On the occasion of the exhibition, Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget, marking the artist's one-hundredth birth anniversary, Ralph's son Marc shares his thoughts on his father's iconic painting, Family Supper. Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget closes this Sunday, August 3, at American Art.
"I know so much and yet so little about this painting. It makes me realize that my father was born in a time where radio, television, automobile travel, refrigeration, telephones, flight, industrial agriculture were uncommon or didn’t exist. He came of age and lived his life throughout a period of remarkable technological and social change. On the left hand side of the kitchen depicted is the ice box containing home made wine and imported cheese, it is topped with fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables, in the upper left is a gas meter use for cooking, heat and lighting, my grandmother is centered in the top portion of the painting depicted as a crucifix tied to the cross by her career in the needle trades and below as the intellectual and emotional center of the family, to the right is my grandfather crucified by the ice picks and tongs of his trade, along the bottom of the painting is the steamer trunk of an immigrant family and a day and trundle beds where two members of the family needed to sleep for lack of space anywhere else in the apartment. In the center of the painting sits my father with his mother, a family friend, and my aunts and uncles (my grandfather notably absent from an otherwise complete familial scene).
"The kitchen and the meal they are enjoying is shown encased in the little Italy neighborhood in which they dwelt. I can hear the sounds of the tenement neighborhood and taste the pastries my grandmother made (though I never met her). I can feel the warmth and tensions of the family members sharing a meal. I can see the light, the radiance my father put into every detail of that kitchen. How those meals and discussions shaped my father, made him an empathetic guy with an ability to engage people on many different intellectual and emotional levels. His brothers and sisters were very unalike and ranged from highly intelligent to not so much, and though he was closer to some, he loved and understood all of them equally.
"I marvel at how removed so many in the United States have become from a life centered around communal family meals where life is shared, argued and dealt with over delicious home cooked food purchased from trusted grocers who would give you produce on personal credit—no banks involved. I marvel at how similar so many immigrant families are today in their habits, aspirations and trades. I marvel at how far removed my life has become from this pre-WW II lifestyle and how I long for and cherish the time to share similar meals with my family, how technology has made me rich in comfort and poor in culinary and emotional gratification. Family Supper is a foreign image from another age to me and I yet I strongly see it as my heritage, my home—a marriage of basic elements of my intellectual and emotional core. It stands for so much that I believe in and seems so remote."
Check out Marc's previous interview with Eye Level. After the close of the exhibition here at American Art, it travels to the American Folk Art Museum in New York City where it will run from September 2, 2014 to November 30, 2014.
Five Questions (+2) with Stephen Vitiello: Sound Advice
July 31, 2014
In honor of the Nam June Paik birthday celebration, electronic musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello will speak in American Art's Lincoln Gallery (3rd floor, East Wing) on August 1 at 5:30 p.m. Eye Level had a chance to check in with him and ask him about art, sound, and his interactions with Nam June Paik.
Eye Level: We're delighted that you'll be speaking at the museum for the Nam June Paik birthday celebration on August 1. What role has Paik played in your own life and art?
Stephen Vitiello: Paik was an inspiration and guide to me in many ways, some of which he may have realized and some of which I'm sure he didn't. Paik taught me through example more than any direct lesson. He was inclusive to his collaborators, his mentors and to a younger circle of artists he worked with on a daily basis. I think it was Pauline Oliveros who suggested that my relationship to Paik was a kind of apprenticeship. Paik had a staff of assistants and then he had a second circle of people he would call on for various tasks, support or information. I see myself has having been in that secondary group. I still find it (satisfyingly) amusing that he left my name off of projects that I worked on and then credited me for projects I really didn't work on.
EL: How did you and Paik meet, and how did your impressions of him change after that?
SV: I started working at Electronic Arts Intermix (the leading distributor of artists' videos) in 1988. It was only a year later or so when Paik realized that I was a musician that he decided he wanted me to assist him in an organizing a concert that he would do with the great hardcore band the Bad Brains, along with projections of Joseph Beuys. After that, I would get phone calls at all times of day or night with assignments (such as bring 3 big Buddha statues to Coney Island and videotape them in the water or videotape a month of Fluxus performances). It was clear that Paik was like no one else I had met. He was charismatic, brilliant and sometimes confusing. He spoke in a language that I could only understand once he had decided to bring me into his world but it was still like his videos—layered with meaning and bits of abstraction.
EL: Can you tell us a bit about what you'll be speaking about at the museum?
