Monday, April 27, 2009

Manifest Manifest Manifest

Wow. It has felt like forever since I last posted to this blog. I've been doing the public relations work for Manifest, Columbia's annual art fest for graduating seniors and community members. That has taken up a lion's share of my time and consequently I have left my poor blog alone. Take a look at the manifest website to get the full flavor of Manifest. It is tasty, tart and delicious. Bring the whole family.

What I love most about Manifest is looking at the art work. Since I have a pretty nice art collection at home, I am always looking to find artists whose work I'd want to have in my collection. I can only spend about $500 tops. Absolutely tops. Last year I really wanted to buy a piece from Curtis Mann, but it was way out of my price range. It was better than what his work fetches now, but I just don't have that kind of cash. Actually, I bought a piece by Cody Hudson at his show at Andrew Rafacz Gallery and there lying on the window ledge was a piece by Curtis. It was beautiful. I grew wistful. I really love the Cody painting. I did pay more than $500, but this was an extremely rare occurrence for me.

Look on the Manifest website for new and interesting updates. Check out the music line up. It's going to floor you.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Loaded: Hunting Culture in America is currently on view at Columbia College Chicago's Glass Curtain Gallery. published this article on April 8,2009. It was written by Jason Foumberg, a most excellent writer and reviewer for New City in Chicago.

Erika Larsen, Wedding Ring (2005)

In the April 2009 issue of hunting magazine Outdoor Life, a hunter tells an anecdote about coming across a rare ‘transgendered deer’ (with male polished antlers and female genitalia); of course, he shot and killed it. On the magazine’s facing page is an ad for an erectile dysfunction pill. In a quest to understand modern hunting culture, it was satisfying to smirk at these and other mentions of complicated sexuality in the context of killing animals, since hunting is often defended as tradition. More telling, though, was the insertion of such urban concepts as ‘transgendered’ and Viagra within an age-old activity, revealing how bloodsports have been modernized and commercialized. This, too, is the intention of ‘Loaded: Hunting Culture in America’, a thematic exhibition that combines documentary photography, contemporary art, hunting-chic décor and hunting paraphernalia.

Hunting magazines comprise two main types of imagery: a photo-op of the proudly smiling hunter holding his (dead) catch, and wildlife (alive) in its natural habitat, looking pretty for the shoot. The exhibition, too, picks up on these standard poses. Erika Larsen’s series of colour photographs, ‘Young Blood’ (2007), documents the lives of various families that hunt together. Especially difficult to view are portraits of children and young adults posing with rifles, bloodied squirrels and turkeys in hand. Similarly, Brian Lesterberg’s photograph Hoof Track with Blood (2003) shows a depression on a plane of white snow, dappled with blood drippings from a fresh kill recently carted off. Each photograph could act as a condemnation of the bloodsport, though these are insiders’ views: Larsen contributes photographs to Field & Stream, a popular hunting magazine in the US, while Lesterberg is a hunter himself.

Mathieu Lévesque, John-Paul (2006). Enamel, oil and carving on brass

But what do the art establishment, and even urban or suburban dwellers, know about the seemingly backwoods hunting community? Lots, apparently. Like punk rock or S&M, the gear and gadgets from hunting subculture have trickled through to the mainstream. Sure, the brew gets watered-down and the bite is softened as contemporary artists and designers pick it up, but curators Audrey Michelle Mast and Ann Wiens don’t seem interested in expressing exactly what it feels like to track and kill an animal; rather, it’s the look, the fashion and the stuff - the culture - of the hunt that is on display here.

There are a handful of ‘real’ objects and scenes from hunting culture - not only Lesterberg’s and Larsen’s documentary footage but also duck decoys from the collection of an award-winning decoy sculptor. The life-like painted wooden ducks are both functioning tools and sculptural objects (though not necessarily ‘sculpture’ as we’re comfortable with the term).

Diana Guerrero-Macia, Kill Shots (2007). Wool, leather, vinyl and cotton

The step from the duck decoys, popular in some faux-rustic dens, to ironic kitsch is easy to make, and the curators follow through by exhibiting a cardboard trophy buck head, made to adorn, presumably, college dorm rooms. The difference between the wooden decoys and the cardboard head is the seriousness with which the decoy maker works and the smugness of the cardboard joke. The contrast is similarly played-out with a taxidermied and mounted jackalope (the folkloric antlered bunny), and designer salt and pepper shakers in the shape of stag heads. Whereas the jackalope was a junk-shop prize find and is a token lowbrow curio, the spice shakers are made of stainless steel and sell for US$43. Elsewhere in the exhibition, you can play Nintendo’s popular Duck Hunt (1985). A trajectory takes shape, detailing the progression of the hunting subculture’s step-by-step manoeuvre into middle-class life.

As for the contemporary art on view, there are similar reversals and transpositions of high and low taste. Jenn Wilson’s lush oil painting of a bear recalls a hunter’s morbid love affair with nature and the sport’s curious self-justification of environmental conservationism. Bear (2008) could hang just as easily in a lodge as it does in the Glass Curtain Gallery. Kimberly Hart’s Hunting Stand with Unicorn Bait (2007) is an installation that updates the Metropolitan Museum’s famous ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’ (1495–1505) tapestries, using hobby-shop materials such as plastic beads and pastel pom-poms. On the side of sentimentality are Josh Winegar’s altered photographs of hunters parading their trophy kills, in which the artist has whitewashed the proud hunters with paint until they’re almost completely faded out, though leaving the animals intact. In Mtn. Lion (2007), a large, limp feline is given a painted bandage in a sweetly futile gesture of redemption.

