The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

I recently wrote this brief post for the Cummer Museum, a local Jacksonville institution. I personally believe that regional art institutions are a must, so I think it's important to take a moment to reflect about a local organization that helped me develop my interest in art. I may regularly go to MOMA and The Met but I really owe a debt of thanks to my neighborhood museum:

There are a lot of things about the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens that should be celebrated: its breathtaking location along the St. Johns, the spectacular oasis of green that makes up its gardens, the treasures that the museum holds, and its vibrant history and ties to the region. Having grown-up in Jacksonville, I became well aware of these virtues at a young age. From fourth grade on, it seemed that my teachers made a point to schedule yearly field trips to the Cummer. During these trips patient docents would take us through the rooms and ask all of us to describe our thoughts about the pieces. Even as young children, we’d sit in front of the canvases to learn about the symbolism, movement, and history of the works. We’d also eagerly look forward to being able to interact and play in the Art Connections area which we were convinced had been created just for us.

I didn’t know it then, but the Cummer Museum was changing the way I viewed the world and helping to establish a love for art that would last a lifetime. Looking at the work allowed me to experience history in a new way. Suddenly artists weren’t just craftsmen, they were powerful creators able to convey the feeling of a generation, restore a follower’s faith, and shape the future of a political movement.

During high school my fondness for the museum further developed. As soon as I learned about the Renaissance or Romanticism I would drive to the museum and stand a few feet away from the history that I was studying. There was something truly magical about seeing an Albrecht Durer the same day I learned about Albrecht Durer.

Those early experiences convinced me to study art history in college and have led me to continue to make memories that include the Cummer today. I have seen exhibits, attended events, watched friends wed, and even met my Love at the Cummer. Now I know the museum like the back of my hand, which is convenient when I want to impress all of the out-of-town guests that I introduce to the Cummer.

Defining Curating and Curators: Shaken Not Stirred

I always hear people have the same perception of curators, usually that they're some bookish woman with thick rimmed glasses. Hey, those are considered stylish now, right? I myself prefer to fantasize about a more artistic James Bond-ish male who wears fashionable suits to auction houses. But who am I to criticize other people’s visions? Anyway, when I got an email from one of my friends asking me to define the terms Curator and curating I put aside my dreams of well tailored suits, martinis, and English accents and came up with this response:

This is actually an interesting question because people often haphazardly use the term. In a traditional sense, a curated collection would be a grouping of art or artifacts that represent a specific theme, social trend, or movement. In recent years, maybe the past 20 or so, curating has become more of an anthropological exercise. The thought is that you can relate art to overarching social and political, rather than just stylistic, movements in order to reach a broader audience and shed light on a different perspective.

Historically art has been primarily curated by Curators, that is, classically trained Art Historians--think people who have gotten their Doctorate--and specialized in very specific periods or genres. Now, having said all of this, there is much room for interpretation. As the art world has changed, and with the Avant-garde being dictated by a younger grittier group of artists, this notion has also gone through a metamorphosis. Today it's not uncommon to see artists themselves curating and directing even major museum shows. Jeff Koons just infamously curated a show at The New Museum--he didn’t do a great job, but he did it, lol. This is also probably due in large part to the way we communicate now via blog and social networking. More people have become “experts” and personality and communication style have been given a higher regard.

In short, my definition of a curated show would be a one that is thoughtfully organized, with a cohesive stylistic and cultural message organized by an individual well studied and immersed in the creative movement they are trying to relay. Oh, and I tend to respect those curators who have some professional/classic art training as well.

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Maurizio Cattelan Gives the Middle Finger to the Piazza d'Affari

It has been extremely difficult for me to balance work, life, and writing as of late. Despite this however, I still get tons of questions from friends and acquaintances about my views and thoughts on contemporary art. I tend to write brief answers to all of them, usually because I find the entire experience quite enjoyable. I love those random questions; they allow me the freedom of easily expressing my quick thoughts on a work or movement. And usually, much to my delight, the questions are about fairly controversial topics. So please, keep them coming!

Last night I got a quick Facebook message (you can find me on Facebook at: about this recent article from the BBC The article briefly discusses Maurizio Cattelan’s sculpture in front of the Piazza d'Affari, pictured below. Here is my brief response to the question of whether this is art:

Cattelan is one of the most famous artists around today. Although his work is political, sometimes crude, and very controversial, it isn't without a solid art historical basis. If one were to set aside the clear (and in my opinion, completely substantiated political discourse) then at the very least you must admit is that work is pretty flawlessly sculpted. That has to count for something, right? And good on him for using Carrara marble. That was intentional! I like how he uses the same material that Michelangelo and Bernini used to create sculptures that resided in spectacular spaces dedicated to God...using that infers that the stock market and capitalism is essentially the contemporary version of worship. Probably true.

Anyway, I wouldn't exactly compare that sculpture to the Last Supper, as the article does in a round-about-way, but I will say that it seems present a valid social commentary and it is well made. Sounds like a decent piece of art if you ask me.

