"THOMAS MICCHELLI Portfolio x Appunti," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

I’ll start this review with a disclaimer. Normally when a writer inserts a disclaimer there’s a smarmy, unctuous note that follows, but in this case I’m proud to say that Thomas Micchelli was my editor here at the Brooklyn Rail for five years, and more importantly, I learned a heck of a lot from Tom. Any of you who have an inkling as to how the Rail operates, or what kind of time commitment an editor makes, can appreciate his productive, long and loving commitment to this publication. Last year one phase of the Rail’s life cycle ended and another began, with not only Micchelli’s departure but with those of the Chief ArtSeen Editor John Yau and long time Associate Editor Ben La Rocco as well. We’ll avoid the maudlin, nostalgic memories for now, and simply wish them all well with their future endeavors.

I bring this up as a preface in the context of Micchelli’s latest exhibition, Portfolio x Appunti, to highlight the dichotomy between his life as a person of letters (Micchelli is also a librarian at Cooper Union and is continuing his extensive writing on art at Hyperallergic and his practice as a visual artist. The three projects presented in this intimate show at Centtoto focus mainly on drawing—specifically figure drawing. Surrounded by bookshelves, Paul D’Agostino’s Centtoto is located in the living room/library of his Bushwick apartment, and as a scholar of Italian he’s made it a practice of asking artists to present projects that have a written component. Even the title of this series of salons literally translates to “a portfolio with notes.” So not surprisingly, two of the pieces in this exhibition were created as companions to writings by the artist’s friends, Lacy Schutz and Claudia La Rocco.

Micchelli employs a sure, sensual line, and he uses it to delineate mass and form with an almost baroque amplitude. His facility and grasp of anatomy is apparent, and I’m thinking many of these works were composed from memory or imagination rather than from actual observation of a model; cropping is used as a compositional tool with heads often running off the page or turning away as if to avoid recognition. While maintaining anonymity, this device provokes a more focused attention on the figure, its abstract shapes, and its placement in relation to the various sheets making up the drawings. During an impromptu interview at the opening, I asked Micchelli about the ancient distinction between those artistic sensibilities favoring line and those favoring color:


I tend to like highly articulated structures in art… I’d rather look at a cubist Picasso, than say a Kandinsky, for that reason…When working with imagery, I need a certain architectonic quality, and I feel I can create that with line by getting down to a real bare bones aesthetic. It’s a matter of paring down your tools.


The major piece in the show is a wall-sized installation—a grid of nine oil-on-paper paintings; these works are responses to a group of poems by Schutz, and have, as a general title, “Swimmers, sleepers and rain.” Applied to roughly cut sheets of a pale salmon hue, the paintings are held within a gesso-primed central rectangle that maintains a look of rugged, unfinished freshness. All but one image depicts couples, some clutching or otherwise entangled within each other’s limbs, others with only parts of their bodies placed at the picture’s periphery. The use of a subdued palette of thin washes ranging towards blue, and their dramatic placement, imply these bodies could be floating under water or viewed through the opaque lens of memory, or in dream. Arrangement and poetic adjustments in the character of line create melancholic allusions to presence and absence. The single figure composition, a squatting woman seen from the back with well-rendered musculature, calls to mind a famous Degas pastel of a dancer bathing in a shallow tub. The comparison is not frivolous as Degas holds high stature in our pantheon of draftsmen, and Micchelli sites him as an influence in the accompanying literature.

Another series bares the Cageian title of “24 drawings for clr,” and are inspired by the writings of Rail contributor and sister of Ben La Rocco, Claudia La Rocco. Each image is composed of a tiled grid of six drawings in graphite on what appears to be standard 8 by 10 inch writing paper. Compositions focus mostly on male torsos, with a special emphasis on dramatic hand gesture. These bodies are depicted with sharply rendered textures of sprouting blades, spiky leaved plants, or costume forms. One presents a strange bird, its beak latched onto a subject’s forearm. The elegance of design and restrained use of the contrast between congested and open space recalls classic Japanese wood cuts depicting noble Samurai warriors.

