Tuesday, February 19, 2008

MLP's art critiques from NUVO

This blog archive contains...

220 art criticisms spanning February 2001 through September 2005 representing...
- Over 100 venues (from coffee shops to museums)
- Over 160 artists
- Over 63 group shows

There are still approx. 100 that have yet to be posted. God only knows when I will find the time to scan and post everything.

This blog is an archive of predominantly short, evaluative, art critiques I've written for NUVO, the Indianapolis, Indiana, local weekly alternative newspaper.

A five star rating system applied to most all of my reviews is used to gauge the quality of exhibitions reviewed.

Here's what the stars indicate:

1 star: life’s too short
2 stars: not bad, needs some work
3 stars: good job
4 stars: excellent!
5 stars: life-altering experience

Please excuse the misspellings here and there as I've had to scan and transcribe the hard copy texts. They are searchable show titles, featured artists, critique publish date, and star ratings all found in the titles. Exhibition imagery accompanies most critiques. Feel free to forward me show imagery via email or as a comment.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A First Person on Art Critiques - Does Indianapolis Really Want Arts Criticism?

By Mary Lee Pappas
NUVO art critic
spring 2005

Should an art critic write about artists whose work they collect? Should an art critic fraternize with artists they write about? Should they accept gifts from artists they’ve written about, be an exhibition consultant, sit on boards of visual arts organizations, or exhibit their own artworks?

According to “The Visual Art Critic: A Survey of Art Critics at General-Interest News Publications in America” by Columbia University’s Journalism Program in 2002, there was no consensus among the 169 art critics surveyed (myself the only Indianapolis representative) regarding blanket ethical conduct within the American art world. This perhaps resulting from the public’s equally as uneven expectations of what art criticism ought and ought not to be.

An opinionated bunch to begin with, participating art critics had to have written at least twelve ”evaluative” pieces the previous year to qualify for the survey. Those are reviews that make judgments regarding quality, purport, and context based on the work, the artist, the venue, the curatorial competence, and sometimes funding. It’s gauging art instead of strictly spouting anthems of advocacy, subjective explanations, and taking strict emotions into account.

Critics, predominantly employed as part-timers or freelance at both daily and alternative weekly papers, were actually found to be “intimately connected” to their local arts communities. Is this conflict of interest, or fundamental for the role? 24% of us had worked in museums, 18% in commercial galleries, while nearly half of us were artists – 70% of whom exhibit or have exhibited their works. 14% were employed in art-related industries. Four out of five newspaper critics and three out of four alternative weekly critics collect art.

Though 90% of the critics were curiously Caucasian when multiculturalism in visual art is ever present, well preparedness for their work varied greatly. The majority of practicing art critics had on average 13 years of journalism/art writing experience. 20% of art critics had no formal training in art or art history, while only 26% of us actually had a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. in art history. But, apparently it doesn’t really matter who’s writing about art anymore.

Some artists should, “Park their paints,” and let go of ego, pride and fickleness local painter, art historian, and gallery owner Doris Vlasek Hails said to me once. But there has been an increasing trend for artists and arts organizations across the country to steer clear of uncompromising critics and seek-out positive press thereby creating their own undeserving derivative art stars. Some buy it.

As our local visual arts community flourishes so too do the proliferating and, more often than not, only moderately talented artists who Indianapolis audiences so anxiously and sometimes bafflingly accept. Can anyone who can afford rent at a trendy studio be an artist? Are gallery owners and proprietors actually qualified to choose quality art to present to the public just because they can fund their venues? Who is drawing the line between hobby and excellence? Should critics simply relinquish themselves to this laissez-fare intellect regarding the fine art process and art history thereby giving artists and venues the praise they ultimately fancy? Where does criticism fit in and who really wants it anymore?

Indianapolis appears to be succeeding at placing novelty (or propaganda at times) above discrimination. The survey makes an example of our city by stating, “Citizens of significant urban agglomerations, including Indianapolis and Las Vegas…do not have the benefit of hearing from an art critic who might qualify for inclusion in this survey,” from a daily paper.

This perhaps in part because formal criticism doesn’t serve the city’s desires to make Indianapolis a cultural destination overnight. However, celebrating the mundane won’t make it happen either.

