Sunday, October 26, 2014

Paul Germanos at Antena Gallery

Went to the Paul Germanos art opening at Antena Gallery in Pilsen this weekend. Paul has selflessly documented the Chicago art scene for years. You can see me in the background in black and white. Boy have I changed.

Thoughts I had during the show:
1) Wow, Paul's photos make the art world look like so much more fun than it actually is.

2) Paul has gone to way more openings than most of us and his photos are such a gift to everyone who cares about art or makes art. He's put everyone else and their work before himself.

3) This work should be published in a book/ archived/ shown again for more people to see. 

To Celebrate Its Jewish History, Poland Presents ‘a Museum of Life’

I worked on the painting of this Gwozdziec Synagogue exhibit at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews two years ago. Looks like it is finally opening.

You can see inside the synagogue here:

 And read the article from the New York Times here and below:

Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw to Unveil Core Exhibition 

PMuseum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw to Unveil Core Exhibiti

The MThe Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. 
CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Timesuseum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. 
CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

WARSAW — With anti-Semitism having become more prominent again across Europe, something quite different is growing in a huge, translucent building at the center of a vanished neighborhood in Warsaw.

After several days of concerts, seminars, festivals and hoopla, the core exhibition of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews — the most ambitious cultural institution to rise in Poland since the fall of Communism — will be unveiled on Tuesday. Poland’s top political leaders will be there, as will the president of Israel and other international dignitaries. The institution has been embraced across the political spectrum and has drawn only scattered, mild protest.
In eight sprawling galleries, packed with multimedia exhibitions and artifacts, the museum traces the history of Jews from their first appearance in Poland in the Middle Ages to the present day. The Holocaust, the part of the story that is most often remembered, fills only one of the eight galleries.
“I would see these young people from America and Israel making their visits to Poland,” said Sigmund A. Rolat, a labor camp survivor who grew rich in New York and became one of three American entrepreneurs to finance the project in its early years. “And what would they see? Death camps and cemeteries and empty places where synagogues used to be. Ours is not another museum of the Holocaust. We are more than victims. Ours is a museum of life.”


"The Poland you see today is a complete anomaly,” said Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, for many years a professor of Eastern European Jewish culture at New York University, who has become the director of the museum’s core exhibition. “Never was Poland as homogeneous, linguistically and ethnically, as it is today.” CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

To a large extent, it is mere coincidence that the exhibition is gaining prominence at the same time anti-Jewish sentiment is rising in other parts of Europe. The museum has been in the works for more than two decades and is already opening later than its founders originally hoped. But some experts say there is more at work, something revealing about the different path Poland has taken since the fall of Communism, and a kind of national yearning to reclaim a half-forgotten past when Jews and Jewish culture were a dominant part of Polish life.
“The Poland you see today is a complete anomaly,” said Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, for many years a professor of Eastern European Jewish culture at New York University, who has become the director of the museum’s core exhibition. “Never was Poland as homogeneous, linguistically and ethnically, as it is today.”
For most of its history, Poland was the most diverse country in Europe. In 1939, there were 3.5 million Jews here. In many towns, they were a majority. In Warsaw, they accounted for more than 30 percent of the population.
About 300,000 Polish Jews survived the war, but more than 90 percent of those emigrated, largely to America and Israel. Now, the number of Jews living in Poland, with a population of 38 million, is believed to be around 25,000.
At the same time, young people in Poland have been actively reclaiming the nation’s Jewish past. Annual festivals in Krakow and Warsaw regularly draw tens of thousands of people dancing to klezmer bands and eating kugel and gefilte fish, almost all of them Polish Catholics.
“Young Poles want to have a very strong identity,” said Dariusz Stola, a historian who was named director of the new museum. “Being Jewish, being interested in things Jewish, is something special, a little different.”


Its eight galleries include a replica of the ceiling of the destroyed Gwozdziec Synagogue.CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

Perhaps because the remaining Jews in Poland are so few and so assimilated, Jewishness is not a factor in most Poles’ daily lives, said Piotr Wislicki, a 62-year-old atheist and entrepreneur who embraced his Jewish ethnicity only after the fall of Communism in 1989. As president of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, he has overseen the completion of the museum’s programs and exhibitions.
“There is anti-Semitism in Poland, of course,” Mr. Wislicki said. “But it is like all over the world, no more, no less.”
Michael Schudrich, a New Yorker who moved to Poland in 1990, has become the country’s chief rabbi, operating from one of the last remaining prewar synagogues, tucked behind blocks of apartments near the center of Warsaw.
“There have always been two streams of thought in Poland,” he said. “A xenophobic stream, in which Poland is for the Poles and that is that, and a more multicultural stream that argues that Poland becomes stronger when it embraces pluralism. After 1989, it was not clear which way Poland would go. But multiculturalism has maintained its dominance, and the museum is a result of that.”
Warsaw’s lost Jewish community sprawled across most of the northern and western parts of the city. During World War II, Germans reduced the city to rubble, and nothing remains of the old Jewish neighborhood, once the largest in the world. The museum rests in the center of a large rectangular park at the heart of that neighborhood, overlooked by stern apartment blocks with few, if any, Jewish residents.
It is made of gleaming, greenish glass, reflecting the surrounding trees and the nearby Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. A new monument, to honor Poles who helped save Jews during the war, will also be built on the grounds.


