Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review of Paul Baylock, New/Now, Museum of American Art

As a matter of disclosure, Paul is the President of the Art League of New Britain where we both show and share friendly and respectful,  peer and professional friendships.  We both grew up in New Britain, CT and Paul's dad was my Jr High School Gym instructor - so our roots run deep.

Paul is a consummate craftsman.  His paintings and sculpture are highly refined and pristine.

The artwork that is represented in the New/Now show is tightly coupled to Paul's experience as a lifelong New Britain native, high school art teacher, and boyhood imprints.  Much of his work employs both stencil and collage/assemblage techniques. The subject is often the effect of the industrial revolution on a town synonymous with manufactured hardware.

While the gallery narrative suggests the work has a relationship to the ubiquitous artistic trope of memory, I disagree.  These pieces individually and as a whole are a super-fiction kitsch - a manufactured nostalgia. Less memory than a narrative of longing for an alternative history. One in which the trappings of the industrial revolution were still in play.

Contrast Paul's snapshot of industrial Americana with Thomas Hart Benton a few galleries over.  Benton's America is about people, Paul's about location and things. Its a stark contrast. And Paul's work is most meaningful to the few individuals who similarly lament the passing of the twentieth century.

Many of Paul's sculptures and paintings invite us to peer through factory windows that obfuscate the reality that exited outside the window and the reality that existed inside the factory window.

As the son of a factory worker, I know first-hand the missing context.  Yes, making hardware was honest work and grew a middle-class - good work for those whose calling in life  was working with their hands, or back, or providing unquestioning compliance. And they made great tools and hardware components.  This is what Paul's work celebrates.

What is missing are the worker's strikes that families suffered through, when stress resulted in physical violence at home, or scenes of workers in winter minding a warming fire while striking at street corners.

Nor does his work speak to workers who would sacrifice a finger to the machinery to pay a bill, feed a hungry child, or provide a down-payment on a better home.

The workers inside those windowed factories were men AND women whose hands and backs were sometimes deformed by the work.  There is no identity politic literature that cares to speak of the conditions.  Paul's work leaves it to your imagination.  Maybe too much so.

I highly recommend seeing Paul's show.  Its authentic and wholly contemporary - a pseudo-narrative by a New-Britain-as-every-industrial-town native who, like all of us, wonders where it all went to.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Danforth "Juried" Art Show Problem

I haven't submitted any work to the Danforth Museum in Massachusetts for a number of years now. They have an annual "juried" show that is local enough that it caught my interest and so, a few years ago, I submitted a piece and waited for the selection sheet.  My work wasn't chosen - fair enough.

But what caught my attention was the incredible volume disparity of women's work to men's work. The difference was staggering - something like 2 to 1 in favor of women's pieces.  And to put that number in perspective, at around that time I was doing a contract in Pittsfield, MA and had attended an artist talk at the Leslie Ferrin Gallery.  The artist was a woman who taught Fine Art at one of the local Universities and was represented in a New York gallery.

The talk involved women's representation in galleries.  The speaker said she had had few problems in her career with outright discrimination and really had little trouble finding gallery representation. Leslie Ferrin added that while she made every effort to promote women's work, two factors affected the proportion of exhibited women's work in her experience.

First, most of the artists walking through the door were men.

Second, women's art, despite the quality, simply didn't sell as well. Selling is what keeps the doors open.

That talk provided a much needed context a few years later in reading The Gorilla Girls criticism of women's representation in "the Art World".  The implicit reasoning might be that a 50 - 50 representation would be fair based on population estimates.

But would galleries be unfair if 70% (an arbitrary guesstimate) of the artists walking through the door were men and they dedicated 50% of their space to women?  Maybe not.  But it would be equally understandable if the split was, in fact 70% men over time - all things being equal.  And yes, there would be exceptions in all kinds of ways for any given event... but over time who walks through the door and who sells would likely be representative of the cohort.

Arithmetic and not statistics (per se) is all that's required to make sense of these things.

This then brings us back to the astonishing disproportion of women's art being "juried" into a museum show in 2016.  That's right, 2016.  While I didn't submit work to Danforth, I do get their emails and they wisely advertise who got into the juried show - great advertising. So who got in?

