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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

By Grier Horner

March 14, 2017




Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved


When the troops of Jin assembled on the banks of the Huaihe River to launch one of their countless battles against the Song Dynasty did they tremble in dread of the Song's gunpowder-fueled rockets, ceramic missles fashioned by the regimes best potters? Would they fall on the soldiers in a rain of terror?




In his show potter Dan Bellow (above) of Great Barrington would have you believe the soldiers did quake in fear. On a wall by his show, Dan has posted the historical background for his beautiful porcelain rockets. The history starts this way:


Song Dynasty Rocketry:

The Untold Story



As a result when they were under attack by the Jin Dynasty, Gaozong moved his dynasty south to get away from his enemies. But it didn't work. They still attacked. His regime was saved, so Bellow's history goes, when Gaozong recognized that gunpowder, invented by the Chinese not long before, would be their salvation. This was the birth of rockets. His best engineers and potters were put to work designing them.



And the Song Dynasty drove away their assailants and lived in peace for years thereafter. All thanks to the ingenuity of Gaozong and his people coming up with weapons like the one below. Dan luckily knew what they looked like based on

a recent gas station excavation that unearthed models of the rockets.





With all this in mind I searched the internet for several hours testing Dan's history against Wikipedia's and the Encyclopedia Britannica's and other sources. (I have to confess a lot of that time was spent reading about his famous father.) I learned a lot about Gaozong and his era but I couldn't find anything on the porcelain rockets. So I emailed Dan.


Could his rockets actually be launched like the emperor's, I asked him


"I wouldn't try it. I want to go on living."


Once you lit the gunpowder, he explained, a ceramic rocket would explode, the material being too weak to handle the pressure.


So much, then, for his history and for the following chunk of it:



After reading that I should have known Dan's history was composed of "alternative facts," as he put it later in the email.


But until the email I bought the story. How could I have been so naive? Come to think of it, I've bought in to fantastic stories before.(See my Oct. 26, 2010 post Anatomy of an Art Scam.)




In a lively discussion are, from left, Dan's daughter Stella, Leslie Anne Beck, the museum's senior communications manager,   Anne Undeland, actress and oral historian, and Olivia Wade, Dan's apprentice.




Dan is the son of the novelist Saul Bellow and Susan Glassman who loved art. Growing up he followed his mother's passion rather than his father's. From fifth grade through college at Wesleyan he loved making pottery.




But when he graduated he told himself he needed a real job. "I became a newspaper reporter."

Landing at the Berkshire Eagle, where I was the associate editor, he became a protege and a good friend.

After the shock of 9/11 in 2001 and of his friend Danny Pearl's murder by terrorists in Pakistan the next year, Dan "decided life was too short not to do what I really wanted."

"I sat back down at the (potter's) wheel and rediscovered my joy," he says in his biography for the show. When you look at his work here in its power and subtle beauty I think you'll agree with me that he made the right decision.

His pottery has enjoyed commercial success and can be found at retailers such as Uncommon Goods and Anthropologie. It has also been sold at galleries and in shops at the Barnes Foundation, Fallingwater, the Santa Barbara Museum,and MASS MoCA

He is a full time porcelain artist and also teaches ceramics at Berkshire Waldorf High School.

"Any time you get paid for making pottery, it's a moral triumph."

His exhibit is at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsield, Massachusetts, through May.




This was taken at the opening for the show.





March 8, 2017


Photos by Grier Horner


Babbie and I look forward every year  to the Berkshire Art Association's exhibit of works by the young artists gives fellowships to. Usually it showcases some serious talents. And that was true this year. One thing, however, changed in this show. For the first time I can recall, some of entries were sexually explicit. I find that refreshing because so much of contemporary art is.



Amelia Dougish, a Williams College senior from California, produced the boldest statement in that direction in the self-portrait above. While she did not invent bathtub art, Dougish tapped the form's sensuous potential for all it's worth, adding to the beauty of the body by capturing the agitation of the water and the folds of the immersed yellow material. Additionally, she didn't let the usual svelt-model imperative of this form stop her. The result is

powerful and self affirming.




