layout. Her writing is in script and hardly legible at times. The words do not make sense within or outside of context. Her images are mainly grotesque and cartoony. Many of her characters are wearing full-coverage clothing such as burkas and turtlenecks but the genitalia and /or breast are exposed. Many of the men wear burkas over their beards. Tribal imagery blends from many different cultures – notably Native American with lots of feathers and war paint; and Muslim with burkas of all different disciplines. Many of the characters have masks on. Some people are screaming within the burkas, which look like cages. Often their scalps are often peeling off – she details stubble on their hairline for a few inches before the hair starts. There are no titles. Each of the two rooms the show takes up have labels that say “All work Laylah Ali, 2008. Ink, Gauche, colored pencil and ball point pen on paper.” Many of the figures are deformed and missing limbs.
One piece depicts two figures on top of each other. He has scribbles where his penis would be, as well as a ripped pant leg and two leg clamps. She is wearing a headdress and her shirt has a section missing from it, exposing her breasts and belly. She has one leg that is combined in her skirt. His pants override the text in some areas, rendering it illegible. The text is as such:
165) Excuse me, how did you get into here? This is a private meeting.
166) You are my all-time favorite hands down
167) …. alleged truck noises
168)Fear of being splashed by road water, especially with malevolent intent
169) revenge is a bilist of #161
170) such is slashed times, a burnt house, a rowdy feline on a dark street
171) ignore him and ignore him too
172) I find your voice which lapses into a predictable monotone hard to listen to.
These pieces, as is evident, do not make sense and searching for meaning within the web of such absurdity is almost impossible, even for the most prolific art critics.
One of the more interesting pieces was of 2 men with their red gonads drawn in red over their stomachs. The gonad cords extend all the way down their legs, which is absurd. They have hijabs on which cover their mouths. Their chests are bare and they are wearing mini skirts. Because hijab are meant to cover the body, as are turtlenecks – the western version of a burka. The text reads:
151) Paul Wellstone?
152) Unable to recognize and thus defy enemies
153) unlivable
154) pregnant with potentially 7 mice
155) a removed expression on all of your characters
156) stickups
157) Taliban related stress versus Al Qaeida Stress
158) Bright’s Disease
159) Difficulty in denying reflexive image impulses
The image is especially absurd here. Gonads are extending to the feet, they are covering their mouths and noses but not their entire torso and they are wearing mini skirts in combination with their hijab.
Laylah Ali is intentionally confusing us. This show does not make sense. That is the point. We go into a gallery, which is a type of authority, expecting to derive meaning from pieces of art because that is what we do with art. She makes this essentially impossible. The point of this is to negate or at least question the effectiveness of language and imagery to convey messages. She is negating the authority of text and image. The curatorial statement says “ Language, too, is slippery. Like imagery, it relies heavily on convention and context.” Her work is a criticism of these tools as primary forms of communication. Ironic that she uses these tools to convey such a profound idea and she conveys it very effectively. She actually disproves her thesis by how well her point is conveyed.
Through the hybridized characters that blend ethnic imagery, Ali seems to be eliminating borders as she criticizes the communication tool our world uses to mediate between these borders (namely imagery and text). She essentially blends all arbitrary categories and signifiers into a vat of ugly nonsense.
The Decordova Museum August 30th – January 4th, 2009.

Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body

Black Womanhood is an exhibit dealing with cultural ideas about the black female body. It explores the perceptions and stigma around this subject from the archeological sculpture that ideas of African tribal realities were based on to contemporary international multimedia works about the topic. The exhibit, within the black female context, deals with many other issues such as motherhood, sexuality, social requirements and effects on black women. The show was powerful and witty.
Most of the wit is due to iconoclast Renee Cox. The two pieces she showed were the best pieces there. Her Hot-En-Tot piece was a powerful mockery of the world’s fascination with what is perceived to be the universal black female body. Her piece is a response to a wretched story of Sarah Baartman, a 19 year old African woman who was taken from Africa, showcased as a freak for her body shape (which was very different from that of the British) and eventually had her body parts showcased in jars in a French museum. She was known for her giant buttocks and vagina. Her vagina was returned to South Africa for a proper burial as late as 1994. She is the symbol of the West’s attitude towards black female sexuality and humanity. So Miss Cox decided to put on a bikini made of plastic with which is the shape of the Hotte-En –Tot’s body and look seductively at the camera. The idea is to re-sexualize Sarah Baartman, who had been turned into a specimen for study. It is also taking a stab at the idea that all black women look like that. Cox’s body, being thin and small, contrasts dramatically with the Sarah Baartman bikini, contradicting the stereotype. Her other piece wins the prize. It is truly hilarious, sexy and the ultimate fuck you to stuffy Caucasian art history. Baby Back (2001) depicts Cox, with her back to the camera, lying on a sensual yellow day bed, with hot red patent leather shoes on, mimicking Ingres’ famous Grande Odalisque (1814) – but instead of a duster, she holds a very intimidating whip. So first, having turned her back of the viewer, she is no longer objectified and couldn’t care less about them. Second, she is sexing it up with the shoes and her posture. However, no one dares come near her because of that whip. Its her essentially torturing the viewers and addressing the centuries during which black women were not holding the whip and were under the whip in sexual interactions as well as everything else. This historical context gives her even more power. It feels even more likely that she would use it because black women never got to. Besides the amazing conveyance of concept, this photograph is formally perfect. The color dynamic and a-symmetry is to die for – and the yellow color of that bed – mmmmmmm.
Wangechi Mutu’s Double Fuse plays with the lioness idea of black women. Her half human half animal characters are very sexy but have leopard print all over their bodies. This is an interesting choice given the stereotype of African women as animalistic. Cox and her, however, are reclaiming and sexualizing stereotypes in their pieces and its very effective.
Kara Walker unfortunately only had a popup book in the show from 1997. As usual, though the beautiful paper work and composition draws you in and then you can’t sleep for weeks due to what you make out of the confrontational Rorschach shadows. Bernie Searle had an interesting piece from Traces for the Color Me Series is a series of photos in two rows suspended from the ceiling. The back row is photos of her naked and covered in spices of different colors. Then the front row was photos of each of those same spice covering colors, but she had gotten up and left a spice angel on the white ground. “The presentation and absence of the body in the work points to the idea that identity is non-static”. Writes Bernie Searle
The show is very intense and very funny. Tears and cackles alike will be induced. The formal and installation atmosphere is also quite stunning.
Davis Museum and Cultural Center September 27th-December 14th, 2008 www.wellesley.edu/DavisMuseum

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Human Animal Project, Trustman Art Gallery

Paul Roux has organized an exhibition at the Simmons Trustman Gallery. His thesis is that humans are beasts and have not evolved. “Sometimes it seems as though we haven't evolved at all,” writes Roux. The pieces are generally beautiful and feed his thesis of general complaint over the state of society and its relation to the world. I found the thesis too broad and the artwork too broad as well. No specific point was concluded – because one certainly can’t prove that humans haven’t evolved.

Cathy McLaurin From the series Making Nice (2008)
A large brown paper was placed on the wall with hand-printed white designs and dolls with animal masks that cover one of each their eyes. It is a critique of the red-wagon pulling, bob haircut American Dream child. She makes us examine the dream child in a frightening context and when we realize that it increases the unease, we break down our constructed idea about children (of course, it doesn’t happen as fast as all that, but this is the process). The stuffed animal masks also comment on the concept of children as a novelty or a hobby. Placing toy heads on their faces, specifically that block one of their eyes, dehumanizes the children to the degree that they look like toys. This is a criticism of bourgeoisie approach to child rearing.
The curator relates this piece to an alternative dimension where we can escape from what he sees as a harsh world. “Part of me finds solace in a world where such beings roam free” Roux writes in his curatorial statement. The issue is that these creatures are very clearly terrifying. McLauren directly used the aesthetic of Donnie Darko (a film in which there is a horror figure with a bunny mask on naked Frank), which evokes fear and discomfort, not freedom of imagination, let alone escape. Then a little too much of an effort to theoretically analyze this piece peaks. “These beings are just as real as our perceptions of any living breathing thing, as real as Barney, Mickey Mouse, history, the bible,” He is not claiming that these icons are real but that they are constructed, just as these scary bunny creatures are constructed. Of course Barney is a construction. This reading does nothing for us besides makes Roux sound like he went to Graduate School.