Though art critics across the board thought they were writing for a “lukewarm audience that is not too well steeped in the arts,” nearly two-thirds unfortunately write strictly positive reviews, with “rendering a personal judgement” about the artwork being “the least important factor in reviewing art.” It’s a sorry commentary that’s ultimately destructive of the arts evolution (like Indianapolis’ visual art growth spurt), and the art itself. So are gallery openings where the art plays second fiddle to the party.

Are arts writers accepting expenses on press junkets? Are papers merely supposed to conform, jump on the promotional bandwagon, and be another form of advertising?

Perhaps this is an indication that some “critics” should park their pens or thicken their skin. Perhaps local media should give more space and credence to the visual arts cultures of their communities, and artists should challenge themselves to create more than attractive formula paintings accompanied by contrived statements of purpose.

Local eagerness to be exceptional in the visual arts has created levels of administrative and artistic inferiority that can be remedied by demanding quality and education from those that serve the arts community, critics alike. Inferring that arts audiences and potential arts audiences are un or under educated (as is the rhetoric from artists and arts orgs.) only serves to insult and estrange audiences…as does substandard art.

Everybody's an Art Critic by Michael Mills - February 6, 2003 New Times

Everybody's an Art Critic by Michael Mills Feb. 6, 2003 New Times
Everybody's an Art Critic
If they're college-educated, city-dwelling, 40-something white people, that is

By Michael Mills
Article Published Feb 6, 2003


Last year, the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University contacted more than 200 art critics across the country, inviting them to participate in The Visual Art Critic: A Survey of Art Critics at General-Interest News Publications in America. About 75 percent of those responded. I was one of them.

It was a lengthy, exhaustive survey, available online or in hard copy, that quizzed critics on our backgrounds, our aesthetics, our opinions of specific artists and even theorists and other art critics. I was glad to participate in the study and looked forward to seeing the results.

I finally received my copy of the report recently, a slender paperback that resembles a modest exhibition catalog and features a reproduction of Honoré Daumier's The Critics (Visitors in a Painter's Studio) (c. 1862). The drawing shows a handful of middle-aged-to-elderly white men peering intently at an unidentifiable work of art. Given Daumier's dim view of critics, it's not surprising that the ones shown here are made to look vaguely buffoonish.

In some respects, not much has changed in the nearly century and a half since Daumier's critics gathered, at least not in America. Artists, curators, and gallery owners still approach us warily, as if we might bite. And according to the survey report, which is full of pie charts, graphs, boxes, and sidebars, while art criticism may no longer be predominantly male territory -- about half of the survey respondents were women -- it's still an overwhelmingly white domain. Ninety percent of the critics who took the survey are Caucasian, with just two Asian-Americans, one African-American, and one Hispanic responding. The report characterizes "the statistically average art critic" as "a highly educated, Caucasian city-dweller in his or her late 40s (the median age is 48)." Am I squirming yet?

We also tend to be well to the left of center, politically speaking. Just over half of the critics surveyed characterized themselves as "Liberal," with another 20 percent calling themselves "Progressive" and another 16 percent weighing in as "Moderate." In other words, don't get us started on government arts funding, censorship, and freedom of speech in the Dubya era.

Critics at newspapers classified by the survey as alternative weeklies, the category New Times Broward-Palm Beach falls into, are even further to the left. Fully 85 percent of us are liberals or progressives. So why don't I get more hate mail?

Maybe, one outspoken critic of the survey suggests, it's because America's art critics aren't critical enough. Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight, in a recent column on the report, complains, "By and large, journalistic art critics don't write art criticism." (Knight was invited to participate in the survey but was unable to because of Internet problems, although three of his colleagues responded.)

Knight marvels that a mere "27% of survey participants said they place a great deal of emphasis on forming and expressing... judgments. Twenty-seven percent!" Instead, he worries, we're too concerned with the other aspects of criticism ranked in the survey: accurately describing the art in question, providing historical background on the art and/or artist, creating a piece of writing with literary value, and theorizing about art. He begrudgingly acknowledges that these are "important but nonetheless routine concerns."

