May 22, 2021
We ask that you consider making a payment to any writer or each writer. Select one or more whose work you are impressed with, and drop some coin into their cup. These pros have things to say about art and more that we think you want to read about. And ponder. And compensate them for. 20% of your contribution will be added to support our staff that produces and administers the Weekly Newsletter and the VAS website.

Anything you chip in MEANS A LOT. Yes, even a buck!
We are in a new world. . .and this is a new solution. We all thank you!
This Week's Contents
(scroll to see the full content of each article; please click the cup and compensate the writer)
Inflection Point for a
Would-be Digital Nomad
DMaggie Crowley, “Playmate” and
Joanne Aono, “Harvesting Ethnic Roots
Federico Solmi’s Comedia
dell’arte for the 21st Century
Inflection Point for a Would-be Digital Nomad
by Richard Speer
Stacked journals of Dorothy Goode in her studio
Enduring the crucible of the Covid era has led many of us to reevaluate how and where we want to live and work. Demographers are sussing it out. Distance from our bosses and coworkers, no commute except from the bedroom to the living room, and more time to think about life’s big questions provide plenty to ponder. Are we really following our bliss? If we knew we would die next week, what would we regret not having done? For me these questions were compounded last November when my longtime partner, painter Dorothy Goode, died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 51 of a pulmonary embolism unrelated to Covid. This essay isn’t about Dorothy per se, so I won’t belabor the incredible shock and pain of losing her, but I will mention that on a logistical level her death necessitated that I organize her studio after she died and, even more agonizingly, sort through her books, photographs, letters, and personal effects.

As all too many of you know, going through the belongings of someone you loved and lost — stuffed animals and Crayon drawings from their childhood, high-school yearbooks, letters they kept from former lovers, rocks they kept from meaningful places — inevitably fast-forwards you to the day when someone else will be poring through your own stuff, pondering why you kept what you kept. What does it mean that a person lived and died, had friends and paramours and careers, strengths and foibles and pet peeves, dreams that came true, others that didn’t? All our imperfect strivings reduce to a roux of finite mementos, a collection of synaptic firings we call memories, and a box of ashes in a discreet tote bag handed to you by a person in a uniform in a funeral parlor. When you add a beloved spouse’s death to the sapping anxiety and claustrophobia of Covid life, your entire conception of your future transmogrifies in a heartbeat.
I moved to Portland, Oregon, 21 years ago this month, and the city has blessed me with hundreds of friends and professional allies. I’ve been fortunate to have many rewarding projects elsewhere, but Portland for all its faults and growing pains is home. Lately, though, I find myself thinking about leaving. In the aftermath of Dorothy’s death, this city feels like a ghost town to me, and I’m one of the ghosts. Relocation and reinvention beckon, and as the lifestyle and cultural-trend articles keep proclaiming, we don’t have to be tethered anymore in this age of Zoom. Freelance writers presumably have more mobility than ever. Grab your laptop, hit the road, and join the ranks of the “digital nomads.” I could be one of those, couldn’t I? Haven’t I already? For this very publication I’ve filed remote dispatches from the Biennale of Sydney and the Yokohama Triennale, written about modern dance in Auckland and Orthodox churches in Siberia, always relating these topics to wider ideas in art history and contemporary art.
Dorothy Goode, "Transfixed, No. 19," 2019. Courtesy of Augen Gallery
I daydream (naïvely?) of a post-Covid world in which international travel is safe again, freeing me to migrate from one country to the next, immersing myself in the art, architecture, and music of sundry cultures. A month in Berlin, a month in Edinburgh, staying in hostels or Airbnbs, Dakkar, Mumbai, Buenos Aires. I picture a quaint homestead in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, perched on a bluff overlooking turquoise waters, temperate breeze wafting through French doors, my laptop aglow as I tap out my latest cultural commentary, art digestifs, perhaps even a novel or memoir. Surely I don’t have to be anchored in New York, much less humble Portland, to pen pithy meditations on an art world we are constantly told has gone global. I can opine about NFTs and parse the fate of mid-level galleries from Phuket or St. Lucia, can’t I? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’d just blow out my flipflop, step on a pop top, find myself visiting “art galleries” proffering dolphin sculptures and parrot portraits, and finally crawl back to Portland with my tail between my sunburned legs. “Hey, everybody, remember me? Me — Richard Speer. Huh? S-P-E-E-R. I used to be a medium-sized fish in this small pond!”
It may be I need to be grounded somewhere, but somewhere new and different. I always wanted to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but Dorothy thought we should wait till we were older. I could make that move now without being overridden. I do know people in Santa Fe (ten, to be exact) — but that’s nowhere near the support system I have in Portland, so I hesitate. If there’s anything I’ve learned from our annus horribilis, it’s that there’s no substitute for real friends in real time and space who’ll come to your girlfriend’s studio at the drop of a hat, help you lug heavy things around, offer their pickup trucks, and let you store stuff in their basement. Who’ll show up on your patio in the dead of January bearing home-cooked food, then invite you over to their outdoor fire pit the following week for a distanced visit and a glass of hot mulled wine. I couldn’t have made it through this ordeal without the friends who rallied to my side. Do I really want 1,400 miles between them and me?

