Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dia Acquires Nancy Holt's "Sun Tunnels"

Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, 1973-1976

Last week Dia announced that Sun Tunnels is now part of its permanent collection (too bad this didn't occur when she was alive). According to the Holt-Smithson Foundation, this fall Dia: Chelsea will show two of her pieces including the first installation of Mirrors of Light since it was originally created.

Sublime, Banal, Commercial and Artistic: Photography in the West

Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley, 1942 

This week’s discussion revolved around the readings “Yosemite and Ansel Adams: Art, Commerce, and Western Tourism” by Jonathan Spaulding, “The Sublime and the Banal in Postwar Photography of the American West” by Cécile Whiting, and “In the Twentieth Century West” by Robert Adams. 

When you hear the words landscape photography the name Ansel Adams probably comes to mind. When you hear the words Ansel Adams the words Yosemite National Park may also come to mind. Ansel Adams had a deep connection to the National Park from a young age. After fighting an illness his aunt wanted to lift his spirits by giving him a book by James M. Hutching titled, In the Heart of the Sierras. The book inspired young Ansel Adams to urge his family to take their summer vacation to Yosemite National Park. That summer would have an enormous impact on Adams that would carry over into the rest of his life and career. Adams began working at the National Park and began his photography career. Donald Tressider hired Adams in hopes he would be able to capture the beauty of Yosemite to spark tourism. As time progressed Tressider became less worried about the beautiful landscape and focused more on making money off tourists. 

Ansel Adams photographing Yosemite National Park
After Ansel Adams did some side photography commissions he returned to Yosemite. He discovered that Tressider and the Curry Company were using his photographs without his permission, and also that Life magazine did this as well, without giving him part of their earnings. Ansel Adams was conflicted after this incident, he wanted to start publishing his own works but the Curry Company was his only form of constant income. After this incident though, he had the ability to take photographs for a few other employers like the Kodak company. Adams wanted his photographs of Yosemite and nature to convey a sense of beauty, but also found himself on the opposite end of the commercialism spectrum with his photographs being used in advertisements. He viewed it as another form of his love for the natural world. However, he always felt the pressure of needing to choose sides between the environmental movement and the tourism business. When he finally became a big name in the art and photography business, he realized that books were a highly effective form of communicating preservationism with tourists in the national parks. This led to high reviews and impressive sales for Adams. Although, this at the same time contradicted with his preservationist values. 

William Garnett, Housing Developments/Aerial Photos, 1940s/50s
Alongside Ansel Adams, William Garnett, Ed Ruscha, and Robert Adams were important western landscape photographers from the 1960s. Each photographer had his own aesthetic, either capturing only the beauty of the western scenery, focusing on the harmful impact westward expansion and tourism have on the land, or contrasting the two aesthetics in one image. The concept of banal or sublime photography becomes important to these photographers in their work, meaning the images seem to fit somewhere on a spectrum of being boring or magnificent. 

Robert Adams, Pioneer Cemetery, Near Empire, c. 1974
Discussing Robert Adams in particular, the encompassment of sublime and banal settings as his primary subject material truly highlighted the feelings of both himself and other photographers with similar viewpoints at the time. Adams always desired to capture natural spaces in their raw form, untouched and magnificent. As time went on, these images became exceedingly more difficult to attain as human interaction was inevitable in a growing capitalistic society. Adams instilled that not only were developers and the tourism industry making these untouched lands ugly, but they were also destroying places where individuals grew to become themselves...places that shared the spirit of those that had once inhabited it. This corruption not only affected the land, but those that grew to love it. In many instances, person and place can be bound together through memory, experience, and association. By ruining one, another is affected. Everyone depends on space, even without realizing it. Space creates an element of civility, and highlights the true beauty in simplicity of the world itself. Adams desired to create a place that could remain untouched, even as it was surrounded by development..a place that maintained the original tranquility of the land and harmony of nature. This is something that he wanted to share with audiences. His work primarily focused on opening a dialogue with viewers about preservation of these areas, urging individuals to become better than they once were and to gradually improve. By reshaping oneself, he stated that our individual transformation can reflect a greater catalyst for change in natural spaces.

