Monday, December 22, 2014

A Conversation with Kurt Vonnegut by Bruce Frank

For many Kurt Vonnegut fans, the Museum's fall 2014 exhibition Kurt Vonnegut: Madmen and Moonbeams was their first opportunity to see Vonnegut's concept of his beloved characters.

One of his fans, Bruce Frank, who came to  to see the exhibition, told me he'd had a chance encounter with Kurt a few years back where Kurt had mentioned these works of art. Bruce had been so impressed with their meeting  that afterwards he wrote it down. Below is a record of Bruce Frank's conversation with Kurt Vonnegut.


For Kurt Vonnegut, it was a chance meeting with a fan, one of many I’m quite sure he’s had throughout his career. For me, it was the highlight of my year – Vonnegut has been a cultural hero of mine since the Sixties: I’ve never missed one of his books (Cheryll claims it’s because they’re short – more than a grain of truth in that, since I’m usually loathe to read anything beyond a couple of hundred pages; Vonnegut’s always hit the mark for me).

It was Labor Day weekend, 2006, and we were in the sponsor chalet (a rather elaborate tent structure) at the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton, Long Island, an annual sojourn for Cheryll and I, since she’s there representing the Young Jumper Championships. Upon arriving in the tent, one of the tables was marked for “Vonnegut” – how many of those could there be, especially since I had a vague recollection that he lived in the Hamptons? Sure enough, he showed up with an entourage of family and friends. They were there because his 20-year-old daughter was singing the national anthem. He’s relatively tall, and although 83, hardly frail; and soon, I was to find out, as humorous and quickwitted
as I had expected.

Not wanting to invade his privacy, I didn’t rush over to speak to him, but when I noticed he seemed to be off by himself, even appearing bored, I felt compelled to step over to the next table and say “Mr. Vonnegut, I’m a huge fan of yours, and just wanted to introduce myself.” Noting I wasn’t particularly large in stature, I presume he realized my comment indicated that I was enamored of his literary style. He couldn’t have been more approachable and charming. What follows is an edited and only somewhat paraphrased version of the conversation.

What brings you to the Hampton Classic?
KV: My daughter is singing the national anthem.

BF: Oh really? Is she a professional singer?
KV: She would like to be – I’ve suggested she join a band to help launch her career.

BF: So that’s a direction she’d definitely like to go in?
KV: Well, I asked her once if that were the case, and she didn’t seem sure. So I asked her “if you were to die today, where would you want your ashes scattered? After thinking about it, she said “Broadway”. So I said, “there you go.”

BF: So what did you think of the recent Rolling Stone article about you?
KV: It’s all marketing. A good piece, though. But for some reason they sat on it for six months. (Note: I presume he would have preferred it appeared closer to the release of his recent book, “A Man Without A Country”, a series of political essays.)

BF: Are you thinking of writing another novel?
KV: I’m 83. There are plenty of other perfectly good novelists out there. I have a couple of other things going on, however – there’s a guy in Lexington who convinced me to let him print
limited editions of my drawings, as silkscreens.

BF: Really, I’m from the area! Also, I’m a visual artist.
KV: Well, this guy would be a good person to know. It’s odd, however, that in this day and age of computers, that someone would make prints by pushing ink through cloth with a squeegee.

BF: That brings up a question, do you use a computer or a typewriter?
KV: (with a wry grin) They took away my typewriter. I use a word processor. But you know, the thing about a typewriter is that it makes you think before you write. (Note: this seemed rather profound to me, and a truism, as I recalled my days of writing term papers on a typewriter and not wanting to have to type it all over again because I made a typo or conceptual error).

BF: So how are your prints being marketed?
KV: Joe has put up a website, (he gets into marketing mode here – hey, why not?) – many of the prints are rather reasonable – some are as little as $80.

BF: That IS very reasonable.
KV: So, what brings you to the horse show? (I explain).

BF: And do you come to the show each year?
KV: Well, we came last year since my daughter sang then as well (I didn’t recall – but then I wouldn’t have known who she was at the time – also, Vonnegut must have been in a different chalet since I certainly would have noticed!). And my wife is involved with horses and has written a book or
two about the horse world. Also, we live nearby, and like to hang around rich people (wry grin ).

