Monday, November 27, 2006

This man needs to retire

I never liked Alan Artner, the art critic of the Chicago Tribune for the past 33 years.

I don't like how he writes, thinks, looks -- and I especially don't like the things that he likes.

Well.. nothing unusual about that .. I've never read any art critic that I did like.

But now -- in his 33rd year -- he has seen fit to reverse the ONLY opinion he's ever had with which I would agree (which he wrote 33 years ago):

(referring to the artist Jim Nutt "Nothing wrong with this except that even at its inception eight years ago it was unspeakably shallow. Perhaps this time around the giggling I heard means that Chicagoans are gently but decisively laughing the stuff off our walls. Harmless as it is, Nutt's part in the ongoing joke has lasted far too long"

Why the change of heart ?

Actually -- he hasn't changed his opinion -- he still agrees with John Canaday that Imagism was "Greasy kid stuff" -- but now he repents the anger that he expressed back in his tempestuous youth.

..the language in which I wrote about my recoil from Imagism was wrong because it was vehement. And that vehemence came from the mistake of reacting as much to the enironment Imagism had caused as to the work itself. Imagism was only a style, here for a moment and, even among those who made up the "movement", soon gone. Art was not brough low by it. Art is more resilient than is thought by would-be protectors and defenders. Art in Chicago would simply move on.

Yes -- art is resilient -- or, or put it better, humanity is resilient -- civilizations come and go -- and still we're here to have another shot at it.

But individual lives -- and the moments of those lives -- come once and are gone forever -- and the institutional ascendency of "Chicago Ugly" is still, 30 years later, affecting the lives of artists, art students, and art lovers in the Chicago area.

A passion for our moments of life - specifically those moments spent in front of accessible paintings -- that should be sine qua non of an art critic worth publishing.

"I was also wrong to think the ascendance of Imagism affected much beyond a distribution of power and money. When young, you seldom consider those things; they're deflected by a naivete that keeps the mind, you think, on bigger things, such as what is best for (or best represents) the art community. But I was wrong about that as well, for in art, as in any business, it's everyone for him-or herself,not ideas of community.

No -- despite 200 years of rule by the bourgeois class -- art is still not just "any business" -- and isn't this declaration of cynicism just another way of saying "I don't want this job any more "?

What did I think would happen if an art greater in appetite, deeper in thought and subtler in feeling had attention instead of Imagism ? The history of Chicago Art might have recognized sooner that the city's greatest aesthetic achievement lay in photography, not painting

And there you have it --- painting is dead -- has everyone heard of the new 10 mega-pixel Nikon ?

Yes, I think Alan Artner has begun to dream of the rocking chair -- on a freshly painted wooden porch, looking westward over Lake Michigan.

But who is going to replace him ? Can anyone replace him ? Does it still make sense, in our fragmented post-modern artworld for a major newspaper to have a single, permanent, professional art critic ? Or would an arts-curious public be better served by an endless succession of different voices -- involved with different genres ?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ben Whitehouse

Before I forget (again) -- I'd better show this link to my pick for the best landscape painter in (and of) our area, Ben Whitehouse

One thing to keep in mind -- these paintings are LARGE -- he likes to paint rivers -- and, for reasons that I cannot explain, his paintings smell damp -- i.e. I feel like I'm actually on the rivers that he's painting. (and maybe I have been -- I've floated down quite a few)

I wonder how many years it will be before he gets shown at the Art Institute ? Will either one of us still be alive ?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rose Frantzen at the Palette and Chisel

I posted these pictures of Rose Frantzen's show over to our Palette blog a few weeks ago -- but as I've been thinking about the paintings that she just put up last weekend-- I just have to offer commentary too -- because -- well -- she is so remarkable.


For what seems like the first time ever at a P&C show --- I walked into the gallery room and got knocked flat -- with a blast of energy from the heartland (Maquoqueta, Iowa, to be exact) -- and as I reflected on what she was doing -- I realized that she's just telling us about her life -- as in a well-made first-person novel or docu-drama.

