Gudjon Bjarnason: Sculpture Goes Boom

Icelandic sculptor Gudjon Bjarnason

Before the era of car bombs and IEDs, Icelandic-born sculptor Gudjon Bjarnason began using high explosives to create unorthodox shapes and forms in his work. He was looking for unexpected dimensions to use in his architectural designs for unconventional houses. A maquette he created for a house he’s planning has a front entrance that looks as if it’s been ripped away by a tornado.

“I started in 1995, but now there is always a reference to 9/11 and terrorist bombings,” Bjarnason says. “And I may have started as a response to the terrorism in the world, but now the work is much more than that. There’s a certain kind of energy that comes from these forms caused by explosions. It doesn’t fit our ideas of symmetry and balance; instead, it’s the opposite, which suggests a new way of seeing.”

During a residency at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, he enlisted the aid of the San Antonio Police Department Bomb Squad to create ten new large-scale metal works for “DySTOPic ProgressiONs.” Bjarnason asked the members of the squad to do highly-controlled explosions designed to create specific effects in his compositions of welded square steel profiles, though the frayed edges and rips in the steel are the spontaneous results of the explosives.

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Tracey Moffatt at ArtPace: Mothers, artists and lovers

Tracey Moffatt pine-apple cannery from "First Jobs"

Tracey Moffatt works on the assembly line in a pineapple cannery from "First Jobs"

Emotions roil and crest like crashing waves in Australian-born artist Tracey Moffatt’s “Handmade,” seven cinematic mashups made from 1999 to 2010 on view through Sept. 11 at Artpace. Her movie montages are made up of nearly 1,000 TV and film clips linked by common themes, ranging from the various permutations of motherhood in “Mother” to Hollywood clichés about the lives of artists in “Artist.” Working with her collaborator and editor Gary Hillberg, Moffatt has compiled these clips in fast-moving sequences that play on the emotions like a musical score.

Her films and photographs often deal with how women and people of color are portrayed in popular culture. During her residency at Artpace in 1995, she created a photographic homage to the female stars of roller derby made popular on TV in the 1970s. Moffatt is known for her professionally produced short films such as “Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy,” which screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, and she has worked in television and made music videos. “Night Cries” reflects her childhood experiences as an Aborigine orphan adopted by a white foster mother.

“I know mothers because I had two of them,” she said at her Artpace lecture. “While I was working on ‘Mother,’ the emotions were just too powerful and I would break down crying. These montages were not put together as an academic exercise. I could play with the images; it gave me more freedom.”

“Mother” is the most powerful collection of moving images, highlighting mothers at their best and worst, from Woody Allen’s giant, hectoring Jewish mother in the sky to Katherine Hepburn and Jane Fonda bonding glowingly as mother and daughter in “On Golden Pond.” Moffatt’s technique in these montages is to assemble similar scenes within the larger theme, so “Mother” has sections devoted to loving mothers, yelling mothers, spanking mothers and martyred mothers.

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Meredith Dean’s Transpositions” at REM

Meredith Dean's "Mappamondo"

Meredith Dean’s “Transpositions”

REM Gallery

Through July 1

Fleeting glimpses and the multiple levels of information they can contain merge in Meredith Dean’s “Transpositions.” Responding to a specific place on a given date, each of her puzzle-cut relief prints incorporate layers upon layers of information derived from various types of maps, including geographic, topographic, sky, wind, river, stars and geologic fault lines. Constellations linked by gold lines emerge against blue, navy blue, yellow and green backgrounds, suggesting reality captured in multidimensional detail.

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Guadalupe’s “Trans/Action” faces tough economy

"30% less fat" (We the People Series) (2006) by Ester Partegas

Artists generally can’t afford to be too materialistic, but they can be counted on to come up with creative responses to tough economic times. Director Patty Ortiz has assembled four artists who “tend to look for deeper values, such as beauty” in “Trans/Action” through June 25 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

“You are what you buy” might be the dictum for today’s hyper consumers. Spanish-artist Ester Partegas, born in Barcelona and a resident of Brooklyn, illustrates this submersion of personal identity to brand-name status consciousness. Her backgrounds are gritty, 1950s-style black-and-white photographs of people’s legs, feet and shopping bags, but their upper bodies are blotted out with abstract swaths of color that appear spray painted, overlaid with rectangular blocks containing commercial taglines such as “No Prescription Necessary” and “Styled By.” While working with formal issues, Partegas shows people becoming their labels, their selves smothered by the gaseous onslaught of pervasive advertising.