With “Drawings for Mostro” (“monster: from the Latin monstrum [derived from monere: to admonish, to warn]”), the pieces are taken directly from the artist’s sketchbook and a selection is displayed on a tabletop. Though verging on caricature, these craggy and wrinkled heads, sitting atop white collars and neckties, reveal a gamut of facial expressions, creating an index not unlike the sculptures of the eccentric Austrian, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. (D’Agostino was impressed enough with these small portraits that he suggested publishing a chapbook documenting the collection, which is available through the gallery.)

In our discussion, Micchelli also mentioned his desire to work with the texts of his friends, but without using the actual letters or words. He alluded to using paint thinner to remove a brushstroke, and how the initial dousing caused the pigment to swell before it’s wiped away. Perhaps, like the homeopathic theory that by diluting a substance in water to a state of invisibility its power to heal is enhanced, an unconscious memory, echo, or vibration of the texts remains present in the images through their absence.

With the advent of Post-Modernism, one of the most prevalent developments in contemporary painting has been the ever-increasing use of words, language and text as visual subjects. I myself have been fascinated with the nexus between written text and visual art, and, intrigued with how a writer/librarian might conceive of their visual world. Writing and drawing are analogous acts, generally using paper and pencil. But how and when did images of hunted deer or fertility goddesses on cave walls morph into hieroglyphs and hence into letters on a page? How does one create text-based works without employing text itself? Is the exclusive use of a drawn line related to a written one? Is there a correlation between the physical act of using a pencil or pen—their feel as they write out literal meaning—and using them to grind out a picture? How far is the linguistic part of the mind separated from the section that registers and decodes pictorial images?

Not only will this group of works by Thomas Micchelli do little to quell such debates, it also complicates the matter by injecting an aspect of literary content. Thankfully, the answers presented are usually less interesting than the questions asked.

A video tour and interview with the artist is available at: http://youtu.be/EP2FPhio1Xw.

"Paving Paradise Part II," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

In part I of “Paving Paradise” I started to discuss the results of some of the research I’ve been conducting for a large painting diagramming the history of the East Village art scene. Patterns of circumstances began to leap out at me with regards to the current situation in burgeoning Bushwick. Although the EV scene pretty much flamed out over 25 years ago, a surprising number of similarities are playing themselves out in Brooklyn’s here and now. It’s my hope that in pointing to some of these attitudes and factors, the pain and depression might be softened when reality bites, and the inexorable mill of history grinds on.

The Golden Age

Ideologues, often as not, posit the idea of some pre-existing perfect utopia—a Garden of Eden untouched by cares or woes, where mankind lived in perfect loving harmony with nature and each other. If only we could relinquish the rot and decadent corruption of the current era, these pundits tell us, we could return to these unsullied glory days. The truth is, there never was a “Golden Age.” The “good old days” are good because they’re gone. Each generation, and the individuals within that generation, create their own: It usually correlates to they and their friends’ early enthusiastic achievements and bloom of youth. This became apparent to me, shortly after the publication of Ward Shelley’s “Williamsburg Timeline” drawing in 2002. Here, Shelley designated a five-year stretch in the mid-’90s (his own young adulthood) as “The Golden Age.” Upon seeing this flowchart, a young Williamsburg dealer, disgruntled by the implication, stated “What’s this crap? I wasn’t here in the mid-’90s. If you ask me, Williamsburg’s ‘Golden Age’ is right now.” Get in your time machine and bore through your wall of nostalgia to revisit Williamsburg (1990 – 96), or the East Village (1981 – 87) during their “Golden Age.” People were complaining just as loudly about how, in the history of civilization, things have never been as fucked up as now, and how it was way better before all the fakers and takers showed up to exploit the situation.