She titled the show "A look at life" -- and yes -- that's quite accurate.

No attempt at meeting any expectations of formal portraiture here -- just the presentation of somebody local -- but so powerfully present -- as to recall those 15th C. portaits of Italian warlords.

And when she makes a landscape (this is someplace on Staten Island, as I recall) -- there's this sense of impending action -- like it's not just a pretty scene -- but it's a setting where things have happened and will happen


If you've seen a Richard Schmid floral -- you'll know where these florals come from -- but there's no harm -- in my oriental aesthetics -- in reliving the past -- because beauty is not dulled by repetition -- and the spirit in each painting is a unique event.

But, for me, the most charming part of the exhibition were the paintings of her parents -- as she really became something of a documentary film maker -- which is, I think, quite a technical achievement for a painter.

(Parents reading news from Iraq )

(Parents reading news from Iraq )

These two paintings show her parents reacting to newpaper reports of events in the Middle East, where one of her brothers was then stationed.

But now we come to the part of the show that flew way over my head -- this almost religious icon to woman-as-mother....

...and I feel like I've walked into some strange church to which I don't belong

Maybe it's just that, being a childless drone, I just can't relate to the thrills of procreation (which -- when opportunity ever arose -- I carefully tried to avoid)


But even in these incomprehensible paintings--- the details were so true and so enjoyable -- I remain captivated by them.

Yes -- it was just like going to a good movie -- some scenes I liked -- some I couldn't figure out -- and walking out of the theatre onto the street -- I just have to start talking about what I've seen.

Duccio Controversy at the Met

I'm a fan of many of the things attributed to Duccio -- especially the little scenes, like the one above (from the National Gallery) that just seem saturated with the mystery and drama of faith (Jesus catching Peter, like Andrew catching fish -- while all three are floating -- either on air or water)

And -- as readers may have noticed -- I'm not a fan of museum management as we now know it -- so when my copy of "Bible Archeology Review" alerted me to this controversy -- I just had to check it out.

Basically -- this is a controversy between one man, James Beck (Professor of art history at Columbia Univ. and founder of a group called "ArtWatch Intl.") and the Metropolitan Museum of Art that just spent $40 million for the painting shown on the left. (the Madonna to the right is called the "Crevole Madonna")

Professor complains about the “low quality” of the Met’s painting — the Child’s raised arm and hand, “which appears like a stump”, and its “gourd-like head, which is quite at odds with confirmed and documented paintings by Duccio” -- "“We are asked to believe that the modest little picture represents a leap into the future of Western painting by establishing a plane in front of Mary and the Child. This feature, a characteristic of Renaissance not Medieval pictures, occurs only a hundred years after the presumptive date of the picture"..“Devastating to the Met’s claims is the fact that no other examples with the combination of elements — Madonna and Child with a space-defining parapet — are found among the confirmed works by Duccio or his followers, or in all of Tuscany, for that matter.”... “The artist or forger must have worked up this idea from hindsight rather than foresight.”

On the other hand.... the Met's website says:

"So profound is the change that animates Duccio’s art during these years," said Mr. Christiansen, "that art historians understandably presume an external stimulus. This must have been a trip to Assisi, where Duccio studied the recently completed fresco cycle of the life of Saint Francis by Giotto and a large équippe of assistants. It has now been demonstrated that this celebrated fresco cycle was completed prior to 1295–96. What impressed Duccio were the illusionistic devices Giotto introduced to frame the individual scenes as well as his ability to create a cogent, pictorial space inhabited by figures possessing weight and density. It was an art that embraced the complex and varied world of human experience, rather than one based on codified types, as had been the case with medieval and Byzantine painting. Duccio responded by exploring in his own art this new world of sentiment and emotional response, but with a lyricism and sensitivity to color that became the basis of Sienese painting. This new, complex vision attains its first clear statement in the Metropolitan Madonna and Child, and it is for this reason that this small panel intended for private devotion is so revolutionary."

