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Luminaries at Brady Gallery runs through April 24th

Luminaries is a show that, at first, seems to be in a state of confusion. Warhol next to Ulke?

Who wants to be a luminary? Warhol is an easy answer, and his prints here are the self defining answer to that question. Remember these works, for there are multitudes, editions, copies; each signed by the artist, elevating this commercial technique to the fine art realm and ensuring the work will outlive its creator.

The luminaries here are not the painters but the subjects of this wide-ranging portraiture show that opened February 24th. From the outsider art of Clark V. Fox and the cheek-to-cheek insider art of Warhol and Botero, the show presents George Washington, William Wilson Corcoran, Queen Elizabeth and a Primativist portrait of a child bishop.

The Henry Ulke Corcoran portrait is weighted by the man’s connection to George Washington’s early founding–himself the founding president of Columbian School at GW–and book ended by the eventual partnership between his eponymous institution and the older Foggy Bottom University whose campus already had a building in his name. It’s formalism and the smaller size of the Brady Gallery oddly makes the painting appear even larger, a sitting man with  cane is suddenly hulking and brooding.

Clark V. Fox’s contribution here is a return to George Washington, a persistent subject for the post-pop artist. Contrasting Ulke’s portrait, there is no grandeur or classicism outside of a standard sitter’s silhouette. Fox borrows from Robert Indiana’s color palette on top of a background with all the fleshiness of de Kooning–a militaristic camo pattern that posits Washington as a general first, and history as a psychedelic wash of post-modernism. (Clark worked at the Corcoran, collaborated with stalwart faculty and Washington Color School champion Gene Davis, and showed in the 1977 Corcoran Biennial.)

What is consistent in the show is that each subject has been tweaked in a idiosyncratic manner, telling the viewer more about the artist than the subject. That seems to be the curatorial intent. From Warhol and Botero, this can be expected, too, seeing a Warhol half in focus from a distance would lead you to his colors and cut-out shapes before you made out who the subject was or is. And Botero’s cherrubs live in their own Grecian mythology, plump beyond reality, while his subject remains an unknown bishop. The painting is his. The painting is him.



“DAVID PAGE HATES ART.” The graffiti that adorns the lockers of the basement of the Corcoran is not, as it appears on first look, an admonishment. The artist hates the canon. The heraldry. The romantic notion of the lone wolf artist–at its best, someone like Mingering Mike, at its worst self-serving. Though the MFA graduate assistant-laden factories/studios of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons present the opposite extreme to the soloist hand-of-god rococo painter, Page would argue for the middle. So the artist and Corcoran faculty member welcomes collaboration, by rote. Why? (a brief listicle)

1. His sculptures need people. They can be vessels, helmets, suits or restraints, all of which need to be filled.
2. People provide entropy, chance and push-back. With strangers, with students, peers, colleagues and–unwittingly, once or maybe twice–the police.
3. He escapes the institution with new places and settings for his work, including works with no home but an ambulatory nomad-state. His still sculptures become kinetic.
4. Have you seen his motorcycle? His custom modifications/works are welded on to it, he parks it on the south side of the Corcoran in good weather, and it’s caused more than one passer-by to look for a placard explaining its medium and title. Arguably a Honda collab.

Before what would come to be an orchestrated movement of two stalwart art and university institutions, a dance of its own, Corcoran’s Page and GWU’s Dance Professor Maida Withers began a collaboration that could be seen as a microcosm of those larger bodies. Maida (who, despite this introduction, needs none) can be described as an icon without the danger of approaching hyperbole: her practice at the university is in its fifty-first year and her own Maida Wither’s Dance Construction Company has reached forty. Though rooted in modern dance, Withers is a polymath in her practice, incorporating dance, neuroscience, 3D projected computer art, and live interactive music. Her dance work took her to West Berlin and Essen where, during her residency at Mary Wigman School, the Berlin wall moved from barbed-wire-topped fence to concrete barrier. In 1970, with the venerable Yvonne Rainier, Maida introduced some of the first Vietnam War critique to her campus with her and her students bodies in a fifteen week workshop.

Numeric Variations from Maida Withers on Vimeo.

Their collaboration is part of a massive fortieth celebration, renaissance in the width of its reach of mediums. MindFluctuations is a choreographic direction and concerted-exercise to Brazilian artist Tania Fraga’s 3D VR and projected artworks. In real-time, those projections will be manipulated by the emotions and expressed states of the dancers wearing an Emotiv neuro headset. The Electroencephalography (EEG) device measures voltage from the brain to use as a controller, here altering the entire composition uniquely at each rehearsal and performance.

