"Paths: Real and Imagined"

During the last week of September I drove up to Woodstock, New York, to see Paths: Real and Imagined, a show of outdoor sculpture curated by Nancy Azara. The show was at Byrdcliffe, one of the original arts and crafts colonies in the United States, now a non-profit organization that serves artists through residencies, classes and exhibitions. Paths Real and Imagined celebrated the 50th anniversary of Byrdcliffe as an art center.

Nancy, a sculptor with a loft in TriBeCa and a home on a hill above Woodstock, conceived the show as a kind of journey—for the curator, the artists and the viewers who walked the grounds to view the work. Her premise: "A path can connote both the unknown and the familiar; the path to spirit and the path to home." Her invitation to 30 artists with ties to the area was to create and install a path into or through the grounds. Lucky me: I got the curator’s tour.

As the weather turns colder and the days shorter, this seems like a good time to revisit a glorious fall day when the sun was shining brilliantly in a clear blue sky and there were still enough leaves on the trees to dapple the ground with pools of light and inky shadows. These are some of the pictures I took, posted more or less in the order in which I saw them as Nancy and I drove along the road, parking frequently to push through the grounds on foot to spend time with each work.

Sandy Straus: Joyful Path to Nowhere, 2007, painted wood

This is the first work you see when you arrive on the grounds. The sources of the patterns, says the artist, are "Plains Indian parfleches, African mudcloth, Japanese imari porcelain, Oriental rugs and my imagination."

In the distance is Shelly Parriott's Color Field: Rainbow Hues, 2007, powder-coated perforated aluminum. Below, a detail of the work:

Sarah Draney: Bark House, 2007, plants, ceramics, mixed media

The work, about five feet tall, is set into a small plot off the road. Maybe it was the setting, but there was a Brothers Grimm quality to the work--modest, mysterious, perhaps a tiny bit menacing. I loved it.

Nancy Azara: Time/Path, 2007, carved and stained cedar planks

This totemic work almost recedes into the landscape, as if it might have been there since the beginning, until you catch a glimpse of the blood red backing, which slices freshly through the greenery. (I'd like to see what it looks like in winter, too, when I'll bet that red cuts like a hot knife through the snow.) You get a better sense of the work's monumental scale, below. The carvings are images of Nancy, her partner, their granddaughter, a raven symbolizing a recently departed friend, and spirals suggesting the cycles of life and death.

That's Nancy standing before her sculpture, below:

Jason Lujan: Some Wander by Mistake, 2007, acrylic, leaves, ink.

This is just a stand of birch trees until you see the garlands of painted maple leaves twining around the trunks, below:

Ursula Clark: Cosmic Wheel, branches and vines

When I came upon this work, nestled into a stand of tall trees and slumping ever so, I had a profound sense that it had somehow returned to its origin after millennia, maybe eons, of spinning, its work finished.

Sarah Greer Mecklem: Smoke Rings. Making art out of the dirtiest of detritus. Perfect, yes?

Doris Licht: Here She Is, 2007, ceramic

You're seeing a detail; the full work is in a copse of trees, with sculptural elements secured to the trunks, suggesting the remnants of a Druidic ceremony, perhaps. Says the artist, "Like life, these totems are a work in progress that will be with me until the end of the journey."

Chris Dunback: Sugar Free Jazz, 2007, paint and canvas

Coming upon this work, which was set away from the road and down in a small clearing, was like coming upon a waterfall--with the eyes, rather than the ears, taking in the "sound."

Donna Byars: Dream Stones/The Gifts, 1979-2007, cast cement

To get to this work-- three tablets set onto a ledge, each tablet depicting a hand offering an object-- you leave the road on foot and follow a dry riverbed or viaduct some 300 feet into the woods. It's not an easy walk. The dappled light heightened my sense of walking into someone's dream. Indeed, says the artist, "I have chosen the inner path of dreams, a path I have been following for many years."

Daniella Dooling: Untitled (Welcome), 2007, Winchester shotgun shells

So inviting, this welcome mat in the woods, until you realize what it's made of. Dooling sees it as "a utopian gesture," a peaceful path between communities. (I had a more visceral reaction, from a memory of long ago: When you live in the country, fall is a time when shotguns ring out and you take care not to wear anything that might mistake you for a deer--like a white scarf or mittens, lest you be mistaken for the fleet-footed creature and taken down with a shot.)

Carol Field: Petroglyph Pathways, 2007, paint on rocks

I would have missed this work, one of many, had Nancy not pointed it out. Of course, once I knew what to look for, the petroglyphs were everywhere, such as on the rock in the center of this photograph.

Roman Hrab: Endless Squiggle, 2007

I've included two images of this work, the one above to show you how it's set into the vast landscape of the grounds, and the one below to show you the work close up--a kind of garden or tended terrain of what looked to be lustered ceramic pieces.