It seems especially irksome to Knight that an overwhelming majority of art critics agree with the statement "My job is to educate the public." Sixty-five percent strongly agree with that idea, and another 26 percent somewhat agree. Such an attitude, Knight frets, represents arrogance and elitism, condescension and superciliousness.

I don't recall my specific response, but I'm sure I sided, for once, with the majority. What surprises me is the vehemence of Knight's insistence that art criticism and art education are incompatible. Perhaps he forgets that the survey participants, as the study's subtitle indicates, write for general-interest news publications, not academic journals or art magazines. An inherent function of the "general-interest news publications" the survey focuses on is to share knowledge.

And I'm not just picking on Knight, by the way. Other critics have written about the survey, among them the New York Observer's cranky Hilton Kramer. He begins by calling the report "the silliest, most expensive, and least necessary 'research' folly ever devoted to the art scene in this country" and later refers to it as "a perfectly useless enterprise."

THE VISUAL ART CRITIC A Survey of Visual Arts Critics at General-Interest Publications in America

THE VISUAL ARTS IN THE UNITED STATES have recently experienced a period of dynamic growth and professionalization, prompting the timely question: Do the news media provide sufficient exposure for art, artists and art institutions?

In early 2002, the National Arts Journalism Program set out to answer this question, inviting art critics at general-interest news publications around the country to complete an online questionnaire about their backgrounds, educational credentials, work habits, tastes and opinions on issues concerning art in America today. The survey's 169 critics—drawn from 96 daily newspapers, 34 alternative weeklies and 3 national newsmagazines—write for a combined audience of approximately 60 million readers. The findings suggest that although art critics have carved out important roles at many publications, criticism is struggling to keep up with the swift evolution of the art world.

The Visual Art Critic draws a portrait of a profession that is deeply committed to advancing the national discussion about art, yet hampered by job insecurity, vagueness of ethical standards and uncertainty of mission. Accompanied by insightful comments from artists, art-world professionals and the surveyed critics themselves, the findings of this report call attention to the need within newsrooms for continued investment and support for the enterprise of art criticism, especially in smaller communities, where some of the most noteworthy artistic developments are taking root.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Quotes about Critique

"I learned a long time ago that you can't control what people think. Do I have a mission of what I want to accomplish with this? I've already accomplished it. There it is. There's the song. There's the painting. That's the accomplishment, not what people think about it. If you do things because of what people think, man, you're crippled." - John Mellencamp (catalog for his exhibition at Herron School of Art and Design, Indianapolis, IN, Nov. 18, 2005 - Jan. 7, 2006)

“The highest aim of the aesthetic being is to find the Divine through beauty,” – Sri Aurobindo (Gems from Sri Aurobindo V1. by M.P. Pendit)

"I have always been grateful for press. Even if a review is negative, reading it helps me better understand what exactly it is I think I'm doing in dance...critical attention has helped me put my work into a larger perspective." - Twyla Tharp, NUVO (Indianapolis, IN)

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Life Lived: Edward Sanders, 1946-2006 by Will Higgins, The Indianapolis Star

- Photo provided by PHILIP CAMPBELL

August 22, 2006

A LIFE LIVED: Edward Sanders, 1946-2006
Painter put his art before his sales

By Will Higgins

Edward Sanders was the quintessential old-school, hard-core artist. He painted from his heart, at the expense of commercial success, say people who knew him.

"To him, it was a very personal endeavor," said art dealer Mark Ruschmann, who had known the Indianapolis artist since the 1980s. "Like most artists he'd liked to have had more acclaim, more sales, but Ed didn't make easy work. It was challenging, often dark, introspective work. It didn't fall under the category of being decorative."

Mr. Sanders died Aug. 17 at age 59.

As an artist, he used dark colors and applied the paint thickly. He worked mostly in oils. His work was highly impressionistic. He did not try to schmooze patrons, either. But if he was indifferent to sales, Mr. Sanders did seek an audience. He showed his work frequently at galleries.

One of his few concessions to image was his insistence that he be photographed exclusively in profile. "Everybody looks good in profile," he explained to his longtime friend, the sculptor Marty Sharp.

In the mid-1980s, he was one of a handful of artists who started the 431 Gallery on Massachusetts Avenue, helping to transform that forlorn stretch into the city's arts district.

