ART REVIEW: All of the Dream, None of the Penance

All of the Dream, None of the Penance

It might as well have been a dream. I walked to the house alone. The gate was broad, the door unlocked. Night crept along the wall, rippling among the stones. I went in. There was no scaffolding to crawl around in, only the cellar.

An empty hallway with no welcome: it led to the stairs which led to the basement. An impressive array of colored glass hid high on the wall. Blue and yellow panes crept onto the ceiling, turning with the last of the twilight. The sound downstairs was social/casual.

They congregated in loose groups on the cement. Their voices, elegant for the harshness of the room, passed like strands of a drying river. What little light there was collapsed in yellow plumes along the wall. Some fled down the halls which opened around us, vanishing before they could reach the end. The room was nauseously formless. It seems unfair to ask for harmony, teleology, or resolution, but only so much as it seems unjust to ask for spring or the consummation of a feeling in another’s eyes.

With such demands I turned to the paintings. If these were a part of the show, or the rooms a part of the paintings, or both or neither, I have no idea. A poem answers a poem, a painting waits in another. I could find nothing here, at least yet. A future may come in which these are bright pillars. A worker at Lascaux finds Klee’s Angelus Novelus beneath a creek, Brancusi’s Sleep in a new passage.

I kept looking up the stairs for something to lead us from the dark, a lion or a bear. We were lost. None of it made sense. But the world around us was different, changing in subtle, wonderful ways. A new carnival raised its tent over the night, taking up residence for an entire week. Although everything failed, or failed to even make clear its criterion for failure, the room refracted in the frames, casting shifting evanescent colors.

Cracks and accretions bent to the paintings on the wall. They were portraits of generalized acquaintances with sunken Egyptian eyes. A pall of stone passed into the cellar. We were trapped, thieves in the pyramid. They made this clear. The faces could be anyone in such dim light, a gallery of lost frontier families or a galley of the first sailors, tossed between rock and rock.

It was hard to determine anything more about the paintings, whether they were a part of the opening or not. So strange how their gaze spread across the room- more alive than any of our own, older, wiser- and fled through a window onto the street, ancient and more permanent. No one paid them any attention. Their travels will end at a mountain. They have a different time and a longer memory than us.

And so they absorbed the room, refracted the street, the city, the oceans and glaciers- all of it loomed. Centuries-old words crackled across the frames, pooling on the wall or flickering like coals in the corner. I caught a bit of Alexander Pope, which I confirmed later:

He hangs between, in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall:
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl'd;

These words meant something different in the cellar. The cracks and deformities of the wall altered the stanzas and sentences, changing the argument. The same with the lines from Wyatt. The room was indeed growing. Everything was quiet until a dog scampered across the floor above us, scattering several small animals, or so it seemed. The slats blinked as they passed. I had seen his eyes earlier; they indicated nothing.

Someone spoke of the paintings, suggesting that they were allegorical but allegories detached from any underlying doctrine, like saints of an unfathomable religion. “Like us this evening,” he calmly explained. This may have been joke. No one knew. Someone else cited Georges Didi-Huberman, who I also tracked down. After marveling that the abstract art of his own time had enabled him to see, and be struck by, certain colorful, constellated panels of Fra Angelico which his discipline had not only ignored but consigned to nonexistence, meaninglessness, he asks:

What, in the discipline or “order of discourse” of art history, has been able to maintain such a condition of blindness, such a “willingness not to see” and not to know? What are the epistemological reasons for such a denial- the denial that consists of knowing how to identify the slightest iconographic attribute in a Holy Conversation while at the same time not paying the slightest attention to the astounding three-meter by one-and-one-half-meter blaze of color situation just below it?

I wasn’t sure who the speaker was, whether it was Wisdom, Folly, Pestilence, or Beauty that registered shock at the blindness of men. No one led us out. There were no insights in the quarry. We quit the basement of the arts of our own will. Thought holds to a different ridge.