SV: When I spoke about Paik as part of a series of presentations at the Smithsonian Art Museum last April, Steina Vasulka (a contemporary of Paik's and one of the great ones in the history of video art) commented that she enjoyed how I brought Paik's "voice" into the room through my stories. I'm thinking about some audio recordings that I can bring to the museum of Paik's actual voice, including a very long answering machine message from Paik that he left for me at one point that felt a bit like a mantra in its determined repetition.
EL: What exactly does it mean to "listen with intent?"
SV: It just means to consciously listen and to pay attention to what you are hearing and how it is effecting your experience of the world around you. In general, we are always hearing things happening around us but it's not until you tell yourself to really listen that you hear sounds in richer detail, focus on the layers of sound and perhaps train yourself to seek out what is beautiful in the everyday mix. In saying that, I'm certainly referencing all that I've learned from reading John Cage, as well as having worked with Pauline Oliveros, listened to Alvin Lucier and many others who taught us to listen to the world more carefully. Paik started out as a musician but migrated to a more visual practice. I know that his training in experimental music had a great affect on how he came to work with images, and to process and edit images and to treat time in a very musically inspired fashion.
EL: When did you first try and capture sound?
SV: I started to play in bands around 1978 or 1979. I started creating tape collages and soundtracks for experimental videos around 1986 when I got my first 4-track cassette recorder. Perhaps the more significant process of field recording in my work really began with my recordings of the World Trade Center in 1999 and then when the Cartier Foundation in Paris sent me to the Amazon in 2003 to record sounds in a Yanomami village.
EL: What role can a soundscape play in museums today?
SV:There are a lot of ways to answer that. What occurs to me immediately is that the art world has encountered soundcapes, sound installations and experimental soundtracks for film and video for many years but museums still struggle with issues of presenting sound. Part of this has to do with the acoustics of rooms and buildings that were not necessarily designed for sound as much as they were for visuals. Part of this has to do with sound bleed and part has to do with what an audience expects and can accept. I just heard that a museum in upstate New York has been turning off the sound for a video that I scored because there have been audience complaints. In my mind, it's a fairly mild piece of electronic music. I think part of this has to do with conditioning: bringing audiences in to understand the role that sound plays in contemporary art. It also needs a long-term dedication. In my mind, great works of sound, be it a multi-channel sound installation by the great field recordist Chris Watson, a quadrophonic concert by the French composer Eliane Radigue, or a work coming out of conceptual art by Vito Acconci or Bruce Nauman can make experience space in a way that is really comparable to sculpture. Sound fills space it connects to us emotionally and intellectually. I think everyone has experienced sound emotionally. Maybe they haven't paid attention to how much literature and teaching there is currently about the intellectual aspects of sound art and related fields (including sound design for film, television and theater).
EL: In today's world where people are so often listening to music or podcasts on their earbuds, have we lost the ability to hear the world around us? Or, is it more complicated than that?
SV: I don't think we've lost the ability to hear the world around us but culturally, we are definitely closing the sound space in (or perhaps out...) by controlling what we hear through low-fi, perhaps ear damaging, earbuds. I just returned from a residency at Mountain Lake Biological Station in Virginia. The audience was primarily biologists and biology students along with a small group of artists. I got so many comments in the days that followed my talk about how people, influenced by my talk, were paying more attention as they walked through the woods or thinking about their specialty in science and the relationship to sound. I think we just need more and more people who are working with sound to be given a chance to share their sounds, ideas and inspiration and hopefully, our audiences will grow and hopefully too that will spill out into further ways of not just listening to soundworks but how the world offers us an endless possibility for listening pleasure.
American Art's Outdoor Sculpture Instagram Challenge
July 29, 2014
This July, American Art held its first Instagram Challenge through a partnership with Restless Collective (RC), a New York-based multimedia collective specializing in travel and adventure storytelling. The Instagram Challenge is intended to raise awareness and appreciation for public outdoor sculpture across the country. For 30 days in July, we invited everyone to explore and interact with alfresco art anywhere: discovering it locally or traveling on summer vacation. The Challenge asked participants to take a snapshot or selfie with an outdoor sculpture that meets the criteria for each day of the challenge and then share it with us and Restless Collective. Co-founders of RC, Morrigan McCarthy and Alan Winslow, photographed and interviewed people about outdoor sculptures at the same time, and chronicling their July on their Summer of Sculpture Tumblr.
On the final day of the Challenge, July 31st from noon to 4 p.m., Morrigan and Alan will be at American Art, doing what they do best: sharing stories. Afterward, they will lead an Instagram Walkabout around the museum neighborhood to —you guessed it— photograph more sculptures! Public programs coordinator Katie Crooks has been working with RC and sat down with Morrigan to get the scoop on RC's backstory, goals, and work.