On Abstract Expressionism

I see evidence of the profound impact of Abstract Expressionism every day. Right now there’s even a trend in fashion that echoes the movement! And yes, I have already purchased a multicolored shirt that fits right in to the trend. A ton of books, movies, paintings, designs, and even performances follow the fundamental aspects of the movement. Yet despite this, Abstract Expressionism has been met with so much resistance. The phenomenon is baffling to me. So many of my conversations with people about art happen the same way… Usually people begin by saying that they absolutely love Impressionism, and that the Renaissance was really inspiring. This always becomes a natural segway into an explanation about their profound hatred modern art because it’s filled with splotches and splattered paint. If the person I’m speaking with has young children then typically they’ll say something like, “Maybe if it didn’t look like something my untalented three year old created then I’d love it.” Ok, ok, they never say their child is untalented, but forgive me if it becomes a little tiresome to hear the same line over and over again. In an effort to avoid this type of conversation I thought it might be useful to explain a few fundamentals. Hopefully with this background people will no longer be tempted to throw up a (gasp!) re-sized miniature Rothko poster just because it matches the couch. And if you do actually do decide to do that, then in the very least you’ll be able to explain the work to little Timmy and recognize that, while his work is absolutely delightful, it may not exactly constitute the same level of skill. :) Here are a few tidbits of trivia and advice to consider when looking at these paintings; I hope you enjoy them and that they help when trying to discover the meaning of this work!

  • Let’s begin with invoking a little bit of patriotism since Abstract Expressionism is considered the first American avant garde movement. This is important because this movement helped define New York as an artistic epicenter. To this day New York has the most impressive collections of paintings from this movement. MOMA and the Met’s collections will literally make you swoon, or in my case tear up out of shear excitement.
  • There were political catalysts that spawned this movement. All of the artists involved survived World War II, and this traumatic event not only forced relocation stateside but also because people were disillusioned with reality and needed a nonrepresentational, visual break from the stresses of war.
  • The theory that the movement is based on is Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious,” this is why the works are relatively unplanned before they are executed. This is also why viewers were asked by artists to respond intuitively rather than through a structured conscious that relates to historical visual ques.
  • Aesthetically the movement owes a lot to cubism in that there is shallowness to the composition and a focus on frontality. Cubism paved the way for this, and allowed artists to eliminate or reinterpret conventions about space and perspective.
  • To determine whether you’re looking at an Abstract Expressionist painting look for some of the following things: lack of focus and depth with little or no perspective, an emphasis on the act of painting, gestural and rapid brushstrokes, energetic and spontaneous application of paint or pigment, an innovative use of commercial or household paints, expansive scale, a sensitivity to color placement, and either severe abstraction of imagery or a canvas that is nonrepresentational.
  • The term “action painting” has survived the art history test of time and is typically used in descriptions. The phrase itself was coined by Rosenberg when describing De Kooning’s Woman series. Incidentally, DeKooning is the only Abstract Expressionist that famously represented the human form (in a somewhat frightening way).
  • There are two types of abstract expressionist painters: Gestural Abstract Expressionists and Chromatic Abstract Expressionists. As you might guess, the former has energetic and expressive application of paint whereas the latter focuses on the emotional impact of color.
    If you’re looking at one of these works it is typically advised that you do so close to the canvas. This is because the shear monumental size of the painting is part of the point; you’re supposed to almost feel swallowed by the work. This is also why buying a re-sized reproduction is virtually a sin! I can personally attest to the importance of size, and will openly swear that the canvases at the Rothko Chapel looked as if they were moving when I stood near the surface. ;)

    Check out some of the most famous examples of Abstract Expressionism below…

Lavender Mist, Jackson Pollock

Woman I, Willem De Kooning

Vir Heroicus Sublimis, Barnett Newman

Green and Tangerine on Red, Mark Rothko

College is Back: Now go get some respectable posters for those dorm walls!

When I was in college I would frequently have this one experience with boys I would meet. Looking back, it’s become both vaguely flattering and simultaneously hilarious. It would go like this… I’d meet a random classmate or acquaintance in the art, history, or english building. They would tell me that they found art fascinating and encourage me to come see examples of what they liked. Eventually I would go over (usually with a girlfriend in tow—it’s always good to go in pairs) to their dorm, swim through a cloud of incense, and while indie music played in the background the guy would show me a Dali poster. For fifteen seconds he would try to fain an interest in art and then immediately begin to discuss going to the newest jazz club downtown where he hoped to avoid contemporary hip-hop. Being the person that I am, I just couldn’t help but persevere. I would insist on an explanation of the work. Inevitably I would get this horrible answer and the piece would be simply described as “trippy.” I’m not kidding, I heard this several times.