Unveiled spoke with David Page to plot out his role in the disciplinary soup: manufacturing a helmet for dancer Anthony Gongora in MindFluctuations to shield his head from the neural headset, acting as interlocutor.

Unveiled: How did you meet Withers?

David Page: I met Maida through student Lorenzo Cardim, who worked with her on his performance for NEXT, last year. He started the Wear, Strut Occupy, 2013 spring class. It was the type of thing where the class gels, and it comes together, or it doesn’t.  They excite one another or they don’t. Last year was particularly active.

The name caught, as a course, in 2011, team taught with Nick Cave, part of the Corcoran Gallery’s 30 Americans show. The name stuck after Occupy. The name is almost more fraught in its current context, with the so-called occupation of George Washington.


Unveiled: How did you get involved in the MindFluctuations project?


David Page: Lorenzo sicked Maida on to me. I thought this would be a good idea, as much as I resisted the GWU thing, once it became a done deal, what’s the point of not collaborating? The possibilities–what could happen–let’s not wait for a policy, let’s just find peers and work with them.


We started talking, and I met with principal dancer Anthony Gongora. There’s something fractured about his movements; it’s OK to mention, we spoke about it.  I was thinking about the possibilities of a percussive suit, and they were thinking of dance, freedom of motion. He’s thinking that what I do is I make these movements, roll around on the ground. The last thing he needs is for this thing to hurt him.


So instead of a suit, we started to look at helmets.



Unveiled: Helmets?


David Page: It’s the one thing you can wear and still move your body a whole lot. This was to be a brain-wave blocking helmet to counter the dancers wearing the neural headset. I went to the studio and watched him dance. He was making these primal sounds out loud. No matter how graceful a dancer is, they still make grunts and noises–somewhat animal and mechanical.


So I made sketches of the grunts.


I played around with different alloys. I had the remnants of an older project that was expanded with panels on the side. Took it back to them, and they said, it was really uncomfortable. Anthony has the biggest head around!


Unveiled: How did that resolve, between your idea and the logic of the piece. What was the compromise?


David Page: I was interested in the interior resonance of the helmet. I had ideas for it inside my own practice. That was the first helmet, it functioned. Now it’s more like a motorcycle helmet, and resonantly the acoustics are completely dead.


So I took apart a regular hard hat, and looked at the suspension system of it, and that allowed for more resonance. His head still pushed against the leather. It wasn’t working properly still. The third one was padded out with hard leather.


now I used a caliper to measure his head. Then we got the fit right.


After getting the size, we go in to rehearsal. The thing for me is that we go in to collect sounds and parts of the performance. Now I have the production down of the helmet down, with any number of templates for future use.


Unveiled: The role of the collaborator, as it is for Withers, is important to you. I think of your work with alumna Jessika Dené Tarr as one example.


David Page: The level of collab changes, sometimes the pieces are insprired by someone’s work, or we have anonymous, one-day volunteers. A quick tryout or a longer working relationship.


Jessika and I really did work together for a long time. The thoughts about the piece start to become collaborative. It’s frightening as well, there are times when safety is at stake with a third person, things could go wrong–there’s a responsibility. But they haven’t gone wrong yet.


Unveiled: What projects are coming up for you?


I’m working on a exhibition called “Security Theater.” At the Creative Alliance, we’re talking with the gallery about a large solo show where all the pieces work together as a large machine. Looking at using mechanisms and sandbags. Using bellows, gallery-goers can aid the flow of air supplies to the persons inside my suits. Cooling them down so they can breathe, for example. It impicates the viewer, even if they’re supporting the person inside, helping them, they are still responsible by being present. They become something more than a participant.


The world premiere of Maida Withers’s MindFluctuations is at the Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, on March 19, 2015. Tickets are from $25-$38 and available at Lisner’s site.
moukarbel_featured copy

The scene is set. Shaky camera footage captures two unidentified men standing on top of a truck and detaching an enormous helium balloon that spells out “Banksy!”—a name associated to a pseudonymous English graffiti artist—from the side of a New York high-rise. As they climb down from their perch, an off-camera voice alerts them that the cops are on their way and someone else yells: “Arrest them! Thief!”