Sal Romano: Floating Column, 2000, copper and water

Manuela Filiacii: New Bridges, 2007, cement block

When we came to this work, arranged more or less in a circle on a flat lawn, Nancy said the pieces had been moved--some toppled as if to have been used as stools-- so we set them back into place. I was struck by how typographic the piece seemed, how conversational.

Bo Gehring: Monk's April 2, 2007, painted cast aluminum

This piece, about eight feet high, is the artist's impression of a Thelonious Monk piano solo. "Music, which exists only in the time domain, is realized as a physical sculpture," says Gehring. (See the "Z" marker in the bottom left of the picture? We're coming to the end of the exhibition. )

Grace Wapner: Travelers, Artists, Lovers and Thieves, 1991, porcelain and bronze

Nancy described this work in the catalog as perhaps representing "a jaunty group striking forth on paths unknown." When I saw this work, one of the last in the show, I was thinking about how rootlike the bronze elements seemed, and wondered whether the piece was in the process of being uprooted or sending runners down into the earth. Nancy's take, perhaps suggested by the artist, was something completely different. I suppose our different viewpoints present a metaphor for this compelling show: that different paths can converge or not, and even the same path can diverge in different ways depending on who's on it.

Kudos, Nancy Azara, for a beautiful show!



Did you feel that rush of air? That was me exhaling. I’ve been holding my breath for a week. That’s how long it took a second-day delivery crate to get from my East Coast studio to Plymouth, Michigan. If the crate had contained widgets I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but my "widgets" were a painting. An encaustic painting. And encaustic is not fond of sub-freezing cold.

Olson Uttar, encaustic on panel, 24 x 60 inches, 2007

Long story short: Last Monday, November 12, on a balmy bay, Bax Global picked up a painting that I’d been working on for several months. It was scheduled for second-day delivery: Wednesday. The weather was above average, in the 50s--perfect for shipping encaustic--and likely to stay that way all the way to Michigan. I tracked the crate's progress on line.

On Wednesday morning I got a call from my client. "Um, there seems to be a problem," she said, disappointment in her voice. Indeed, the package being unloaded was not my 111-lb. plywood crate, but a smaller, lighter cardboard box. I suggested she refuse the delivery. Then I got on the phone.

The crate: 34 x 70 inches of 3/8" plywood and 1x8 board, stuffed to the screws with insulation

"Good news. We’ve found your crate, " said Gerry on Wednesday night. She was the fourth Bax customer-service person I'd spoken to in my several hours of phone calls. Well, good news but not great. My crate was on a truck to Salt Lake City. Bax had mislabeled it.

"So you’ll get it to Michigan tomorrow?" I asked.
No, that’s not possible.

"Then It will arrive in Michigan on Friday?"
Well, no.

"Saturday, then?"
Actually, er, no.

It arrived yesterday, November 19, a week after I'd sent it.

Fortunately my obsessive packaging—I prepare each box or crate to withstand extremes of temperature and human intelligence—has protected the painting. (A dealer once asked, "Don’t you think you’re being a bit anal with the packaging?" Not when it ends up in sub-freezing temperatures for a week, no.) Here’s why it weathered a week on the road:

I lined the crate with four layers of flat foam insulation. I wasn't sure whether to put the metallic side facing in or out. I opted for in.

Before I started working on the crate, I had made a lined slipcase for the painting--corrugated cardboard padded with small-bubble wrap and lined in glassine. I placed the painting face in and secured it lightly with a strip of masking tape. Since I had extra insulation, I placed three layers in each segment of the panel.

Then I wrapped the slipcase in small bubblewrap.

And wrapped that in large bubblewrap. Then I lined the crate with two layers of bubble wrap, bubble-side facing cardboard slipcase (you can't see that here) . . .

. . . set the wrapped slipcase into the lined crate, and placed a layer of bubble wrap over that.

Just before screwing on the plywood lid, I laid four layers of flat insulation on top of everything, shiny side in. So the painting was cossetted inside its own padded slipcase, which was twice-wrapped in bubblewrap. That package was laid into a bed of insulation and bubblewrap and sandwiched with the same layering.

I know: This is redundant redundancy at its mostest. But I didn't have insurance on the crate--hey, health insurance or shipping insurance; pick one--so I made it as safe as I could. Call it remote control.

If you're wondering why I’ve titled this post Bax-ploitation, it's because after the crate spent a full week in transit, the company is planning to charge me the full shipping cost. Um hmmm.

Let’s just say I’m going to Bax them the check.


Dumpster Diving: Portia Munson

This morning I went to Montserrat College of Art to hear Portia Munson talk about her work. Her installation, Green Lawn, is part of a large group show at the college’s Hardie Gallery called Cornucopia: Documenting the Land of Plenty, a look at the consequences of unbridled consumerism.