It’s reassuring to tell ourselves we can reinvent ourselves at 50 as easily as we could at 30. Then again, it sounds like a lot of work. In middle age, you want things to be a little more comfy. Theoretically you’ve already established a reputation and have less to prove. The fire in the belly feels more like a warm glow as you realize that no, you’re not going to become a canonical figure studied by historians 400 years hence, and you come to terms with that. It’s enough — it’s damned fortunate, in fact — to have fulfilling work, modest success, dear friends, travels that widen your worldview, and above all, the love of someone you adore. “Wherever we are in the world,” I told Dorothy more than once, “as long as I’m with you, I’m home.” I can’t say that anymore. My comfy-ish, non-canonical life has turned upside-down. Reinventing myself is not an option; the universe has reinvented me against my choosing, and the only question is where my next chapter will be set.
Dorothy Goode's studio and painting shoes
I’m giving myself a year to try out different paradigms. I’m looking for other apartments in Portland. Heading to Florida for a month to visit my parents, who are in their 70s. I’m going to spend September and October in Santa Fe and see if it still beckons me. January and February, if it’s Covid-safe, I’m looking into Airbnb’ing in St. Lucia and seeing if the writing gigs keep coming even though I have a snorkel in my mouth. A radical change of scenery will either help me heal or make me feel more isolated. If all I do is sit under a coconut tree, missing Portland, that will tell me something valuable. I don’t know that the world can ever be my oyster again, but maybe, just maybe it could be my office. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Dorothy with Richard, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, 2011
Richard Speer is based in Portland, Oregon, where for 13 years he was art critic for Willamette Week newspaper. He is the author of "The Space of Effusion: Sam Francis in Japan" (Scheidegger & Spiess, September 2020) and co-curator of the exhibition "Sam Francis in Japan: Emptiness Overflowing" (LACMA, April-September 2021). Richard Speer's website Photo: Adam Bailey
Maggie Crowley, “Playmate” and Joanne Aono, “Harvesting Ethnic Roots”
by Robin Dluzen
Joanne Aono, "Harvesting Ethnic Roots,” 2021, graphite, colored pencil, marker, crop cover cloth, wood, paint, cord, 8 x 17 x 19 feet
Hyde Park Art Center, and boundary, Chicago, Illinois
Continuing through June 5, 2021

Affixed to stretcher bars, or hanging from rods and pins, the silk substrates of Maggie Crowley’s gouache paintings and constructions set the tone for her solo exhibition, “Playmate.” Crowley’s silk is crushed, folded and creased, exaggerating the way gallery lighting bounces off the surface, asserting the works’ presence and physicality. More so does the silk underscore the narrative content of her works: it reflects light in a way very similar to that of the hi-vis reflective piping that is a staple of safety workwear. In “Playmate,” Crowley highlights the labor that is often judged as being “invisible,” not just by pointing out the essentialness and dignity of the work, but by capturing the nuances of the lives associated with it.
Workwear and PPE feature prominently as Crowley’s subject matter. In works like “Metra Worker on Easter,” “Streets and Sanitation Employee,” and “Receptive, Cooperative, Dependable,” the artist paints portraits of workers, their yellow and orange safety vests rendered so as to draw focus to the motions of their wearers. One vest ripples as a worker lunges to the side, hand outstretched; another creases as a wearer cranes their neck while ascending a ladder; yet another twists around to the side as someone pauses to rest a gloved hand on a hip. As much as these portraits make visible the laborers and the labors they perform, it’s not simply the depictions of what happens on the job site that make “Playmate” so affecting. Amongst Crowley’s portraits, and other imagery of work jackets, trucks and scrubs, are other still-lifes and vignettes that have little-to-nothing to do with the labor, but might have very much to do with the individual performing the labor, and those around them. In particular, imagery like a fishing tackle box, the bouquet in “Anniversary,” and “Paper Snowflake” speak to leisure, occasions and loved ones. 