The night outside was different. Not better or more manageable, quite the opposite. A dense thicket lined the street. We walked beneath the bare trees. Shadows formed on the windows, wherever there were lamps really. The rose-like figure of woman appeared on the shade of a world less solid. There is so much to see. I would trade none of it for understanding. Some forgetful few crossed the river, the others waited on the bank.

Didi-Huberman, Georges. “Before the Image, Before Time: The Sovereignty of Anachronism.” Compelling Visuality: The Work of Art in and out of History. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

John Paetsch is Associate Editor for the Penn Art Review. Paetsch is a Master of Liberal Arts candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. He studied art history and philosophy as an undergraduate and delivered a Symposium paper on Mondrian.


LECTURE: Jose Roca lecture this Friday, Feb. 27th. 5pm in Meyerson Hall, B-3.

Graduate Fine Arts Lecture

José Roca
, Curator

LECTURE: Friday, February 27 at 5:00 pm

Meyerson Hall, Room B3
210 S. 345h Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

José Roca, the Artistic Director of Philagrafika 2010, is a Colombian curator working from Bogotá and Philadelphia. Among his recent curatorial projects are:

Phantasmagoria: Specters of Absence, a traveling exhibition produced by iCI (Independent Curators International) currently on tour (2007-2009); Botánica política, Sala Montcada, Fundación La Caixa, Barcelona (2004); Traces of Friday, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (2003); TransHistorias, survey of the work of José Alejandro Restrepo, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá (2001); Define "Context", APEX Art Curatorial Program, New York (2000); Ruins; Utopia, survey of Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa, Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango, Bogotá, Bronx Museum for the Arts, New York and Museo Alejandro Otero, Caracas (2000-2001)


Tiger Strikes Asteroid (a gallery owned and operated by Penn MFA alumni) will have its inaugural exhibition March 6th!

Getting Ready for the Prom

Phillip Adams (MFA '06)
Tim Gierschick
Alexis Granwell (MFA '07)
Alex Paik (MFA '05)
Nathan Pankratz
Caroline Santa (MFA '07)

Exhibition Dates: March 6 - 27, 2009

Opening Reception: Friday, March 6, 6-9pm

Tiger Strikes Asteroid
319 North 11th Street, 4th Floor
Philadelphia PA 19107

Friday and Saturday 12pm-6pm and by appointment




Alexi Worth's (MFA Senior Critic) profile on W. African artist published in the NYT Style Magazine, Feb. 22, 2009

El Anatsui, Hover, 2005

A Thousand Bottles. . . (excerpt follows)
By Alexi Worth


ONE DAY 10 YEARS AGO in the countryside of southern Nigeria,
a slim middle-aged man drove past a bag of garbage. Garbage is not an unusual sight in West Africa; village roads are often lined with a parallel hillock of trash — dusty bottles, spoiled food, tin cans, car parts — out of which small trees sometimes grow. But this solitary bag looked promising. It was a quiet, sunny late afternoon in the dry season. The man stopped the car and walked over to look inside. A decade later, the contents of that bag have toured the world from Wales to Arizona and come to rest, transformed but recognizable, in some of the world’s most famous museums..."

Read the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/indexes/2009/02/22/style/t/index.html#pageName=22nigeria


David Aaron Mette (MFA '09) appointed as Editor of the Penn Art Review

The Penn Art Review is an extension of the Penn MFA Forum. Entries to the Penn Art Review will be posted on the MFA Forum and archived separately until the site develops several columns for each beat of this ever-changing and growing entity. David Aaron Mette, MFA '09, is serving as its first editor. Mette can be contacted at: theywerered at aol.com

About Mette: An excerpt from his paper "Sovereign Communication: Reading The Deconstruction of Discursive Language in Bataille" presented at an international conference on art and humanities this past January:

