Sunday, January 20, 2019

Old Man Looking Backward - Bob Haozous

An exhibition currently at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian titled “Old Man Looking Backward” is devoted to Bob Hazous (b. 1943). Son of the sculptor, Allan Houser (!914-1994). Haozous was born in Los Angeles, but spent much time in Apache, Oklahoma where his father’s Chiricahua Apache tribe was headquartered.  His parents taught at the Intermountain Indian School in Logan, Utah and Haozous studied at Utah State University and before enlisting in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.  After four years serving on board the USS Frank Knox, he attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and earned a BFA in sculpture.

Although he is best known for his large outdoor sculpture (see his 1991 piece “Border Crossing”) he is also known for his jewelry, drawing, painting and print making.  His sculpture too, ranges through various media including steel, stone, aluminum and wood.  In fact, a couple of years ago we were on our way to Taos for my wife’s shoulder surgery when we stopped at the Rancho de Taos (a church made famous through photography, particularly an image by Ansel Adams).  There we found a small antiques shop where we saw what reminded us of an Italian Comedia del Arte mask in wood signed by Hazous.  After acquiring it, we decided to get in touch with the artist we had already admired to find out more about our piece.


I believe quoting part of his response might help to understand the artist.  “I created the mask sometime in the late 1980’s.  I carve wood when the weather is restricting my outdoors work time.  Sometimes the challenge of working in wood and creating something ‘different’ drives my imagination.  I clearly remember making the mask, probably looked at as a humorous piece by some, but to me it represented an aesthetic and compositional challenge, probably inspired by the eyeglass frame.”  The latter was part of the “junk” he acquires for possible future use.

Artists don’t always share all their work with the public.  Some only let go of enough so that they can feed their families and then most are in the middle somewhere.  Until recently, Bob Haozous did not wish to share the monoprints he made, and they remain NFS (not for sale). There is, however a rare chance to see these personal recollections in the Wheelwright exhibition.  In a film he did with Rose Simpson, whose work occupies the museum’s main gallery, he shares his critiques of contemporary American values and advocates for nature-oriented definition of indigenous identity. One of his big concerns is that Native American art has just become decoration for the Anglo home and lost its story.  As stated in the introduction to the exhibition he creates art to encourage dialogue that addresses “the profound problems [and] complex people we are today.”

In the film he is fashioning brass knuckles and if he made a fist and hit you with them you would have dollar sign marks embedded in your skin.  He says it is only partly a joke because he has a point to make.  The space where the video is shown is dominated by his large sculpture called, “Good Indian”, 2018, clearly done for the show.  It is a huge mouse trap with its a spread of one-dollar bills on the base and the words Good and Indian encircling the word “Trap”. Before I went back to the museum to check the title, I would have written that the title was “Good Indian Trap” because that is precisely what the artist means.

 Money may be a trap for Indian artists, but I would venture it is no different for Anglos.  They/we get caught keeping score by how much we make.  Coincidently, I just read a quote by the country singer Johnny Cash, “Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world except money.”  How true is that?!


Every time I went back to see the exhibition, I became more aware of how angry the artist is.  It is not so much in the images themselves as in the verbiage within the images.  In Haozous’ depictions of himself, and there are several in the show, there are no words, just images of melancholy.  In the signature work, “Old Man Looking Backward”, I would guess that the planes and puffs of smoke above are reminiscences of his experiences on the destroyer during the Vietnam War watching the planes above and the bombs being dropped.


One might think the artist is recalling beautiful women of his youth in the striking blonde “Pocahontas”, which is literally front and center in the exhibition, but then you start to focus on the angry worlds on the piece..  The fact that it was created in 2017 makes one think of the Trump era and his hateful dubbing of Senator Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas.


In this image titled “Invisible Indian”, which is both humorous and significant, I believe that Haozous is commenting not only on how many different art movements have come and gone during his life time, he is also making fun of how we try to pigeonhole artists into categories.  He believes that the artist, and particularly the Native American artist, should be delivering a more important message as to their histories and struggles.


