Sunday, August 20, 2017

Florine Stettheimer @ The Jewish Museum

Family Portrait I, 1915
"Stettheimer's singular paintings are among the most spellbinding and enduring in the history of art." - The New York Times
One of my first stops on a recent trip to New York City was the exhibition Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry. Staged by The Jewish Museum, it continues until September 24, 2017, when it travels to the Art Gallery of Ontario (October 21 - January 28). The show is an opportunity to get to know more about a little-appreciated artist, whose work is currently being reconsidered. I see more museum and gallery shows devoted to the work of women artists these days. I think that, in the past, Stettheimer has been dismissed as a dilettante, because of her gender and her privileged background.

Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918

Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944) was born to a prominent Jewish family in Rochester, NY. The father, a banker, deserted the family early on; the three youngest daughters never married, devoting themselves to each other and to their mother, and pursuing their artistic interests. Well-travelled, they counted among their circle Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe and Marcel Duchamp.

The show includes gorgeous, brightly-coloured canvases depicting the Jazz Age as lived by the Manhattan elite. I could see influences of other artists of the era in these paintings, among them Gauguin, Bonnard, Cezanne, and Chagall. The figures have the elongated, boneless fluidity of Art Deco fashion drawings.


A Model (Self-Portrait), 1915
scandalous in its time, referencing Manet's Olympia (1863)
and Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538)

Also on display are sketches for costume designs and small maquettes that Stettheimer made for theatrical productions.

The museum's website is so complete that it seems best to refer you directly to that resource, where you can find all the wall texts and audio descriptions that accompany the show, as well as installation photos and images of the various works on display.

I will end this entry with one of several poems by Stettheimer, posted on the exhibition walls. It seems to capture some of the artist's joie de vivre.

My Attitude is One of Love

is all adoration
for all the fringes
all the color
all tinsel creation

I like slippers gold
I like oysters cold
and my garden of mixed flowers
and the sky full of towers
and traffic in the streets
and Maillard's sweets
and Bendel's clothes
and Nat Lewis hose
and Tappé's window arrays
and crystal fixtures
and my pictures
and Walt Disney cartoons
and colored balloons

     - Florine Stettheimer

Did you like that one? Here's another:

Occasionally

A human being
Saw my light
Rushed in
Got singed
Got scared
Rushed out
Called fire
Or it happened
That he tried
To subdue it
Or it happened
He tried to extinguish it
Never did a friend
Enjoy it
The way it was
So I learned to
Turn it low
Turn it out
When I meet a stranger–
Out of courtesy
I turn on a soft
Pink light
Which is found modest
Even charming
It is a protection
Against wear
And tears
And when
I am rid of
The Always-to-be-Stranger
I turn on my light
And become myself

     - Florine Stettheimer

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Counter-Couture at MAD

Embroidered ensemble by Mary Ann Schildknecht, 1972
"While serving a two-year jail sentence in Milan on a hashish smuggling charge,
Schildknecht was taught to embroider by the nuns who ran the prison.
Using torn bedsheets from her prison cell, she embroidered this skirt and top....
Her design and patterns evoke a psychedelic journey
through a fantastical narrative of castles, faces and natural landscapes."

New York's Museum of Arts and Design offers Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture until August 20, 2017. The show explores the forces that led to the explosion of hand-crafted fashion in the 60's and 70's.
"Counter-Couture exhibits garments, jewelry, and accessories by American makers who crafted the very reality that they craved, on the margins of society and yet at the center of an epochal shift. The works on display encompass the ethos of members of a generation who fought for change by sewing, embroidering, quilting, patch-working, and tie-dyeing their identity. Putting the handmade at the center of their daily revolution, they embraced and contributed to establishing a craft and folk sensibility in a seminal moment for the development of American Craft."

Tie-dyed silk by Marion Clayden

Marion Clayden's tie-dyed cloth "crystallizes... the transcendental aspirations of a generation striving for higher meaning." Clayden provided textiles for the sets and costumes of the famous rock musical Hair and by the late 70s had created her own fashion labels with a list of clients including Lisa Marie Presley, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Catherine Zeta-Jones.


