Monday, December 30, 2013

Socrates Sculpture Park Update: It's 'Controversial'

This is from my first blog post about the Park on October 26, 2013, "Who Knew All This Was in Queens?"

Socrates Sculpture Park is a few blocks from the Noguchi Museum in Queens, and a fun counterpoint to the Museum's quiet meditative ambiance.  The day we were there the park was crowded with neighborhood kids in costumes for a halloween event.  Dogs were in costumes too, and a farmer's market was happening on top of it all. It was a neighborhood happening. The exhibit was EAF 13:  Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition.

The work above is by Thordis Adalsteinsdottir, and is called Bear Eats Man.

Their Mission Statement:

"Socrates Sculpture Park is the only site in the New York Metropolitan area specifically dedicated to providing artists with opportunities to create and exhibit large-scale sculpture and multi-media installations in a unique outdoor environment that encourages strong interaction between artists, artworks and the public...

Today it is an internationally renowned outdoor museum and artist residency program that also serves as a vital New York City park offering a wide variety of free public services."


 And now Take Two:

They somehow found my photograph, through the wonders of the internet no doubt!  The child in my photo, and the others around were so unconcerned...

NYC Sculpture Park Places Fence Around ‘Controversial’ Artwork

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir's "Bear Eats Man" (2013) before the fence was constructed around it (photo by Susan Richards, via

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s “Bear Eats Man” (2013) before the fence was constructed around
it  (photo by Susan Richards, via

A work on view in Socrates Sculpture Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship exhibition has been surrounded by a tall wood fence after some Queens residents complained that it was lewd and inappropriate, the New York Times reports.
The piece, titled “Bear Eats Man,” was made by Icelandic-born, New York–based artist Thordis Adalsteinsdottir. In a rough-hewn, folky style, it depicts a bear approaching a naked man from behind and getting ready to take a bite out of his shoulder. But, as the Daily News (ever so subtly) pointed out in an article that ran the day after the show opened, the man also has an erection:
“The figures are meant as a commentary on the adversarial, and at times violent, confrontation between ‘man’ and ‘nature,’ said John Hatfield, executive director of the Socrates Sculpture Park. “This male nude is not intended to be sexually provocative.”
Oh, but it is! It is!
That article also quoted Rob MacKay, director of the Queens Tourism Council, as calling the sculpture “in poor taste.”
Two and a half months later, a blogger who goes by the name George the Atheist, and whom the Times calls “well-read,” wrote an “open letter to the New York City Parks Commissioner Veronica White.” Its message was clear from the title: “Bestiality Sanctioned at Queens Park.” George the Atheist wrote:
Dear Ms White:  I recently discovered this work of “art” at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City.  Please see photos below.  I was curious as to how the Parks Department of which you are the Commissioner ever approved of the emplacement of such an item?   I am certain many citizens would find and have found in it moral offense in its visual obscenity.  Do you?
Surely you are aware that this so-called “sculpture” is situated on parkland that is tax-payer supported?  Was there ever a public hearing held on the appropriateness of this so-called “sculpture”?
George goes on to call Adalsteinsdottir an “artist” — in quotes — and even has a bit of wordplay fun, calling her artist statement “cock and bull” and “blowsy” copy. He ends by claiming that the sculpture “borders on child abuse.”
According to the Queens Chronicle, the parks department responded to George, telling him that artworks displayed in the park are not subject to their approval. Socrates Sculpture Park officials also placed a sign at the entrance to the park, warning of nudity inside. But George countered that it was too small, and Socrates officials responded again by saying they would “re-evaluate the sign” with the artist’s input. Finally, they decided on a tall wood fence, which was placed around the sculpture within the last week and a half.
Outside of the handful of commenters the Daily News was able to drum up and George the Atheist, it’s not clear whether any large number of people were offended by the sculpture. But the pressure worked. From pictures, it looks as though the new wood fence blocks the sculpture quite effectively, enclosing it on three sides and leaving only the heads of the figures visible from afar; the fourth, open side, is dominated by a cluster of trees. In an interview with the Times, Hatfield insisted that the fence does not constitute censorship: “Censorship would be to remove or alter the work itself, to deny the ability to see the work.”
Neither Socrates Sculpture Park nor Thordis Adalsteinsdottir responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment by the time of publication.
Update, 5:44pm EST: Socrates Sculpture Park has sent us a written statement from Executive Director John Hatfield. It reads, in part:
Public art, on occasion, can be challenging, and we support artists and artworks in the public domain that engage people on many different levels and topics.  We support Thordis Adalsteinsdottir’s figurative tableau, Bear Eats Man, as a thought-provoking work of art. In response to concerns about this particular sculpture, Socrates and the artist decided to create a perimeter outdoor area with signage so parents, guardians and teachers would be able to preview the artwork to decide if appropriate for minors. Similar to a museum setting, the partition allows visitors to decide if they wish to view the sculpture or not.
While we would ideally like our temporary public art to be embraced by everyone, we realistically expect a diversity of reactions—not all favorable–regardless of the style or content of the work. It is everyone’s first amendment right to express their concerns about and appreciation for this work of art. It has been, and continues to be, the role of artists to inspire and confound, elucidate and mystify, reveal truths and create fiction. Socrates Sculpture Park has exhibited over 900 hundred artists over 27 years and supports their creative endeavors.

