21 August 2014

UIC Free Art School with Kevin Coval

As some of you may recall from a previous post, the school where I will be attending my grad program received a modest grant from the National Endowments for the Arts, and what they chose to do with the money amazed me. The grant afforded a unique experiment, the UIC Free Art School. The school was  free and open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis, and covered a wide range of sessions that included performance art, sculpture, painting, drawing, graffiti, and art history taught by leaders in the Chicago art world.  While most of the courses filled up in the blink of an eye, I managed to snag a spot on the Kevin Coval hosted Graffiti Walking Tour, and I will forever be grateful for the experience.


We met in a UIC parking lot, made our introductions and hellos, then hopped into a 16 person van and set off on a bumpy funny ride to the Crawford Steel Company in Brighton Park. The street facing walls contain sanctioned murals, masterpieces done by working graffiti artists from the Chicagoland area. The walls have been given by Crawford Steel to the artists, and the walls are worked and reworked on an ongoing basis. Around the corner, we encountered the Crawford Mural house rules, which deal with respect, boundaries, and a hope that this space better fosters the graffiti community.


Behind the factory and under a set of working train tracks are what Coval referred to as practice walls. While these aren't technically the same caliber as masterpieces behind them, they serve to act as a space for artists to work over ideas, images, colors, styles, words, and tags they are playing with. The evolution of these spaces is absolutely breathtaking, and it's merely by happenstance.

The ground was a mix of persistent foliage and remnants of art supplies
We spent a few minutes quietly pondering the sanctity of the space, and it had never occurred to me that for something as ubiquitous as graffiti, that the community remains completely underground because the art they create is illegal. Issues of space, the definition of art and beauty, neighborhood politics, and anonymity came to the forefront of our discussion, as we trekked along the train tracks to a hidden spot where some of the real magic took place.

Kevin Coval, our on-site lecturer and van driver for the day

Behind the steel factory is this amazing hidden spot. Coval told us that this is a practice space, as well as a space where graffiti artists BBQ, hang out, and enjoy one anothers company. I pretty much swooned as soon as we walked out of the dense foliage on the right. Besides the occasional mosquito, this hidden site is perfect, breathtaking, and full of color.

A character commonly found in the work of the artist Shel
As we walked along the side of the building, Coval pointed out names, shapes, and characters, sharing with us some of the stories behind the imagery. The artist Shel happened upon some books detailing the visual history of Aztec and Mayan cultures, and the influence he found in those studies began to enter his work on the street. This is one of the characters he developed, which bears a resemblance to the tribal masks and relief sculptures of the Mesoamerican cultures.


Following our visit to Crawford Steel we made a quick trip to a space along the side of the expressway, which had a completely different vibe. This didn't feel so much like a community, many of the tags were rushed, some less-developed than what we viewed at the first site. This space contained gang graffiti as well, something we saw very little of over at Crawford Steel. The site itself was interesting though, I've driven by this September 11th Memorial countless times and had no idea that there was an entire wall of graffiti beneath it.

Upon reflection, this walking/driving tour of some of Chicago's graffiti hangouts was incredibly eye opening. I learned a bit about why artists write the way they do, learned a thing or two about anonymity and breaking the law, as well as the basic but monumental difference between gang graffiti and art. I think creating sanctioned spaces for artists to work like the Crawford Steel site shows a change in the mentality surrounding graffiti, and slowly over time graffiti might finally earn its spot in the hallowed halls of the art and museum world. Banksy and Shepard Fairey are just the beginning, but after what I saw and how I felt looking at these works has me thinking graffiti is just as relevant and talentful as much of what's happening in the contemporary art world. 

16 July 2014

Sweet, Sweet Feminism

I feel like the Internet has been one of the best places for open discourse on feminism, it's various waves, and where we stand today. Between the circulation of feminist art pieces, women speaking up and openly about their bodies, discussions of beauty and photoshopping, the endless podcasts and vlogs I keep running across, it's hard not to come to this place (The Internet) and find a community in the masses. I don't keep a pinterest, but I might be "pinning" some things that have been inspiring me as of late. Hopefully this will turn into a series, but for now, let's do this.

Deborah de Robertis and Courbet's "Origin of the World" Performance

Animated .gif via Hyperallergic
The French performance artist, Deborah de Robertis, recently staged a performance in which, adorning a shimmering golden dress (not unlike the guilded frames in the gallery), she posed in front of Gustave Courbet's "Origin of the World". This isn't the first work of feminist art related to Courbet's anatomically incorrect, and at the time controversial painting of the vagina (he forgot the outer labia and the clitoris, naturally...), but it is one of the most talked about.