As one of the men tries to run with the crinkled balloon in hand, the NYPD apprehends him and a crowd quickly gathers. There is a scuffle and amidst the clamor, the helium balloon designed by Banksy is tossed about—everyone wants a piece of Banksy’s art. Meanwhile, the entire scene is caught on a camera phone.

Documentary filmmaker and Corcoran School alumnus Chris Moukarbel, Fine Arts BFA ’04, could not have asked for better footage for the opening sequence of his HBO documentary film, Banksy Does New York. The film centers on the impact of Banksy on the city during his month-long residency in October of 2013. The film premiered on HBO last November with numerous accolades for its originality because it is almost entirely based on footage generated from New York’s social media landscape.

“There really is no better way to tell someone’s experience than through their own footage,” Moukarbel said. “It makes the story more compelling and definitely more worth watching.”

When HBO approached Moukarbel about the Banksy project, his first documentary film, Meet Me @ the Zoo, had recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. That film starred YouTube sensation Chris Crocker, whose 2007 Leave Britney Alone video went viral and propelled Crocker to Internet infamy. Moukarbel and his team used clips from Crocker’s YouTube account to tell Crocker’s story. Soon after, HBO acquired Meet Me @ the Zoo.

Studying at the Corcoran definitely developed my critical thinking about art and its different forms

“I think HBO was attracted to the idea that Meet Me @ the Zoo wasn’t your traditional documentary,” Moukarbel said. “We used Krocker’s existing footage and wove it into a form that not only highlights him as this dramatic Internet personality, but who Krocker is as a person.”

InstagramUsing the same premise for the Banksy film, Moukarbel and his team spent hundreds of hours mining the Internet for media. They sifted through Banksy hash-tags, finding breadcrumbs that would lead to a coherent account of how New Yorkers experienced Banksy’s residency in the city. And they found a gold mine—there were hundreds of sightings, images and videos of Banksy art throughout the city.

“The hardest part was going through all of that content,” said Moukarbel. “You have to start with editing right off the top.”

When he and his team finally had enough content to tell a coherent story, they reached out to the owners of the footage for interviews. These interviews were the only footage the team filmed.

I believe social media content reveals what an individual’s ideals are and, in the end, what our culture’s ideals are

Moukarbel’s interest in “user-generated content documentary filmmaking” stems from his days at Corcoran and his fascination with art involving identity and technology. As a student, he toyed with various video mediums. His first film project as a student involved piecing together different videos featuring aspects of popular culture and everyday life into video art.

“Studying at the Corcoran definitely developed my critical thinking about art and its different forms … how I could creatively use the medium I had on hand to create something altogether different.” For Moukarbel, social media soon became one of those mediums.

“User-generated content is a great way for telling stories now,” Moukarbel said. “I think the fascination began when I realized that I live so much of my life online—it’s my actual day-to-day, as it is for so many [other] people.”

These social media archives, he noted, are windows into how individuals see and like to be seen—in effect, performing a version of their own identities online.

“I believe social media content reveals what an individual’s ideals are and, in the end, what our culture’s ideals are,” Moukarbel said. “That’s what makes this documentary format so interesting and more tangible to wider audiences.”

Moukarbel’s vision is the reason why, after the Banksy Does New York premiere, HBO signed him on to produce a modern version of the HBO hit documentary series Real Sex. The new version, titled Sex Now, is based on the Internet’s effect on relationships, sex and modern sexual culture. While the original Real Sex involved film crews traveling the country in search of participants, Moukarbel and his team simply search the web for users who already have their stories online.

“People who put their sex stories online already want to find an audience or are looking to connect with an audience,” Moukarbel said, “It makes our job easier because we audition stories just by surfing the web.”

“It’s an exciting project and I believe it will make people think about how technology has changed our interactions with even the most intimate aspects of our lives.”

His advice to Corcoran students: “Try to express your artwork with whatever resources you have available. It’s more exciting to let go of the preciousness of material and tell whatever story is authentic to you at that moment.”

Currently, Banksy Does New York can be found on HBO on Demand and HBOgo. Sex Now will premiere in late spring.

Robert Longo, Empire,
1981, Still/Performance, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The much-anticipated NEXT Thesis Exhibition, which kicks off on April 8th, showcases the dynamic, interactive, and innovative work by Corcoran’s graduating students. Each year, Design Lab, a graphics design course led by Francheska Guerrero, is charged with creating a design concept that best captures the identity of the graduating class—taking into consideration the exhibit’s various art themes to create a distinctiveness that will engage students, alumni, prospective employers and members of the arts and design community. The result as illustrated above is a design called “Expressive Discovery.”

