November 2010 The Evolving Critic

Gardens of the Hudson Valley
Photographs by Steve Gross & Susan Daley
Text by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, Forward by Gregory Long
The Monacelli Press, 2010 $50.00 (Amazon)
ISBN 978-1-58093-277-6

Gardens of the Hudson Valley published by the Monacelli Press highlights the exquisite gardens of the National Heritage Area known as the Hudson Valley, as well as the landscape architects that contributed to the cultural and artistic development of this region. Masters of landscape design like Alexander Jackson Downing, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Fletcher Steele have all left their imprints upon the landscape of the Hudson Valley.

This coffee table book recounts the stories of twenty five famous gardens including the estate garden of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, Lyndhurst in Tarrytown and the Federal style Boscobel in Coldspring, NY. These historic landscapes are not only stunningly photographed by Steve Gross and Susan Daley, but also beautifully narrated by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner.  The Hudson River Valley is considered to be one of America’s most significant and culturally richest regions in the nation. The authors do a tremendous job at highlighting the historically significant beauty of these landscapes and hint at the impact of these gardens on the development of American landscape architecture.

In case you would like to visit many of the gardens featured in the book ( trust me, you will want to visit them after indulging in all the beautiful photographs), a list of gardens open to the public is included.

Private Gardens of Connecticut
Photography by John M. Hall
Text by Jane Garmey
The Monacelli Press, 2010 $65.00 (Amazon)
ISBN 978-1-58093-241-7

From the Hudson Valley we head to the state of Connecticut to explore the private gardens of prominent members of the fashion, design, arts and business communities. Even though some of the gardens featured in the Private Gardens of Connecticut are not as historic as those featured in the Gardens of the Hudson Valley, they are excellent examples of gardens that incorporate the beauty of the Connecticut landscape.

Among the gardens  featured in this book are those of fashion designer Oscar de La Renta as well as Agne Gund, the former president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Many of these gardens  reflect their owner’s passions such as Agne Gund love for contemporary sculpture.  Both of these books are excellent sources of inspiration for those looking to create a sanctuary of their own this coming Spring.

Photo of Mark Bradford by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy:

When Nicholas Baume left his position as chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in 2009 to join the Public Art Fund of New York City, the future of Boston’s contemporary art scene was questioned.  With Baume’s curatorial insight, the ICA organized the first major museum retrospective of artists Tara Donovan and Shepard Fairey, thereby breaking attendance records (and bringing in tons of dough) and shining a light on Boston’s contemporary art scene. Since Baume’s departure, the ICA has exhibited a retrospective of Roni Horn and Damian Ortega organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern in London respectively.  In its quest to continue breaking the blurred boundaries of the art world, the current exhibition at the ICA is the first museum survey of the Los Angeles born and based artist Mark Bradford.

Organized by The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Mark Bradford (November 19 – March 13, 2011) is one of the most powerful exhibitions I have seen in recent memory. Bradford is known for his large scale abstract paintings which resemble dense political and physical maps. These paintings are created out of carefully selected found materials which include, but not limited to, weathered billboard paper, permanent weave end paper, newsprint, carbon paper, and wrapping paper. In spite of their abstract qualities, Bradford’s works are filled with subject matter and intense social commentaries.

Experiencing the works in the exhibition, the phrase “silence is golden” constantly came to mind. The moment one is confronted with a work of art, in particular one created by a contemporary artist, “silence is golden” does not apply. But as I stood in front of Bradford’s larger than life paintings, I wanted to find words that would help me explain the emotions I was feeling.  I was struck speechless by the intensity of the materials, colors and images and texts in Bradford’s works.

Untitled (Shoe), 2003. Billboard paper, acrylic gel medium, and additional mixed media. 30 x 31 1/2 inches. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Among the works that still resonate with me are Untitled (Shoe) 2003, Scorched Earth, 2006 and Black Venus, 2005. In Untitled (Shoe), Bradford has taken a billboard advertisement for Reebok sneakers and peeled away the image of the shoe leaving only its outline.  With this piece, Bradford is making a commentary on black identity and sneaker culture, “I feel black male masculinity, especially in the last 10 or 15 or 20 years has been narrowed based on a kind of popular culture. Popular culture has determined that [as] black males, we exist in about two or three different models, the sports figure, the gangster figure, or the reverend.” Mark Bradford employs stereotypes to break away stereotypes.

Scorched Earth, 2006. Billboard paper, photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, carbon paper, acrylic paint, bleach, and additional mixed media on canvas. 94 1/2 x 118 inches. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White

In Scorched Earth, Bradford uses a dramatic and unforgettable red and black palette to reference the moment in history when in 1921 35 city blocks in Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned and destroyed in the riots resulting from the tensions between blacks and whites. In Black Venus, Bradford “examines class-race, and gender based economies that structure urban society in the United States.”

