roxanne goldberg

Sijae Byun Wins Emerging Artist Prize

Surrounded by silks, stretchers, dozens upon dozens of squeezed paint tubes, brushes and other art-making materials, Korean-born artist Sijae Byun sits on a stool in her studio at the Arlington Arts Center and says with an exuberant smile, “I am very thankful.”

Less than two weeks ago at the third annual (e)merge art fair, Byun was awarded The Phillips Collection Emerging Artist Prize. The award is the first of its kind to be given by the nation’s oldest modern art museum, and supports Byun as an important new artist, whose work is thought to be original and of art historical significance.

“I think her paintings were the most impressive work that we saw at the fair,” director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and curator at large at The Phillips Collection, Klaus Ottmann said during a phone interview. “It was just a matter of which one we should buy.” 

Ottmann, along with The Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski and senior curator of modern and contemporary art Vesela Sretenović, selected Byun’s Wind #7 In Jungle as the winning work and the piece that would be acquired for the museum’s permanent collection. The selection was made after all three administrators saw Byun's work displayed in the Washington Project for the Arts booth, curated by executive director Lisa Gold. 

Wind #7 In Jungle is a large-scale artwork with content and context equal in monumentality to the towering 37.5 x 50.5 inch work, made in a highly complex practice of layering and painting silk. A dynamic and energetic ovular form asserts itself against a modulated pink background. A variety of textural surfaces and intricate patterns intertwine and support one another, creating a surrealist structure. A purple flower hangs quiet and closed, ready to bloom, provoking thoughts of nature. Environmental themes such as these are supported by vegetal imagery resembling lily pad leaves and green algae, and are underscored and considered critically juxtaposed the architectural forms, rendered in sharp manufactured lines scattered throughout the work and clustered heavily at the bottom right. Strands of dark hairs and veins appear to weave the elements together, and one cannot help but to consider whether the blood-pumping vessels give life to these traditionally oppositional forces, or if the human body constricts and strangles, further complicating the relationships between natural landscape and mechanical construction.

“This particular work fits really nicely into [The Phillips Collection's] long tradition and conversation that goes on in our collection about color and painting, but at the same time, brings in something new, a different kind of dialogue in terms of material as silk and some non-western aesthetics that play in the work so it’s kind of expanding that tradition,” said Ottmann.

The Phillips Collection has a long history of supporting emerging artists. Duncan Phillips, the seminal art collector whose collection was the precursor to the 1921 museum and who played a key role in introducing America to the modernists, was widely responsible for launching the careers of such important figures as Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keefe and John Marin. In keeping with the spirit of Duncan Phillips, Ottmann believes award and grant programs that both support emerging artists in the local DC-community and engage artists and viewers in a global dialogue, should occur regularly, given the appropriate funding.

When asked about having her work in The Phillips Collection, Byun said humbly, “I’m very happy, but I also, I want to work harder and be a greater artist. I really like [The Phillips Collection] and I want to be one of the great artist there.”

The acquisition of a painting is of particular significance for Byun, who was told by her undergraduate teachers that she should avoid painting and instead focus her artistic practice on installation. Following the advise of her teachers, Byun studied fabric design and primarily worked in installation and set design, until a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York noticed Byun’s aptitude for drawing and suggested she start painting.

Since those initial conversations in 2007, Byun has combined painting with such mediums as stop motion animation, installation and fabrics, to create nuanced and challenging artworks that share a masterful command of space.

When asked about how the prize will affect her artistic practice, Byun said it will help her maintain energy and encourage her to continually work harder. For Byun, she is most concerned with keeping her eyes and her mind strong, and always following her inner voice.

Sijae Byun’s solo exhibition, Vaginascope, is currently on display at Tallybeck Contemporary in New York until November 15, 2013, and her solo exhibition, Circulation-Respiration at the Korean Cultural Center in Washington, DC, opens November 1, 2013.

Bringing the Art in DC to You, 

Roxanne Goldberg

(e)merge Preview: Andrew Wodzianski

At last year’s (e)merge art fair, Andrew Wodzianksi floated in the Capitol Skyline Hotel rooftop pool, resting inside a coffin for 36 hours. 

A most memorable endurance performance, Self Portrait as Ishmael was the vehicle by which Andrew embodied Ishmael, the protagonist in Herman Melville’s great American novel, Moby Dick.

“I feel like when I’m reading fiction, I always try to find connections between the characters and myself and that helps me escape into the author’s context,” Andrew explained, “I find so much connectivity with these characters and it seems like I can camouflage or meld myself into that character description. The transition doesn’t seem so alien.”

