The four upstairs galleries at the Everson Museum of Art (401 Harrison Street, Syracuse, New York 13202) are filled with treasures, some of which I have seen many times over the decades – but not like this. Elizabeth Dunbar, director and CEO, has a way of pairing paintings and ceramics with a keen eye that makes everything come alive and feel fresh again.
It is this new perspective that breathes love into the exhibition, A Legacy of Firsts: The Everson Collects. It showcases the museums over one hundred year history, presenting the cohesion via an American thread. The exhibition honors the museum’s legacy and in turn reveres the decisions made by previous curators and directors. I love this credence to respect. It feels welcoming. It feels like family. It feels like home. As she says in her message in the winter 2020 Everson Bulletin, [the museum is] “For artists. For community. For everyone.”
This is an historical trek that begins at the top of the spiral staircase with pieces purchased around 1911 when the museum was known as the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts – impressionistic landscapes, portraits and still-lifes displayed in ornate golden frames coupled with the ceramic pieces of the day. Adelaide Alsop Robineau was a local potter who corresponded with and met the museum’s director at that time, Fernando Carter, as she frequented the facility back then – her intricately carved vessels were the first pieces purchased for what became a premier ceramics collection.
There are over 11,000 items in the Everson’s collection! As the show progresses into the second chamber, you are jolted by bold colors. This room is filled with large-scale abstractions and colorful pottery to mix and match. Lee Krasner’s painting is displayed above her husband’s, an early Jackson Pollack. I love the similarity in their styles.
There is a display of transmedia here as well, but the videos don’t translate well in a photograph.
The next gallery is familiar in that the museum purchased pieces from exhibitions from their recent past. This (below) is a piece by Vanessa German.
The fourth gallery space is heaviest on the ceramic collection. It is such a bold move to see these pieces sans glass or other protective shielding, but that is what makes them so compelling. Textural items created to be touched that one must not touch within reach – when I visited the museum as a child, all the ceramics were under glass in the do not touch space, as though they came to the museum to die, lol. Now they are sooooo alive!
This show is visual candy. I love the angles of the presentations, the way pieces connect, that flow, rhythm and the sheer beauty of the artwork. It’s a wonderful journey through yesteryear and beyond. <3
A Legacy of Firsts: The Everson Collects continues through March 22, 2020.
The Everson Museum of Art is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours of operation: Wednesday, Friday and Sunday noon – 5 PM, Thursdays noon – 8 PM and Saturdays 10 AM – 5 PM. There is a sliding scale admission fee (free for members). Visit their web-site for the deets. www.everson.org
The Art Galleries at Syracuse University are designed to facilitate education. In other words, it’s a teaching museum. Professors require students to go to there – to critique the art/learn how to judge a work of art. Students journal about experiences for classes, attend the receptions and lectures, and even work there (which has to be the greatest work-study gig).
Last year, former Director Domenic Iocono mentioned it was the reason artists like Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Kiki Smith wanted to collaborate by sharing their work with our community, enhancing the walls of the spaces with their respective visions.
In this season’s first exhibition, Not a Metric Matters, the university galleries led by new Director and Chief Curator Vanja Malloy, Ph.D. hosts its own – the School of Visual & Performing Arts faculty. It is an opportunity to showcase their talent, yes, and also turn the tables on the critiquing process allowing the professors to show students how it’s really done.
Margie Hughto has been affiliated with the university for many, many years. When I spoke to her last month, she said teaching is still fun and so, she will continue to share her expertise with students for many years to come.
Her ceramic and found object work is exquisite. It is perfection in editing – selecting just the right found object pieces to coordinate with the ceramic pieces. The work alludes to the recent discarded and forgotten in terms of technology.
The thought provoking concepts aside, Hughto’s artwork screams of her strength of character. She finds beauty in every angle, in each piece fused as one. They are signatures of her style while continuing to surprise and delight us, continuing a growth trajectory as an artist and that in itself is the lesson.
