Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Richard Eagan's trip back in time

Recently I had the pleasure of gaining the acquaintance of Richard Eagan, a Brooklyn-based artist whose topical work really struck home.

One of the reasons I chose to move to New York City was because of its rich and layered history.

The neighborhoods were a marketing major's wet dream in "branding"-- Little Italy, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Brighton Beach, and of course, Coney Island.

I remember as a freshman at B.U. how excited I'd get when I'd look across Commonwealth Avenue and see our very own short-lived franchise of weiner prestige, Nathan's Famous.

Now my own knowledge of Coney Island was not very well-versed, but I did have those legendary postcards of pop culture floating in my head-- rickety ferris wheels with cars swinging to and fro; bathing beauties and Vaudevillian sideshows; leopard-leotard burlesque girls with the Betty Page bangs; tatooed muscle men bench-pressing iron with their well-oiled bulging biceps heaving in the salty air.

Fast-forward to 2007. Things are quite different.

Mega-developer Thor Equities' stunning purchase of Astroland Amusement Park has given us an endless drawn-out saga "Was this past season the last hurrah, or will there be one more? Stay tuned."

With all the back and forth, it's as if we're being held hostage by these land-grabbers.

The only survivors-- the Parachute Jump (in some incarnation), and if spared the executioner, the Cyclone.

In the meantime, while the city, local community groups and business owners try to hammer out incorporation of the logistics of all this, Richard Eagan's work is a truly excellent way to reconnect to what once was.

I found it to be a true delight in its sentimental journey back in time.

Eagan has a rich and storied history himself.

A long-time Brooklyn resident himself, in the late 1970s he suddenly found himself having repetitive dreams of Coney Island and his childhood.

For years Eagan had crafted meticulous cabinetry and woodworks in his cabinet shop.

But suddenly things began to take on a new look.

A studio was emerging, as well as an artist.

Eagan delved into creating sculptural-like assemblage pieces which blended elements of the everyday along with the fantastic.

At the same time, along with artist Philomena Marano, in 1981 Eagan formed the Coney Island Hysterical Society-- a collaborative that worked to spotlight the ever-forgotten landscape of yesteryear.

Multiple artist projects were undertaken, including a mural, carousel and an actual haunted house/by-way-of-art-gallery carnival ride, the "Spookhouse. "

Looking at some of Eagan's earlier works, you can almost hear those echoes of "Step right up! Step right up!"

At left is "Fred's House," a piece done in 1982.

In the background is the haunting image of the dearly missed "Thunderbolt", a Coney Island staple for 75 years.

I really found this piece to be quite moving-- the soft-lit crescent moon in the distance.

After all, where else can you go to see the sky so well at night in the 5 boroughs, other than the Coney Island boardwalk?

It leaves me silent-- for I can find no words to express the sadness at never having been able to witness it in its heyday.

After the passing of his wife, Eagan took time away to regroup.

Once again, the boardwalk came calling.

But this time, Eagan also began to express himself with an alter-ego, Kay Sera-- a proper lady, if I ever did meet one, with style and elegance to boot.

She has had an immensely positive influence on Eagan.

Much in the way the chrysallis serves the butterfly, her creation has allowed Eagan to emerge from his cocoon, with wings outspread.

In fact, many of Eagan's pieces involve a starburst-like central creature, exploding from within.

The wooden shards, though they can appear quite dangerous, exist only underneath in a cage-like structure.

In some ways, it is guarded-- a protection mechanism, if you will.

But just who is Eagan protecting: the viewer, or the self?

I also am enthralled by the minute details of the work at right.

In this-- a wooden mock-up of the haunted-house ride previously mentioned-- you can see the tiny wooden planks of a boardwalk.

The saloon doors are perfect in their detail and weather-beaten quality.

The salt-laden air erodes the latex, leaving its mark.

Even the slight spaces between the boards are brilliant in their disalignment.

For Coney Island currently DOES lie in a state of disrepair.

The boardwalk's tens of thousands of wooden planks are deteriorating by the day.

But this fine city is more interested in the amount of funds that it will receive from the monolithic Thor rather than put new wooden planks in for people to enjoy the walk.

Below are images of "Kister's Hotel" and "Open All Year Round."

Again, there is a quiet to these works that I have a hard time describing.