In her artist statement, Crowley explains that she is the daughter of a hairdresser and an ironworker, and perhaps it is exactly that proximity that makes her vantage point so dimensional. “Playmate” is a holistic picture of a life sustained and enriched by the fruits of manual skilled labor. Crowley’s exhibition is humanizing and personalizing, and is on display at an ideal moment amidst the pandemic —right when we all need to be reminded of and refocused on such things. 
Maggie Crowley, "Streets and Sanitation Employee,"
2020, gouache on silk, 14 x 11." Photo by Robin Dluzen
The blue-collar work that keeps a city functioning is only one example of the labors that have been taken for granted while the rest of the population is safe in quarantine. Joanne Aono’s exhibition, “Harvesting Ethnic Roots,” highlights another: agriculture. Where Crowley focuses on individuals, presenting laborers as visible and whole, Aono mines the histories of communities, shedding light on those who have shaped what we grow and what we consume. 
Maggie Crowley, "Equipment of the Earth (for a bartender)," 2021, gouache on silk construction, 92 x 78." Photo by Robin Dluzen
Maggie Crowley, "Invisible Glove," 2020, silk
blend construction, 9 x 9." Photo by Robin Dluzen 
“Harvesting Ethnic Roots” is an installation of large-scale drawings on garden fabric, hung from the ceiling in three rows, encouraging us to walk among the pieces. Aono’s exhibition is on display at boundary — one of a handful of Chicago’s backyard gallery spaces that serve as a crucial site for artistic experimentation, and as an informal and accessible venue in which to see contemporary art. Aono’s research into the ethnic makeup of Morgan Park (the far south side neighborhood where the gallery is located) determined the imagery of her drawings and the order in which they are layered in space. In the back of the room, life-size renderings of strawberries, corn and wild rice represent the foodstuffs of Native American cultures; in the middle are those which were introduced with the European settlers, like cabbage and wheat; in the front are the sweet potatoes, okra and collard greens cultivated by Black Americans. Depending on where a viewer stands, one can see the hanging garden rows separately and distinct from one another, or as a single unit of blended layers. 
Joanne Aono, "Harvesting Ethnic Roots” (detail)
However, it is the inclusion of another of Aono’s artworks installed outside the gallery that drives the point of her whole exhibition home. The word “HARVEST” is spelled out in seeds of different tones atop a low platform. As the neighborhood birds and critters help themselves to the seeds, a quote from activist Fannie Lou Hamer is revealed on the platform’s face: “If you give a hungry man food, he will eat it. If you give him land, he will grow his own food.” With Hamer’s words reverberating in your mind, the medium of Aono’s drawings is especially potent. The garden fabric, or row cover, is almost transparent, so airy and delicate is its weave; the fabric’s intended use is protective, shielding plants from heat, frost and insects. This is a time of multiple crises — the pandemic (and its effect on supply chains), climate change, and cultural upheaval — and in “Harvesting Ethic Roots,” Aono uses these two traits, the delicate and the protective, to illustrate the state and cultural weight of agriculture in America, and how we might regard it.
Robin Dluzen is a Chicago-based artist and writer. Her writing has appeared in Visual Art Source, Art Ltd., Chicago Art Magazine, Art F City and others. Her artwork has been featured in venues throughout the country including the Dorchester Art Project in Boston, MA; Indiana University Northwest in Gary, IN; Bert Green Fine Art in Chicago; Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Chicago; the Union League Club of Chicago; Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago; and the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. For more information,
Federico Solmi’s Comedia dell’arte for the 21st Century
by David S. Rubin
Luis De Jesus, Los Angeles, California
Continuing through June 19, 2021

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfed while Americans died of a pandemic. In “The Bacchanalian Ones,” the inaugural exhibition at Luis De Jesus’ new downtown Los Angeles space, Italian-born Federico Solmi inspires such musings, and then some, mixing traditional painting with the latest digital technologies. The result is a captivating political theater for confronting the grim reality that megalomania is both universal and enduring.

The real showstoppers — Solmi’s video paintings — are situated in the main gallery. Created using a unique synthesis of painting, drawing, 3D digital animation, gaming, screen recording and motion capture software, each video is developed through a process that may take up to three years to complete. Seeking to achieve what he views as a humanizing of artificial looking digital imagery, Solmi scans the textures of hand-drawn or painted figures, objects, and settings, and maps the scans over digital skeletons, the blueprint-like imagery that is created using animation software. Motion is incorporated by capturing movements that he and his assistants create in the studio. In this way he creates compositions that resemble expressionistic figurative paintings brought to life. 
Federico Solmi, “The Bathhouse,” 2020, five channel video installation, color, sound,
Plexiglas, acrylic paint on wooden frames, 9:46 runtime, 72 x 240 x 5”
Reflecting the artist’s longtime admiration for 1920s-era silent film, the videos also suggest what cinema of that time might look like if shot in Technicolor or viewed on acid. Each is characterized by flickering lights and jerky movements, and features a musical soundtrack. With their thick cakey makeup and exaggerated facial expressions and hand gestures, the performers in Solmi’s morality plays recall the silent screen movie queen Theda Bara as Cleopatra, only as she might be depicted if fabricated from papier-mâché for a Mardi Gras float.

