Arts and culture

Art Review: "High Trash," Fleming Museum of Art

Tom Deininger, courtesy of the Fleming Museum  "Wave"French artist Marcel Duchamp was the first to present a humble object and claim it was “high art.” Signed “R. Mutt” and titled “Fountain,” the urinal Duchamp submitted to a 1917 exhibition as a legitimate work incited outrage. It was dismissed as rubbish and cut from the exhibition. Now, scholars refer to “Fountain” — the most notorious in a series of Duchamp’s “readymades” — as a major landmark in 20th-century art, and replicas of his porcelain throne grace important museums around the world.

“High Trash,” a current exhibit at the Fleming Museum of Art, shares some elements with Duchamp’s readymades, requiring the viewer to look beyond the materials to see the art. One difference: Seeing the beauty in Duchamp’s work requires thumbing one’s nose at established ideas about art, whereas the artists in “High Trash” have deliberately manipulated junk to make it beautiful.

Artist Rob Hitzig's Wood Works Turn Sculpture Into Paintings

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," courtesy Rob HitzigHanging against the white walls of the SEABA Gallery on Pine Street in Burlington, Robert Hitzig’s geometric wooden sculptures glow with a subtle sheen. Up close, the layers of tinted shellac magnify the natural grain of the wood. Viewers may have an urge to run a hand across their surfaces, just to see if the pale color hides any imperfections. But, tempting as it may be, don’t ask Hitzig what his floor-laying schedule is. These days, his oeuvre is form, not function.

“I get plenty of requests about doing floors for people when they see my work — and I always have to say no,” Hitzig says with a slight grin. “I like to take wood into the fine-art realm and make it look like art, rather than furniture or something functional.”

That hasn’t always been the case. Working first as an agroforester for the Peace Corps and then for 10 years with the Environmental Protection Agency, Hitzig spent years thinking about forests and timber in a practical way. He indulged in a furniture-making hobby for a while. And then, in 2007, he got tired of function.

Weathering a Real "Tempest," the Show Goes On for Vermont Shakespeare Company

TempestIt’s ironic for a performance of The Tempest to be canceled — twice — by rain. Actors and audiences were sent scrambling for cover on both Friday and Saturday nights in North Hero as rain sheeted across the open-air stage, robbing Prospero of the prospect of concocting his own tempest with magic and incantations.

But that’s the risk you take when performing outdoors in Vermont, as Vermont Shakespeare Company’s executive director, John Nagle, ruefully acknowledged in his introductory remarks: “We were going to do, The Winter’s Tale next year — but after this year’s tempest, maybe we won’t.”

Burlington's Festival of Fools Brings Vaudeville to Town (Seven Days)

Vaudeville comedian Woody Keppel of Charlotte wears many hats. Sombreros, fedoras, pink aviation hats, wigs, coonskin caps and the occasional shoe or rubber chicken have all been spotted on his head at various times. His role as artistic director of the Festival of Fools is yet another “hat,” one that Keppel will wear as he corrals the jugglers, dancers, contortionists, tightrope walkers, fire breathers and acrobats on the streets of Burlington this Friday through Sunday.

The fest itself is a family reunion of sorts for Keppel, who has worked with many of these performers over the years. And festivalgoers may find among the exotica some familiar antics, if not familiar faces: Your zany uncle might be reflected in Michael Trautman’s impossible stunts and mayhem, or your daredevil kid brother in David Aiken’s “Stunts of Death.” Kate Wright, aka Yvonne, an “Aussie beautician on a mission,” could remind you of your batty great-aunt.

A Multimedia Work in Progress Thinks Inside the (Music) Box (Seven Days)

Orkestriska's BoxJudging from a description of the upcoming dance-theater piece “Orkestriska’s Box,” you would be forgiven for thinking it’s a surrealist version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame set to music and given a female protagonist.

The work’s influences are varied: turn-of-the-20th-century ballet and grand opera; Gestalt psychology; burlesque theater; the 1951 film The Tales of Hoffmann; a little girl in a tutu; the Folies Bergère; gender stereotyping. Add stop-motion animation and an original score composed for an old-fashioned Porter music box, and the imagery practically gets up and tap dances across the room.

