Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Christopher Lowry Johnson Review in TimeOut New York

I don't mind saying that I so adore the work of Christopher Lowry Johnson that to see a review like the one in the current issue of TimeOut New York, a review by a critic who so totally gets what he's doing, makes me want to weep. [UPDATE: Ok, so perhaps not "weep"...I wrote that after a greulling day and a few cocktails, but makes me happy to the point of tearing up.] I have known the writer Jane Harris for years and always admired her intellect and ability to see the essence of an artist's work, but my hat is off to her this evening for the gorgeously poetic read of Chris's current exhibition. So much so that I'll overlook the fact that they misspelled my name, twice, both times in a different way.

As Barry Hoggard notes on, you can't see these paintings in jpegs. In fact, they're so very slow it takes a good deal of time to really see them at all, but like no other paintings I've seen by a contemporary artist, these ones slowly, but surely, break my heart. Then again, what would you expect me to say. From TimeOut New York:

Dominated by tones of cool blue and icy white, Christopher Lowry Johnson’s paintings offer a somber update of the 19th-century Hudson River School. Half imagined and half real, Johnson’s subjects—isolated pine-tree groves, the craggy rock faces of Mount Rushmore, a riverbed of pebbles-cum-skulls—evoke the contemplative, allegorical paintings of Thomas Cole and his followers. But however romantic Johnson’s painterly style may appear, his scenes are anything but Edenic. The depopulated landscapes convey willful human abandon rather than untouched wilderness and are subtly entangled with contemporary issues of war and environmental disaster.

In the show’s most affecting work, Pines No. 5, Johnson portrays an awkward formation of evergreens, each decked out in Christmas tree lights, boughs heavy with dollops of snow. Softly advancing on the scruffy white ground under a gray-blue haze of twilight, these sad yet beautiful trees suggest an army of soldiers, bravely (or perhaps unwittingly) awaiting their demise.

The tension between order and chaos is a major theme in Johnson’s work, as evidenced by Chorus, a painting that transforms the iconic monument of Mount Rushmore into a meaningless ruin. The image reads like an emblem of fallen power: Faces fade and crumble in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains rendered in a gorgeous, Cezanne-like geometry of fractured planes.

While Johnson’s paintings are clearly a commentary on the state (and fate) of our current government, their criticism is distant. There is no indictment here, just a chorus of despair. — Jane Harris
Chris's exhibition runs through this Saturday, April 21, 2007.

UPDATE II: OK, so the accolades are rolling in now, it seems. This incrediblly thoughtful review by James Wagner was just posted as well. Here's a snippet:

I recently walked into the space at the end of a long afternoon of gallery visits and sat down on the bench in the middle [yes, a bench in a gallery - a bench, how extraordinary, and how helpful for both visitor and art!]. I stared at the large, very white-ish, canvas across from me, expecting to work with it only as a beautiful, complex abstraction. I had been immediately attracted to its drama and beauty as I walked in, before I knew anything or saw very much, but then something happened. As I sat looking at this canvas its impenetrable layers of oil opened a wonderful, very grand window on images both abstract and concrete, a world undetectable at first or even second glance.

Labels: gallery exhibition, review


Anonymous Noddy Turnell said...

wow I'll be right down. I gotta see this. The power of a good analysis. Maybe you should give her a free painting :)

4/19/2007 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Carla said...

Even from the jpegs you can see this is work that makes art world dogma blissfully irrelevant.

4/19/2007 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A contrary opinion:

4/19/2007 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Sweeney said...

Your obvious love of the art itself is just great to see and hear.

4/19/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure anything in the artfagcity "mini" review is contrary, per se, to the other reviews here. She merely notes that she's suspicious of their beauty. She noted that she like the work.

There's no question that painting of Christmas trees might please folks who really just want a painting of a Christmas tree. But the average Christmas tree painting I've seen doesn't haunt my dreams the way Chris's do.

4/19/2007 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you read a review of a show at your gallery that was published in an obscure online magazine and that you liked just as much as you liked the Time Out review (appearing in a widely read print publication) would you present and announce the online review in the same manner as you did the Johnson review?

4/19/2007 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

I’ll admit that I was a tough sell on Andrew Ethier’s paintings, but I’ve liked his newer work, and this jpeg looks very promising.
This is where artfagcity is @ so readers please take into consideration where the gal is coming from, or looking to, to go for promise. Opinion is opinion, criticality is just another place.

Also I think anon. that really a review... meaning that when it gets into the work, the show, the artist intentions, is able to place us there, and is critically there, no matter where it is or what it is written on... is a good review.
The only people who are going to worry about these kinds of issues would be PRINT.
A better question might be... two good reviews, one from the staple; one from outside the staple... the outside is on the mark... How would you order them on your webpage?
But no-one needs to answer that because you would just see the order for yourself, outside the hypothetical.

4/19/2007 11:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to speak openly about such issues as print vs. online reviews, the ethics and variability of taste, the business and politics of art writing, etc., but I write for a widely read PRINT media and edit and contribute to an online art magazine, and I won't jeopardize my career or continue carrying on a dialog being known as the cowardly "anonymous." Thank you for responding to my comments though.