Darwin is Your Friend

While within the art scene the fetishistic notion of an ever-evolving aesthetic of the new, the novel, or the original is widely worshiped, mention any corollary evolution in economic or social structures and you’d better brace yourself for exploding heads and bare-fanged attacks. As many see it, “Darwinian Economics” (could we not also say “Darwinian Aesthetics”?) is code for greed, racism, hatred of the “poor and downtrodden,” and the capital sin of the Occupiers “1%”. Ironically, to argue against it is to buy into a fuzzy-headed fundamentalist utopia that’s a perfect mirror image of the Evangelical Christian notion of “creationism” (the universe is controlled by some pure, all-knowing extra-human organism that exists beyond time, and ideally, beyond mankind’s intervention). To rail against the forces of human nature is akin to protesting gravity, or death (you can still do both if you have the luxury of time). The most important aspect for surviving as an artist is the same as for any successful species—“adaptability.” While seeking an ever-improving world (or better art) may be the motivation on a day-to-day basis, it brings with it equal if not greater potential for obliteration and mayhem, what’s been called the principal of “creative destruction.” A true measure of creativity is the ability, or at least the attempt, to harness both the good (positive) and bad (negative) aspects of this force, and channel them in the most productive form. To those of you who will mutter “easy for you to say” I can only respond, yeah, it’s that or death.

Attention must be paid

Perhaps the scariest part of art history in general is the insatiable appetite of obscurity. While many artists who got their start in the East Village are today’s “establishment” (Jeff Koons, Marilyn Minter, Richard Prince, Peter Halley, George Condo, Madonna), and despite the presence of over 120 exhibition spaces, a quick glance at the EV galleries remaining in living memory is small, perhaps a half dozen. Arguably, they are: the Fun, Nature Morte, Gracie Mansion, International With Monument, Civilian Warfare, Pizo Electric, and Pat Hearn. Unless you were involved with other venues personally, the rest have pretty much been broomed into the dustbin of history, their passions, piss, blood, sweat, and dreams relegated to the “forgettable.” Entire swathes of the scene, galleries, artists, movements, clubs, and coteries have all vanished into the void. Some pundits (unadmitted Darwinians out to “streamline” the historical narrative) tell us, if the artist or art is forgotten, it’s because it deserves to be forgotten. The future won’t miss it, or them. I will contend that culture is formed and shaped by many forces, some visible and some, maybe most, invisible. It’s a cultural analogy to the “dark energy” and “dark matter” of astrophysics. Creative vigor and ideas generated by the “unknowns” have profoundly influenced the “knowns.” If it’s possible to keep some of this information available, there may yet be useful material awaiting new users to discover, exploit, and extrapolate. Even if there isn’t, aren’t the valiant attempts and sacrifices, even the funky fun made by our art tribe, worth at least a minor historical mention? Shouldn’t we learn as much from their failures as their successes, and perhaps take a second glance before their memory sinks into the dark ocean of obscurity?

For you “Bushwickers” wondering what any of this has to do with you, congratulations, you can go back to sleep. To those of you who do understand, remember, the best thing you can do in the present to protect the future is to preserve the past, not be a slave to it, but a student of it.

"Paving Paradise Part I," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

I finally started an overly ambitious painting project I’ve been putting off for years. It’s a large, definitive map depicting the East Village art scene. Among the joys and sorrows of this kind of work is the research and documentation it requires. Before, I would fill note books with sketches of subjects, designs, and color studies. Now I also have bulging computer files of lists, addresses, resumes, names, and dates. I scour Google for references and buy obscure books when I can find them online. The information is then boiled down to bullet points and added to the maps and diagrams. Because of another map, painted in 2005­­ – 06, I had already started to compile a data file that would include about 90 galleries and over 80 artists that operated in and around the nabes between 1979 and 1989. Working at Utrecht Linens, I’d hung around the E.V. scene myself from 1981 until 1987, and also had a lot of first hand experience, friends, acquaintances, and memories from the scene.

