Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Activist Expressionist

Now in Exile  by Zahi Khamis

Watching the first two episodes of Genius: Picasso on the National Geographic channel (first episode a somewhat overheated exposition of the creation of Guernica), I was reminded of a quotation I have on my office door, attributed to Picasso, “Art is not made to decorate rooms. It is an offensive weapon in the defense against the enemy.”
The artist Zahi Khamis, whose work I am showing in my gallery in May, holds the same philosophy. His jagged style and startling colors remind me of a similar moment in Picasso’s practice, along with painting as a statement against injustice.
He, and many artists, are on the offense in their work. Which makes me think about the secondary meaning of the word “offensive.”
According to some dictionaries the first listed meaning is “causing someone to feel deeply hurt, upset, or angry,” “giving painful or unpleasant sensations,” and “causing displeasure or resentment.” 
The second is “actively aggressive; attacking.” Interestingly, in some of the older dictionaries, the order of these definitions is reversed.
Can art be offensive without being “offensive?” Do we want it to be? Is the message stronger when the work gives “unpleasant sensations?” Does “causing displeasure or resentment” increase or dilute the power of the artwork?
I have often said “you must look before you can see” in defense of work with powerful messages that are deemed too “pretty.” I’m not sure how I feel about that now. I dislike shock for its own sake, but sometimes viewers need to be shaken out of their complacency; thus, weaponized art.
But I’m still going with the idea that beauty can be “offensive.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Art of the Dog

I was doing my usual weekend gallery walk-a-thon when I started thinking about dogs.  Thinking about dogs in DC, even if you haven’t got a dog of your own to think about, is pretty much ubiquitous.  Because the dogs are. Ubiquitous.  And because I see art in everything, I am acutely aware of the role dogs play in the urban streetscape. In his sociological treatise, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman talks about the “maintenance of front,” a concept Italians call “bella figura.”  DC dogs take the art of self-presentation seriously. They trot, prance, lope, wearing their scarves, bow ties, and headgear with a seriousness of mien and aplomb that belies the somewhat unorthodox choices of apparel in which they appear.   Like the ID badges sported by the seriously connected (read: everybody) dogs confer identity to their owners/caregivers. They hang around WeWork offices.  Judiciously partake of water and treats left for them by fawning businesses.  Patrol happy hour hotspots.  And confer upon their owners the status so necessary for DC happiness.  We in the art world are proud to acknowledge that one of our own has made it to the top: Cross MacKenzie’s beloved gallery dog, Zeke, who belongs to gallery owner and artist Rebecca Cross, was named Best Gallery Dog by the Washington City Paper.

The Backest Black

My previous blog reminded me of a piece I published several years ago, adapted here. In the sometimes rarified world of art and ...