I clicked on the pictures of the fence.  The fence appears to call attention to what is inside, making it more of a destination, something to be explored.  It's all so needless..

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Next Household Name!

The crowd at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum yesterday waited as if for a rock star to make a stage entrance.  She had just represented the United States at the 2013 Venice Biennale.  When Sarah Sze appeared and started her artist's walk-through, she seemed so young for someone of her stature. It was wonderful to hear her talk about her three different installations filling three floors of the Workshop, the culmination of her participation in their Artist-in-Residence program.  In the slide-show talk afterwards she also showed her installations in and around the U.S. Pavilion at the Biennale and explained how the new work at the Fabric Workshop and Museum grew out of it.

The installation on the second level of the Fabric Workshop has the feel of a zen garden:

The rocks look very heavy, but actually are light.  They are armitures wrapped in Tyvek, printed with images of lichen.  The large flat panels against the wall are filled with the pattern of the lichen.  Sze started using these rocks in Venice, as in the first photo above.  She scattered some around Venice as well, without any identifying labels, and enjoyed how they just leaked out from the Pavilion.  She showed us pictures of rocks on the edge of a roof, atop a news stand, stuck in a window box.  They had personality and humor of their own. 

In showing us this photo of the central rotunda in the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, it was the closet, seen off the circle, that she talked about most.


Apparently it is a closet where all the artists who have represented the U.S. in previous years have left something of theirs.  During the exhibition, about half the stuff was other peoples, and half hers.  She seemed touchingly in awe, mentioning something from Alexander Calder and even Barnett Newman's hat.  There was more wonder and gratitude than ego in this brief glimpse we were given of her awareness of being a link in the chain of art history.  I wonder which item of hers got left in the closet when the show came down.

I first fell in love with her work in 2001 when she did a permanent installation in the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, California, near where I lived.  I never knew someone could make a crumpled venetian blind into something of such transcendent beauty.  There is much to be said for loving and visiting a particular work of art over time, and being thrilled to see new things in it every time.  

In 2001 I bought a book of her work with great plates.  At the opening last night they were selling other newer bigger ones.  I looked on Amazon:  mine is out of print, available used at a big price.  I couldn't have given myself a better birthday present than to be there last night for her talks.  I hope I live long enough to see what she does in her 50's and 60's!

Monday, December 2, 2013

An iPad Drawing Class? Yes!

I keep making resolutions to do more sketching, and then I don't.  I just took the plunge and signed up for an iPad Drawing class at Fleisher Art Memorial.  Maybe I'll draw more consistently if it is digital. Maybe I'm out of my mind.  I downloaded the apps, hoping to have time to explore them before class starts.  The description was just too seductive.  It called to me:

The iPad packs in everything you need to be creative on the go; it’s like having an art studio at your fingertips. While it can’t replace the brushes and pencils we know and love, the iPad art applications can supplement your practice by allowing you to sketch, paint, prototype, and even annotate your photos. Come learn how to incorporate the iPad into your studio practice with help from instructor Jeff Dion.

