Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Anne Patterson and More at St. John the Divine

"Divine Pathways" by Anne Patterson 
While visits to the big museum exhibits are always on my New York itinerary, I'm making an effort to get off the beaten path as well. And so Suzanne and I found ourselves at St. John the Divine taking in the Anne Patterson exhibit (and more). It was glorious. 

Patterson's work is not new to me. In fact, Sarasota art lovers now have the opportunity to see her work -- and to experience one of her ribbon installations -- in "The Truth of the Night Sky" at Sarasota Art Museum. It's terrific. Having seen a couple of Patterson's installations, I ridiculously thought the exhibit at St. John the Divine would have basically the same impact. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. People -- including me -- literally gasp when they enter the church and see the colorful ribbons unfurled from the 177' high nave. It was truly a religious experience (albeit of the artistic variety). In this setting, with the sun coming through the stained glass windows, the work served as a reminder that there is beauty in a world that seems increasingly dark. 

With stained glass windows
Shockingly (not), I kicked into docent mode. I found myself walking up to random people and asking them if I could tell them a bit about the artist. Fun fact: Patterson has synesthsethia, a condition that makes her see colors when she listens to music. I could imagine sacred music playing as she and her team created the ribbons that would become the installation. Also of note is that Patterson's degree was in theater design rather than visual art. I suspect this background came into play when creating this installation for the world's largest cathedral. Talk about a big stage. But enough from me. You can hear Patterson herself talk about the Divine Pathways project by clicking here. And to see more of her work, click here. Finally, a reminder that you can enlarge any image by clicking on it. It's not the same as being there, but it will give you a better sense of the experience. 

"Our Lady of Ferguson and All Those 
Killed by Gun Violence" by Mark Doox (2016)
We of course spent time exploring the rest of the Cathedral while we were there. Despite my years in New York, I had never been. It's an amazing structure with all styles of art throughout the building. As expected, there were a fair number of Byzantine-style sculptures and paintings of Christ, the Virgin Mary and various saints. But there were also works like "Our Lady of Ferguson and All Those Killed by Gun Violence" by Mark Doox. Holy moly. 

Doox is known for his iconography featuring Black figures. Here, the Virgin Mary is a Black woman who holds her hands up in an "I surrender" position. I wasn't surprised to learn this striking image was created in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown that led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. What was a surprise, though, was learning that Doox has created Black iconography in response to racism in our country for the past 30+ years. I'd like to go on a deep dive here, but I'll leave it to you if you're interested. Click here for an article in the NY Times about Doox and here to see images of his work on his Instagram feed. I became an instant fan and am definitely interested in checking out his graphic novel entitled "The N-Word of God." 

"The Life of Christ" by Keith Haring (1990) 
The cathedral has multiple chapels that serve as more intimate settings for prayer and contemplation. The altarpiece in one of these spaces was created by Keith Haring. Haring got his start in the NYC graffiti art world, and his work continued to have a graffiti vibe throughout his short life. Over the course of his career his art could be seen at such disparate places as NYC subway stations, the Sao Paolo and Venice Bienniales, on the cover of Vanity Fair and on U.S. postage stamps. His work was political, often promoting safe sex and awareness of the AIDS crisis. Haring died of AIDS related complications in 1982. He was just 31 years old. 

The altarpiece features Haring's trademark hieroglyphic-style people reaching to the heavens where there are angels and the figure of Christ. (For a better image, click here.) The work also includes one of the Haring's "radiant babies" that represent youthful innocence, goodness, potential and purity. The altarpiece is an homage to all who died during the AIDS crisis and was completed only weeks before Haring's death. In fact, Haring did not live to see the work cast in bronze; he only had time to create the clay mold from which the final altarpieces -- nine in all -- were made. It seems particularly fitting for the Cathedral to house one of these works because Haring's memorial service was held there. For more on the altarpiece, click here. And for more on Haring, click here