I will pose this question however. How many artist, curator, or gallery owner bloggers have dismissed the dinosaur print media in the past but have had a sudden reversal of values/opinion when some artist they care about (for whatever reason) is reviewed in a widely read PRINT media?

4/20/2007 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

How many artist, curator, or gallery owner bloggers have dismissed the dinosaur print media in the past but have had a sudden reversal of values/opinion when some artist they care about (for whatever reason) is reviewed in a widely read PRINT media?

You're clearly not interested in an empirical answer, despite the phrasing of your question, Anonymous. You seem to arguing that bloggers who've criticized the print media but then highlighted something they've published (because it was positive for them) are hypocrites, suggesting (what?) that any valid criticism should be withheld because one day that print publication might print something favorable about the blogger and the criticizing blogger will feel regret (about what exactly? still being right in the first place, but now somehow seeming ungrateful, retrospectively? I'm not sure I get that idea).

Blogs, as I've noted before, are not a replacement for print media. I see them as a supplement to them. In that respect, not being direct competitors, I see nothing incongruous with criticizing the print media when they fail their readers and praising them when one likes/appreciates what they've published. Criticism doesn't imply they're no longer relevant/important, simply that they're not perfect.

I can understand when circulation numbers are falling and jobs are on the line that employees of print media see blogs as a threat, but not all print media have responded that way. The truth of the matter is, as I noted in the post linked to above, that readers will follow good writing, and print media has access to the best writers. The big question here isn't what format readers choose to recieve what publishers are offering, but how to make money off that venture. Criticizing blogs or attempting to shame them into submission misses the boat altogether, IMO. It's simply another medium. Writers shouldn't be threatened by new media. Perhaps publishers too invested in print to move into newer terrain should, but that's their choice.

Besides, most print media (like TimeOut) also publish online, and many that do add comments to the bottom of their articles or have their own blogs. So it's not at all a print vs. online issue. It's a "brand name of note" vs. "relative unknown" issue. Again, the traditional media are not being replaced by blogs. What's happening, and they don't seem to like it, is that they're not able to control the public response to what they publish (as they did in the past with selected/edited letters to the editor). I don't feel sorry for any publication that's not open to that dialog, though. Feedback is good, for writers, publishers and other readers. With most big name media companies being consolidated and run more and more like banks (i.e., with a heightened emphasis on the bottom line), the newly found channel for public feedback is incredibly important in my opinion.

I obviously could go on for ages about this, but let me summarize. My favorite publications all began as (and mostly continue to be) print based. I still buy the New York Times in print each day, for example, simply for the pleasure of holding it and being surprised as I turn the pages (something you don't get as much when you click on links of your choice). I certainly hope they don't go anywhere. I am a bit skeptical of how corporate many of them have become over my lifetime, but I'm happy to deal with that shift via the newfound real-time feedback blogs offer. In other words, they're still my faves, but I'm more comfortable knowing they're not all-powerful.

4/20/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After distancing myself from the emotional reactions I had to your reply, there wasn't anything left to say. Your answer has fully nullified me. You courageously exposed my hidden agenda. Bravo! Best of luck with your gallery, artists, and blog.

p.s. I would never in a million years suggest that art critics who work in any media are all-powerful. In fact, they are entirely the opposite. This is for many reasons.

4/20/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

p.p.s. Of course I am not refering to a handful of critics (Knight, Kimmelman, Saltz, Smith, etc.) who write for widely read newspapers and magazines. I am refering to more rank and file art critics. Galleries will always need art criticism for press kit filler, but beyond that? Granted, I really love it when an artist contacts me after reading a review to tell me their thoughts, even when they are critical. Also I read art blogs and print art sections every day and spend an equal amount of time writing for online and print publications. The only reason I began to get newspaper and magazine assignments is because of my online clippings.

4/20/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I didn't mean to suggest art critics are all powerful actually, but rather that publishers who have a wide empire and no way for those who disagree with them to equal the range of their message are all powerful. There's a big difference between the art writers of the Times (for example), most of whom I positively adore and utterly respect, and the Times management itself, which has some issues, IMO, none the least of which was their uncritical cheerleading of the march to war in Iraq.

4/20/2007 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me be more precise about this prejudice that galleries have towards online publications. I have seen many galleries provide links to blurb reviews (which they took the time to scan) of their artists' exhibitions because they appeared in newspapers and magazines (these are mostly informative snippets with little or no worthwhile evaluative content), but then they completely ignore online essays (long in-depth pieces no less) written about the same artist/exhibition. I could name half a dozen galleries that have done this in the past.

4/20/2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We actually print out online essays/reviews and put them in our artists' archives, but I do think there are galleries that don't yet see online as prestigious as print. They'll be sorry when they try to go back and find them later.

4/20/2007 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sure you have many more pressing matters to attend to. Thank you for the dialogue.

4/20/2007 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger C. I. Artist said...

Congratulations, Edward_.
Chris Lowry Johnson is a good artist.

4/27/2007 11:17:00 PM  

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