Breaking Through the Darkness

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In this era of COVID-19, time appears to be standing still or ticking in slow motion. With everyone waiting for things to reopen, there seems to be a blurring of past, present and future. What was it like before this crisis? What will it be like thereafter? Will it ever be the same…and do we even want it to be?

Despite valiant efforts by artists, galleries and museums to keep us engaged virtually during this period of isolation, there’s nothing like stepping into an art filled space to soak up a much needed dose of real life creative energy. For art enthusiasts eager to get back into museums and galleries, there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.

A few art spaces are beginning to open their doors, and even though international art travel will no doubt be limited for some time to come, it is heartening to see embers of life beginning to glow again. One such real world place is Galerie Quynh in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. On Thursday, May 28, 2020, Galerie Quynh opens “Lunar Breccia,” a group exhibition featuring new and previously unseen works by Hoang Duong Cam, Sandrine Llouquet, Keen Souhlal, Vo Tran Chau, Do Thanh Lang, Hoang Nam Viet and Nghia Dang.

This is a noteworthy opening, not only for its timing, but also for the gallery’s contextualization of space and time itself. Bringing together fragments of Vietnam’s vibrant contemporary art scene, Galerie Quynh – as the title “Lunar Breccia” suggests – fuses together a collection of unique and extraordinary works like a “motley of angular rocks floating in suspension” before the artists continue on their individual orbital paths towards meteoric rise or oblivion. “In the shift away from linear timelines towards explorations of non-chronology, the exhibition and its artworks offer entry to heterotopia – a space that concurrently exists in time yet outside of time, both mirroring yet upsetting what occurs beyond its boundaries,” Quynh says. It’s a perfect metaphor for our current moment where artists and society at large are yearning to break free.

If past informs the present, gallery owner Quynh Pham brings together the best contemporary artists Vietnam has to offer, setting Galerie Quynh apart from the many tourist galleries with their ubiquitous lacquer paintings, portraits of monks and local landscapes, as beautiful as they are. Quynh returned to Vietnam from San Diego, California in 1997 where she was raised and studied art history and criticism, opening Galerie Quynh in 2003, an acclaimed contemporary art space in Saigon’s historic Dakao district, and a frequent participant in international art fairs. Her story was featured in a PBS News Hour segment in 2016 about the evolving new economy in Vietnam (see video below). She has been an active part of Vietnam’s cultural scene, which has benefitted from that economic development, spearheading non-profit and educational initiatives.

As we move beyond the COVID-19 crisis, only time will tell how much of our previous lives and experiences will return to their old trajectories. We can only hope that the creative leadership exemplified by Quynh endures, and that the artists Quynh supports break through to a future of their own making.

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Enduring the Shutdown

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In the n-th week of the corona shutdown, you finally get around to the projects that have been pushed aside and neglected for too long. Organizing papers and photo albums,  cleaning out the files and updating the blogs that have been left unattended. Reaching out to friends you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. Sorry about that.

It’s also a good time to quiet the mind and think. That’s not easy when you are constantly inundated with emails, phone calls and invitations to zoom. Your inbox is probably full of newsletters pitching the latest virtual museum or gallery visit, online concerts and livestream events. No doubt these are all enticing opportunities in their own right:

Nightly Met Opera Streams (for free!)

Friday Night Whitney Screens – Video Art from Emerging Artists

Lunchtime Playlists and Home Ballet Workshops from the Lincoln Center

At a time when you have too much time on your hands, it’s easy to fall prey to the never ending drum of attention seekers. After all, that’s who we are. So when you are finished with this blog post, that video stream, the online art class, take some time to listen to your own inner voice. Tune out the distractions and find the space and time to quiet your mind. Picture your favorite place, or artwork, or character from the book you are reading in your mind’s eye. Close your eyes and let the images take you on a journey. Enjoy that moment. When you open your eyes, you may find that the space around you just got a little bit bigger, your world a little better and your patience a little bit greater.

When you return to the world full of distraction, it’s worth remembering as well that the artists whose creation we enjoy are living through their own challenging times. With museums and galleries closed, exhibitions cancelled and creative energy confined to the four walls of a studio, artists need our continued encouragement and support. If you saw an artwork you liked on your last gallery tour, reach out to the gallery or artist and let them know you are interested. Buy art if you can. Support artists in other ways as well. Let them know you care. In the weeks ahead, Project Art Lounge will be thinking of new ways to support artists. That is our passion and mission.

