I have consolidated all of the NAMM 2012 posts in the list below. Lots of photos with our stuffed cat, and also a few videos.
There are also several items that were only covered via Twitter @catsynth with hashtag #NAMM.
I have consolidated all of the NAMM 2012 posts in the list below. Lots of photos with our stuffed cat, and also a few videos.
There are also several items that were only covered via Twitter @catsynth with hashtag #NAMM.
I often find myself spending quite a bit of time at the booth of Analog Haven at NAMM. It is an opportunity to see quite a variety of analog instruments (and a few not-quite-analog), and meet several of the small independent makers. The visit took on added significance as I cautiously wade into adding analog modular to my own arsenal of musical instruments.
We big with KOMA Elektronic, who showed off a prototype of their new Kommander, an infrared motion controller with multiple axes of control. It joins their existing effects boxes in their product line:
We also had fun with the fact the industrial design, particularly the geometric black-and-white pattern, match my own aesthetics in terms of dress and decor.
Make Noise is known for their unique and complex modules for audio processing and control. They had several new offerings, including the Echophon whose sound I quite liked.
The Echophon is a collaboration with Tom Erbe of SoundHack, and is a reverse of the usual trend in that digital character is re-imagined in the analog domain. Make Noise also presented their first oscillator, the DPO.
Another module that particularly caught my fancy was the Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology. It is a wavetable VCO that contains numerous waveforms, but more significantly it has parameters for “morphing” or moving among the different wavetables. With the right self modulation, this can lead to very surprising and complex waveforms:
Another interesting new find was an analog modular video synthesizer from LZX Industries.
Like analog audio counterparts, the LZX modules generate, process and modulate analog video signals. Think of it as being the boxes that each do all the little pieces of an old TV studio but with creative routing and control. You can see a little bit of video below:
I did specifically ask about mixing audio modules with the video modules (LZX uses the standard Eurorack format), and was informed that yes, this can be done, though one would need to match the voltages between the two domains, and keep in mind that the frequency ranges of video are much higher.
Visual interest and catchy names are a big part of the inspiration in many of the small boutique offerings. These pedals from Audible Disease were quite creative.
Among the visual designs, this simple switcher caught my attention. It reminded me a bit of my visit to the Communist Propaganda Museum in Shanghai.
Other offerings included the ARCHANGEL, an analog sequencer with touch plate controllers, from Detachment 3.
And these pedals from Lightfoot Labs:
The Goatkeeper 3 is a tremolo pedal with analog signal path, but with a variety of waveforms (including the ability to record your own), and a sequencer for even more complex modulation.
There was a lot more at the booth, more than I can do in one article. I hope to see more of these instrument makers as I personally explore analog synthesis in greater depth.
As big established companies go, Korg is one of those that consistently has offerings that seem less generically commercial and appeal to those of us who like quirky instruments. The Monotron was a great example, as was the iMS-20 iPad app, both of which I regularly use in my own music. So amongst their more standard keyboard and guitar-support offerings, they had a new line of their little instruments.
The original Monotron is now joined by a few new variations, including this one that adds an analog-delay effect. They advertise it as a “Space Delay” and the case sorts of a retro-space like theme.
Playing it is as simple and compelling as the original. If the price-point is ultimately as reasonable, it might be fun to try chaining the different versions together sometime.
Korg also has new versions of the Mini Kaoss pads out, including a new Mini Kaossilator.
More than any of the new sounds, I noticed the new industrial design, which is more rounded and quite a bit more ergonomic. I’m not sure if I like it was much as the little boxy versions from a visual perspective, but it’s probably easier to handle.
I wasn’t able to try out these metallic Monotribes because they were inside a case.
I always like to discover new places when I visit New York, and one of those on my most recent trip was the Bronx Museum.
From the D train, one alights at the 167th Street station along the Grand Concourse. Two blocks south is the museum’s impressive new building. The structure is a start metal facade with odd angles and geometric details that one often sees in contemporary buildings. But the repeating patterns also evoke the old narrow apartment buildings that used to cover this an many other sections of the Bronx. Inside the lobby, a large installation by Bronx-born conceptual artist Vito Acconci fills the space with airy undulating shapes that complement the exterior architecture.