Mr. Sanders' chief income was from his work as an architect. He designed houses. But what drove him was his art.

Mr. Sanders was diagnosed with liver cancer this spring but continued to paint. His new paintings will be displayed at Flux Gallery in Fountain Square in October.

DeAnne Roth, Flux's co-director, said the new paintings are a departure for Sanders. The colors are still dark, but the subjects are whimsical -- a series of superheroes, including several of Superman, and a painting of Dean Martin. (Apparently Mr. Sanders liked to watch videotapes of Martin's TV variety show.)
"He talked about making his work more accessible to the public," Roth said.
Mr. Sanders also talked about making himself more accessible to the public. He was an intensely private person and not one for small talk. He was not comfortable chatting up collectors.

Recently, however, as the Oct. 6 opening reception approached, he asked Roth for pointers in becoming more sociable. "He was just naturally very private," Roth said, "but he said he'd try to make a bigger effort."

Mr. Sanders is survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Judi and Ed Marksberry; his close friend Sharp; and many nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
His funeral was Monday at St. Roch Catholic Church.

No one was better than Ed at his best by Steve Mannheimer - August 28, 2006, Indianapolis Star

Piece of work: This Ed Sanders' oil painting is titled "Figure #1." - Photo provided by 4 Star Gallery

August 28, 2006

My view: Steve Mannheimer
No one was better than Ed at his best

Indianapolis artist Ed Sanders died this month. He was 59, too young. With others who knew him, I feel profound loss, like the biggest tree in my yard fell over in the night.

Since the 1980s, Ed had been a center of gravitas for what we optimistically used to call the Indianapolis art scene. Being a decade older than his art school comrades lent him some stature, but his work did more. His dark, deeply wrought paintings and drawings documented an ongoing struggle to understand art and its history, and to make a measure of both. In our small-market town, the greatest reward Ed might reasonably expect was the occasional sale and the consistent respect of his peers, which he got.

There were many back then, including Steve Paddack, Brian Fick, Steve Stoller, Rex Alexander, Julie Edwards, Bill Vlantis, Jesse Speight, Kevin Leslie, Phil Campbell, Ed Funk, Holly Jackson, Jackie and Gwendolyn Skaggs, Carla Knopf, Bill Atkins, Tom Keesee, Jody Grober, Terry Copen and others, along with a handful of gallery directors and patrons. Some have moved away or dropped from sight, but taken at its flood from the mid '80s to early '90s, this small tide did comprise an art scene worth the name.

Despite outward differences of technique or subject matter, these artists shared certain sensibilities and moods, an often nocturnal or dreamed vision that was at turns lyrical or melancholy, perhaps angst-ridden, and always motivated by a desire to say something, albeit allegorical or borderline abstract, about being here in this state at this time. At their best, these artists were very, very good. And no one was better than Ed at his best. The quality of their work and their perseverance made my job as art critic for The Indianapolis Star easier; there was so much to say about them. A theme I repeated, in print and private, was that these artists were the late-20th century equivalent of the Hoosier School artists of the late 19th century: They were of this state and about this state in a way that other artists, including their teachers, often were not. In a city trying so hard, then and now, to establish its reputation as a center of arts and culture, it is a shame that no major art institution ever assembled a significant survey show of this artistic generation. Or perhaps this is one reason the city is still trying. Perhaps my enthusiasm was part pride. Nearly all of them had been students at the Herron School of Art (now the Herron School of Art and Design), where I taught for 24 years. And, full disclosure, I do own one artwork by one of them, a black-and-white print bought after I left the newspaper, titled "Descent from the Cross," by Ed Sanders, from a period when he explored classical religious subjects with expressionist fervor. Ed's friends and fellow artists are now working to ensure that the hundreds of paintings and drawings he left can be fully documented and preserved, as they deserve to be. The last works I saw revealed a turning toward light and color. My sense is that he was getting better, as older artists can, a hope of us all.

It should be easier now for his alma mater Herron or some other significant venue to consider a show across the full range of Ed's pilgrimage. He has freed any institution from the political worry that it might unwisely ennoble one living artist over another. Death has removed the risk. After struggling with history for 20-plus years, Ed has entered it. Any institution could now safely recognize that fact.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jack C. Hartigan, May 11,1970-January 2, 2006

It saddens me deeply to report that artist Jack Hartigan has passed away.

