Sanders McNew

Easter Sunday, Madison County, North Carolina
by Sanders McNew (2011)

Very promising images from Sanders McNew, taken on an Easter visit to North Carolina with his wife and young son. These remind me of Emmit Gowin's family work in Virginia from the 1970's. Sanders has only posted two images from this series to his Flickr account, but I hope there are more to follow. Good stuff as usual from McNew.

Sanders McNew

Drawn From Nature

It drives me nuts to walk into the opening reception of an art show and see half of the pieces hanging cockeyed on the walls. It requires tremendous self control to keep myself from going around and straightening all of the art work. This was the case at the recent "Drawn from Nature" art show at the John James Audubon Nature Center at Mill Grove, in Audubon, Pa.  Simply too many pieces hanging haphazardly from typical art show partitions, added with terrible lighting in an otherwise gorgeous old barn, made for a show that was difficult to find the gems. Lots of generic work that you would expect to see at a local nature center... birds and bunnies and such, and the unfortunate discovery of appropriated art (see previous post), but also a few really strong standout works, including Rona Cordish Satten's etchings Return to Origin and Opening , Margorie Pollack's  photograph Two Billies, and Lee Muslin's photograph over acrylic paint On The Lookout. 

Photography prizes were awarded as follows...

Michael Ticcino  "A Barn In Winter"
1st Place Photography

Peggy Hartzell  "Great Oak, St Peter's Road"
2nd Place Photography

Denise Romano Bright  "Trees & Ferns"
3rd Place Photography

Other work I found interesting was Peggy Hartzell's second piece in the show Audubon's Woods, in which she framed a photograph in a deep shadow box and included real leaves inside the frame.

Peggy Hartzell  "Audubon's Woods"

And Jon Goldberg's glass sculpture was a pleasant surprise to find. Goldberg owns East Falls Glass Studio and Philadelphia and several years ago I took a beginner glass blowing class there. Jon is a great instructor as well as accomplished artist. He had two pieces in the show, Optical Study- Lightning and Raindrop Sculpture

Jon Goldberg  "Optical Study- Lightning"

And finally Gwyn Michael's digital collage Biding Her Time, which won the Audubon Nature Award. Gwyn does environmental based work and is a highly talented digital artist. Check out her web site, as well as her Kickstarter project, Journey to Confluence, in which she is trying to raise funds for an artistic endeavor in collaboration with the Portland based Confluence Project

Gwyn Michael  "Biding Her Time"
Audubon Nature Award

The Art of Appropriation

I had a very unique visual experience last week. Bizarre coincidence is the only way to describe it. I get together with my friend Philip Taylor on a regular basis. Phil is an 85 year old Philadelphia photographer who had a 40 year career as a Lithographic printer. He is a treasure trove of printing and photographic knowledge, and we spend several hours a couple times a month discussing photo books and the history of photography. So last Thursday Philip happened to bring along a folder of random images from postcards, newspaper clippings, etc that he had collected over the years. One item that interested me was an issue of National Wildlife magazine from 1998 that contained a photograph taken by a good friend of his, Ernie Volpe. Volpe was the grand prize winner in the magazine's 1997 Photo Contest for his image of a sparrow gingerly perched on a shard of broken glass framed perfectly within an old weathered window pane.

Ernie Volpe  (1997)

The image from the magazine is signed, "To Philip- A very dear friend who always believed... Ernie Volpe '97 "  Philip told me that Volpe was a house painter by trade who loved photographing birds. For this shot he created a bird blind in his back yard. The broken window is from his garage where he kept his bird seed and the birds would come and go out of the window to steal seeds from inside the garage. Volpe waited patiently for hours to get this shot. Several years later Ernie Volpe died after a miserable struggle with cancer at the age of 45. The pain of the loss of a friend is still evident in Philip's voice as he tells the story and the memento of this signed image means a great deal to Philip on an emotional level.

Now enter the bizarre... the very next night I attended the juried art show "Drawn From Nature" at the John James Audubon nature center in Audubon, Pa. I had a photograph in the show and a couple friends of mine also had work in the show. I couldn't get out of work early that night, so I had to frantically rush out to Audubon to get there before the opening ended at 8 o'clock. I got there 15 minutes before the show closed and quickly walked around while I caught my breath. As I made my way around the maze of typical art show fabric partitions my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw this painting by Victoria DeMarco-Schumann.

