Organic Inhabitants Reviewed by Danny Olda

I sympathize with an artist’s skepticism of the art object. However, in a Facebook world that is increasingly losing its thingness and placeness, it’s easy to see why at her gallery’s latest artist talk, Mindy Solomon would quote art critic Roberta Smith – Ceramic art is the new video art.

by Danny Olda

If an apocalypse befell the globe, I reckon the contemporary art world would leave few ruins. Many contemporary pieces conclude their existence at the conclusion of the performance, the end of the video, or the dismantling of the installation. Don’t misunderstand me: I sympathize with an artist’s skepticism of the art object. However, in a Facebook world that is increasingly losing its thingness and placeness, it’s easy to see why at her gallery’s latest artist talk, Mindy Solomon would quote art critic Roberta Smith – “Ceramic art is the new video art”.

The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit
The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit. All photos by Danny Olda

Mindy Solomon Gallery’s current exhibit, Organic Inhabitants, is a dual exhibit featuring the ceramic art of Patricia Sannit and the terra-cotta work of David Hicks. Though each artist produces work visually very different from the other, it’s easy to see why both were chosen in relation to the theme Organic Inhabitants. Patricia Sannit’s stark ceramic sculptures evoke the remains of people and cultures. Some pieces resemble sun bleached bones adorned with ritual decoration. Others nearly appear to be ancient tools, bowls, mortars. Sannit’s art confronts the perception of ceramics and clay as a ubiquitous medium across cultures.

The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit
The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit

David Hicks works traditional terra-cotta clay to form objects that resemble exotic (extraterrestrial?) flora. The earthen red of the terra-cotta contrasts against the vivid and at times metallic glazes that drip off the sculptures in thick layers. The clay visible at the base of each sculpture can be reminiscent of a pot holding an actual plant.

The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit
The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit

Organic Inhabitants draws out the idea of the natural world with work that resembles living organisms as well as hints at the remains of life and living. Each artist makes good use of ceramic’s strong suit: a clear allusion to life and materiality. However, Mindy Solomon as curator juxtaposes the two artists against each other to further develop the theme in connection with the medium.

The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit
The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit

The work and exhibit are in some ways part of a general shift toward materiality that even the art world hasn’t been immune to. From MP3’s back to vinyl isn’t all that dissimilar from video art to ceramics. There is much more to this materiality than possessing a physical object, though. The shift isn’t only from abstract to physical, but from technological to organic. Aside from the references to ancient culture inherent in terra-cotta, the literal fingerprints of David Hicks are embedded in the clay. In both conceptual and concrete ways the medium itself has its own Organic Inhabitants.

The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit
The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit. All images taken by Danny Olda

Danny Olda is our Tampa Correspondent and publisher of
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The Creature Comforts of David Hicks and Patricia Sannit
Mindy Solomon Gallery
July 14 – September 8, 2012

124 2nd Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 502-0852


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Take a Seat, A Hundred Years – A Hundred Chairs by Danny Olda

While the innocuous nature of chairs could’ve condemned the exhibit as boring, it was rather used as a strength. The banality of objects such as chairs also allows them to especially bear the stamp of their respective times.

by Danny Olda

Through endless episodes of Frasier (thanks Netflix) I find myself fixating on the props. Specifically on a single prop, near the back of the living room, a single chair and matching footstool that exudes an uncanny quantity of comfort. Similarly, the ubiquity of chairs can relegate them to becoming background props in real life as well: I can easily forget I’m sitting in one while I type this.

chairs
Image Courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art

That “background prop”, though, was designed by Charles and Ray Eames; perhaps America’s greatest designers. It had roots in New York’s MoMA, made of materials born out of necessity and war time innovation, and offered a new middle class comfort and aesthetic that it was previously not allowed it. Arguably, this “background prop” helped invent the image of the American middle class. And it’s one of 100 in the Tampa Museum of Art’s current exhibit A Hundred Years – A Hundred Chairs.

TMoA Chairs
Image Courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art

The exhibit features 100 chairs from the collection of the Vitra Design Museum as a survey of 100 years of design. Predictably, the survey serves to illustrate modern design and its evolution throughout the 20th century. However, the exhibit does much more than that. While the innocuous nature of chairs could’ve condemned the exhibit as boring, it was rather used as a strength. The banality of objects such as chairs also allows them to especially bear the stamp of their respective times. Each chair doesn’t so much express its context as much as it involuntarily manifests it. A Hundred Chairs does an excellent job of highlighting this.

chairs
Image Courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art

For example, the exhibit addresses the socio-political views of plastic as they evolved throughout the 20th century. That is heavy. Plastic begins to appear at one end of the gallery, not only as a technological advance but also as a rebellion against modernism and continental design. Near the other end, it begins to disappear with the onset of the 1970’s oil crisis.

chairs
Image Courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art

The exhibit asks us to revisit the aesthetic of chairs. Each section clearly shows fascism, capitalism, environmentalism, prosperity and poverty, war and peace emerging into the design of the furniture. In a way, it implies an invitation to pick up where A Hundred Chairs leaves off, to deconstruct everyday design. While simple furniture, the chairs are presented as thumbnails to the world scene that created it.

chairs
Image Courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art

In a way these chairs do make good background props, subtle reflections of the world that needed them. They may not be a profound and imposing symbol of the world around them like much of the art that adorns the galleries of the TMoA. The story chairs tell is much quieter and acute. The venue of a museum gives us a chance to read it.


