Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Let Guest Blogger Alli Cochrane Handle the Hard Topics

Meet my friend Alli. She's really smart. 

[This one time, we went to a show at the MCA, 
and neither one of us liked it very much, 
but we took this pretty funny pic underneath the word "shovel."]

Alli was just accepted into a graduate program at the University of Chicago, meaning that she's about to become unstoppable. Go Alli!

I recently asked Alli if she wanted to be a guest writer on this blog A.) because I miss her and wanted an excuse to talk to her like in the good ol' days and B.) because I know, from taking several art history classes with her and just from being generally good friends with her, that anything she had to say on any topic would likely be thought-provoking and relevant in some way to this blog. It just so happened that the topic she was interested in writing about was one I've been thinking about recently, leading me to further solidify my conviction that having her as a guest blogger was a really good idea.

So without further ado, Blogger history will now be made as I inject the thoughts of Alli Cochrane into cyberspace.


I recently made a trip to Pilsen. Pilsen is a very hip neighborhood in Chicago (and hip usually goes hand in hand with gentrification, in Chicago at least).
At this point in my post, I kept erasing a sentence that I was writing: “Pilsen is a mix of artists and Hispanic people” for the obvious reason that the sentence assumes that Hispanic people aren’t artists. I also couldn’t get around being politically incorrect in some way or another. For instance, I’m not sure if the current politically correct term is Hispanic or Latino.
Since Rachele is the queen/king/non-gendered-term-of-royalty of political incorrectness, I thought that this non-PC post would fit on the blog.  So please excuse, or better yet, respond to anything that I write that is offensive. Being politically correct can be paralyzing sometimes (and thus counter-productive), and I’d rather start a conversation.
In Pilsen, I visited the National Museum of Mexican Art. I hadn’t been to the museum since middle school and have been meaning to go for some time. I usually head to the MCA if I want to go to a museum, but I thought it would be nice to diversify.

Part I: Pilar Acevedo

Here is some of what I saw: 

Pilar Acevedo, XOXO Daddy's Little Trophies, 2011

Pilar Acevedo, Spider Princess, 2011

Pilar Acevedo, Monkey Love, 2011

These three images were in a separate room from the main exhibit (which I thought was less thought provoking). One artist was being featured in the room, and while there were separate paintings and small sculptures/combines, the room functioned as an installation. There was an eerie, whispered poem being played on speakers and the paintings were like illustrations out of the same book. 
These three pieces were perhaps the most dissimilar in the series, and yet they are connected in terms of narrative and tone. Acevedo writes that her work deals with loss, abuse, and childhood perceptions. While the paintings (Spider Princess and Monkey Love) appear flat, the works are multi-layered and are the products of a process of collage. Acevedo’s process mirrors her notion of ‘memory as layers.’
My first thought was that the work seemed very psychoanalytic, especially in light of her Surrealist influences. However, I think that the work is more in the vein of magical realism than Surrealism.  I keep coming back to the comparison of the films of Guillermo Del Toro. (No, not the Hobbit). In particular, "Pan’s Labyrinth" and "The Devil’s Backbone." In both of those films, there is an obsession with a child’s perspective of the world that is simultaneously very real and fantastically embellished. In both films, the story is more meaningful and important than the truth.
The difference between these art works and film is that the narrative in the gallery is truncated between each work. The viewer is asked to imagine or glimpse a suggested narrative rather than consume a continuous one.  However, I think that the emphasis on narrative and the fantastical may translate better to film. There seemed to be too many holes to be fully enchanted or scared by Acevedo’s works.
Or maybe, I was distracted by the museum itself, which brings me to…

Part II. The Museum

Here are some of the issues that I encountered:
1. The room was poorly curated. It looked as though the artist really had to conform to the space (the garish white lights glared off the glass on the frames rendering some of the paintings blinding). It felt as though the artist was a temporary guest in the space. It just seemed very slapshod. My first instinct was to excuse it. Why did I want to excuse it? Because I wanted to be sensitive to the fact that maybe the museum wasn’t making enough money. Why? Because it was in a Hispanic neighborhood. There were all sorts of instincts that I had that I was aware of that I ended up being unable to even say anything.
2. The text that accompanied the work was full of grammar mistakes (which I excused at first because I figured it was a poor translation but it was also poorly written). The blurbs were highly unintellectual. At first I thought, "Is this because of a cultural difference?" Maybe I place a higher value on the text than Mexican artists do? Maybe I value different aspects of the text? Do I judge as I would elsewhere?

Finally, I liked the pieces. I certainly did not love them. I also think I just flat out didn’t understand them. There were undoubtedly allusions to Mexican folklore that I couldn’t hope to grasp.

So does this mean that aspiring art historians should stick to studying artists within their culture? Doesn’t that go against the trend of globalization and intercultural thinking?

I’m sure there is a politically correct answer that you could undoubtedly find.
Yes I could research the other culture (as I would have to research any artist, even one within my culture). But being an outsider biases me, and I could also never learn the art as someone could who is from the culture. (Some politically correct person out there might be saying ‘that’s the point!).