In his 1979 monograph on Duccio, British scholar John White characterized the Metropolitan painting as "the first, lonely forerunner of that long line of Italian Madonnas with a parapet which achieved its finest flowering almost two centuries later in Giovanni Bellini’s splendid variations on the theme."

... all prefaced with the claim that:

" Among the great single acquisitions of the last half century and a work of sublime beauty, the addition of the Duccio to the Museum’s collection enables visitors to follow the entire trajectory of European painting from its beginnings to the present.

Here's my favorite of the Madonnas attributed to Duccio (called the "Rucellai") -- and others follow:

(This one is a detail from the "Maesta" -- Duccio's last and most famous work)

(This one from a Franciscan monastery)

(This one from a museum in Bern)

So...there's quite a variety of paintings here that have been attributed to Duccio -- and frankly, some of them seem to me to have been designed by different people.

But among all of them -- the new one at the Met does stand out as being the worst -- it feels sad and pathetic beside these other examples that seem to be bubbling out with internal life. It's profiles are weak -- and the "stump" feels like a injured stump -- where a similar arm -- in the Crevole Madonna -- does not.

I don't know much about James Beck -- but anyone who has noticed how many museum paintings have been destroyed by over-enthusiastic "restoration" has to admire the mission of his "Artwatch Intl." -- and I can't wait to read his new book about the "Crisis in Connoisseurship".

I don't really care whether this painting is called a Duccio or not -- the real issue, for me, is what are its spiritual-aesthetic qualities -- and this one appears to be a clunker.

My issues with the Met are as follows:

1. I think that when museums use their own funds to acquire things - they should buy against -- rather than with -- trends of value. The time to buy good , early Italian painting was 100 years ago -- the time to buy Chinese painting was 60 years ago -- the time to buy Academic French painting was 20 years ago -- and the time to buy 20th C. figure sculpture is --- now.

2. If the Met takes its educational role seriously -- it should explain -- in detail -- why they're attributing their new Madonna to the same artist who made Sienna's "Maesta" -- and not just brush off James Beck because he's not a recognized expert in Duccio. (after all -- he is a published scholar on Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture). As I understand it, the provenance of this piece does not go back more than 100 years -- and, of course, it's not signed. So what are the good reasons to call it a 'Duccio" ?

3. And if the Met takes its educational role seriously --- it should provide a nice, big, high-resolution scan of this painting on its website. (since the piece is covered with reflective glass when it's on public display -- only the Met can take such a picture)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sculpture of Grant Park

Buckingham Fountain

In response to a recent inquiry -- no, I don't want Grant Park -- or any park -- to be just "flowers and butterflies" --- I want figure sculpture and plenty of it -- but it doesn't have to be ugly-confrontational-depressing-alientated (like the army of 9-foot zombies now being installed by Magdalena Abakanowicz)

If I had my way -- a premier-center-showplace park (like Grant Park in Chicago) would be full of the playful fancies like those by Marcel Francois Loyau installed in Buckingham fountain. (ironically enough -- for all the books of French sculpture I've looked at -- I'd never heard of that fellow -- and all these years I assumed the pieces were done Carl Milles)

Fountain of the Great Lakes

Continuing on that playful theme -- we have this Lorado Taft fountain installed against the notorious Ferguson Wing of the Art Institute (notorious -- because that administative wing was built with funds that were endowed specifically to commission and maintain public sculpture)

Here's one of the surrounding putti --- and I wish there were many more.

Lincoln, Head of State

But Grant Park has also been site of sculpture of a more somber note -- like this St. Gaudens masterpiece -- and that's O.K. too -- because power and dignity provide their own delightful pleasure.

I'm less enthusiastic about the Mestrovic "Spearman" and "Bowman" who guard the entrance at Michigan and Congress -- I don't feel they escape being over-sized toys. But at least their silhouettes promise a place of high-spirited fun -- like park might be.