Ed Ruscha's Twenty-six Gasoline Stations, 1962

In the discussion, we talked about the concept of working on projects we may not agree with in order to pay the bills and whether that is considered selling out in the art world or not. We also discussed the process of photo manipulation and how that is considered an artistic advantage to show the viewer what the artist wants them to see which lead into the question of at what point does photo manipulation become misleading to the viewer. Can anything be completely natural when there is a lot of darkroom manipulation in photography studios? Looking at Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, we discussed how the blank pages seemed to be sporadic and accidental at first, but with further discussion, we theorized that this may not have been unintentional but possibly alluding to the vast nothingness seen on any long-distance drive and the implied movement between gas stations. The growing blank pages at the end gives a sense of fear that gas will run out at any minute and another gas station may not be in sight before that time comes with this interpretation. 

 Alix Peters, Megan Hall, Carrie Pawlovich, and Celina Timmerman 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"Spirit of Place": Lawrence, O'Keeffe, Hartley and the Rest

Georgia O'Keeffe, From the Faraway Nearby, 1937

This week’s discussion revolved around the readings “The Spirit of Place” by D.H. Lawrence, ““The Faraway Nearby,” in Art in New Mexico, 1900-1945: Paths to Taos and Santa Fe, 147-180,” by Charles C. Eldredge, and ““Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley in New Mexico,” in Marsden Hartley and the West, ix-xxii,” by Barbara Buhler Lynes.

 D.H. Lawrence, 1885-1930 

The D.H. Lawrence article was an outsider’s perspective of moving out West in America. The main point of this article was to challenge the concept of freedom, specifically in American, and through that define the spirit acquired by the people living with it. “The Faraway Nearby”, by Charles C. Eldredge examined the change in the style that developed during this time, especially when trying to capture the vastness of the west in more of an abstract manner.  

Marsden Hartley, Landscape, New Mexico, 1920

Barbara Buhler Lynes’ article “Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley in New Mexico discussed the impact of the West for Marsden Hartley’s and Georgia O’Keeffe’s inspiration. Marsden Hartley, an artist who lived and worked with European influences, decided to move West in order to find a new source of inspiration under American influences. He later found himself bored of the West and moved back to New York, later exploring the influences of the West in his New Mexico Recollections. Where Hartley found a lack of motivating subject matter O’Keeffe felt she had found an unlimited supply of inspiration and beauty, O’Keeffe painted the things that were around her from Native American and Hispanic architecture to sun bleached bones. O’Keeffe is considered to be the artist that fulfilled the dream of Stieglitz to have a uniquely American art, free from European influences. 

Georgia O'Keeffe, Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue, 1931

 Discussion this week mostly revolved around how we define freedom in comparison to what the Lawrence article suggested. A popular conclusion was that boredom is the opposite of freedom. This followed with conversations about the responsibilities involved in having freedoms. As a class we believe that to be free would be synonymous with being happy, but to have either of those things a person needs a goal. If a person’s goal is not attainable then they do not have freedom, it is having that attainable goal that keeps us free and free from boredom. Thus, being bound to the responsibility of following through with that thing, we can be the most free to feel satisfied or happy.

We used all of this to talk about how O’Keeffe and Hartley’s works differed because of their experience out west. This carried over to the way we as artist think about place in creating our own works. Hartley struggled with his sense of place in the West which affected his feelings while working on his art there. On the other hand, O’Keeffe had a strong sense of place, which helped her find inspiration in the environment of the West and bring her a sense of connection within her community. As artists, spirit of place is a vital element, whether that is literal or more of a abstract interpretation, we find it really important to act upon this sense of place in the work we do. The feeling of wanting to define and explain ourselves, along with setting ourselves free seems to be a ongoing cycle that will always provide inspiration. 

