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.

Artist Community: Rhode Island (Art New England)

BigTown Gallery • Rochester, VT • • 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.

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

The Fleming Museum, University of Vermont • Burlington, VT • • 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.

'Painted Metaphors': Remnants From The Ancient Mayas

   Curating an exhibit of ancient Maya artifacts is somewhat akin to participating in an international high-stakes scavenger hunt: One is constantly in competition with looters, and the prize might be fragmented, damaged, or even completely nonexistent.
   But one thing remains constant: The prize is always worth the chase, even when it’s shattered into a million pieces.
Or so explorers and curators and the University of Pennsylvania have believed for many years, currently evidenced by a new exhibit on display at the UPenn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, titled “Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya.” The exhibit will remain at the museum through Jan. 31, when it will embark on a multi-city national tour. 

Charting Adventure At The Franklin

Contrary to common belief, Galileo Galilei was not the official inventor of the telescope. However, he was the man who converted it from a novelty plaything, made of glass and mirrors, into a genuine instrument of science, used to document uncharted territories in the skies.
A new, exclusive exhibit opening Saturday at The Franklin depicts the telescope’s transformation from curious oddity into a tool used for great scientific advancement in an exhibition titled “Galileo, the Medici and the Age of Astronomy,” on view through Sept. 7. Spread over 7,000 square feet of exhibition space, “Galileo” is a tribute to the intersection of art and science, as beautifully constructed, gleaming inventions take up every corner of the generous exhibition space.

Small But Mighty Antique Portraits

Diminutive in size but extravagant in their rich detail and careful execution, portrait miniatures are under the magnifying glass at this year’s Philadelphia Antiques Show, running April 18 to 21 at Pier One in The Navy Yard.
“Patriots and Presidents: Philadelphia Portrait Miniatures, 1660 - 1860,” a collection of small-scale portraits, chronicles more than a century of antique personal momentos, showcasing 75 portrait miniatures from collections across the region. Read more.

Art In The Shadow Of Cézanne

   Thirteen years ago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art held a serious retrospective of Paul Cézanne’s work, featuring 100 paintings  and 80 of his drawings and watercolors in a huge blockbuster show that took Philadelphia by storm.
   This time around, “Cézanne and Beyond” is like a collection of ghost stories, cobbled together with Cézanne at the center as 18 artists attempt to both reconcile and embrace the impact of the master Impressionist’s work on their own.

PAFA: Tooker In A New Light

  To enter a room filled with George Tooker’s work is to expose oneself to the odd sensation of being neither here nor there, suspended in an uncomfortable half-life conjured up by the artist. For Mr. Tooker’s best-known works specialize in evoking the feeling that one’s most private thoughts are on display under the garish light of day, stopped in time for viewers to gawk at in a state of frozen animation. 
   “George Tooker: A Retrospective,” at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through April 5, is the first museum retrospective of his work in three decades. The show exhibits many of his best-known pieces of social protest, such as the paranoid-inducing “Subway” (1950), mathematically engineered to capture a sense of being spied upon from every vantage point, and “Government Bureau” (1956), which explores the mass fears of the Cold War era. Simply put,  the works inspire feelings of great discomfort and distrust.