PUBLIC MURALS, PUBLIC CONTROVERSY
For some reason, public murals seem to be getting people’s hackles up lately. In Washington, D.C., a controversy has erupted around a mural by artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer in the city’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. The work was installed in May at the corner of 1st & W Streets, on the side of the home of collector Veronica Jackson, and was funded by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH). Titled Boxer Girl, it depicts a young African-American woman with boxing gloves and a yellow tank top, with a multicolored starburst behind her. According to Thalhammer, the image comes from a series of "boxer girl" drawings created while participating in a mentorship program at DC’s nonprofit Transformer space, and is about "the empowerment of women, the relationship between self esteem and athletics and the beauty within each individual’s personal struggle and journey."
In her account, Thalhammer says that she "directly interacted with approximately 200 people during the five days that it took me paint the wall," and that her hope was that the image "brightens the neighborhood." Since the installation, however, some of these residents have very vociferously decried the mural as a blight, objecting that it is bad art and too "ghetto" for the area, according to DCist (comments on another site leave no doubt about what this means: "Maybe we should add some empty beer cans, cognac bottles, take-out Styrofoam food containers, a few crack bags and maybe some dog crap to really enhance the ‘ghetto' effect the ‘artist’ was looking for," says one, anonymous, poster).
The clamor forced a neighborhood meeting of the Bloomingdale Civic Association on Oct. 19 to discuss Boxer Girl, with residents demanding that the work be torn down. Nothing came from this meeting, however, with members of the DCCAH saying that they had no procedure for reversing projects that were already funded. "Someone had actually asked police to see if it caused an increase in crime," a local blog reported. "They said there has been a 55 percent decrease."
Meanwhile, Plant City, Fla. is dealing with an even more absurd mural-based controversy. The city council has voted 4-1 to ban all new outdoor painting in the city’s historical downtown following an uproar over a case of unintentional phallic imagery in a mural on the side of an antiques store. The offending work , by the team known as Dr. Brothers (David Rothman, Blake Emory and James Emory), depicted an elderly couple sitting across from one another, and was a tribute to a work by Norman Rockwell. In the mural, a misplaced armrest apparently looked suspiciously like a "male sex organ" (for some reason, local papers refuse to use the word "penis").
The offending area was retouched by the artists immediately, but this was not enough to save Plant City’s mural program. Commissioner Mike Sparkman declared "We have an obligation to protect our kids, or citizens, and this community from things that are not of our character, and things we do not want in our community. To think we could allow this kind of trash is ludicrous." Sparkman presented a photo of the un-retouched version of the mural to the hearings where the outdoor painting ban was decided. Edward Haynes, owner of the antiques store that hosted the Dr. Brothers work, told the Plant City Courier & Tribune, "If I thought there was anything indecent or immoral in the mural I would have painted over it myself," adding, "I'm all for decency. I have a family too. But let's not get so upset and misplace our energy when it is needed elsewhere."
"ORIGINS OF EL GRECO" AT ONASSIS CENTER
The Onassis Cultural Center in Olympic Tower at 645 Fifth Avenue, near St. Patrick’s Cathedral, has established itself in its short 10-year history as a go-to place for sophisticated and exotic art exhibitions. Next on the center’s show schedule is "The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete," Nov. 17, 2009-Feb. 27, 2010. The show boasts more than 40 paintings, including some early works by El Greco, that trace Byzantine and Renaissance influences on the workshops of 15th- and 16th-century Crete, where El Greco was trained. The show features a group of 11 icons from the St. Catherine of Sinai Monastery in Heraklion, four icons from the State Hermitage Museum, and El Greco’s early The Dormition of the Virgin from a church in Ermoupolis, all making rare if not first appearances outside of their native countries. The exhibition is organized by Anastasia Drandaki, curator of the Byzantine Collection at the Benaki Museum in Athens, and is funded by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (established by the shipping magnate’s will). Admission is free. For more info, see www.onassisusa.org
BRAZILIAN CONSTRUCTIVISM TO EUROPE
It’s the museum world’s version of a love triangle: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is sending its famous Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art to the Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich this fall. "Dimensions of Constructive Art in Brazil," Nov. 19, 2009-Feb. 21, 2010, marks the first time that this particular trove of post-World War II Brazilian geometric abstract art has been seen in Europe. The collection was put together by the São Paulo-born collector Adolpho Leirner (b. 1935) and acquired by the MFAH in 2007; it includes works by Cícero Dias (1907-2003), Samson Flexor (1907-1971), Waldemar Cordeiro (1925-1973), Mauricio Nogueira Lima, the brothers César (b. 1939), Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), Lygia Pape (1929-2004), Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), Mira Schendel (1919-1988), and Sergio Camargo (1930-1990), among others. Now, can we have it in New York City, please?
GAINSBOROUGH IN NEW YORK
Art aficionados are rushing to the venerable Frick Collection in New York to see the reinstallation of the galleries there. The Dining Room has been reinstalled in the spirit of Henry Clay Frick’s original conceit, as an interior dominated by British full-length portraits of female sitters, and now features five works by Thomas Gainsborough, the most concentrated presentation of the artist’s works in the city. In the Frick’s East Gallery, the brown velvet wall covering is replaced with a soft coral textile (thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah M. Bogert). And the West Galley now boasts a pair of 15th-century panel paintings, depicting scenes from the myth of "Jason and the Golden Fleece," on loan from the Mari-Cha Collection. The Frick is open Tuesday through Sunday; admission is $18, except for "pay as you wish" on Sundays from 11 am to 1 pm.
CURATORIAL LEADERSHIP FELLOWS, 2010
Former Brooklyn Museum curator Elizabeth Easton’s Center for Curatorial Leadership (CCL), launched in 2008 with Museum of Modern Art patron Agnes Gund and designed to give participants an intensive study in management skills at Columbia Business School, has announced its fellows for 2010. The program, which begins next January, includes consultation with museum directors, administrators and trustees as well; all costs are paid by the CCL.
Participants this year include Christophe Cherix (curator, prints and illustrated books, Museum of Modern Art), Deborah Cullen (director of curatorial programs, El Museo del Barrio), Malcolm Daniel (curator, photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Kristina van Dyke (associate curator, Menil Collection), Kathleen Forde (curator of time-based visual arts, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Troy, N.Y.), Alison de Lima Greene (curator, contemporary art & special projects, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), Frederick Ilchman (curator, paintings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Chiyo Ishikawa (curator, European paintings and sculpture, Seattle Art Museum), Alisa LaGamma (curator, arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, Metropolitan Museum), Lisa E. Rotondo-McCord (curator, Asian art, New Orleans Museum of Art) and Trevor Schoonmaker (curator, contemporary art, Nasher Museum at Duke University), Stephen Wolohojian (curator of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, Harvard Art Museum/Fogg).YVONNE THOMAS MEMORIAL SHOW AT RICH PERLOW
Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery in the Fuller Building in Manhattan is devoting its next exhibition to Yvonne Thomas (1913-2009), the modernist painter who studied with Hans Hofmann and was a part of the Abstract Expressionist circle in New York, exhibiting at the Stable Gallery, Tanager, Zabriskie, Betty Parsons and Xavier Fourcade over a long career. "Yvonne Thomas (1913-2009), Memorial Exhibition: Paintings 1950s and 1960s," Oct. 29-Dec. 10, 2009, features at least 15 of her "luminous, color-drenched canvases of abstract landscapes." "Color can have an intrinsic metaphoric quality," Thomas said. "Not only is it perceptual but it has certain cultural meaning as well."