Transgression and servility in Bataille

Transgression is a theme in Bataille’s writings that has issued a great deal of controversy. According to the Hegel that Bataille received through the lectures of Alexander Kojève, man is self-conscious being that is founded upon the initial negation of animality. From the sociological thinking that Bataille received from Durkheim and Mauss, this self-consciousness is contemporaneous with man’s institution of prohibitions, the development of tools, and the production of language as discourse. According to Bataille, these phenomena, which form the realm of the profane, result in man’s alienation from an initial inner experience, or the experience of the divine. Things that pose a threat to the orderly, homogeneous and thus profane way of life are prohibited and constitute the sacred or divine, which is dependent upon a negation of the first negation, or rather a contestation of the rules that had initially separated man from animal. Bataille writes:
What is denied in profane life (through prohibitions and through work) is a dependent state of the animal, subject to death and to utterly blind needs. What is denied by means of divine life is still dependence, but this time it is the profane world whose lucid and voluntary servility is contested (Accursed Share Vol. II-III, 92-3).
According to this statement the sacred is not just a return to simple animality, but a willed gesture of insubordination that allows access to nature “transfigured by the curse” (93). It is this accursed share that founds the excessive movements of the festival. And what are revealed through the sacred are the limits of life and the continuum of being in relation to a general rather than a restricted economy.

According to Durkheim, the sacred/profane is a kind of ur-dualism from which others evolve. In Bataille’s text it is acknowledged as a fundamental social rhythm that elicits a dual solicitation: one toward order, production, and accumulation and the other toward disorder, destruction and expenditure. The argument most commonly leveled at Bataille for his transgressive strategies is that by defying a prohibition, the validity of the power of the prohibition is ultimately reaffirmed in its naming. Focusing on the sacred/profane dualism as it is structured in language, Foucault notes, to kill god, one has to summon his presence. In his essay “A Preface to Transgression,” he writes:
Profanation in a world which no longer recognizes any positive meaning in the sacred—is this not more or less what we may call transgression? In that zone which our culture affords for our gestures and speech, transgression prescribes not only the sole manner of discovering the sacred in its unmediated substance, but also a way of recomposing its empty form, its absence, through which it becomes all the more scintillating (Language, Counter-memory…, 30).
In this formulation, transgression is rendered as a violent contestation that is the very creation of the sacred established by the interdiction. As Mauss has noted, the interdiction exists to be violated. In all societies, there are interdictions related to sex and death; Bataille is not seeking to establish a world without rules, rather he shows the social reality of the rhythm that exists in the establishment of the limit that defines the sacred and the profane. It is this experience of the sacred through transgression which is a condition of possibility for sovereign moments of inner experience; significantly, for Bataille, transgression is spoken of in relation to a situation in which the king/god has been killed, which necessitates a more general discussion of transgression as an experience of limits. Foucault writes that the death of god “leads to an experience in which nothing may again announce the exteriority of being, and consequently to an experience which is interior and sovereign”(Language, Counter-Memory. . . 32). With the demise of god, man is subject to limitless chance and now is capable of confronting death without the hope of redemption. In Foucault’s view, the death of god reflects the decline of the Adamic view of language that is derived from the gospel of John, the idea that the word is God and that the word made flesh; in the sense that philosophy historically places god in the realm of the transcendent as the word that exceeds all words, the attempt to establish a language which considers the death of god constitutes a Nietzschean endeavor of the re-evaluation of values, and consequently the deconstruction of philosophical subjectivity. But Foucault de-emphasizes transgression as a subversive force:
Transgression does not seek to oppose one thing to another, nor does it achieve its purpose through mockery or by upsetting the solidity of foundations; it does not transform the other side of the mirror, beyond an invisible and uncrossable line, into a glittering expanse. Transgression is neither violence in a divided world (in an ethical world) nor a victory over limits (in a dialectical or revolutionary world); and exactly for this reason, its role is to measure the excessive distance that it opens at the heart of the limit and to trace the flashing line that causes the limit to arise. Transgression contains nothing negative, but affirms limited being—affirms the limitlessness into which it leaps as it opens this zone of existence for the first time (Language, Counter-memory. . . 35).
Transgression is a momentary transportation to a realm that imparts a kind of knowledge that can only be a moment of the unknown; it is a loss of ipséité, or the thing-ness of man, which ultimately provides the conditions needed for the possibility of ecstatic experience through sacred communion, or the disappearance of the real constituted by discourse and dialectics—a rhythm which makes and unmakes the world.