Jewelry by Alex & Lee

"Rather then the precious materials traditionally used in jewelry design, Alex & Lee used found objects to reflect the anti-materialistic hippie creed of recycling and repurposing. This challenged conventions of the genre and ultimately upheld jewelry as an art form in and of itself, echoing the revolution experienced by the discipline in the 1960s."


Birgitta Bjerke's crocheted coats
for Roger Daltrey of The Who and his then-wife Heather

These crocheted coats by Birgitta Bjerke, constructed in fan shapes, "vibrate with kaleidoscopic colours that suggest blossoming flowers, Tibetan mandalas, and patterns inspired by Indian textile traditions."

Tibetan Dream Dress by K. Lee Manuel

Traditional ethnic textiles were a frequent source of inspiration.


Billy Shire's studded denim jacket, "Welfare",
winner of Levi's Denim Art Competition, 1975

Billy Shire's 11-pound jacket features hundreds of hand-set studs, rhinestones, and oversize upholstery tacks, typically used on leather and furniture. It also incorporates an ashtray and a desk bell, which chimes when the jacket is being worn. Shire's creations have been worn by Elton John, as well as by rock musicians in the bands Chicago and the Doobie Brothers.


Yvonne Porcella's Patchwork Dresses, 1972

Yvonne Porcella is best-known as the founder of SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates). Her two dresses, above, incorporate ribbons from Germany, molas from Panama, and Victorian antique buttons.

Influences cited in the exhibition include a desire for self-expression, the Black Pride movement (evidenced in the adoption of the dashiki by both men and women), a rejection of a materialistic and consumerist interpretation of the American dream, and the back-to-the-land movement, as well as the interest in psychedelia, in ethnic traditions, and in repurposing that has already been mentioned.

I found the items on display to be of couture-quality design and execution. The exhibition, with its insightful explanatory text, gave me a broader understanding of how the social forces of the 60's and 70's were manifested in the clothing and adornments of the era. It also brought back sweet memories of embroidered jeans, a pink-and-white dashiki, and a pink hand-crocheted bikini (never worn).

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Griffintown Tour


Having seen G. Scott Macleod's multimedia project In Griffintown at the Centre d'Histoire de Montréal, I was happy to learn that his self-guided walking tour of Griffintown is now available on line.

Montrealers know Griffintown as a historic working-class neighbourhood that birthed the Industrial Revolution in Canada and was once home to a large immigrant community.

The 21 stops on the tour are spread over about ten city blocks. Each stop is accompanied by a short video clip that tells a story about the community or a particular building. Photography, drawing and animation are used to create a visual record of the sites. Combined with brief histories and a Google map, the images and animations are now freely available as an online self-guided tour. Guided group tours may also be available.







Griffintown has a special place in the hearts of English-speaking Montrealers, as so many Irish immigrants made their homes here. I look forward to seeing the magic that Macleod has worked with his animated sketches and his evocative story-telling.

You can read my October 2015 post about Macleod's museum show here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rex Ray

Thank you to Bonnie from California for reminding me about the artist Rex Ray. (I was first introduced to Ray and his work a few months ago by friend and local artist Joanna Olson.)



Rex Ray (1956 - 2015) was born Michael Patterson, and spent most of his adult life in California. A social activist, he made a living as a graphic artist, designing concert posters, album covers, and other commercial products. He turned to painting large canvases later in his career.




Bonnie recommended the book "Rex Ray: Art & Design", which includes an introduction by acclaimed author Douglas Coupland. Writes Coupland,
"Rex's work inhabits that small sliver of territory where art and design don't quite so much overlap, but rather swap identities so quickly and fluidly that one is never sure which is which. His pieces function as luxury goods, but at the same time they're art, and quite rigorous art at that. His work is well aware of its mission to confuse you. Its ultimate goal is to trick somebody who ought to know better into saying, 'It's not art, it's design,' thus exposing a lack of knowledge about shifting dunes in the sands of visual history."
This monograph is almost entirely images, grouped into four aspects of his oeuvre. First are the collages, using found paper, often cut from magazines.



From the paper collages, Ray developed a technique for collaging his own painted papers onto a wooden panel substrate.