Danny Olda is our Tampa Correspondent and publisher of
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Tampa Museum of Art
120 W Gasparilla Plz Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 274-8130


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You Have One New Message by Danny Olda

Street Art brings more than just irreverence for private property and leaves more than only trite scribble. The Morean Arts Center featuring twenty Florida-based artists from various points on the street art continuum.

by Danny Olda

It’s a curious road from graffiti to street art. A blank wall sans ownership or permission may be a common canvas to both. Street Art, though, brings more than just irreverence for private property and leaves more than only trite scribble. The Morean Arts Center’s current survey of Floridian Urban Art is aptly titled Leave a Message: Urban Art in Florida. The exhibit featured twenty Florida-based artists from various points on the street art continuum.

Tes One
Tes One, Call Waiting, 2012, Mixed Media

From the graphic design end of the continuum: a couple of pieces seemed to gain inclusion to the exhibit merely because of a street art aesthetic rather than Leaving any real substantive Message. In a way, this may have well been the intention of the curator, though. Southern California’s style of street art which has evolved in the Low Brow art movement and design style has a particularly strong foothold here in Florida. The Morean Arts Center’s exhibit isn’t so much a survey of Floridian artists as a survey of street art in Florida. In this context, its commercial use can’t be ignored.

Bask
Bask, Bask in Your Thought Crimes, 2012, Mixed Media

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the show is what is most interesting about street art exhibits in general: the tricky move from the brick wall to the gallery wall. The simple change of context from street to gallery has always been a touchy one. Even legendary street artists such as Banksy or Shepard Fairey risked relinquishing any and all cred simply by exhibiting in an institutionally accepted setting.

Street artists can ignore the implications of exhibiting in a proper gallery, put up a mural on the dry wall that any other day would’ve been on a brick wall and yet achieve desirable results. The best work in the exhibit, though, addresses the potentially pretentious gallery setting.

Dolla
Dolla, Untitled, 2012, Spray Paint with mixed media

This is readily seen in Allen Leper Hampton’s wonderfully witty sculpture Big Black Diamond. The sculpture is in the shape of a thirty-six inch brilliant cut diamond. While the diamond screams materialism and wealth, the materials it appears to be made of are more closely associated with homelessness: cardboard, tape, black paint. Hampton’s other two pieces featured in the show are priced $500 and $250. Big Black Diamond, however, carries a price tag of $10,000 – more of a statement than an actual cost. It’s easy to grasp what Hampton may be getting at about fetishizing over art objects and growing class gaps.

Allen Leper Hampton
Allen Leper Hampton, Big Black Diamond, 2012, Big black diamond

Big Black Diamond also illustrates the best of street-art gallery exhibits. The sculpture fits the street art label, but not because it’s spray painted or makes use of stock street art imagery. Big Black Diamond pulls its street style out of its irreverence and subversive nature.

Allen Leper Hampton
Allen Leper Hampton, Girl, 2012, Aerosol

Poverty, wealth, sex, boredom, rebellion, – we got the message. The thoughts on the minds of wall-writing-youth are heavy; they’ve outgrown graffiti and into street art. Leave a Message managed to show that not only is the medium impossible to ignore, but the message foolish to overlook.

Tes One
Tes One, Watercolors, 2012, Acrylic on wood panels

Danny Olda is our Tampa Correspondent and publisher of
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Morean Art Center
719 Central Avenue St. Petersburg, FL 33701 / (727) 821-5623

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The Farther South You Go the Further North You Are

What does it mean to be Floridian and how would this manifest itself in art? It’s only in recent years that St. Petersburg, for example, has been able to shed the rep as “God’s waiting room”. The one shared aspect of an identity for many was (how to say this nicely?) a proximity to expiration. This didn’t exactly translate into a collective artistic identity (and God help us if it did).

by Danny Olda

“The farther South you go the further North you are” – a sentiment you’ve probably heard referring to the geography and soul of Florida. While reading a recent issue of the Southern lit mag, Oxford American, I noticed scant mention of Florida, the Southernmost of the contiguous forty-eight. Apparently it takes more than South to be Southern – something Florida hasn’t got. Not that Florida pines to be Southern all that much anyhow.

If not Southern, though, what does it mean to be Floridian and how would this manifest itself in art? It’s only in recent years that St. Petersburg, for example, has been able to shed the rep as “God’s waiting room”. The one shared aspect of an identity for many was (how to say this nicely?) a proximity to expiration. This didn’t exactly translate into a collective artistic identity (and God help us if it did).

WPA kids
WPA: FAP: kids involved in painting and sculptures based upon spirituals: Jacksonville, Florida, Extension Art Gallery

Think of American art history in terms of region: The “Cool School” of Southern California, The New York School, Taos, New Mexico, and so on. Did our contemporary tradition come into existence by way of immaculate conception? Where is our old school?