Jeff   is an instructor at Moore College of Art and Design where he has integrated the iPad into curriculum including Life Drawing and Figure Painting. Jeff will demonstrate several apps to show you how to achieve different results including ASKetch, Sketchbook Pro, ArtRage and Adobe Photoshop Touch.

    This workshop will have live models for figure drawing in the last two weeks, your tuition includes the model fee.
    Image: Jeff Dion, iPad painting

I can't believe I just signed up for a class that runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in South Philly.  I'll brave the night driving and tiredness. I must really want this. It's only a four week class.  The description says "All levels welcome".  I can do this.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Up-Cycled Library Card Pockets: A Few More

The opening reception for Da Vinci Art Alliance's annual Holiday Exhibition and Sale:  Making Spirits Bright!  is Sunday December 8, 1-4, and runs through December 29th with all art priced under $200.  What more meaningful gift than an original artwork! This is a great opportunity to shop local, support the arts community, and find some treasures.

My Up-Cycled  Library Card Pockets will be part of the sale, with the following blurb:

by Susan Richards

Give that special person a unique one-of-a-kind artwork!
You can hide personalized secret wishes or affirmations inside.
Or tuck a gift card in the pocket for the most unusual gift card holder ever!
Get one for yourself to hold a special New Year's intention!
You can even make them into ornaments by adding a thread.
Be sure to look at both front and back.

$ 6 standard size / $8 large

They don't have stuff like this at the mall! And you can't beat the prices. Be sure to get to Da Vinci  during this great exhibit and sale! 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Up-Cycled Library Card Pockets: the first 12 of 60

I can't remember how this passion started.  I know it has been fueled by gifts of discarded card pockets from a friend over many months.  I'll take this first batch of 60 to Da Vinci Art Alliance tomorrow for the Holiday Exhibit.  We're taking down our Deep Six exhibit in the morning, so I'll be there anyway.  We're still Deep Six, even though the show is coming down.  

These are the twelve larger size card pockets, front and back and then back and front.  When we moved, there were certain books that I didn't pack because they were too old and the print too small to comfortably read.  But I saved the covers, which are treasures. It's hard to believe that William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience was once 50 cents!  It feels right that some of those book covers have found their way to these otherwise discarded library card pockets.

I have made use of fragments of my monoprints and hand-made paste paper, and anything else at hand. The window with the fabric blowing in it is from a photograph I took in San Miguel de Allende.  The nude seen from the back is from my photo etching.

These photos aren't the greatest, but I just wanted to document the pockets for myself, to  remind myself.  I felt emboldened to do it by John Benigno's class on Photographing Your Own Artwork.  His guidance about a tripod is "use it."  I took his advice.  I will post # 13 - 60 in the next day or two.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gallery Sitting Adventures

My new iPad was loaded with free books and I had earbuds for my music. Pieces of the Sunday New York Times that are delivered on Saturday, as well as the Sunday funnies from the Philly Inquirer, also delivered on Saturday, were stuffed in my bag. I was prepared to gallery sit our show at Da Vinci Art Alliance yesterday from 12:00 - 5:00.

Here's how it went:

- A neighborhood guy came in with a large white poodle, saying he (and the dog) came in frequently.  I hoped the dog didn't wag it's tail too close to the pedestal on which one of my assemblages was perched. The man was chatty and very nice.  I ignored the early afternoon alcohol on his breath and was relieved when he and the dog left.

- A couple came in looking for John Benigno's workshop on Photographing Your Own Artwork.  I explained that the workshop had been the previous Sunday, and invited them to see the show.  They said "we already saw it".  I asked their names so I could tell John they were looking for his workshop.  They ignored my question and left.

- A Da Vinci member came to get an ornament to decorate for the upcoming Holiday Show.  She saw that Sally Willowbee and I had given a presentation together, and said "I knew her parents."  I said I did too, from the Martin Luther King School for Social Change, where Sally's father, George Willoghby,  had been my teacher in 1967-69 and afterwards.  Small world.  You live long enough and so much comes full circle...

- A Da Vinci member and her husband came in to leave work for the member's Holiday Exhibit because they were going to be out of town on the actual delivery date.  I was touched by how moved they were by my work.  She said, "I look at your work and feel that I know you."  