“Orkestriska’s Box,” which premieres in November, is a collaborative production of Burlington’s Tuppence Coloured Ensemble and Thoughtfaucet, and the Porter Music Box Museum of Randolph. Tuppence principal Trish Denton, an actor, dancer, street performer and teacher, conceived and wrote the script, which was initially inspired by a 3-year-old in a tutu dancing inside a miniature puppet theater.

The New Guard (Dwell)

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I wrote three short pieces on up-and-coming designers for the Now 99 issue of Dwell, published in May 2012. Click here for digital version; pdf of pages available here.

Artist Community: Rhode Island (Art New England)

BigTown Gallery • Rochester, VT • www.bigtowngallery.com • May 2–June 10, 2012

Aaron SiskindThe nonconcentric circles of Dale Chihuly’s eight-piece baskets fit neatly together within the largest basket, but inside they overlap and protrude into each other’s spheres. Nearly all of them touch.

It’s a fitting metaphor for the mixed-media exhibition Artist Community: Rhode Island at BigTown Gallery, exploring the work of nine artists who lived or worked in Rhode Island.

Although bound by geography and a modernist sensibility, at first glimpse the artists have little in common: photography, sculpture, works on paper, painting, and design are all represented, ranging from Hugh Townley’s woodworks to Bunny Harvey’s Vermont landscapes. Digging deeper into each artist’s biography reveals closer sympathies.

Why Being Fearless Matters So Much: A Conversation With Zaha Hadid (Forbes.com)

Originally posted 1.26.2012 at www.Forbes.com

‘The only thing I could have done to make them accept me was to water everything down — and I wasn’t prepared to do that.’

When architect Zaha Hadid walks into the Philadelphia Museum of Art, conversation stops. Dressed all in black,she strides purposefully across the vast exhibition hall, her presence nearly dwarfing even the mural-sized Marc Chagall stretching from floor to ceiling behind her.

Hadid’s larger-than-life persona is a frequent topic of conversation in the architecture world, and in concert with the gravity-defying, curvilinear buildings she creates, has earned her a reputation as the diva of architecture. It’s a term applied by admirers and critics alike, to which she responds bluntly “You wouldn’t call me a diva if I were a guy.”

Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran (Art New England)

The Fleming Museum, University of Vermont • Burlington, VT • www.uvm.edu/fleming • Through May 20, 2012

Ahmad Nateghi, Untitled, 1998

By turns abstract, edgy, and haunting, the photographs in Persian Visions: Contemporary Photographs from Iran fully transcend the geographic boundaries imposed by the exhibition title. These are not the images that have flashed across American television screens for the past ten years; they’re far subtler than that, muting everyday violence with digital multimedia, blurred focus, and the ever-present veil motif.

Subject matter simmers just beneath the surface, at times brought to a rolling boil by Fleming curator Aimee Marcereau DeGalan’s decision to juxtapose the contemporary prints of the traveling exhibition (toured by International Art & Artists, Washington, D.C.) with nineteenth-century photographs of the Middle East in a complementary show.

A West Coast "Knitting Lady" Sets Up in Burlington (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days Feb. 8, 2012.

In her former Bay Area neighborhood, Maggie Pace was known simply as “the Knitting Lady.” Neighbors and fans of her knitting patterns, kits and yarns would drop by for sidewalk sales at her knitting store, Pick Up Sticks, or tune in to her segments on the PBS TV program “Knit and Crochet Now!” to emulate crafty know-how.

These days, Pace is a little more incognito.

She moved to Burlington in December 2010 when her husband got a job with Dealer.com. That new position went hand-in-hand with the couple’s decision to reevaluate their lives.

“Steve and I were both overwhelmed,” Pace says. “We had a clear goal in mind to simplify and reenvision what success meant to us. We wanted to have personal fulfillment in our work and refocus on family life, so Burlington felt like a great fit.”

She had to leave behind her business partner and the cofounder of Pick Up Sticks — her mother, Joan Benson, whom Pace credits with teaching her how to knit. Pace is a third-generation crafter; her grandmother ran a craft store in Michigan during the ’70s. Pace remembers knitting her first sweater when she was 9 or 10 years old.