This work is by Rebecca Schnopp of Dalton, a senior at Lesley University College of Art and Design. Audacious in its use of long steel pins as public hair, it issues a warning: warning that sex has to be consensual that any Donald Trump on a pussy grabbing expedition will pay the price. Have I got it right? Supply your own interpretations at [email protected]. I'll add them to this post if you give me permission and they aren't to raunchy.


Here are some other pieces the two young women have in the show.




These are Dougish's.









These, of course, are Schnopp's. The one on top is of a cushion that only a holy man could rest his head on. She showed a different banana sculpture in the show. But I found this one on the internet and used it instead for no particularly good reason.


Ms. Schnopp was one of the two students to be awarded the BAA's major prize: the Norman and Rose Avnet Fellowship of $1,000.



The other $1,000 recipient was Eli Shalan of West Stockbridge, a junior at Hampshire College. Below are a row  of his paintings.  






I found this piece fascinating because Shalan used blueprints and specification sheets he found in abandoned mills as the main pieces of the collage.




Wylie Thornquist, a Williams freshman, won my respect with her drawings for passages from the visionary artist William Blake's books. She used his words but came up with her own illustrations like the one below in which she has managed to inhabit his soul.





Erica Wilcoxen, s sophomore at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, exhibited a large drawing that was as arresting as she is. In Coming Apart at the Seams a woman pulls herself apart ,  exposing the words trapped inside her. Whether releasing the words is perilous as in Pandora's box, or praiseworthy, I can't tell because the only word I can read is "joy" and I forgot to ask the artist. I wish I had taken time to decipher the Connecticut artist's writing.




Here's a piece by Halie Smith, a MCLA junior, that I sold short at first. That changed when I noticed that the flowers, stem and leaves are covered with words, perhaps from the Bible. It is another work I wish I had spent more time with.


Smith also pasted lines from the Bible on the case.


"A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life."


The name of Smith's sculpture is Biblical Femininity. The artist is from Spencer, Massachusetts.




This dramatic painting by Jordan Jones, a Williams junior from Mamaroneck, New York, attracted a lot of attention from the gathering at Friday night's reception.


I asked her if the people inside the circular wall were undocumented immigrants. She said they were not but didn't tell me who they are or what they're doing. I told her it's sometimes smart to let people come to their own conclusions about what's going on. Some years ago a woman was going to buy one of my paintings until I told her what it was about. No sale.





These photos document installations by two Williams students. Above is Moss Brenner-Bryant's cool Nude Descending a Stair (Installation after Duchamps). The San Francisco resident is a sophomore. Below is Alexandra Scarangella's installation Pickle Jar. The jar in the title is stored next to the plumbing pipe. You probably can't see it, and the other foodstuffs there, unless you zoom in on the picture. Scarangella is a Williams junior from Harrington Park, New Jersey.







Quinnton Cooper, a Williams sophomore from Ocala, Florida, showed a three sided installation called Gritty Warmth of a Fun Hou

se Mirror.




Cigarettes by Anna Harleen, A Williams junior from San Francisco, catches those Marlboro packages so well you might be tempted to start smoking again. Natalie Bernstein took the great shot below, Dirty Laundry. The Williams senior is from Chicago.




The BAA's fellowship show runs through March 25 at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It is open to the public without charge from 11 to 4 Wednesdays through Saturdays.


If you like bargains, the show is crammed with them. For instance Wilcoxen's Coming Apart at the Seams and Smith's Biblical Femininity are only $75 each. And you can get Ellyn Pier's 10-foot-wide Wings for $250. Wings is shown here and in the photo at the top of this post.








January 24, 2017


Here are 25 photos from the Swamp Series that I've worked on for several years, producing several thousand photographs. A few of these have been printed already and are available in widths ranging from 48" to 104". But any can be printed to your specifications on size and quality.



Outlier, 2017




To Have and Have Not, 2016, 30"x48", mounted on aluminium.




Taking Flight, 2015.




Queen Anne's Lace, 2016





  Strange Light, 2015, 94" wide, printed on heavy vinyl with grommets for hanging.




Red Poppies, 2016, 104" wide, printed on heavy vinyl with grommets.




Druid, 2016




Fishing, 2015




Blues in the Night, 2015





Christa at the Tree, 2015.




Black and Gold, 2016.




Green Water, White Fowl, 2015




Holding Back the Inevitable, 2016.




Autumn Afternoon, 2016.