I think what de Robertis did here was draw attention to the objectification of the female body, which has been happening for centuries in visual art by drawing a direct comparison to herself as a living breathing person, not just a vagina on a wall. Also, the female genitalia is demystified through her performance, juxtaposing the two dimensional painting with the three dimensional person, proving that there are more parts, literally and physically to being a woman. She's entering a space, the museum as well as the canon of accepted and condoned artists - a mainly male institution upheld and funded by a male cohort. And for her to walk in, make herself present, and point out the true origin of the world, her vagina, I say brava!

Vagina selfie for 3D printers lands Japanese artist in trouble

Image via the Guardian
The Japanese artist, Megumi Igarashi, aka Rokudenashiko, was arrested in Japan for emailing the data from her work that involved using a 3D printer to photograph and make an image of her vagina. While she used the imagery from the project to make a kayak in the shape of her vagina, she was actually arrested for breaking some of Japan's obescenity laws - which strikes me as odd for a country that has an entire sector focused around the pleasure industry.

In a statement following the raiding of her studio and confiscation of 20 of her works, Rokudenashiko said "Japan is still a society where those who try to express women's sexuality are suppressed, while men's sexuality is overly tolerated." Her work has been stated to demystify the female genitalia, which should not be so shocking since she's working and living in a country that has a festival dedicated entirely to glorifying the penis. Well done lady, you're fighting the good fight.

Nathan Rabin Apoligizes for Coining the Term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl"

Image via Salon.com
And in completely unrelated news, the culture writer Nathan Rabin has officially apologized for coining the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and is calling for an end of its usage. The entire article is well written, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

“The trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally sexist one, since it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize.” 

"As is often the case in conversations about gender, or race, or class, or sexuality, things get cloudy and murky really quickly. I coined the phrase to call out cultural sexism and to make it harder for male writers to posit reductive, condescending male fantasies of ideal women as realistic characters." 

“Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness. But in the meantime, Manic Pixies, it’s time to put you to rest.”

As someone who might fall into this weirdly vague and truly sexist trope (I'm slightly waifish, somewhat spontaneous, and a bit cutesy/quirky), I'm glad he recognized that this term has snowballed into something misogynistic and so off the mark. It's ballsy to coin a term, but even ballsier to put an end to it entirely. Way to go Nathan, apology accepted.

15 July 2014

Sandy Goes to Grad School

Seeing myself in a Jose Lerma painting at Kavi Gupta 

I have been wanting to write this post for five months, to the day. Starting in late August, I will be a full-time student in the Museum and Exhibition Studies (MUSE) program at UIC, and I could not be more ecstatic about this decision. When I began to think about graduate school back in 2009, it seemed impossible, unattainable, and to be honest, something I wasn't even sure I wanted or needed. I "lucked out" landing my dream internship at the Art Institute, then lucked out again landing in the company of my wonderful colleagues in the fundraising office, finding a nurturing community and a space to grow. But also, I was a bit hampered. So cozy was I, that the thoughts of grad school fizzled out. I could have stayed at the Art Institute indefinitely, working in development with my backstage pass to the museum... but a little whisper in the back of my mind kept asking me

"Are you happy?"
"Is this what you want to do?"
"Are you working in a meaningful way?"
"Are you being pushed creatively and intellectually?"
"Are you accomplishing what you want to accomplish in the museum?"

Regram from @jen_oatess : me hanging out in Packing with a very famous painting.

The long and short of it is, I was happy, but I wasn't engaged. I was close to the art, to the collection, to the exhibitions, but not close enough. I wasn't conducting research or working with exhibition practice at all. I wasn't giving tours or dealing with the collection in a direct way. I was learning what I needed to learn, and ironically enough, one of the things I learned about was the creation of the very program I wound up applying to.

After leaving the Art Institute to pursue my new job, the whisper continued to make itself heard. Only this time, it wasn't a whisper. It was speaking to me directly, imploring me to make a decision, make this leap, go. I took the GRE in December, and applied to my program late in January. I found out in February, and was elated. What's exciting to me about this program is the focus on social justice and equality in museum and exhibition practice. I won't just be studying collections, writing for exhibitions, display practice, how to hang a show, and power tools 101.

I'll be armed with the tools to ask the kind of questions I've already been mulling over internally for years. Questions about race and gender, questions about the cost of museum admission, and the need for accessibility in museum spaces. Questions I was once afraid to ask aloud, like how come there are so few female museum directors, or how come so many museum directors make so much money when compared to the rest of the staff? Why are admission prices increasing and free days being slashed left and right? Who are these museum spaces for, and are there communities that are being completely overlooked?

It is these questions that burn within me, and keep me going. It is these questions that I will continue to ask, and hopefully begin to problem solve not only in my program, but in my career.

Yesterday I put in my two weeks notice, next Friday is my last day. Come August, I'm the student I've dreamt of becoming, on the path to realizing myself as the museum professional I knew was always within me. So cheers to me, and seriously, if you have a whisper that is growing louder, don't turn the volume down, turn it up and let it roar.

