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January 2015’s The Nor’Easter:45th Annual Juried Members Exhibition brought together a wide assortment of 113 exemplary artworks created by members of the New Britain Museum of American Art. Despite the obvious merits of each artists’ work, one work in particular, Ron Lambert’s Side Defeated, was distinguished by winning the Members Exhibition Juror’s Award.

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Ron Lambert, Side Defeated, 2015, Wallpaper, plaster, tar, wood and vinyl siding

 

There is little wonder that Side Defeated caught the juror’s attention. Being a free-standing piece made from a combination of media: wallpaper, plaster, tar, wood and vinyl siding, Side Defeated gives both the eye and the mind much to take in. Walking around Lambert’s piece the audience is first reminded of a house. At the onset, Side Defeated appears to be as if a “chunk” has been ripped from the skeleton of a suburban home, allowing the viewer to see the “innards” of its construction. Indeed, Side Defeated was in some ways truly “ripped” into reality, as it was originally part of another work Lambert had designed for an exhibition at Alfred University. While trying to construct one piece that simply would not “come together,” Lambert deconstructed it, cut away at the materials and the result was Side Defeated, a new and unique artwork.

ron-lambert-side-defeated-nbmaa03When interviewed, Ron Lambert emphasized the importance of “home,” or the idea of “home” to the piece. The common-place wallpaper of fruits and vegetation could be found in kitchens across America. The familiarity of Side Defeated highlights the importance of the ideas of “safety” and “comfort” which “home” often invokes. Almost everyone has sat in this kitchen with similar motif, or driven by a house with that same siding. Side Defeated acts as a conduit of memories of one’s first home, to thoughts on their present living arrangements.

However, like every home, Side Defeated bears the marks of time and its environment. Within the piece, a bubble of black tar appears like a malignant tumor, an intruder within the bones of the house. This “illness” not only ron lambert side defeated nbmaaresides on the insides of the piece, but on the outer layer of vinyl siding where a small hole, constructed as if by an insect, mars its almost perfect, plastic surface. Lambert’s vision of home and the ease and comfortability seems now threatened with decay. The visceral damages to the home act as an aesthetic reflection of the harm and heart-break which are an inevitability in one’s own home, and in one’s own history. Side Defeated’s history is as scarred and “common” as any human viewer’s own, making this piece both relatable, yet unique simultaneously. This commonality is central to Ron Lambert’s piece, and is something he strives to inspire within the viewer.

This theme of the known and the familiar runs through every aspect of Side Defeated. The materials which Lambert chooses to work with can also be labeled as “common.” Anyone who has walked through a Home Depot or watched a television show on HGTV will recognize Side Defeated’s construction-site origins. This is intentional on the part of the artist. When questioned about his materials, Lambert asserted that he rejected the “traditional” mediums of bronze or paint etc. because those “objects,” do not allow him to “think about it as anything but an art piece.” By choosing “commonplace” materials Side Defeated erases the “distance between the piece and the viewer” and allows a personal and unique “dialogue” between the piece and viewer to take place. The static and revered nature of the white marble and acrylic paints of the “traditional” artwork, places the piece on a pedestal which the viewer cannot understand or fully relate to.
When asked if he would categorize Side Defeated into the realm of “non-art,” Lambert replied that he would not, rather that the piece functioned under the “philosophy that everything around us can be art with the right intention.” Like other artists before him, such as Joseph Beuys and Connecticut native Robert Gober, Side Defeated embraces the art latent in all things, and in all people. There is little doubt that the 45th annual Juror’s Award winner achieves Ron Lambert’s ultimate goal as acting, in his words, “as a vehicle for ideas,” provoking both thought and admiration in its viewers.

This post comes to us from Jenna Collins, Curatorial Intern

Morrill Rowena, Twilight Terrors, National Lampoon Vacation cover

Rowena, A. Morrill, Twilight Terrors, 1979. Oil on illustration board. National Lampoon Vacation cover, ca. 1980.

Currently displayed in the New Britain Museum of American Art, Rowena A. Morrill’s Twilight Terrors was commissioned in 1979 for the National Lampoon Vacation cover. It depicts the wild imagination of a young boy who envisions a terrifying dragon reaching out for him as he walks along a road at night. This charming painting captured my heart and imagination as it brought me back to a time when I, too, would fill the empty darkness of my room with wild imaginings of beasts and dragons.

