featured gallery for July 2011

I Don't Have a Clue ...

May 18, 2011. Evening.

I'm watching the revival "The Normal Heart" on Broadway. Big stars, full house, and everywhere the sounds of crying. The last time I experienced such a tear-filled theater was 1993, during the final moments of "Angels In America."

On the street afterward a woman barks, "That Reagan got what he fucking deserved with that Alzheimer's!"

May 19, 2011. Afternoon.

Anger from the play has morphed into frustrated malaise. Would I have reacted differently in 1984 during the earliest days of HIV? Would this country behave differently if this happened today? I'm afraid of the answers. We don't act faster, think harder, talk back louder, and demand more. Most of us sit at home watching bullshit on Bravo? And I don't have a clue why.

Except the artists in this gallery. At some point, each turned off the TV and made something. That's incredible. Gods make things. So artists must have some supernatural power.

I don't have a clue why artists make things we don't really need. But I'm glad they did. The art in this gallery inspires me because the selections are "real" in an art world that celebrates fiction; some are minimal in a world that considers minimalism empty and boring; others are crafty in a culture where anything handmade is second-class, feminine, ethnic, and thus unworthy of serious consideration.

Real is Osvaldo Barrocal's "Untitled." Painfully real. It's a painted bedsheet from Beth Israel hospital. What marks on this painting are stains left from dying patients, and what did the artist add?

Real and heavy is the stone chair by Scott Burton, "Two-Part Chaise Longue." In 2,000 years when everything is gone this will remain, as regal as an Egyptian sculpture. To me it says: Yes, we may have treated each other like shit. But artists imagined a better world.

Minimalism is life reduced to its essential elements. Nanney's "Phrase," from 1998 reduces all the chaotic wonder of planet earth -- birds and oceans and time and labor -- into a few bits of color and hardware. Minimal and "real" is Bob Burnside's installation installed inside a San Francisco office building, from 1993. Hal Scheppner, Amos Beaida and Clifford Smith combine minimalism with folk art, hallucinogenic imagery and art history to create something intensely engaging.

Now about those dolls ... quite simply, they break my heart. Mooshka uses a baseball for a head and nails for hair. Thoughts of torture or gay bashing, or just what's available? Martin Freeman's "Princess" is in charge of a kingdom, a magical place I don't have access to but can imagine. Smurf Village meets the Antebellum South.

And yes, those are paper dolls. Sort of. "Paper Women of The World" by Alan Walker, 1971-1996. Yes, two-and-a-half decades of creation. No wonder the big eyes call out to me like Sumerian clay figures.

What she says is: When faced with the infinite mysteries of life, Walker made dolls.

I don't know why, and I don't know why these simple dolls seem so alive. It's a mystery. I don't have a clue. Yet because of art, it feels like everything is going to be okay.