I come to the same conclusion as always: Art is frustrating.

To end: I don’t know why, but the graffiti and murals were more provocative and less paralyzing to me. The art on abandoned chapel doors was more powerful to me than the (sometimes blinding) art inside the museum. Maybe that’s because my white self was brainwashed to think Mexican art...“real” Mexican art... "belongs on the streets.” It’s so raw. Anyways, here is some other art.

Thank you for hosting me on your amazing blog Rachele. 


I'd like to complement what Alli is saying with an article on white privilege in museums that I recently came across on Nina Simon's blog "Museum 2.0." If you read it I think you'll find a lot of parallels between Alli's piece and hers. The article was written about a year ago, but is still very relevant, and shows that many scholars are thinking about these issues at this point in time.

As to where I stand on the whole thing: As Alli mentioned, I've certainly had my head on the chopping block a few times with regards to "political correctness," but that's mostly because I don't care for the terms and sugarcoated phrases that so-called "politically correct" people have deemed to be "politically correct." I also like to challenge the way people think. It gets me excited. But, like I said, I was happy to hand this topic off to Alli, who's well-equipped to talk about it. On my part, I'm too eager to deflect all the serious topics with humor. If I wrote about this museum I probably would have ended up describing the way I accidentally farted in the gallery or something, and would have completely avoided the obvious issues at hand. [Thought: Rename this blog to "Looking for Fart in all the Wrong Places."] See, I just can't help myself.

Thanks again, Alli!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Found something else at the Mead Public Library, but this time it wasn't a book.

Note the confused look on my face

From far away it appeared to be a jukebox, but upon closer inspection, I still had no idea what it was. I also thought it might have been one of those temporary tattoo vending machines, but that didn't seem to make sense either because there is no good reason as to why one of those would be in a library.

Then I saw it. A tiny handout placed on top of the machine. 

"Art-o-mat machines are retired cigarette vending 
machines that have been converted to vend art. 
There are over 100 active machines 
in various locations throughout the country."

And then it all made sense. Kind of.

Nope, I was still perplexed. So I ran home (okay, drove), got on my computer, and figured it out.

What I found was a website called Artomat.org that explained the history and mystery of the Art-O-Mat machines. Basically, there was a dude named Clark Whittington who decided it would be a good idea to recycle an old cigarette vending machine and rig it to dispense his paintings for $1 in a cafe/ gallery setting in 1997. The owner of the cafe loved this idea so much that eventually the idea grew and the project developed with the help of a group called Artists in Celophane (AIC). Their current mission is to "encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form."

Now look at how many Art-O-Mats there are!

Do you see Sheboygan? [source: artomat.org]

The cool thing about Art-O-Mat is that it's an ongoing project and any artist can participate. There are some strict size guidelines that artists have to adhere to in order fit their project into the tiny slots in the machine (think: cigarette carton-sized art), and some specific materials that they have to buy, but after that the sky's the limit. This project allows artists to promote their work outside of the state or even country that they are living in without having to travel. It also allows the public to become collectors of fine art for a cheap price. Most pieces of art are sold for $5 with the artist receiving $2.50 per sale. 

This project reminds me of an artist that I wrote about on this blog a long time ago named Christine Hill whose work also blends the ideas of art and commerce. Hill's work, however, was made solely for the gallery setting, only to be seen by people in a gallery setting. Art-O-Mat is more accessible because these machines are far removed from the gallery and therefore many types of unsuspecting folks like myself can stumble across them. [Thought: Rename this blog to "Accidentally Finding Art at the Mead Public Library"]. In fact, most Art-O-Mats are found in grocery stores. The Sheboygan Art-O-Mat was the third in Wisconsin, and its installation was partially funded by the Kohler Company. Art-O-Mat is also much more supportive of the work of many different kinds of artists as opposed to the work of the One and Only, the Artist, the Genius, the Sole Creator. 

I'm into it. I would encourage you to check out the website, find a machine, and buy some art. I would have, but I'm an intern, and I'm broke.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ceramics Are Sexy: The Walker's Point Center for the Arts and Featured Artist Sexy Tom Foss

This weekend was kind of a snowy, PBR-y blur.

But it's all coming into focus now.

On Saturday I went to a gallery I've never been to before called The Walker's Point Center for the Arts (WPCA) on Milwaukee's south side. I was interested in their current exhibition, a ceramics show based on the theme of gun control, because of an upcoming conference in Milwaukee this month called The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA). I'm not much of a ceramicist myself, but my life will pretty much be inundated by the theme of ceramics for the next month or so, and I figured I might as well get a head start. 

I would definitely describe the show at WPCA, "The Price of Freedom," as a gun show. BUT-no muscles involved! We're talking straight-up killing machines here. The artists involved were prompted to consider the role that guns play in our society, and whether there is something behind the idea that guns are not responsible for killing, but rather, people. 