Yet again, two thirds of the accepted work was by women (70% to be more precise).  So I looked up a few more catalogs.  In 2011, almost exactly 67% were women.  In 2013, approximately 65%. In these cases I just grouped obvious men an women's names and put dubious gender under men.  The number is close enough for scrutiny.  My guess is that the arithmetic will hold throughout the run of shows.

Going back to an earlier point, that percentage would legitimize itself if 70% of the Danforth entries every year were consistently from women.  But that is hard to imagine.

Furthermore you may be thinking there's a feminist purity principle involved.  Of the men's work juried into the show, many ran galleries or had prestigious local credentials.  No one obviously important had their toes stepped on.

So the net effect is that of the 33% men's representation, far less than that was representative of new, young, or unknown men.

It's not unfair to say that this subverts the intent of juried exhibitions in aesthetic, political, legal, and social ways - none of the consequences good.

Every artist has a tight budget so submitting work to shows costs money, time, and alternative opportunity cost. The (maybe worse than) reverse discriminatory empirical evidence means that artists who apply in goodwill with an assumption that their work will be judged fairly wasn't and isn't. Any artist can tell you that they can live with rejection but not with suspicion of a rigged system.

As for the definition of "juried" show, I don't think anyone imagines a situation where every year men's art and women's art is separated into two unequal groups - cherry picked for influence on the men's side and another criteria applied to the women's group.

As I look at this, I wonder how widespread this practice is and will become - it's not healthy at all.
IMO, such shows should provide some easy numbers; how many applied and how many of each gender. It's not an absolute metric and all art shows will have wild deviations.  But over time these deviations will balance themselves far differently than those at the Danforth.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, the Graydon Parrish Gallery Talk

The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, the Graydon Parrish Gallery Talk

Thursday evening, Sept 10,2015, New Britain Museum of American Art

Considering that I had written a preview review of the newly reconstructed NBMAA galleries, I wanted to visit them first hand and also attend the Graydon Parrish gallery talk to attempt to understand what he might be referring to when he labels his work Post Contemporary.

His large canvas called The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy is something I had encountered in previous visits. It's a memorial piece eulogizing the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and it was commissioned by the NBMAA and the parents of someone who lost their life in the events of that day.

Art takes on significance in many ways and memorial works acquire emotional and sentimental value for those who express their grief and orphaned love through them. It's important to respect those emotions as projected into the symbol such a memorial represents.  That said, I want to offer a wholly artistic critique of the work.  This critique is not a critique of those who are emotionally coupled to the piece.

In my previous visits, I simply disliked the piece because it failed to connect with me.  I didn't like the scale, the painting style, nor could I decipher the obvious narrative elements it contained. I had hoped the gallery talk by Parrish might change my mind.

Graydon Parrish looks very much like a prima donna and his demeanor is punctuated by humorous quips that have been vetted in previous talks.  A search of YouTube produces a near identical monologue delivered some years ago in the same venue. During his talk, I warmed up to him a bit. He's forever saddled with a beast of his own making and there's a real burden in that.

A lot of his gallery talk sounds very patronizing to his bread and butter audience - the true believers. They refer to the piece as a masterpiece and to Graydon as a genius.  Graydon is more than happy to milk that sentiment and compares aspects of his painting to Picasso and Michelangelo.  In both cases, the similarity is wholly wishful thinking but hey, you have to kill time somehow in these gallery talks.

As I listened to him explain the painting I found that I disliked it even more after the explanations than when the thing merely confused me.  Parrish uses the painting as a blunt instrument. He claims (and promtional material echoes) the idea that the painting is "allegorical" - representing a historical snapshot.  He also claims it is complex. And he has a cultist fervor for its realism, "beauty", and old-fashioned aesthetics (I'm guessing this is what he calls Post Contemporary).

Parrish is a fine, skilled technical painter and his painting is filled with dozens of examples of academic virtuosity.  Young and old human figures, flowing cloth, atmospheric effects are all abundantly represented. It is the kind of realist illusionism that was common hundreds of years ago when Western Art's central theme was Christian scenes and more Christian scenes. In the context of a memorial painting about an event that often used Christianity and the Muslim religion as counterpoints and given the cultural diversity of the victims, the theological implications of the work are dubious.

