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DIARY: Roller Models

Andrew Berardini at an Assume Vivid Astro Focus roller disco in Buenos Aires

Ann Hamilton’s Distorted Scans of Natural History

Ann Hamilton Opening Day Celebration - Oct 11, 2014. Photo by Chona Kasinger

‘Ann Hamilton: the common SENSE’ at Henry Art Gallery in Seattle (photo by Chona Kasinger, all images courtesy Henry Art Gallery)

Tails, feathers, claws, paws, and slender toes peak out from blurred scans of natural history specimens included in Ann Hamilton’s new exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. For Ann Hamilton: the common SENSE, which opened earlier this month, the artist delved into the collections of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture for an installation of newspaper prints fragmenting the preserved animals.

Ann Hamilton. Digital scan of specimens from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Herpetology Collection. 2014. Courtesy of the artist

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of specimens from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Herpetology Collection (2014) (Courtesy of the artist)

The images are just a component of the common SENSE, which will evolve over its six months, filling the entire museum with new work. Clothing from the Burke that incorporates fur or other visible animal parts is also included, along with performative elements and objects from the Henry and University of Washington Libraries.

Back in 1992, Hamilton released a crowd of canaries in the Henry, and more recently her The Event of a Thread at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, that opened in late 2012, had a flock of pigeons flying home to a coop each night installed high above the installation of swings swaying below white fabric. Yet here the birds and other creatures are all deceased, fragmented, and processed with distortions from her rudimentary scanner. Collaborating with the Burke, she handpicked a couple hundred specimens to scan, then had them printed on newsprint that’s on the gallery walls. Visitors can freely tear off the animals as they visit.

Below you can see a few of these scans, which echo some of Hamilton’s previous animal prints like her soot-stained monoprints of canaries in “american singers” (2009). Natural history museums have this embedded consideration of the relationship between humans and other animals, with the way and reasons that they are preserved, from taxidermy mount in a replication of our vision of wildness, to these more delicate specimens kept as an archive of biodiversity. There’s something both vulnerable and beautiful about Hamilton’s scans, and an echo of this complicated connection.

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of a peregrine falcon from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Ornithology Collection (2014) (courtesy the artist)

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of a peregrine falcon from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Ornithology Collection (2014) (courtesy the artist)

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of a macaque from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Ornithology Collection (2014) (courtesy the artist)

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of a macaque from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Ornithology Collection (2014) (courtesy the artist)

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of a nine-banded armadillo from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Ornithology Collection (2014) (courtesy the artist)

Ann Hamilton, Digital scan of a nine-banded armadillo from University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Ornithology Collection (2014) (courtesy the artist)

Ann Hamilton Opening Day Celebration. Photo by Jonathan Vanderweit

Ann Hamilton Opening Day Celebration. Photo by Jonathan Vanderweit

Ann Hamilton: the common SENSE continues at Henry Art Gallery (4100 15th Avenue NE, Seattle) through April 26. 

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The Art Newspaper

Army to Spend $600,000 on World War I Paintings


Samuel Johnson Woolf at the beach (left) and a Woolf portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (images via Archives of American Art/Flickr & Brier Hill Gallery)

The US Army has received a $600,000 budget allocation for the purchase of works by Samuel Johnson WoolfDefense News reported. The acquisition is said to comprise 23 World War I paintings by Woolf, a journalist, graphic designer, and illustrator for Collier’s Weekly who was embedded with American forces in Europe during the conflict. In an “Unusual and compelling urgency” budget request filed October 16, the Army justified the purchase in part by stating that the lot was “the only known collection of this kind available at this time,” and represented “one of a kind historic documents.”

Defense News notes that “almost all” artwork documenting the first World War produced by the Army (which had a cadre of artists “commissioned as captains in the Corps of Engineers” dedicated to the task) ended up at the Smithsonian. Coincidentally, Woolf’s papers are also held by the Archives of American Art, among them 107 drawings of popular Americans (Woolf was also a prolific editorial portraitist). The Smithsonian adds that Woolf covered both World Wars as a journalist, and in addition to his work at Collier’s “combin[ed] his portraits with his written accounts of his ‘personality interviews’ for the New York Times.