For the third annual (e)merge art fair, October 3- 6, Andrew is challenging himself to embody a character haunting him since childhood. Jack Torrence, the protagonist in Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining (and portrayed by Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film), is the character that frightened young Andrew and inspired him to explore horror as a film student.

 A trained oil painter with a traditional studio practice, Andrew’s interest in self-portraiture harkens to his college dreams of working with special effects in Hollywood. 

“I was fascinated with disguise and transformation, and when I got older it evolved more into an academic level,” Andrew said. He combined talents in the fine arts and interests in controlled metamorphosis with the most readily available model, himself, to create the series of self portraits his audiences know from (e)merge.

“There’s this really rich depository for me to explore and I feel closer to this than a lot of the work I have done in the past,” said Andrew, “It really just does seem to be this beautiful convergence of all these long standing interests of mine, be it disguise or cinema or literature, it all seems to be rolling itself up wonderfully.”

As part of his preparations for Self Portrait as Jack Torrence, in which for the duration of the art fair Andrew will be occupying the Capitol Skyline hotel lobby and typing James Howell’s proverb, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” the artist created a Venn diagram listing the traits he shares with Jack Torrence. Intimate insights such as recluse, self-loathing, witness to spousal abuse, and vulgar, are included among milestones like graduate education, early success, stagnant mid-career, husband, younger brother, and educator.

 “It’s incredibly personal and it’s a little bit uncomfortable,” Andrew said of the Venn diagram he recently shared with his Kickstarter backers.

To help raise funds for his performance, including insurance, furniture, wardrobe, and the purchase and repair of an Adler Universal typewriter of the same model used in the Kubrick film, Andrew launched a Kickstarter campaign. Originally hoping to raise $375 in total, Andrew is pleasantly surprised to have 58 backers, whose donations have totaled $1,145 to date. The repairs and cleaning of the typewriter alone cost more than $430.

“The machine also has connectivity with my family history. My father fled from Poland in World War II,” explained Andrew, “It also goes back to my theater days as a prop master. I wanted to have some sort of fidelity with the Kubrick film.”

Andrew’s passion and sincerity for his artistic practice is extraordinary.  Adopting the same fervor for Ishmael and Jack Torrence as do method actors when preparing for a feature film role, Andrew’s performances are astonishing for they succeed at convincing the viewer he is not only witnessing, but also playing a part in the familiar scene. It is as if Andrew creates moments of nostalgia for memories that never existed.

“You see the madness of descent into insanity through cinematic trickery,” Andrew said of Jack Torrence’s obsessive typing in the film version. He explained, “The performance that I’m doing is actually manifesting that descent. Because I’m there for such a long time [….] I’m trying to recreate the moment of the character’s actions, which are never seen in real time.”

 Self Portrait as Jack Torrence will be performed by Andrew Wodzianski in the Capitol Skyline Hotel lobby for 23 hours during the (e)merge art fair, October 3- 6, 2013.

 Bringing the Art in DC to You,

Roxanne Goldberg

Flashpoint: (e)merge preview

Hotel rooms are odd spaces as temporary homes for visitors to foreign places or familiar faces seeking moments of escape.

When an art fair enters the hotel framework, as does the Capitol Skyline Hotel at the (e)merge art fair, the hotel room takes on another totally strange personality, that of a temporary art gallery.

While some exhibitors at the third annual (e)merge art fair elect to have the furniture taken out of their assigned rooms-turned-booths, other galleries challenge the artists they represent and exhibit to adopt the hotel room persona into their art.

“We spend a lot of time talking about how to negotiate the space,” said Karyn Miller, director of visual arts and communications at CulturalDC. “We’ll be acknowledging the fact that it’s a hotel room again.”

Flashpoint, the gallery space managed by CulturalDC, has been exhibiting at (e)merge since its inaugural fair in 2011. That first year, Baltimore-based artist Lisa Dillin installed a structure over the bed, inviting visitors to sit and contemplate the work from a comfortable setting. At this year’s fair, collaborators Lauren Rice and Brian Barr will also be utilizing a bed space, while pen-and-ink artist Dana Jeri Maier has specifically requested to show her work in the bathroom.

“In some ways it’s an exciting challenge for these artists to show work in these contexts,” said Miller, “It asks them to present work in a really unorthodox and potentially awkward space and making it work.”

In her curatorial process, Miller considered ways in which to merge upcoming artists in Flashpoint’s fall exhibition schedule, with themes that are socially relevant.

Though all three artists work in different media and use different inspiration as diving points, each engages with the appropriation and remixing of found images, text, conversations and objects.

