All Natural: A Conversation with Al Miner

Installation view, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, September 2015. L-R art by Christina Pitsch, Mary Lang, & Kathleen Gerdon Archer.
Installation view, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, September 2015. L-R art by Christina Pitsch, Mary Lang, & Kathleen Gerdon Archer.

Last week, I met with Al Miner at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he works as Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art. He curated our current exhibition, All Naturalfeaturing Kingston member artists Kathleen Gerdon Archer, Mary Lang, Greg Lookerse, and Christina Pitsch. Each artist examines humankind’s attempts to commune with, control, or contain nature. The exhibition includes a broad representation of media, including photography, sculpture, and performance.

Greg Lookerse, Two Fish Cut Into Five Thousand Piees, #1, edition of 10, archival inkjet print.

It didn’t take long for me to see that, although Miner says he’s not obsessed with landscape, it holds some fascination for him and, well, for all of us. “It’s a theme that clearly spoke to artists throughout time,” Miner said. Landscape paintings are among the most popular works in the Museum, he said, which is part of why he curated the long-term exhibition, Landscape, Abstracted, on view from August 2014 through July 2017. It includes an immense (24 x 80 feet) mural by Jason Middlebrook that Miner says has become “selfie central.” The point of the exhibition, he said, was to give examples of how artists today are not bound by the same constrictions as artists were in the past. There are so many contemporary takes on landscape, and artworks including Jason Middlebrook’s mural, green chenille beanbag “Topia Chairs” by Barbara Gallucci, and a site-specific installation made with thread and staples by Anne Lindberg demonstrate just how far they can abstract nature. They use color and pattern, among other visual tactics, to respond to the museum’s architecture, while simultaneously evoking nature and seizing upon natural phenomena.

When I inquired about Miner’s own interactions with nature and how they might influence his thinking he said, “I’m curious about whether anything real still exists,” Miner said. He does not want to camp, hike, or otherwise immerse himself in the outdoors. Really, he just wants sit outside at a cafe with a beverage and a piece of cake in the sunshine. That still feels like an authentic outdoor experience, especially if you’ve previously been in a windowless space and/or staring at a computer screen before arriving at said cafe.

“With this group of artists at Kingston,” Miner said, “I found that all four artists were making compelling and consistent bodies of work.”  From there, he realized that all four of them dealt with nature, but with boundaries, compromises, and constructs.

I Am A Century Wide, 2015, 24 x 24 inches, polypropylene print mounted on Sintra under plexiglas, 1 of 10
Kathleen Gerdon Archer, I Am A Century Wide, 2015, 24 x 24 inches, polypropylene print mounted on Sintra under plexiglas, 1 of 10

Kathleen Gerdon Archer employs alchemy (turning water into ice, then ice back into water), using her own power to transfer elements from one state into another state.

Mary Lang compares dioramas of state parks with actual state parks. First, there is the issue of the gates, stairs, and other fixtures that may be meant to protect the park, but also alter the original landscape. Then there is the contrast of being intrigued by a real place, but realizing it isn’t real.

Greg Lookerse’s performance, Two Fish Cut Into Five Thousand Pieces, exaggerates the rules and constructs we follow when we interact with nature. Photographs documenting the performance are part of the exhibition, along with works from his Honey Storage series, where he folded cut paper from the book The Great American Forest, by Rutherford Platt, into honeycomb shapes. Lookerse, like Archer, alludes to the attraction of alchemy in his work.

Near Moutlton Falls, WA, 2015, archival digital print, 20 x 30 inches.
Mary Lang, Near Moulton Falls, WA, 2015, archival digital print, 20 x 30 inches.

Christina Pitsch created clear trophy mount deer heads with cast plastic, sewn vinyl, and sheet acrylic. “They become empty vessels, sucking out the meaning we expect from taxidermy,” said Miner. Pitsch employs her own clean and symmetrical aesthetic to interrogate why we hang something like a hunted and killed deer in an interior space.