The works will join the Army’s collection of over 16,000 artworks currently housed in a 60,000 square-foot warehouse called the Museum Support Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and destined for the National Museum of the United States Army, a $175 million project of the Army Historical Foundation set to open in June 2015 with a design by New York architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Art High School Censors Student Paintings for “the Protection of Children”

John Curtin College of the Arts (photo by @alisonspence)

John Curtin College of the Arts (photo by @alisonspence/Instagram)

Two art students in their final year at the John Curtin College of the Arts in Perth, Western Australia, got an unexpected lesson in institutional politics after their paintings were censored in a student exhibition. The mother of one of the teenage artists, Vicky Manley, says the school removed her daughter’s painting because the administration believes it depicts a fellow student nude and could incite pedophilic behavior in viewers, according to Western Australia Today. Another student was told that her artwork, which depicts two women kissing, would be turned to face the gallery wall at times when young children might see the work.

“My daughter accessed several images, as well as her imagination to create the artwork … It is not an actual portrait of the young girl that the principal is referring to. If it were then it would have been titled as such,” Manley told WAT.

The school’s administration claims that its decision to remove the work by Manley’s daughter from the forthcoming student exhibition, slated to run November 4–7, has nothing to do with nudity per se, but specifically the painting’s apparent portrayal of another student, nude, in a figurative style that makes her instantly recognizable. The exact nature of the other targeted artwork’s offense is unclear, but according to a petition calling for the works to be reinstated, “both artworks depicted some form of nudity and alluded to female sexuality.”

“This is certainly not an issue of art censorship, we simply cannot display images of a recognizable person who is naked and underage,” the school’s principal, Mitchell Mackay, told the Guardian Australia. “Both of these paintings are outstanding pieces of work by our students, but in both cases there are particular circumstances we have had to consider to ensure they do not put children at risk.”

The second work will be turned to face the gallery wall when the Curtin Theatre — in whose foyer the exhibition is being held — hosts performances of the Disney musicals The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio. Mackay told WAT that the decision to censor his students’ work was made “purely with the protection of children in mind.”

How To Talk About Paul McCarthy

Not all of us can say as much.

Not all of us can say as much.

What, I ask you, should one expect if one asks artist Paul McCarthy to create a Christmas tree for the place of honor at a renowned, must-attend art fair? Well, it’s Paul McCarthy, so there are only two possible outcomes: a turd or a butt plug.

This year, Paris got a butt plug. A — sah-weeeeet! — whopping, elegantly unembellished, minty green butt plug! Nicer than that gaudy, decked out whore of a tree that New York City erects at Rockefeller Center every year. Even, I’d say, in better taste.

“Of course this work is controversial,” said Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) director Jennifer Flay, “it plays on the ambiguity between a Christmas tree and a plug: this is neither a surprise nor a secret.”

But despite his predictability and rather tasteful, understated delivery, the art world’s most reliably scatological artist managed to shock people with his contribution to FIAC’s “Hors les Murs” (or “Outside the Walls”) sector.

How did that happen?

Artist Paul McCarthy’s gallery coos about the new public work. (via @HauserWirth/Twitter)

Artist Paul McCarthy’s gallery coos about the new public work. (via @HauserWirth/Twitter)

Flash Back to the Previews

In July, Flash Art Online previewed McCarthy’s Chocolate Factory, which would, in October, fill the newly renovated Monnaie de Paris with a giant solo show, and grace Paris’s Place Vendôme with a giant inflatable “Christmas tree.”

The Flash Art story described a “wonderland experience” that “lures” visitors into a “fairytale forest of giant inflatable Christmas trees.”

Without cracking a smile, the article went on to describe an Eyes Wide Shut sort of experience whereby one is drawn by curiosity into a tunnel of increasingly freaky rooms. First “we find a team of confectioners hard at work in a life-size, fully functioning chocolate factory,” and, if we elect to go on after gorging on sweet brown confections, we open doors in a labyrinth of experiences and “a place of endless possibilities” where “reality gives way to the absurd.” The preview was illustrated with an image of a chocolate Santa holding a huge butt plug.

Paul McCarthy's "Buttplug Gnome" in Rotterdam, 2012 (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

Paul McCarthy’s “Butt Plug Gnome” in Rotterdam, 2012 (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

The Straight Man Approach

Anyone familiar with McCarthy and equipped with a fully functioning funny bone knows that this is tongue-in-cheek stuff. Just as we knew what those “giant inflatable Christmas trees” would be — after all, we’d seen an example before — we knew what McCarthy thinks of Christmas — his “Santa Claus” in Rotterdam’s Eendrachtsplein Square is popularly known as the “Butt Plug Gnome” — and, similarly, we also knew what “chocolate” would entail.

