June 2011

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My show opened last Friday, and the next morning I left for several days of giving my eyes a little R&R. Which really means letting them look without a job or a deadline. It was luscious, and they loved this little road trip.

So what follows is (mostly) a visual diary of the last four days. Hope you find some of these images compelling too.

From the Met Museum:

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The natural light in the Greek galleries at the Met draws me to those rooms every time I go to the museum. What used to be a crowded cafeteria is now a feast of light on sculpted bodies and drapery.

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The Richard Serra show of drawings is typically Serra-strong, full of that fierce and unwavering intentionality that infuses all his work. Some of the pieces are delicate and more subtle than you might expect, but there is also some massive oilsticked wall pieces that have a texture that reads like tar. What’s not to love? (Some of these large scale oilsticked pieces are on display at Dia:Beacon as well.)

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Biggest surprise: The Alexander McQueen exhibit, Savage Beauty. I had several artist friends who told me to see it but I factored that recommendation down given my general disinterest in fashion. So let me be clear for anyone visiting New York any time between now and August 7th: This is NOT a fashion exhibit. The visuality will stun you, the creativity leave you incredulous. Be warned, the lines to get in snake all the way across the museum’s second floor. (If there was ever a time to become a member of the Met so you can walk right in, this would be it.)

From the MOMA:

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A close up of Arman’s “I Still Use Brushes” which I can’t help but love

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Jennifer Bartlett’s first show at Paula Cooper Gallery happened around the time I first arrived in Manhattan in the 70s, and her work still intrigues me. It is enigmatic, quirky and yet friendly.

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“I Am Still Alive: Politics and Everyday Life in Contemporary Drawing.”
From the show description: “In 1970, Japanese artist On Kawara sent a series of telegrams to his Dutch gallerist that proclaimed, “I am still alive.” The simplicity of the message, coupled with the austerity of the medium, creates the ambivalent impression of a profound truth expressed in almost immaterial form. This exhibition brings together works from the 1950s to today that exemplify such expressions of a personal existence in the world with decidedly conceptual, ephemeral, even opaque means.”

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León Ferrari’s work is so lushly retinal. His work is a perpetual joy to encounter.

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Paul Edmond’s woodcut, with a close up view

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Jim Hodges’ napkin art

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Kerry James Marshall

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Cy Twombly, in both 2 and 3D

From Dia:Beacon:

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Sunlight through the torqued metal of Serra’s massive sculptures, plus a view of the mottled surface

From the Katonah Museum:

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Stephen Talasnik’s pencil and ink drawing

From the New York Botanical Garden:

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Always a magical place.

Last but not least: What a weekend for Pride! Just hours earlier—late Friday night—New York State legalized same-sex marriage. The celebrating was happening everywhere.

My show at Lyman-Eyer Gallery opened on Friday. The work was hung beautifully, and the opening was an evening of old and new friends. Now I’m headed out of town for a few days, back on Wednesday.

A few installation shots:

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Jim Lyman, gallerist at Lyman-Eyer Gallery in Provincetown, getting help hanging “Golawon” from Stephanie Hobart

I have a friend who can paint a complete show over a summer and still have lots of time to go to the beach and hang out with her pals. I’ve always been a bit envious of her art making sprezzatura—that great Italian word for effortless effort—because that is not my way. Getting ready for a show is a heads down affair, hermitizing in my personal rag and bone shop in South Boston. But that isolation and blinders on focus phase is over. This week the work was delivered to Lyman-Eyer Gallery, the show is hung (it looks spectacular—thanks Jim!) and opens on Friday.

As is often the case, the parallels and metaphors appear. For the last few months I watched as the vines near my studio wall that disappear during our long Boston winters came back into their fullness with reckless abandon. The yard next door is now freshly abandoned by a previous tenant so the matrix of vines and leaves was unobstructed for the first time in years. The day I delivered the show was the same day the landlord chose to rescue the building from death by vining. Ah yes. I get it. Time to move on, to bring a sense of balance to life. But not without first saying thanks to the fecundity that wrapped me all spring.

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Aby Warburg, unconventional and still controversial art historian all these years later, made a trip to the Black Mesa in Arizona in 1896 and encountered the Hopi Indians. An expert on Florentine Renaissance art, he had his aha moment in realizing how similar the highly ritualized Hopi dances were to the elaborate court festivals held in Renaissance Italy, the intermedi. He spent much of his career exploring that essential insight (which was particularly challenging as he struggled with bouts of mental illness.)