Discussion Leaders: Megan Hall, Teddy Lepley, Megan Sutton, Gabby O'Neal 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Encounters: The Taos Society of Artists, Pueblo Culture, and the Hispanic Southwest

Walter Ufer, Me and Him, 1918, oil on canvas, image from Art & Antiques magazine

In the third week of student-led presentations we discussed the Taos Society of Artists and their effects on the Native American Population in Hispanic Southwest. John Ott’s article “Reform in Redface: The Taos Society of Artists Plays Indian” was dissected in terms of how racial impersonation and ethnic cross-dressing invalidated the art that came from the society, or if the artwork should be looked at from the context of that time period and seen as a way to deepen our understanding of Pueblo culture and life. It was concluded that nonetheless, the Taos Society did greatly impact that Pueblo population, and as Ott said in the article, preserved them more like a national park than a growing society. Sascha Scott’s article on Ernest Blumenschein’s The Gift analyzed the different influences the anglo-american artists had on the Native American tribes, such as gender depiction. Julie Schimmel’s “The Hispanic Southwest” examined the Hispanic culture in the American Southwest, and how it developed artistically in comparison to the Taos and Pueblo people. This was done through the artwork produced both by this culture and of this culture.

Ernest L. Blumenschein, The Gift, 1922, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design, 1975.86

In our class discussion we began with asking about appropriation of cultures and how that is represented in the works shown in the readings. This brought up what appropriation is, and how ethical it is to use parts of other cultures for art. A general question of this discussion was, “Is it okay for an artist to make art speaking for/about another culture?” And if so, how these representations altered the idea that others had about those cultures, or even by changing those cultures as a whole, as the TSA’s interpretation of the Pueblo people did. Should the artists be held accountable for depicting reality, and did these artists actually do that? The talk dabbled into how religious holidays in America became variation of the original religious intent, whether for a more recreational or commercial value.
William Penhallow Henderson, Penitent Procession, 1919, oil on panel, New Mexico Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Edgar L. Rossin, 1952

Overall we concluded that the best way to represent a culture is respectfully and through research. If one inserts their own narrative into a culture, they are representing themselves rather than the culture they are observing. We discussed the pentintentes from Schimmel’s article and wondered if they were displayed tastefully, if they were portrayed as intensely as they were reenacted. If the colors of red and other warm colors represented the passion of the scenes, accurately. The representations of these cultures led to discussing the morality of outside artists inserting their own narrative, such as how Gauguin inserted Christian motifs into the native scenery. We also briefly discussed the ways Blumenschein’s art, especially The Gift, might have been a step in the right direction of respectful representation.

John Ott, “Reform in Redface: The Taos Society of Artists Plays Indian,” American Art 23, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 80-107.
Sascha Scott, “Unwrapping Ernest L. Blumenschein’s The Gift,” American Art 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 20-47.
Julie Schimmel, “The Hispanic Southwest,” in Art in New Mexico, 1900-1945: Paths to Taos and Santa Fe, 101-145.

Demi Fenicle, Krystlyn Lee, Katherine Thomas, Joan Seig

Friday, February 9, 2018

Recent Fallen Giants

Famous Pioneer Cabin / Tunnel Tree falls during storm, January 2017 [image via]

The Golden Spruce (the book and the movie) [image via]

Westward The Course of Empire Takes Its Way: 19th Century Painters and Photographers

Andrew Russell, Meeting of the Rails, Promontory Summit, Utah, 1869

In the second week of student led presentations, our subject was nineteenth century photography and all the technology that came along with it. In Anderson’s article she wrote about the many artists, both photographers and painters who traveled west to create representations of the wilderness of the West. She also discussed how the invention of the railroad and the artworks created in this time inspired Americans to move and visit the West. Adams, a contemporary black and white photographer, compares the works of the greats like O’Sullivan to the West today. Through this, he covers the impact of light, loss of simple space, and overall land use. Rebecca Solnit’s book discussed the early life and innovative studies of Eadweard Muybridge, and the colossal and historical improvement that railroads gave to the United States in the 1800s.