In the Hegelian dialectic of the master and the slave, the distinguishing feature of the master is that he has risked death while the slave has chosen to conserve his life. This model is subject to a displacement by Bataille in what Derrida points to as a distinction of sense between lordship and sovereignty. According to Bataille there is a fundamental glitch that prevents the master or lord from the authentic experience of sovereignty: although the master has risked death, the experience of being subject to chance causes an anxiety that he must overcome in order to maintain his superiority, so he is dependent upon the slave for the recognition of his value. Derrida writes, “when servility becomes lordship, it keeps within it the trace of its repressed origin . . . The truth of the master is in the slave; and the slave become a master remains a “repressed” slave”(Writing and Difference 255). The desire and consciousness of the master are not only dependent upon but also historically constituted by that of the slave. Thus, the conservation of the original term in its negation is exactly the paradox that accounts for how Bataille’s revision of the master and slave dialectic illustrates the inevitable servility of the master. Discursive thought has an inherent positivity that is always recuperated. In order to escape this circularity, Bataille posits sovereignty altogether exterior and heterogeneous to the dialectic. According to Derrida, it is no longer even within the realm of the phenomenal. Withdrawn from the limit of knowledge and meaning:
. . .sovereignty is no longer a figure in the continuous chain of phenomenology. Resembling a phenomenological figure, trait for trait, sovereignty is the absolute alteration of all of them . . . Far from being an abstract negativity, sovereignty (the absolute degree of putting at stake), rather, must make the seriousness of meaning appear as an abstraction inscribed in play (Writing and Diff 256).
In contradistinction to the Hegelian concept of abstract negativity, or loss of meaning as a result of a negativity that is still discursive, sovereignty, or the operation of freeing desire from the desire of the other amounts to the radical exclusion or suspension of meaning that can only be laughter in the face of the limitless limit that is death.
Aaron Metté is a performance, video, sound and installation artist from the south who currently lives in West Philadelphia. He has also completed graduate work in Comparative Literature. Metté will receive his MFA from Penn in May.


Susana Jacobson (MFA Senior Critic) and Julie Schneider (Head of Undergrad Art at Penn) in exhibition at Rowan University, NJ

Susana V. Jacobson, Qu Pi, 2008

Rowan Gallery Addresses Women's ‘DOUBLE BIND’ In New Exhibit

GLASSBORO – Bringing an artistic view to Women’s History Month, the Rowan University Art Gallery presents DOUBLE BIND: Women Telling It Slant

Exhibition Dates: February 16 – March 20, 2009

A gallery talk followed by a reception is scheduled for Thursday, March 5 from 4:30 – 6:30 pm in the gallery.

“A person in a double bind receives a conflicting message, whereby the action taken is wrong no matter what choice she makes,” notes curator and gallery director Kathryn McFadden. “Catch-22s historically have been used to restrict women and challenge their roles as leaders. Considering Emily Dickinson’s suggestion to ‘Tell the truth, but tell it slant,’ this exhibition will feature works that address or question old-fashioned double binds and new-fangled twists through the artistic device of indirection.”

Works in the exhibition take on visual strategies such as metaphor, parody, irony and narrative. Artists represented include New Jersey artist Jackie Sandro as well as Susana V. Jacobson from Utah, Jennifer Justice from Illinois, Lauren McAdams from Arizona, Julie Saecker Schneider & Nancy Wright from Pennsylvania and Sylvia Sleigh from New York.

For information, call 856-256-4521 or visit www.rowan.edu/fpa/artgallery

The Rowan University Art Gallery
Westby Hall (lower level)
Rowan University
Route 322
Glassboro, NJ


Eileen Neff (MFA Professor and Critic) solo show opening at Locks Gallery Fri., Feb. 27th 5:30-7:30pm.

Eileen Neff, Before and Behind, 2009

Things counter, original, spare

Exhibition Dates: February 27 – March 31, 2009.
Opening reception: Friday, February 27, 5:30 to 7:30pm.

