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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

By Grier Horner

May 29, 2017



This is a Building Six installation by James Turrell, an artist with a visiion so large he has tunnelled into an extinct volcano to capture a magic , celestial light show. Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved


MASS MoCA in North Adams opened its huge Building Six yesterday with scores of visitors flocking to the $65.4 million space that not only doubles the size of the visual and performing arts Mecca but expands director Joe Thompson's quest to expand MoCA's semi-permanent exhibits by providing big spaces for big names like James Turrell, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer and Laurie Anderson.


This follows the approach he used several years ago a deal with Yale to to turn one of the MoCA buildings into what I believe is the world's largest Sol LeWitt display. It will be there 25 years and is a real crowd pleaser. Then Thompson and the Hall Art Foundation make a deal to build a separate building to house massive works by Anselm Kieffer, the great German artist. That's good for at least 15 years.


With Building Six Thompson has broadened this concept, striking multi-year agreements with Turrell, Holzer and Anderson as well as the estates of Rauschenberg and Bourgeois. The advantage for MoCA is that it has big-time art for years without the tremendous expense of buying it. At the same time MoCA will keep mounting its short-term shows, again without buying the art.



At the same time Building Six should elevate the stature of several younger, lesser-known artists like Joe Wardwell, above, who gets one long, long wall ( most of it out of view in this shot ), and Dawn Dedeaux, who shares a dazzling exhibition with Lonnie Holley, who makes art out of trash and sings songs whose lyrics are unscripted.



These bones were assembled by Jennie Holzer, who lives in Hoosick Falls, NY, and dedicates her Building Six space to redacted government communications documenting the torture our forces and agents committed under the name of "enhanced interrogation techniques" at the height of the Iraq war.



Holzer groups her paintings of the documents together in what I call a wall of shame. What we did to prisoners under the Bush administration makes for hard reading. In her piece below, the lighted words tell the story as the message spins. For a month Holzer also has lines her words in large white letters scrolling on the River Street wall of the museum.





This suspended sculpture "The Couple" is by Louise Bourgeois. You can see the heads, feet and an occasional hand of this couple so beautiful and so wrapped up in each other. Bourgeois' 15-ton marble sculpture below presented installation problems because of its weight and its location on the second floor.




Joe Thompson in 1993


Joe Thompson and Jennifer Trainer worked for 10 years, sometimes without pay, to surmount the hurdles of finance, politics , skepticism and some outright hostility that stood in the way of bringing MoCA to reality. ( She recently branched off to became head of the Hancock Shaker Village.)


His museum was one without a collection. It simply - well, not so simply - filled its galleries with exhibits by contemporary artists, occasionally commissioning works.


Sometimes the museum skated on thin financial ice. And the Christoph Buchel incident  in 2006 demonstrated just how precarious that ice was. Buchel, an a Swiss artist, had spent more than twice his $165,000 budget when MASS MoCA, strapped for cash, put its foot down. Already hoisted up to the museum"s giant 2nd-story gallery were a house, a mobile home, part of a movie theater and a police car for his Training Ground for Democracy. Buchel said he still needed an airplane. Thompson said, "No." The fight rattled art world cages, pitting the artist's rights against the museum's. It was eventually resolved by settlement.


Along the way Thompson, a brilliant and friendly man, saw an opportunity to enhance attendance and boost the museum's prestige. He made a deal with Yale to refurbish one of the factory buildings to create what I believe is the world's largest Sol LeWitt display. It will be there 25 years and is a real crowd pleaser. Then Thompson and the Hall Art Foundation made a deal to erect a separate building to house massive works by Anselm Kieffer. That's good for at least 15 years.


With Building Six, Thompson has broadened this approach, striking multi-year agreements with Turrell, Holzer and Anderson as well as the estates of Rauschenberg and Bourgeois. Some of the exhibits in these artist spaces will be revised over the years. The advantage for MoCA is that it gets the draw of big-time art on display for years without the tremendous expense of buying it.




Shortly before the noon opening on Sunday, visitors line up for their turn to get in. Minutes later the Brooklyn Union drum and bugle corps would march past the crowd and into the building.






In the two hours I was there Sunday, there was always a line waiting to get in to see Turrell's Roden Crater exhibit.




A couple reacts to one of Turrell's displays. Another Turrell is shown below. A friend and I went to an amazing Turrell show at the Guggenheim in New York City a few years ago.






Jane Hudson, right, a singer, artist and antiques dealer who had a shop at MoCA, and two friends study a watercolor portrait of what they would have seen from this vantage point before the renovation. The painting was done by Barbara Ernst Prey.




Here's Laurie Anderson's late lamented dog Lolabelle. The story is that Lolabelle is in the Bardo - the unsettled state between death and the end of the struggle to try to return to the living. Below it looks like sweet Lolabelle is going to be attacked by dogs with their teeth barred. From the pictures you can see that Anderson is good and that the drawings are large. I know because I read "Lincoln in the Bardo."







These three pictures are work of Dawn Debeaux, a New Orleans artist. I hadn't heard of her before. I like her work.








Above and below are works by Rauschenberg, one of America's art stars after Abstract Expressionism bit the dust.




At it's west end, Building Six is like the prow of a ship at the confluence of two branches of the Hoosic River, which is seen through that gigantic window.






The museum has mounted a very popular - and discordantly noisy - exhibit of the off beat musical instruments made by the late Gunnar Schonbeck made in his 50 years as a Bennington College professor.