Carleton Watkins, Cape Horn, near Celilo (Oregon), 1867

In our class discussion, we began with questions about how technology developments have made the world feel smaller. Students remarked on how railroads in their day, and cars in our have dramatically changed the way that we get to these places out West. They are more accessible and much easier to get to, but a student also remarked that these things are merely just tools of a bigger change. That change allowed for new lives, jobs, and opportunities within the untouched land.

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863

People were attracted to the West by the paintings that such as Bierstadt and Moran. These paintings were basically advertisements for the West, with canyons and large trees that weren’t found in the East. The photographs of the Muybridge showed a more realistic side of the West, which may have been less desirable. We talked about the morality more realistic images in paintings and photographs back then of not. This in comparison to how we use art now, which brought up the difference between photojournalism and photography for the fine arts. The main difference is that fine art photography has gained the reputation for being a more manipulative process and thus seen as untrustworthy. The opposite can be said for photojournalism, and this is a concern for when these are combined.

Loggers cutting down a sequoia in 1917

The last thing we discussed is how many people made the change to move West and adapt to a different lifestyle. It was not a cheap or easy way to live considering that the first settlers knew it would be an unsuitable place for large cities. The idea of this led to the conversation about how this change became destructive to the land. Now that we have seen what development has done, people are faced with looking for alternative means to sustainable living. We conversed most passionately in final part of our discussion which addressed the need for a more eco-friendly way of life, such as recycling and the oil corporation.

Jacob Bobeck, Krystlyn Lee, & Gabby O’Neal

Articles: “The Kiss of Enterprise” by Nancy K. Anderson, “In the Nineteenth Century West” by Robert Adams, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Native American Art: Indigenous Cultures Before and After European Contact

Fred Kabotie (Hopi), Detail from The 1680 Pueblo Revolt at Hopi, 1976

For our topic, we discussed Native Americans before and after Europeans came to America. This included learning of their customs, homes, and art as well as their social conflict with Europeans and subsequent injustices that occurred due to colonization. The articles focused primarily on Native Americans of the Southwest including Anasazi, Hopi, Zuni, Mimbres, Navajo, and other native peoples. After a brief recap of the readings, we discussed various questions that our classmates had inquired through their responses on blackboard. 

Great Kiva of Chetro Keti

We talked about whether trading fairs such as the ones conducted by Native American tribes pre-colonization could happen in present times. The conclusion was that it could occur once again, but in a very organized manner due to changes in economic systems. Another topic was if humans would ever be able to look past cultural differences in order to see everybody around them as just people rather than something to look down on. It was said that cultural differences are important, that they are part of being human, and shouldn’t be disregarded but rather that humans need to accept differences and appreciate them. 

The class also talked about the problematic construction of Mount Rushmore on sacred Native American grounds. Is it considered land art? The consensus seemed to be that it was technically land art since it was sculpted by an artist. However, much was discussed how disrespectful to Native Americans it is, and how in response to Mount Rushmore Mount Crazy Horse is being constructed. This led into much interesting discussion about Native American representation in media and the strides that have been made to be more respectful in recent times. 

 Julian and Maria Martinez making pottery, San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM, c. 1950

After this discussion, we asked if people who create Native art that are not Native American disenfranchising or appropriating Native American art. This came down to education and being respectful about subject matter. Many agreed in the class that it is important to study different culture’s art in order to understand their process and forms. It is also important to make sure you educate yourself on the origins on the subject matter you are borrowing from and why it was made. 

Lastly, and perhaps our main topic, was whether the darker history of European colonization and the treatment of Native people should be taught earlier in school. This came from the fact that most people in the class had little to no education on the true history of the United States. It was agreed that the true history should be taught sooner than high school, we also discussed how to go about explaining the wrongdoings of early settlers toward Native Americans in a kid-friendly way. The class was very passionate about this topic and wished they had learned more sooner than a junior/senior in high school since it is almost world-altering information.

Overall, the discussion was very interesting since it was a passionate topic for the class. I think that everybody learned a lot more about our nation’s history than we had previously known and will strive to support changes that we felt should be made during our discussion. 