Blazing Yellow, 2016



Hanging In There, 2017



Lost, 2016, 96" long.




Madonna of the Swamp, 2016.




On the Bridge, 2016.



Surfacing, 2015.



Winter of the Swamp, 2014, printed at 100" wide with grommets.



To Sleep To Dream, 2016




Temptress, 2016







January 11, 2017





Photos by Grier Horner, except where otherwise credited.



Nick Cave's spellbinding show at MASS MoCA is miscast as social commentary.


It's "sumptuous, overwhelming materiality give way to stark images of guns, bullets, and targets, positioning us all as culpable, vulnerable, and potentially under attack," according the the North Adams' museum's literature. Some reviewers take the same tack.


  What I see is joy, beauty, optimism and excess. The first time I went through those glass doors into the gallery I was seized by euphoria. I was ecstatic. It was so beautiful and so unlike anything I had ever seen. It was so big, so bold, so over the top. If nothing else he has demonstrated that more can be more.




This is the view as you enter the 100-yard long gallery.

Thousands of lawn ornaments strung on cables from the ceiling are spinning slowly, a stunning visual effect. If you look you can find plenty of handguns among the ornaments.



In this context they don't seem threatening to me. But I guess they should give me pause. And they certainly have made me think about the show.




The only thing that seemed slightly sinister in the main gallery was the painting of giant cardinals and amazing, oversexed roses on the entry wall.





In an interview with Nicholas Carolan in Grazia, Cave says about his show, "It's a piece that's really grounded in the political climate right now in the States around the endless unarmed black men that have been losing their lives." The show's title, Until, is a play on words of the American standard of jurisprudence - innocent until proven guilty. In this case it's guilty until proven innocent.


If your object as an artist was to protest the killing of black men by police, something like this flag by the artist Dread Scott would serve better. It was on display in July at the Jack Shainman Gallery in Manhattan. (Shainman hailed from Wiliamstown where his late father was a Williams College professor.)



New York Times photo.


But this type of militancy isn't what I should expect from Cave, according to a review by Charles Bonenti in Art New England.

"Cave considers himself a messenger of hope and change, of reconciliation rather than militancy, offering pathways rather than answers," Bonenti writes. That I buy.


Once you wind through the hanging ornaments, you find yourself eying Cave's version of heaven. (See the photo at the top of this post.)



What's heaven got to do with it?



"In conceiving the show, he asked himself whether racism exists in heaven and explores that proposition in a theatrical way, pitting buoyant sparkle and cozy nostalgia against the oppressive weight of prejudice," Bonenti writes.



Climbing the ladders to the 18-foot-high observation platform, you are confronted with the answer. There in the midst of gilded pigs and all sorts of stuff is a black lawn jockey, long considered a symbol of racism. The last one I saw was years ago in Lanesborough. There is at least one at the top of every ladder. Each is holding a badminton racket with loose netting. In this guise the rackets are called dream catchers.





An aside: MoCA's giant gallery must be one of the most beautiful in the world, graced by the light from dozens of windows.




These hand-beaded tents or peaks are on the far wall of the gallery and lead into a wild four-wall video that I didn't understand but found fascinating. I had a hard time keeping my balance because of the projection of small waves moving over the floor.





On the mezzane above this are my granddaughter Riley and her boyfriend Jon, works of art in their own right.







 MASS MoCA photo.


The show will be up through September. Denise Marconish was the curator of Until, which was more than three years in the making. She challenged Cave not to use the Soundsuits that had brought him fame in the art world. The way he responded created the best show in the big gallery since Xu Bing's magnificent 12-ton birds flew there in 2013.


"We're seeing exceptional attendence and we're thrilled," Jodi Joseph, MASS MoCA's communication director, said today. When I asked what that translates to in numbers she said they don't release figures on individual shows.


I can attest that attendance is brisk. I went twice during the recent school vacation and both times had a hard time finding a parking space in the museum lot. Once I had to park in the municipal lot across the street and was lucky to find one there


Joseph said the attendence is a great lead-in to MoCA's Memorial Day weekend when it opens its new galleries. Now nearing completion they will double the exhibitioin space of a museum already formidable in size and scope.




Harper's Bazaar photo



Oh, in case you aren't familiar with them, here's one of Cave's Soundsuits, which come in infinite variety. Until is open through September.









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