At this point the Highwaymen likely come to mind. The group of artists known as the Highwaymen is, of course, distinctly Floridian. I’m not going to hate on the group – though their work doesn’t exactly suit my taste, their story and conditions they worked under is fascinating. The history of Florida’s Highwaymen says a lot about race relations, art world economics, class concerns, and so on. However, I’d sooner regard the group as a cultural phenomenon than a cultural heritage. The group began, was exclusive, and ended with nary a tie to Florida’s current contemporary art scene.

Highwaymen Artist Group
Mary Ann Carroll - Highwaymen Artist
To be clear, however, what it means to be Floridian is not the bothersome part. What’s bothersome is the seeming absence of any distinctly Floridian artistic identity. It has taken most of my mental fortitude to avoid the nagging feeling that Florida is America’s identity miscellany file. Think of a record shop, for instance. Vinyl records are separated into a jazz section, rock, R & B. Then there is us: the three for a dollar section. Not that Florida is worth less. Rather, in our section one just has a better chance of finding Marching Band Classics beside The Best of Styx. I hate to say “the one thing we have in common is we’re all different”. It sounds like a meaningless hippy maxim but in this case it may be true or at least all we’ve got.

In his novel Citrus County, Author John Brandon describes Florida, and by extension Florida’s art community, accurately. Florida is a seriously wild state. Otters poke their heads out of sewers while alligators are constantly found in pools. It feels like the forests are waiting for the cities to turn their backs in order to reclaim what’s theirs. Our Sunshine State only has the appearance of being settled; Florida is a state of perpetual struggle. Not only naturally, but sociologically, politically, religiously, financially, and, of course, artistically.

I understand this could sound disparaging. However, isn’t art dialectic, the parade of ideas down through art history, only a centuries long magnificent argument? Maybe in this way, through struggles of all sorts, our peculiarly Floridian identity is a moving target – not so much the sum of our parts as the difference of our differences.

Though Florida may not be included among them, New York, California, Paris, and the rest should be proud of their monolith of an artistic heritage. And even if the South would have us, likely we’d politely excuse ourselves anyhow. I like to think that Pascal’s words are peculiarly Floridian, that “The struggle alone pleases us.”


Danny Olda is our Tampa Correspondent and publisher of
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Olda Reviews: Andy Warhol and (Facebook) Friends

The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts highlights Andy Warhol’s photography in its outgoing exhibit, Andy Warhol and Friends. The exhibition features the photographic work of Andy Warhol, combining his photo booth images, Polaroids, and his series of self portraits among other work. The collection includes portraits of celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, and Sylvester Stallone.

by Danny Olda

Dial-up internet had just sprouted legs and began to crawl out of the water when Andy Warhol died. Yet, somehow, he pegged the Facebook aesthetic while Mark Zuckerberg was still learning how to speak in complete sentences. Saying “Warhol was ahead of his time” isn’t so much a cliché compliment as pointing out some sort of cosmic mistake.

The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts highlights Andy Warhol’s photography in its outgoing exhibit, Andy Warhol and Friends. The exhibition features the photographic work of Andy Warhol, combining his photo booth images, Polaroids, and his series of self portraits among other work. The collection includes portraits of celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, and Sylvester Stallone.

Danny Olda Cube
Cube at Rivergate, 2012 © Chip Weiner

Though Warhol’s screen prints may be more highly sought after, I’d argue that his photographs are often more relevant. Warhol’s small self portraits for example, clearly anticipate Social Networking avatars. Not directly, but it is fascinating in the quarter of a century that has passed, the aesthetics of this type of self-representation has changed little. It isn’t difficult to imagine Warhol taking these exact self portraits with Instagram and uploading it to his Twitter profile. The reason these self-portraits were so engrossing involves more than aesthetics. The idea isn’t quite that of preferring image over content. Rather, Warhol’s photographs point to our photo saturated world where the image is the content. Consider what Warhol would do with the likes of Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Andy Warhol and Friends not only reminded me of avatars but also of news feeds, our constant documentation of everyday life. One brilliant photograph held me longer than the others: a photo of Mick Jagger eating. Warhol snapped the photo while Jagger had food on his fork and was bringing it to his mouth. His eyes concentrate intently on the incoming bite. Jagger’s face resembles that of an infant’s opening wide for a pacifier. The attention keeps being drawn to his mouth and to see it open in perpetual anticipation makes the scene nearly sexual. Something I found funny is how I unintentionally imagined the scene playing out: Warhol snapping the photo, not with his eye plugged to a view finder, but holding an iPhone out in front of him.

It’s easy to get lost in a ‘what if’ train of thought. The FMoPA’s exhibit makes it even easier to get lost in the world of Andy Warhol, where Dolly Parton is a friend and Sting will pose for a picture. I would’ve been tweeting the whole thing.

Congratulations to the FMoPA on a successful inaugural exhibition in their new home in the Cube at Rivergate.


Danny Olda is our Tampa Correspondent and publisher of
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