Yet the grown-ups at Flash Art kept it so serious that most readers likely forgot to take note of the impending plugging of Paris. By the time the pneumatic probe made its stubby appearance alongside the lofty Vendôme Column, we’d all forgotten about it.

That’s the straight man approach to discussing Paul McCarthy. It demonstrates the power of the high-minded to thwart indignity while creating spin for a towering bunghole stretcher.

Those who sell, those who buy, and those who choose what will go on to represent us to future generations and civilizations, those keepers of the cultural keys, know how to keep things clean — no matter how dirty they are. Which is why, dear readers, when it comes to talking about Paul McCarthy, mastering the straight man approach will mark you as a true art world insider.

A Lesson from the Pros

The Flash Art piece was rivaled in sobriety only by FIAC’s own press release, which presented McCarthy as the artist cherry-picked not only to re-open the venerable Monnaie de Paris — which has been closed for renovation since 2011 — but to represent FIAC’s collaboration with Comité Vendôme — the business association for Paris’s most expensive shopping destination — which every year places large-scale works in Place Vendôme.

The humorless press release droned:

An exquisite location with elegant stone façades lining its four sides, the square represents the excellence of craftsmanship in service to art. Here, visitors can discover an exceptional in situ project by Paul McCarthy, in association with the Monnaie de Paris.

The phrase “in situ” alone should have set off a major snicker alert. But buried in a press release full of grand announcements and decorated with lists of power players, it raised no eyebrows at all.

“Funny” Is Just Another Word for “Nothing Left To Lose”

If imagining all that staid architecture sharing space with McCarthy’s “exceptional in situ project” did not make you laugh, good for you: You have already half-mastered the straight man approach!

But there’s another way to talk about Paul McCarthy.

Instagram photo by @phil_a_paname

Instagram photo by @phil_a_paname

Cut to October 2014, when the hilarity of FIAC’s plans became suddenly evident by the looming presence of a giant green butt plug in the revered Place Vendôme. Headlines, tweets using #Vendome or #buttplug or #PlugGate, and Instagram photos of playful tourists lewdly “interacting” with the piece immediately lit up the internet with oafish, down-and-dirty, dime-a-dozen puns.

This is the funnyman approach, marked by puerile vulgarity —and banishment from the market.

Those who wish to court collectors, auction houses, or museums are not allowed to cave into the maddening urge to elbow-nudge viewers and readers. But for those who live in the margins (“Paul McCarthy’s XXXmas Tree Plugs Up Paris,” quipped our own Hrag Vartanian) it’s a release equivalent to drawing a dick in a library book and giggling, red-faced, behind the stacks.

The market-free, dogma-free masses can unapologetically indulge in full-throated hilarity when faced with a brilliantly colored sex toy squatting rudely on the Place Vendôme.

Paul McCarthy's "Brancusi Tree" at Home Alone Gallery in 2012 (photo by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic)

Paul McCarthy’s “Brancusi Tree” at Home Alone Gallery in 2012 (photo by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic)

You Can Handle The Truth

The bottom line is this: A professional art speaker will not cave to fatuous cracks about seminal works!

For one of the finest examples of a stiff upper lip at work, get a load of the good folks writing copy for the FIAC website, keeping things civilized:

Towering at almost 25 meters on the Place Vendôme is Paul McCarthy’s “Tree,” a site specific sculpture conceived in relation to his concurrent exhibition Chocolate Factory at the Monnaie de Paris, his first major solo exhibition in Paris. A reference to both modernist sculpture and the iconic Christmas tree of western culture, McCarthy’s sculpture stands proudly to celebrate his presence finally in Paris and alludes to the chocolate figurines his factory produces.

True, sometimes a giant sex toy is just a giant sex toy, but sometimes it is — take it from the artist himself — “more of an abstraction”:

It all started with a joke: Originally I thought that the anal plug was shaped like a Brancusi sculpture. Then I thought that it resembled a Christmas tree. But it’s an abstract work. People who find it offensive call it a plug, but for me it’s more of an abstraction.