Victoria DeMarco-Schumann (2010)

I was stunned. I called Philip on my cell phone as I drove home to tell him what I had just seen. I called another friend to re-tell the story. I just couldn't get over the random coincidence of seeing these two images on consecutive nights. What are the chances of this happening ?  This stayed on my mind throughout the weekend, and I went back to the exhibit on Sunday to photograph the painting and just see it again to make sure it was real. It is a direct copy of Volpe's photograph, with the obvious addition of the cutesy kitty face and the dragonfly. There are also some small changes to the glass shard details, but otherwise the painting is a direct appropriation of the photograph.

I am not going to go into a discussion of copyright here. I'm not a lawyer, and I know next to nothing about copyright law. I do know it is very complicated with lot's of gray areas and levels of interpretation. When big name photographers have work appropriated by big name painters the disputes typically end up in  lengthy and expensive legal battles. ( Recall the Shepard Fairey vs. Mannie Garcia/AP entanglement over the Obama  Hope poster ) The only thing I will say about copyright is  that DeMarco-Schumann chose to sign her painting with the copyright symbol, which I find very interesting. How many paintings do you see with a copyright symbol next to the signature ? The submission guidelines for this exhibit state... "Works copied in whole or in part from paintings, reproductions, or photographs by other artists will not be accepted."

I posted a thread about this topic over on Flak Photo Network, and it has generated some really excellent comments. Lots of photographers relating stories about their own work being appropriated, or citing cases and legal histories surrounding copyright issues and settlements. Another great read on this subject, besides the Obama Hope poster, is the story behind Susan Meiselas' Molotov Man photograph. There is a link to an article from Harpers Magazine on the FPN thread. Good stuff.

The question that still haunts me is... what is the appropriate action to take when confronted with something like this?  Report it to the art show? Confront the artist? Just let it go?  I can't notify the original photographer because he is dead. This is a small time art show, but these shows are still important to the artists who invest time and money to submit their work. The painting had a price tag of $1600. I would be shocked if someone paid that much money for it. So I am inclined to just let this ride as a weird experience, but I would also love to discuss this directly with DeMarco-Schumann someday to hear her thoughts about artistic process and creative stream of conscious. For all I know, maybe she knew Ernie Volpe, and this is a tribute piece in his memory. I can't make a moral judgement on her work process unless I hear her complete side of the story, but she was clearly wrong in submitting the work to a juried exhibit as her own original work.

ONWARD 11 moves to Tokyo

Ring Cube Gallery
San-ai Dream Center
Tokyo, Japan

May 4th - May 22nd, 2011

Curtains. (Rhawn Street) is from my ongoing Poetry of Nowhere series. It was chosen by Larry Fink to be included in ONWARD 11, and is currently in route to Tokyo to be part of the Ring Cube exhibit. I donated a limited edition of ten prints of this photograph to Life Support Japan as part of the effort to raise relief funds for the Japan earthquake victims. I chose to donate this image not just because it will be exhibited in Tokyo, but also because to me it has a very Japanese, Shoji, and Zen like feeling to it. It represents nothingness...the poetry of nowhere. Copies are still available to purchase through Wall Space Gallery at $50 each. 100% of proceeds go directly to Japan relief efforts, and over $50,000 has been raised so far. Click the link below to purchase this signed limited edition print.

Curtains. (Rhawn Street)  2010

Limited edition of 10 signed prints. All proceeds go to Japan relief efforts

Zoe Strauss: Ten Years

Zoe Strauss. I 95 . (2008)

Zoe Strauss: Ten Years
Philadelphia Museum of Art
January - March 2012

(Philadelphia Museum of Art. April 2011)
Zoe Strauss: Ten Years is a mid-career retrospective of the acclaimed photographer’s work and the first critical assessment of her ten-year project to exhibit her photographs annually in a space beneath a section of Interstate-95 (I-95) in South Philadelphia. Strauss’s subjects are broad but her primary focus is on working-class experience, including the most disenfranchised people and places. Her photographs offer a poignant, troubling portrait of contemporary America.

Strauss (American, born 1970) states that her ambition is “to create an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life.” Zoe Strauss: Ten Years will offer one version of that narrative, presenting approximately one hundred and fifty of her photographs, along with slideshows displaying more of her imagery, and installations on billboards throughout Philadelphia that will extend the exhibition beyond the Museum. Between 2001 and 2010, Strauss hosted yearly day-long exhibitions of her photographs under an elevated section of I-95. She affixed prints to columns in an area roughly the size of a football field, providing visitors with a map keyed to a list of photograph titles. Prints of the exhibited images were available for sale for five dollars, with Strauss stationed at a nearby table to sign them. These installations animated the site with art, commerce, and social interaction, transforming it into a vibrant public space. Zoe Strauss: Ten Years will examine how, for Strauss, the opposite settings of the abandoned urban zone under I-95 and the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art complement each other. Her engagement with both places is deep and she highly values the Museum as a place for civic discourse, just as she strove to make the space under I-95 a place for social interaction.