Designing NEXT 2015 has been a unique experience in the sense that the Corcoran has been going through unprecedented changes, both the school and the gallery.  -Design Lab

Designed by graphic design students Nora Mosley BFA ’15, David Hodgson, BFA ’15, Grace Boyle, BFA ’16, Andersson, BFA ’16 and Lucien Liz-Lepiorz BFA ’16, “Expressive Discovery” is inspired by the layered aesthetic of topography. The concept is based on the idea that topography is the evidence of change over time, which parallels the Corcoran’s creative heritage and dynamic future.

In the design, merged components are meant to show the integration of two schools while emphasizing the artistic diversity of Corcoran’s programs and students. As noted by the design’s creators, when students find their place within the community, they experience a journey that exposes them to multiple perspectives. With that in mind, the final design incorporates organic lines to symbolize a variety of individual paths that unite to form one community. The idea of individuality is further enhanced the by the design’s resemblance to a fingerprint.

Amidst these changes, we have found a confident, creative energy among the students and faculty involved in the exhibition, and we have worked constantly to maintain this energy in our work. Our focus has been to capture the past, present, and future of the Corcoran and its students. -D.L.

Creating the Design: A Visual Story

The Corcoran School’s Design lab developed the Expressive Discoveries concept after many weeks and long hours of considering this year’s changing student experience. The process began with a questionnaire that asked students their thoughts on their final year at the Corcoran, what inspires their work and how research advanced knowledge in their field. From the responses, Design Lab created messaging boards highlighting students’ top answers.

Three concepts were developed, each representing transition, evolution, movement or change. The final design seemed to best represent the evolution of the school experience.



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Wordmark Process

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In the final wordmark, the relationship between the dense and open areas has been finessed to create visual movement within each letterform—movement that then expands to unite the entire wordmark through the use of connecting lines.

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We feel that this year’s concept represents both the creative journeys taken and those yet to come . – D.L.



From his home in Washington, D.C., Corcoran alumnus Sam Corum, Photography BFA ’12, watched images of the turmoil unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, flash across his TV screen. Like most of the world, he was shocked by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a young black teenager, at the hands of a white police officer. As the protest and the police response escalated, Corum, a freelance photographer, realized he was seeing history in the making.

Corum packed his cameras, rearranged prior commitments and hopped in his car for the 13-hour drive to St. Louis. He wasn’t on assignment. None of his clients were paying him to go to Ferguson. But he recognized that the drama in the small Missouri town would be a turning point in America’s racial dialogue. And he wanted to be on the scene to document it.

Through his service in the Marine Corps as a combat photographer and internships while studying at the Corcoran, Corum has photographed everything from Iraqi combat zones to the lives of parents caring for their mentally disabled adult children. His photos have appeared in non-profit commercial publications, including The Washington Examiner where he interned while in school. He has used the skills he learned at the Corcoran to hone his passion for telling stories with his camera, such as capturing the images of a hero’s goodbye or the bright smile of a community graffiti artist.

In Ferguson, Corum saw an opportunity to capture another kind of tale. His images could tell the narrative “behind a complex story that was being reduced to simple headlines and sound bites,” he said. Ferguson would be his first project covering social justice issues.

“The situation with Michael Brown was extremely sad—but, I saw a bigger story,” he said. In a community that has long been plagued by allegations of police profiling and racial tensions, the Brown shooting “was the boiling point for everything that’s been going on for decades.”

Corum arrived  in Ferguson on August 18 at 4:30 a.m. After catching a few hours of sleep, Corum donned his old flak jacket from tours in Iraq—a jacket he never expected to wear stateside. Scribbling the word “press” on a strip of duct tape, he slapped it to the front of his jacket, strapped on his cameras and headed downhill. The police in the street were “better armed and armored than I was in Iraq,” he said, but it was the energy and volume of the demonstrators’ chants that electrified the night. “The protesters were marching up and down the block chanting, ‘Hands up! Don’t Shoot!’ and ‘No Justice! No Peace!’ But everything was calm.”



Corum’s first images captured the energy and enthusiasm of the protestors.


However, as the oppressive August heat wore on the crowd, tensions rose. Police prodded the crowds to keep moving. While the majority of the protestors were peaceful, Corum said, a handful tossed water bottles at officers.