As a child I was fascinated with the exciting and fanciful worlds created within the books I brought home from the library each week. The thrill and allure of a chilling mystery or a heroic adventure always kept me reading way past my bed time, filling my imagination with visions of monsters and worlds beyond the stars. Those nail biting epics inspired my love for illustration and I became intrigued by the artists who could transform these fantastical descriptions of monsters and their worlds into an illustration that captures not only an image but also the energy of the character. Continue Reading »

This post comes to us from Sarah Schaller, Curatorial Intern.

Installation artist Soo Sunny Park has always been intrigued by the space between the physical and imaginary worlds. Her work consistently explores that liminal, or in-between, space with her use of light and shadow. The New Britain Museum of American Art is excited to exhibit her new installation Boundary Conditions in the LeWitt staircase.

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Soo Sunny Park’s Boundary Conditions , 2013-2014. Stainless steel, Plexiglass, paint. Commissioned through the Alice Osborne Bristol Fund. Photo by Nick Artymiak.

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This post is brought to you by Anna Rogulina, Assistant Curator.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of catching up with Kathleen Kolb and finding out a little more about what drives the art of this talented Vermont-based painter.

Kathleen Kolb Twilit House

Kathleen’s Twilit House (2013), Winner of Viewers’ Choice Award! Oil on panel, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Anna Rogulina (AR): What first inspired you to become an artist? What compels you to make art?

Kathleen Kolb (KK): Two things come to mind: beauty and illusion.  I have always found beauty compelling and transfixing.  And what I’ve been compelled to do is to try to transfix my experience of beauty to share with others.  I’ve also found visual illusions delightful since I was young.  Once when I was 4 I woke up early on Sunday morning and was playing with my brothers before our parents got up.  We rearranged some small bookshelves and a table to create a little playhouse and were having a wonderful time.  Then I got the brilliant idea that if I drew pictures of my brothers on the backs of the bookshelves (facing out), (imaginary) passers-by would believe those were windows and that they were seeing my brothers inside!  This I commenced to do with the total belief that the illusion would be absolutely convincing!

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NBMAA Caption Contest

Caption Conetst OctoberThis October, we’re challenging our visitors and readers to submit a creative caption for Don Maitz’s illustration for Balance of Power.

Fill out a caption card and drop it in the box hanging in the gallery or simply write in the comment section below. Don’t forget to leave us your contact information so we can send you a free year-long family membership if you are the winner. Take a look below to see who you’re up against!

I control space and time, but my skirt is still too short.

August

These are my favorite bouncy balls; I got them at Target. Aren’t they fabulous?

Josh Blumenthal

What comes from the Earth must rise to the sky.

Heather MacFarlane

You can never find a taxi-cab in absolute reality when you really need one!

Howard Brender

The ferocity of art transcends time and space.

Magdalena Kinga

So many worlds to conquer and just so little time. It’s exausting, really.

Lisa Merrill

Is there a choice?

Katherine Corbett

I am the world!

Nicole Maisto

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.

Aron

You get the best of both worlds.

Kendra Madia

I have more issues than Vogue!

Emma Edwards

Time does not exist.

Annette Tillmann

This post comes to us from Rena Tobey, Speaker, Wednesday’s at 1 p.m. 

Woman with Book, ca. 1910.  William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941).  Oil on canvas on board.  1981.16.

Woman with Book, ca. 1910. William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941). Oil on canvas on board. 1981.16.

Woman with Book by William McGregor Paxton, currently hanging in the NBMAA Impressionist Gallery, was painted the same year as his wife Elizabeth Okie Paxton made The Breakfast Tray.  Come join us for Wednesday’s at 1 p.m. on October 23, 2013 as we explore a very provocative painting, a very modern marriage, and one of the better American artists who is likely to be brand new to you.

To tease you further, I cannot show you an image of The Breakfast Tray here.  It resides in a private collection, and I do not have permission to “publish” it in this blog post.  Now, you have to come to the talk, which will be filled with images galore!

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NBMAA has its Own Armory Show

This post comes to us from artist and NBMAA docent Ronald Abbe.

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912 by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was among the most radical works exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show. Oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 in. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

One hundred years ago New Yorkers reacted with shock and awe to the Armory Show of 1913. This was their first encounter with European modernism as represented most notably by Picasso and Matisse.  When the show moved on to Boston and Chicago the reception slipped to actual dismay.  Students at the Art Institute of Chicago burned paintings by Matisse (in effigy).