Jason Lazarus’s Oprah Memorial (2006) A photograph of a sign outside of Oprah’s studio with flowers on it and a gritty water tower juxtaposed behind. The artists explained his project as “creating a memorial asks witnesses to consider the legacy of a cultural phenomenon while they are still alive.” This is a very basic point. Yes, it’s odd that we are obsessed with Oprah. However, juxtaposition is an overdone, cheap way to prove this point. The point is not interesting either. Everybody knows about the cult of the celebrity. This piece is not subtle or thrilling in the least. The only options the viewer is offered are right or wrong, both of which are incredibly boring and will not help our understanding of the world we exist in as the complex, multifaceted reality it is turning out to be.

Hiroko Kitchu’s piece is part of a performance piece she’s currently working on called Bee-vah, a critique the american dream. Drawings of denchers are gridded on the wall with prose underneath each drawing. It discusses standards of living that rise proportionally to need and examines the arbitrary standards like white teeth which are invented when needs are met and the way that people are compelled to worry regardless. “I had no accomplishments except surviving but that wasn’t enough in the community I grew up in because everyone is doing it. So I wasn’t prepared for America where everybody is glowing with good teeth and good clothes and good food.”, she writes about her immigration experience. One dencher caption refers to “straight teeth and crooked morals”. She raises criticism of American superficiality, but it only amounts to complaining. This piece did not contain a single shred of advice or constructive criticism. We already know it is a problem, and no, just because we admit we have a problem does not mean we want to fix it. “America is dumb, like a dumb puppy that has big teeth that can bite and hurt you that is aggressive”. She closes with “Americans have no identity but they do have wonderful teeth.”

This show amounts to some very beautiful complaining; no new problems that we haven’t seen addressed before and zero constructive ideas. The idea that humans haven’t evolved at all and that greed is an animal impulse are both silly concepts. “On the sixth day, greed gave birth to blind pursuit in the western colonial mould that has opened the door for a cultural and human void” Roux writes in his curatorial statement. Greed, however, comes along with consciousness. To see it as an animalistic drive ignores the requirement of consciousness in order to desire more than one needs. No animal accumulates food for the hell of it. Only conscious humans. This criticism of human behavior is very passé. Everybody knows it’s a catastrophe. It is a waste of time to look at art about it. Morbid exploration is what is needed – art should be providing us with a window into the reasoning or lack there of of the current situation. It should be inducing the consumerist rush that causes so much trouble so we can examine our addiction on a pedestal. The reality will do the work for itself. Human commentary and disapproval pales in comparison to the real monsters we are talking about. Put the monsters on the pedestals. Bring the hedonism into the gallery. Let us feel the vice for ourselves. Show us what we crave out of context, then we will examine it.
Trustman Gallery, October 7th - November 4th, 2008.

Notes From the Underground: 1982-2007, A 25-Year Survey

On the left was Nixon. On the right was Elvis. The middle figure rang several bells. “Is that Jesus or Charles Manson?” I asked Nathan Censullo, director of the Pierre Menard Gallery in Harvard Square. “That’s the artist, Nick Lawrence.”

Nick’s Notes From the Underground: 1982-2007, A 25-Year Survey is comprised of over 100 pieces, packed millimeters apart into the beautiful wood paneled space, making up “really just a sample” of the work Lawrence has produced in the past 25 years.