Police Faceoff

“The crowd was so large that [the instigators] could throw one thing and disappear. So the police would retaliate against all instead of the one or two that had caused the problem.” According to Corum, the police surged into the crowd, pepper-spraying demonstrators and pinned people to the ground. In the melee, he snapped images of a fellow photographer handcuffed for turning his back to the police.


“These instances are the pictures that lead the front pages and all the broadcasts,” Corum said. But Corum also took photos of the peacemakers trying to calm the situation. “People from the community wanted to peacefully protest, they didn’t want the violence. The instigators detracted from the voices who wanted to be heard.” Some of the most poignant images that Corum captured were ones that displayed a group of 20 protestors lined up, held hands and raised their arms above their heads to create a barrier between demonstrators and the police.


Corum spent a month in Ferguson, observing suburbs where well-manicured gardens in middle-class neighborhoods sit side-by-side with dense pockets of poverty. To tell the story of the protests, he needed to trace the roots of the community’s outrage and anger. Although African-Americans represent two-thirds of Ferguson’s 20,000 residents, they have near-zero representation in public forums – only one black official sits on the city council and no black members sit on the Ferguson School Board. Only 94 percent of the police officers are white.

Corum attended public committee meetings where concerned citizens voiced their distress. His photos at Michael Brown’s funeral display the heartbreaking anguish of a community torn by sorrow and indignation—and determined for their voice to be heard.

Al Sharpton


Peace Signs

“That’s the story I wanted to tell,” he said. “It’s not all blood and violence. There is…definitely a large amount of rage, but not with intent to destroy. It’s a community that cares.”


By the end of his month-long stay in Ferguson, Sam Corum was offered a staff position with the Turkish news outlet, Anadolu Agency. Ironically, the image Corum captured of the photographer arrested by the Ferguson police was Anadolu Agency Photographer Bilgin Sasmaz, who returned to his New York City office after his arrest.

“It just so happened that their DC bureau photographer was also going back to Turkey. They saw my stuff and liked it, so they asked me to come on full-time.”

Sam never thought his decision to go to Ferguson to satisfy his own curiosity and to seek a different narrative for what was unfolding in the small Missouri town, would lead to a job where he would continue to tell narratives of social issues, his camera serving as a mouthpiece to history.

Ferguson Protest at American University


Protests Continue in Washington After Grand Jury Decision

Sam’s advice to Corcoran School art students:If you find the need to go out and do something, just go and do it. Sometimes it’s going to take some risks to really succeed. There’s no way I would have found the position I have, if I did not go out and do it on my own…that decision literally led to my current job. Don’t wait for things to just fall in your lap, because they never do.”


how to survive your own death (28), archival inkjet print mounted and waxed on dibond, 35" x 43.5", 2004, ed. 3/5

Recently, photographer and former Corcoran professor Colby Caldwell emailed in response to our rundown of alum Jason Gubiotti’s show, War Paint. Included was a gem: the back story to the shared title “How to Survive Your Own Death (for CC)” which has been used, re-used, appropriated and copied by a group of Corcoran artists and writers from 1999 to 2014. To wit:

“The title ‘how to survive your own death’ was first suggested by a conversation between Bernard Welt and myself in 1999/2000 when I was beginning work on the corrupted file series. It comes from his poem of the same name:”


“We were discussing possible titles and he suggested several and I settled on ‘how to survive your own death.’ It worked perfectly for the concepts I wanted to suggest but not name. This would not be the last time Bernard would be responsible for suggesting titles for me. I subsequently reproduced this poem in the gun shy catalog in 2012. I had a podcast of Bernard reading this poem (listen here, ed.) that gallery visitors could listen to via a gallery-provided iPod during my 2006 show ‘small game’ at Hemphill. (I’ve made a point of including a ‘how to survive your own death’ piece in all my shows).”

“James Huckenpahler referenced it for a piece he made in 2004, entitled ‘how to fake your own death.'”


James Huckenpahler “how to fake your own death”


“Jason then referenced it for his own means and reasons for a painting in ‘War Paint.'”

“This has resonance for several reasons, two of which are as follows:”

“1. The three of us shared studio space at Woobyworld in 1998 – 2001. We also did a three person show At Troyer-Fitzpatrick in 1999.”

“I can only speak for me but both of these periods left an indelible mark on my work and indeed my very thinking about process.”

“2. Bernard Welt was an important and influential professor to all three of us when we were students at the Corcoran. James and I from 1987-1990, and Jason later. Bernard is still a very close friend to me now.”