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Have you recently ventured into the Contemporary Gallery at the NBMAA? Wondering what the futuristic sound-dome is all about? LIsten in as the artist-mastermind behind The Road Not Taken, Jason Huff, and Curatorial Intern, Emily Sesko, discuss  the work and muse about art and life.

Emily Sesko (ES): A few of your projects “zoom in” on an interaction between literature and algorithmic computer functions. How would you say your experiences with these projects, like “AutoSummarize” or “The Road Not Taken” have affected your perspective on literature, or have they not?

Jason Huff (JH): I think about literature differently now. I keep trying to imagine the 30 million or more books on Google Books, plus all of the other texts on sites like Project Gutenberg, and it’s overwhelming. When I created “AutoSummarize,” I was interested in Markov string generators and how computer algorithms could learn English-language grammars. I was curious to find the algorithms’ limits.

In “AutoSummarize,” I use Microsoft Word’s summary algorithm to create the summaries. It was absurd to me that software engineers had built a tool that would let users summarize any body of text to 1% of its original length. (Maybe it makes sense for business documents, but I’m still not convinced.) When I started using Word to summarize entire books, the results were unexpected. Suddenly, I was reminded of all the Cliffs Notes I read in high school, of classic books, only these summaries were even more succinct — ridiculously so. The summaries felt like parodies of the originals, but also true to the way reading and writing has changed over the years.

Microsoft added AutoSummarize to Word in 1997. Each new version includes some upgraded version of the function. There are some basic rules that apply to the summaries; word count, capitalization, etc. Outside of those rules, the algorithm is a bit of a mystery. Making the work was my way of trying to understand two things: one, how Word’s AutoSummarize function produces its summaries, and two, how an algorithm can tell stories.

To me, it is fascinating that algorithms are making content decisions. It’s not a big secret; everyone knows that algorithms power things like Google Search and grammar-correcting word-processing programs. What is interesting is how often people take these complicated equations for granted. If we start to think of them as authors of content — or co-authors — that collaborate with us to generate meaning and poetry, things start to get a lot more interesting. “The Road Not Taken” really points to this idea. It asks viewers to pause and think about the millions of other people and entities who co-create search suggestions, including the algorithm itself, their own personal search histories and current location notwithstanding. The scale of conditional factors is really tremendous, and the way the resulting prosaic language (in the case of Google search suggestions) is presented is meant to feel like a default choice. It’s designed to be seen and clicked, but not really thought about. It’s like Google saying, “Follow the easy paths. We know you like them.”

So I think there is a second author hiding in plain sight, and remixing not only our very interesting historic literature, but also the everyday junk language we use to search the Web. I think phenomena like Google search suggestions are just as influential to pop culture as a pop-novelist whose writing reflects a particular moment. Our own everyday story is being told back to us in these fractured web- and software interfaces all the time. It is its own kind of literature. Continue Reading »

Pulse of the Party

This post comes to us from Rena Tobey, Curatorial Intern.

Wedding Feast, 1953.  Frank di Gioia (1900-1981).  Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. Gift of Mrs. Elisha Cooper, 1954.03.

Wedding Feast, 1953. Frank di Gioia (1900-1981). Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in. Gift of Mrs. Elisha Cooper, 1954.03.

Venture into our café and look for a painting that will take you to a whole new world of fun.  Wedding Feast by Frank di Gioia puts you right in the pulse of the party—the noise, the hilarity, the free-flowing wine.  Di Gioia painted what he knew, the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City where he grew up. Continue Reading »

Hopper’s Self Portrait (1925-30) is a typical example of Hopper’s self-representation, which was often moody, lonely, and somewhat unflattering.

This post comes to us from Emily Sesko, Curatorial Intern

I remember being nine years old, packed into the car for a trip to Boston to see an exhibit of Edward Hopper paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts. My dad was excited, always in search of an opportunity to see a few good Hoppers. We’ve been all over the place in search of Hoppers, sometimes on purpose, other times finding ourselves on an impromptu Hopper-hunt. The hunt brought us to NBMAA a few years ago, around Christmas time.  There was just one hanging upstairs in one of the galleries—Abbot’s House, from ca. 1926—and my dad was thrilled. A Hopper outpost, just twenty minutes away from home.

During his eighty-five-year lifetime, Hopper was not an especially prolific artist, producing fewer than 400 total works before his death. Nevertheless, he is one of America’s best-recognized painters, and was one of the bestselling artists at the height of his career between 1925 and 1945. What did it take to become one of America’s beloved realists? Continue Reading »