- My friend Andrea Snyder stopped in after a book arts event.  It was a great time to visit, and to both my surprise and hers, she joined the Da Vinci Art Alliance co-op.  

- I managed to read a chunk of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I wouldn't have bought it or gotten it from the library, but since it was a free download I decided to read it.  I think I appreciate it more now than if I had read it when I was younger.

- A man came in, didn't want to talk, looked around for less than ten minutes and left.

- David Foss, the Gallery Director, and I had a chance to actually visit together.  We have much in common with our love of and our memory for and collection of visual images.

- There was no interest on any visitor's part in buying any of the fabulous work in the exhibit. I did get to read the Sunday funnies however.  Such is the life of an artist...

The Deep Six gang:  Mikel Elam, John Benigno, Sheldon Strober, Susan Richards, Melvin Chappell, and Rex Sexton

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Main Line Art Center's Re-Opening Bash!

Main Line Art Center's grand re-opening earlier tonight was a fabulous community party!  I wanted to get my face painted, but the line was soooo long.  You can see why!  The newly expanded and remodeled studio spaces were gorgious - and never will be so pristine again now that classes will resume on-site.  It had been a scramble to try to keep classes ongoing off-site for the last six months during construction.

The official ribbon cutting and thank-you speeches were brief after which the crowd swarmed into the galleries for the Members' Exhibition Reception and to check out the new spaces.  It looked like a great show, but I'll have to go back later to really see the art it was so mobbed.  My collograph Betrayal is in the show, as is work by John Benigno, my fellow Deep Sixer.

Demos were going on in various studios.  Here is Andrea Snyder, one of MLAC's talented instructors, showing how collograph plates are made and printed:

Main Line Art Center has only one working press, but we love it.  It is the only one around without going into Philly. Andrea demos with such panache.

It was great to see friends I hadn't seen in a long time, like Gwynned Jackson, who is now volunteering with MLAC!

Not only does Main Line Art Center have great classes for adults, but also for children, teens, and families. They are renowned for their outreach programs to people of all ages with developmental disabilities and special needs including blind and visually impaired.

I'm proud to be a member of Main Line Art Center.  Tonight's bash was a great neighborhood happening!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dynamic Duo: Allora & Calzadilla

What a great talk tonight by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia!

"Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have been collaborating since 1995, exploring ideas of authorship, nationality, borders, democracy, and global society. They utilize sculpture, photography, video, performance, and sound to create metaphors and experiments that explore the relationship between an object and its meaning."

Tonight they traced one thread of their collaboration: that of the role of music in human culture.  They showed clips from several of their videos, including one of a flutist playing the oldest instrument in the world, a flute made from a vulture bone, 35 million years old, while a vulture watched, listened, and seemed to respond to the sound.  They posit that Homo Sapiens survived over Neanderthal Man because they had music to connect them communally. 

It was a very stimulating talk.  Thanks to for choosing it as one of its picks!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ingenuism : just what is it, and who?


I was glad to see this exhibit yesterday at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens on South Street.  We had just finished hanging the DEEP SIX show at Da Vinci Art Alliance.  I was nearby and wanted to catch this last exhibit of the Coalition Ingenu Self-Taught Artists' Collective before Robert Bullock, the moving spirit behind it,  moves to Florida.

"Coalition Ingenu is a nonprofit organization promoting artwork by
self-taught creative individuals with histories of homelessness,
unique mental conditions, or other extraordinary circumstances
precluding them from equal opportunity or ability to promote themselves."  "
Autodidactic: having skills or knowledge acquired through one's own efforts. Ingenuism: A style of art that is honest and personal, without restraint, reserve, or dissimulation," says their literature.

It was a thought provoking juxtaposition with the six of us who had just put the DEEP SIX exhibit together.  Although we don't fit the definition of 'extraordinary circumstances', we all I think strive for a style of art that is honest and personal, without restraint, reserve, or dissimulation. Our styles are all very different yet the exhibit has a cohesion and unity that is powerful. I think the connecting thread is that definition of Ingenuism: art that is honest and personal, without restraint, reserve, or dissimulation.   And that, I hope, is what people will see and respond to when they come to the opening tomorrow, or any time the exhibit is up through November 29th!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Who Knew All This Was in Queens?