Caldwell’s work is represented by HEMPHILL (DC), Gallery Seventeen  (Greenville, SC),
and Haen Gallery (Asheville, NC). You can find him at www.colbycaldwell.com .


Unveiled is excited to host our first guest post from the National Gallery of Art. The author, Katy May, is an object conservator with extensive experience in the care and treatment of outdoor sculpture and has been at the National Gallery of Art since 1997. 

Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece by Henry Moore was commissioned for the opening of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in 1977, and has stood outside the entrance to the East Building since 1978. While it has never moved from this location, the sculpture has had a long and complex condition history.

The bronze sculpture was fabricated on a tight deadline by the English foundry Morris Singer, rather than the German founder who cast most of Moore’s monumental works, and is constructed from sand-cast panels welded together, with an applied chemical patina (a thin mineral surface layer produced by applying specific chemicals to the bare metal).  Flaws in the casting, fabrication, and finishing of the sculpture were noted almost immediately, and National Gallery conservators have long struggled to maintain the sculpture as Moore intended.

Flaws in the casting, fabrication, and finishing of the sculpture were noted almost immediately

National Gallery conservators have a full maintenance program for all outdoor works in the collection, but even with regular maintenance the surfaces on outdoor sculptures deteriorate over time and more intensive treatments are sometimes required to preserve the artist’s intent.  In the case of Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece, the existing patina had darkened dramatically, was streaked and uneven, and the welds had become progressively more visible.  In consultation with National Gallery experts and officials, the decision was made to re-patinate the sculpture and return the surface to the transparent golden patina intended by Moore.

Planning and testing of treatment methods took almost two years.  Conservators worked with curators to determine the intended appearance for the sculpture based on archival records, photographs of the sculpture in 1978, and based on the maquette – a highly finished preparatory work for the monumental sculpture.  A specialized outdoor bronze conservator was contracted to work with National Gallery conservators, and numerous tests were performed investigating a variety of patinating chemicals and application methods.

The sculpture is huge, measuring almost 18 feet tall and over 23 feet wide, with seemingly endless surfaces.

In early August 2014, conservators began the daunting project to re-patinate Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece, working on-site at the entrance to the East Building.  The sculpture is huge, measuring almost 18 feet tall and over 23 feet wide, with seemingly endless surfaces.  Each treatment step was performed by hand, working inch by inch, across, over, and around the two elements. Conservators removed old coatings, completely removed the deteriorated patina, and applied a series of patinating chemicals chosen to produce a new patina with the appropriate color range and level of translucence.  Throughout the treatment, conservators struggled with issues related to the low quality of casting and finishing; extensive areas of porosity, variation in alloy composition, and impurities in the metal produced unexpected and undesirable results in some areas, leading conservators to re-work problem areas numerous times.

For the duration of the treatment, the sculpture was fully enclosed in scaffolding with a water-resistant scrim overlay, to contain the treatment area and to ensure that the surface of the sculpture remained dry throughout the patination process.  Before the enclosure could be removed, a protective wax coating was applied by brush over all treated surfaces.

On October 10, 2014, after more than 8 weeks, the enclosure was removed, revealing the completely transformed sculpture.








What could cause reclusive ex-Corcoran professor Colby Caldwell to make an atypical pilgrimage up from his Asheville, NC studio? Or melt the hard blood of the quantitative and polarizing art critic Tyler Green? A show whose focus is almost nothing.

Not nothing as in nothing substantial, or as is nothingness/nirvana, or the great void–but in the space occupied by nothing. This is the best way to understand the exalted work that makes up 1998 alumnus Jason Gubbiotti’s show, War Paint, at Civilian Art Projects.

Stellar 7 (Damon Slye, 1983)

These are fields, demarcated, masked–but these aren’t Color Fields. These are desolate plains. Green would describe the painter’s geometry in the 2007 Hemphill  as 1979’s video game Asteroid-like, but the wireframes here are kin to the cockpit from tank sim Stellar 7–symmetrical polygons sitting atop one another, totem style. They are a cockpit view, a heads-up-display looking on to a fever-dream landscape.

