August 27, 2011
Visual Art Source, 08/27/2011


Visual Art Source, 08/27/2011

“Venetian,” is comprised of twenty-four oil on canvas paintings and gouache works on paper whose figurative compositions are subsumed under obfuscating scrims of vertical lines that evoke and upturn the blinds’ fragmentation of perspective.

The commonplace window coverings that we designate today as Venetian blinds trace their origins to what is now modern-day Iran. Discovered by Venetian merchants in the 18th century, and taking immediate hold in France, where they are commonly referred to by the more historically accurate name of “les Persiennes,” their undiminished popularity owes largely to innovations in 1950s aluminum manufacturing that resulted in a durable and cost-effective variant adapted to America’s Postwar onslaught of mass suburbanization.

Up-cycling this commonplace household appurtenance from the realm of domestic functionality into the sphere of contemporary artistic practice is one theme in Michael Cook’s current exhibition. “Venetian,” is comprised of twenty-four oil on canvas paintings and gouache works on paper whose figurative compositions are subsumed under obfuscating scrims of vertical lines that evoke and upturn the blinds’ fragmentation of perspective. Though unified by their equidistant vertical bands and their predominantly consistent horizontal format, Cook’s recent works examine three distinct ideas.

Catalyzed by the partially obstructed view from the Venetian blind equipped window of the New Mexico-based artist’s first Albuquerque home, these initial paintings that bear Cook’s signature banding do so in a way that navigates between landscape and abstraction. Emphasizing the degree to which technologically-mediated representations of nature inform and supersede direct observation of natural phenomena, these works co-opt satellite imagery of New Mexico sites that are home to the state’s advanced military and scientific research facilities. Here, the conventions of traditional scenic painting are challenged and the increasingly digital texture of our world is emphasized via the artifacts of computer-assisted viewing and the distorting effects of Cook’s cyber-impressionistic vertical bars. Agitating the mechanics of human optics by means of diverse lighting effects – particularly the use of contrasting color and tone to generate perceived shifts in hue, size, and brightness – the resulting images recall modes of camouflage and the protected secrecy of local forms of governmental land use.

Entitled “Venetian [Mesoscale],” the second body of paintings eschews the lowered glance of the artist’s landscapes in favor of the upwards-tilted perspectives of clouds. Informed by Turner’s expressionistic sky studies, Tintoretto’s iconic colorito, Stieglitz’s Equivalents, as well as Sherrie Levine’s digitized abstractions of the latter, this series offers trenchant analyses of the contingencies of human vision. Here, amorphous cloud forms give rise to face-in-the-clouds type pareidoliac illusions. The contrast of the bars against the un-modulated negative space of the amorphous clouds’ surrounding skies heightens the intensity of Cook’s rigorously realized chromatic dissonances.

The exhibition’s third and final series, “Venetian [ID],” builds the intensification of Cook’s interest in the optical play of his compositions. Working in a palette of dazzling neons that suggest the immediacy of Krylon spray paints, the artist transposes mock-ups of spontaneously executed automatist notations doodled on paper while watching the evening news. Hyper-sexualized and willfully retro-adolescent, the outlines of disembodied genitals, bonfires, assorted aspersions, crudely schematized houses, and lewd art historical allusions (Courbet’s “The Origin of the World” among them), simulate the visual overload and image-obsessed sensationalism of television programming.

In each series, our shared spaces of landscape, sky, and mass culture act as backdrops obscured by the visual signature of the domestic sphere. In Cook’s deftly considered work, the Venetian blind’s unremitting reminder of our inability to glimpse the world but partially, the slurred perception of the fragmented gaze, and the persistent tension between material fact and perceptual assumption sensitize us to the abstractness of being home.

Alex Ross

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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