Eye Level: Let's start off with some background. How did you two meet and get into the travel/adventure/photography/storytelling business? How does one even get into this type of work?
Morrigan McCarthy: We met while both working for a summer at a photography workshop on the coast of Maine. Alan was working in the digital printing lab and I was assistant teaching. We hit it off that summer and decided to move to New York City together in October of that year. It was there, in a tiny studio apartment that we came up with the idea for our first adventure together, Project Tandem.
We both have backgrounds in environmental science, and we were interested in the American debate over climate change. We wanted to get a pulse from ordinary folks, not just the media or people with platforms. So we set off to ride bicycles 11,000 miles around the United States, photographing portraits of Americans and interviewing them about their thoughts on the issue. It was both our first time doing anything like that, and it was nerve-wracking to just jump in with both feet! We had two bicycles, a small tent, and a few clothes, with a small grant that allowed us to cover our very minimal costs. We spent most nights camping in farmers' fields and behind fire stations. Over the 11 months that we cycled, we developed a process that felt like a good and natural way to tell real stories. The process has evolved quite a bit since then. But that type of work is still the foundation for what we do now.
EL: Your passion and talent for what you do indicates that this is more than just a job. What does Restless Collective mean to you, and what are its overarching goal(s)?
MM: Restless Collective is a way to formalize our work together, allowing us to combine our individual strengths. We've been working together for seven years now. When clients hire or collaborate with Restless Collective, they get the benefit of our ground-level sociologically-flavored style: my background in documentary and Alan's background in art. Our goal is simple: we want to better understand the world around us and share great stories about it.
EL: Tell us a little bit about how the collaboration with the Smithsonian American Art Museum came about?
MM: This project fits naturally into what we do. It's exciting to have the opportunity to explore our local area in a new way. Usually we're exploring places foreign to us. So talking to people in our own city, and photographing the amazing sculpture we have around us has been great fun. We're excited to start getting the broader Instagram community involved now, and to see photographs of public sculptures from all over the United States!
EL: What's the craziest thing that has happened on one of your traveling adventures?
MM: Wow! That's a tough one. The thing that jumps to mind first is one night on our first project together. We were tenting on a golf course in Nebraska (about 9,000 miles into our trip), and it was tornado season. Being from the Northeast, neither of us had ever really been near a tornado, so when we woke up in the dark to the sound of birds going crazy, we didn't really know what was happening. We were both just laying there, wide awake, listening, and then all if the sudden everything went completely silent. We unzipped the tent and in the lightning flashes we could see the sky was all greenish. We knew that was bad, and so we grabbed our cameras, laptop, hard drives, and sleeping bags and made a run for it. We got to the golf course's public restroom just as the hail started and we sat in the doorway watching our little tent get thrashed in the wind. Eventually, it got so nasty we went inside, put our sleeping bags under the sinks (you're supposed to be near plumbing, if possible) and slept the rest if the night there, figuring that if our tent and bikes were going to get carried away in a tornado, there wasn't much we could do about it. In the morning we were thrilled to find that the bikes and all our gear had held the tent down. We packed up and headed into town when locals told us that the tornado had passed pretty close to the golf course. We were just lucky! Maybe that's not the craziest thing that's ever happened to us, but it was one of the first crazy things!
EL: OK, sky's the limit! You have no scheduling conflicts, a limitless budget, and endless possibilities. What would your ideal next project be?
MM: We've talked about sailing around the world, but also about following the old spice routes. We also both love food, so maybe a food-based project is next! Right now we're focused on turning our most recent project, The Geography of Youth (an around-the-world journey to document the Millennial generation) into a public art show that will be able to be projected in public spaces worldwide in 2015.
In this Case: Visitor's Choice #3
July 28, 2014
Getting to know some of our visitors was the inspiration for a new blog series, Visitor's Choice. In this series, we ask our regulars about their favorite artworks and why they like them. Since everyone has a unique relationship with art, some of the posts will be more in-depth than others, some might reflect the artist's intent, and some might have more of a personal meaning.
In the third installment of our Visitor's Choice series, we spoke with local, self-described "designer artist" Tara NaTasha. Tara has been a regular fixture at our Luce Foundation Center programs for a couple of years now, especially our art making activities. We always enjoy seeing her here and enjoy the creative results she comes up with!