It turns out this piece is made from Corian, which the artist uses to make solid but seemingly pliable forms. The numerous holes allow air and light to become part of the piece. I think the protrusions that look like seating are in fact seating for visitors, but I did not ask. (As an interesting side note, it turns out that Acconci has already been mentioned on this blog in this review closer to home.)
One gallery featured paintings and works on paper by the Cuban-American artist Emilio Sanchez, all depicting commercial buildings from the Hunts Point neighborhood. Hunts Point is at the southern edge of the Bronx, known for its huge produce market and concentration of auto-repair shops.
These colorful canvases strip the buildings and street down to essential elements, the rectilinear forms of the structures and lettering of the signs.
The sources for these paintings were images from the 1980s, a time when the Bronx had gone through a precipitous multi-decade decline that give the borough its reputation. None of the urban decay that was undoubtedly present on the streets at the time is present in these pieces. Indeed, the colorful palette and idealized shapes celebrate the neighborhood.
Also on display was a large exhibition entitled Muntadas: Information >> Space >> Control by the artist Antoni Muntadas. Through video, photographs and other media, the artist explores “the relationship between public and private space, the media, how information is conveyed, interpreted, and manipulated, and the way that public opinion is shaped.” One wall featured five photographs of scenes from the Bronx, with the opportunity for visitors to write the own responses. Among the photographs were the infamous Charlotte Street building facade from the late 1970s, and a more recent image of a girl interacting with a gorilla at the Bronx Zoo.
Both of these are familiar aspects of frequent visits to the Bronx as both a child and an adult, the bleak landscape of the 1970s and 1980s and the natural oasis and curiosity of the zoo. As such, this was the most personal aspect of the exhibition. The other pieces, which included videos, images and printed words taken out of their original context, was interesting, but not quite as resonant. Though I did enjoy seeing a clip from Goddard’s Alphaville among the images.
Although my visit was during the museum’s free Friday evening, it was almost empty. This gave the space a bit of a lonely feeling, but also complete freedom and peace to enjoy the galleries. Granted, it was the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, and an exceptionally warm evening for late November in New York, so I hope the emptiness I saw was an exception. Nonetheless, I am glad I had the chance to finally visit, and it was great to see the positive changes that are happening in the area. I strongly recommend a trip north on the D line to check out the museum and its surroundings.
It’s October, so once again it is time for Open Studios here in San Francisco. We at CatSynth will be out and about, revisiting friends and hopefully finding new art and artists as well. This time, in addition to full articles, I will also be “live tweeting”. You can follow @catsynth or with the #sfopenstudios tag. If others use it, too, it will be all the more fun.
UPDATE: there is an iPhone/iPod/iPad app available via the ArtSpan site for following artists and posting Twitter updates. I will be checking this out for tomorrow
I have been meaning to write reviews on some recent exhibitions I have seen set SFMOMA: the selections from Fisher Collection and New Topographics photography exhibition, both of which I have actually seen multiple times. This article covers the Fisher Collection, which will be closing this coming Sunday, September 19.
I have been spending some time thinking about what it means to write “CatSynth reviews” for a major exhibition like this about which so much has already been written. In the end, it’s about personal significance. It was really a microcosm of many of the exhibitions and artists that I have followed or discovered over many years – indeed, the exhibition included artists that i had first discovered through retrospectives at SFMOMA including William Kentridge and Chuck Close, or artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt whom I have gotten to know better through the museum’s programs. It is also an opportunity to explore what does (and does not) captivator me with modern art.
One of the things I find most compelling about modern art is the simplicity and sense of calmness I can feel in its presence. This is particularly true of the more minimalist and geometrically inspired works shown on the upper floor of the exhibition. This included those labeled formally as minimalism like Sol LeWitt, but also the large monochromatic panels of Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Serra’s geometric metal sculptures.
[Installation view with Janus by Gerhard Richter (1983) and multiple pieces by Richard Serra. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.]