Holly Greenberg has isolated grief in this productive series of drawings. These pieces resonated with me – as you know my father recently passed away and his belongings are still in the closets, his car in the driveway at Mom’s house. Using these ordinary objects as memento gives them a lovingly somber power and isolating them in their compositions drives the message home.
It is curious how objects can retain the emotion of the spirit and Greenberg’s proficiency in rendering provides the elevation of their status.
Ann Clarke‘s fiber artwork is marvelously original. Texture is my thing and seeing monumental work on the walls creates a bold statement about time. The fabrics are traditional, but the techniques are fresh and alive. The hooked rug eye is really incredible in-person. I love the idea of taking a method we all used in the past and formulating this new pattern, which seems to denote to me that someone is watching over me, loving me.
Clarke’s statement does imply that she is the watchful eye for her ailing mother and that is a beautiful thing. That the old becomes new again, and time is cyclical.
Other teaching artists in this show –
Yasser Aggour, Cooper Battersby, Emily Vey Duke, Don Carr, Deborah Dohne, Heath Hanlin, Seyeon Lee, Sarah McCoubrey, Su Hyun Nam, Vasilios Papajoannu, James Ransome, Tom Sherman and Chris Wildrick
Their work takes dimension as paintings, drawings, photo-collage, video and installation – and all have something important to say within the context of their visualizations.
There are more exhibits in the space, all curated by different people. DJ Hellerman is the curator of this show. He is the Art and Program Curator at the Everson Museum of Art and collaborates with SU’s Department of Transmedia. I met him while stumbling into a critique of university students’ final exhibitions at Apostrophe’s.
David Prince curated the display of former VPA faculty members. As you know, I am an SU grad (B.F.A. ’85, M.S. ’93). These professors are my people. I absolutely loved Rodger Mack. He was so devoted to building the sculpture department and his bronze sculptures are THE BEST!
Seeing his hands portrayed by Jerome Witkin brought a tear to my eye. There is so much love here, people. Going to Syracuse University was a dream come true for me – I feel incredibly blessed to have been the first person in my family to ever go to a university – and to see the professors being honored is such a gift. They deserve every accolade.
They were and are true working artists, not just people showing up to collect a paycheck.
There’s lots more to see of these exhibits and the vast permanent collections. It will all be on display until November 24, 2019. There will be an art reception on Thursday, September 12, 2019 from 5 – 7 pm. And Holly Greenberg will be giving a presentation in the adjacent Shemin Auditorium on Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 6:30 pm.
Syracuse University Art Galleries is located in the Shaffer Art Building on Syracuse University campus. Free parking is available on Sundays and on Thursday evenings in the Q lot – or at least it was when I was there yesterday. Call (315) 443-4097 for more information including hours of operation. <3
When I met Jason Alexander, I did that goofy Cinderella’s step-sister thing and asked him how he liked our Syracuse, New York weather.
He replied, “It sucks!” This was after a performance of the play he’d directed at Syracuse Stage. My friend and I looked at each other in an are-you-kidding-me glance because we both love it here, both love to hike whether in rain, snow, sleet or hail. And our weather had been particularly great in June.
So funny – and that is why I don’t have a selfie with the Seinfeld alum.
Today’s weather is sheer perfection – a magnificent sunny and breezy day to explore the offerings at City Market. Sponsored by the Everson Museum of Art (401 Harrison Street, Syracuse, NY 13202), the market is housed on the museum grounds around the fountains.
It takes place on the second Sunday of the month from 10 am – 4 pm. There are two dates left before the season ends – Sunday, September 8, 2019 and Sunday, October 13, 2019.
There is a lot to peruse – jewelry, trinkets, clothing, food, furniture and flea market-y miscellaneousness. And art, of course.
Tyler Cagwin created Nostalgia Chocolate. He manufactures the product here in Syracuse with international cocoa beans. The flavors are rich and satisfying! Gourmet chocolate with health benefits! (That’s a win-win).