Aside from me touting my own practice, you may wonder why I bother bringing any of this up. Blame it on Bushwick. I first mentioned this area in my Rail columns sometime around 2003 – 04. Having just trotted through the sixth iteration of the Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) in late May, and having been inundated with something like 550 different studios, galleries, artist events, and showings, I realized that Bushwick has more than reached the tipping point. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it has become self-actualized. Young, local hipsters are quick to point out the uniqueness of this scene but, when one steps back and takes a long-term perspective view of things (here’s where we start trotting out the clichés), one clearly sees history repeating itself.

Along with the old wish to “make it new,” there’s a persistent imperative in today’s art world to have no long-term memory. Maybe it’s just a function of youth, fashion, an evolutionary expectation, or the naive belief that nothing of personal relevance happened before you were born. One of my favorite quotes (in fact my only quote) from Søren Kierkegaard states: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” My current project is to try to go forward into understanding, so I’ve been spending a lot of time looking backwards into the future.

Arriving in New York in the late ’70s gave me the opportunity to watch the rise and fall of several neighborhoods, beginning with SoHo, then the East Village, then Chelsea, and continuing into the new millennium with the Williamsburg/Bushwick milieu. I’ve also witnessed the births and deaths of movements like Color Field, Pattern and Decoration, New Image, the Pictures Generation, Neo-Expressionism, Neo-Geo, and Post-Conceptualism. Still, it’s only when you have a pile of actual data with names, dates, and locations that you’re able to cross reference this seeming jumble of happenstances and see it begin to coalesce into a recognizable narrative. Here are a few of the striking facts I’ve gleaned thus far:

Order and entropy

It’s assumed that bringing order out of chaos requires logic, a system, and a continuing expenditure of energy to maintain it. In art, however, it appears to be the reverse. Great art seems to come out of order by shattering the constrictions of a preexisting, formally structured concept and reassembling its ideas and mores into new, more chaotic, urgent, simple, or creative ways. Ironically, with the passage of time this system of chaos becomes more rote and institutionally accepted. What should fall into ruin and disorder instead becomes petrified into standard practice and dies from attaining a conventional academic identity.

The Pioneers Take the Arrows

A simple comparison of New York gallery listings from various neighborhoods over the last 30 years will reveal many interesting (and heartbreaking) facts. Generally speaking, those galleries that took the initial risk of neighborhood busting were able to capture the zeitgeist by showing the most challenging and provocative artists of their era. But they did not last. They were usually poorly funded (what rational entrepreneur would invest in such craziness?), plagued with personal problems (substance abuse, de-railed artistic careers, love gone wrong, dreadful management skills, and/or medical issues), and more often than not, they flamed out in a gloriously self-destructive flash. None of the several East Village galleries still in existence (albeit in Chelsea now) started in the first wave, within a year or two of 1981, when Patti Astor and Bill Stelling’s Fun Gallery kicked off; none first showed the artists most identified with the E.V. first wave (Haring, Scharf, Basquiat, Wojnarowicz, Condo), or second wave (Halley, Koons, Bickerton, Gober, Prince, Taaffe). None were in the early exodus to SoHo (Pat Hearn, Colin de Land) and none moved to Chelsea or Williamsburg while those areas were still considered to be located in the outlands (Pat Hearn, Annie Herron). Instead (and pay attention, careerists), survival for these galleries was not about breaking the mold, or making art history, or challenging the status quo. The survivors kept their heads down, and played it safe. They waited until the E.V. had a substantial gallery base before opening there. They exhibited major artists or movements only after critical attention and marketability were established. Those galleries moved to new venues only after they became known. By not moving to new, untested neighborhoods which might have infringed on collectors’ easy-access comfort levels, they were careful not to rock the commercial boat. Their greatest strength was their mundane mercantile practicality.

A tragically ironic aside: Both Pat Hearn and Annie Herron managed galleries within a few blocks of each other on Avenue B in the mid-’80s. Pat Hearn took her gallery west to SoHo in 1987 and, in 1995, at the commencement of the Chelsea rush, became one of the very earliest settlers on West 22nd Street, where the Dia Foundation had staked out its headquarters almost a decade earlier. In 1994, Hearn, with partners Colin de Land, Paul Morris and Mathew Marks, founded the Gramercy Art Fair, which morphed into the Armory Show. Annie Herron headed east in 1991 to Williamsburg to open its first “SoHo style” gallery, Test Site. Though short lived, it became a nexus for local artists. Herron became a community supporter and “godmother” to many Williamsburg community artists and gallerists. Both of these dynamic and visionary women died young of cancer, Hearn at the age of 45 in 2000 and Herron at age 50 in 2004.