“”I was always supported in the domestic realm, and I was always strong about standing up for myself, but there were still struggles in my life. Reading about the postmodern condition made me realize it was about independence, about doing your own thing. And that’s a state of mind. It’s not an art work or a book. It’s a state of mind. Fluidity, juxtapositions, cultural borrowing- they’ve all been going on for centuries. The only authenticity there is what I put together.” – Mark Bradford

Black Venus, 2005 Detail. Mixed media collage, 130 x 196 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Image taken from Art21’s documentary on Mark Bradford as shown on PBS.

Mark Bradford at the ICA has the potential of igniting a rich dialogue on the urban landscape and race relations in America (in particular Boston, since the exhibition is currently in the city). His grid-like paintings resemble physical, political and topographic maps, allowing the viewer to imagine the rivers, mountains, lakes, elevations, boundaries or the ideological differences that divide and unite people. I loved this exhibition! I loved it because it is powerful and unabashed in exposing the economies of urban centers and their impact on people of color living in America today. I loved it because Mark Bradford is one of the few contemporary artists of color dealing with these questions through abstract art.

Will you go and see the exhibition, contemplate Bradford’s works in silence (go on a Friday night) and start a dialogue of your own?

“What are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew of her work!” “Who doesn’t know of her work? She’s a big deal.” I had this brief exchange of words with an acquaintance I had not seen in a very long time in a crowded auditorium at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. This acquaintance seemed surprised that I was not only aware of, but interested in the work of the Iranian-American visual artist Shirin Neshat. Last night, Neshat talked about her photographic and video work as well as her first feature film Women without Men

As a renowned artist, Neshat’s interests lies in exploring many social issues including the role of women in Islam, the relationship of gender to Islam itself and the relationship of human beings to their surroundings. Neshat has produced a body of work which is deeply personal and political, reflecting her experiences in Iran and America.

The uses of allegories, symbolism and metaphors have become key defining characteristics of Shirin Neshat’s works, leaving a powerful and long-lasting impression on those who experience them.

The film Women without Men is without a doubt one of the most powerful and achingly beautiful films I have ever seen. It is a highly stylized and highly choreographed film about independence, freedom and democracy, a film that richly tells the story of an era with all its beauty and horror.

And as far as beauty goes, Neshat does not shy away from it. She sees her work as a re-interpretation of elements in Islamic art. The symmetry, harmony, and composition so characteristic of classical Islamic art are also found in Neshat’s photography and video installations. Women without Men is a rich and thought-provoking film, full of questions about the human condition and our quest for freedom.

The film Women without Men has already garnered numerous accolades including the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 66th Annual Venice Film Festival and was the Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival. If this film gets a wider distribution, please do make an attempt to indulge in all its beauty and meaning.

Neal Rantoul, Untitled from the series Boston Infrared

Neal Rantoul: Twenty-Five Years (1980-2005) on view at Panopticon Gallery from November 10 through January 04, 2011 chronicles twenty five years in the career of photographer and Northeastern University professor Neal Rantoul. From the heroic depictions of Boston’s most maligned modernist buildings in his series Boston Infrared to the stark and eerie landscape series on the Northampton, Massachusetts fairgrounds, the work of Rantoul captivates the viewer with their varied subject matter. Contemplating the photography of Neal Rantoul and having studied the works of his mentors Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, some of the characteristics that made these two photographers famous are undeniably present in Rantoul’s photography.  Callahan’s love for the American landscape and Siskind’s fascination with the abstract forms of architecture are particularly captured in Untitled #7 from the Northampton Fairgrounds series and in Untitled #4 from the Boston Infrared series. This is not to say that Rantoul’s works aren’t original, because they are, but to have learned and been exposed to the works of Callahan and Siskind from the masters themselves, adds so much more credibility and importance to Rantoul’s works.

Panopticon Gallery is located inside the Hotel Commonwealth, in Kenmore Square. Take the Green Line B, C, D to Kenmore Square and enjoy the show.

For the first time in its thirteen years as an organization, ART21 recently premiered a film based on a single artist: William Kentridge. If you watch PBS, perhaps you’ve caught their excellent documentaries on contemporary art and artists, if you haven’t seen any episodes, head over to and watch them (the series is now in its fifth season).

The new film Anything is Possible: William Kentridge

gives viewers an intimate look into the mind and creative process of William Kentridge, the South African artist whose acclaimed charcoal drawings, animations, video installations, shadow plays, mechanical puppets, tapestries, sculptures, live performance pieces, and operas have made him one of the most dynamic and exciting contemporary artists working today.

