New Art Exhibit Faces Facebook

by Allan Appel | May 15, 2009 2:29 PM | | Comments (4)

nhihaskins%20010.JPGMatt Held couldn’t give his oil paintings away except to people who might use the stretchers for firewood. Then came a virtual art bazaar named Facebook.

In November he started a Facebook group. It’s called, “I’ll have my Facebook portrait painted by Matt Held.”

Now he has 3,300 virtual friends, his paintings are selling, plus 150 people electronically clamoring for his Facebook’s “status update.”

“I mean,” he said, with contented irony, “is it a form of a stalking?”

nhihaskins%20004.JPGHeld’s story, along with his art and that of a dozen colleagues who use the emerging social networking technologies to make and to disseminate their work, is on display in Status Update, a fascinating new exhibition curated by Debbie Hesse and Donna Ruff under the auspices of the Arts Council.

It is mounted, appropriately enough, at Haskins Laboratories. The scientific think tank at 300 George Street wants to know if the new technologies are an assist to literacy or are retarding it. The show is on view on the 9th floor, until Aug. 1.

Nothing’s retarding Matt Held. After he painted his wife’s portrait based on her Facebook representation, the response was so great, he’s had to limit himself to painting 200 portraits. Real ones, but based on Facebook offerings, which could be the real person, or not. His work is being seen, and around the world, he said, instantly, by his “friends” from Jerusalem to the Congo.

“All the gallery system,” he said, “including the receptionists who used to throw my slides in the trash, all that now is bypassed and bulldozed.”

nhihaskins%20002.JPGIn addition to “Steve,” the eponymous picture at the top, one of the lucky people whose portrait Held has painted is fellow New York-based artist An Xiao. Her work, “Nothing to Tweet Home About (Self Portrait in Postcards)” poses the question: What does a very old medium, like writing on a postcard, have in common with the newest, Twitter?

Xiao’s candid answer: “The easier the communication device, the more trivial the message being sent.”

Thus she is sending dozens of postcards to the Haskins Laboratories throughout the run of the show, and she is Twittering away about their status as well. Several postcards on display have these messages; “I’m so addicted to Subway sandwiches. My gosh!” and “Can’t tell you how sleepy I am.”

During a panel discussion about the status of “status updating,” and the other technologies, Xiao and Haskins Laboratories chief Phil Rubin both said that whereas in other gatherings people are asked to turn off their cell phones, the audience of some 50 were asked not only to keep theirs on but to Twitter away.

Xiao is a serious conceptual artist. She, like Cat Balco, another of the participants, who teaches painting at the University of Hartford, doesn’t have the answers. Xiao wants to find out if the aggregate of the postcards and the Twitters will add up to a genuine portrait of herself.

Balco’s old-fashioned oils on canvas, like this one titled “Skin,” were included in the show, according to Hesse, because her subject, a kind of metaphorical take on the neural networking patterns happening inside the brain, is a mirror of the social networking that has seized the art world in the last six months or so.

“I think,” she said, “we are hardwired to create and to connect.”

nhihaskins%20007.JPGYet she is also something of a critic of Internet-based art. “When I paint, I don’t know the result. I’m discovering, I’m learning. I genuinely feel that when I work with the paint, I’m coming up with structures, ideas that aid me in understanding myself and the world. The Net-based art can be just the execution or implementation of a pre-existing idea.”

For a more in-your-face, or at least in-your-screen, satire of the phenomenon, click on the play arrow to view Jeremiah Teipen’s video “Social Networking.”

nhihaskins%20008.JPGIt’s a faux social networking page where the ID image is the first 1,000 people who came up on a Google search.

Rachel Perry Welty (on the left with fellow Net artist Katie Ring) updated her Facebook status via her iPhone every 60 seconds for about 16 hours on March 11, 2009. That amounted to 550 updates along with a photo for each update.

nhihaskins%20006.JPG“My aim,” she said, “was to give a completely comprehensive answer to the Facebook prompt, ‘What are you doing right now?”

She got hundreds of requests seeking her as a friend. “I don’t think what I was doing was very fascinating - her messages, like Xiao’s were fairly quotidian, or shall we say boring? — “but people appeared,” said Welty, “to be confirmed that they were like me.”

Welty’s previous work includes a video performance based on all the wrong numbers or messages she received over a four-year period. “I do this karaoke based on them,” she said, “lip-synching the messages and I found it difficult, but also poignant.”

nhihaskins%20001.JPGXiao, along with artist/panelist Sharon Butler of Eastern Connecticut State University, suggested that the best Twitterers were indeed people who saw the medium as an outlet for performance. “I mean when you stand in front of 300 people,” said Xiao, “how long can you tell them what you ate, that you’re sleepy, and so on?”

“Artists are innovators,” said Butler, “but as in all genres, some is good, some is not, but much of it is thought provoking. How much is resonant and will last for the ages? Who knows?”

nhihaskins%20005.JPGThis guy does. Len Zimmerman, neither artist nor professor but interested visitor and member of the public, said, “Look, I find this all interesting, but I don’t Facebook or Twitter. I just read the newspaper. I think there should be more real, human faces, like this, in person, not Facebook people but actual people facing and talking to each other.”

Other artists not mentioned above who are exhibiting include: Kevin Van Aelst (his T-shirt images are behind Butler above), Greg Garvey, Heather D. Freeman, Keith Johnson, and the curators themselves Hesse and Ruff.

Oh, where did the curators find the artists in the show? “I got them all,” said Hesse, “through Facebook.”

Regular viewing hours at Haskins are 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Share this story

Share |


Posted by: Will Cary | May 15, 2009 3:47 PM

This show looks spectacular! I love Matt and An's work, and I'm so glad to see that they are being recognized because they are truly the future of what art can be, in my opinion.

Keep up the good work, guys!


Posted by: Voytec | May 15, 2009 8:04 PM

What I remember? An Xiao's "Not Much to Tweet Home About"... hint of auto irony makes it my favorite.

Posted by: BOLDMINDS | May 19, 2009 4:31 AM

This is creative are at its finest. Good Job.

Posted by: Haskins Laboratories | May 20, 2009 12:55 PM


Philip Rubin is the Chief Executive Officer at Haskins Laboratories;

Kenneth Pugh is the President and Director of Research;

"Status Update" runs until August 1, 2009. Summer visiting hours for the Gallery@Haskins are: Wednesday-Thursday, 10 AM-4 PM
Friday, 10 AM - 1PM.

Special Sections

Legal Notices

Some Favorite Sites

Government/ Community Links



N.H.I. Site Design & Development

NHI Store

Buy New Haven Independent Stuff

News Feed

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35