I'm not quite sure if this came through in the pieces that I saw. Truthfully, I walked around the exhibition once without reading anything about it, just to see what I could glean from a completely ignorant viewing.The whole time, I kind of felt like I was under attack. I was thinking, "There's a lot of guns here." And I felt a bit uncomfortable, which is something I always feel whenever I'm physically around a gun or gun imagery. Coming from a household that had a zero tolerance policy for guns (no toys, no video games, no movies with guns), it makes sense. I probably didn't even see a movie that had real gun violence in it until I was about 13 or so. As an adult, I now watch a lot of movies and shows that feature gun violence, and definitely enjoy some of the glamorization and sexiness that comes with it. To me, there's really nothing hotter than Norman Reedus shooting up bad guys in "Boondock Saints." I just can't help it.

But those are movies, and that's what they're there for. To be sexy. Which is why this exhibition, and all of the inherent sexiness that also comes with ceramics, (can you say, "Ghost"?), kind of threw me off. Let's look at this piece, for example.

Allen Rosenbaum, Urban Teapot #2, 2002

The white, unglazed skyline, reminiscent of any city anywhere in the world, is an unarguably sexy point of view. A skyline inspires a romantic nostalgia for glamour, parties and excitement no matter where it is placed. The two guns cradling the ceramic infrastructure reminds us of the violence that is found in any city, but they also do nothing more than reiterate the idea of a city as a place where the crimes that take place are a lot prettier than the ones that take place out in the country where the bumpkins live. If we're going to put it in movie terms, let's go with "The Fast and the Furious" vs. "Deliverance."

This next piece also did very little to unsexify guns for me.

 Pattie Chalmers, I Love You, 2013
Pattie Chalmers, Sorry Automatic, 2013
Pattie Chalmers, Snub Nosed Oops, 2013

With the exception of the word bubbles protruding from these guns, in person, they look like real guns. I actually had to get close to these pieces in a non-gallery appropriate way to see if they were truly ceramic. One can only surmise that artist Chalmers spent a lot of time with a gun, and perhaps even used a real gun to make her molds for this piece. Although I like the poetry- "I love you, sorry, oops"- that she incorporated, to me it only says one thing: guns exist.

The last piece I'll show, entitled, The Endless Irony of it All by Richard Notkin, was only ironic to me because of its subject matter. Lacking in blatant gun imagery, this piece should have felt more effective to me as a critique on gun control based off of the apparent thesis of this post, but was in reality not effective at all because of this same characteristic. Makes sense, right? (I need to go back to college).

Richard Notkin, The Endless Irony of it All, 2013


The twisting, twirling, organ-like facade of this piece is definitely impressive as a whole. But the overall imagery is more reminiscent of general wartime than it is of guns specifically. It reminds me of German war veteran and artist Otto Dix, whose paintings of veterans in gross configurations still cause my stomach to turn.

Otto Dix, War Cripples, 1920

Although guns obviously play a very prominent role in war, I feel like the real heart of this exhibition was the idea that guns are also very prominent outside of war, which is almost scarier.

Maybe guns, like ceramics, are inherently sexy, and this exhibition was doomed from the start to be dangerous. Mind-blowing. Ka-pow.

Bad joke, idk.

One thing I do know: My friend Tom Foss is very, very sexy. In fact, he is so confident in his sexiness, that the first time I met him he introduced himself as "Sexy Tom." And, he's a ceramicist. Although I knew that an interview with young Tom would blow this blog post into another realm of sexiness, I couldn't help but ask him a few questions about the ceramic art that he makes.


Hey Tom, where do you live? I live in the beautiful town of Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin.

Tom's sexy backyard studio

How old are you? I am 17 years young.

What kind of art do you make? I do mainly hand built ceramics, and coiling is my jam. 

How long have you been making art? I have been making art my whole life, I loved it so much as a kid I even ate the Play Dough. And although I loved it I never really found my niche until my sophomore year in high school when I decided to take a Ceramics and Sculpture Class.

Describe a piece you like or that you have made recently? I really like creating ceramics as opposed to drawing or painting because of how one can move and manipulate the clay and really drastically change a project in one movement. A side effect of this method is that I never have any idea what the piece will end up like. This style made me especially happy in a recent project that you can see atop my toilet in the picture. It measures about 10 inches tall 4 inches wide and my art teacher nearly stole it from me to keep in her classroom.

Aforementioned toilet piece

What inspires you? I am inspired by many things, but mainly the idea of improvisation and the idea of blind decisions. In making a vase (pronounced vahz) I only know what the size the base will be, after that it's all up in the air. When glazing my projects I also employ little planning and as a result opening the kiln is essentially better than Christmas. Additionally I watch a lot of Parks and Recreation while doing ceramics so you could say Leslie Knope also inspires me.

Where do you stand on gun control? I'm all for gun control and I think that no one should own one except those meant for hunting.

What do you want to do with your life, kid? As far as the future goes I am looking forward to adopting my ceramics approach. I am going to Colombia for my Senior year of high school after which I am looking at attending a Folk School in Norway, but mostly I'm just looking forward to seeing where life takes me, and what happens when I open that kiln.

Stay sexy, y'all. Or maybe, don't.