There is something about this type of art that I find very comforting, especially in a large scale presentation like this. I can focus on lines and curves and colors and nothing else. I can get absorbed into the repeating variations in Sol LeWitt’s drawings and sculpture, or allow my mind to go blank in Ellsworth Kelly’s simple series of panels. (Perhaps this is what made the placement of Anselm Kiefer’s straw-infused works inspired by the Holocaust in the middle of the same gallery all the more jarring.)
[Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Green Black Red (1996). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art]
Even Alexender Calder’s more organic forms fit into this category and were placed together with the others on the upper floor of the exhibit. It would be interesting to consider Calder’s curving but solid mobiles next to the intricate and delcate straight lines in LeWitt’s Hanging Structure 28c and Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud VIII.
[Alexander Calder, Eighteen Numbered Black (1953) . Sol LeWitt, Hanging Structure 28c (1989).]
LeWitt also touches on my interest in mathematics and algorithms (and technology) in art, and conceptual art, most notably in his Wall Drawing, which was created directly on the wall of the gallery in colored pencil from the artist’s specifications.
Gerhard Richter was a bridge between the minimalist and geometric art and the other parts of the collection. His Farben 256 with its array of solid-color rectangles was closer to the previously described works (and although I liked it I couldn’t help but think of a paint chart). Other pieces were more photographic – my favorite of these was Verwaltungsgebaude with its modern arctecture and motion.
The other direction that my artist interests tend is towards urban environments, including graffiti or industrial scenes. Cy Twombly’s large paintings in the exhibition feature repeated curving scribbles that remind me of the graffiti that I often photograph. The white scribbles on gray background in Untitled (Rome) reminded me specifically of walls I saw shooting photos in Warm Water Cove.
Twombly was placed along other works from the middle of the century. A large-scale piece by Lee Krasner was prominently featured (I have yet to see a solo retrospective of her work). A canvas with bright blue by Sam Francis caught my attention. The permanent collection of SFMOMA prominently features works by Richard Diebenkorn, and I think I liked those more than his work in this collection.
In addition to minimalist and geometric works, I also tend to notice art with a playful or surreal nature, or things that are particularly unique. William Kentridge’s installation based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute falls in this category. He built an entire miniature stage with archival photographs and moving images set to selections from the opera. While much more elaborate and complex than the previous works, the performance was still very arresting.
Strictly speaking, there was relatively little photography in the exhibition (although many of the paintings seemed derived from photographic sources). Of the few photographs, the strongest was an image by Sophie Calle which depicted a decaying bed in a courtyard of an apartment building, and was accompanied by a rather morbid story. Another of the featured photos, John Baldessari’s Blue Moon Yellow Window, Ghost Chair was quite painting-like with its extreme contrast and colored overlays.
I certainly did not touch upon everything within the exhibition in this brief review, so those who are interested are encouraged to check out the online exhibition page, or visit if you are in the area in the next five days.
Last week I went on the First Thursday art walk of downtown galleries for the first time in several months. August is a bit of a down month, and so there weren’t really many things opening, and for several exhibitions this was really more of a “last Thursday” as they close to make way for the fall openings. Nonetheless there were several things that caught my attention, and there were a few that I was glad I caught before they closed.
At A440 Gallery, I saw recent paintings by Peter Onstad. Of particular note was a large painting, mostly blue, with abstract geometric lines and shapes. However, on closer inspection (and with some guidance from the artist), one can see that it is in fact a very stylized map of San Francisco, with prominent representations of Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle, the Richmond District and North Beach. Once one becomes oriented, the grid of streets downtown and the diagonals of Market Street and Columbus Avenue become apparent as well. There is even a marker for 49 Geary. The exhibit will be coming down this Thursday, but the painting will soon be on display at Vesuvio’s in North Beach. As a side note, Onstad’s grandson also showed some of his work at the exhibition: small characters fashioned from wine corks and household items. One of these was sold to a friend.
At Robert Koch Gallery. I saw a series of photos by Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý. He spend decades from the 1960s to the 1980s photographing the women of his hometown Kyjov, often surreptitiously using homemade cameras and lenses made from everyday materials such as cardboard tubes and Plexiglass. The resulting images are quite grainy, and the female figures blurry or ghostly. They are also quite voyeuristic, with the subjects seemingly unaware that they are being photographed. Although many of the featured photos depict nude figures, I personally preferred the more mundane images of casually dressed woman walking, such as the two Untitled photos shown below (all of his photos in the exhibition are Untitled). Although still grainy, these feel more like snapshots documenting fashions in a small town in Eastern Europe, but there also a bit of darkness to them. There was also a video of Tichý in which he demonstrated some of his homemade cameras and lenses and talked about his work.