And Parrish is correct in feeling uncomfortable as a Contemporary artist. Both his narrative layers and his black and white religious kitsch are difficult to logically reconcile.  Unlike well curated PostModern appropriations of symbol, icon, and metaphor, Parrish's piece is a mishmash of self-promotion ("postContemporary" advocacy), misunderstanding allegory for fabulism, and in his fabulism he conflates the cycle of life with the political invention of a "cycle of terror and tragedy". This reduces the piece to little more than a monumental visual gravestone whose sentiments are not universal but slapped together to satisfy a grieving audience.

The narrative of the piece, rather than representing a natural cycle of life interrupted by a sudden tragic event asserts that the cycle of life is little more than a sequence of innocence, terror, tragedy, then wisdom and a reincarnation of the cycle yet again.  This is a philosophical Stockholm syndrome in which victims embrace victimhood as an explanation for all of life.  Parrish claims the scene of three grieving women (likely lifted from just about any illustrated crucifixion painting from the golden age of crucifixion paintings) in fact represent the three Greek fates (destiny's beginning, middle, end). His audience finds this profound to one degree or another but the conClation of Christianity and pre-destiny is little more than oxymoron.  To make matters worse these destiny symbols are grieving (instead of just observing and saying "that's what I'm talking about"). To add insult to philosophical injury, Parrish points to the woman with the handkerchief to her mouth and says that has to do with the chemical/biologic attack.

The narrative is a victim-hood fiction, start to finish and it contains flourishes of Disney-like fable. To the very right in the painting is a yellow smudge that stands out of the chaos like a Tinkerbell, "That", Parrish asserts, "is the glimmer of hope!" as he rolls his eyes and twists away for dramatic effect. Just below is a ribbon that shapes the infinity symbol ("Infinity AND Beyond!"). The color palette is red, white, and blue. There's a black woman and white women. The men are the towers and the women (in classic realist glory) are supporting props. There's an hour or more of Parrish explaining all this and its jaw-dropping in many more cases.

The ultimate failure of the piece however lies in the choice of choosing Grayson Parrish as the artist. Parrish is an evangelist for a return to realist painting and claims to allegorical painting in his own work.  The attack of September 11 was not an attack on individuals or even the United States, the attack was an attack on Modernity - technological progress, Contemporary Art, religious differences, human dignity that transcends class of birth, and so on.

The irony of the piece is that Parrish's evangelism is the same cultural attack on Modernity and in many ways his audience are philosophically more coupled to the terrorists than they imagine themselves to be. It is noteworthy that in Parrish's painting the narrative concludes with a survivor whose lesson from the event bestows wisdom.  This fiction conveniently ignores the fact that the terror of 9/11 was followed by a decade or more of random and directed vengeance and retribution, not wisdom.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

21st Century Art, contemporary yes, Contemporary no

The New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA) has added a new wing to its facilities that includes the McKernan 21st century Art gallery. Susan Dunne, the Hartford Courant's art reviewer wrote a sneak-preview piece about this additional space in the August 23, 2015 Arts section of the paper.

I grew up in New Britain and I'm familiar with the museum and its many incarnations. But for decades the museum has operated with a discomfort and disdain for non-representational, (let's generally call it) abstract art. Yet the art that made American Art globally recognized is difficult to find and when you find the trace material, it is usually unrepresentative of the best or iconic work of the artist.  The one Jackson Pollock painting is a tiny seascape.  Even Pollock is reduced to the scenery painting that is near ubiquitously collected and curated by the museum ad nausea.

Susan Dunne writes that finally, "There are now dedicated spaces for surrealism, abstract expressionism, conceptualism, photorealism, pop art, photography, even 'bad art'. The museum has owned Warhol, Wyeth, Man Ray, Nevelson, Indiana, Gottlieb, Sage, Avery, Tooker, LeWitt, and more. Dunne writes, "while it is invigorating to see the work of time-honored masters - many of the artworks haven't been exhibited in a long time" without the slightest hint of irony. The masters have been in mothballs and the museum instead served up decade after decade of kitsch and geographically provincial absurdity and the museum has the gall to dedicate a gallery to presumably even worse art. Hopefully they're only recycling what's been on the walls too many years. If that's the case you can be sure it will be carefully guarded for the inevitable retrospective of the good old days when the masters were in mothballs.