Theodore Thomas Memorial

I'm also not enthusiastic about Albin Polasek's memorial to the first conductor of the Chicago Symphony -- maybe because this seems to be the muse of Bruckner instead of Mozart.

But I enjoy these detail reliefs around the base -- with a whimsical vision of a native Orpheus making music to buffalo, bear, and elk.

Overall -- there's not really that much sculpture in Grant Park.

There's a few innocuous small-fountain figures --- a tedious monument to Christopher Columbus -- and some other wretched contemporary stuff (that I'm hoping is just temporary)

But Magdalena Abakanowicz has become a big, international name in the contemporary artworld -- so I fear that her dreary, rusting hulks will be with us for a long time to come.

I understand why she was chosen: Chicago is the second largest Polish city in the world and Contemporary Art defines status in the world of Chicago's billionaire civic leaders.

But the problem is ----- we all have to look at it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tribune Op-Ed Page

Wow ! -- I wasn't quite expecting this diatribe to make it to the op-ed page of the Chicago Tribune today. I never submitted it to the Trib -- and nobody told me about it -- I just opened up the paper this morning to see what sad things had happened in the world overnight -- and Yikes ! -- there it was.

But now that it's there -- let me elaborate a bit on my concerns.

I like Grant Park -- and occasionally walk through it on the way to the Field Museum -- but my real interest is in its northern occupant, the Art Institute - that I visit every week --- so my real concern is not so much how the bizarre world of contemporary art is abusing the lakefront -- but how it has come to utterly dominate the Art Institute -- which, though "encylopedic" regarding the past, is one-dimensional regarding the present.

Why did it discontinue the "Chicago Vicinty Show" 20 years ago ? Why will it never exhibit the top, living artists of non-contemporary genres -- like portrait painting, Impressionist landscape, Chinese brush painting, Orthodox ikons, Hindu liturgical sculpture, American Western art, Classical bronzes ?
Why will its new contemporary wing be devoted 100% to the kind of contemporary art that has been so well represented by the M.C.A. ?

And why do we -- the citizens who collectively own the lakefront land on which it sits -- allow it to serve the interests of the billionaire's club that sits on the A.I.C. board -- instead of the broader, middle-class public that mostly enjoys the kind of Impressionist visions that draw them to the block-buster exhibits ?

Why do we -- art lovers of various enthusiasms -- concede all authority to museum administrators who are basically specialists in fund-raising and corporate management ?

There needs to be a website devoted to the Art Institute -- but not run by its administration -- and let this be my opportunity to ask anyone who is interested to contact me about it.

( )

Monday, November 13, 2006

Recent comments

Walter Zimmerman commented here...

Mr. Miller --

I think I may have sent you a carefully-worded comment, or maybe it's been jettisoned into cyber-space because I didn't have a google account before I started writing to you. In any event, it was interesting to find my glass/mixed media work, the 'Incident' series, included in your personal tour of the recent Chicago SOFA exhibit.

Just because we don't want to experience something, does that mean we don't need, perhaps, to look at it anyway? Or is the only respectable function of art to soothe and reassure the viewer?

(And, if that's the case, I'm interested that you "see" so much of the work included in your tour hanging in doctor's offices. Who would see it there? People whose lives are unblemished?)

Ah well, enjoy your ruminations, and thanks for stopping and looking at some of the things I make.


Walter Zimmerman

And my work looks much, much better when it hasn't been dusted. Ever.


anne has left a new comment on Preston Jackson at the Chicago Cultural Center

You may want to trade eyes and see how the round shapes of the statues may be used to invoke promises of life to be born. The work is more about life than death, more about reconciliation than evil. Jackson chose "the Garden" to plant his creations so even so they have been uprooted form their mother land, their may reconstruct life. Next time you take a walk,look at the trees, the leaves, the fruits of the earth, may be you will see some resemblance. The evil there is the one you can't see.


marlyat2 has left a new comment here

I dearly love Marvell, and I think you mean not a "wandering orange" but a "nectarine." That poem does seem right for you! As do several others by Marvell...