For more information on this wonderful film click here:

If you would like to see some works by William Kentridge in person, head over to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design‘s Sandra & David Bakalar Gallery which is currently hosting William Kentridge: Projects until December 11, 2010. The exhibition is gorgeous and introduced me to an artists who is well known to many, but unknown to me until I watched the ART21 film.

My best attempt at imitating William Kentridge. If you see the exhibit (which you should), you’ll know what this all about:

First Image: William Kentridge, Felix in Exile, 1993, still from animated film short, 8 minutes 43 seconds. National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution; Museum purchase 96-34-5. Copyright: William Kentridge

Thomas Jayne
The Finest Rooms in America
The Monacelli Press on Sale November 09, 2010 $50.00
Available on Amazon or any book retailers worldwide
ISBN 978-1-58093-2424

Ever wonder what some of America’s finest interiors look like?  There’s no more wondering since The Monacelli Press just published Thomas Jayne’s The Finest Rooms in America, whose concept is based on the classic book The Finest Rooms, by America’s Great Decorators (1964). If you’re an architectural historian, architect, interior designer or decorator or a design enthusiast, you’ve most likely seen in person some of the rooms highlighted in Jayne’s book.  By bringing together some of the most influential American domestic interiors like Thomas Jefferson’s Tea Room at Monticello and Annette and Oscar de la Renta’s bedroom/sitting room in Kent, Connecticut, Thomas Jayne has revisited a classic interior decoration book and made it relevant for all of us concerned with the history and evolution of American interior decoration today.

The first edition of The Finest Rooms, by America’s Great Decorators did not feature any historic rooms nor any rooms designed in the mid-century or modern style. Published in 1964, the book only focused on interiors designed in the 1920’s up until the early 1960’s. The interiors featured in the first edition were decorated by designers who looked back to many of those interiors included in Thomas Jayne’s The Finest Rooms in America. Jayne not only highlights interiors from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but also the 21st century, in turn drawing parallels between the historic interiors and contemporary interior design.

The Finest Rooms in America is a reference for anyone interested in American interior decoration.  Among other notable rooms featured in Thomas Jayne’s edition include Fenway Court; the medieval inspired courtyard of Isabella Stewart Gardner, the Golden Step Dining Room at Beauport Mansion in Gloucester, Massachusetts and the living room at the Charles and Ray Eames House in Pacific Palisades, California. The fifty influential interiors featured in TheFinest Rooms in America not only show the evolution of American interior decoration from the 18th to the 21st century, but also how all the styles discussed in this book have endured the test of time.

Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light
David Mathias
ISBN 978-1-4403-0299-2 $35.00 (Amazon
Popular Woodworking Books 2010

Rarely do we get an opportunity to look at the details in the furniture and architecture of Charles and Henry Greene from the perspective of a hobbyist woodworker. David Mathias has given us that perspective. Mathias in Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood andLight transports his readers to an era in America where the creation of objects crafted by hand played a major role in society, particularly in the lives of wealthy clients and their chosen designers.

Allowing for an intimate look into the exquisite furniture and interior woodwork details designed by the Greene Brothers, Mathias examines their work and places the brothers within the broader context of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The movement which emerges out of the English Gothic Revival placed emphasis on hand crafted ornamentation and details, which in turn, as its leaders championed, would create a moral and social change in the world.

The potential of good design in creating a better world (for those who could actually afford the expensive furniture and objects created by hand, because in this sense, the Arts and Crafts Movement was a complete failure) was the driving philosophy behind the Arts and Crafts Movement.

It was this philosophy that drove the work of architects Charles Greene and Henry Greene in Pasadena, California. Influenced by the work of Gustav Stickley and other designers and trends of the time including Japanese design, as well as the works of the critic John Ruskin and the artist William Morris, the furniture created by the Greene Brothers was designed to stand the test of time. Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light is beautifully illustrated with photographs and architectural drawings, highlighting some of the most breathtaking details in the furniture. The lighting, stained glass, as well as interior and exterior architectural woodwork by Greene and Greene is also discussed in this monograph.

In 2009, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston hosted the exhibition “A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene and Greene” which celebrated the artistic triumphs behind some of the most iconic houses designed by these two architects. The exhibition proved to be an exhilarating journey into the native beauty found in the works of Charles and Henry Greene and was a tremendous success in Boston (at least, I saw the exhibition eight times)! In his first book, David Mathias allows for a more intimate journey into the poems of wood and light “written” in the furniture and architectural woodwork of Charles and Henry Greene.