[Miroslav Tichý. Courtesy Robert Koch Gallery.]
Also on display were a series of photo montages by Hungarian artist Foto Ada. Her pieces combine various images depicting modern urban life in the 1930s. There is often urban architecture and industrial elements juxtaposed with whole or partial human figures, such as an areal photo of the New York skyline superimposed above a row of legs of sitting female figures; or the Untitled photo combining a large industrial building “Europahaus-Musterchau” with an attractively attired woman, a strange puppet and a bicyclist wearing a gas mask. The latter is one of many images that reference the pending world war and the rise of Nazism and Fascism alongside high-paced modern life. The images feel in a way vary contemporary and familiar, particular as someone enamored of modernism – and the references to Fascism are perhaps a warning of what could happen in our own modern times.
[Foto Ada. Untitled, c. late 1930s-early 1940s. Courtesy Robert Koch Gallery.]
Both exhibitions at Robert Koch Gallery are closing on August 21.
Photography seemed to be the featured medium in most of the exhibitions I saw, even at galleries where I usually see paintings or mixed media. Stephen Wirtz Gallery presented photographs by Michael Kenna. Kenna’s black-and-white prints are extremely detailed with high contrast, and combine natural and human-made elements. The quality of the prints and subject matter can be seen in Lake Bridge, Hongkun, Anhui, China, with the sharp black lines and curves of the lilies and bare trees against the stone bridge. The water of the lake is essentially invisible except for the reflections of the other elements, giving the image a more abstract quality.
[Michael Kenna. Lake Bridge, Hongkun, Anhui, China. Courtesy of Stephen Wirtz Gallery.]
In addition to several others from lakes and gardens in China, I also liked his architectural-detail images from Venice, such as Fondamente Nouve Poles, Venice. Again, the elements seem to be taken out of their aquatic context into a more abstract realm. The exhibition will remain up through August 21, and is worth seeing if one is in downtown San Francisco.
[Michael Kenna. Fondamente Nouve Poles, Venice. Courtesy of Stephen Wirtz Gallery.]
It is interesting to look at the crispness (clean lines, sharp contrast) of these photos, even as small images in this article, in comparison to Tichy’s blurry and grainy images. The former appeals to more to me as an aesthetic (and something I aspire to in my own work), although I did appreciate the latter as well, and having both as part of “evening of photographic exhibitions” worked well for me.
Modernbook Gallery presented an exhibition of photos by Fred Lyon of San Francisco from the 1940s and 1950s. There are iconic images such as the Golden Gate Bridge but also more esoteric locations, such as the detail of streetcar slots in Noe Valley or close-ups of people walking near buildings. The large prints are very detailed, and some such as Huntington Hotel, 1958 truly capture capture the fog against architecture. I also was drawn to a large image geometric grids, which turned out to be the interior of the Sutro Baths when it actually was still public baths and not stone ruins. The gallery was also playing host to photographers presenting limited-edition books of their work. One of these books, Chinatown By the Bay by Neeley Main caught my interest…and may be a subject of a future article.
[Fred Lyon. Sutro Baths Divers, 1953. Modernbook Gallery.]
Haines Gallery, where I usually see paintings or mixed media work, also featured a photography exhibition. Youngsuk Suh’s Wildfiles explores the “myths of the American wilderness.” All the photographs were shot during the California wildfires of 2008-2009 – though severe wildfires are an annual event here and he could have chosen any year. His large-scale images depict wildness areas obscured by smoke, with human subjects incongruously going about their daily lives, as if the fire and smoke were just another part of the weather. We see people at leisure on a riverbank underneath a bridge, relaxing or wading into the water, with a thick haze in the background. In my favorite picture from the series, a lone chipmunk stands on an artificial lookout point on a hillside. Only in the picture of a fireman are the dangers and challenges of the fire apparent (ironically, he is smoking a cigarette). Also on display was Amy Ellingson’s Summer Frieze, which was composed of a series of abstract panels featuring uniform oval shapes in a variety of colors and transformations. In some cases, they were presented straight, with different combinations of solid colors, in others they were overlaid on textures made from disjointed pieces of the shapes. The panels were arranged in a uniform line stretching around all four walls of the room.