Needless to say, my inaugural outing to St. John the Divine was a memorable one. It turns out that the Cathedral often has special exhibits on display in the nave in addition to the permanent art and other exhibits. The architecture is, of course, stunning as well. It's well worth a visit, even for the most secular among us. For more information, click here

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Art -- But No Breakfast -- at Tiffany's

"Girl with No Eyes" by Julian Schnabel (2021)
My jaw dropped when we stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor at The Landmark, Tiffany & Co.'s Flagship Store in New York. Two huge Julian Schnabel paintings greeted us -- one on the wall of the elevator bank and the other behind one of the most cool dining room sets I've ever seen. I would have run to get closer to this painting, but I showed some restraint given our location. But let me back up a bit. 

It probably won't surprise you when I say that Tiffany's is not one of my regular stops when I go to New York. But my friend Stephenie had been to the City recently and visited the store after reading about the collection. It sounded too exciting to miss despite my apprehension about being so obviously a gawker rather than a buyer. At least I -- like the staff -- was wearing black. 

"Fragile Heart" by Gene Moore (1987)

To their credit, the people who work at Tiffanys are incredibly friendly and didn't look at us askance. Suzanne and I spent a good amount of time talking with Brandon, a sales associate and fellow art lover. He shared that Tiffany's began as a home goods store in 1837; hence the inclusion of beautiful china and silver among the store's offerings. It wasn't long, though, before Charles Lewis Tiffany expanded the store's enticements to include diamonds and other gemstones. 

The collection began when King Louis-Phillipe of France abdicated the throne in 1848 after being unable to woo the support of the industrialist class. As aristocrats began fleeing the country, Tiffany saw an opportunity to relieve them of their jewels in exchange for much needed cash. Over time, a generous share of both the French and the Spanish crown jewels became part of Tiffany's inventory. Today Tiffany's has more than 300 locations around the globe where customers can purchase high class bling. 

 Daniel Arsham's "Bronze Eroded Venus of Arles"
while looking up the circular staircase  
In keeping with the tone of the Flagship Store, numerous works from Tiffany's world class art collection are on display, including Julian Schnabel's "Girl with No Eyes" with which I was so immediately taken. The work is from his series entitled "Big Girl Paintings." The eyes of the young women are hidden in all in these works. It's a bit disconcerting, but Schnabel apparently didn't have any deep meaning behind this choice. Instead, he believes that eliminating his subject's eyes forces viewers to consider the rest of the painting instead. Hmm. In its setting at Tiffany's, the covered eyes made me think of someone (1) surprising the young woman with a present or (2) telling her to avert her eyes because no gifts are forthcoming. Whatever the intention, I loved them. 

Gene Moore has multiple works on display, each of which was engaging. If you're not familiar with his name, you're not alone. Moore was not an artist, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, he was the VP of window display with Tiffany's for almost four decades. During that time, he created 5,000+ captivating windows for the store. His "Fragile Heart," packed up and ready to go on a journey, seems perfect for a store where romance is in the air. One of his windows featured a series of ice cream sugar cones stacked one on top of the other. At the very front of the display were three stand alone cones with sizeable ruby rings atop them. Moore's motto was "Make people stop," and I did. 

Ad for Arsham Bronze Eroded Tiffany Blue Box 
It's always fun to see a Daniel Arsham work since we have one of his "Hollow Figure" sculptures on display in Sarasota. Arsham has a tight relationship with Tiffany's. His monumental "Bronze Eroded Venus of Arles" sculpture is in a premiere location at the foot of the store's beautiful circular staircase. Art lovers who take a liking to Arsham's work can purchase their own Bronze Eroded Tiffany Padlock (retailing for a mere $59,000) or Bronze Eroded Tiffany Blue Box (Circa 3021). Arsham said about the boxes: "I always gravitate towards items that are immediately culturally recogniable. The Tiffany Blue Box has that power. I wanted to address it in a way different than how it was originally intended by giving it a distressed, aged quality which represents its history, how much of a fixture it is in our world today, and how it will continue to be relevant in decades, even centuries, from now." The words "for people who are incredibly wealthy" are of course implicit in that statement.

