Monday, February 22, 2010

Things people say that make me wince

Back in the day I sold pottery with my friend Tim Foss at high end craft shows all around the Pacific Coast and a few times in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Without fail, EVERY SINGLE TIME we worked one of these fairs at least one of the following comments would get made:
"I should take a pottery class, I bet I could make that."
Or, even better:
"Sharon's taking a pottery class, we should have her make us something like this."

Those kind of comments always suck and here's what I have to say to them:
You didn't make it. You didn't have the idea or the initiative to make it, and you probably never will make it. And anyways, I'd like to see you try to make it, because I will bet you that you can't make it.

One time a woman held up a piece we had on display -- a pretty petite green crackle-glazed pitcher -- and without looking at us she said,
"I'll take 3 of these in blue."
To her, I wish I would have said:
"This isn't The Pottery Barn. This is a craft show, and you're looking at original handmade one-of-a kind pieces here. Do you see any other blue pieces in our display? No. Don't assume we have blue ones, just because it's the best selling pottery color in the world, next time ASK us if we have any blue ones."

Just try to imagine it: you're sitting there all day, stuck in a booth, trying to make a living, and someone says,
"Hm, this would be perfect if only it was a little smaller."
So then maybe you say something like,
"Oh, I do have a smaller one. Here, take a look."
To which the response is,
"Hmmm..yeah, I think that one is probably too small."

There's also a type of comment that comes up a lot in art critiques, that makes me cringe on the inside, and it's the:
"Oh! this looks a lot like _________'s work."
Or, "Are you familiar with _________'s work? Your art looks a lot like his."
Or, "You need to meet ______. You and he have a similar style, I think you'd really get along."

Don't get me wrong, I understand why people say this kind of thing, and I definitely have done it in my life. Comparison's are understandable, and obviously whatever you make is going to look like or have similar qualities to someone else's. But perhaps a more thoughtful thing to say would be:
"Have you heard of_____? You're work really reminds me of his. I love his use of color!"

Maybe the simple point I'm trying to make here is this: Anytime you're looking at art or crafts, please try to remember that a person actually spent a lot of time conceptualizing, designing and making the piece. Just be sensitive to that. Constructive criticism is good, but flippant remarks can be really irritating.

And please keep that "I bet I could make this" comment to yourself until you get home and actually try to make it.

BTW: If I could remember all the dumb things I've overheard in museums I'd write them down, but I've blocked them all out, thankfully. There is one that I'll never forget because it was just so bizarre. I was at a Frieda Kahlo retrospective in Seattle. Two ladies were looking at one of the many amazing Kahlo portraits on display and one of the women actually said: "She must have been a transexual. Just look at her!"

Here's a book about art etiquette that looks like it might be kind of amusing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Willie Little's Juke Joint at YMI

Asheville is very privileged to have Juke Joint -- a multi media installation by Willie Little-- on display at the YMI Cultural Center this month. The installation is a recreation of the grocery that Little's father operated in the late 60's. Viewing it is a rather haunting experience -- especially when you're by yourself, walking through the maze of walls configured out of remnants of the original Little's Grocery juke joint. Life sized characters in tattered garb swig gin, chain smoke, and dance around a jukebox that plays Otis Redding. Little neither romanticizes or vilifies his cast of characters and I think this is what I liked best about the exhibit.

Walking through the installation was also a bit discomforting -- like I was walking into someone else's story where I didn't belong. I thought about the fetishization of the African American experience, and the objectification of marginalized cultures. I thought about the fact that the only way I would ever get close to such a lifestyle is via a prefabricated experience in a gallery, or perhaps a video documentary.

Little writes:
Juke joints were an anomaly particular to the Black experience. During the day, my father’s place was known as Little’s Grocery. But when night fell, so did its mask of civic purpose. People stole in from across the county for a little gin, a little dancing, a little romancing. “The Store” was a physical metaphor for the masks upon masks that people of color have always had to wear in a country that actively relegated their existence to the darkest corners, the darkest hours.

To produce "Juke Joint" Little was awarded a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. The installation has traveled and been exhibited nationally in places such as The Smithsonian Institution, Arts & Industries Gallery, Washington DC, and the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri

Learn more about the exhibit in this fascinating write up by Billy Kopp for the Mountain Xpress

You can find a more detailed explanation and pictures on this page of Little's website.