Reading Warburg’s response to the Hopi dances brings up thoughts about ritual and pageantry in general. I have very little of it in my life, mostly by design. (I’m an artist who is more comfortable in the hermit’s cave than at a gala.) As close as I usually get is watching the HBO series Treme which has lovingly explored the extraordinarily ritualized and visually spectacular Mardi Gras traditions ranging from the Mardi Gras Indians to the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club to the Cajun Mardi Gras. (Just love that series.)

But there are exceptions to my ritual-free life of course, and this weekend was one of them. Joining the throng of a million or more yellow and black jerseyed fans—wildly cheering the slow moving phalanx of clunky amphibious duck boats festooned with waving young men and spewing confetti with abandon—is a ritual I never miss. Between the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins, Boston has been staging its own version of the highly ritualized intermedi pretty regularly over the last decade. Everyone knows the route, the best places to stand, what to wear, who to watch for, when to squeal. Everyone can come and everyone does. On this particular Saturday in June we did it again for a sport played on ice mostly by Canadians. But they are OUR Canadians, and the 39 year wait for another Bruins victory is finally over.

Now, back to the solitude and quiet of my studio.

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Markings on wood, from the African art collection at the Brooklyn Museum: Beautifully ambiguous

Poems, poets and poetry provide a parallel universe that sometimes helps make a little more sense of my own huddled world of paintings, painters and art. A good example is this excerpt from an essay by Joel Brouwer that appeared on Poetry Foundation, In Praise of Promiscuous Thinking: On Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems and David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless:

I understand the impulse to talk about poems. Poems are objects in the world. They appear on bus kiosks, in magazines, on makeshift stages in coffee shops, at weddings, in classrooms. They exist, like raccoons. We see or hear them. It’s natural to want to talk about our impressions of them, and what they’re up to. “This poem is confusing me.” “That’s one big damn raccoon.”

It’s harder to talk about poetry. Poetry is a subject, not an object. You can’t see poetry; you can only see poems. Poems are poetry like raccoons are nature. It isn’t nature that’s made a nest in your attic and given birth to four more mewling natures, batting their little black claws at the air. Poems, not poetry, have baffled you, or made you laugh, or reminded you that, in the words of Holderlin, “The flock of swallows that circles the steeple / Flies there each day through the same blue air / That carries their cries from me to you.” I have over time developed some methods for talking about what a poem is doing. I have no idea what poetry is doing.

Subject and object. Racoons and nature. This is really good.

Brouwer continues in a direction that continues to speak to me:

I don’t need Bernstein’s or Orr’s critical positions to be correct or incorrect—–I don’t need them at all—–but I want them to be…oh, let’s say “lovable.” (I choose the term in part because it’s embarrassing, vague, and dorky; criticism marked by cool, clear confidence is exactly what I’m trying to discredit.) By a lovable criticism, I mean a criticism that allows space for its readers’ imaginations without compromising its own convictions; which ventures its ideas rather than asserting them; which would rather start a conversation than end one; which not only speaks but also listens; which admits and embraces uncertainties. A lovable criticism is a criticism willing to make itself vulnerable, willing even to embarrass itself.

And are these books by Bernstein and Orr lovable? They are. Each ends with passages I find strange, ambiguous, and open to interpretation, and so, to my mind, lovable. Indeed, the extent to which each book’s closing contradictions can be engaged but not resolved is precisely the extent to which each is lovable.

What is “strange, ambiguous and open to interpretation”—that’s a credo I can live with. And by.

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Our minds and eyes are editing and practicing selective neglect on a daily basis, so what each of us sees creates our customized version of reality. One of the most stimulating aspects of traveling to a new venue is watching that process happen with fresh material.

My visit to California was full of that selective viewing, of letting the serendipitous take the lead. It is a kind of surrender that produces amazing and unexpected results.

This last week ended up feeling like a beautifully matched double narrative, of two tracks that intertwine and become a reinforcing loop. The visual art that moved me most was reflected in the nature that moved me most, mirroring my aesthetic proclivities and selective viewing. And it was lush.

A few examples:

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A close up of Tony Orrico’s large scale drawing

Tony Orrico’s show at Shoshana Wayne Gallery at Bergamot Station found consonance with the wind-molded, moss covered tangle of trees at Point Lobos near Monterey.