Socrates Sculpture Park is a few blocks from the Noguchi Museum in Queens, and a fun counterpoint to the Museum's quiet meditative ambiance.  The day we were there the park was crowded with neighborhood kids in costumes for a halloween event.  Dogs were in costumes too, and a farmer's market was happening on top of it all. It was a neighborhood happening. The exhibit was EAF 13:  Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition.

The work above is by Thordis Adalsteinsdottir, and is called Bear Eats Man.

The giant blue thing is made of plastic bags that moved gently like leaves very beautifully in any breeze.

I wondered if the chandelier in this open tree house was lit up at night.  I hope so. There were many more works.  Those were my favorites.

Their Mission Statement:

"Socrates Sculpture Park is the only site in the New York Metropolitan area specifically dedicated to providing artists with opportunities to create and exhibit large-scale sculpture and multi-media installations in a unique outdoor environment that encourages strong interaction between artists, artworks and the public.

The park's existence is based on the belief that reclamation, revitalization and creative expression are essential to the survival, humanity and improvement of our urban environment. Socrates Sculpture Park was an abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite until 1986 when a coalition of artists 
and community
members, under the leadership of artist Mark di Suvero, transformed it into an open studio and 
exhibition space for artists and a neighborhood park for local residents.

Today it is an internationally renowned outdoor museum and artist residency program that also serves as a vital New York City park offering a wide variety of free public services."

Ahhhh, New York.  A delicious bite of the Big Apple!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Master Sculptor Carves Up Books

Seeing art in person is always better than seeing it online.  Hearing Brian Dettmer speak about his work at this evening's opening was still more wonderful. 

An amazing sculptor who uses books as his material, he carves, cuts, and sands.  And in the detail of the piece seen above he also burned.  You couldn't really see how much of the unreadable text showed through the burn marks until you got close up. It is called "Emergency Exit" and is made up of 84 romance paperbacks in the shape of a door - a portal into a fictional world.

The show is called Elemental and will be at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery until December 15th. image on the notice above is a detail of the over-life size tower made from Encyclopedia Britannicas seen below:

He says he works 40 - 60 hours a week in the studio. His work is so meticulous - I can totally imagine it.  Once he starts burrowing into the book he doesn't know what text or images he will find, and enjoys the random surprises.

As a Philadelphia Dumpster Diver, it gave me great pleasure to hear him say that as a kid he lived across the street from a school that would discard piles of books into a dumpster.  He and his brother would salvage them, not always to read them, but because he knew they held some value.  "I probably made my first altered book in the third grade."  And the rest is history....

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pilgrimage to Isamu Noguchi's Museum

As soon as one enters the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, you are enfolded into a unique environment that is indoor-outdoor, a building/garden/landscape totality.  "My view is that sculpture is the art which can only be appreciated in the raw, relative to man's motion, to time's passage, and to its constantly changing situation.  The photographs in this catalogue make reference to sculptures which may be experienced only by visiting the museum," says Noguchi in his book.  He created the museum from a triangular factory building in Queens, New York, making it into an environment where the iconic magical quality of his work is experienced in the moment.  It is not a conventional museum. It is a meditation.

Looking through the glass doors of the lobby into the galleries:

 The garden is a presence from inside many of the rooms: 

The sculptures remain where Noguchi, who died in 1988, placed them.  Their placement seems integral to the ceiling beams, angles of lighting from windows, shadows, and each other.

The concrete floors and white brick walls are a perfect setting, forming a natural habitat for nature's materials.  The marks of the chisel in some pieces are palpable and immediate.  He says "No erasing or reproduction is possible, at least not in the way I now work, leaving nature's mark.  It is unique and final."

There were many works in wood, metal, clay, and  brush painting as well.

Noguchi was also involved with stage sets for Martha Graham and furniture design, especially lighting. He refused to be categorized.  The son of a Japanese poet and an Irish American writer and editor, he lived in Japan, the United States, and Europe, and traveled throughout Asia.  After Pearl Harbor he formed Nisei Writers and Artists for Democracy.  

It was an unforgettable pilgrimage, to be savored for a long time...