Two views of Munson's Green Lawn at Montserrat College of Art, above and below
Detail of Green Lawn

I first saw Munson’s work at the Yoshii Gallery in New York City the mid-90s. Everything in the show was pink: vitrines and mounds of pink objects relating to the female experience: combs, curlers, dolls, vibrators, compacts, handbags, soap, gloves, you name it. We’ve all been aware of—and, often, been victims of—pink-is-for-girls thinking, but it was shocking to see the tangible, kitschy, crappy way in which we’ve been so objectified. Let me clarify: the stuff was crappy, but the installation was superb.

Pink from Munson's website

Since then I’ve seen her work in other shows in New York, most recently at P.P.O.W. last year, where she showed Green Lawn. It’s the same piece she shows at Montserrat. During her talk today, she explained that while the objects in a particular work remain the same, each installation is different. "I approach my work as a painter, a colorist," she says. In Green Lawn, for instance, there are flashes of orange, red, aqua and yellow that punctuate that verdant field of stuff. And those greens—from lawn chairs, watering cans, hoses, the stuff of suburban backyard living—are all different as well, laid out in a monochromatic spectrum. It’s a dimensional painting, a Canal Street of objects. Or is it Love Canal of detritis? Visually shocking in the ugliness of the objects (she gets her stuff at thrift shops and dumps), it’s also undeniably beautiful as an assembled mass. You want to wade into it. Thinking better of it, you just dive in visually from the periphery.

I would have guessed Munson lived smack in the middle of Urban Consumerland, but no, she lives north of New York City along the Hudson. Her home—she showed pictures—is an old farmhouse, and her studio is a barn behind the house. She lives with her husband and their two kids, and grows vegetables and flowers.

Portia Munson at the opening of Corucopia at Montserrat College of Art, standing before her installation

In her talk, Munson also showed newer work, Flower Mandalas, in which her tendency to amass takes on a new direction: compositions in which actual blossoms, petals, buds and stems are the object and subject of her organization. If you visit her website, you can see them.

Cornucopia: Documenting the Land of Plenty was curated by Leonie Bradbury, director of the Galleries at Montserrat. Here's part of her statement about the show:

"People are increasingly identified through their consumption: what you buy is who you are. This exhibit provides a visually stimulating portrait of contemporary America's obsession with acquiring consumer goods and some of the environmental and psychological consequences. It features large-scale photographic works by Xing Danwen, Chris Jordan, Brian Ulrich, JeongMee Yoon and a sculptural installation by Portia Munson. Visually exploring the vast and the minute, each artist investigates the impact of the large amounts of "stuff" that we accumulate. Equally alluring in terms of their beauty and repulsiveness, the artwork causes viewers to pause and reconsider their role in the seemingly never-ending cycle of consuming, accumulating and discarding."

If you’re in the Boston area, make a point of seeing this show. It's up through February 2, 2008.

P.S. And a special thanks to Shana Dumont, the gallery's assistant director, for inviting me to lunch with her and Portia.


Shades of Winsor and Rothko

I purposely kept my camera in my pocket on the recent trip to San Francisco. I'm woefully behind on the posts I want to make, and if I keep shooting and posting I'll never get any painting done. But when I saw these two architectural gems, I knocked off a few shots.

Here's a building going up on Post Street at the corner of Kearny. Shades of Jackie Winsor, don't you think?

San Francisco minimal: a building at the corner of Post and Kearny

Jackie Winsor: Fifty-Fifty, above; 1975, wood and nails, 40 x 40 x 40 inches; below, Pink and Blue Piece, 1985, mirror, wood, paint, cheesecloth, 31 x 31 x 31 inches. Images from the Paula Cooper Gallery website

Then, on Clementina to visit Hosfelt Gallery and Braunstein and Quay, I shot this window (I think it's part of the latter gallery's facade). Rothko redux.


On View: The Blogger Show

So here I am on the West Coast for a long-planned event while The Blogger Show opened on Friday night in New York. I was going to try to make a (bad) San Francisco pun--heart, art--but the fact is that I left my art in the East Village, so no can do.

James Kalm, one of the artists in the show, video'd 10 minutes worth of the
opening. Check it out. (Right: That's Libby Rosof, with Roberta Fallon just behind her, of the Philly-based Fallon and Rosof Art Blog.) Kalm shot a 360 of the gallery, so you'll see a lot of good stuff, including my painting--the one in the sidebar at right (scroll down a bit to the second image, Uttar 80). And of course check out the show in person at the Agni Gallery, 170 E. 2nd Street.

More info on my schedule blog.

The Blogger show features the work of 35 artists who blog, and the point is to begin a visual dialog between artist and blog to see how one informs the other. Times 35. So there's homework involved.

I'll be back on Tuesday with more to tell you, both here and on Two Artists Talking. But for the moment I'm closing up shop as my body clock tries to reset. There's the three-hour time difference. Then the fall-back hour. So I've landed unexpectedly in Mountain Time. I think. Tomorrow I head back East to begin the temporal confusion anew.

P.S. Big ups to Nancy Baker and Bill Gusky for their remarks on the Kalm video (and to James for asking). And equally big ups to John Morris and Susan Constanse for pulling off the show.