I’ll continue this essay with Part II in a future issue of the Brooklyn Rail, but right now lets segue into something timely...

Regina Bogat at Art 101

After a weekend touring innumerable painting cubicles and galleries during Bushwick Open Studios, it has become apparent that there are a plethora of overused strategies being employed to break through the cacophony. Just go bigger, brighter, louder, and more shocking. On the other hand, Stars, the most recent exhibition of paintings by Regina Bogat at Art 101, is an opportunity to experience works by an artist who doesn’t need to whack her audience over the head to get attention. That’s not to say that some of these paintings aren’t zippy, resonating with coloristic harmonies that might lie some where between a Bach fugue and a cool Miles Davis riff. Other pieces mingle subtle shades of grayed down blues and mauve buffs with dusty charcoal lines beneath scrims of pigmented rivulets. But the real pleasure of these Stars is to be reaped by a slow and leisurely contemplation. Bogat employs the simple geometric designs of various stars (the eight pointed Ogdoadic, seven pointed Heptadic and ten pointed Decagon). Using these configurations as skeletal structures, Bogat overpaints and reworks the image to enhance or diminish contrasts, playing with the notion of figure/ground relationships. Regina Bogat “Decagon 4” acrylic, India ink on canvas.

I was familiar with some older pieces like “Ogdoadic 5” from witnessing the initial development of this series. This picture, featuring eight pointed stars in predominantly pale yellows, echoes designs one might find on patchwork quilts, a reference to Yankee thrift and frontier design. Upon extended viewing, richer layers of pentimenti color drift up and the fine adjustments, background stars and erasures surface. Negative space becomes as palpable as positive. With “Ogdoadic 2,” Bogat has painted the edge where the canvas wraps around the stretcher bars a deep red. This seemingly simple act accentuates the idea that, despite the loose and atmospheric handling, these paintings are objects, authentic hunks of matter that have been crafted by an artist’s hand.

“Heptadic #3” was a surprise. On first viewing, its muted palette of sap green and silvery grays was underwhelming. Still, its larger size and up-scaled composition kept me coming back. Strange puddling and blotting of liquid paint gave areas an organic, rock-like quality. The splashy application of moss green recalled gazing into a brisk and chilly high mountain brook or spring, perhaps not such an unusual place to find stars. Finally, as a painter, it was delicious to see someone who has remained true to the factuality of what paint and painting is, applying colored liquid, charcoal, and crayon to pieces of fabric stretched on pieces of wood, and making something wondrous happen. Sounds so simple, but that’s the conundrum, no?

"BROOKLYN DISPATCHES: Birth of a Notion," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

“The Five Spot Jazz Club was tiny, but it had a huge influence.” I often find myself thinking back on these words, delivered by Dave Hickey during a New School lecture at the beginning of this millennium. As I trace back veins of art history and study the unlikely and humble beginnings of careers, movements, and galleries, they become even more poignant.