"Young Poles want to have a very strong identity,” said Dariusz Stola, a historian who was named director of the new museum. “Being Jewish, being interested in things Jewish, is something special, a little different.”CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

The idea for such a museum was first proposed in the early 1990s, but it was no more than an idea. Not until three wealthy Americans — Victor Markowicz, a software entrepreneur in New York; Tad Taube, a real estate and sportswear executive in the Bay Area; and Mr. Rolat — came aboard more than a decade ago was there enough seed money to move the project forward.
The biggest breakthrough came in 2005, when the mayor of Warsaw — Lech Kaczynski, who later became president of Poland — and the minister of culture, Waldemar Dabrowski, agreed to provide the museum’s site and pay for its construction. The Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland would oversee the design of the building and both the design of and the fund-raising for its core exhibition.
The building was originally estimated to cost $27 million. It ended up costing $67 million. The core exhibition, initially budgeted at $7 million, ultimately cost about $55 million.
But slowly, the money came together, sometimes from non-Jews who believed it was important for Poles to learn about their country’s Jewish heritage. Jan Kulczyk, for instance, a well-known beer magnate with multiple business interests who is often referred to as the richest man in Poland, gave $6.5 million, making him the largest individual donor.
The building opened in April of last year and has been the site of temporary exhibitions, concerts, seminars and theatrical events. It is the 43,000-square-foot core exhibition, the heart of the museum, that will be unveiled on Tuesday.
Highlights include early Jewish manuscripts, re-creations of Jewish town life (including a scale replica of an actual synagogue with its colorful painted interior), vintage photographs and films, histories of Polish-born movements from Hasidism to Zionism, and a vast multimedia network encompassing more than 250 computer terminals powered by two servers in a backstage control room.
The museum attracted about 300,000 visitors in its first year, and museum officials said they expected that number to swell to at least 500,000. Most will come from Poland, but a sizable chunk, it is hoped, will come from abroad. Many of the Jews living in America, for instance, can trace ancestors back to Poland.
“There is no history of Jews without Poland,” Mr. Wislicki said. “And there is no history of Poland without Jews.”
Correction: October 24, 2014 
An article on Wednesday about the opening, in Warsaw, of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews misspelled the surname of a former Warsaw mayor and later president of Poland who agreed to pay for the museum’s construction. He was Lech Kaczynski, not Kazcynski.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hyde Park Art Center show-- Emmett Kerrigan and Gwendolyn Zabicki

I've got some paintings at the Hyde Park Art Center until the end of October 2014. Painter and curator Melody Saraniti selected me for the show and asked me to invite someone to show with me who influenced my work. I chose Emmett Kerrigan. It's a great idea for a series and was a great opportunity for me to connect with one of my painting heroes. Here is what I wrote for the show:

I have admired Emmett Kerrigan’s paintings for a long time. In an age of image saturation, Kerrigan’s work cannot be photographed. To really see his work, the thickness of the paint and the construction of his paintings, one must see them in person. He builds his houses in paint much like a carpenter would, laying them down brick by brick, shingle by shingle, each brick equaling one brushstroke. A single brushstroke becomes a unit of construction and a unit of time. During our studio visit, he talked about laying down a bead of paint (carpenter talk!) like a bead of caulk. There is a pathos in his work that I identify with, a need to collect or to preserve a neighborhood that is eroding with time.

My dad, a union carpenter, says that carpentry is a battle against nature, specifically rain, rot and mold. We often compare notes and have found many parallels in the ways that we create space, problem solve, and in the kind of measuring and planning that go into both practices. Carpentry and painting can be viewed as a struggle, against obliteration, against death. But seen optimistically, they are generative processes, the creation of new structures that will outlast their creators, gifts to the future.

Friday, October 03, 2014

How Small It Actually Is. Alex Zafiris interviews Ben Davis

Lots of good ideas over here at:

October 1, 2014
The art critic and activist discusses the power structures of the art empire, the drive to present artists as heroes, and the idea that art practice is middle-class labor.
Book cover art by William Powhida
I liked this line, 

"I actually think we are in a pretty disorienting time. Yes, art writing is often kind of abstract, and people often write about art as if their real audience is a professional society of Deleuze scholars, or the keepers of some kind of Skull-and-Bones-like secret faith of “true painting.” That’s not purely innocent: this stuff sells for big money because wealthy and often very unsavory people think it buys them into the smart set, so a certain level of vague seriousness suits that agenda."

...And this one. Could this apply to the new MCA David Bowie show? 

"One major contemporary trend in art is away from difficulty, toward really big objects, toward fashion: splashy gestures that go down easy. The old charge that museums are “elitist” doesn’t really feel totally right to me. MoMA’s doing a Bj√∂rk show. The big institutions have found that buzz and long lines can replace intellectual cachet at a certain level, for the purpose of pleasing funders."