Locks Gallery is pleased to present Things counter, original, spare, an exhibition of new photographs by Eileen Neff whose newest photographs of found and altered nature are a continuation of her work in digital construction and abstraction. In Things counter, original, spare, Neff’s photographs reflect upon and pull imagery from one another. The layering and repetition of images encourages cross-referencing and offers multiple readings of individual photographs and of the installation as a whole.

In 2007, Eileen Neff was featured in a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, which is currently on view at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, Ireland, and continues to the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greenboro, NC, in 2009.

Eileen Neff’s work has been exhibited at P.S. 1, Long Island City, NY; Carnegie Mellon Art Gallery, PA; and Artist Space, NY, among others. She is the recipient of awards including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Fellowships in the Arts. Neff is currently an adjunct professor in the MFA program at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, a Graduate Seminar instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and a Senior Critic in the Graduate Fine Arts Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Locks Gallery
600 Washington Square South
Philadelphia, PA

contact Locks Gallery at 215.629.1000 or info@locksgallery.com



John Moore (MFA Professor and Senior Critic) show opening TONIGHT Feb. 12th at Hirschl & Adler Modern, NYC

John Moore, A Fine Fall Day, 2008


Thirteen Miles from Paradise: Four New Paintings

Exhibition dates: February 12 - March 14, 2009
Opening reception: Thursday, February 12 5:30-7:30pm

Hirschl & Adler Modern
21 East 70th Street
New York, NY 10021
Tel 212 535 8810

For additional information and images, please visit www.hirschlandadler.com


The Penn Art Review

The University of Pennsylvania MFA Forum (also known as the PennDesign MFA Forum) is undergoing several changes. In addition to blog entries related to "Arts in Philly" and MFA-specific activity at Penn, we are inviting graduate students from other disciplines (e.g. philosophy) to join the editorial board to develop an "Art Review" division for the site. The goal is to expand our understanding of "art" by welcoming different points of view.
Suggestions are welcome at lime [at] alumni.upenn.edu.
--Elizabeth Lim, MFA '07, Founding Editor, PennDesign MFA Forum


MFA Program and Kim Brickley (MFA '09) mentioned on Amy Stein's Blog

(left image by Kim Brickley, Gallbladder Canyon)

Amy Stein visited Penn's MFA program for a lecture and MFA critiques. A mutually insightful and enjoyable exchange took place. Here is the message from Amy's blog:

"Thank You, Penn! Before the week gets away from me I wanted to extend a big thank you to the hundred or so folks that braved the cold on Thursday to attend my lecture at the University of Pennsylvania. I also want to thank the wonderful students in the Penn Design MFA program I met with on Friday. Your work is truly impressive and your commitment is inspiring."

Stein's photography and related posts can be found on her blog at: http://amysteinphoto.blogspot.com/2009/01/thank-you-penn.html

See more of Kim's work: http://kimbrickley.com/home.html


Marcin Ramocki (MFA '98) film to screen at MoMA, NYC: Feb. 25 at 8:30pm

Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 8:30 p.m.

Theater 1 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 1), T1
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street,
between Fifth and Sixth avenues
New York, NY 10019-5497

Brooklyn DIY. 2009. USA. Directed by Marcin Ramocki. Brooklyn DIY is a long overdue examination of the creative renaissance in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Home to underground warehouse parties, anarchistic street creativity, and artist-run galleries and performance spaces, Williamsburg gave birth to one of the most vibrant and rebellious artistic communities to arise in the 1980s, permanently changing the city's cultural landscape. Featuring interviews with a host of artists and neighborhood characters, Ramocki's film captures life in a utopian universe made by artists, for artists—along with its inevitable decline in the face of real estate development, gentrification, and the post–September 11 market collapse. 75 min.

World premiere. Discussion with Ramocki and participants in the film. One of the interviewees is Matt Freedman, a MFA Senior Critic.