Untrained as a photographer or artist, Strauss nevertheless founded the Philadelphia Public Art Project in 1995 with the objective of exhibiting art in nontraditional venues. She turned to the camera in 2000 as the most direct instrument to represent her chosen subjects. In 2006, Strauss participated in the Whitney Biennial. In 2008 she published her first book, America

The Art of the Book

Working through some page mock-ups for the Poetry of Nowhere book...

Hatboro Corner  (2011)

Amy's Story. from  Naked Stories (2007)

Yeah Nigga. Tree Graffiti  (2006)

Allah Akbar. Wall Graffiti  (2007)

Hollywood Video. with snow  (2011)

Ashley Messages  (2007)

Unsettled: Photography & Politics

Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Julien Levy Gallery
April 9 - Summer 2011

The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Unsettled: Photography and Politics in Contemporary Art, with work by nine artists who used photography to address issues of race, sex, gender, religion and politics during the 1970's through the early 1990's. An historical overview of often highly controversial subject matter and notoriously branded artists, the exhibit attempts to create an open discussion as to why much of this art work remains contentious to the present day. ( A comment book is prominently displayed in the gallery for visitors to leave written responses.)

Artists in the exhibit are  Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, Lorna SimpsonNan GoldinZoe LeonardDavid Wojnarowicz ,Carrie Mae Weems, and Babara Kruger.

We will no longer be seen and not heard,  Barbara Kruger
There is plenty to see in this relatively small show, and even wall placement choices will likely raise questions and/or test the comfort levels of some visitors. The highly objectifying work of a Mapplethorpe sculptural black male nude directly across the room from Weem's Honey Colored Boy, with both of these photographs flanked on the side wall by Serrano's Klansman image.

Honey Colored Boy,  Carrie Mae Weems

Klansman (Great Titan of the Invisible Empire), Andres Serrano

Serrano is better known for his 1987 photograph Piss Christ, which raised a firestorm similar to the recent hotly debated issue surrounding the removal of a 1987 David Wojnarowicz film from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Wojnarowicz event was the impetus for creating this exhibit in Philadelphia. Exhibit curator Peter Barbarie stressed during the preview that this exhibit is not meant to offend, but to open up and continue the conversation surrounding these topics.

Sex Series,  David Wojnarowicz

Wojnarowicz's work features prominently in the exhibit, which includes six images from his late 1980's Sex Series. The grainy black and white works consist of montages of appropriated images and text ranging from city scenes, landscapes,  dwellings, and typewritten letters, combined with moon-like circles containing microscope views of blood cells, random stock imagery and pornography. The work is both intensely angry and hauntingly beautiful.

Untitled (Typewritten Letter), 1988-89. David Wojnarowicz
Image Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 Untitled (New York Bridges with Text), 1988-89. David Wojnarowicz
Image Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 This important and very timely exhibit opened on April 9th and runs through the Summer. Absorb these works with an open mind and add your two cents to the comment book

Related links:

Exhibit Details for Unsettled: Photography & Politics in Contemporary Art

Andres Serrano

David Wojnarowicz

Carrie Mae Weems

Photography & Ikebana

I could not see him

That fluttering
Fly-off bird...
But the Plum-Petals...

Shiki (1866-1902)

Continuing on a theme from last year, working in the form of Jiyuka (freestyle) Ikebana. I have collected bird's nests from walks in the woods for several years and the idea of incorporating them into sculpture is something I have experimented with from time to time. Yukio Nakagawa is a Japanese Ikebana Master whose photographs of his own work were included in the 2008 exhibit Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan at The International Center of Photography in New York City. Nakagawa's work is an unusual style, sometimes bordering on the grotesque with the use of decaying and rotting flowers. I wasn't as attracted to his Ikebana style as much as I was intrigued by his concept of photographing the ephemeral process of flower based sculpture. Nakagawa says... "Each encounter with a flower is a particular occasion never to recur in one's lifetime. Each flower arrangement- Ikebana is unique and strictly momentary."