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Tracey Moffatt at Artpace

Tracey Moffatt's "Pineapple-Cannery" from the First Jobs series

“Loving mothers, slapping mothers, suffering mothers, protective mothers – I think I got them all,” Australian artist and filmmaker Tracey Moffatt says about “Mother,” one of seven cinematic montages featured in “Handmade,” a survey of her work from 1999 to 2010. From Woody Allen’s giant Jewish mother in the sky to Al Pacino arguing with his girlfriend’s mother in “Scarface” to Jane Fonda and Katherine Hepburn bonding as mother and daughter in “On Golden Pond,” “Mother” borrows short clips from a wide range of movies and television shows. Orphaned as a child, Moffatt says she grew up knowing two mothers, which made her an expert on the subject.

With a background in TV documentaries and music videos, Moffatt has conceptually edited these memorable mothering moments into a fluid, fast-moving filmic montage that evokes rising and falling emotions in ways similar to a musical composition. And as in much of her work, Moffatt critiques feminine stereotypes with laser-directed wit.

“Love” begins with sweet love scenes set to syrupy music but soon devolves into sour, screaming, romantic break-ups. “Lip,” the earliest montage from 1999, examines race relations through white female bosses mistreating their sassy African-American maids. Hollywood’s limited view of visual artists reflects troubling art historical stereotypes in “Artist,” using Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” as just one of many examples of artists as eccentric or maybe insane misfits, followed by a smashing sequence of artists and others destroying paintings and sculptures in fits of rage.

Read the rest of the review at Visual Art Source

Steve Reynolds: Serial Investigations in Sculpture

Appeared in the January 2011 Glasstire

"Little Ochre Ball" (1986)

An influential figure in ceramics for 40 years, Steve Reynolds pioneered the idea that clay is supple and malleable and can be used like any other media to ponder difficult philosophical and aesthetic issues. Seeking to elevate ceramics to the same high art status as painting and sculpture, Reynolds’ far-reaching work ranges from non-functional vessels that satirize ceramic stereotypes to metaphysical puzzles in images, objects and texts.

Catherine Lee, a nationally-known artist with a studio in Wimberley, assembled a mini-retrospective of the long-time UTSA art professor, “Steve Reynolds: Serial Investigations in Sculpture,” which is on view through Feb. 23 at the UTSA Art Gallery. Accompanied by a well-illustrated, thoughtful catalog, the exhibit is touring to Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, March 10-April 15.

Reynolds (1940-2007) was a president of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts and a member of the International Academy of Ceramics, based in Geneva. After earning degrees from Denver University and the University of Colorado, and studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, Reynolds began his teaching career at Odessa College in West Texas and later taught at Texas Tech University. He came to San Antonio in 1977 and was among the first group of artists to show at the Blue Star Art Space when it formed in 1986.

“I think Steve opened up ceramics and helped make everyone understand that it is not all about vessels,” says Lee, who was introduced to ceramics by Reynolds while she was a visiting artist at UTSA. “He worked in an intensely serial manner when researching and creating forms or ideas. He was constantly gathering, searching, sorting, making use of random occurrences and improvising.”

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CAM marches on in March

Read more on my blog Alamo City on Glasstire

Death of CAM Parade, Summer 2009

CAM is dead. Long live CAM.

Contemporary Art Month in San Antonio will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but in temperate March rather than broiling July. A new generation of artists is in charge of the citywide celebration that began in July 1986 after a local museum canceled a much-anticipated show of contemporary artists. In response, the snubbed artists rallied to open the Blue Star Art Space, located in a 1920s-vintage warehouse district along the San Antonio River in the King William neighborhood.

Since then, the Blue Star Arts Complex has been the heart of San Antonio’s contemporary art scene, with several galleries and artists’ studios spread throughout the rambling warehouses. CAM, tied together by a calendar, became an annual summer tradition that encouraged all the city’s galleries and museums to show work by living artists. And every year since, people have complained that it was just too darn hot in July for gallery hopping.