Photography even worked its way into the Cold+Hot exhibition at Micaela Gallery, which was primarily about glass sculpture. However, it was the abstract sculptures that drew my attention, such as the large towers of rounded handblown silver-mirrored glass by Michelle Knox and the curving steel-and-glass shapes by JP Long that would actually look quite at home in CatSynth HQ although they are completely devoid of any straight lines. Tim Tate’s installations combined stationary glass with abstract moving video. Silvia Levenson’s small bottles provided yet another, perhaps more intimate, interpretation of glass.
[Michelle Knox. Installation view of silver-mirrored sculptures. Also Silvia Levenson's The Pursuit of Happiness. Courtesy of Micaela Gallery.]
Finally Bekris Gallery surprised me with a series of cartoon-like drawings that featured a character that was basically a large nose on legs. It seemed quite familiar, and it only took me a moment to recognize it as William Kentridge, whose retrospective at SFMOMA in 2009 had been a surprise discovery for me. It’s not something I would pick out from an exhibition postcard by default, but everytime I see his work in person, whether still or moving images, it draws me in (no pun intended). I remember Kentridge’s 2008 animation piece loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, to which the still images in this exhibition are clearly related or derived.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Mission Arts and Performance Project (MAPP), a bi-monthy neighborhood event in the Mission District of San Francisco that transforms homes, garages, cafes and other local businesses into makeshift galleries and performance spaces. I have attended several MAPP events in the past, and this was the largest I had seen in a long time – and while it is great to see the event thriving, it meant that in my limited time I was only able to see a few things.
This time there was a good balance of visual art in addition to performances. I did stop at Wonderland Gallery on 24th street. Several artists were featured, with several pieces that had an urban and/or graphic feel. Gianluca Franzese’s monochrome acrylics of a building in Chinatown the Mission police station caught my attention (in the photo below), as did some abstract geometric drawings by Paul Hayes (I did not get a decent photo, but do check out his flickr site).
[Gianluca Franzese. (Click image to enlarge)]
It was an rather warm evening (as I mentioned in my last article, we have had a few exceptionally warm weekends), perfect for walking around the neighborhood to take things in. At a garage along Folsom Street dubbed “Blue House”, I encountered the jazz trio Calliope. Visually and sonically, they appeared to step out of the 1940s into an blue illuminated garage in 2010:
Calliope was followed by Susan Joy Rippberger performing her performance piece Slip Dance. Rippberger has done several visual works and installations focusing on slips as a very symbolic garment from another era. In this piece, she puts on slips from a large pile one at a time, and at the end reverse the process by removing them one by one.
[Susan Joy Rippberger. Slip Dance.]
While watching, I was thinking of the jazz performance right beforehand and thinking how it would be interesting to have vintage music in the background, perhaps from a small radio, as part of the piece.
I briefly stopped at nearby “La Case de los Sentidos” which featured a series of performances along with visual art pieces under the title “Immigration or Displacement? A World without Borders.” I also stopped a couple of times the Red Poppy Art House and was happy to see them participating more fully in this MAPP after their absence at previous events.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the opening for an exhibit entitled Angular and Architectural in downtown San Francisco. The title itself features elements that reappear in my own photography as well as my viewing and appreciation of art. Plus it was conveniently on the way home from work.
901 Market Street is one of those typical older office buildings one sees downtown (this building dates back to 1912). It is an imposing stone building, a bit heavy and a bit ornate. The inside, however, features an open modern atrium, very clean, full of light and space, and a perfect “canvas” for an art exhibition, particularly one whose theme is architecture and geometry.