Loved your comment about the bed and snow--certainly the idea that a woman may be freezing to death in her own home is evocative.

No doubt--as art schools turn back to the idea of training students to have basic skills and people decide that they don't want to pay for or contemplate merde in a can--all that stuff in the basement will some day be dragged up to the life and looked at with fresh eyes. Someday.

"Naturalism" is the literary period most enmeshed in work and grind, though it's also violent. But I note that it seems unpopular in our time.

However, isn't Faulkner a regionalist? And yet would A Hundred Years of Solitude have been written and called forth its own progeny without Absolom, Absolom


MW said... here

"... that breathtaking interior symphony of volume that distinguishes the great from the good."

Very, very nice. I'm warning you; I'm going to use that at some point. When I purchased my first high-end speakers, I took an audiophile friend with me as a consultant. After an hour all the speakers began to sound alike to me so I asked him how one possibly could make a choice. His response:

"You'll know the right ones when you can hear the velvety blackness between the notes."


Lori Witzel said... Here

Fabu! The Other Side of Mr. Miller! You have great camera-presence, BTW.

Hope that brought more folks to your shop, and hope they think to ask (and come back for) the sculpture.

BTW, here's my Warhol-time -- I played The Traumatized Yacht Owner in this movie:




As usual, you have an interesting reading of things. While Venus or Persephone may be the more correct answer, I like yours!

I would probably alter it a little, though. While one can look at the central panel as bridal or initiate into womanhood, the left-hand panel is clearly in the realm of eros. The naked woman has her hair sacked up in a net and plays a flute--several erotic forms there! Reminds me of the woodcut of Spenser's poor old Colin Clout, who breaks his bagpipe in "peeces," all for the love of cruel Rosalinde:

And I don't know if the other woman is so old. I'd suggest that one side may refer to the sensual "side" of woman and the other to the spiritual, at least if one can trust the little censer or whatever it is--some ritual object.

9:57 PM


Bill said... here

Hmm. Don't they know they should all be hard at work posting great images I can enjoy for free!

Here is what the money-making arm of the National Gallery of London is up to (I couldn't get access to the prices charged, but its pretty obvious I wouldn't want to pay them just for gander):

10:14 AM

chris miller said... here

I just signed up and got the price:
it runs about $250 per image (plus about $60 per order service fee).
(and that's just to have the image on your website for period of time - up to three years -- or mailed to you on a dvd )-- which similar to what they'd charge for you to publish it in a book.



marlyat2 said... here

Hello, Chris--

School has started, so I'm back.

I'm going to order some of those Japanese anemones. I have a great desire to convert the back yard into a garden, but Hanna the lab works against me. This is a delicious, idiosyncratic garden. I'd love to see it.

It would be very interesting to see what you would do with "garden railroading." It seems to be a very popular pursuit. I can think of one such garden just a couple of blocks away from me. You could get John Putnam to help you miniaturize the world....

11:36 AM
chris miller said... here

Marly, I'm so glad you're back !
(in this blog's imaginary ideal audience -- you're in the middle of the first row -- though, come to think of it -- so is everyone else who's commented so far)

I'm into model railroads (or at least, fantasizing about them) because that was yet another one of my father's out-of-control projects -- he filled the entire attic with this miniature world -- and sad was the day when it got taken down.

10:06 AM

Otto van Karajanstein said... here

As a Canadian, I think Chris makes a valid point in the sense that these kinds of works define Canadian art in a way that they do not American art.

If one looks at what is considered to be paradimatic Canadian art, it's safe to say that these kinds of depictions, of forests, of people living hard lives, are a fairly constant feature.

Now that's not to say that Americans lack this, rather that it is a subset of America's artistic heritage where is would be central to the Canadian one.

9:53 PM

chris miller said... here

That's also what I've sensed about "what is central" to the Canadian heritage, Otto -- though the closest I've come to living in Canada is Buffalo, New York.