Sonya Lawyer purchases family photo albums at auction in an effort to ‘rescue’ her ‘ancestors’ from predatory purchasers who buy and divide the photographs in the album in order to re-sell individual photographs at higher prices. Sonya incorporates these photographs into her work, which is focused on the process of hand dying cotton fabric.  The resulting compositions are strong, emotive works that cause the viewer’s mind to wonder in curiosity about the anonymous figures, presented in concurrence with intimate fabrics that retain a sense of human touch through texture and color. Similarly, Lauren Rice and Brian Barr collage found images and remix them in order to create new contexts for objects already in existence.

Dana Jeri Maier does not draw in a studio, but instead takes her practice into bars and coffee shops, where she appropriates overheard conversations and general surroundings into the artwork she produces while absorbing these various stimuli.

“These artists are really interested in providing new meanings and understanding that meaning is never a fixed or static thing,” explained Miller, “Meaning is something that is constantly changing and evolving.”

Bringing the Art in DC to You, 

Roxanne Goldberg 

Camden Place: (e)merge preview

Hillary Clinton is running for president.

This is the constructed reality according to Camden Place, a local artist whose fascination with the gap between perceived realities of the self and the actual self, inspired a mock Hillary 2016 campaign for presentation at the third annual (e)merge art fair.

“Obama has revolutionized the way presidents interact with us not as a president, but as a celebrity,” explained Camden, “What I’m trying to do, is increase the celebrity status of the president.”

The 2012 American University MFA graduate has recently been working on a series entitled, “Memories: 1985- 2000.” In these digital collages, he superimposes images of himself in pictures with celebrities, finishing the work by framing the prints as if they were ordinary family photographs. Such constructions as a smirking young Camden wearing a pink YMCA shirt among the Sandlot boys are endearing, while other collages, like that of toddler Camden imitating the outstretched arms of Ace Ventura, evoke an undeniable sense of humor.

Camden plays on this sense of levity in his mock presidential campaign, but not for the sake of comedy. Instead, he seeks to challenge viewers and participants to question and consider what is presented to them.

“The viewer may distance himself. He may ignore it, or take a pin,” said Camden.

The artist explained his interest in how people not only see themselves and others, but also how they respond to their perceptions, particularly when presented incongruous to reality.

“There’s always been this element of doubt. People will have to ask questions,” said Camden.

Buttons, flyers, pamphlets and other campaign paraphernalia, including an enormous, billboard-size poster, will constitute the mock advertising campaign.

Presenting a mock presidential campaign in Washington, DC is especially interesting, and one must wonder how Camden’s artwork will be received during the (e)merge art fair, which although takes place in the nation’s capital, draws crowds from many diverse locations worldwide.

“I want curiosity, I want disgust potentially, or for people to take it as offensive,” explained Camden, “I want people to dig into it.”

Hillary Clinton as a subject was not selected for the artist’s political preferences, but instead because she already enjoys the celebrity status Camden seeks to augment.

“She’s implicated herself,” said Camden, “Like when there is a meme made about her, she reaches out to those people.”

As Camden’s installation slowly reveals itself as an art piece and not as an authentic campaign booth, it will have the potential to inspire viewers to expand their awareness and to consider the implications of the recent phenomenon of the president as celebrity.

Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Roxanne Goldberg

(e)merge artist preview: Lavar Munroe

“A hero is someone who went into the belly of the beast and survived.”

 Artist Lavar Munroe explains, the idea of the hero has the potential to manifest itself in the individuals who we come across by chance and who we choose to surround ourselves with everyday.

 Munroe, who recently moved to DC from St. Louis after completing a residency at the famous Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, is introducing (e)merge art fair audiences to an alternative hero, the one Washingtonians are often guilty of ignoring—the homeless. 

 “I’m becoming his maid or servant,” explained Munroe.

 Bed Colony, Munroe’s long-term project being presented in October at the third annual (e)merge art fair, requires Munroe to regularly replace the old, soiled and dilapidated cardboard of a homeless person downtown, with fresh new cardboard.

 The used pieces are tinged with signs of a past life and a sense of a mysterious and personal history. Munroe combines and collages the material that contains what Munroe identifies as “beauty in decay,” to create nine ‘beds’ complete with pillows and personal affects Munroe finds by chance, like hair, bibles, candles and from this particular site downtown, a flask.

 “I’m interested in the different uses of [cardboard]. The middle class use it to ship plastic goods and then they excrete it into the world.,” explained Munroe, “But the people who I take it from use it as a means of survival, as a means of eating off, sleeping on, using for toys, using it for games. It becomes such a precious item.”

For an artist whose native home in the Bahamas is riddled with drugs and gang violence, Munroe believes it is important to draw awareness to the discrepancies in the value of cardboard between classes.

“Last time I went there, he wrote ‘Cozy ‘Corner,’” Munroe said.