In the film exhibition series at MoMA Documentary Fortnight 2009

The 2009 edition of Documentary Fortnight, MoMA's annual showcase of nonfiction film and video, features more than thirty selections from across the globe. Several of this year's films focus on the American political landscape and zeitgeist, including a pair of works that offer different takes on Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States. Others tackle topics as varied as the tradition of marriage, nuclear missiles in North Dakota, and abandoned labor towns in California. The program also includes rare glimpses into life on war's front lines; inside dictatorships in Turkmenistan and Argentina; into the forefront of the anti-aging movement; and inside the latest developments in robotics. Other films take an avant-garde approach to personal experiences with chemotherapy treatment and travel-diary observations of the global community. An evening of new work made on Super 8mm film exhibits the vibrant resurgence of small-format film technology, while programs of films by young people of color and documentaries from Taiwan and Iran highlight important new voices and innovative techniques.

For more information about Marcin see his website: http://www.ramocki.net/


REAL WORLD MFA talk Monday with Martin McNamara: 12-1pm White Room, Morgan Building

(click on image for larger view)

Martin McNamara is director and part owner of Gallery 339, Philadelphia's only art gallery devoted to photography. Mr. McNamara began developing the business five years ago, and the gallery opened with its first exhibition in April 2005. The focus of the gallery is contemporary photography, exhibiting a mix of local work as well as photography from around the world. Recent exhibitions have included a survey of work by Tina Barney as well as the show "Philadelphia Masters", which presented some of the city's most influential artists of the past forty years. McNamara's interest in photography developed as a collector.



Yale to start an online forum similar to the PD MFA Forum...

Nov. 2008 Yale Daily News reports "ArtParlor, or rather www.yale.edu/artparlor, is a new Web site that is working to create a community for artists and art enthusiasts both online and on campus."

The PennDesign MFA Forum serves a similar function, as a site not only for matriculating MFA students, but for alumni, Philadelphia artists, art enthusiasts, and those who are simply curious about arts in Philly. Most of the lectures are open to the public; the public is certainly welcome to exhibitions posted on the site. Part of the vision behind the site is to connect with the greater public through this expansive medium known as the Internet. The University of Pennsylvania is "the first" in many areas -- the first university; the first to offer courses in many disciplines; and perhaps significantly, the inventors of the first computer (built by Eckert and Mauchly).


FOUND IN PHILLY is a place to post photographs and videos found in Philadelphia. Send images or videos to Rich Wexler


James Duesing Lecture TONIGHT, Feb. 5, 5:30pm in Van Pelt Library, 6th Floor

Animation Lectures:

Wednesday, Feb. 4, 5:30pm
Animation Works of James Duesing

Thursday, Feb. 5, 5:30pm
An Artist's Perspective on the History of Animation

Rosenwald Gallery, sixth floor
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia


TONIGHT (Feb. 4): Penn First Wednesday at the ICA, Meet Campuzano and more: 7-10pm

February 4, 2009. 7-10pm

7:30PM / MEET THE ARTIST: Anthony Campuzano


ICA is a laboratory for artistic freedom that fosters a creative dialogue through the presentation of world-class contemporary art on Penn’s campus. Join the adventure during the next Penn First Wednesday. Bring your friends, it’s free. Who knows, you might even meet the next Andy Warhol. BE RADICAL—we dare you!

For our February Penn First Wednesday, come early to meet artist Anthony Campuzano at 7:30pm as he leads a tour of his exhibition Touch Sensitive, currently on view in ICA’s Project Space. Make your own one-of-a-kind buttons with designs by the artist. Stay for a performance by the spoken word poetry group Excelano Project at 8:30pm. Be sure to catch a 60-second lecture by one of our Graduate Lecturers on Contemporary Art – they’ll be happening throughout the evening.

For more info: www.icaphila.org/students/


MFA Thesis Preview Exhibition, Opening THIS Friday, Feb. 5, 5:30-7:30pm

Thesis Preview Opening Reception.

This Friday, Feb. 5th from 5:30-7:30pm.

Meyerson Hall Gallery 210 S. 34th Street Philadelphia, PA

(See card at left for address and contact information.)