A brief list of esteemed accomplishments that started as little more than personal eccentric gestures would include a project by Gracie Mansion (Joanne Mayhew-Young) titled the “Loo Division” (1982), which consisted of an art exhibition in her bathroom on East Ninth Street. Gracie became an icon and driving force behind the fledgling East Village scene, debuting artists like Mike Bidlo, Judy Glantzman, and David Wojnarowicz. Out in Los Angeles in 1954, Walter and Shirley Hopps christened a log shed in Brentwood the Syndell Studio Art Gallery. Despite the problem of hanging pictures on log walls, they showed the work of local artists and a tight-knit group of San Francisco “beat” Expressionists. A few years later, Walter went on to partner with Edward Kienholz and found the Ferus Gallery before moving on to become curator of the Pasadena Museum of Art, where he organized one of the first Pop Art shows, as well as the groundbreaking Marcel Duchamp retrospective in 1963. Meanwhile, in San Francisco’s Marina District, just off Lombard Street, Dimitri Grachis was operating the Spatza Gallery out of a garage he also lived in at 2192 Filbert Street. Given the pathetic nature of its origins, it’s perhaps appropriate that this space participated in the gestation of the movement dubbed “funk,” which included the likes of Wallace Berman, George Hermes, and Bruce Conner, whose disturbing sculpture “Child” was fist shown at Spatza. (“Child” was purchased by MoMA and eventually disintegrated in the museum’s storage.)

If these anecdotes sound familiar, it’s because locally we’re experiencing similar scenarios on a daily basis. David Gibson, one of the hardest working curators in New York, spent five years organizing over 40 shows at what must have appeared as a uniquely self-effacing venue called the Real Form Project Space, a display window at 218 Bedford Avenue. Despite the presentation area being about the size of a large aquarium, 5 by 7 by 2½ feet, many of the featured artists have gone on to establish careers, and several are represented by reputable galleries. Stories like these inspire the realizations that where one starts out is less important than where one is headed; that initiative, creativity, and the courage to take a risk (and perhaps fail), are just as important as a cash grubstake; and that creative individuals are indeed in control of their own destinies and artistic futures.

Speaking of fortuitous beginnings, “The Birth of Baby X” has captured the imaginations and headlines of more news outlets, tabloids, and blogs than any recent Brooklyn performance art piece I can remember. Beginning around October 8, artist Marni Kotak transformed Microscope Gallery into a provisional maternity ward complete with birthing pool, fridge, and bed. The idea was simple: Kotak would inhabit the gallery around her due date and present the birth of “Baby X” as a performance, blurring the lines between “real life” and the aesthetic object. The gallery, a space about the size of a small living room, is painted with a cobalt blue seascape motif, and a band of photos of the bikini-clad expectant Kotak sunbathing on a beach, line the walls like a wainscot. A centrally placed 172-gallon inflatable pool is flanked with twin cheesy trophies towering over seven feet high. At about 9:00 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday October 26, “Baby X” arrived—a bouncing boy weighing in at nine pounds, two ounces. I made my first visit the following Friday and spoke with artist mom Marni, as well as Jason Bell, the collaborator dad, and viewed the “artwork,” beautiful baby Ajax. After weeks of habitation and the birthing process, the gallery acquired a cluttered, lived-in patina. A couple of monitors play disks of preliminary activities, including a visit to the beach and family gatherings, while a time-lapse video of the actual birth was projected on the back wall of the gallery.

There’s a humorous Keystone Cops quality to the jumpy images of futzing figures, popping in and out of the camera’s frame, in preparations that quickly turn dramatic as Kotak steps into the pool, begins shaking, tossing and turning with contractions. After considerable convulsing, the delivery is surprisingly brief. The midwife reaching into the water retrieves the babe and places him in his mother’s arms. There are also scenes of the examination of the placenta, and Bell kneading it on heavy paper, a resultant mixed media “painting” is displayed on the nearby wall. Hospital blue pads, soaked with blood and other bodily fluids, are preserved in clear sealed cellophane bags and stacked near the bed.

Despite the happy scene of mother and child, “The Birth of Baby X” raises discomforting questions about the boundaries between “art” and life. Are there happenings that are too personal to be presented as “art”? Is the presentation of a birth as “art” the exploitation of an innocent infant, unable to consent to its own participation? Will there be unforeseen consequences of this performance that might end up affecting Baby X’s future (Mom, I don’t want to go to another stinkin’ opening)?