And finally, Ray painted on large canvases, using a more complicated, detailed imagery that sometimes suggests still life.




The fourth section of the book includes some of his many graphic design projects. Ray was a pioneer in using computers as a design tool.




I find Ray's simple collages the most engaging. Here is what he had to say about making them:
"As the graphic design business grew, my clients got bigger and the money they offered rose in direct proportion to the decline in creativity they required. The collages were my rebellion against that and an antidote to the constant computer work I was doing. I wanted to do something juvenile, mindless, and rudimentarily creative. Not for exhibit. Just for my own pleasure; to get back to that spark of making something out of nothing.
"The collages were an intimate exercise that I began by turning off the computers, unplugging the phones, and drinking a glass of wine or smoking a little pot. Then I'd sit down and crank out collages. I'd do them to silence that internal critic we all have – the inner voice that judges, raves, and berates us. I usually did between three and ten a night whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes when I didn't feel like doing them was when I did my best work. It was a discipline. The next day I'd put them in a box and not look at them again for months. When I finally opened the boxes, I put the collages up in a giant grid and I was completely knocked out. It was the sort of revelation that I had waited my whole life for."


You can see lots more images of Ray's work by doing a Google search.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Expo 67: A World of Dreams


Montreal's Stewart Museum is staging a multimedia show this summer celebrating the 50th anniversary of our 1967 World's Fair.

Having recently seen shows on the same subject at the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, at the McCord Museum and at the Centre d'Histoire de Montréal, I discovered that each exhibition has its own lens through which visitors can experience the landmark event that was Expo 67.

But what intrigues me about the Stewart Museum's show is that it also offers a 75-minute historical walking tour to discover the island of Ste-Hélène, its trails and its history.
"Visitors travel through time from the period of the British Arsenal of the 19th century to what remains of the Expo 67 pavillions. The tour begins at the Stewart Museum, goes up Mont Boulé and ends at the top of the Biosphere, where visitors get a view of the Expo 67 site.
"No reservation is needed. Please arrive 10 minutes before the beginning of the tour."
English tours are scheduled every day at 3 pm. The show continues until October 8, 2017.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lucid Realities @ the Phi Centre





Until December 16, the Phi Centre in Old Montreal presents Lucid Realities, twelve different virtual reality experiences.
"Dreams, memories, and reflections.... The third instalment of the Sensory Stories series, Lucid Realities, invites visitors to navigate previously unknowable worlds. Step inside dreams, nightmares, fantasies, and recollections such as walking in space, inhabiting another person's body, flying like a bird, or exploring secret locations. Being transported to past, current, and imagined realities using immersive technologies, and being exposed to people and situations that are typically inaccessible to us, elicits more visceral and emotional reactions." 
It is recommended that visitors allow at least two hours for their visit. We had "had enough" after two hours, even though I tasted only eight of the twelve activities on offer. A small portion of our time was spent waiting for an activity to become available.


Dear Angelica

Perhaps my favourite experience was Dear Angelica, "a journey through the magical and dreamlike ways we remember our loved ones." Produced by Emmy-award-winning Oculus Story Studio, this 14-minute "movie" uses brush-like animation to 3-D effect, allowing the viewer to float through an infinity of space, following the thoughts of a young girl as she sifts through memories of her mother. The portrayal of the mother is based on actress Geena Davis; there is a reference to her role in Thelma and Louise that you are not likely to miss.


Blind Vaysha

Another of my favourites was the 7-minute Blind Vaysha, from the National Film Board of Canada. This story is based on a Russian folk tale of a young girl who can see the past through her left eye, and the future through her right eye, but who is otherwise blind. Likewise, viewers wearing a virtual reality headset can shift between past and future by alternately closing an eye.

If you have teens or young adults visiting the city, I would highly recommend Lucid Realities as an exciting diversion from touring the historical sites of Old Montreal. Going earlier in the day is advised to avoid the crowds. (Hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am - 6 pm.)

Tickets for adults are $25, for students and seniors $20. Children under 12 are admitted free, but many of the activities are not available to those under 13, even when accompanied by an adult.