The true subject of this essay is not the lack of vision that has plagued the museum in the past, it is the lack of vision described by Dunne in the Contemporary Art category. I know. You can see it coming already, can't you.

The McKernan Gallery is dedicated to 21st century art 2000 - present. The idea of categorizing Fine Art by year is absurd at face value. Historicity is a very outdated way to even think about past art, so we are already in troubling waters. A gallery dedicated to the Contemporary and PostModern is no more evident than the masters in mothballs pieces were all these years.

Dunne describes what will be in the history-biased gallery and it is little more than a litany of political commentary, "The exhibit offers an energetic array of styles and media, and the 40 works, installed side-by-side, point out a common thread in the NEW/NOW series that might not have been obvious in each artist's individual show; its longtime dedication to presenting art that makes a social statement". If your eyes aren't rolling yet they will be soon.

Some of the pieces Dunne describes, "Hung Liu's 'Relic 12' shows a bored woman with bound feet, a commentary on the limited role of women in traditional Chinese society". Dunne understandably misses the point just as the museum does. The bound feet are not about lack of opportunity, an American feminist meme - the bound feet are more likely about China's birth control issues (the last thing American feminists might complain about).  Not all Chinese women lounge around.  Visit on a search engine a high-tech manufacturing plant in China and take a look at their deformed hands sometime. There's no lack of opportunity in the sweat shops. But that American angle to the work isn't there.

Dunne goes on to list a litany of politically charged subjects, feminist statements, over-saturation of commercial imagery, immigrants trying to navigate the United States, post-911-ism, internment, pop-Christianity, guns and video game statements.  Taken as a whole, its a show of over-sized political bumper stickers collected as "statement art". FIFTEEN YEARS (or more) of statement art! Its enough to make a grown artist cry. And it explains why the art is categorized as it is by the politics du jour.

The most American thing about this state of affairs is that the museum has become a collection of stuff, lost causes, causes that never were, causes that bored us into inaction like a cluttered basement of a political activist with an obsessive love of kitsch.

American Art is more than this and the museum needs to re-evaluate the myopic obsession with representation, politics, and intellectual intolerance for Modern and Contemporary Art. I'm not optimistic. Graydon Parrish whose Cycle of Terror and Tragedy (yet-another-911-memorial-commission) is holding a discussion about his piece with a group of other artists who paint in similar style.  They call themselves PostContemporary artists.  What are PostContemporary artists? Well the work is an awful lot like pre-Renaissance, Cartesian-subject matter. You can't make stuff like this up but never confuse the label with the thing.

- Frank Krasicki, 082715

Saturday, May 30, 2015

This is a Peter Karp photo of me in front of my two entries into the Williamsburg Art & Historical Society's Bridges Self show in May of 2015.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The MetroNorth Ticket Refund Scam

I learned the hard way the bait and switch tactics used by MetroNorth to ensure that every dime of your weekly and monthly tickets that are turned in for refunds should you be unable to use the remaining time on the ticket is theirs.

Here's how it works, The fares are loosely set by the State.  MetroNorth then gets to set the rules of the game.

Rule #1.) The official week of a weekly ticket begins on Saturday.  It does not begin on the day you buy it and last for seven days.

If you are a weekly commuter who works Monday through Friday and you buy your ticket on Monday, you have paid for the Saturday and Sunday before you purchased your ticket and not the Saturday and Sunday of the week in front of you.

For MetroNorth this is free money in many ways.

Rule #2.) Tickets are not prorated.  Should you buy a monthly ticket for say $100 and turn it in on the 15th of the month for refund, you will not get $40 back ($50.00 - a $10.00 "service" fee). What actually happens is this.

The monthly ticket is recalculated to its smallest more expensive components.  Let's say that $100 monthly ticket consists of  two weekly tickets and a one day ticket.  The weekly ticket is $35 and a daily ticket is $10.

In this most optimistic case, we have 2 x $35 = $70 plus a $10 daily which comes out to $80.00.  MetroNorth then subtracts the $80 from $100 and you get a refund of $20.  Keep in mind this is a best case.  The calculation might be a one week ticket and 8 daily tickets in which case you get nothing back.  Turn it in after 15 days and you are royally hosed no matter what.