I loved these ceramic pins and magnets created by Beckie Bortel of Beckie’s Pottery. They have a substantial feel to them and they look like ginger snap cookies. Great patina!
Terry Lynn Cameron is selling originals and prints of her colorful paintings. The prints are done on canvas, which is very cool. I am really impressed with how she markets her product! Some of the art has been adhered to sketchbooks and daily planners. Love!
Lori Lizzio‘s work can be found as originals, prints and notecards. They are ink and wash pieces of animals and figures.
Syracuse does have beautiful weather, Jason Alexander, and beautiful people – and art. It is satisfying and fun. Really fun. It doesn’t suck. <3
Eugene and Clare Thaw began collecting Native American art in 1987 when they lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They donated the collection to the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York where it currently resides in the downstairs gallery across from the Herb Ritts exhibition.
The life of Eugene V. Thaw is eloquently reviewed in an obituary written by Holland Carter for the New York Times, which I have included in this post. It documents a man’s life-long passion for the arts. His dedication to collecting, amassing more like, and also preserving and selling art is a gift to the world.
In this case, American Indian clothing, jewelry, pottery, and both decorative and functional objects depict the powerfully dignified beauty of a culture/civilization. Although the collection began in the Southwest, the Thaws expanded it to include every region of the US. The pieces are exquisitely displayed via region.
I am especially drawn to the costume, the leather hides, the intricate beadwork and the colors. Just fabulous!
Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Thaw, for your life’s work and vision – preserving American history through the beauty of its art. <3
He was born on Oct. 27, 1927, in Washington Heights in Manhattan. His father was a heating contractor, his mother a schoolteacher. They named him for the socialist leader Eugene Victor Debs, who had died the previous year.
As a young teenager, Mr. Thaw took drawing classes at the Art Students League on West 57th Street in Manhattan. But he did not pursue the hands-on practice of art.
“I can’t create the objects I crave to look at,” he later said, “so I collect them.”
After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx at 15, he entered St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., and began making day trips to art museums in nearby Washington.
Returning to New York in 1947, he took graduate classes in art history at Columbia University with Millard Meiss and Meyer Schapiro. He also followed the city’s contemporary-art scene, getting an early immersion in Pollock’s work at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
His closest institutional tie was to what is now the Morgan Libraryand Museum, which in the 1950s was one of the few New York museums to have a curator of drawings. In 1975, after the museum had expanded its acquisition parameters to include 19th-century work, the Thaws decided that the Morgan would be the recipient, in incremental allotments, of their ever-growing holdings. The Morgan exhibition “Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings From the Thaw Collection,” which opened in September and closes on Sunday, marked the completion of the gift, encompassing more than 400 sheets.
Among them were works by modern and contemporary artists in whom Mr. Thaw took particular interest. In the 1950s, on summer vacations in East Hampton, N.Y., Clare Thaw had struck up a friendship with the painter Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s widow. With Ms. Krasner’s cooperation, Mr. Thaw began preparing the multivolume Pollock catalogue raisonné, an annotated listing of all the artist’s known works, in the 1970s, hiring the art historian Francis V. O’Connor as co-author.
Discover the most outstanding items from the Thaw Collection American Indian Art. Objects of transcendent beauty that span the continent—from the Arctic to the Southwest, and from the Eastern Woodlands to the Pacific West–encompassing close to 2,000 years of artistic tradition and innovation in North America.
Herbert Ritts was a California boy. Growing up, he lived in Steve McQueen’s neighborhood in Brentwood, which, according to many biographies I have read recently, was an instrumental synergy that launched his comfort level with celebrity.