Now here are some long walls in Building Six that look like they are waiting for works by Grier Horner. Years and years ago I told Joe Thompson I hoped to be shown at MoCA by the time I was 80. He missed that deadline. I turn 82 on June 30.


P.S. I forgot to say that a reported 10,000 people attended MoCA's outdoor rock concert, featuring the band Cake.





May 26, 2017




Wednesday morning I went to a talk at the Clark Art Institute and was taken by the Victorian photography of Julia Margaret Cameron. Wednesday evening I went to a show of work by art students at Pittsfield High School.


What have high art and high school art got to do with each other? Don't expect a profound answer from me. But there is always a chance, however slim, that the work of one of these high school seniors will end up in a museum.


I saw pieces by several PHS students  that really impressed me. One was Shawn Morgan. To me his charcoal drawing above is breathtaking, haunting. (Unavoidably, my photo of Shawn's piece is marred by the frame of another drawing jutting into its picture plane.)



 I can say the same thing about this photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, a rich English woman who didn't take up photography until her late 30s. She started in the 1860s and her work was in demand in this Victorian era where very few upper class women could surmount the domestic demands of society in order to develop careers of their own.



Here is some of the work by Camry Francoeur. I am taken by the sophistication of the collaged woman with her cigarette and the subtle coloring in the collage of the man.



Some of that same coloring is present in Francois Lemoye's 1725 melodrama The Amorous Proposal. Given the vast difference in age between the girl and the man, maybe it should be called The Improper Proposal.



Here are my granddaughter Riley Nichols and her boyfriend Jon Bile. I consider them works of art. You can see where Jon is going to college. Riley is going to Hamilton.



Riley, a 4-year art student, is posing here with the ceramic bird she made this year. I asked her to make it look like the bird is whispering in her ear.



Here we have two faces, one by senior Terrick Boire - a strong collage of Michael Jordan - and one attributed to Rembrandt.







Here some of the participants and art teacher Lisa Ostellino talk about the work of Kayla Johnson on the left, and Emma Sullivan.  Riley says that Ms. Ostellino and the other art instructors, Barbara Patton and Colleen Quinn, are fantastic.




Since the word BOOBS appears on Kayla's work, I thought that would be an appropriate introduction to this photo I took of a sculpture by Renoir. (I forgot to get the title.) It dominates the glass-walled room through which you enter the old part of the Clark. I like to sit in the leather easy chairs there. Even though I hardly ever do, someday I will spend time there sitting and looking at the sculpture. I think maybe Renoir was a better sculptor than painter.



While we're on sculpture, here's a small piece by Riley. I like the Calder colors.




And here's another by Shawn. His proud grandmother, below, holds down the fort at his booth.





Here's Emma Sullivan, a good friend of Riley's, with some more of her work. As you can tell, she's been concentrating on the effect of shadows.



Adding class to the reception was the PHS orchestra.




Pardon me for returning to my granddaughter, but I have a special connection to her, of course. Above is a picture inspired by the late Louise Bourgeois's sculptures in front of the Williams College Museum of art. Below is the abstract collage she used to decorate the top of an art room stool.





Talking about great works of art here's a picture by Riley and her friend Nicole LaPierre. They merged art and calculus to come up with a piece that determines the area of the duck. That's more of Nicole's ceramics work on the table.



Here's an abstract painting I like by senior Colleen Hickey. Below is a John Singer Sargent. His work is much looser when he painted his friends, as in this one, than when he was doing the large commissioned portraits for which he is famous.



Parisian At the Clark I was looking for paintings I hadn't paid any attention to before and found things I liked very much in the process. Below is The Parisian Sphinx that Alfred Stevens painted in 1880. Oh, to be able to paint like Sargent or Stevens! Or for that matter like Shawn Morgan or Camry Francoeur.












May 3, 2017




Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved


I am lucky to have Rachelle and her daughter Zevi as models. Rachelle is willowy, graceful and has one of the most beautiful profiles I’ve seen. Zevi (my spellcheck keeps changing Zevi to Levi.) is lively, pretty and full of energy and humor.

On Rachelle’s left shoulder is a tattoo of Zevi’s handprint as an infant. I thought it would be good to photograph Zevi’s hand as it is now at 7 years old alongside the tattoo.

Here’s another version of the same subject. Zevi thought it was all a wonderful joke. At first this was my favorite shot.




But on one of my extended Facebook conversations with Julian Grey, a fantastic photographer, I asked her what she thought. She thought the picture should be more compact.

”What was it Picaso said?” Julian asked. ”Something like, Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”

Julian said she would have put Zevi on her mother’s lap, with her hand close to the tattoo and have them face to face. Perhaps their noses could be touching. After all, the point of the picture was to emphasize the hand and the tattoo and their closeness as mother and child.

”Hey, Julian,” I said. ”I took it that way, too.”



After studying the photos, I agreed with him. The nose-nuzzling shot (my mother called it Eskimo kissing) puts the idea across better.


Like the others in this post, this photo is from my long session with them two months ago. In this shot of Rachelle, I used a special filter in processing to soften her eyes. The way I had taken the shot, she looked as if she were in a staring contest. The photo below shows what the filter did.






It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day in late February when we shot. Despite the snow it was warm enough for Zevi to go sleeveless and wear flip flops.





She had started the afternoon in her cherished pink cowboy boots.





Rachelle, a 2015 graduate of Skidmore, operates her own gardening business and is a waitress in her business's off season. She is also a potter. Above she is seen above in intense sunlight and below in shadow.











This shot was taken by the fireplace. Rachelle is looking down at Zevi, who I cropped from the picture.









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