And for all the something that his paintings projected (in actual 3D space, in the gallery) in previous work, here there is a flatness. Those paintings would jut from the wall, taking 90 degree turns and even trace around corners of a gallery wall. Until you get to the edges, these are paintings. There, that’s skewered in to some thing more three dimensional. At Civilian, it’s the Youtube unboxing video of a Jason Gubbiotti painting: the viewer gets to see where the staples are (spoiler: not on the back) and a hard border of canvas and paint. He may as well be  giving an extra-diegetic commentary, “This is where the painting sits,” “Here’s the palette.”

it’s the Youtube unboxing video of a Jason Gubbiotti painting

True, it’s generally cheap to analogize any abstract painting to real-world visage, but the work Beautiful Weapons is an adobe skateboard ramp aimed at the ceiling of the gallery. That’s undeniable. Again, the absence is the presence. The ‘nothing’ here is the void of an empty pool without kids doing mute grabs on the edges of its bowl; that mummy-brown of west coast valley stucco. And the lines through its swatches of color are the drifts and grinds of beaten decks gliding across cement.

In case it’s getting too impersonal, too conceptually focused, there’s humanity and a good ribbing here as well. Two examples:

How to survive your own death (whole)

Colby Caldwell, “How to survive your own death (whole),” 2003, 59″ x 75″, archival pigment print mounted to dibond and waxed

1) That hard to find former professor, Colby Caldwell? A good friend and former teacher of Gubbiotti’s; a destroyer of the photograph equal to the scrupulous-control Jason shows the canvas. He’ll scan a dead bird with a large format scanner to get around using a lens to make a photograph. Caldwell crashed Photoshop in 2001 (fittingly) and found a new series of work based on a highly fluorescent pattern that the editing program spat out as it seized: How to Survive Your Own Death. Had tumblr been around this would’ve been posted, if not a blog in its own right.

Here, Gubbiotti takes the title and forms a loving but sparing tribute. A list of artists (the aforementioned James Huckenpahler for one) have taken the title, and it’s bombastic instruction for immortality are only matched by a greater feat for an artist: re-appropriating Damien Hirst’s similarly worded The Imperceptibility of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living. You, the artist, might live forever. Just as likely as you besting Hirst’s auction prices.

Tom Green, "Witness: Beirut," 1982, 72” x 84”, acrylic on canvas

Tom Green, “Witness: Beirut,” 1982, 72” x 84”, acrylic on canvas

2) Tom Green’s legacy. The prolific and colorful (even by Gubbiotti standards) painter passed away from Lou Gherig’s disease two years ago. He was exalted for his career, but also by every student that he taught at the Corcoran. His beautiful family-led tribute at the school attested to this with person-to-person stories and pretzels that were unlikely to appear at other commemorations.

2012’s Shadowplay works with Tom’s distinct colors, and takes a turn at approximating the biological forms Green was known for. Though the teacher’s paintings would depict body parts, like rib cages, torsos and heads (nothing nightmarish, but simplified and cartoon-like), the student plays off his tropes by making them his own cellular forms that he is now known for. He takes the macro and makes it micro; reducing biology to the chemistry that comprises it.

reducing biology to the chemistry that comprises it.

If the cellular forms of earlier paintings were a bit too clean-room–there’s nothing antiseptic here, even in the strict, exacting lines there is a sense that they might be colored outside of or, more likely, exploded out of. It’s energy. It’s not the easy energy of op-artists and moire-pattern tricks–potential, not kinetic. Victor Vaserly, this is not, but the colors are there and they are just as vicious, seemingly beyond the chroma of what’s possible in CMYK.

That nothing is actually something quite formidable. It’s formlessness and emptiness is constant modality. Fighter Bruce Lee called that absence the most dangerous technique, “since Jeet Kune Do has no style, it can fit with all styles.” Here it’s not deadly, it’s a close perfect.

Jason Gubbiotti: War Paint is on view at Civilian Art Projects, 4718 14th Street NW Washington, DC 20011, through December 29, 2014, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, from 1 to 5pm, (closed the 27th & 28th) and by appointment at info@civilianartprojects.com. 
An artist talk will be hosted Saturday, November 15th, at 2pm.

Nicole Gunning, "when the artist hits the fan"

Gallery 31 is back. Pilot opened October 15th and is the best look at what Corcoran’s BFA Fine Art Seniors are scheming, manufacturing and dreaming. The culmination is NEXT, the Corcoran’s yearly showcase of graduate and undergraduate grand denouements. As they finished installing, we spoke with Eliot Hicks and Ashley Van Gemeren on the impetuses that got their works to where they are and what changes are still to come.