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A Performance Artist’s Absurd Anatomical Odyssey

Dynasty Handbag performing 'Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey' at BAM (all photos by Rebecca Smyne, courtesy BAM)

Dynasty Handbag performing ‘Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey’ at BAM (all photos by Rebecca Smyne, courtesy BAM)

Nine o’clock: the stage lights dim and a spotlight illuminates a stuffed “hero” sandwich the size of a small sofa. The opening melody of Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” — hit theme song from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome — fills BAM’s Fishman Space. A face peeks out from between the parted curtains, and then a vividly strange figure appears, dancing in a flesh-toned spandex bodysuit to a wave of delighted laughter. So begins Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey, Dynasty Handbag’s first evening-length performance piece, which premiered this past Friday night.

The performance persona of artist Jibz Cameron, Dynasty Handbag possesses a physical humor that’s instantaneous and irresistible. It wasn’t her gigantic fannypack or hairspray-tortured coif that made the audience laugh; the smart absurdity of Dynasty’s gestures and facial expressions have an effect akin to Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick, mixed with the gorgeous grotesquerie of the late, great Divine — and a nimbleness that is all Cameron’s own. Soggy Glasses, a feminist-queer interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey, is the most recent of in a series of Cameron’s work that re-envisions canonical male epics (Hell in A Handbag took on Dante’s Inferno; Vertitigo skewed Hitchcock’s tough-guy detective story through an absurdist female lens). Soggy Glasses satirizes both Homer’s master narrative and the third-wave feminist suspicion that leads Cameron to critique it. The subtlety of this critique-on-critique is part of what makes her work so funny.

Dynasty Handbag performing 'Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey' at BAM

Dynasty Handbag performing ‘Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey’ at BAM

The show consists of Dynasty conversing with animated characters on a video screen — all of which are drawn and voiced by Cameron — as she makes a perilous journey through her own internal organs. Her vessel is the paper container that formerly held the giant hero sandwich. The creatures and places she encounters include a cave guarded by a hipster would-be cyclops (“I’m not a cyclops, I just present that way”), an angel guide in the form of a disembodied Yoko Ono, and a lisping snake who runs an artist’s residency in her colon (the “Artist Colon-y”). The story is dense with pop culture references, many of them decidedly masculine: at one point, Cameron narrates Dynasty’s progress in a fake Werner Herzog accent; at another, “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath knells our anti-hero’s imminent failure at making a great work of art. This thicket of references brings up a question: how much of an artist’s sensibility is informed by the culture that she lives in, and how much of it grows from her own organic strangeness? In Soggy Glasses, Cameron’s singular oddity interweaves freely with popular media, to pleasurably disorienting effect.

Dynasty Handbag performing 'Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey' at BAM (click to enlarge)

Dynasty Handbag performing ‘Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey’ at BAM (click to enlarge)

Humor is famously one of the most difficult valences to define, perhaps because much of what we find hilarious hinges on real suffering. Dynasty ultimately fails in Soggy Glasses to make the heroic return that Odysseus made, but she triumphs in her own failure with a fist-pumping reprise of “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Throughout the performance, she meditates on her own depression, loneliness, and hopelessness. These reflections serve self-mythologizing and self-parodying purposes, but they also speak to an authentic experience of pain. Cameron’s ventriloquism put me in mind of Robin Williams, whose recent death is an example of the darkness that often accompanies comic genius. Dynasty’s tacit examination of suffering allowed me, as an audience member, to trust her while facing the lived experience of despair. This gave the comedy a depth that lasted after the laughter had died away.

I think of Dynasty’s theater-of-the-self as a solid 21st-century evolution of the camp sensibility defined by Susan Sontag in her well-known 1964 essay on the subject. Cameron’s seamless performance bears all of the wit, seduction, and extravagance that Sontag cited as necessary for the elusive creation of camp, but she breaks from Sontag’s dictum that camp be “disengaged, depoliticized — or at least apolitical.” Cameron’s handling of contemporary politics — around gender specifically — reveals the true absurdity of political and social oppression, without ignoring how high the stakes really are.