Thankfully, due to the amount of pieces, his work is organized into succinct series, each with a distinct concept and material makeup. “He really spent a lot of time investigating it crossing different media platforms,” Censullo said of his technical development. This Friday, the Pierre Menard Gallery is opening their doors and uncorking their bottles to facilitate the public’s experience of this crazy gorgeous show with it’s closing celebration.

The Pierre Menard has a classy bohemian vibe. They just opened in 2006 under owner John Wronowski, and Director Nathan Censullo. Often, the gallery has poetry readings and intimate musical events. The closing celebration will be a visually explosive, mentally stimulating and belly satisfying engagement.

Stylistically each series is very different. For the Dali Fetishists out there, The Deep Time: Underground Series is a tantalizing combo of collage, varnish and golem-esque Greek Tragedy references. Conceptually, we are underground – both culturally and literally. The material is impressively successful, considering he used collage to achieve the biomorphic smooth landscapes of the surrealists – known for appearing to be liquid. In Subterraneous (1991), we are brought underground (hence the name). Two disembodied heads look at each other, divided by what look like rock formations. Below them, in what appears to be lower geographical level, is another prehistoric bird painted over a circular map.

For the pulp fetishists, The House Series uses the recognizable five-slab symbol for a house as a border to all sorts of dark intriguing things. It begins with houses exuding very separate personalities through abstract and representational tribal language. Bright Africana colors exude light and often optimism. Triple Decker #2 (1997) is crazy with life. Contrasting abstract forms creates a separate personality for each room. A rounded bioform fills up the bottom room completely while a spiky stacked shape is stuck in the doorway. Spider webs fill the middle ground but become the arms of an ovular scarab thing standing there. A spindly top-heavy bubblehead creature crawls onto the roof. There is unmistakable glee here.
Who knows what happened in the middle of this series to Nick, but the series takes a turn for the naughty. The houses become brothels, indicated by the title addition (Bordello). InHouse Torso (Bordello)the house symbol rounds slightly, becoming vaginal and within the vagina house is a pasted together woman’s body. The lower half is in the style of a negative. This torso – contained within her own holding space –which both female genitalia and homes are, has had her visible genitalia reversed in color – namely made negative. The house (which is a brothel) has made her vagina negative. The housing series closes with Mountain House (1997) when everything is both duotone and abstract with slight clues in the title and the formations as to what the photo originally was (a.k.a mountains).

An extremely visually pleasing but conceptually blurry series is the Nuclear Fission Series. According to the Gallery director, this series is very special to Nick. They are extraordinarily beautiful (providing you’re into gritty stuff like Rauschenberg and Dubuffet). The collage in these takes a step further, including driftwood, straw, thick paint, sometimes carved out of again, and pen and ink drawings on paper with lacquer over them. The drawings look like woodprints, which adds to the almost sculptural works artifact aesthetic.

The Scroll Series is an Africana themed collection. It is done with oil-stick and acrylic on paper. They strike on several levels. First, the setting is always a landscape with native people of different types in the foreground. On the horizon, there is generally an apocalyptic scenario, but all of the coloring is so bright and cheerful that the apocalypse seems fine. Birth of Nile (1987) is one of the most striking pieces in the show. The first thing the eye is drawn to is the male’s hat, a fez with a plant growing out of it. The plant has shower/watering can nozzles instead of flowers. The plant reigns into the dry riverbed where a woman and man are kneeling, the woman waiting and ready to sail a western toy sail boat. The man is holding a drop of water up to his nose to smell it, as if it were a diamond. The apocalyptic background has planes crashing, turtles that look too much like tanks to be ignored patrolling against the horizon. A cannon is pointed at the man. Both of their legs are wrapped in what could be chains or bracelets. Restrained, and in the face of the western imagery enclosing on the horizon, not to mention the chains around their bodies, the woman patiently waits for the river to fill so her boat will float, while the man looks hopeful that the Nile will refill.