Cassi Amman, Teddy Lepley & Aly Didier

Articles Read: David W. Penney "Chapter 4: The Southwest"; Colin G. Calloway, "First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History"; and Akim D. Reinhardt, "Native America: The Indigenous" 

Friday, February 2, 2018

"Sweet Medicine" and "Americans"

Two links surfaced the week our class started reading about Native American art and culture. Colin Edgington suggested I investigate Drex Brooks' Sweet Medicine after hearing about this class and it could not be a more appropriate contemporary investigation of the subjects we are starting to explore.

Nicole Pasulka writes in the link above that Brooks "photographed historical sites where conflict between Native Americans and white settlers occurred. Brooks’s work forces audiences to consider the massacres and exploitation Native Americans suffered at the hands of these settlers. The stillness of these overgrown or repopulated sites reminds us of what’s been forgotten and what’s missing."

Drex Brooks, Bad Axe Massacre Site, Vernon County, Wisconsin, 1991

Drex Brooks, Site of the Bascom Affair, Apache Pass, Cochise County, Arizona, 1988

Drex Brooks, Pyramid Lake Battlefield, Pyramid Lake Reservation, Nevada, 1988

Drex Brooks, Children's Graves, Carlisle Indian School, now U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1988

Drex Brooks, Medicine Lodge Treaty Site, Barber County, Kansas, 1988

[All images are from the Blue Sky Gallery website]

After reading Peter Schjeldahl's review "America as Indian Country" in The New Yorker, I looked up the exhibition on the National Museum of the American Indian website and promptly started clicking on nearly every single object. 

Schjeldahl writes: "As an old white man, I can’t propose my pleasure in “Americans” as a model response to it, given the plurality of brains that burn with variants of rage or anguish in this time of identity politics. But I’ll dare to endorse an approach ... that lets identity and politics float a little free of each other, allowing wisdom to seep in. The show attempts it by parading crudely exaggerated understandings of Native Americans, ossified in kitsch, to awaken reactive senses of complicated, deep, living truths."

While immersed in this world of kitsch, Lara informed me that the Cleveland Indians decided to phase out their logo this week (after how many decades of discussion?).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Field Trip to Indianapolis

Last week we traveled to the the Indianapolis Art Museum/Newfields and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. At the IMA, the goal was to see some of the artists we would study this semester (James Turrell) or view on the road trip (Robert Irwin). The City as Canvas, a NYC graffiti filled extravaganza was also on display and we immersed ourselves in 1980s rap music, pay phones, and recreations of subway system signage.

Celina, Alex, Kaiti and Alix in front of Robert Irwin's Light and Space III at the Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

The light falling on the doorway walking out of James Turrell's Acton at the Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

Joan and Cassi participating in "The City as Canvas: New York City Graffiti from the 70s and 80s" at the Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

Native Art Now, showcasing two decades of artists who participated in the Fellowship program at the Eiteljorg was the focus of this year's trip. We saw sculptures from Bonnie Devine and Sonja Kelliher-Combs, paintings by Rick Bartow and James Lavador, and photographs by Will Wilson and Wendy Red Star (to name a few). Below are highlights:

Sonya Kelliher-Combs in Native Art Now at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Paper Dolls for a Post Columbian World with Ensembles Contributed by the US Government in Native Art Now at the Eiteljorg Museum

Will Wilson, AIR Auto Immune Response #5

Wendy Red Star, Apsáalooke Roses

Gerald Clarke, Manifest Destiny

In addition, we spent time with the Native American and Western collections in preparation for our upcoming readings on Native American Art and Culture in the Southwest. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Land Art in the News

Agnes Denes, Tree Mountain [Image via]

Here are a couple articles written within the last year that relate to the topics we will discuss over the next few months:

"How Can Ecological Artists Move Beyond Aesthetic Gestures?" by Ben Valentine

Interview with Leigh Arnold on Women Artists, Land Art, and Representation, Glasstire
[of particular interest is Arnold's preparation for an upcoming 2020 exhibition on women in the Land Arts movement]