After experiencing this phenomenon four things began to occur to me: 1) A lot of people use their art as a means of bolstering their own image, sometimes to seem more intellectual than they really are. 2) If you find a person like this they typically know nothing about art history. 3) A lot of people don’t know the basic content of the images on their walls. 4) You can’t wholly trust someone who has no clue what you’re talking about when you mention apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur. After all, not everything in life is cerebral; some things should just be fun. ;)

In an attempt to separate the brooding, artistic intellectual from a pandering co-ed, I thought that it might be fun to cover some of the most popular movements and paintings that continuously appear in dorms, homes, and businesses. Just think of this as my contribution to college females everywhere! And even if you’re not in college, the information over the next week or two will provide you with some interesting dinner conversations. Here’s what I’m planning to cover:

Abstract Impressionism- American movement that following World War II that was defined by Clement Greenberg. Pollock and Rothko tie as the most recognized figures for this movement. Paintings are spontaneous and there is an emphasis on movement. Works are usually non-representational.
Impressionism- Paris based art movement that began in the 1870s. Claude Monet is considered the founder of the movement which gained notoriety because it was in stark contrast to the Paris Salon. The style is characterized by its focus on color theory, loose brushstroke, light, and the everyday.
Cubism- European movement that began in the early 20th century. Cubism is defined by two different categories: Analytic Cubism and Synthetic Cubism which each have differing visual characteristics. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are considered the innovators of this style.
Surrealism – A primarily Parisian movement that started in the 1920s based on literary trends. Often meticulously finished and detailed, Surrealist works are mind-bending compositions that juxtapose odd imagery in unexpected ways. My old friend Dali is the most commonly acknowledged Surrealist artist.

The man, the myth, the legend: Salvidor Dali And yes, I can admit it, he does look a little "trippy"

On getting personal...

Since I went ahead and got all personal on ya’ this past weekend I figured that it might be fun to do it again. Art has always been a fundamental part of my life and because of this collecting became a natural part of my education and life. The work that I happen to own is probably a little more personal than you might anticipate. I describe my pieces as an eclectic mix where folk art makes a regular appearance. Gasp! It may be a little surprising that I happen to enjoy art that most would consider a craft. Well I do, especially when it has a great story that people can relate to. In my own home, I tend to favor collecting things with a Latin American flavor that reminds me of my childhood. Here are a few of my pieces; I hope that you like them. I figured that a short description/explanation might be helpful so I went ahead and added that as well. ;)

This is one of my highwaymen folk art pieces that was painted by one of R.L. Lewis. I actually purchased this piece from the artist and he wrote an endearing and lovely message on the back. I display it so that if you're standing in my kitchen you can read the inscription. Every time I read his note it makes me smile. The scene itself is uniquely Floridian and so nostalgic. The frame is original and made by the artist from random baseboard scrap wood.

This piece is more edgy and has frequently become the topic of conversation during dinners at my house (there happen to be a couple of naked people scattered amongst the figures). Cut-Out Army, by Carlos Betancourt was a print that represented the enormous installation that Betancourt created for Art Basel, Miami. This print lead to my fascination with the work of the artist and eventually helped me to meet him. That, and it reminds me of the excitement, vibrancy, and colorfulness that some of the more cosmopolitan regions of Florida enjoy.

Both of these prints are by Javier Marin. Marin is most famous for his sculptures but I happen to believe his prints are absolutely stunning. Both are untitled, but I can't help but think that there has to be some sort of Catholic reference. The anatomy is exceptionally interesting, reminiscent of Michelangelo. The woman's body is structured similarly to the male's, you can probably guess what that infers. A detail is pictured below the image with the sofa.

I had to throw this image in as well. Mainly because I Love, Love, Love this chair! True, it's completely uncomfortable and not particularly functional, BUT it was designed by Harry Bertoia who was a student of Brancusi. The chair is so sculptural, and I love how it interacts with the space around it. Plus, it was probably the best Valentine's Day gift that I have ever gotten.

I framed that print that I bought from 20x200 Gallery by Mike Monteiro and here's the proof! Now it rests above my cabinets as a constant reminder of all of the fabulous times that are just around the corner. Do you like how I spun that message? Lol. I frequently read it while taking deep breaths and drinking coffee in the morning.

Yet another piece of folk art. I actually don't know who the craftsman was for this one, but it combines two of my favorite things: skulls and flowers. The piece is actually meant to be used as a Dia de Los Muertos decoration but to me is has such a kitschy, postmodern, pop art aesthetic. It's actually supposed to be a candle holder but I've put it in an alcove of my wall so that it looks like some sort of bizarre idol. Who doesn't love a day that incorporates candy, spirits, AND skulls, needless to say, I've always had a fascination with the Day of the Dead. I bought this on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, which, incidentally happens to be where I was born.

Let's Get Personal

Just in case you’re wondering, the song Let’s Get Physical is definitely echoing in my head as I’m typing this post. And, while I have absolutely no intention of getting physical, I’m much more of a lounging on the beach kinda girl; I thought that this could be a great opportunity to get a little personal.

I was in my best friend’s wedding on August eighth and was fortunate enough to be her M.O.H. which is wedding speak for Maid of Honor. Anyway, the opportunity reminded me of two things: 1) How much I absolutely love Katie and Jon (the bride and groom) and 2) How lucky I am to have unbelievably talented friends who are photographers. Becka Knight and Nathan Robinson, who are also incidentally engaged, have been fabulous friends for some time. Their talent to capture a special moment is inspiring, and I am so happy that they were able to do Katie’s wedding. Here are two of the images. If you have a moment please check out Studio 222 and Becka and Nathan at: