Mitch O'Connell's colorful, crazed pop-art illustrations have appeared everywhere from the cover of Newsweek (four times) to a recent full-page story in The Wall Street Journal, but you'll have to forgive him for hoping for a good-sized turnout at his appearance at Nice Price Books in Raleigh on April 27.
"I’ll be in North Carolina meeting my fiancé’s father," says O'Connell, on the phone from his home in Chicago. "My only goal is that hopefully a respectable line is in place to impress him.
"So I impose this responsibility on the people of Raleigh—hopefully it’s a burden they’re willing to shoulder."
O'Connell's on tour to promote Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist, a new hardcover collection from Last Gasp Publishing that offers an extensive retrospective of his pop culture-infused career in art, providing colorful, chaotic pics that draw from decades of American iconography.
"I’m lucky that my grandparents and my parents saved a lot of my stuff, so there were still books available from childhood and adolescence," O'Connell says. "It let us give the book an actual narrative, and hopefully a humorous one."
One change is taking place at the top. Early this week, CAM parted ways with Elysia Borowy-Reeder, the museum's executive director of the last two years. The change has been announced internally but an official announcement is expected soon.
[UPDATE 4:11 p.m.: Here it is.]
Kate Shafer, who has served as gallery and exhibitions manager since the institution’s opening, is now interim director.
“There was a desire on the part of the Contemporary Art Foundation and the advisory board to seek a new direction for the philosophy and the leadership of CAM,” says Marvin Malecha, ex-officio of the museum’s advisory board.
Borowy-Reeder, who is traveling, referred questions to Malecha.
“I think there are some people here who were looking for maybe more of an out-of-the-box thought process relative to how we go forward with CAM, rather than a traditional director’s role as we’d been in," Malecha said.
"We’re looking to take a new turn after two years of finally getting the museum into place after years of aspiration. This is really a chance to go off in a new direction.”
What does “new direction” mean, exactly? The museum’s two governing bodies—the 14-member advisory board and the 16-member Contemporary Art Foundation—will kick around answers during a half-day retreat next week. They’ll also decide what kind of search CAM will make for a new director, or whether they’ll simply reorganize the existing staff.
In other very recent changes, Marjorie Hodges has taken on the role of director of the Contemporary Art Foundation. Her commute won’t change, however—Hodges leaves the Flanders Gallery, directly across West Street from CAM.
Gab Smith also comes on board as director of advancement and membership engagement.
DURHAM—Out of appreciation for the public discomfort of a unique maker of many various things and deft handler of many different materials—the word “artist” embarrasses him—I’m only going to use his name in the headline. He didn’t ask to be the center of attention, but he’s summoning the tolerance.
So why should you go? Because you’ve not seen handiwork like his. Unless, that is, you are one of the lucky folks who’ve hired him over the years to make a stone wall and waterfall in your yard, or to build a radiant wooden sconce for a living room wall, or to craft a fused-glass and poplar-branch entryway for your house.
You just don’t often see an artist who can think and work in so many different media. Truly it’s as if he doesn’t consider media as such. He just looks at a material like stone, leather, glass or wood, intuits its properties, and begins melding them together. He never draws plans, though these are precision works.
If we can’t call him an artist, then an alchemist? An Archimedes?
“Decorative” is a bit of a dirty word in the art world. It’s why we say “interior decorators” instead of something like “décor artists.” In galleries and museums, the word “ornamental” is preferred, describing artwork that incorporates motifs from traditional crafts, fashion or architecture into a larger statement or meaning. If, in the context of your work, you scrutinize an aspect or example of craft, then you’re considering the ornamental. But if the work doesn’t mean beyond its aesthetic fact, it might be dismissed as merely decorative.
The full-body portrait “Juliette the Baptist” is Walker’s best riff on a religious original, copping an aspect of Caravaggio’s beheaded St. John the Baptist. A woman poses jauntily in a slim brown suit against a dim, indeterminate background, grasping what seems to be the severed head of the actress Julianne Moore. Walker applies minimal sculptural collage to render the gore streaming from the neck to the painting’s ground. Something between thick rose petals and a bright red version of bracket fungi is affixed to the panel in bloody bunches.
Tonally, this woman could have stepped right off the pages of Vogue. She conveys feminine independence without overt sexuality, but the head she’s lugging looks just like her. Walker’s pointing out that independence has a habit of eating the independences of others. It’s a lesson that St. John learned the hard way.
DAVID GATTEN FILM SCREENING AND DISCUSSION
N.C. State University
Caldwell Hall G107, 2221 Hillsborough St.
Fri., Feb. 15, 5-7:30 p.m.
This is the true story of how the ocean made a movie.
To be more precise, filmmaker David Gatten collaborated on a movie with the Atlantic Ocean, where the Edisto River empties its freshwater into the ocean’s salt along the South Carolina coast. Gatten put unexposed 16mm film stock into a crab trap, tied the ends of a 50-foot rope to the trap and his ankle, and dropped it into the water.
“The ocean made the movie,” Gatten says. “The exposure, the processing, the chemistry, the physical interaction—everything—was entirely the ocean. I didn’t do anything other than decide how long it should be in the water, at high tide, ebb tide, low tide. And how much film I was going to put in. The ocean and crabs decided how much film I was going to get back. They did the editing. They did the sound. I was the producer.”
Gatten made three such films in 1998, returning to the South Carolina coast in 2007 to make three more. This more recent set, along with five other 16-mm films from his acclaimed career, will be screened in a mini-retrospective on Friday evening at N.C. State.
It’s a rare chance to see the work of one of the country’s foremost experimental filmmakers with Gatten at the projector’s controls. In his omnipresent overalls, he’ll introduce the films, something he doesn’t often get to do but considers an integral part of the screening. Neither dramatic nor scripted nor off-the-cuff, he nonetheless sets the films up with a precise, evocative monologue before bringing the screen to life an exact beat after he stops talking. A screening is a performance, to his mind.
Self-consciousness is exhausting. It’s such a drain to have to maintain one’s personality or to display a situationally appropriate persona as one moves from place to place over the course of a day. This is why we cherish those private places where we can let our guard down and especially those rare public places in which we feel comfortable enough to do so. Iris Gottlieb’s earnest pen-and-ink drawings of everyday objects, currently on view at Durham’s Carrack Modern Art Gallery through Feb. 9, provide just such an art experience.
Gottlieb’s hand possesses a couple of Edward Gorey’s digits next to a pair of fingers from a scientific draftsman. One of the three notebooks on display (which you’re thankfully allowed to flip through) contains page after page of carefully labeled protozoa. Gottlieb’s work could just as easily be found on pages of a biology textbook as in a gallery.
And there’s sleight of hand, too. Textbooks aren’t allowed to have Gottlieb’s sense of humor, which lacks even the slightest shade of Gorey’s gothic darkness. Even in “Windowsill Death,” a drawing of an expired fly on its back, tragedy is absent.
When it comes to good art, sometimes late is better than never. In August of last year I wrote about Volume I of Project 35, Independent Curators International (ICI)’s collection of new video works, 35 artists chosen by 35 curators from all over the globe, housed in a small dark room at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. The series offers the chance to witness the great equalizing medium of video and its myriad expressive possibilities as taken up by a spectrum of artists from around the world, all within the confines of a single venue. Last Saturday, I returned to the small dark room at the NCMA just in time to catch the end of Volume II, which closes on Jan. 13. I came away invigorated but challenged, with the distinct sense that I’d been exposed to an array of new modalities of expression.
Daniela Paes Leäs is a Portuguese artist who lives and works in Amsterdam. Her video, "The Freedom to Question" (2008) is a meditation on the politics of hospitality in the relationship between sponsor and sponsored in the arts. It centers on Igor Dobricic, a programming administrator for the European Cultural Foundation and Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk who swapped offices every Wednesday for six months in 2007.
With the exception of a very brief glimpse of them at the start of the piece, the video’s protagonists are represented solely by their words, scrolling texts of their email correspondence. The piece includes occasional voiceover narration by Dobricic and van Heeswijk and by Canadian performer Tabitha Kane, who serves as a surrogate for Leäs, musing on her role as witness/observer. Leäs’s first-person commentaries blur the boundaries between artist and camera (“I” and “eye”) as it wanders through empty sterile office interiors past desks piled high with boxes and papers, gliding over books imprinted with salient words such as “gift,” “guide,” and “dialogues.”
The scrolling texts make it difficult to process the heady terms that are tossed back and forth by the two arts professionals. Phrases such as “Positive disposition of a negative condition (difference)” are challenging enough to parse in the relative stasis of the printed page or computer screen. Trying to manage them as they scroll past, often competing with voiceovers and other soundtrack elements, is close to impossible. The cumulative experience of "The Freedom to Question" becomes by necessity a kind of sonic/ visual abstraction, seeding our psyches with shards of word clusters and concepts that might subtly get us thinking about the dynamics between funder and funded in the arts.
Eschewing the standard video aspect ratio, "Man with Cockerell II" (2004) by New Delhi-based Ranbir Kaleka is framed vertically against a ground of black and comes off as an ink painting of the ocean that has come alive. From the video’s first moment, its stained, distressed surface is activated with rippling waters as a bare-armed man glides into frame grasping a large rooster to his chest. He raises his head just in time to stare directly into the camera as he fades swiftly into the mist. A bell clamors as gulls flap energetically across the top of the frame. Amid further sounds of clanking and crashing, the man reappears in the center of the frame clutching the rooster, which now begins to writhe, destabilizing the man, who stumbles out of frame as the bird escapes. Thus begins the set of binary actions that repeat throughout "Man with Cockerell II," establishing a philosophical construct: sometimes you keep the bird, sometimes you don’t.
The video’s absurdly cacophonous soundtrack, with its uproarious clanking, cranking, creaking and all manner of other madcap sonorities could have been lifted from a Laurel and Hardy film, a somehow perfect foil to the peaceful through-line of Kaleka’s video, which is the continual flow of the waters, eventually brought into welcome sync with actual water sounds toward the end, followed by blissful silence.