Eliot Hicks is working through car culture to make material objects, and, further, to show the materialism of the automobile itself. It’s a fascinating parallel that can be drawn to the excesses of canonized art makers. Instead of the glossy car-paint boxes of Donald Judd, Hicks is completing a full-stop reduced to minimalism. Actual parking stops. Like one finds at the lot before her car hits the wall.

The non-marked object, the nakedness, the perfection of a minimalist work are there: his forms are geometric, clean, without adornment or superfluity. This makes the artist’s hand disappear, magically absent. Though the work is in cement, it is not a perfect mimesis of the thing itself: these parking girders don’t have a mold line and they are unusable, with no holes to bolt to a garage floor.

IMG_0025Hicks sees the romance of car and racing culture to mirror so much of the grandeur in the art world–equal parts illusory and genuine. Earlier on Instagram, his experiment in latex license plates fall over themselves like shorn pelts in grey (again). They, like the stops, and wholly recognizable but other worldy, and Hicks visually infers this may be the grey that covers them as cars remain in the world while oil doesn’t.

IMG_0005Ashley VanGemeren declares forthrightly, “we’re in control of our thesis, we’re in control of this year.” It’s her take on what the show’s title, Pilot, might mean to the students steadying the rudder of their practice as the commotion of a new partnership continues to reverberate through the Corcoran. And it could describe the way she’s tackling paint. She’s discarded traditional oil and acrylic and picked up something she uses every day on her own skin: make-up. Done with her work being on the wall, she props it with another polymer-based product: sheets of perspex jutting perpendicularly from the surfaces. The perspex is translucent, so the painted sides appear muddy, while the see-through sides “can be seen as microscope slides.”

IMG_0009Van Gemeren “has to show all sides,” and is telling you the same about her own perceptions of her body by using makeup as a medium on her panels–this is skin. Here she still maintains control, asking one to contort oneself in the spaces between her works so that you can be surrounded by her work and by her. It’s unsettling, and the palette matches. Flesh-toned, it is–but also harsh magentas and off-teals that add to the experience’s unsettled claustrophobia rather than a warm closeness. Maybe she agrees, “interacting with them, I want to squeeze them and touch them… I’m ready to fight them.”

Pilot is on view at Gallery 31 at the Corcoran School of Art of the Arts & Deisgn through Sunday, October 26th.


An art-fair cannot escape the opulence of itself. At its best moments, you can see through the haze of comma-filled price sheets and crudités to see some great work. (e)merge, in a move away from many fairs, helps separate the art from the gilt by offering spaces directly to artists who don’t have gallery representation, and for no cost other than a fractional application fee. Of course, those artists may still find themselves commenting on that still omnipresent art-fair marketplace reality.

(image credit: Holly Bass)

Former Corcoran Gallery exhibitor Holly Bass finds storyteller and dancer bringing the once-frequent practice of hosting a party to pay a landlord to a performance art context. “Black Space Rent Party,” brought live music, an actual façade, games of bones (dominoes) and spades to the front yard of Capitol Skyline in a DC map-shaped house. There, entertainment, tales and drinks were provided for just the spectator’s consideration of a pledge to a bucket marked “<- Rent Help.” The roof’s diamond geography referencing shape has a point: in 1920’s DC, you may have come across a party just like this.

 Megan Mueller -- 93117-4

Meagan Mueller, who just left DC for the sculpture program at UC Santa Barbara, presents us with the coyest vision of art as furniture–collectors would never admit to the practice, but it’s omnipresent in the art world. If a buyer needs their art to match the couch, Mueller goes a step further and integrates the wallpaper behind her art work as the piece itself (Pantone matched). The sneak implant of domesticity in to fine art is no one-off, however. Her physical, at times massive works often borrow from Home Depot tropes and materials as they does in her Wonder Valley, CA installation, derived from the innocuous wood-deck patio.


Hamiltonian fellow and GW Today profiled alum Larry Cook sets up his fair-supplied hotel room as a club photo booth. Remember 14th & U? Larry Cook does (hint: not speakeasies nor steaks). And you may as well, if you’ve been to the Georgia & Florida Ave CVS almost any weekend night past 10pm. Cook’s recreated what you’d find there, and what you’d see in the classic DC Go Go venues of churches and school gyms: the club photo booth, replete with hand-painted backdrop and a live mix from DJ Marvelous. Once taken with a Polaroid, now updated with a Nikon DSLR and thermal printer, Cook’s art-fair vision extends from reality: He used to do this professionally.

Check out more highlights of the (e)merge Art Fair from the Washington City Paper’s Christina Cauterucci and The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan