WRITING: Reviews of art fairs, galleries, and museum exhibitions

Read Patter's coverage of the San Francisco Art Fairs May 2012 Left Bank

What makes San Francisco unique in the ever-growing world of international fairs? This viewer suggests that along with the standard fare, a new Bay Area aesthetic is developing through a mixture of collaborative technology, innovation and accessible art with a handmade quality.  Tech innovation is a given in San Francisco with biotech in Mission Bay, tech start-ups in South Park, the rising power of the Twitter-verse in the Mid-Market and venture capitalists encamped in Silicon Valley. Technology may appear to be the inverse of handcrafted art, one step removed from the artists’ hand. In the Bay Area these disparate impulses of technology and handcraft often emerge simultaneously and on rare occasion merge as well..... 

Read Patter Hellstrom's coverage of NYC Armory Week 2012 on SF Art Enthusiast 

Armory Arts Week rates at the top of international art events with 60,000 in attendance and over 40 million dollars transacted economic activity in New York City.  The Armory Show at Pier 92/94 led the proceedings with 228 international galleries of modern and contemporary art, nineteen of which were invited from Nordic countries. The fourteenth Armory edition found Paul Morris (founder), speaking of its dedication to innovation, highlighting the new floor plan and Street Seats designed by Bade Stageberg Cox. Street Seats draws on what is uniquely New York with the addition of abandoned chairs found on city streets. After repair and a taxicab yellow paint job, the eclectic mix of chairs were added to the café adding a human scale. Following that repurposing theme, Armory commissioned artist Theaster Gates to create limited editions with proceeds going to charitable causes plus used his found object based sculpture to brand this years’ event.....


Guest Blogger for ACCESS 2009 - 2012 at formerly Decorati.com now owned by GILT.com - writing at the intersection of art and design. 


The L.A. stories told in Pacific Standard Time are not the stuff of Hollywood, but create a context for west coast art in our shared history. The Getty has created a platform for this narrative with events surrounding the theme of time and place.  Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980 opens on October 1st. This project was initiated through $10 million in grants from the Getty Foundation in an unprecedented collaboration of 120+ exhibitions at over 60 cultural institutions across Southern California.  Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 has also launched its innovative virtual hub,www.pacificstandardtime.org.  The website provides a unique visitor’s guide with a region-wide voice expressing the rise of L.A. This portal provides a centralized source for up-to-date information about the initiative and its partners, exhibitions and events...

Start with Art Begins A Dialogue Between Designers and Art Advisors at BLU in San Francisco 

The intersection of art and design is an intriguing place where lines blur between interior decor and visual art.  Start with Art suggests crafting an interior from the art out, accentuating the elements that make a work of art unique.  I queried designers and art advisors about their practice, learning how each embarks on an aesthetic dialogue with art.....

Big “Money” at Miami Art Basel 

In early December the art world gathered from all parts of the globe to converge upon Miami. It’s a time to see and purchase modern and contemporary art. Jack Pierson’s work from Art Basel Miami Beach captured the mood very well in “MONEY”. The event combines a great number of galleries, collectors and museums putting forward solo and group shows within booths, tents, collection spaces, galleries, and temporary halls. Some say art week in Miami has become the revival of late 70’s, early 80’s Club 54; a party scene wrapped in commerce. While that may be true, there are many ways to enter into this fabulous week.....


2008 Review ~ From Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art: Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and the Aesthetic of Indifference

 written by artist and curator, Patter Hellstrom  

“Everything starts out on the street,” says artist Robert Rauschenberg of his work. In late August, while wandering the charming streets of the Sonoma Square I discovered a gem in the Sonoma Valley Art Museum, a porthole into the energetic world of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. John Cage said of that friendship that… “they set off sparks within everyone in the room.” Robert Rauschenberg did not refer to himself and Jasper Johns as representing a lofty movement, or even as a stylistic pair, but as two artists working without scrutiny - at least in the beginning. From Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art: Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and the Aesthetic of Indifference explores the transitional moment between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. These two artists, in relationship, would go on to define a generation, usher in Pop Art and influence artists that would come after them.

In this brilliant exhibition curated by Louise Siddons we see diversity within a clear framework of art history. I am less convinced by the exhibition title, however Siddons suggests we consider this work as an Aesthetic of Indifference. I fully appreciate the choices Siddons has made from the Anderson Collection, a noteworthy private collection of twentieth century American art, but I am less sure about the label she applies to this project. The title refers back to art critic Moira Roth, and the context she created for the work of Johns, Rauschenberg and Cage. Roth suggested that these artists, skeptical of the formal qualities of Abstract Expressionism, went on to created art that was ambiguous, ambivalent, and indifferent while consciously concealing dominant themes. 

Moving past the labels, I suggest that the two main artists in this exhibit, Johns and Rauchenberg led us to a fully American art form - Pop Art - by building on the Abstract Expressionist tradition and adding their unique understanding of the common elements that make up our everyday lives. We see them including numbers, cars, flags, newspapers, and found objects in their art as they create a bridge to Pop Art, to use a musical metaphor that John Cage would approve of. The forward-thinking of Cage, Johns and Rauschenberg in concert created an atmosphere of innovation seen in these forty-two prints, monotypes, and paintings in this exhibition. The skillfully created prints invite the viewer to discover and uncover meaning. Johns, Rauschenberg and Cage are not easy artists, offering a single interpretation. Rather they pack layers of meaning into each inventive artwork created through chance, collage of concepts and viewer participation.

We get a very brief look at John Cage in the 1979 – 1982 print Changes and Disappearances 35. Cage makes a musical connection saying, “Just as music is made with lots of little notes, so this is made with all those little pieces of color”. Cage values random arrangements and welcomes chance as part of his process.


Robert Rauschenberg embraces the element of chance as well while looking forward and back into art history, concurrently. In his 1974 work Preview we see Rauschenberg combining the archaic image of the Greek Kouros between two classic Chrysler cars (mid-1930 vintage). His vision honors the past, wrestles with his contemporary culture, absorbs both then incorporates the kouros as a hood ornament on a new icon: the American automobile. Intelligent visual rhythm is present rather than indifference. We see a one, two, three placement of prominent hood ornaments screened upon sheer silk chiffon and draped into the picture plane.  I was also struck at the section in the informative film (57 min.) screened continuously within the exhibition.  Rauschenberg's first and most famous combine, Monogram (1959) was discussed for its innovative quality. In Monogram, which is made of a stuffed Angora goat, a tire, and various other objects, Rauschenberg looks back to Chagall’s painting La Mariee (the bride).  In that we see a floating goat in the blue night sky. “Happiness isn’t happiness without a violin-playing goat,” says one contemporary film (Notting Hill 1999). References to art history are evident on so many levels from artists to contemporary culture.


Rauschenberg does not dwell in the past, but pushes us to explore a global understanding of art from his ROCE project. In the late 1980s, he created the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Exchange. The goal was to visit cultures around the world and respond to what he saw there. The objects found were collaged in both meaning and photographic form to create new works of art. In each county he visited, he would create art and leave one piece behind. There are three works from that project included in this exhibition. He foresaw the future of visual art as a global endeavor. John Cage said about Rauschenberg, “He opens the window and the world flies in”.


Jasper Johns is often saddled with the label of disengagement but I see instead a dry sense of intelligent humor in his works. His often seen images of flags, targets and numbers have the surface appearance of simple disconnected designs, yet upon closer investigation the same formal nuisances in value, color and line can be found within Johns as in an accomplished nineteenth century artist. His remarkable self-portrait, Souvenir a print from 1972, offers insight. In Souvenir Johns creates an image in which he uses labels of mundane objects such as “mirror” and “flashlight”. The labels exist while the objects do not. The labels act as a stand-in for the object.  The word becomes the subject matter as much as the brushwork and actual objects depicted. Idea or at the very least the words - are equal players in his work. His humor comes out with the perceived over simplification in which he seems to be saying “ take these images at face value” then there is no face value. Johns has been an intriguing artist throughout the breadth of his career. He stands on the shoulders of artists that have come before. Evidence of this is in his work as presented in the recent SFMOMA traveling exhibition Picasso and American Art. In that exhibition American artists’ works were presented alongside the Picasso works that inspired them. Johns created homage to Picasso’s composition and expressive use of shapes. Speaking of Picasso, we see Roy Lichtenstein creating a Pop version of Picasso’s abstraction of a cow. His radiant series of six prints brings us forward into the Pop Art graphic art techniques and sensibilities while paying tribute to the rich past. 


Abstract Expressionism, a movement defined in the shadow of the Second World War by immigrant artists, was the contemporary movement out of which Johns and Rauschenberg grew. Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis, and Robert Motherwell create that context in this show, but we do not see the full importance of their work, simply examples. Two hallmarks of the Abstract Expressionism are the revealed brush stroke, free of apology, standing boldly. The second is a free flowing application of materials, be it paint or, in this case print-based materials. Both are present in Johns and Rauschenberg, as they lead us to the Pop artists, which clean up those methods and refer back to them. The brush stroke becomes the subject matter in Lichtenstein’s painting Two Red and Yellow Apples. Allan D’Arcangelo represents the omni present highways as a new slick icon for America, while Wayne Thiebaud provides Boxed Balls in his now-classic style expressing the art of commodity. Ed Ruscha’s works write elegantly in the sky, a field of soft color. Word becomes subject, visual play and thoughtful intellectual tug. As we have seen in Johns, the word becomes the subject of the art and often a wry joke.


The exhibition runs through October 19th at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and I promise you; there is nothing to be indifferent about. It is indeed a remarkable gem of an exhibition, thoughtfully curated from a remarkable collection within a stunning museum space at 551 Broadway, just one-half block south of the historic Sonoma Plaza.

Click on Thumbnail image to see installation view