 

The Tree of Life

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Eleven years and 4800 miles apart, Jurgen Bey’s Treetrunk Bench and High Table have welcomed us to sit a while and remember where we come from and where we are going. Trees have that enduring quality about them. From a wedding reception in 2008 at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany to Atlanta’s High Museum in 2019 these spaces of respite and conversation have come a long way. With a mind to the ubiquitous nature of the fallen tree, Bey actually only sells the chair backs and table tops. The tree trunks are locally sourced. It’s an apt reminder that we bring to any artwork our own sensibilities and interpretations. The canvas (or log) is as much a reflection of the recipient’s creative energy and potential as it is of the artist’s vision and message. It’s the dialogue that keeps art and all of us alive.

Natural Energy

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As a purveyor of contemporary art, Project Art Lounge often highlights emergent artists of our time, with a focus on art that goes beyond the literal to a more abstract or conceptual narrative. Occasionally, however, we happen upon a museum or gallery with a more traditional focus that captures our interest. Sometimes it’s the juxtaposition of established and emerging artists, which calls us to attention. Such was the case during a Labor Day visit to the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan.

Large scale works by contemporary Korean artist, Lee Sung Keun, were presented together with a smaller retrospective of works by master painter Armand Merizon, Michigan’s own “painter’s painter.”

Lee’s exhibition entitled “Interconnected” filled the main gallery with suspended structures of organic forms and color, some mounted on the walls and others hanging from the ceilings, casting shadows as integral to the visual experience as the artworks themselves. According to the museum’s literature, “building a bridge between man and nature, Lee’s work is a perfect illustration of the concept of vital energy (Qi), which is omnipresent in the artistic culture of Eastern Asia.” The exhibition, which originated at the Waterfall Mansion and Gallery in New York City, is on display at the Dennos Museum from June 9, 2019 through September 22, 2019.

Whether by intention or happenstance, Dennos curators juxtaposed a retrospective of Armand Merizon’s work directly adjacent to Lee’s “Interconnected” – creating an interesting interplay with Merizon’s nature filled landscapes and evocative portraits of man living in and shaping the natural world of Michigan’s farms and small towns. The exhibition “ARMAND MERIZON: HIS LIFE AND ART” pulls together a diverse cross section of paintings by the Michigan painter and teacher, who died in 2010. Influenced by Dutch masters and contemporary artists alike, the Merizon exhibition includes both classical rural landscapes, nostalgic period pieces and abstract compositions with the color and vibe that seemingly harness the energy of Lee’s neighboring exhibition.

For a museum located far from the bustling art scenes of New York and Seoul, it was a welcome and unexpected delight to see these two exhibitions of local and international acclaim together. Whether it is the vivid energy that each of these artists embody or the “symbiotic unity” that both exhibitions claim for themselves and with each other, the Dennos Museum presents a well of creative energy and “Qi” in the otherwise placid surrounds of Northwestern Michigan.

 

 

 

Take an Artist to Lunch

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Dean was a humorous, good natured man. He was a humble person, full of kindness. Most of all, he was a generous soul, sharing an endless supply of wisdom and curiosity. In his final wishes he asked not for flowers on his grave, but to give generously to the Library for the Blind and to the local bus drivers, who shuttled him to town when he could no longer drive himself. And if those causes strike a chord, Dean and his wife suggest an alternative: “Simply invite a friend to lunch!” That’s Dean, friends would say.

Sharing lunch and a conversation is more than passing idle time before continuing on with the day’s routine. It’s about making something meaningful out of the ordinary. Dean knew this to be true. Extraordinary ideas come from the musings of ordinary people doing ordinary things – just ask the startup entrepreneurs who made their first plans over pizza and a beer. Or think about the great works of artists and musicians, conceived in European cafes and brasseries. Whether in business or artistry, the valuable time in-between spurts of productivity is worthy of appreciation.

The myth of the starving artist is unfortunately no myth at all. Forced to choose between art supplies and dinner, many artists are fueled by creativity alone. Hardship or adversity can have the unintended consequence of nurturing greatness, but so can affordable studio space, good food and the occasional glass of wine among friends.