Miner appreciated the depth and prolonged exploration evident in each artist’s work. Presented together, viewers become aware of the way all four artists manipulate natural elements, sometimes leading audiences in one conceptual direction, only to complicate our notions of this subject matter with an unexpected conclusion or eschewing one at all, but rather allowing nature’s mysteries to remain unsolved. They also remind us of how far we may have come from having a direct relationship with nature.

Postcard of Christina Pitsch, Fragments of Love and Desire: Loveletter, taxidermy deer hoof, ribbon, 19
Postcard of Christina Pitsch, Fragments of Love and Desire: Loveletter,
taxidermy deer hoof, ribbon, 19″ x 8″ x 7″

Miner is now working on a large group exhibition for the MFA entitled “Megacities Asia,” which examines the way artists in some of Asia’s most quickly expanding cities respond to the urbanization around them with found object practices. One thing that has become clear to him as he works with artists based in Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai and Delhi, is that, as he puts it, “being “green” is a luxury.” For instance, there is not yet a vibrant green movement in China. Citizens of Asian megacities experience natural spaces in more limited and different contexts, and, as the whole world is urbanizing at a staggering rate, we may soon experience nature this way ourselves. Will every city of the future incorporate green space? Is it and should it be important to every culture or not? Can they build green spaces indoors, or by maintaining a view of the horizon from the upper floors of a high-rise building reinforce a fading connection to the natural world? The artwork Miner included at Kingston raises these and other questions, too. Further, the MFA exhibition will be staged not only inside the Museum’s galleries, but also outdoors. Both exhibitions make it clear that contemporary conversations about landscape are as much about being human as about relating to nature.

Installation View, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, Sept. 2015. L-R Greg Lookerse, Mary Lang, Christina Pitsch.
Installation View, All Natural, Kingston Gallery, Sept. 2015. L-R Greg Lookerse, Mary Lang, Christina Pitsch.

Christina Pitsch: All that is Lovely and Fine

forget me not4 WIP
Christina Pitsch, forget me not, porcelain, 11 x 12 x 3 inches, 2015.

close up chandelier
Christina Pitsch, Objects of Desire, detail, mixed media, sizes variable.
Ceramics hold many opposites in balance. They are breakable and delicate, yet made with mud by being fired in extreme temperatures. Glazed ceramics can survive a trip through the dishwasher (although I wouldn’t recommend testing this, unless they were intended as dining implements), but not a trip from a shelf or wall to the floor (crash). Each time an artist sends glazed ceramics into the kiln, there is an element of suspense about how it will turn out. The physicality and closeness to the elements make ceramic sculpture inherently dramatic.

On view at Kingston Gallery through August 2, Christina Pitsch‘s solo exhibition Fancied layers the inherent drama of ceramics with that of chandeliers that she altered to create floor-to-ceiling mixed media sculptures. In place of light bulbs or candles stand her own porcelain sculptures of deer hooves. She shifted the transition from white porcelain to gold chandelier upward on some hooves by dipping part of the hoof in shiny gold glaze that matches the finish of the chandelier.

The only colors in Fancied are white or gold, a limited palette that allows a focus on the smooth and shiny textures of the metal and the porcelain. The cluster of Forget-Me-Nots, gloriously floral stems, linear or colorful details, betrays a delicacy quite different from a bouquet of real flowers.

Robert Chamberlin, from the Fill me Up series, porcelain.
Robert Chamberlin, from the Fill me Up series, porcelain.
With a similar erasure of specifics balanced by a recreation of essential mood and forms, Boston-based Robert Chamberlin creates vases inspired by the French Sèvres style popular in the 19th century. Absent figures, color, and designs, his series, Fill Me Up, removes narrative and adds a dash of absurdity and a graceful bow to the temporal nature of food arts by applying the ornate, scrolling flourishes with a cake decorator.

In Pitsch’s work, fantasy and absurdity play significant roles. She questions the boundaries of why we find certain things beautiful, in the continuum of natural to human-designed. She sculpts an exaggerated idea of luxury. Her floor-to ceiling sculptures are eye-catching for the same reasons that luxury items are, but their excess and repetition, and illogical insertions of porcelain sculptures interrupt our usual intake of admiration.