Jack exhibited his large photographic works at the IUPUI Cultural Arts Gallery last year (where I am the curator) and was scheduled to do so again this winter. At Jack's request, his show was tentatively rescheduled for this spring because of his struggle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma which sadly took his life this week. He was at peace.

Jack had amazing vision with his photographic works that were politically poignant delving into the touchy subjects of contemporary civil rights issues while all the while being very elegant and intelligent. Few artists in this city have had the depth of intellect and the artistic aptitude to not just tackle sensitive topic matter, but to make it approachable and beautiful. It was an honor to work with someone so gracious and thorough, and also to host the fruition of his ideas. I'm thrilled IUPUI hosted his challenging work. The angel piece above was on the saucy side....so tarty of him!

Frank Ross (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Life and Diversity at IUPUI) and I had discussed making Jack our "resident artist" at the Cultural Arts Gallery because of his abilities, his standards, his personality. And, Jack liked the idea too. We had discussed transforming his photos into installations and performance pieces...we discussed a lot of ideas. Jack was always very inspired (thus inspiring me), so ideas were always forthcoming.

Jack's funeral will take place this Saturday, January 14, 1 p.m. at St. Mathews Church.
An exhibition of his work (venue to be determined) will be later this spring, with sales benefiting the Damien Center.

I wish I could have known him better, but I admired and respected the person I did know. Thank you Loral Tansy for being an angel.

May his memory be eternal.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Larry Endicott "Kuala Lumpur: A Photography Journey" - Stutz Gallery - Sept. 7, 2005 - 3 1/2 stars

What's most artful about this series is the paper treatment upon which these ink jet images are printed. The watercolor paper, glistening from its murky and yellowed polyurethane coating, adds to the sense of quietness all of these pieces by this Creative Renewal Fellow achieve. Fortunately, it smartly lends a bit of sympathy as well to some of the weaker, ordinary images. Unframed, copper nails adhere them to the crooked line of walls that compose the Stutz Gallery. Framed, one will set you back $1,200 - an optimistic asking price. There appear to be two aesthetics at play in this series that, as a whole, is a refreshingly refined break from Endicott's typical stylized and commercial leanings. Most pieces have straight-on vantages (a 50 mm feel) of Malaysian life shot with an inconsistent journalistic edge ("Performance Series #2" of an older couple singing on a sidewalk is amazing while "Greetings" is baffling), though the group of images lacks a story and incompletely documents his mission to contrast capitalism against poverty. This work does not feel like a series. Considering the times, this contrast could have been demonstrated anywhere in the U.S. where the divide between rich and poor is widening. How and why did this necessitate a trip to Malaysia? Had Endicott exhibited the images that encompass the towering buildings and contrasting cityscapes exclusively, like the stand-alone image "Homestead" (also called "Passenger"), it would have nailed his aim and made for a consistent, more successful show. Seen as a series (not broken down into like groups or some sequence) it's not as effective. Building images "Overseer" and "Radiant" possess a dreamlike stillness and emptiness that encompass a great amount of energy and life - they're great. Individually, most of the photos do have worth, proof that Endicott's drive to hone his skills has evolved and practice pays off. Seen as a whole, it's choppy, but could have been aided through a process of elimination. www.stutzartgallery.com. Through Sept. 13, 2005; 317-833-7000. -Mary Lee Pappas

Brose Partington and Phillip Lynam - MLP's two top 30 under 30 picks for NUVO published September 7, 2005

Phillip Lynam, 29, painter
“I always drew and painted. It was something I got attention for doing,” Phillip Lynam says of his interest in visual arts. Overseeing the Star Studio at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, he has the opportunity to inspire a new generation.

After graduating from Ben Davis High School in 1994, he received his BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and MFA in painting from the University of Maryland.

“I taught design, painting and drawing at three schools in the Washington, D.C., area and would drive from one to the other,” he says of his role as gypsy professor at such schools as Montgomery College and Maryland College of Art and Design. “Basically, what I wanted to do was a full-time tenured track professorship, but they’re not just handing those out apparently,” the soft spoken Lynam laughs.