Tara is an extremely creative individual and loves to share her passion for art with everyone around her. When I spoke with Tara about her favorite piece here at American Art, she shared this insightful interpretation of James F. Dicke II's Untitled #21:
I love what this piece accomplishes by just using color. It's easy to be transported to a place when the subject is a place or something that you can (or want to) relate to, but what happens when the subject, is essentially, nothing?
When a work inspires your imagination to create a special and unique place within its context and using its composition, it becomes great. The only thing better than a work that's not the same thing twice, is a work that guarantees that you'll enjoy that many variations that it may come in over the years.
Jim Dicke's paintings certainly invite this kind of close looking and personal reflection. As an artist, he believes that ambiguity and beauty should address the senses and strives to create pieces that will make the viewer want to take another look.
Do you have a favorite piece in our collection? If you do, stop by the Luce Center information desk. We'd love to hear about it and maybe you'll see yourself on here on Eye Level!
Art-o-Mat Swap Meet, Take 2
July 24, 2014
The American Art Museum will host its second Art-o-mat® swap meet on Saturday, July 26 in collaboration with Artists in Cellophane. Artists will gather in our Luce Foundation Center from all over the country for an afternoon of meet and greets, artist demoes, and artpak making. To appreciate an Art-o-mat®, read Eye Level's blog post from 2011, when the Luce Center received its own Art-o-mat®.
Participating artist Rachel Ourada recently took a break from getting ready for the trip to answer a few questions about her involvement with Art-o-mat®.
Eye Level: How long have you been an Art-o-mat® artist, and how did you become a participant and contributor?
Rachel Ourada: I've been an Art-o-mat® artist since 2012. My neighbor, Scott Blake, is an artist and fills the machines in Omaha, Nebraska. We met in 2012 when the city tore up a main street in our neighborhood. Thanks to the lack of traffic, we met and started talking. Scott helped me come up with my first Art-o-mat® prototype.
EL: What is involved from the beginning stages to the final stages of creating art for the Art-o-mat®?
RO: I work in several media on a regular basis, and this is reflected in my Art-o-mat® designs. My primary medium is the fabric button. I design my own fabric to create unique pieces of jewelry and accessories. For Art-o-mat®, I offer a menagerie of animal face earrings and colorful bike hairpins. Making fabric buttons takes lots of cutting, patience, and teeny tiny parts. I start every design digitally, and those designs are then transferred to fabric. It’s important to me that I use only my custom fabric. It is what sets me apart, and it allows me to create unusual designs that haven’t been seen before. I also do small runs of hand sculpted thumbs and tentacles. I like working with Sculpey. I love working with the bright colors, some of which glow in the dark. I accent these tiny sculptures with enamel paint and bits of chain. They aren’t functional; they are partially decorative and completely weird.
My background is in printmaking and making reproductions of original artwork. I have a handful of illustrations that I adhere to painted wooden blocks. I enjoy drawing skulls, and I have a few unique skull illustrations that I use for Art-o-mat®. When I make anything, Art-o-mat® or otherwise, my main objective is to create something unusual that has never been done before. My goal is to put a little bit of my personality into something someone will enjoy.
EL: What do you think of the Art-o-mat® machine as a creative outlet and option for artists such as yourself?
RO: I love working with Art-o-mat®. It has been a great venue for my work. I’ve received emails from people all over the country who got my art when they pulled the lever. I don’t know of anything else an artist could participate in that would give them the positive national exposure that I’ve received as an Art-o-mat artist. By being limited by the small size, it has really pushed me to think on a detailed level. You have a finite size (2 1/8 x 3 1/4 x 7/8 in.) to fill with creativity. You have the packaging and the placard to introduce yourself and your artwork. It’s a great opportunity to work inside and outside the box, literally and figuratively, at the same time. I always encourage other artists I meet to participate in Art-o-mat®. You get at least as much back as you put in. There aren’t many opportunities for artists that can promise the same. For customers, the experience can open them up to purchasing art and interacting with artists. Buying handmade things directly from an artist can be intimidating for some. What's less threatening than a vending machine?
EL: Why should visitors come to our Art-o-mat® Swap Meet on Saturday?
RO: How could you miss out on such a great opportunity to meet in person so many interesting artists? Nothing compares to finding a great piece of art and meeting the person behind it.
EL: Are you looking forward to meeting and swapping art with any particular Art-o-mat® artists?
RO: This is the first time that I’ve ever participated in an Art-o-mat® event. I’m looking forward to meeting as many Art-o-mat artists as I possibly can. I can’t wait to see what artwork I can add to my Art-o-mat® collection!
Join us at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 26 at American Art's Luce Center for an afternoon of fun!