With Bed Colony, Munroe hopes to challenge audiences to rethink the typically negative manner in which the homeless are viewed, and to instead consider them as brave heroes surviving. 

While Munroe’s project may appear to have social connotations, the artist does not desire his art be used for social action, but is instead interested in occupying the space of the “trickster.”

The artist, who once volunteered at a Juvenile Detention Center in St. Louis with hopes of learning about life on the streets and the stories of convicted criminals, became interested in trickery and related themes such as absence and presence, through a lifelong fascination with mythology.

“I started my own mythology but it was autobiographical for the most part. It seemed so open ended,” explained Munroe, “so I thought the best thing was to introduce one character, which was the trickster. And that was me but it also becomes a hero.” 

In Bed Colony, Munroe acts as both the hero and the trickster. The man downtown has never seen Munroe and Munroe has never seen him. However, they are engaging in a very important exchange and dialogue. And through Bed Colony at (e)merge, the viewer may also become a hero. One must only challenge herself to think differently about DC’s homeless.  

Bringing the Art in DC to You,

Roxanne Goldberg

Bed Colony will be on display at (e)merge art fair at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, from October 4 through October 6. 

Experimenting with Bella Russia: A preview of the local band’s Artisphere endurance performance

Like so many artworks of the modern era with notoriously controversial reception histories—Manet’s Olympia, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, Robert Mapplethorpe’s John N.Y.C.—music also has the power to create rippling currents intended to disrupt habitual thought and mundane routine.

Arlington-based Bella Russia is inspired by one such story, that of James Singer Sargent’s Madame X. Following the recent release of their similarly titled music video, the band is offering local audiences an opportunity to participate in a departure from the conventional concert experience, by inviting art and music lovers to Artisphere on Saturday, September 7, for an eight-hour endurance performance.

“It’s more of an art piece,” explained drummer Josh Braden.

Fine art is no foreign concept for the band members who each have an artistic practice outside Bella Russia. Josh paints and is reportedly an exceptional draftsman, while bassist Nathan Mitchell works as a professional photographer.

Guitarist Alex Braden studied sound art with Thomas Stanley at George Mason University, and will be presenting an interactive sound installation in the parking garage of the Capitol Skyline hotel as part of the upcoming (e)merge art fair.

“I think the personality behind the other crafts make their way into the music,” said Josh, “The way I see songs is the way I see the way I would paint or draw in so many ways.”

“If you look at Josh’s art and then heard him play it would make a lot of sense,” added Alex, who described Josh’s work as “really complex and dark, dark.”

Similar to a painting, a photograph, or an installation, the music of Bella Russia is intricate. It is layered and has texture. It has an underlying order and inherent structure supporting the above surface. It is necessarily a process.

“We wrote songs and those are rules,” explained Alex, “But we create these areas where we can embellish, where we can take away, and where we can improvise.”

The Artisphere performance will function as the launch of Bella Russia’s first EP, Epaulet, which for its cover, appropriates James Abobott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (more commonly known as Whistler’s Mother), as well as Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, which in 2012, served as the title of the band’s first recorded song. And while during Saturday’s event, the band will perform four artfully titled tracks—Marfa, Madame X, Degas, and Ambergris—Alex, Josh, and Nathan will also be improvising and experimenting.

“I foresee us expanding on some of the songs a bit. But it’s eight hours, so I’m hoping we’ll be generating new ideas and just having fun with it, “ said Josh.

The band mates had other ideas: “We should do that Brian Eno thing, and write different strategies for playing on cards, and right before we play, pull them out. So like, play with brushes instead of sticks,” said Alex, referencing the innovator of ambient music who was prone to using chance operations in his compositions.

“We’re going to have to have some weird strategies for staying around and playing for eight hours,” Nathan said with an amused smile.

Though the final performance will be a surprise for all, each superbly adept musician looks forward to utilizing Artisphere’s wide variety of instruments—possibly taking advantage of a grand piano—to perform “fire drills,” switching instruments during the eight hours.

Visitors to Artisphere on Saturday will be viewing Bella Russia from a window above the Black Box Theater. Josh described the situation as a “fishbowl,” and like Alex and Nathan, hopes to draw a diverse audience. For a band who takes traditional music techniques like scales and harmony out of its writing process, and substitutes orthodox methods for “ridiculous nonsensical metaphors that have nothing to do with music” (Josh offers, “Imagine you’re swimming in a pool and you get out and everyone had a hotdog and there is none left for you.”), Bella Russia is enthusiastic to perform for an all-ages audience that “enjoys performance.”

Bringing the Art in DC to You,
Roxanne Goldberg

Bella Russia Endurance Performance will take place Saturday, September 7 from 12:00- 8:00 pm in the Black Box Theater at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209