I mentioned these hypothetical questions to Kotak and Bell, who seemed less concerned with any potential negative effects than with the invasive nature of the paparazzi. The performance had attracted a flock of international press that expanded far beyond the artistic ghetto. There were notices on the gallery door that photography, video, or audio recording were not permitted. Microscope gallerists Andrea Monti and Elle Burchill even went so far as to shutter the windows to discourage peeping photogs from snapping picks of the mom and babe from the street. This reluctance to engage in the total unregulated exposure of “The Birth of Baby X” establishes the aesthetic event horizon and I think sets the artistic and moral limits of privacy beyond which the invasion of the spectacle was not permitted to impinge. Concomitant with the instinct to provide shelter from the onslaught of prying eyes was a very generous almost familial effort to share the experience. There was a list of 15 people who were notified when the labor began, and about a half dozen friends and fans showed up. Kotak, a tall, robust woman who seems well suited for motherhood, said that she was surprised by the amount of attention the piece generated, and questions how this might affect her future performances: For me it was a completely natural thing to do. Because I’d never been pregnant before, dealing with how birth is dealt with in our society, I realized that everyone has issues with birth, and these are the points that this piece touches on. I wasn’t aware of that. I don’t have an issue with it, I feel it’s a natural, positive, amazing thing, but it’s something that freaks a lot of people out.

In our current hyper-aware, wired world, little in life goes on without being broadcast. A quick glance at “baby birth delivery” on YouTube turns up 16,800 results. Yet the act of framing a birth as “art” is still a challenging idea, and it’s an intriguing addition to the legacy of visceral feminist performance going back to Carolee Schneemann, Shigeko Kubota, and the “Essentialists.” It also makes visible the contrast of priorities for Kotak between being an artist and being a mother. “Inter faeces et uriname nascimur,” (between shit and piss we are born) to quote St. Augustine, seems to express the messy nature of life, and one could say the same for art. Though the nascent phase of “The Birth of Baby X” has concluded, this work will continue and grow because as every parent knows, your kids are your most blessed form of art.

In Short

While cruising Williamsburg on an impromptu Saturday night date, I dropped in at the refurbished Boiler in time to catch an early performance of Tony Fitzpatrick’s Stations Lost. Featured along with Fitzpatrick, are his compadre Steve Doyle, songstress Grana Louise, and guitarist Stan Klein. The one hundred minute travelogue traces the big man’s recent peregrinations, including a trip to Istanbul. A dialogue about travelling the back roads of America and musing on its current state may not have been meaty enough to provide for nearly two hours of stage time, but the production—projected video clips of the artists collages, and bluesy musical interludes by Louise—verged on satisfying. Fitzpatrick, a bear of a guy, is a natural actor, and ham. A nostalgic mood recalling the rock ‘n’ roll ’60s abounds, and references to the TV classic Route 66 establish Stations as a look back on a golden age of middle America that never really was. Still, the banter between Fitzpatrick and Doyle displayed a true warmth, and the experience rested somewhere between theatrical storytelling and a revival meeting, done in a broad-shouldered “Chicago Way.”

Let me also add kudos for NURTUREart’s recent reopening at 56 Bogart Street. Having followed their decade long eastward transitions from Keap, to Grand, and now to the crux of the Bushwick scene at 56 Bogart Street, I’m sure the proximity to subway and bus service will provide this admirable institution with the foot traffic needed to garner it the deserved attention. “Re-Telling,” curated by Melissa Levin and featuring Elia Alba, Becca Albee, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Aaron Gilbert, was a sweet debut in the new space. Pieces that caught my eye included Elia Alba’s “Study for ‘Girls,’” set on a plinth, a couple of Raggedy Ann-type stuffed dolls fashioned from photo transfers on fabric depicted reclining nudes, and had abundant pubic hair attached for “realism.” Also, “Love Scene” (2008), an oil on canvas by Aaron Gilbert, which shows a moment of interracial intimacy as a partially clad, brilliantly light skinned boy rises up from his dark skinned partner, revealing her vulnerable naked breast. Gilbert’s taut rendering of the figures has a gothic feel and the immaculately smooth finish bares testament to the artist’s commitment to the painting craft.

Despite the piss and shit, let us salute these new beginnings.