"Cynosure" by Molly Hatch (2023)
I'll leave you with a work by another artist who has a connection with Sarasota -- Molly Hatch. And this is where we get to the breakfast at Tiffany's part. Hatch has created three works for Tiffany's Flagship Store, including "Cynosure" and "Roseate" which can be found in the Blue Box Cafe. (You can also have breakfast while you're admiring the art for $65 pp.) "Cynosure" is based on renderings for a Tiffany's brooch that Hatch found in the store's archives. The work features her trademark hand-thrown and hand-painted plates in various sizes with white gold accents. It truly evokes the jewels for which Tiffany's is best known. Locally, you can see Hatch's "Amalgam" at Sarasota Art Museum.

These works are just a sampling of the art that can found at Tiffany's Flagship Store. There were also works by the likes of Basquait and James Turrell and Anish Kapoor. The list goes on. I recommend a visit the next time you're in the City. And I suggest that you wear black. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Imagine Museum Revisited

Paintings and glass works by Jan Exnar
When my friends come to visit, I put together a little itinerary for them to peruse. Unbeknownst to me, my friend Sarah was not really looking forward to our outing to Imagine Museum in St. Pete. I had only told her it was a glass museum, and she had visions of looking at one work by Chihuly after another.

"Oh ye of little faith!" I said when she confessed her misapprehension a few minutes into our visit. Chihuly is of course uber talented and an important figure in the glass world. But I, like Sarah, am happy to move on to the work of glass artists with whom I'm not familiar. Imagine Museum is the perfect place for such an exploration. 

"Statua, Model 1:5" by Jan Exnar (2019-2020)
Case in point: The work of Jan Exnar. The juxtaposition of Exnar's glass sculptures with his paintings of similarly shaped objects was striking and unexpected. I liked it. 

It's always interesting to find out what inspires an artist. In the case of Exnar, this requires a history lesson. Exnar's work is said to "serve as a visual commentary on the Velvet Revolution." As I'm sure you know (as I do now, thanks to Google), the Velvet Revolution was the Federal Republic of Czechoslavakia’s non-violent transition of power in 1989 that converted their system of government from Communism to a parliamentary republic. Four years later, the Federation went through the Velvet Divorce when it was divided into Czechoslovakia and Slovakia. I like the terminology, not to mention the fact that they somehow achieved the transition without resorting to violence. I suspect it's the jagged edges of Exnar's work that are intended as a reference to the Revolution and the split of the Federation, but your guess is as good as mine. Let me know if you have other thoughts. 

"Who Doesn't Love a Bad Idea" by Morgan Peterson
The work in the "Imagine Differently" exhibit was also unexpected, but in an entirely different way. The exhibit features artwork in a variety of mediums that addresses themes such as social advocacy, the war on drugs and human trafficking. 

Morgan Peterson's "Who Doesn't Love a Bad Idea" gave me pause. The oversized razor blade was particularly impactful. It turns out this isn’t a unique piece in Peterson's portfolio. She often explores issues of addiction in her artistic practice. Click here to see the even more striking "Once Upon a Crime, the American Epidemic." 

Peterson's name might be ringing some bells if you watch the reality show "Blown Away." She won Season 4 of the art glass competition in a victory that social media characterizes as controversial. I'm just reporting here. For Peterson's website, click here

"Hot Head" by Ivana Sramkova
How about something a bit lighter? Ivana Sramkova's "Hot Head" made me smile. It's not often that I would call a work of glass art "cute," but this work is adorable. Why didn't I get a picture with him? More interestingly, why did I characterize this gender neutral work as a man? Hmm. 