We might as well end with a boom … actually “Boom” 2016, is the title of the image of another voluptuous woman, probably intended to grab our attention, so that we notice the words in the piece that vividly describe the horrors of the Vietnam war.  Not everything we look back on is happily nostalgic, sometimes it is just tragic.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Inuit Games

Whenever we visit my son, Dan, in Traverse City, I make a point of visiting the Dennos Museum at Northwestern Michigan College.  There often are interesting loan exhibitions but I am drawn to the galleries devoted to the museum’s Inuit Collections which consist of mostly sculpture and prints.

The Dennos has built a serious Inuit Collection and there is always work by Inuit artists on view. The Inuit live in the Canadian Arctic and used to be known as Eskimos. When we were at the museum this time there was a show within the installation of prints showing Inuit Games appropriately called, “Game On”. 

Why do we play games?  Naturally, it is because we enjoy them, and they are challenging.  Outdoor games are also good for your health, barring injury, but there is a more important reason for the Inuit.  They live in the very harsh arctic climate and need to be in excellent shape to survive.

Let’s begin with a game that is not necessarily played outside.  This lithograph from the Museum’s own collection is called “The Wishing Bone Game”,1987, by Andrew Qappik.  Games often have different rules depending on their origins.  Here three teens use small pointed seal bones to construct a diagram of an igloo with food stashes.  Depending how the bones land one player can take bones from the other’s stash and the one who loses all their bones first loses the game.


A stone cut and stencil print by Napachie Pootoogook is simply called “Eskimo Family Playing Ball”, 1961.  The artist is illustrating one of many ball games the Inuit created or adapted over generations.  This game is a modification of Lacrosse, invented by aboriginal peoples south of the Arctic Circle.  Players use a sealskin racket to catch and throw a small, stuffed ball made from animal skin.  I think we might call the game racket ball but note that here the players may use two rackets simultaneously.


Some games are more difficult than others and can become harder as the game goes on. So it is with hi-kick ball.  In this stonecut and stencil print, “High Kick”, 1984,  the artists Agnes Nanogak Goose and Harry Egutak collaborated to show the game at its zenith.  The idea is that the players try to kick a ball from a standing or lying position.  Each time one succeeds the ball is raised a bit higher.  Unfortunately, I could not find the image I saw at one time where ladies are gathered in a second story window raising the ball and clearly giggling as they dangle the ball out the window just out of reach of the players!


As usual, I like to keep the best, or maybe in this case the worst for close to the end.  I don’t know of similar games in the world today.  This is the ear pull and its close cousin the cheek pull.  This print of the former is by A. Karpik & Josea Maniapik, 1979.  The traditional Inuit game tests the competitors' ability to endure pain.  In some circles, American Football might be thought to fall into this category!  In the ear pull, two competitors kneel or sit facing each other, their legs straddled and interlocked. A two-foot-long loop of string, similar to a thick, waxed dental floss, is looped behind their ears, connecting right ear to right ear, or left to left. The competitors then pull upon the opposing ear using their own ear until the cord comes free or one player quits from the pain. The game has been omitted from some Arctic sports competitions due to safety concerns and the squeamishness of spectators; the event can cause bleeding and competitors sometimes require stitches.  When will we follow suit re football and boxing?


You have probably heard the saying, “don’t send a hungry man grocery shopping.”  He is bound to buy food he doesn’t need and shouldn’t eat.  Same goes for a writer with much of a blank page.  I want to illustrate another print I wish to share. Though it doesn’t depict a game, it will end us on a happier note.  The stencil print by Mabel Nigiyok and her children, Lucy and Louie, called “Asking for Help,” 1994, illustrates the life lesson that no one succeeds on their own without help.  You can see a dancer singing and drumming surrounded by spirit figures , including a man, carried in the clouds by a bird ,and a dancing bear whose power is suggested by by his paw prints scattered throughout. Deducing that the airborne man is a shaman, a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits and having the ability to heal, my interpretation is that even a shaman needs help sometimes.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

David Kutz

To start the year, I am going to write about a friend, David Kutz, who works in one of my favorite fields of art, photography. We read about outsider artists who are often defined as self-taught but David has received a serious education in his field and used it well.

He holds BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York (and it is no coincidence that George Eastman House and the Kodak Company, aka Kodak, were situated there as well) and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with a Merit Scholarship. In addition, David Kutz made, in what to my mind, is a brilliant move by taking the Executive education program at Harvard’s business school.  So often I have seen that artists do not realize that an understanding of business is vital to their success. 

Moving to New York City fresh out of college in 1974 he went to work at the newly-founded International Center of Photography which has become a very important exhibition space for the field.  After a couple of years there he became an independent photo journalist with assignments from, Life, Look and Time Magazines as well as the “Old Lady “herself, The New York Times.

When my wife, Penelope, was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum she was asked to come up with a short video for a project that the Getty was funding.  Since she did not want to make a typical stodgy art historical documentary, she asked to work with the sort of filmmaker who worked for MTV (she did not want to make a typical stodgy art historical video) and she found David Kutz. They came up with an exciting concept about a fire in the studio of André Charles Boulle, cabinetmaker to Louis XIV.

Unfortunately, their film project was not chosen by the judges (probably too popular for the 1970’s).  Meanwhile, Penelope came to work on exhibitions and research at Rosenberg & Stiebel and in 1989 our gallery, wanted to celebrate its 50 years in the United States with a video about our history.  Of course, we turned to David Kutz. The result was a great success.   David focused on some of our better-known clients including a major investment banker, a member of the French Rothschild family, a couple of museum directors, a curator and private clients giving different perspectives on the art business.  If you want to learn more about the project you can click here to watch the 24-minute video.

David went on to even more important films like one for the US General Services Administration about the discovery of “The African Burial Ground” in lower Manhattan which is today a National Monument.  Another was a collaboration between the International Center of Photography and the United Nations.  It is a short (3 minutes) but very effective video about climate change with Sebastiao Salgado, a Brazilian social documentary photographer and a photojournalist.

In 2013 David decided to concentrate on digital still photography as an art form.  In recent years he has written on and lectured about photography but more importantly he has participated in a number of group-shows as well as solo exhibitions of his work. 

He writes, “I am now actively engaged in making work and continuing my research into geography, urban planning, travel and globalization.  I am an active member of Soho Photo Gallery, a cooperative gallery in New York City, the International Panorama Council, and volunteer with my local arts organization: Arts Gowanus.” 

David travels a lot and he took this image in the Town Square, Ericira, Portugal.  I love the way you see down a number of streets and the Café Central is in the middle and the light and dark side of the street comes down the center of the image ... click on the images to get their full effect.

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They say the Brooklyn Palisade offers a great view of Manhattan, which reminds me of a realtor in New York who tried to sell us an apartment by pointing out the historic building we could see out of the window, saying, “if you lived in the historic building you would have to look at this place!”  Here David shows us a closeup of what the Brooklyn Palisade from Manhattan.

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Currently David is in a solo exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery called, “Cultural Landscapes” through February 3.   The Soho Gallery is artist-run and was founded in 1971.  His works in the show demonstrate how he has found a way to immerse the viewer in the scenes he captures.  For those technically inclined:  the images are all multiple exposure-stitched panoramic images, most using a Zeiss Otus 55mm lens on a Nikon D800e camera. 

Here is the photo that had me take full notice of his fine art work.  It is titled, “Dumbo, Brooklyn” for those unfamiliar, Dumbo stands for, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  It looks staged but remember it is multiple exposures except for those two women rushing along on the left.  Typical New Yorkers, they are not going to stop for anything, (that is why when a movie is being shot on NY streets there are crew member blocking pedestrians who will not be stopped and would end up in the film!

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This next image is called, “The Stranger’s Path”, it is taken at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport”, built by the GDR (East Germany).  This long walkway connects the airport to the train station.  The photograph itself is 20 feet long. By the time you have seen the whole image you may feel you have taken that long walk pulling your suitcase behind you!

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A place I am better acquainted with is the Paradeplatz in Zurich, Switzerland.  It is a major intersection of town and the tram goes through it. The images of the square and the tram made me feel I was back in one of my favorite places.  David tells me that both images were taken from the exact same vantage point without moving the camera.

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Will David Kutz become a household name? Who knows, but it is certainly heartening that there are people out there with a keen eye who have honed their skills and are willing to devote themselves to their art for the benefit of all.