I won't lecture you about fairness or about how consumer protection is wholly absent from all of this.  The system is corrupt and the consumer is routinely battered by these duplicitous agencies and their political cronies.

Here's some suggestions that will re-empower all of us to control this out-of-control and ethically-diseased situation.

First, reselling your ticket to someone at the office you work at (and using our example above) for $30 saves them money, gives you a bit more than you'd optimistically ever hope to get back, and makes two people feel better about the world.

Second, you could donate your ticket to someone who would normally pay for a similar ride at the station.  You feel good, no paperwork, and you are exercising an act of goodwill that the world sorely needs.

Same deal is you donate the rides to a charity organization who can let job seekers use the ticket offsetting their expenses.

A final note:  I called the MetroNorth Concerns/Complaint line about this and I asked a thought exercise.  I said to the woman that if its okay for MetroNorth to recalculate the price structure of the ticket in their favor what would be wrong with the refundee asking that the reamining fifteen days be refunded at a daily rate, say $10 x 15 days?

"Why then you'd get back more than you paid! THAT will NEVER HAPPEN", she exclaimed.  I reminded her that MetroNorth was getting back more than they provided.  <crickets>

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Updated: I tell 'ya, *We just can't find Artists in Connecticut!*"


Since this essay was written, the Arts organization in question, is in fiscal difficulty. I take not an iota of Schadenfreude in their situation but if the organization has difficulty finding artists in CT, unsurprisingly the NEA had equal difficulty finding Art and return on art investment in the organization.  OBVIOUSLY, there's a bigger problem than funding at work here.


This is a second in a series of blogs about why good and great art in Connecticut are ignored.

The conversation I had with the Arts organization Visual Arts co-ordinator a few weeks ago yielded a nugget worth  examining.  After a series of exchanges that all ended with co-ordinator asserting that "We [her organization]  just can't find artists [in Connecticut]" she mentioned that "maybe the people putting together a Connecticut Arts list will make it easier" [again I'm paraphrasing].

So I went home and looked them up - CT Art List.  They had a pretty decent Facebook page that essentially aggregated Connecticut Art shows - not the worst thing that could happen.  But what piqued my interest was their Artist Gallery page.  Here they display the names of Connecticut artists and a .jpg of their work.

This gallery gives the impression that they're aggregating a comprehensive list of Connecticut artists of the kind my delusional arts organization friend "just could not find".  So I submitted my name and a representative piece of work and waited.

About a week later I received a generic letter that stated, "We have received your application and we are carefully reviewing it. If you are chosen, you will have a page/section created on our Curated Image Bank. If you are not, we encourage you to keep on creating and continue to follow CT ArtList on Facebook, Twitter and on our website. Please submit any events you may have or you know of and we'll do our best to get them up on our site."

The minute I received this I was tempted to write, "Why call yourself Connecticut Art List if you have no interest in artists in Connecticut?"  But I didn't, thinking that I'd let this play out.

So days later, I start poking around their website.  What's this?

"The curated image bank currently features 28 artists from every corner of the state, and in all different stages of their careers. An overwhelming majority of the featured artists are graduates of Connecticut art schools- most with advanced degrees."

Soooo... "Curated" basically means academically credentialed artists [only].  Sweet.  Art history teaches us that that's where most great art comes from or, as the Borat character might say, - NOT!

Rather than rant and rave about this site, their pretentiousness, and the tone-deaf claim that it's some kind of art list representing state artists, let's chalk it up as yet-another-me and mine-first-self-serving art site looking to cash in on the suckers who get signed up.

This isn't new or news.  Brooklyn Art Project gave me the same rash.  There are others.  They advertise themselves as being a resource to you when in fact you are an unpaid, unrecognized asset [potential web consumer] to them.

The sad, pernicious fact is that CT Arts organizations that receive government funding are gamed to serve very specific, inside constituencies.  Their ties to academia and their closed-minded ideas about art and appetite for monopolizing art funding and venues exclude independent artists from the game.

As artists we are emotionally manipulated into feeling sorry for the poor self-serving bureaucrats who "just can't find..." us.  In business, these people would have to explain their conflicts of interest but in the art world we treat them like the victim.