While Sramkova's work is quite varied, she often creates these quasi-abstract figurative forms. She explains her attraction to figurative work on her website, which says, in part, "Perhaps the majority of us respond to the growing chaos around us with a counter-reaction: restoring calmness and comprehensibility. Figuration is a suitable method for this." Sramkova also notes that she's inspired by the art of Indigenous peoples, Egypt and antiquity. Now that I think about it, the simplicity and geometry of her figures remind me a bit of cave paintings. To read her entire credo, click here. And to see more of her figures, click here. I love the names she's given them. If you have time, it's fun to explore her entire body of work. Her paintings have the same whimsical feel as her sculpture. This is art I could live with. 

Once again, a visit to Imagine Museum was both interesting and fun. I highly recommend it when you’re in need of an art outing. (Note: The use of the word “need” is intentional, at least for me.) For more info on Imagine Museum, go to

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Making of a Mural with Truman Adams

Truman Adams with new mural "Amphitrite"
Sarasota is a city known for its arts and culture. Happily, public art is part of that equation. That doesn't happen without the City being fully committed to incorporating public art into its planning. Since the 1980s, developers building commercial and multi-family structures have been required to spend $5K per $1M of construction costs on public art. The developer can commission artwork to be on- or off-site (in a location accessible to the public) or can "donate" the funds to a public art coffer. Some of those monies are being used to fund a new mural initiative dubbed the Florida Legacy Art Mural Series. Artist Truman Adam was awarded the first project, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Mary Davis Wallace has served as Sarasota's Public Art Manager since 2021. From Day One, Mary Davis recognized the importance of putting a structured plan in place to foster the City's public art program. And so she worked and worked and worked some more on creating a Public Art Plan for the City. The 112 page document outlines the City's objectives in detail and leaves little doubt that managing a public art program is not for the faint of heart. Sarasota is lucky to have someone as passionate and patient as Mary Davis at the helm.

The Plan notes that most of the murals in Sarasota have grown out of grassroots initiatives. That makes sense. Murals are significantly less expensive to create than sculptures. Murals are also more similar to the type of media we look at daily and thus tend to be more readily understandable. (I know, I know. That is a vast generalization, but I'm going with it.) Given these factors, it makes sense that the City would be interested in promoting this art form as part of its public art initatives. 

Following the City's adoption of the new plan, Mary Davis established a mural meet up group for local artists. It's a clearinghouse of sorts, with a list of potential artists being compiled for developers' consideration. But artists have also been encouraged to create their own opportunities by finding a suitable empty wall and persuading the property owner to allow a mural to be created there -- at the City's expense. Once agreement is reached, the artist must prepare a proposal for consideration by the Public Art Committee, which can approve the project or ask the artist to go back to the drawing board. 

Early stages in the creation process (and a super sunny day)
Truman Adams had a leg up in creating the inaugural mural for the program. He'd had his eye on an empty wall on a Utilities Department Building for a long time. In fact, he'd "tagged" the building not once but twice over the years. (In case this term from the graffiti world is new to you, "tagging" is when an artist leaves a painted mark on a wall to let other artists know he's claimed the space.) Truman can't recall what his mark looked like 13 years ago when he first identified the wall as a potential canvas. But he does remember the second tag done a few years later. While out on a first date with an unnamed woman, he painted a portrait of her on the wall. It sounds quite romantic to me, but she apparently wasn't impressed and they didn't go out again. What??!!! In any event, with the introduction of the new mural project, there was finally a real prospect the wall could be his. 

The approval process for even what seems to be a straightforward government project takes time. This was no exception. The fact that the building is owned by the City eliminated having to persuade the owner to allow a mural to be painted. Still, multiple approvals had to be obtained, including from the Public Art Committee. Truman presented three very different images for consideration by the committee members -- Amphitrite (the Greek goddess of the sea), children created from elements of the natural world, and a mosaic-like great white heron. "Amphitrite" was the winner. The Committee noted that the classical feel of the work was a nice tie-in with the Italian sculptures -- compliments of John Ringling -- that surround St. Armands Circle. It was also noted that the more traditional image might be appealing to people who have reservations about the increasing number of murals in our community. You would never confuse Amphitrite with graffiti.    