The quotes from his high profile portrait subjects include statements about how using daylight was his strength and that they felt at ease in front of his lens:
“Herb made me look how I wish I looked when I woke up in the morning.” – Cindy Crawford
“In his sweet disarming way he suggested that we work together again and I agreed to it. And that was the beginning of an incredibly long and fruitful working relationship, but it was also the beginning of a great friendship.” – Madonna
“Working with Herb was more like just hanging out with a friend. We’d joke, chatter and gossip and at the end of the day he would have captured the whole thing in the lens. He was a great guy.” – David Bowie
Herb Ritts – The Rock Portraits is on display at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York (5798 State Highway 80, Cooperstown, NY 13326). The photographs are on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio until September 2, 2019.
The show is a mirror of my youth. So many images that I have seen on album covers, in music videos, in fashion magazines – Herb Ritts is like an old friend. It is as if you know him. Knew him. You can envision him working because it is evident that it was not work. It was more like a relationship, the way he presented people at ease in the present moment, not thinking about what they must do later in the week or later that day, but being in the now. You can see this in the eye contact, in the way the light shines on their faces and in the crispness of the images.
Ritts captures the essence of his subjects. What I see in the photographs is the “authentic self”, the real person behind the fame. The Bob Dylan pictures are gritty, as though the man cannot hide a lifetime of struggling with inner demons. The Bruce Springsteen images reflect a certain shyness beneath the success. And the Madonna images are, to me, the most iconic, spanning the ’80s and ’90s and showing us a vulnerable, little Italian girl who grows in confidence and artistic resonance with every click. We get to witness that evolution, that living history, and that is a beautiful thing. <3
It is this contrast between the legend and the human spirit that gives credence to Ritts as artist rather than commercial photographer for hire, and is the reason why these photographs and videos belong in a museum. They are evidence of the art of living, the art of performing, the art of communicating a visual language of persona, and the art of documenting artistic merit as an art. It is all about authenticity.
The photographs are accessorized with costumes and musical instruments, also on loan from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is Madonna’s. I could totally rock this – OMG, I know it would fit me. Unfortunately, it was on a mannequin and encased in lucite or else it would have been my #ootd.
I took these pictures yesterday, took a day trip to Cooperstown, which I highly recommend! You must go to there! The drive was spectacular – from Syracuse, New York, it is an hour by New York State Thruway then an additional forty minutes down Route 28. Cooperstown is truly a magical place. Home to so many attractions – the Glimmerglass Opera House, the Baseball Hall Of Fame, the legendary Cardiff Giant (on view at the Farmer’s Museum).
And the Fenimore Art Museum is on the lake. It is just incredibly gorgeous there – it was my first time and I felt like Cinderella arriving at the castle for the ball. Just spectacular!
They are open today 10 am – 5 pm. Call (607) 547-1400 for more information about this wonderful place. <3
Known for his elegant and minimalist work, and his mastery of photographing in natural light, photographer Herb Ritts (1952–2002) had a gift for turning stars into icons. Here, in the first curated collection of his photos of some of music’s most celebrated artists, visitors will see how he captured the likes of David Bowie, Tina Turner, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Prince, Cher, Madonna and many more—the world’s biggest music stars—and in the process, helped define their iconic status for generations of fans. See many of his best-known portraits alongside stage costumes and guitars from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As a native of Los Angeles, Herb Ritts was uniquely attuned to the natural light of the California sun, and preferred to shoot outdoors. He took work seriously and was renowned for posing his subjects in classic, sculptural styles, with little or no pros. He also had a unique, understated way of making his subjects feel comfortable in front of his camera. They trusted him and it’s often that trust and human bond that you see reflected in his portraits. When he died of complications from AIDS at the age of 50, Ritts left behind an extraordinary body of work, that when we see as a whole, demonstrates his undeniable impact on contemporary culture.
The exhibition is sponsored in part by The Clark Foundation, Fenimore Asset Management, and NYCM Insurance.