10 July 2014

New York, New York

Can we just talk about how perfect the weather is going to be this weekend in NYC? My agenda is as follows:
Tonight: Arrive in NYC, drop off our bags at our Air BnB, grab pizza and beers at Alligator Lounge
Friday: Coffee from Gimme Coffee!, train into Manhattan, bagels and schmear at Murray’s, head to Battery Park for the Ellis Island Ferry, top of Lady Liberty, ferry back to Manhattan, potential snack (hello street meat), 9/11 Memorial Museum, Joe’s Shanghai Dumplings in Chinatown, Seaport Music Fest, OWLS at Bowery Ballroom, dranks somewhere with friends
Saturday: Brunch with Esther and Brett, solo date to the American Museum of Natural History, more bagels and smoked fish at Zabar’s, solo picnic in Central Park, free concert at Union Pool, 4Knots Music festival, drinks, dinner, oysters, friends, maybe go to UCB? I have no freaking idea
Sunday: Brunch, wandering around, lazing about, flight back to Chicago
Monday: Freedom.

03 July 2014

Buon Viaggio, Ben

Ben, one of my very best friends since the first day of college, is moving to Virginia today. And while my heart is exploding with excitement for him, it's also tinged with the tiniest bit of sadness at his departure. He was literally the first friend I made on my first day at Knox. I remember sobbing like a homesick maniac, begging my parents not to leave, then wandering around the dorm and meeting him. I liked him immediately. 

Through the weirdness and homesickness, he found a way to make me laugh, like really laugh and forget how much I missed my bed, my parents, and my Chicago. I remember we made plans to get our ID photos taken at the same time, and had a long discussion about the importance of the photo / what we would be wearing. He wore a skull necklace that I will never forget, and I wore every color in the rainbow. One time, we did our laundry together, and he laid our clothes on the floor, started laughing, and said it looked as though we'd melted. We listened to I'd Melt with You, and danced around our clothes on the floor laughing and laughing till our stomachs hurt.

And that's truly the theme of our friendship. While we studied the same thing and had all sorts of common interests and friends, I felt like I could tell him anything and somehow we would wind up laughing and laughing. Our brains always found a way of landing on the same point, finding humor in the weirdest things, laughing as we did without abandon.

Today he is embarking on his next big adventure, one that leaves us far away from one another for the first time since we met nearly eight years ago. I am beyond inspired by his decision to go to grad school at a program that is perfect for him. I honestly don't know where I'd be without him these last few years, these crazy years of transition, yearning, longing, learning, and growth. To send him properly on his way, I've got some gems from our budding friendship to share with you!

Ben, you rock! You are the Spongebob to my Patrick. Keep on dancing and lighting up the world with your wit, humor, and infectious laugh!

The first day I met Ben
The time we melted
In an Iowa prairie at Bioneers
Us dancing to Hot Chip in an Iowa church kitchen
Pitchfork 2009
Pitchfork 2013
Us at a college party, pink wine, duh.
Us later on at the same party. I'm pretty sure this is the night we handed
out homemade business cards that we made before going out.
Us at our favorite bar in Galesburg, Duffy's. The night before graduation!
When we were the homecoming speakers for the Knox College Art
History department in 2012

27 June 2014

This Weekend

The theme of this weekend is hanging out with women who inspire me and who also happen to be bloggers. Between Lexie, Rose, and Kelsey, I can already feel my cheeks beginning to burn from all the smiling I will be doing in their company! Not to mention the Pride Parade, which is apparently marriage themed, because gay marriage was finally legalized in this fine Midwestern state! The above photo is from the time Adolfo invited me to dance like a maniac on the Holiday Inn float! Back in 2010! SO MUCH JOY!

- Going on an architecture boat tour this afternoon
- Working out
- Making this potato salad
- Reading more of Naked By the Window (which I can't put down!)
- Lexie time!!!!
- Dinner at Au Cheval
- Gay Pride Parade
- Celebratory drinks with Rose at Kelsey's event!

19 June 2014

In Memoriam: Charles Barsotti

On Monday, we lost one of our great living illustrators, Charles Barsotti. He'd been working for the New Yorker playing with line and humor for the last fifty years, making readers smile, chuckle, and as Bob Mankoff said best, drew cartoons that hugged us back. As an artist, he brought to the world a sense of whimsy, expertly employing simple beautiful strokes that had the ability to convey so much with a clean, pure, minimal style. In addition to being a talented artist, he was the husband, father, and grandfather to friends who I hold near and dear to my heart, and my thoughts are with them. I distinctly remember scanning every issue of the New Yorker for the familiar name, hoping to see one of his charming drawings feeling proud to be close to his family.

Charles, while I never knew you, I want you to know that you touched so many, and I feel lucky to have been able to see your illustrations week after week. You will continue to make the world smile through your legacy of work.


Via the New Yorker
Via the New Yorker
Via the New Yorker
Via the New Yorker