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A section of a piece from the Drill series by Markus Linnenbrink

Markus Linnenbrink’s 2D/3D piece hanging at the San Jose Museum of Art was reminiscent of the underwater fauna that fills the Monterey Aquarium.

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Petals floating on water from a show of large scale photographs by Ori Gersht

Subtle but moving show of evocative photographs by Ori Gersht at Angles Gallery in Culver City was in keeping with a Los Angeles full of flowering jacaranda trees. Exquisite lavender colored blossoms can be seen everywhere you turn.

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Virginia Katz’s pieces feel like a blending of the polished surface of marble combined with topographic mapping.


The view from Pacheco State Park looking toward Los Banos


Rocks along the coast at Big Sur

Virginia Katz’s meditative pieces at Ruth Bachofner speak to the California landscape viewed in the vertical.

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But the best experience of the week was not just visual but serendipitous on so many levels. While walking along La Cienaga to visit the galleries in Culver City, a stranger asked me if my name was Deborah Barlow. The man on the street was Tim Rice, a painter from Berkeley who is also a reader of this blog. He recognized me from my photo on the About page. We quickly launched into a conversation that quickly established a shared set of interests and points of view. It was like finding a member of your very personal tribe in the least expected place. Meeting him like that was just too good and so unexpected.

But the magic of it all only intensified when I visited his website when I returned home today. It was filled with exquisite, evocative, lyrical paintings, paintings that spoke directly to the spell that was cast for me from viewing the underwater landscapes at the Monterey Aquarium. While not meaning to draw direct analogies, there is something so deeply resonant in the way light plays in Tim’s work and the sense of wonder that most of us have in viewing life under water.

I’m still reveling in all of it.


Inference (8) by Tim Rice (photo: Tim Rice)


Flow, by Tim Rice (photo: Tim Rice)


Written Somewhere, by Tim Rice (photo: Tim Rice)

A suite of images from the Monterey Aquarium:

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Latin American art from the Brooklyn Museum. Finger puppets!

I’m in California for a week. I will return on June 12.


“System 4, Hummingbird”, by Richard Tuttle

Notes from a few days in New York City: Richard Tuttle’s current show at Pace Gallery, What’s the Wind, consists of significantly larger scale works than his show at Sperone Westwater in June of 2007. (I wrote about it here.) Intimate and miniaturized, the wall pieces have now been scaled out into spacious floor pieces that stand face to face with the viewer. The hunkered down, focused viewing that his smaller works demand is not at play with these pieces. They are more conversational, more brazenly self-satisfied. The unexpected materials, the infinitely resourceful juxtapositions, the fresh view of common objects—all aspects that have come to signify Tuttle’s work—are at play in these pieces. But as any artist knows, scale shifts everything. The experience of these pieces is very different, and some of my companions were not enamored by these large and somewhat gawkish works. But if you have been Tuttled and already laid claim to his vision as one you respect and respond to—as I have—then these pieces are just more of his inimitable visual language.


“System 1, Cheap Face”


As a point of contrast: Tuttle’s last show at Sperone Westwater in 2007: Micro-sized wall pieces

Also on view—and another example of a shift in scale—is Louise Bourgeois at Cheim & Read. This show, The Fabric Works, presents the soft, delicate underbelly of a artist better known for her muscular and often aggressive sculptures. These exist in another time continuum from the one that holds her 30 foot high, predatory spider sculpture “Maman”. These delicately stitched, hand assembled miniatures are quiet, meditative, almost relishing their passivity. But experiencing this more tender, patient, pliant side of the feisty Bourgeois are a viewfinder into an artist of intense complexity, one who was multifaceted and relentlessly expressive.


Small-sized intimacy from Louise Bourgeois

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Golawon, mixed media on linen, 54 x 72″

A show of my new work opens this month at Lyman-Eyer Gallery in Provincetown. In that mysterious way that work emerges, these latest pieces began with some of my signatory themes and then headed off in a whole new direction. Form, color, surface and size have all taken surprising turns. It has been a few years since I was working in the 6 foot range, and returning to larger formats feels satisfying. It requires you to transition from the wrist and elbow moving across the surface to the whole body making the gesture.

If you are going to be anywhere on the Cape later this month, I hope you will stop in. And if you are not on my mailing list and would like to be, send me your snail mail via email (dbarlow@gmail.com).

New Paintings by Deborah Barlow
June 24 – July 6
Artist reception: Friday June 24, 7-9pm

Lyman-Eyer Gallery
432 Commercial Street
Provincetown MA 02657
508 487 3937