BF: It was a great pleasure to meet you – thanks for talking with me.
Someone from his party began a conversation with him, so I excused myself – I came away with the impression he was delighted to have someone to talk with besides the usual suspects. After his daughter sang – very, very well by the way, she certainly has the kind of voice that would make it on Broadway – someone called out to Vonnegut, “Hey, Kurt, she did great!” His reply: “She’s got balls!” I seemed to be the only one who was in earshot and spontaneously laughed at the comment – he looked over at me in acknowledgement and what I took to be a bit of appreciation. But it was me who was even more appreciative for the opportunity to speak with one of my all-time heroes.

image: KURT VONNEGUT, Portrait of Kilgore Trout, 1997, silkscreen on paper, collection of The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Art On The Move

2 Lines Oblique points the way through the snow

The Art Museum’s outdoor sculpture has moved! If you have been around UK’s  Singletary Center recently, you probably noticed the  heavy machinery digging holes and moving stuff around to make room for a temporary structure that will house UK dining services and restaurants that are currently located within the Student Center.

The move made the sculptures more accessible than ever.  We hope you can come by and take a rest on the Stone Bench with Great Raven by Peter Woytuk, or spend a quiet moment watching the subtle but constant motions of George Rickey’s Two Lines Oblique.

Other sculptures that have found new homes around the Singletary Center are Pass Thru by Richard Hunt, Road Snake by Bob Haozous, Profile Cantor 5-3 by Ernest Trova, and The Pairs by Peter Woytuk.  

 Three other works have moved off-site.  Sylvan by Albert Paley was returned to the artist, ending a long-term loan to The Art Museum.  Coal Pot by El Anatsui is being stored and conserved, and Recover by Patrick Toups can still be seen in the rear courtyard of the Fine Arts Building.

The Museum staff is excited to see these changes coming to our front door and we’re looking forward to what the future will bring to our space.  Stop by to see the new sculpture placements, and come inside for a break from the winter weather and an opportunity to see some beautiful art.

a new home for Road Snake

workers move The Pairs

lifting Stone Bench with Raven

Monday, June 23, 2014

Curatorial Conversations: Landscape/Mindscape

Stuart Horodner, the Museum's new director and Janie Welker, Museum curator recently discussed the motivations behind our Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection exhibition.

Stuart: Landscape is a subject for art that has inspired artists for centuries. What prompted you to curate a show on this theme from the Wells Fargo Collection? And what about the title: Landscape/Mindscape?

Janie: I think landscape art has always been a mindscape, especially in this country. Nineteenth-century artists traveled the vastness of America and painted awe-inspiring vistas from the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York to the Yosemite Valley in California. They found a spiritual quality in the untamed wilderness, yes, but they also reflected the national imperative to occupy and tame this vast land. I thought it would be really interesting to move forward a century and see how the same artistic dialogue played out as society, culture, the arts—everything—changed. Plus, the Wells Fargo Collection had such great twentieth-century pieces—I couldn’t resist!

Stuart: The exhibition brings together acclaimed artists including Jennifer Bartlett, Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, as well as less familiar names, like Aline Feldman and Peter Cuong Nguyen. How did you decide who to include?

Janie: I wanted to take advantage of some of their very large and bold works on paper, given the scale of our gallery walls, but I was also just bowled over by some of the lesser-known artists. I never get tired of looking at Aline Feldman’s aerial landscape, with its view of mountains and fields, the clouds and the shadows they cast. Some of my favorite works in this show are by artists I’ve never seen before. Suzanne Caporael made these very elegant, simple geometric abstractions that are etchings at their base, but then she hand-colored them with gouache to make these luscious surfaces. On top of that, the forms she used are based on blocks of poetry, which creates another level of meaning. There are so many incredible, but relatively unknown artists out there, and the people who assembled the Wells Fargo Collection did a wonderful job in their selections.

What are the pieces that you particularly respond to?

Stuart: I particularly like the range of techniques and mediums represented, and like you, appreciate the lesser-known artists. The fact that Aline Feldman surveyed the landscape from a small plane in order to get information for her woodcut print is terrific. I am a fan of Howard Hodgkin and his particular way of fusing the representational and the abstract, with bold colors and gestures. And Helen Frankenthaler uses printmaking to great effect.