What made this particular exhibit stand out was the pairings and combinations of different artworks, among the best combination arrangements I have seen in a while. Many of these combinations involved paintings by John Haag paired with sculptures by Rebecca Fox and Yong Han. We have seen Fox’s and Han’s metal sculptures before at Open Studios and elsewhere, but Haag was a new discovery. Here is one of his paintings, Midnight Seranade, coupled with one of Fox’s sculptures:
[Click to enlarge image.]
The black-and-white of the painting matches the dark color of the sculpture against the white background, along with the thick bands of black and gentle curves.
Here we see another painting, this time coupled with one of Han’s sculptures, last train of thought:
[Click to enlarge image.]
In this painting, the strong angles and thin lines in the painting match the sculpture, and both have a somewhat Art-Deco quality.
Here is one more set, with the sculptures framing the painting from either side:
[Click to enlarge image.]
The curved shapes and bright red in the last painting bring up the red elements in the two sculptures to either side.
This exhibit reminds us how the placement of disparate works in exhibition is itself a creative act, finding elements across artists and media that somehow work together.
Initially, I had not planned to attend First Thursday this month, given all the music shows and such. But at the last minute I decided to venture out on a very rainy evening and found some surprises.
First, I visted Robert Koch Gallery, where I have found several interesting photography exhibitions over the past year. This month they were featuring the Meadowlands series by photographer Joshua Lutz.
The Meadowlands is a sprawling area of marsh and landfill in northern New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City. Growing up in New York, it was a place I passed by countless times on the New Jersey Turnpike, but really did not know. This is an experience that many New Yorkers have had with the Meadowlands, including Lutz. His photographs are part of a decade-long project that features both the natural and artificial landscape of the area (and how the two are irrevocably intertwined) as well as portraits of its residents.
The are the highway structures over the marsh, familiar to the “drive by” experience, but also small-town storefronts and businesses, and portraits of individuals. These people and places are only a few miles from New York City but are a completely different world. And as Lutz points out, it is relatively challenging to get into and out of the Meadowlands from the highways, and easy to get lost inside. (I have my own experience taking wrong turns off the roads near the George Washington Bridge and having a hard time finding a way to get back on). One photograph I picked up on featured an older Indian man sitting among some plants near a truck stop, which was an interesting mix of subject, and seemed at once posed and spontaneous. Some of the places seem quite natural, with streams and trees, but there is always something from the human world that intervenes, a highway in the background, train tracks, the remains of a car, etc. Many of these images are reminiscent of decaying urban (and suburban) landscapes that tend to get my attention when I travel on my own. Lutz has turned his similar interest to other locations beyond the Meadowlands, and the exhibition also featured several photographs from his recent series Am✡Dam. You can see more examples at his or the gallery’s exhibitions page.
As a side note, we realized that we both grew up in the same town just north of New York City at about the same time. Small world indeed!
Across the street at Gallery Paule Anglim, I saw their exhibition of the work of James Castle. Castle was born deaf, never learned signing or lip reading, and apparently lived a very quiet and somewhat isolated life in a rural homestead near Boise, Idaho. He created unique works on small found objects and materials, such as bits of paper, matchboxes, and soot. Many of the pieces include both drawings and text, as in Unititled (3 Z $). The content, text and small images reminiscent of icons, feels very contemporary, although the materials and the texture of the work give it a more aged feel.
Jack Fischer Gallery featured Josedgardo Granados’ incredibly intricate drawings. Although one can see many examples on his website, it is really impossible to see the detail except in real life. Even at full scale, one needed a magnifying glass (conveniently provided by the gallery) to see the individual lines of the drawings, which placed natural and sci-fi elements against detailed skies and landscapes.
Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art presented “State of the Union”, a group exhibition in which artists presented images and interpretations on “events of the present and recent past at home and abroad.” Francesca Berrini’s maps of imaginary places, including Tributary and Lazy River, are created from torn maps of existing places – I was able to pick out some locations in North Africa and the Middle East.
Alessandro Busci’s Rosso is an image in red featuring construction cranes over what appears to be a ruined landscape.
The (now closed) exhibition Five Year Plan at Steven Wolf Fine Arts included large representation of a crossword puzzle by Kent and Kevin Young that caught my attention. The clues are missing, which of course makes the puzzle all but impossible to fill out.