The chandeliers she selected are not expensive or antique, and that is part of her point. Walk into any Home Depot and see styles of the past represented in the light fixtures. For $99, you can buy an elaborate, faux-cut crystal (plastic) chandelier. What is it about maintaining Baroque or Victorian tastes in our light fixtures, but not in other parts of our home? For one, the many curving lines of a Victorian table are less practical for a family to dine upon each day. Ornate chandeliers may float above our heads, dusted possibly a few times a year, and work as aspirational forms toward imagined polite and cultured past eras. By contrast, the clean lines of modern furniture translate well into busy households.

Kurt Pio, from his "Diamonds" series (see to learn more)
Kurt Pio, from his “Diamonds” series (see to learn more)
In addition to questioning why we decorate the way we do, Pitsch’s work also references the tenuous line between inspiration and robbery in the realm of fashion and interior design. Some of her ceramic sculptures of birds perched amid blossoms may appear similar to ones you could buy for much less at either a lucky thrift store find or at Anthropologie. By definition, innovation takes form before there is the chance for it be mass-produced, and thus less expensive. There is an undeniably stronger tension between new and the mass-produced ceramic art than, for example, paintings, which may be recreated with giclée printing, but less convincingly. Do we pay for the idea, expressed with matter, or its semblance that is also an object? Do we support the artist or the corporation?

The chandeliers and smaller sculptures in Fancied operate on a continuum between artifice and nature. Much of art consists of making something, or a reality, that you do not in reality have access to by making a version of it with art. Kurt Pio, of South Africa, paints giant diamonds, among other natural forms including the moon and plants. Pio’s diamond paintings are photo-realistic, but done at such a large scale that the refracted gems seem geometrically exaggerated, like lovely, radiant, abstracted mosaics. Viewers feel more than one level of desire or admiration as they appreciate the two-dimensional art. It resonates on the level of luxury AND achievement at how well he rendered a facet of the physical world.

Also on view right now a short way from Kingston Gallery is All at Oncea twenty-year survey of Arlene Schechet‘s art at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. From 2012 to 2013, Schechet did a residency at the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in Germany. At the entry to that section of the exhibition, an introductory text explained the significance of porcelain as a medium in the eighteenth century. “Porcelain was thought to have a living, breathing quality that other sculptural materials lacked,” and we may not be able to relate to the “sense of magic, mystery, and modernity” an eighteenth-century person felt. But I think that ceramics, and porcelain in particular, is having a moment in Boston. I encourage you to see Schechet’s exhibition at the ICA, and Pitsch’s exhibition at Kingston. Please comment to suggest where else we may see ceramics continue to make their mark in fine art.

-Shana Dumont Garr

chandelier grouping detail2
Christina Pitsch, Objects of Desire, detail, mixed media, sizes variable, 2015.

Gallery Artists’ News

The second half of 2014 was as busy as the first for Kingston Gallery’s artists! We are happy to share what our artists have been up to:

Ilona Anderson currently has work in Imaginal/Imagining The World (organized by Deborah Davidson, Suffolk University Gallery Director) at the Adams Gallery, Suffolk Law School. The exhibition runs through January 25.

Kathleen Gerdon Archer was a finalist for the Photolucida Critical Mass awards. Photolucida is an arts nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon whose mission is to provide platforms that expand, inspire, educate and connect the regional, national, and international photography community.

Linda Leslie Brown Co-Host Ceramic, metal, plastic, paper clay 13 x 9 x 9 inches 2013
Linda Leslie Brown — Co-Host, ceramic, metal, plastic, paper clay, 13 x 9 x 9″, 2013

Linda Leslie Brown has been awarded a 2015 Traveling Fellowship from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She had a new environmental work in copper wire and crystal, Indra’s Drala Net, installed as part of the Kingstown RI Land Trust Sculpture Trail, and she currently has work in Imaginal/Imagining the World Imaginal/Imagining The World at the Adams Gallery, Suffolk Law School. (See Ilona Anderson, above, for full details).

