Bo Knows Painting

Sunday was a day of lasts. It was last day at the S.B. Museum of Art to catch the Bo Bartlett exhibition, which I wanted to see again after a brief viewing a month ago. Bartlett is one of the latest in the new traditionalist (I’m sure there’s some better name) school of American painting. He paints in oil, on big canvases, and depicts modern Americans in sometimes surreal settings that reference religious paintings of the old masters. He’s modern, but the activities in his paintings seem timeless (there are no city scenes, no televisions, no consumer culture). His painting “Homecoming” (see above) shows a post-game bonfire at some high school stadium, but the activity seems like ancient ritual. A coach and a parent stand nearby, pointing off into the distance, discussing…what? The horizon is fields and water. Where are we? There are echoes of Hopper here, as well as Eakins. All his work has a great enigmatic quality to it, and they are very open texts. You bring what you want to them. His use of color is also astonishing, but the computer screen doesn’t do it justice.
Also in its last day was Contemporary Arts Forum‘s “Videodrome” show, a daily program of recent video art. I hadn’t been too lucky the days that I went in over the last month. Some video art is just atrocious–after patriotism, it is the last refuge of scoundrels. Only these scoundrels have DV cams and a few AfterEffects filters. Holly Mackay, whose title at CAF I’ve forgotten, but high on the ladder, invited me over for a final “best of” screening. Apart from a groovy short from Marco Brambilla called “Wall of Death” (various angles on a centrifugal stunt motorbike rider, looking like an old kinetoscope), I loved the collaborative shorts by Christoph Giradet and Matthias Muller (most recently known for their Hitchcock cutups). “Manual” cut together all these cutaway shots of scientific equipment, speakers, tape machines, and so on, from various 1950’s Technicolor films and created an alienating universe of control, while a disembodied female voice tries to communicate something about memory and time. I also liked “Scratch,” a similar set-up, this time using cutaway shots of record players from Hollywood films, looped like a runout groove. Both films were also good at fetishizing old technology. Holly and I agreed that we’ve definitely lost something when all machines lost dials and switches. Everything is run by a computer and a mouse these days.
Strangely enough, Muller’s own solo video work was dull, yet you could see what he brought to their collaboration (ideas of isolation and alienation).

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