History books and travel guides from Key West to Paris are full of stories about intimate artist haunts, where painters, writers and philosophers gathered to converse with one another. Except for the occasional patron or benefactor (watch the film about famed art addict Peggy Guggenheim here), these were places of artistic retreat, not social inclusion.

It is time that we cast our net of curiosity wider, including people in our lives who think differently, creatively, inspiringly. Whether it’s a new neighbor, a colleague you met at the corporate offsite, or a person standing next to you in the check-out line, our lives are impacted by them. For better (a helping hand) or for worse (someone just standing in the way), your perspective will likely be shaped by unknown souls who surround you. It is far too human to look away and focus only on selfish needs and wants, but wouldn’t it be nice to just say “hi, how are you?” or even better, “can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

The artistic practice of Lee Mingwei is steeped in conversation and reflection about connections between strangers. In 2014, a solo exhibition of Mingwei’s relational art was on display at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. It included a version of his “Living Room” project originally conceived for the Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In both editions, visitors were invited to spend time in a living room created by Mingwei, reflecting about objects in their lives and sharing their meaning with others. Strangers were even invited to host an afternoon in the living room, sharing their own stories with museum visitors. The point wasn’t to entertain or to celebrate the objects on display, but to create a sense of  connection, an opportunity to reflect and learn about oneself through the rather ordinary act of human interaction.

In the spirit of that simple goal, and in honor of what would be Dean’s 90th birthday, Project Art Lounge is embarking on a bold new project, the “Take an Artist to Lunch” project. We’ll even throw in a few questions as ice breakers. To keep it genuine, there won’t be a film crew or microphones to ruin your appetite, just an opportunity to learn about one another and, hopefully, about oneself in the process.

Our hope is that what begins with a rather ordinary experience at the lunch counter, will provide inspiration and a sense of connectedness going forward. For details and information on how to participate, please respond below, indicating your city and whether you are an artist or would like to be a guest host.*

*Thank you for your interest in participating – the “Take an Artist to Lunch” project. Registration is finished for now. We’ll be back soon with more opportunities to support artists. Nothing stops you from reaching out to or hosting an artists in your community.
So please continue your support!

 

White Hype

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More than 50 years after the The Beatles double album debuted, artist Rutherford Chang is keeping the White Hype alive with his show “We Buy White Albums”. Chang’s collection of 2,295 copies of the “White Album” will be part of Hyper! A Journey into Art and Music at the Deichtorhallen from March 1 – August 4. If you are in Germany, it’s worth a visit.

That’s 927 more albums than when we last checked in with him in 2017 in Tokyo. If you’d like to listen to his remix and help him grow his collection to over 1000, archiving your copy of the White Album through Chang’s artwork, visit the show or contact him through his instagram page.

Make Art Great Again

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Watergate, Irangate, Pizzagate. Political scandals and conspiracies abound with disturbing frequency of late and they often become legendary beyond the history books. Their intrusion into art, music and theater drags these plots through the filter of creative criticism and thrusts them back again into mainstream pop-culture in the form of t-shirts and viral memes. In the end, the result can serve to accentuate or obfuscate the underlying truths. The outcomes can help us learn and move past scandal or they can be a painful reminder of our failure to deal with them in the first place.

In the exhibition “Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy,” The Met Breuer delivers a wide-ranging review of scandal inspired artworks from 1969-2016, an intriguing “archaeology of our troubled times.” Thirty artists present their own unique fact finding missions through photography, paintings, drawings and videos. Whether through Jenny Holzer’s infamous symbolic narrative, Hans Haacke’s weaponization of alternative facts or the truth telling of the Black Panthers Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas, these artists show their disdain for the public corporatist propaganda machine and demonstrate their ability to battle corruption, bureaucracy, and the media with a touch of their own medicine.

Particularly compelling are the works of Trevor Paglen, whose mid-career survey last year at the National Portrait Gallery was an incredible show of force, shining a bright light on government secrecy within the hallowed halls of the very public institution dedicated to revering the Presidents and most powerful of lawmakers.

A lasting legacy of this exhibition, and perhaps its most urgent call to action, is that truth is not always self-evident. To move beyond scandal and conspiracy, we must look squarely at the competing visions of the past and future and attempt to learn from them in the present. If we do not, our museums, galleries and pop-culture will be filled with red M.A.G.A hats, yellow shocks of hair and “fake news” conspiracies for years to come – a scandalous prospect to say the least.