To see more of Little's artwork visit

The installation will be on display at The YMI Cultural Center on Eagle Street until March 28th.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On The Verge

WNC Magazine is currently hosting a competition for regional artists to be included in their 2010 On the Verge issue and art exhibit.
All 130 applicants have been uploaded to the internet, and you can vote for your personal favorite. What's more important is that this provides a terrific visual directory for the bevy of creative talent living in Western North Carolina.
Check it out at
There are a lot of great artists on there!
Be sure to take a look at
last year's winners also.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Makeover the Top!

This is the best picture I could find to illustrate the event

In all the years of attending musical and arty happenings in Asheville, the event that stands out the most was Makeover the Top way back in 2006 at Bobo Gallery. What happened was that while two people arm wrestled each other, they were given makeovers. It was free admission and anyone could participate.
Along with video projections of the live event was an announcer, a hostess, and a "green room" for costume prep. There was also a giant fan for that wind drama effect. The whole thing was quite a spectacle though sorely under attended. (I seem to remember it was a cold and rainy Tuesday night in the middle of February.)
I ended up losing my arm battle but I came away with a fabulous new hairdo and makeup I didn't want to wash off.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tino Sehgal: creating art out of nothing and everything

For the past year I have been contemplating the current economic situation and it’s effect on the art market. I keep hearing stories about galleries closing, and red dots indicting an art piece has sold seem to be verging on extinction.

Now is the hour, I’ve concluded, for non-object driven work.

This is why the current
Tino Sehgal show at the Guggenheim in NYC has me so excited. I will admit that I have not yet seen the show, but this NY Times write-up by Holland Cotter has me inspired nevertheless.

Cotter writes: Sehgal’s art is a response to these perceived realities as they play out microcosmically in the context of the art industry. His goal is to create a counter-model: to make something (a situation) from virtually nothing (actions, words) and then let that something disappear, leaving no potentially marketable physical trace.

The Guggenheim has been cleared out. A visitor to the museum is greeted by an “interpreter” who leads the viewer up the winding ramps of the museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The interpreter asks the visitor ‘What is progress?” a conversation ensues until another escort takes over and continues the conversation with the visitor about the same topic. Upon reaching the top floor a final escort leaves the visitor with the final sentence: “The piece is called 'This Progress.'”

Only the opening and the closing sentences have been scripted for this piece. Everything else is left up to the escorts and the visitor. In doing this Sehgal forces the viewer to be an active participant of the art piece. The viewer is no longer a passive spectator but one who is forced to accept responsibility of the role they play within broader arenas of the art world and economics.

Cotter writes: “A similarly material-free version of art was, of course, espoused by 1960s Conceptualism, though as Mr. Sehgal has pointed out, it was rarely achieved. Certain early Conceptualists reduced art to the bare minimum — gestures, empty spaces — ostensibly in resistance to a voracious market. But they also documented that work in drawings, photographs and videos, which became market fodder.

Mr. Seghal’s scrupulous avoidance of documentation is meant as a corrective to that dynamic. And he takes the argument further by questioning the political premise on which such Conceptualism was founded.

Resisting the market, he insists, is misguided, always was. After all, artists have to make a living. He contends that the overproduction of material things is the crucial issue, the root source of bad ecology, bad economics and bad values.

For his part he is happy to market his physically impermanent art. He sells the pieces, for prices that reach into six figures, as editions; the sales agreements are oral; only the cash paid in is tangible. He stipulates that he or someone associated with him must oversee the execution of a sold piece.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lisa Nance at PUSH Gallery

Painting by Lisa Nance photo by Kc Connor

The drawings and paintings that comprise Lisa Nance's solo show, Hanging Caverns and Plants, are the deconstructed forms, contours and characters for which Nance is known. Using thrift-store finds and re-salvaged materials, Nance challenges traditional forms of the painting by working over popular art reproductions or constructing frames out of cardboard boxes.

The paintings themselves are captivating examples of Nance's expertise. A self portrait that Nance painted a year ago has recently been imposed upon with large shapes of green. An old piece of wood bares a ghostly image of Nance's grandmother while hints of the original painted ornamentation are still present on the wood.

The artist asked three of her friends (Matt Schnable, Jaye Bartell and Ingrid Carson) to title each piece in the show. A small painting of an abstracted pink mass (Nance says it's a rendering of her mouth retainer) has been given the titles "Retain and remember the R.S.D.," "The Leaning Meat" and "Red Core." By inviting her friends to participate in her show (she also used artwork by different people for her fliers) Nance expounds on the idea of collaborative art and redefines notions of the singular artist.

PUSH Skate Shop and Gallery, 25 Patton Ave. 225-5509.

Show hangs thru February

Artillery: Hot art exhibits for a chilly season
Mountain Xpress Vol. 16 / Iss. 27 on 01/27/2010