Pear Blossoms. Ikebana  (2010)

Pear Blossoms. Ikebana (2010)  is being submitted tomorrow to the Drawn From Nature juried exhibit at the John James Audubon Center in Audubon, Pa. I printed it on hand made Japanese paper and I really like the result, very soft and subtle with the paper adding a unique texture. My plan has been to create additional pieces, and we are finally entering the fleeting weeks of flowering trees here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. My neighbor's cherry tree is in full bloom and after last weekend's trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC I was inspired to use this species for the second piece in the series, Cherry Blossoms. Ikebana (2011).

Cherry Blossoms. Ikebana (2011)

I would love to continue along with this theme using other flowering fruit trees... Apple, Plum, Peach, Asian Pear, etc., and always a new nest for each sculpture. A yearly tribute to the rites of Spring.

Yukio Nakagawa

Heavy Light
Notes on Washington, DC ... (April 2011)

Washington Monument & Cherry Trees

A one day intensive walking tour of the Mall with friend J Randall Updegrove. Began with the National Gallery of Art and stumbled upon a pleasant surprise, the Lewis Baltz, Prototypes exhibit. No photography allowed for this particular exhibit, which was being strictly enforced by security guards. This was a fantastic exhibit for me personally, and I'll do a full review on it later this week.

The National Gallery also has a number of other really nice exhibits on view, including Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection. Among the masterpieces on view are Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot'sForest of Fontainebleau (1834), Auguste Renoir's A Girl with a Watering Can (1876), Mary Cassatt's Boating Party (1893/1894), Edouard Manet's Old Musician (1862), Pablo Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques(1905), and George Bellows' Blue Morning (1909). Other artists represented include Paul C├ęzanne, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, and Claude Monet. I loved seeing a Steichen painting for the very first time. Chester Dale gifted this collection to the museum in 1962.



The National Gallery and the newer East Gallery designed by I M Pei are incredible buildings, works of art in and of themselves, as is all of the architecture along the mall.

I M Pei's sketch of East Galley

East Gallery stairway

From indoor art to outdoor art... the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden is not to be missed.This small zen-like setting features works by artists including Auguste Rodin, Jeff Koons, and Alexander Calder. I was particularly enchanted by Rodin's sculpture of Balzac, having just recently seen Steichen's remarkable photographs of this piece at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand exhibit.

Rodin's Balzac

Early in the afternoon it was rainy and cold and everyone was inside, making our visit to the Natural History Museum a crowd fighting event. I had just seen it a year ago, so between the crowds and the lack of anything new to see, this was my least favorite stop of the day, but this is certainly one of the best family oriented museums on the mall. Not to be missed by those with children in tow.

We walked ran across the mall in driving cold sleety rain to see the Castle, and so did half the other people visiting that day... long lines and nasty security guards had us leaving as soon as we got inside, only to realize to our delight that the sun had broken through and it was turning into a beautiful day. Within minutes, what had been a deserted mall was now filled with people. We walked up towards the Washington Monument, passing through Cherry Trees in full blossom bloom, while hundreds of people stood under the canopy of blooms with cameras pointed skyward. Made our way through the World War II Memorial and on to the Vietnam Memorial. Such a powerful and emotional experience watching those who have come seeking the names of long lost loved ones... capturing names on paper with pencil rubbings

Vietnam Memorial

Then on to the Lincoln Memorial, joining the hundreds of others climbing the steps to stand at the feet of Abe and have their photo taken. People from all over the world waiting patiently in an informal system of taking turns, solo or in groups, would move out to the center front of the Lincoln statue and pose for photos taken by friends or willing strangers. (throughout the day I must have been asked at least six times by passing strangers if I would take their photo as they handed me their camera)

Lincoln Memorial

And finally a walk back along the Tidal Basin, lined with the hundreds of Cherry trees gifted so many years ago by the Japanese government as a symbol of peace. Again, hundreds of people walking through the trees enjoying this annual fleeting moment of gorgeous blossoms.

Cherry Trees on the Washington Mall

Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

Cherry Blossom Festival

Spent several hours last night in my studio reviewing a portfolio of selected works by Philadelphia photographer Philip Taylor. What a joy to see such masterful print work and compositional skill, as well as hear the background emotional context directly from the artist. I was joined by J Randall Updegrove, life long friend who is visiting from Montana, and Phil had us spellbound for hours.

Tonight we are off to Project Basho to attend a presentation of new work by photographers David Graham, Emmet Gowin, Andrea Modica, Stuart Rome and others. Gonna be a good one!