Hunting culture is so ripe with artistic metaphors - decoys and doubles, the quietude of a collection and the violence of ownership - yet the curators don’t deviate from the historical slice they aim to present (except, perhaps, the inclusion of Diana Guerrero-Maciá’s stitched ransom note, which reads, ‘Designed to deliver kill shots’, and may be aimed at viewers). By balancing pictures of carcasses and guns alongside cultural relics, hunting is shown to be a disturbingly assimilated pastime.

Jason Foumberg

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Loaded: The Hunting Show

A wonderful article written by Alicia Eler appeared in New City. I include it here.

Eye Exam: A Loaded Question

image: Erika Larsen, Wedding Ring, 2005

By Alicia Eler

Taxidermy is big business—and high art. A March 6 New York Times article reported taxidermy sightings at this year’s Armory Art Fair, including Carolyn Salas and Adam Parker Smith’s buckhead whose abnormally huge antlers twist into the air like overgrown tree branches. This month’s Modern Painters devotes its cover to taxidermy: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman wearing an ironically conspicuous cross around her neck lies on an animal-print cloth next to a dead, sleeping taxidermied baby fox, suggesting that death is once again en vogue.

Curators Ann Wiens and Audrey Michelle Mast take this trend into deeper territory, exploring the literal meat of it all. Their show, “Loaded: Hunting Culture in America,” looks at the influence of hunting on the art world, pop culture, design, photography and video games. Juxtaposed against a hunting-culture backdrop, the trend begins feeling like less of an oddity and more like a culturally relevant pattern.Mast foregrounds the hunting-culture trend in her curatorial essay, mentioning designer Philippe Starck’s 2000 “hunting lodge gone mod” as a harbinger. Wiens and Mast avoid turning the show into a dichotomous, moralistic attack on what many rural communities view as a cherished, time-honored tradition. Uninterested in work that could walk the line with propaganda, they instead focus on open-ended pieces that are best unpacked by the viewer. “Loaded”’s subject matter could have easily meandered into a condemnation of the killing sport or fetishized its easy kitsch, but it instead succeeds in peeking beyond our urban, non-hunting experience.

image: Kimberley Hart, Hunting Stand with Unicorn Bait, 2007. Courtesy of Mixed Greens, NY

The show inadvertently discusses gender, particularly in the work of Brooklyn-based artist Kimberley Hart. Her alter ego of an ultra girlie-girl—”the quintessential sweet girl, all frills and petal pink…the doe-eyed, sentimental icon with dolly in tow and teacup in hand,” explains Hart in a NY Arts Magazine article—sprung from her own preteen tomboy tendencies. Through her persona, Hart explores an imaginary, magical world devoid of gender expectations where her alter ego hunts unicorns that, when killed, may incite disaster. To lure in and later kill the innocent unicorn, she crafts “Hunting Stand with Unicorn Bait” (2005). A light pink ladder leads up to a kitschy, seventies-looking pastel-colored box decorated in fabrics and yarn, with circular mesh windows, frills, sequins and hanging fuzzy balls. (Hunters use similar stands to help spot deer on paths in the woods.) A lick of golden salt—unicorn bait—hangs from a string on the stand. Picturing a pixie-looking girl mischievously killing a magical unicorn defies real-world expectations of her alter ego’s gender expectations and takes one into a magical fantasy world reminiscent of the movie “The Neverending Story.”

Straddling the hunting and fine art contexts, Erika Larsen’s photographs document rural families on the hunt. A regular photographer for “Field and Stream,” a hunting magazine with a readership of ten-million-plus, Larsen also shows her work, which takes an unbiased approach to hunting, in art galleries. In “Wedding Ring,” Larsen captures a moment after the kill. She shoots a close-up portion of a woman’s sweater and forest-green hunting gear, focusing her lens on the woman’s bloody fingers as they rest on her hip. A diamond wedding ring sits snugly on her index finger, becoming the focal point of the photo. These contextually flexible works are the show’s most compelling, presenting a candid, non-voyeuristic peek into real hunting cultures where men, women and children see hunting as far more than sport.

Seeing photographs of the hunt may be more satisfying than eating the meat of dead animals, or seeing taxidermy that comes neatly packaged after the fact. It’s the adrenaline rush, the connection to nature and, ultimately, man’s ability to conquer nature. To supplement such ideas, Wiens and Mast include the 1984 Nintendo game Duck Hunt, a video game that is exactly what it sounds like. Viewers are welcome to play. “Bucky,” an assemble-it-yourself cardboard buckhead available from, takes the trophy significance out of the object, imbuing it with a sense of poppy, mass-produced playfulness.

Wiens and Mast also include artifacts from hunting culture, borrowing duck decoys from a man named Bob Lantz who lives in Palos Heights, Illinois. Lantz carves and collects the decoys, and has won numerous awards for his craftsmanship, including a 1981 world title in the intermediate World Wildlife Carving Championship held in Ocean City, Maryland. A 1981 duck stamp, which functions as both a permit for hunting waterfowl and a hunter’s collector item, suggests one of hunting culture’s many facets.

But a hunting show wouldn’t be complete without taxidermy. Various animals find their way into the show, like the jackalope, a make-believe rabbit with antlers. The curators, however, treat any taxidermy in this show as an artifact from the culture—not an art object. Skinning and stuffing dead animals may be a part of both art and hunting cultures, but it’s by no means the focus.

Through April 29 at The Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.