He and his wife, Mirjam, moved back to Indianapolis (“Closer to family, farther from traffic”) in August of 2003. Their son, Ian, will turn 1 this month.

“I started working in the security department at the museum because I needed a job with benefits. It actually was a really good way to sort of learn how the place worked.”

He moved over to the exhibits department a year later and has been with the Star Studio since the museum reopened this year.

“There are several ways the IMA reaches out to families with the studio programs and family days programming, but Star Studio is a unique place within that context because it’s a spot where we’re exhibiting work, and not kids artwork,” he says of the educational gallery. “It’s contemporary, challenging artwork that, framing it with activities that are geared toward families and children, gives them a way to … begin discussing the art. If it works right it ought to have a role in how kids can experience the rest of the art in the museum as well.”

Lynam adds, “Anytime that I can have young people having a good experience with contemporary art and not feeling that it’s something they are alienated from, in the long run it’s good for everybody.”

Visit www.philliplynam.com to learn more about Phillips’ artwork and www.ima-art.org to learn more about Star Studio and family programming.
—Mary Lee Pappas

Brose Partington, 25, sculptor/furniture maker
“We work with the curators and the designers,” Brose Partington said of his role behind the scenes with the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s exhibition staff. “The designers have shows laid out the way they want them to be. They have it all measured up, how many paintings they want in a space. We install or build the walls to their specifications.”

Currently, they are installing 300 objects for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s International Arts and Crafts exhibition that opens Sept. 25, in a 10,000 square foot gallery space.

“We’re helping the couriers install work. We have the cases in, but still have to put fabric in them. Everything has to be sealed tight and pass conservation’s standards.”

A furniture maker and sculptor, Partington has a degree in sculpture from Herron. “I started Herron not knowing what I wanted to do and then I took a sculpture class and fell in love with it because the professors were great,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time outside as a child and playing around ponds. I loved mowing the lawn and putting designs in it with the tractor, walking along the levy and building forts with my brothers and sisters. It was great to hide, be alone and gather your thoughts with no one being able to find you the rest of the day,” he said of why nature was a major influence in his kinetic metal and wood sculptural work. “Just being outside and watching things move. I like to make sculptures that are changing and not too repetitive.

“And my dad was a clock maker. He taught me a little about mechanics,” he added about his father, artist Michael Partington. His stepmother is ceramicist Soyong Kang.

Getting his ideas to fruition is a part of the process. “There are different motions I want to do every time I want to do a new sculpture, and I’ll read a little bit about it. You have to feed your head and make things up to make it work.

“I’m trying to lead my work into more sculptural furniture and I’m about to start a project which is a kinetic piece of furniture, so it’s definitely moving toward the sculptural side. I’ve always loved wood. It influences me a lot. Just finding and looking at a piece of wood gives me ideas.” www.brosepartington.com.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Anna Lee Chalos-McAleese: "Suspended Motion in Glass" - Indianapolis Art Center - August 31, 2005 - 5 stars

"Petra de ora" sandstone from the St. Meinard quarry, wood and glass are combined to create sensuous, defined, sculptural forms that feed off of instinct. Clear blown glass balls, central to all the pieces, spur an inborn attraction with their water-like shine from catching the light. They're also the perfect size to fit comfortably into a hand like an ancient pestle or tool, which only stimulates an innate tactile yearning. Further feeding on primordial senses is the placement of these vulnerable and slightly oblong looking balls between squarely cut stone as in "Bon Ami." Looking like a large raindrop or bubble, the glass defies its seeming flimsiness to hold the unlikely weight of the perfect stone. The implausibility is not an outright or harsh illusion, but rather a subconscious subtlety. The contrast of time trapped in the striation of the stone's gritty texture, with the free sense of movement and weightlessness exerted from the glass, is present though the two meld into a comfortably soft aesthetic. Eight children filtering through the gallery, captivated, exclaimed "wows" as their testament to this work's success. It tinkers with the laws of attraction. Chalos-McAleese, an art teacher of 20 years, received a Arts council of Indianapolis Creative Renewal Fellowship that enabled her to build this exceptional body of work. Through September 6, 2005; 317-255-2464. - Mary Lee Pappas