Panel Discussion – Fenimore Rocks! Herb Ritts and the Image of Rock Music
Saturday, July 13 • 2:00–4:00 pm Join us as Rock & Roll Hall of Fame president, Greg Harris, moderates a lively talk and cocktail party focusing on Herb Ritts and the impact his photographs had on the image of rock music in the 80s and 90s. The event also features Laurie Kratochvil, former Director of Photography at Rolling Stone magazine, John Covach, Professor of Music Theory and Director of the Institute for Popular Music at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, and Rory Ritts, Herb Ritts’ younger brother. After, join them for cocktails and a buffet on the terrace (cash bar, weather permitting).
The talk is free for museum members; otherwise, included with regular admission (Adults: $12, Seniors: $10.50). Seating in the auditorium is extremely limited and will be available on a first come, first serve basis. Overflow seating will be available with live viewing via a flat-screen monitor.
Rock ‘n’ Reel Film Series – I’m Not There
Saturday, July 27 • 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm) Several actors portray legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. (2007, R) More info
Rock ‘n’ Reel Film Series – Burlesque
Saturday, August 10 • 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm) A backstage musical film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. (2010, PG-13) More info
Food For Thought – Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits (Lunch)
Wednesday, August 21 • 12:30 pm with Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO of Fenimore Art Museum, and Kevin Gray, Manager of Arts Education More info
Rock ‘n’ Reel Film Series – Madonna: Truth or Dare
Saturday, August 24 • 7:00 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm) Documentary chronicling the life of Madonna during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. (1991, R) Otsego County native John Draper, former Tour Manager of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition World Tour will be present for a live commentary on the film, giving a rare behind-the-scenes look of what it takes to manage a tour for one of music’s original megastars. More info
Live Music with Wurliday
Friday, August 30 • 7:00–9:00 pm (takes place across the street at The Farmers’ Museum) FREE ADMISSION! Hailing from Albany, NY, Wurliday brings together some of the most exciting, dynamic musicians in the live music scene for a lively injection of soul-funk goodness, direct to your ears. You’ll dance all night long! Free admission. More info
® I LOVE NEW YORK is a registered trademark and service mark of the New York State Department of Economic Development; used with permission.
The five pieces that make up this whimsical installation by Abraham Ferraro of Albany, New York, are the reason children grow up to be artists. (What kid didn’t have a sticker collection in the ’80s – am I right, people?) Arrows wrapped in brightly colored postal tape direct viewers towards this behemoth labyrinth of recycled cardboard and stickers. You can’t take a bad picture – every angle is perfection. It is just so incredibly fun! There is this feeling of discovery, the idea of packages – think Willie Wonka meets Amazon Prime via the U.S. postal service.
Apparently, Ferraro mailed the boxes and arrow-shaped sculptures to the Schweinfurth then added more tape and arranged them to create the eye-popping playground-like display.
Tonight was the gallery’s First Friday event. In addition to viewing the artwork, browsing the gift shop and enjoying delicious snacks, there was a free re-purposed art project (creating a self-watering planter from a wine bottle) set up in the basement – led by my friend Davana Robedee, Program Coordinator.
The next First Friday will be August 2, 2019. Edgy Folk will perform.
I have always been drawn to the exquisite beauty of all that is Ancient Egypt. I took an Egyptology course at University College while teaching at Bryant & Stratton back in the ’80s to answer a student who questioned why and how Egyptian fashion was selected as the first chapter in the costume history textbook.
The answer lies in art, because all of our history to do with ancient cultures comes not from the written word, but from pictures – in this case hieroglyphics, tomb murals and, of course jewelry, as well as the remnants of clothing made of linen fiber.
I learned that Napoleon’s French army invaded Egypt in 1798. They rediscovered the antiquities and were the first archeologists to investigate the area. It wasn’t the painstaking attention to delicate detail that it is today or even remotely a respectful handling of human remains.
Many mummies were burned as fuel for steam engines, which is just so tragic. Later on, in the following century, Egypt became an exotic vacation spot for wealthy Americans who enjoyed purchasing the baubles, scarab beetle decor, and mummies!