In its premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Compliance proved one of the most controversial films there, prompting multiple walkouts in its initial screening. And last month, INDY Week's Neil Morris called it the best film of the year.
The film chronicles a day at a fictional fast-food franchise where the manager (Ann Dowd, who recently received Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review for her role) is called by a police officer (Pat Healy) informing her that a young employee (Dreama Walker from TV’s Don’t Trust the B—— in Apt. 23) has stolen money from a customer and needs to be detained until the cops arrive. Even though audience members are clued in early that the “cop” on the phone is a fake, those on the other end of the line follow through with his demands—which include a strip search and increasingly degrading acts being perpetrated on the hapless cashier.
It sounds far-fetched—until you find out this scenario really did play out more than 70 times in the United States.
“My reaction to hearing the story of the events it’s based on was one of, ‘I’m not one of those people! I would never do that!’” says Zobel in a call to his apartment in New York City.
“But then you start realizing there are times when you just don’t know what you’d do in a situation. There are things that are built into us that in some ways I’m curious about. I don’t think that this is a matter of education or intelligence level, but the relationship to authority that some people have, and how that relationship comes out in people.”
Despite the grim subject matter of Compliance, Zobel says that his cast and crew had a better time making the film than some people have had watching it. “We were certainly not comfortable on set some times, but as creators, we had a different relation to what was going on onscreen — people who make horror movies aren’t scared all day,” Zobel says with a laugh. “We were aiming for an effect, so it wasn’t so much of a situation that was like that of watching the film.
“This was a movie that was really being made by virtue of the fact that all the people involved were interested. We weren’t interested in competing with The Avengers—it was just a group of people who were really interested in this idea. So we wanted to be faithful to the ideas that got us there, and making sure those ideas came across.”
Zobel’s eclectic background includes co-founding the popular Flash animation site Homestarrunner.com, home of such cartoon characters as Strong Bad and Trogdor. After college, he attended UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem with David Gordon Green, and went on to work with him on his films George Washington, filmed in Wilmington, and All the Real Girls, filmed in Asheville (Green, in turn, executive-produced Compliance).
His first feature, The Great World of Sound, was released in 2007 and received warm reviews. Filmed in North Carolina, it told an offbeat story about two hucksters who recruit amateur singers to make demo recordings.
CHAPEL HILL—The word “ambivalence” is usually used to express an emotionless, uncaring state or a kind of personal isolationism. But the term really describes the conflicted state of holding two contrary points of view. Not only can ambivalence be highly expressive, but it’s also the impulse behind any thorough critique.
“Elegance and Extravagance: Japanese Posters from the Merrill C. Berman Collection” comprises 86 posters by 22 artists and spans the 40 years after World War II. You’ll be stunned by the show’s visual variety, which is balanced by its pristine presentation. Though subjects range from advertising to politics to personal expression, and styles recapitulate the entirety of European and American Modernism while drawing on Japanese traditional forms, the immaculate framing makes it all cohere.
One thing that differentiates posters from paintings, or other media more commonly called fine art, is that posters are usually made for a commercial reason. Therefore they’re made on deadline, which might lessen their legitimacy as art objects to some minds. “Elegance and Extravagance,” however, shows several accomplished poster artists using the work pace and formal conventions of their medium to develop a keen sensibility comparable to any master artist.
Steampunk, for those not in the know, is a branch of science fiction that postulates what would have happened if modern or futuristic technology had been created in the past, using the technology and materials available at that time, e.g. steam engines, zeppelins and the like. It’s become a particularly popular subset of science fiction fandom, with many fans creating steampunk-themed outfits and crafts sold online and at shows.
Priest has become one of the most popular authors of steampunk in her “Clockwork Century” series, which began in her award-winning bestseller Boneshaker, about how a massive steam-powered drill unleashes a zombie plague in Civil War-era Seattle.
Priest says that steampunk’s appeal comes from a “perfect storm of pop culture” where people embrace the sense of design and functionality in the old-fashioned technology, as opposed to the sleek, compact style found in Apple-style products. “In that school of design, everything is this sort of pristine, inscrutable box where if you don’t know where to touch it or how to react to it, it might as well be a brick,” Priest says.
“The Victorians, God bless ‘em, thought their technology should be beautiful as well as functional. And we seem to have lost that in the streamlining efforts to make everything look futuristic. I think in one regard, Steampunk is a reaction to that, a way of saying, ‘No, we don’t want something that looks like what everybody else has, that’s flat and inscrutable.’"
So are the fans wearing homemade goggles and railroad pocket watches giving the finger to the iPad?
“I’ll put it this way: If the Victorians made a giant death-ray killing machine, it would look like a giant death-ray killing machine,” Priest says. “It would fill an entire room and have gears and brass and engraving, and would be this enormous, powerful, beautiful-looking thing. If Apple made a giant death ray killing machine, it would look like a button. And I think there’s a sense that something has been lost, and steampunk’s trying to reclaim that a bit.”