“The Bathhouse,” which is the largest work in the exhibition, conveys the feel of an ancient Roman bathhouse with five inset LED monitors serving as windows into a grand performance featuring the powerful elite from diverse historical moments. All are dressed to the nines in emblematic regalia as they indulge in drunken gluttony or frolic fully clothed in the pool at a Roman spa. At various moments they can be seen flailing their arms, applauding, and immersing themselves in gushing waterfalls. All the while they are accompanied by an orchestra that opens the drama and plays throughout its entirety. With everything shot from the vantage point of a person operating a video game, we view the performance from multiple perspectives, including up close and overhead. History buffs will particularly enjoy perusing the cast of characters, which includes Ramses II, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Empress Theodora, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Idi Amin, Pope Benedict XVI and other historical or recent power figures. To stress that the depicted debauchery continues to the present day, Solmi includes some contemporary references, such as such as sunglasses and a Jeff Koons “Balloon Dog.”
Federico Solmi, “The Drunken Boat; The Golden Gift; The Idolized Detractors,” 2019,
acrylic paint and gold leaf on Plexiglas, LED screen, video loop, 69 x 44 3/4 x 3 3/4” each
Some of the same characters appear in a video triptych that has a predominantly American theme, as made all the more evident by painted patriotic bunting on the frames. In the left section, “The Drunken Boat,” partying conquistadors and American Revolutionary War heroes applaud as women dance and entertain. In the final sequence it is revealed that their vessel is carrying a golden wooden horse, a gift they are bringing to America. The central video, “The Golden Gift,” opens with a grand parade reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies. Included in the mix are negative stereotypes of Native Americans, such as “Indian maidens” shown in a chorus line, and an “Indian chief” with full headdress who dances with a conquistador. In the center of the ballroom is the golden horse, which has been carrying American historical figures such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Robert E. Lee, who enter the party by sliding down a plank. 

In the final segment, “The Idolized Detractors,” we witness Donald Trump’s dream that never came true. With full pomp and circumstance, a motorcade and generals on horseback carrying American flags proceed towards the White House as crowds (among them Native Americans and Ivanka Trump) applaud and cheer. At the end, all is directed to Trump himself, perched high above his worshipers, dressed as a general bedecked with medals, and wearing red lipstick over a sinister grin that makes him look like Batman’s nemesis The Joker. In watching the triptych, both up close and from afar, it is difficult to take in all of the intricate details, but the overall chaotic tone is perfectly suited to the subject.
Federico Solmi, “The Indulgent Fathers,” 2020, acrylic paint, mixed media on Plexiglas, LED screen, video loop,
Plexiglas, acrylic paint on wooden frame, 72 x 48 x 5”. All images courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
The most riveting of the videos is the more direct and focused single-channel work, “The Indulgent Fathers,” which appears to be loosely based on Emanuel Leutze’s iconic “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Set within a frame that features images of ocean waves, ships that could be the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and a Manhattan cityscape, the video moves in and out in a constant swirling motion that simulates what it feels like to be in one of the boats. The effect is similar to that of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Lifeboat” only, rather than shown struggling to survive, the founding fathers, soldiers and women crammed into three boats are reveling in an orgiastic feast that includes a Thanksgiving turkey. 

Rounding out the main gallery are three paintings of devilish colonial aristocrats seen behind clusters of microphones labeled “Foxy News.” In one of the two back galleries a handsome suite of ink and gouache drawings are based on digital skeletons and architecture. In the other, Solmi has mounted wearable masks of George Washington, Theodora and Christopher Columbus. VR headsets and controllers are provided so that we can enter the space of “The Bathhouse” virtually, thus immersing ourselves in the excesses of power.
David S. Rubin is a Los Angeles-based curator, writer, and artist. As a curator, he has held positions at MOCA Cleveland, Phoenix Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, and San Antonio Museum of Art. As a writer he has contributed to Arts MagazineArt in AmericaArtweekArtSceneGlasstireFabrikArt and Cake, and Visual Art Source. He has published numerous exhibition catalogs, and his curatorial archives are housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.
Contact Information:
PO Box 2029, Thousand Oaks, CA 91358 • Ph: (213) 482-4724