Oh and this too:

"I disagree with the characterization of Koons as “elitist.” I mean, they are big, shiny, mirrored things. He has a pop-culture following. In some ways, he embodies the weird moment that we are living in that I mentioned earlier, where the art world is both kind of cut off from the rest of the world and also increasingly freeing itself of a need to have anything really to say besides providing a mirrored surface to take a selfie in.

Critically, the conversation is more or less frozen: the critique of Koons is always pretty much that the work is brainless, rich-guy populism, and it gets tiresome to repeat that over and over. In the essay you mention, I talk about a particular text at the current Whitney Museum about Koons’s famous sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. The wall label quotes Koons as saying that he loves how Jackson lightened his skin to appeal to “more middle-class white audiences.” And that’s just such a weird, tone-deaf statement—and particularly because the Whitney had just passed through this controversy about how white the Whitney Biennial was, with artists in the show even protesting, it is stunning that the museum let that through without even seeming to be critical at all.
It just makes a point that there is a subtext to the universalizing of Koons’s message about turning off the critical mind and just embracing what makes you happy. You really realize that you can only get away with it as a white guy, because people are only willing to read the kinds of simple pleasures you are into as universal if you are coded as universal yourself. And you particularly realize that fact because you see that some of the early work, “Equilibrium” and “Luxury and Degradation,” actually has a subtext about race. The “Equilibrium” works, the basketballs in the tanks, are presented all the time without the accompanying posters of black athletes, or Koons’s confused statements critiquing how basketball culture seduces inner-city black youth. "

David Hockney: Why art has become 'less'

Thank you David Hockney and Will Gompertz for your bravery. Keep telling it like it is.

From Will Gompertz at: (which also includes an excellent video interview with Hockney)

David Hockney thinks that over his lifetime art has become "less". He blames the art establishment (museums, galleries, art schools) for becoming over-enamoured with conceptual art: "It gave up on images a bit" the artist laments.

By which he means that the artworld ignored figurative art: paintings, sculptures, videos and installations that aim to represent the known world: the sort of work Hockney makes: landscapes, portraits and still lifes.
Instead he feels, museums and galleries have jumped too willingly into the unmade bed of conceptual art where lights go on and off in a game of philosophical riddles. But Hockney says "the power is with images", and in neglecting them the artworld has diminished the very thing it aimed to protect: art.
It's difficult to ignore Hockney's latest images that now fill the vast galleries of the Royal Academy in London. They are huge (two paintings are about 10-metres across), they are innovative (numerous iPad print-outs and an 18-screen film installation), and they are very colourful (purple paths and orange tree trunks aplenty).
Exciting because it has been a rarity over the last half-a-century for a supremely gifted painter to take on the English landscape. Constable and Turner did so in the 19th Century. And John Nash and Stanley Spencer rose to the challenge in the mid-20th Century. But not much has emerged since.By and large, they all depict the same subject: the hills, fields, woods and roads of rural East Yorkshire. These things are subjective, but I found them potent and poetic. And exciting.
Maybe it's due to the 30 years he has spent in Hollywood that Hockney blames the camera for the hiatus. He directs a damning finger at the one-eyed monster in all its guises: photography, film and television. He believes it is the camera that has caused many of today's artists to forsake figurative art, having decided that a single mechanical lens can capture reality better than any painter or sculptor.
He makes the point that a photograph documents only a split second in time. Whereas a landscape painting, portrait or still life might appear to be a moment immortalised in a single image, but it is in fact the culmination of days, weeks and in the case of many artists (Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Hockney), years of looking at a single subject."But they're wrong," he told me. "A camera cannot see what a human can see, there is always something missing." He talks about the inability of a camera to reproduce a sense of space and volume.
It is a result of vast quantities of stored information, experience, jottings and spatial sensitivity that has eventually appeared in the colours, composition and atmosphere of a final finished artwork.
For all his outspokenness David Hockney is a canny man. He twinkles when talking about why he chose to tackle the English landscape, seeing it, I suspect, as an opportunity to make another big splash: a great subject overlooked by most other artists.
When people told him that the "landscape genre was worn out" he thought it illogical. "The way of looking at it [the landscape] might be worn out, but the landscape can't be," he said. "It needs re-looking at…[to] look at it afresh."
Which is exactly what he has done. And it looks like Hockney on Yorkshire will be a hit with the public as advance bookings are already at the upper end of the Royal Academy's expectations. But I wonder if the show will have a more lasting impact than simply to re-assert the general feeling that the Bradford-born painter is the country's greatest living artist.
I think it is possible that it could mark the moment - together with theLucian Freud exhibition that will be opening shortly at the nearby at the National Portrait Gallery - when figurative art once again starts to become the dominant genre in the contemporary exhibitions and displays mounted at the likes of Tate, Paris's Pompidou and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
The paintings of urban Coventry by George Shaw were shortlisted for last year's Turner Prize. He didn't win. But maybe this year will be different, and an artist who produces landscapes or portraits or still lifes will carry the day?