Judith Brassard Brown’s painting, Frontline, was purchased by NYU’s School of Professional Studies in New York, NY. She had work in the group exhibit Faculty and Students of Montserrat College of Art and Endicott College at the Rocky Neck Cultural Center, Gloucester, MA during the month of October, and also during October she exhibited work at New England BioLabs in Ipswich, MA.

Mary Bucci McCoy is now represented by Gray Contemporary in Houston, TX and CG2 Gallery in Nashville, TN. Her work was included in an exhibition of work by gallery artists, Aloe Vera, at Gray Contemporary in August and also was featured in a two-person show with the British painter Erin Lawlor, Long Loud Silence, in September and October at the gallery. Reconfiguring Abstraction: Lisa Russell and Mary Bucci McCoy was on view at the FPAC Gallery in South Boston in August and September. Mary was the Visiting Critic for the fall semester at Montserrat College of Art’s Senior Fine Arts Seminar. She has work in a group exhibition of work by gallery artists at Gray Contemporary, Houston, TX through January 17.

Conny Goelz-Schmitt had work in Bibliophilia at Nave Gallery Annex, Somerville, MA during the month of October. Also during October Conny also had work in Time Travelers at Cambridge Arts Association, Kathryn Schultz Gallery, Cambridge.

Julie S Graham had work in the Salon Show at the Clark Gallery, Lincoln, MA in November–December.

 the space between, hand embroidery on re-appropriated linen, 50 x 72", 2012
Joetta Maue — the space between, hand embroidery on re-appropriated linen, 50 x 72″, 2012

New member Joetta Maue spoke at the event With Thread in Hand, a program celebrating the historic and vital art of embroidery, at The Atwood House Museum in Chatham, MA in November. Also in November Joetta had work in Narcissism and The Self-Portrait at the Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh, NY. She had work in The Personal is Political, at the Slater Concourse Gallery, Aidekman Arts Center, Tufts University, Medford, MA in November and December. Joetta gave an informal talk within the context of the exhibition Vessels at the Nave Gallery Annex in Davis Square in December.

Jennifer Moses was an artist in residence at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY for the month of July. She had work in the summer-long exhibition Surface, Strokes and Light, a group exhibition of of contemporary painters and sculptors at Kelly Roy Gallery. Broadsided Press displayed a collaboration between Moses and poet Annie Finch on the Cape Cod Public Bus Transit in the summer through September.

Rose Olson had work in Postscript: A Selection of Work from the Gallery Artists and the Director’s Collection at Hutson Gallery, Provincetown, MA in September and October . She had a group of small works on display in October at Susan Maasch Fine Art, Portland, ME, and currently has work on display there in Gallery Artists: Group Exhibition at Susan Maasch Fine Art, through February.

Christina Pitsch — Flora of Fauna Porcelain 21” x 21” x 5” 2013 [photo: Millyard Studios]
Christina Pitsch — Flora of Fauna, porcelain, 21” x 21” x 5”, 2013
[photo: Millyard Studios]
New member Christina Pitsch has work in Beasticon II at Mark MIller Gallery, 92 Orchard Street, New York, NY. The exhibition runs through January 15.

Lynda Schlosberg is guest juror for Chroma, a national juried exhibition of work on hue, saturation and value at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, MA. The exhibition will run January 15 – February 14, 2015. She has work in Gallery Artists: Group Exhibition at Susan Maasch Fine Art, Portland, ME through February.

Elif Soyer had work in the annual exhibition Ekim Gecidi (The Passage of October) at the Canakkale Museum of Ceramics in Canakkale, Turkey in October and November.

Ann Wessmann had work in the group show Earth to Heaven at Spoke Gallery @ Medicine Wheel Productions, South Boston from September to November.

Luanne E Witkowski’s works on paper and selected paintings were featured at Hutson Gallery, Provincetown, MA during the summer and she had work on display there in Postscript: A Selection of Work from the Gallery Artists and the Director’s Collection in September and October. She also had work in Trans-Alternate: artists, social practitioners, and voices seldom heard from Nepal: Art and Social Practice – Call and Response at Godine Family Gallery, Mass. College of Art and Design, Boston, MA in October.