A playful art history theme throughout the show helps to remind us that Nick has been a gallery owner for almost 30 years. He is the owner of Freight and Volume Gallery in New York. Bird in Space (1990), a rough abstract bondage-flamenco-type-shape teases the famed Modern Artist Broncos, who made many abstract Birds with that same title. In his Division in Time series Nick pays tribute to the modern master Le Courbet. Courbet’s Burial at Ornans (1862) was the first painting to question linear perspective in painting and the value of the clergy in one blow. The scene is a funeral that the pope and his followers as well as the peasants attend. The peasants look completely disinterested by the Pope, which was taken harshly. The final straw was a dog that belonged to the peasants depicted staring away from the pope – as if he was inconsequential even to the dog. InBurial at Ornans (After Courbet) Lawrence took three images from the original, which are progressive zooms of the dog looking away. His background for the pieces is yellow and red with red blood drops and what could easily be perceived as fecal matter floating in the bio soup behind the detail of Le Courbet’s genius.
His influences pour in through each piece – Paul Klee, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Dubuffet are palpable, along with many more. His medium and his concept make it obvious that Nick has been living and breathing art for most of his life.

The Pierre Menard Gallery, September 25th – November 7th
Closing Reception Friday, November 7th 6-9pm. Artists talk 6-7.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Karsh 100: A Biography in Images.

Anne Havinga, senior curator for the MFA has put together a show attempting to “reveal the humanity with which [Karsh] approached all people”. She is trying, by showing some of his travel photography and private works of family etc… to show the non-iconifying Karsh. Her thesis, unfortunately, was either not adequately proved or is not true. Even Karsh’s pieces of his first wife become ideas of idealized femininity. His lens converts humanity into icons. His travel photography – everywhere from African tribes to a Bishop and his nephew lose their humanity entirely and become timeless symbols. These photos are iconic legacies. The combination of dramatic lighting – which removes the subject from linear time, and the surreal medium of photography makes them far larger than life – life being human.

Yousuf Karsh was a legendary photographer who photographed personalities from different sections of American celebrity society. The exhibit is a fleshed out construction of American cultural identity. Everyone stares out of the photos –Hepburn, Einstein, Eisenhower, JFK and most striking of all – Hemingway. Notice no mention of first names was necessary in this cast list. It was a startling experience. The audience became a part of an impressive tragic legacy – all constructed by Karsh.

The reason this experience was so intense was because Karsh created an American iconography out of ordinary people. He did the Tennessee Williams - you know the one – typewriter, cigarette (in glamorous holder, of course) and an “ever present glass of scotch”, in Karsh’s words. The quintessential play write, mustache and all. But there is no visual definition of a playwright. Karsh made it. He created what we think a playwright is. The power of that is immense. It’s every contemporary (by contemporary, unfortunately for the present theoretical institution, I mean 1970’s) theorist’s wet dream. Not just the chauvinist playwright either. JFK, during his campaign – hands clutched the same way Jesus is often depicted in prayer (fingers interlaced), light shining directly on the his third eye – an identical Christ reference. He’s going to save us – Karsh whispers with this image. Actually, it is not a whisper. It is a direct announcement, and a ballsy one at that. In that photo, he solidified the hope that new presidents hold to our country. The image is not JFK. It is potential president as savior. And even today, given the key words Obama favors, there aren’t many things that get Americans more excited.

Hemingway – the quintessential tortured artist. He stares terrified into the abyss, his eyes black, looking cold and worn by his perpetual pondering. A giant effeminate sweater swells around his throat, making him look all the more pathetic and ruffled. It is disturbing – dejected and too idealistic for reality as his mind was. This photo (as my observations of it are a good illustration) invites projection and application of ideas/emotions. This is because Hemingway has become everything we associate with this stereotype – when Hemingway himself was just a man.

The remarkable thing about Karsh was his ability to not only encompass simple emotions but to define complex separate roles within society visually. The work is stunning.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Rabb Gallery 9.23.2008 – 1.19.09