Creation of the mural took a little over two weeks, with Truman arriving at dawn in hopes of beating the heat. When I stopped by to check out his progress, he was working from a picture of Amphitrite on his phone. I couldn't figure out how he was translating the tiny on-screen image into the larger than life figure on the wall. The first step had been laying down a doodle grid over which he drew an outline of the image. From there he could paint the work square by square until Amphitrite's face and the coral surrounding her emerged. (Digression: This approach reminds me of Anne Lamott's wonderful book "Bird by Bird," which I highly recommend.)  

You might have noticed in the photo above that a pipe was inconveniently sticking out of the wall from which the mural was emerging. There's also an inexplicable archway behind the pipe (with a matching one on the other side) and a sizeable utility box that isn't shown in this picture. What's a muralist to do? Truman contemplated incorporating the pipe as an earring for the goddess, but he ultimately just painted it. Once the metal fencing that had been on the archways was removed, it was simple enough to blend those into the image as well. 

The bushes were/are slightly more problematic given the way they protrude into the image. There had been discussion of removing them until it was discovered they are the natural habitat for a butterfly  thought to have been extinct until recently. Seriously, what are the odds? So the shrubbery stayed. It serves as a contrast to the image of the aquatic goddess, grounding her in our world. 

"Amphitrite" as seen from the street (click on image to enlarge) 
After two+ weeks, the mural was complete. It is gorgeous. Make sure to check it out the next time you're driving on Tamiami Trail on the stretch by Marina Jacks. (More precisely, "Amphitrite" is located on Gulf Stream Avenue across the street from the controversial "Unconditional Surrender" sculpture.) For better images of the mural and the building in its unadorned state, click here. For Truman's website, click here

And there's more! I'm delighted to share a bit of news here about the Florida Legacy Art Mural Series. Four more murals are in the works, although they are early on in the approval process. So keep your eyes peeled for muralists at work. For more information about Sarasota's Public Art Program, click here. Happy viewing! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Playwright Terry Guest on the World Premiere of "Oak"

Summer Wallace with Terry Guest  
Here's a newsflash (not): I love being in the same room with creative people. It's one of the reasons Sarasota is my home. And there's no better place to get up close and personal with actors, directors and playwrights than Urbanite Theatre. Case in point: Hearing playwright Terry Guest talk about "Oak," a show with a Southern Gothic feel that opened last weekend. 

If you're a Sarasota theater person, Terry's name might sound familiar. He also wrote "At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen," a play that premiered at Urbanite back in 2021. A lot has changed for Terry since he wrote "Wake" during his lunch breaks while working at a Chicago coffee shop. He's now a full time playwright and the recipient of multiple commissions, including a musical he's putting the finishing touches on compliments of the largesse of the Goodman Theatre. 

"Oak" was also the result of a commission awarded during the pandemic -- the 2020 Charles Rowan Beye New Play Commission. But there's one big difference between the Urbanite and the Goodman commissions. Once completed, Urbanite guaranteed Terry a production of his new show. And so once the script was finalized -- more or less -- Terry headed back to Sarasota to share his work with Urbanite audiences. 

During a talk at Urbanite, Terry shared his inspiration for "Oak." He grew up in Albany, Georgia, a place far, far away from Chicago where he was quarantined during the pandemic. He missed home. He missed the outdoors, especially the trees. And he missed his mother. Set in a small wooded town, "Oak" grew out of those feelings. That makes it sound as if the play might border on sentimentality. But that's not the way Terry writes. "Oak" is wildly creative and hilarious and even a bit scary. It made me think about family and the choices we make and their consequences. I loved it. 