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Danville Chadbourne’s moving retrospective

Read more on my blog Alamo City on Glasstire

Danville Chardbourne at Gallery Nord

San Antonio artist Danville Chadbourne’s weathered ceramic and painted wood assemblages might be the ancient artifacts of an unknown civilization. Made with clay, wood, stone, fiber and bone, the organic materials suggest a lost culture closely tied to nature. Representing a vast, sprawling world of the imagination, Chadbourne’s serene, abstract forms evoke a wide range of psychological and spiritual states.

His paintings and wall pieces look as if they are ripped from the wall of a temple. His indoor sculptures could be religious statues used in rituals. Influenced by science fiction as well as natural history and archaeology, Chadbourne sees his work as evidence of a once-great civilization that has declined and been forgotten, leaving behind a dusty trail of inexplicable objects.

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“Familiar Unknown” examines ceramics

Appeared in February 2010 Glasstire

Rebekah Bogard's animals (Courtesy Blue Star)

Seeking to reveal the range and depth of contemporary ceramics, curator Ovidio Giberga, head of the ceramics program at UTSA, showcases four female artists in “The Familiar Unknown” whose work reaffirms ceramics’ “historical relevance to global politics, economics, culture and the everyday human experience.” New technologies and the Internet, as well as improved ceramics education and scholarship, have pushed ceramic artists beyond the familiar landscape of vessels and decorative ware, changing the way ceramics are perceived and inspiring new ideas and methods.

Resembling alien pods or living organisms suspended from the ceiling in a kind of hive installation, Rebecca Hutchinson’s  ephemeral forms are made on site with found materials, including 900 handmade paper “blooms,” fibers, wood, wallpaper paste and unfired clay. The hanging forms deteriorate over time and only last for the run of a show – contradicting the notion that ceramics are supposed to last for centuries.  And rather than the bright colors of most ceramics, she uses a minimal palette of washed-out earth tones. The smell of the damp clay and rotting organic materials along with the cracking of the clay make it appear that the work is alive, though whether dying or birthing, it’s hard to tell. The arrangement of the forms determines the traffic patterns of viewers, compelling them to walk through the “Site Bloom,” making them feel a part of Hutchinson’s evolving ecosystem.

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Halff Collection, Vincent Valdez set for spring

Appeared in Jan. 2010 Glasstire

Childe Hassam's "Clearing Street" (1890) (Courtesy McNay Art Museum)

An Impressionist Sensibility: The Halff Collection

McNay Art Museum

Feb. 3-May 9

In the 1980s, San Antonians Marie and Hugh Halff assembled one of the finest private collections of American impressionists, dating from the 1870s to 1930. The Smithsonian Institution showcased the Halff collection to celebrate the 2007 re-opening of the American Art Museum in the restored Old Patent Office Building in Washington D.C. With key artists such as John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam and Theodore Robinson, the 26 paintings span the period in American art known as “The Gilded Age” and range from the modern urbanism of Ernest Lawson’s Flatiron Building (1906-7) to the exoticism of Harry Siddons Mowbray’s Two Women (1893-96). Examining photography from the same era, the accompanying exhibit TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art, 1845-1945 is drawn from the collections of the George Eastman House and includes photographers such as Alvin Langdon Coburn, F. Holland Day, Frederick Evans, Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz.

Contemporary Art Month

San Antonio, various locations

March 2010

A 24-year-old tradition in July, Contemporary Art Month is celebrating its first quarter-century by moving to March to coincide with Luminaria , a one-night, citywide arts extravaganza founded by former Mayor Phil Hardberger. All of San Antonio’s museums and galleries participate in CAM by presenting contemporary exhibits by local, national and international artists, with the full calendar to be announced in mid-January. Luminaria brings in the performing arts with dance, theater and music on stages set up in Alamo Plaza and downtown streets, highlighted by giant projections on the sides of skyscrapers. Opening March 4, CAM’s centerpiece exhibit, “Amalgamations 25: 25 Artists for 25 Great Years,” at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center is being curated by Wayne Gilbert , a Houston artist known for using human ashes in his work.

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