In each, Eagan again reaches out-- windows into another world-- but it is to our detriment that they might not be there for much longer.

For more information on Richard Eagan, go to the link below.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Is there room at the inn for Kara Walker?

This isn't a review of Kara Walker's retrospective at the Whitney, nor her new solo show at Sikkema Jenkins & co.


This is a post where I'm going to bring up something that the art world continually ignores.

No, it's not the "feminist artist" mystique, or whatnot.

And truth be told, if I hear of one more gathering, conference, or "artist talk" put on by priviledged WASPY MFA-educated, gallery repped mid-20s to late 40-something women screaming and complaining of how they're "underrepresented" in the art world, I just may take up arms.

In this case, no, what bothers me MUCH more than any "under-representation" of the female is those of color.

I just got back from a trip to West Virginia, and truth be told, I witnessed more faces of color there than I ever do at a Chelsea gallery opening.

That is UNLESS those of color happen to be like Ms. Walker-- doing work that questions issues of "identity."

Let me say this, if Ms. Walker, perhaps, were doing work more along the lines of the Elizabeth Peytons, Karen Kilimniks, Dana Schutzs or Cecily Browns of the world-- would she have ever gotten to the status where she is now? (I.E., a Whitney retrospective?)

Would Walker have ever been giving the carte-blanche acceptance that Ms. Emin was graced with after "All the men I've ever slept with?"

Highly doubtful.

She would have been crucified.

Because Walker continues to crank out pieces that address what the Caucasian-dominated art glitteratti feels a "black artist" SHOULD be concentrating on, she's been elevated to something not unlike that of a modern minstrel herself, sans tap shoes.

I find it a hell of a lot more disgusting that the few top-publicized artists of color that I can name on my fingers-- Ofilli, Odita, Walker, and Pope L.--are only accepted because their work addresses "being black."

Pardon me while my blood pressure rises just a bit more, but it's not like MFA programs are asking the Schutz's of the world: "Can you have your work address what it's like to be young, white and immediately well-off financially?"

I dare the art world to elevate one artist of color to the forefront whose work might concentrate on color, line, form; political upheaval and protest; optical illusion; or experimental installation.

This is not to say Ms. Walker is not one of the more talented individuals continually making controversial and well-received work; as well as all those artists I've previously named.

I'm thinking of the recent beautifully painted show by artist Julie Heffernan.

I looked at each of her pieces and noted the skill and precision it took to paint those-- as well as the alabaster skin of each of the "self-portraits."

Could a black female artist have been given that type of reception as well?

I have a wish for the art world's eye of the needle to expand just a little beyond the tragic historical past of a people and perhaps more on the triumph of living in the today, as well as opening up the rosters to more of the least expected rather than "Here we go again."

Over and out.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ryan McGinness IS an art movement

His button below may directly disagree with my assessment, but in the battle of the similarly named Ryans of "art star" calibre, McGinness beats McGinley hands-down.

Of course the two simply cannot be compared due to their vastly different mediums, lifestyles and genres, but with these works, McGinness has proved to me once again he's worth the hype surrounding him.
Maybe I'm truly going out on a limb here, but I must say he just may be the second coming of Aubrey Beardsley at his recent inauguration of the new Pace Prints space in Chelsea.

See my example of "compare and contrast" below of one of Beardsley's intricate and luxuriously printed Art Nouveau children's book illustration work next to the sinuously flowing eroticism of McGinness' engraved skateboards that strongly utilize the color wheel.

This exhibit just closed at Pace Prints' new Chelsea headquarters truly blew my mind in terms of the artist's use of color play and decorative pattern work.

But truth be told, McGinness' strongest suit yet was his collection of humorous pins.

It brought back to mind my own youthful days as a merch girl for many of Boston's indie rock bands in the early-to-mid-'90s.
It also is a nice nod to being a child of the 1980s.
Certainly the subject matter is a bit mature, but our friendship pins, bracelets and sticker collections were like our generational equivalent to the Summer of Love crowd's medallions.
Here, McGinness deftly combines the two, taking a glance backwards towards the Decorative Arts movement, all the while combining it with psychedelia at its finest, with a final mix of Atari Generation and skater punk thrown in for good measure.
Fun stuff.