They held mummy unveiling dinner parties back in the States, stuff like that.
Howard Carter uncovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. This significant find catapulted Egyptian archeology in terms of the level of importance, the regard for history and the sheer magic in attaining this priceless treasure.
Somewhere in the middle, during the Victorian age, Cazenovia Public Library benefactor Robert James Hubbard and his son accumulated a collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts including an intricately wrapped-in-linen mummy for the purpose of creating a museum.
And so, yes, there is a mummy in this library.
Yesterday, Janine and I visited Cazenovia, New York; first stop, Cazenovia Artisans, second, Common Grounds and next, to the library to see this exhibit. We ended up at Empire Farm Brewery for lunch. Janine had never been to any of these spots nor had she an idea this breathtaking collection even existed. So, my thought is that not many of you know about it. You’re welcome!
When I taught elementary art at Bridgeport Elementary School in our district, I decided to add a few lessons on Ancient Egypt culture to the third grade curriculum, because I had this knowledge I wanted to share. I created a cat mummy sculpture lesson. Naturally, no pets were harmed. Students’ sculptures were made of an armature of plastic bottles and styrofoam balls. They were void of remains, unlike the actual cat mummy at this museum.
At Chittenango, it is the sixth graders who study the ancient civilizations in Social Studies. They do take a field trip to Cazenovia Library, as the village is adjacent to our school district via Route 13. I highly recommend a visit. It is free and really quite extraordinary.
The library is located at 100 Albany Street, Cazenovia, New York 13035. It is open Monday – Friday 9:00 am – 9:00 pm, Saturday 10:00 – 5:00 pm. They are closed on Sundays. Call (315) 655-9322 for more information.
The museum space is also home to a gallery for rotating local artist/art organization exhibitions, as well as a wonderful exhibit of birds and plumage in fashion. They also have many interesting activities for children including puzzle clubs and such. Yesterday they had a hot chocolate and cookie station available. Set in a Victorian mansion, this is truly a quaint and lovely experience that really packs a secret chamber punch. So special! <3
Janine and I took a trip to Cazenovia, New York today. We visited Cazenovia Artisans, an artist’s co-op. It is located at 39 Albany Street in the heart of the village. Linda Bigness just joined, so I thought it would be fun to visit and see the new work. (For a full list of artists in the cooperative, visit their website).
Bob Ripley was manning the register. He is a former Advertising Design man turned full time watercolorist. His work is AMAZING!
It was such an honor to meet him and speak with him about his art. Bob uses Windsor & Newton watercolors and Arches 300 pound paper, which he staples into foam board while working on the individual pieces.
Bob shared his technique – here he is working on a commission. He added the figure of the man into the landscape and strategically placed the fishing line to add rhythm to the composition.
He uses frisket to assist in the layering process of glazing. It stops the paint from bleeding into areas and also helps to save the white of the paper, which is a watercolor technique used instead of painting with the more opaque Chinese white paint. In addition, he shared a method he’d perfected through trial and error – placing clear transparent tape on an area then going back in and shaving the edge with an Exacto blade to match it with the landscape, all to insure that the paint stays where it belongs.
Watercolor is tricky that way. It is about sheer layers blending together. Bob was very clear about never using black. Instead, he combines Hooker’s Green and Alizarin Crimson or if he wants a cooler looking dark, he mixes the Alizarin with Ultramarine Blue.
This work is really incredible. Each piece takes about seventy or eighty hours to complete. Bob draws the basic lines of the landscape then adds more detail with pencil as needed.
There are original watercolor paintings on the wall for sale, as well as high quality Giclee prints, which look almost identical to the originals in quality and color. Each piece is infused with Bob Ripley’s vivacious spirit. He is so talented!
I privately set an intention this morning – I wanted to see a cardinal, believe it or not. People always say that when a cardinal crosses your path, it is a sign that someone who has passed away is nearby. I was sifting through Bob’s prints thinking I might see one (I can’t explain why I thought he would even have one). Then I turned and found a cardinal print in his section on the greeting card fixture!
Later that day, I saw an actual cardinal while hiking around Green Lakes. It literally called out to me then it frantically fluttered about while I flustered getting my cell phone from my pocket. I was laughing and crying at the same time while trying to get the shot, so this is not a great picture, lol, but it doesn’t matter. Thanks, Dad. <3
Cazenovia Artisans is open Monday – Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sunday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. For more information call (315) 655-2225.
According to the blurb in the SU Art Galleries’ newsletter,
Artist Kiki Smith has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions worldwide, featured at five Venice Biennales, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among her many honors is the recognition by TIME Magazine as one of the “TIME 100: The People Who Shape Our World.”
She is a living legend in the art world, a kind of giant, a dichotomy of sorts because in person she really is quite delicate looking with slender features. Her hands in particular, which seem a stark contrast to the sort of macabre drawings they produce. Kiki Smith is my favorite artist’s favorite artist. I read that somewhere decades ago. Jasper Johns is famously tight-lipped to disclose the inner workings of his mind. Smith is similarly private. The language with which gallery director Domenic Iacono uses to describe Smith’s prolific career’s trajectory reminds me of this thing I read by a dating coach who insists women must keep men off-balance by speaking gibberish, like saying one thing and flipping it on its side to keep them guessing, lol. Not to say that his words are not an accurate portrayal.
Yes, I saw immediately via Smith’s slide presentation on Thursday evening, February 15, 2018 in the lecture hall adjacent to the gallery in Shaffer Art Building at Syracuse University how the work relates to life from birth to death and how that relationship is reproduced in a type of modern allegory. It’s just that the description gives the impression that the artist set out to make particular meaning in her work, that there was clear and deliberate intent to be a crusader of issues or whatever. And so, this presentation was like a breath of fresh air to me because it wasn’t what I expected at all.
There were around (or over) three hundred people in attendance, many of whom students searching for a road map to art success, a short-cut maybe despite their unique circumstances. Penny Santy, Laurel Morton and I had a different experience.
She said, “I don’t know” a lot. My friends and I responded to the realness of her being. Kind of reminded me of the Star Trek TNG movie where they time-travelled to meet the guy who invented warp drive. How they had studied him in school and expected him to be a type of god only to find him to have the same sort of trials and tribulations as any one of us.
Smith sat in a corner until she was introduced then raced up and got caught up in the microphone’s battery, which messed up her hair and caused her to flop into position and, while struggling with the technology, to utter, “I’m totally discombobulated.”
You can hear my laugh in a large group situation. I really should get a job sitting in the audience during the taping of TV sit-coms. It was this unexpected sort of absentminded normalcy that I fell in love with. Because Kiki Smith was not there to teach us to be like her or offer advice on the inner workings of the international art world or art super-stardom.
She was here to share her art. It was her focus on the specific and unique problem solving issues related to art material and rudimentary technique that propelled her journey, which if plotted probably resembles a scribble rather than a connect-the-dot drawing.
Some people think or expect that you should make the same kinds of art forever because it creates a convenient narrative…I want my work to embody my inherent contradictions.
Art, she said, is not meant to be permanent and neither are we. It is simply a thing we can do to make our marks. It passes the time. You can sell it or give it away to friends. This despite also indicating that 90% of her art is self-owned and in storage, which most of us can relate to, lol. She acknowledged that she was priveleged; she mentioned her father several times as well-known sculptor Tony Smith. She said she was a college drop-out who had an inkling to become a baker and chef but never really learned to cook. So she began to experiment with cheap or rather, non-archival art materials to sort of replicate the braid strands in challah bread and from that her artwork evolved through the evolution of several decades to sculpture, jewelry making, tapestry and stained glass via printmaking.
My father was a baker and chef so I was amused by this. The internet is littered with people who chastise her, thinking her success is solely attributed to her father’s connections and not to her talent, creativity and attitude. Had she and I been flipped at birth, I can safely say that her self-proclaimed lack of culinary skills would not be in jeopardy. Parents raise you – they do not do the work for you. Everyone knows that. You and you alone create your life.
Her journey has taken the New Jersey native around the globe – to Germany to paint on glass, Iceland where the tapestries take years to manufacture and, as mentioned, to Venice, Italy several times for the Biennales. She has even worked on and off as an adjunct professor at NYU and Columbia! It was a sort of Alice in Wonderland type story where help became available when needed. Experts in their fields there to assist in creating the vision so that she could maintain the integrity of her mark-making, revisit old drawings and turn, turn, turn leaving no stone unturned – flipping everything on its axis until an idea had/has been fully explored.
It was this part that I just loved. Naturally, the point to me is meaning. Not meaning in her work, more like, the meaning of my own life. I saw the seemingly disparate dreams I have come together. I saw my own path and how I got to where I am. I am a dreamer first and foremost. That is abundantly clear to me.
A writer, an artist, fashion designer, teacher, friend. And within these categories, sub-categories (in the case of my art, I am across the board with watercolor, collage, encaustic and all that). But I do see how it is all related and that is a beautiful thing.
I am so grateful I had the chance to meet Kiki Smith and selfie with her too, of course! It truly is all about our personal journeys. We are all exploring the body, the muse and the spirit in an experimental way. Smith relayed the bit about how her mother’s passing, as well as the death of a beloved cat affected her work while I have sort of been hibernating all winter, I guess you could say, dealing with my own thoughts of mortality.
Many of you know that I have been absent from work. I have another month of healing from a medical thingy and that includes slowly getting back to exercising in a couple of weeks and venturing outside my little corner of the universe. Before you get all freaky with the I’m sorry-ies, I am totally fine. Trying to be private and like, kind of forgetting that people have noticed that I have been out of the public eye. I mean, I put myself here so there it is.
I am discombobulated in my own way, but I decided that instead of hiding from the world entirely or walking around with a dumb old grimace on my face, I will choose to smile. Smith said sometimes she is thinking about some weird murder movie while making art. She doesn’t want people knowing what is going on inside her brain. I tend to agree with the limits of what should and should not be revealed. People are going to believe what they want to believe and say things about you and/or about your art and it really is not anything you can control. But you can/I can control my own experience and I choose happiness.
So grateful to her – an amazing artist – for coming to our neck of the woods to be herself in such an inspirational way. We are all here together, in the land of the living, and that is a precious thing. I appreciate the love I know I feel from friends, family, students and readers of this web-site. All of you have shaped my world and I appreciate you all very much. <3
Kiki Smith and Paper: The Body, the Muse, and the Spirit was curated by Wendy Weitman and is here courtesy of Oklahoma State University Museum of Art until March 9, 2018. Visit www.suart.syr.edu for more information about the SU Art Galleries including hours of operation.
I strolled through the Everson Museum of Art today (401 Harrison Street, Syracuse, NY 13202). In the basement wing, they’ve flipped the Education Center with the Ceramics section and created a gorgeous inviting space for part of the ceramics collection (the rest, like the Robineau funerary urn, is in storage).
It is spectacular! The art looks fresh again. You can actually enjoy the nuances of individual pieces and appreciate them for their craft. The Everson has a very large collection of ceramics. I’m not sure if it is one of the largest in the country, but something like that. The old shelves made the collection look like it was all in storage, like they never really wanted people to look at it. I remember taking students on a field trip there once and there was so much stuff, it read like junk and nobody looked at anything.
The museum has never looked better! We have this incredible resource right here in Syracuse, NY. So great. I was delighted to see a handful of visitors there. They are charging a fee to get in these days, but it is free for Everson Museum members.