Landscape /Mindscape includes paintings, drawings, silkscreens, etchings, and woodblocks; and of course, works that are realistic and abstract. Why was that range important to you?

Janie: I thought it was important to reflect the diversity of era—I mean, we have artists using advertising techniques to make and mass produce fine art, and artists very skillfully using historic techniques. Michael Berkhemer says he was influenced by the “purity and soberness” of seventeenth-century Dutch art—but he makes hard-edge geometric abstractions.

You started your career as an artist working in a very conceptual way—how do you see the conceptual content of the show?

Stuart: I was a very earnest and committed painter/ printmaker as a young man, interested in composition, mark making, and modes of representation. The various pictorial strategies in the exhibition makes sense to me. You are correct, I am deeply influenced by conceptual art, and so I have a soft spot for Christo and Jean-Claude, whose site-specific projects are challenging on every level. I appreciate the conceptual aspect of the show, and the question of how landscapes are understandable as such, or when they become something else. That to me, is the pleasurable tension of the works you’ve gathered.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Joan Mitchell

To complement our current exhibition, Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection, the Museum has installed several landscapes from our permanent collection.
Among them is this eloquent abstract by Joan Mitchell who was one of the few female artists to succeed in the male-dominated field of the New York School. In 1951, she was included in the famed Ninth Street Show—an exhibition featuring the rising stars of the Abstract Expressionist movement. She continued to explore gestural abstraction for more than sixty years.

Mitchell established close and lasting friendships in New York with writers and poets, who greatly influenced her work, along with leading painters of the era. She continued to show work in New York for much of her life, but in 1955 began painting primarily in France. She moved there fulltime in 1968 when she purchased a home near V├ętheuil, a little town north of Paris. The property had once belonged to the Impressionist Claude Monet.

Unlike most Abstract Expressionists, Mitchell resisted the notion that painting is a matter of instinct.  Instead, she viewed painting as a willed act, not the result of chance effect.  Her works of the 1950s are tense and feverish, characterized by a busy network of disconnected, vividly colored strokes that are densest in the center of the image and juxtaposed against a vague sea of flat patches.  She is said to have been inspired by an “inner landscape,” the distilled sensations from a remembered scene. 

Image credits:  (Top left) JOAN MITCHELL, Untitled, circa 1956, oil on canvas.Purchase: The National Endowment for the Arts, Patrons of the John Jacob Niles Benefit Concert, and Friends of the Art Museum 
(bottom right) Joan Mitchell in 1956. Photograph by Rudolf Burkhardt.

Friday, May 30, 2014

New Conservation

Art Museum registrar Bebe Lovejoy recently returned from Chicago with six newly conserved paintings and two conserved frames. The paintings were conserved by Barry Bauman, who, after retiring from the Art Institute of Chicago, began offering free conservation to nonprofits. (The only expense required from the nonprofit is for materials.)

Ms. Caroline Taplin Ruschell, in loving memory of her father, gave a gift of two oil paintings that were among the six conserved by Bauman. Ms. Ruschell gave an additional gift to help pay for the restoration materials and for the frame restoration.  One of those paintings, Roadside Meeting by Alvan Fisher, along with its newly conserved frame, is now on view in the Museum gallery.

ALVAN FISHER, Roadside Meeting, oil on canvas

Roadside Meeting, (detail) before conservation

Roadside Meeting, (detail) after conservation


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Roy Lichtenstein

ROY LICHTENSTEIN, Titled, 1996, serigraph.
Courtesy of Wells Fargo Art Collection, St. Louis, Missouri
©Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection opened this weekend to an appreciative audience. many visitors were particularly interested in seeing a serigraph by Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997)   best known for his paintings that adapted the subject matter and style of comic books, as well as the dot patterning used to print them, was one of the pioneers of Pop Art.

During his early career he worked as a department store, window-display designer, an industrial designer, and a commercial art-instructor. By the late 1940s he began exhibiting his work in galleries throughout the U.S, continually exploring popular imagery and printmaking as a vehicle to reach wider audiences.

In the 1990s, he began to parody and reinterpret the styles and traditional subjects of noted artists, including Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. He once remarked that he wanted to recreate these famous styles and subjects entirely in dots in order to make them look “machine made.”

Lichtenstein making benday dots

Roy Lichtenstein by Dennis Hopper