Guest is the first to admit that the play now on stage is quite different from the one page proposal he submitted for the commission. How can you know what a play is going to be until you actually put pen to paper? But one aspect of the proposal that remained intact was its Southern Gothic overtones. 

You might wonder, as I did, what it means for a play to have a "Southern Gothic" feel. And so I asked. He immediately began talking about the Civil War and the Old South and its huge plantations. These homes were once beatuiful -- if blood-stained -- but often fell into disrepair once slave labor was no longer available to maintain them. And so the ivy began to overwhelm the homes and they eventually crumbled, leaving behind what Terry called "ghastly remnants." What a perfect setting to conjure up a bit of horror. 

With Terry Guest on opening night
Happily for Urbanite and the other theatres that will be mounting "Oak," the play doesn't require the recreation of one of those old homes. Instead, the most important setting is the woods to which kids are automatically drawn. You can see in the picture above how scenic designer Frank Chavez captured this setting. Director Mikael Burke took full advantage of the design with the most creative staging of a show I've seen in a long time. I was in from the first moment. 
I mentioned above the "other theatres" that will be producing this play. Terry doesn't just hope that that will happen. "Oak" will be seen over the next 18 months at three other theatres across the country. The play is part of a rolling world premiere through the National New Play Network. The program provides support for a show to be produced in three different theatres, each of which will put its own mark on the play. It's an amazing opportunity for Terry to see multiple interpretations of his work as different actors, directors and creative teams bring "Oak" to life. Once the show has been wrapped at Urbanite, it will move on to the confusingly named Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center in Indianapolis and the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo. And there's more! Terry and Burke are also bringing the show to a small theater in Chicago in October 2025. I might have to pop up to see that production. 

"Oak" runs at Urbanite Theatre through June 30th. It's the perfect way to spend a sultry summer night. For tickets, click here. And for more info on Terry and his work, click here. Stay cool! 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Get the Picture" by Bianca Bosker

I don’t often read non-fiction. God forbid that I actually learn something when I pick up a book. But I ordered a copy of “Get the Picture” by Bianca Bosker as soon as I heard about it. How could I not read a book written by a journalist who immersed herself in the contemporary art world to develop her “Eye.” I loved it.

I’ll say at the top that this is not a book for everyone. If you have no interest in art, stop reading now. But if you're interested in knowing more about what happens behind the scenes in the art world, this book is a must read. 

Bosker didn't just interview people in the art world for her book. Instead, she lived the life, working in various jobs over the course of two+ years -- all on the record. She "interned" at two different galleries. She worked as a studio assistant to Julie Curtiss, an artist whose paintings are beginning to be seen in museum shows. She even got a job as a guard at the Guggenheim. The hours were long, the demands were many, and the people were often, well, crazy -- or at least seem crazy to those outside their world. But you can tell from her words that she thoroughly enjoyed the process and (most of) the people she met along the way. 

"States of Mind" by Julie Curtiss
I often use post-its when I'm reading to tag language I enjoy or passages I might want to revisit. As you can see, my copy of "Get the Picture" has an abundance of post-its marking its pages. 

The most outrageous storyline involved Bosker's exploration of the world of performance art. In a nutshell, performance art is art created through actions by the artist and/or other participants. At least for me, it's often hard to appreciate as "art" rather than theater or dance. In fact, it's often hard to appreciate (full stop). 

But in for a penny, in for a pound. Bosker somehow ended up exploring performance art in the form of ass influencers. (Yes, you read that right. I surely did not know that was a thing.) And when Bosker gets into a subject, she gets into it. Her introduction to this world began with participation in a "live face sitting." Enough said. Reading about that experience was one of the many times I laughed out loud while reading this book. To Bosker's credit, she spent a good amount of time trying to understand the performer's intention behind her art form. (I'd say "unique" art form, but it turns out it's not.) FYI, the wanna-be ass influencer has an MFA from Columbia. Somebody else please read this book so we can discuss! 

Bianca Bosker
Bosker shares a lot of other crazy stuff about her time in the contemporary art world that made me laugh or shake my head. But there were also many times when I sat back and thought about an experience she'd had or her take on her new world. Like, for instance, when she talked about how spending extended time with a work of art deepened her understanding and appreciation of it. It's so easy to glance at a work, take a peek at the wall card to find out what you're seeing and move on, especially if the work doesn't speak to you or makes you uncomfortable.

I am personally quite guilty of taking this approach. I understand why I do it. I enjoy looking at works that immediately resonate with me. (I've been known to literally run across a gallery -- or past several booths at Art Basel -- when there's a work that I MUST SEE RIGHT NOW.) There never seems to be enough time to linger. I'm intellectually lazy and having to figure something out takes too much effort. Isn't there a docent around who can help me out???  But if I'm being honest, here's the biggest reason I pass by a lot of contemporary art -- looking at something I don't understand makes me feel dumb rather than curious. So it makes sense that I'd rather avert my eyes or at least cut to the chase and read the wall card before taking a good look. 

I'm publicly vowing to push myself in this regard, thanks to Bosker's words. To really look at at least one work of art each museum visit that I would have otherwise passed by. To give myself time. The world isn't going to end if I spend an additional five minutes doing some close looking. Bosker shared an approach that might make this process a bit easier. Note five things that come to mind when you look at the work. It doesn't have to be anything deep or smart. It could be a mood or a color. It could be a tiny detail that makes you smile. Keep looking past the point it's comfortable. Let the work open up to you. Then -- and only then -- look at the wall card for the description. But I (kind of) digress. Note: Bosker's words are a testament to the Slow Art Movement. While I was previously familiar with this approach, it somehow clicked when I read about Boker's experience as a museum guard. 

"Virgin" by Joseph Beuys (1979)
While working at the Guggenheim, one of Bosker's posts was near Joseph Beuys' "Virgin." She said she was "locked in a bitter feud" with the installation, finding it incomprehensible despite many 40 minute shifts looking at the work while making sure nobody sat in the chair or wiped the dust off the table. Then she began asking visitors what they saw. Their responses ranged from a Soviet investigation room to thoughts of a parent washing her kid's mouth out with soap. (The yellow object on the table is a bar of soap.)  "Virgin" -- and the other works Bosker spent time with -- suddenly became "portals to other places" as she gave herself the latitude to just respond to the work instead of feeling she had to see it in the same way as its creator did. How liberating. 

Bosker also wrote about the idea that beauty has become suspect in the contemporary art world. That's a topic in and of itself that I'm not going to get into here. But along the way she developed a broad definition of what she believes constitutes beauty. "Beauty ... doesn't have to have a physical form, and it certainly doesn't have to be something we agree on. Beauty is that moment your mind jumps the curb. Beauty is the instant you sit up and start paying attention. Whatever makes that happen for you can be beautiful. Math equations. Gymnastics. Planes Landing. But you have to be open to seeing it. Beauty doesn't find you. You create beauty by looking for it, and the moment you do find it, stop and pay attention." 

And on that note, I'm off to search for more beauty in my own world. I encourage you to do the same.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Tim Jaeger Lights Up Berkeley Chapel

Tim Jaeger in Berkeley Chapel
Many people who aren't religious say instead that they are spiritual. I can't even make that claim. Doing yoga is about as spiritual as I get. Nonetheless, I was eager to see the fused glass windows -- 41 in all -- created by artist Tim Jaeger for Berkeley Chapel in Tampa. They are glorious. 

Jaeger was the perfect person for the project, and not only because he's a talented artist. His father was an Episcopal minister for 40 years. Berkeley Chapel is part of Berkeley Prep School, a K-12 day school affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? But the job wasn't handed to Jaeger on a platter. He was initially contacted to see if he could suggest some artists who might be a good fit for the project. Although Jaeger had not previously created glass art, he had an immediately vision for the windows. He put together some drawings, met with the team and made his pitch. It was an easy decision. 

The Last Supper
Then the hard work began, starting with finding a glass artist with whom he could collaborate. Jaeger traveled the state looking for the right partner before finding James Piercey, an Orlando-based bio-chem teacher turned artist. The two were compatible in both artistic approach and temperament. The fit was crucial. Over the next two years, Tim left his Sarasota home most Saturday mornings by 4:30, rolled into Piercey's studio around 7, worked a full day and then headed home. This project was clearly a labor of love. (Note: Jaeger is also the Director and Chief Curator of Galleries + Exhibitions and an instructor at Ringling College, jobs he continued to do throughout this period.)  

The initial decision Jaeger and Piercey made was to go with fused glass rather than the more traditional stained glass. To create fused glass art, pieces of colored glass are stacked and fused (melted) in a kiln. Fused glass was appealing to Jaeger because the final product has a greater transparency than that of stained glass works. In addition, fused glass has an appearance more similar to that of a painting. Stained glass can have more the look of a puzzle or, as Jaeger said, a "paint by number" image. And here's a fun fact. Berkeley Chapel is the first chapel in the United States with all fused glass windows. 

Lord Krishna
Now to the creation of the windows, which I've hopefully gotten more or less right. While all this preliminary work was being done, Jaeger had been drawing potential images for the windows. Although Berkeley is an Episcopal school, students of all faiths, traditions and backgrounds have always been welcomed. Attendance at the student-led services is not required. (I asked.) But all students spend time in the chapel, which is also used as a meeting space. Jaeger believed it was important for everyone who stepped through the doors to see themselves in the windows. The school chaplain and a member of the advancement team (the ultimate decision makers) were also committed to this approach. And so he proposed images that derive their significance not only from Christian traditions. Once approval was given, the complicated process of getting an image from the drawing board to its place on a window began. 

Making any fused glass work is a multi-step process. It's even more complicated when creating windows rather than a stand-alone piece. Before working with the glass, Jaeger had to ensure each scene would fit properly on its canvas; i.e., the applicable window. To do this, a digitally created version was transferred onto a transparency the size of the window being created and laid on a large light table. Then a faux frame was placed over the image to ensure none of the faces or other crucial parts of the picture would be covered by a mullion. The devil is in the details. 

Finally, it was time to get to work with the glass. Professional artists typically don't just squeeze paint out of a tube and apply it to a canvas. Instead, they mix their paints on a palette to get just the right hue. Similarly, fused glass artists play with different combinations of colored glass to find the desired shade. When the "recipe" for a particular color had been perfected, the glass was ready to be fused and, ultimately, cut in the desired shape.

Once the glass had been fired, Jaeger often embellished the image with a "line treatment," i.e., strokes of black paint like those seen in this image of Buddha. (Note: You can see the lines more clearly if you expand the image by clicking on it.) Jaeger said this was the most nerve-wracking part of the process. One wrong stroke and the entire pane could be ruined. Yikes! Happily, he had a steady hand to supplement his artistic vision. 

At the end of the day, the finished windows include more than 400 individual panes of glass, each weighing 15-20 pounds. Piercey's kiln could accommodate three or four panes at a time depending upon their shape and size. At 12+ hours per firing, the kiln was running pretty constantly for two years. Amazingly, no panes were broken during either the firing or installation processes. If something does happen to a window in the future, detailed records have been created to ensure any pane can be replicated. And in case you're wondering, hurricane glass has been installed to protect the windows -- and the chapel -- against potential storms.

What a treat it was to see the windows and hear about how the project came together. Click here to see a video that better captures what the windows look like in person. Thanks to Tim for his generosity in giving us a tour of this special project. For more on Jaeger's art, click here

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