Americans just don't have this thing about people living hard lives. Instead, we'd prefer to meditate on the elation and danger of violence.

11:03 AM

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sculptural Objects & Functional Art - 2006

I read somewhere there was lots of figure sculpture in this year's S.O.F.A. show (Sculptural Objects & Functional Art)-- so I had to grab the camera and go. Was there any chance I'd find something as wonderful as the above ceramic tableaux from 18th C. Spain ? Hah !

It turned out that -- just like last time I went --- the star of the show was the glass --

Glass -- glass -- more glass - the above three pieces by Marvin Lipovsky being my over-the-top favorites. Want to take one home ? That will set you back $35,000 (and commit you to a lifetime of dusting)

The figure sculpture was terrible -- the above being the best I could find -- and all of it a tribute to the collapse of the sculptural tradition.

Because this is not an "Art" show -- it's not supposed to be ugly-confrontational-depressing-provocative etc -- things are supposed to look good (i.e. decorative) --- and though there clearly is a desire to look at figures -- there isn't an art for making them that way.

Here's the prince of American glass, Dale Chihuly -- these pieces are 25 years old -- and notice how they're a bit less overstated -- but still expressing a love of excess.

Here's a Chihuly piece all by itself -- offering a nice, quiet aesthetic moment.

But there are also pieces by other artists that even quieter -- like this one called "Rain" -- perfect for a nice, high-end waiting room

Actually - I think the figures in these little tableaux are my favorites in the show -- they belong in their space (instead of assaulting it)

Isn't this scene beautiful ? How can anyone see this and still have a bad day ?

Actually -- there was another figure that I liked -- this Inuit piece by Ovilu Tunnillie. The stone is so beautiful -- the figure just melts away while looking at it.

Biology was one of my favorite high-school classes -- because micro-life can be so beautiful -- and that's how this piece feels.

Just like looking through the microscope -- without having to squint

Here's the most expensive set of glass I saw -- $350,000 for a wall-full -- by Lino Tagliapietra.

It just seems to be a lot to pay for what is basically a colorful bauble -- like the glass marbles we collected as kids -- just a lot bigger.

Maybe it's all the Japanese literature I've been reading -- but I'm preferring this Japanese aesthetic by Naomi Shioya

who also made these mysterious chairs. It follows the principle that the quiet voice is the one that commands the most attention.

Can you tell this glass was made by an Australian ? (Carmac Boydell) Maybe I couldn't have guessed it -- but it sure seems to have that masculine, agressive energy of the land down under.

Moving on to ceramics -- this was one of the few traditional objects I could find (by Michael McCarthy)-- as well as the least expensive (under $300)

And this was the most humorous piece I could find -- how can you look at this and not begin laughing ?

And once again, it's the Japanese aesthetic that seems the most attractive to me - although it would require the proper setting to be effective (a spot in a clean, empty room -- all by itself)-- otherwise -- it's just another piece of junk.

Something is so relaxing about this item.

Oops -- almost forgot about one more figure sculptor -- Dana Major Kanovitz -- and her dream visions of humans as elegant insects. O.K. -- maybe not my favorite genre -- but it has the sharp, cleaness of jewelry.

These things are so much fun -- it's hard to be too critical --- but comparing these high-priced decorative items to the high-end things made in other eras -- it's pathetic.

This is an esthetic of baubles -- big -- showy -- attention grabbing.

And some genres were completely absent -- like table-size classical bronzes -- or figures in wood or ivory. And what about ceramic figurines -- I mean ones that try to be elegant instead of comic/bizarre/goofy ? Why wasn't Lladro here ? (or others like them ?) What about imitation Mayan figure or Tang figures or Ming vases? We know that there are experts in imitating these styles in the counterfeit trade -- why can't these items be sold as up-front modern pieces ? I mean --- we're not talking about the museum artworld here -- just things that look good.

And why so much emphasis on glass ?

Because it's as surface-centered and fragile as our urban professional lives ?