Dynasty Handbag performing 'Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey' at BAM

Dynasty Handbag performing ‘Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey’ at BAM

In the piece’s climactic penultimate moment, the capsizing of Dynasty’s sandwich-boat is dramatized by a clip from the blockbuster The Perfect Storm. Cameron pauses in the midst of the catastrophe to note that Linda Greenlaw, the female swordfishing captain, is portrayed in the film primarily through her codependent love relationship with “caretaking George Clooney.” This is one of numerous instances of Cameron showing the elisions of real female heroism that happen in pop culture texts — and if they happen in pop culture, they certainly happen in other realms. The last 50 years of feminist and queer performance art, music, film, and literature have given us many individuals who call out these elisions with intelligent humor, from John Waters to Bikini Kill to Wayne Koestenbaum to Big Freedia. If Soggy Glasses is any indication, Dynasty Handbag is an important force in the visioning of what we, as a culture, consider avant-garde, heroic, and hilarious.

Soggy Glasses: A Homo’s Odyssey took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Pl, Fort Greene, Brooklyn) on October 17 as part of the performance art showcase Brooklyn Bred.

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Pushing Back Against Scale and Brand in Frank Gehry’s Latest Luxury Art Hangar

La Fondation Louis Vuitton 2

La Fondation Louis Vuitton, entry view (all photos by the author unless otherwise noted)

PARIS — The essence of branding is the insistent repetition of a recognizable commodity image, so we should not be surprised when Bernard Arnault’s global luxury brand Louis Vuitton applies the same formula to art. And we cannot be startled when the same architect, Frank Gehry, is encountered again and again in the growing world of private art museums financed by business magnates.

That said, I must admit that the Gehry’s façadesque building for La Fondation Louis Vuitton is uniquely astonishing, suggesting a cloud-boat set about on a tranquil sea. The place is definitely worth visiting, and there will be eight concerts by the magnificent Kraftwerk in the auditorium November 6–14.

La Fondation Louis Vuitton

La Fondation Louis Vuitton, rear view

But I was particularly impressed by how the space functioned inside, spaciously casing art from the Foundation’s (or Arnault’s) European-heavy permanent collection, such as Pierre Huyghe’s film “A journey that wasn’t” (2005) — in which the artist sails on an expedition into the vast polar circle, then slides into a media event at the Central Park ice-skating rink in New York.

Gehry’s own maquettes and drawings receive a capacious exhibition here in simultaneous dialogue with his ongoing retrospective at the Centre Pompidou. Also luxuriously presented is Olafur Eliasson’s light installation and Thomas Schütte’s whimsical sculpture “Mann im Matsch” (Man in Mud) (2009). An entire immense gallery is exclusively dedicated to Gerhard Richter’s work, including “Hirsch” (1963) and “Seestück (Leicht bewölkt)” (1969) in which Richter reassessed the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. There are many of his squeegee scraped abstractions here as well, such as “Wald” (1990), but the highlight for me were two huge digital prints, the “Strip” works that were produced via computer modeling of color combinations, created from a scan of his “Abstract Painting (724-4)” (1990). With the help of a software program, the scan is divided vertically into two strips, then four, eight, 16, 32, etc. — resulting in 8,190 strips that become progressively narrower.

Pierre Huyghe, “A journey that wasn’t” (2005) ADAGP Collection Fondation Louis Vuitton (photo by Marc Domage)

Pierre Huyghe, “A journey that wasn’t” (2005) ADAGP Collection Fondation Louis Vuitton (photo by Marc Domage)

Gehry’s huge, light-filled space equally luxuriously framed commissioned work, such as Ellsworth Kelly’s “Color Panels (Red Yellow Blue Green Purple)” (2014). This Kelly commission gives the auditorium a distinctively De Stijl, a predecessor of Bauhaus, look. It specifically recalls Theo van Doesburg’s Neo-Plasticism movement in architecture where he, together with Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans Arp, created the Café de l’Aubette (1928) in Strasbourg, an immersive space that surrounded the visitor in colored geometric forms. In terms of global branding, this choice is revealing, as in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign Jean Baudrillard stated that “it is the Bauhaus that institutes a universal semantization of the environment in which everything becomes the object of a calculus of function and of signification. Total functionality, total semiurgy.”

Ellsworth Kelly “Color Panels (Red Yellow Blue Green Purple)” (2014)

Ellsworth Kelly “Color Panels (Red Yellow Blue Green Purple)” (2014)

Myself not being terribly impressed with huge, clean, empty, white space (or scale), the works that most pleased me were rather intimate: such as poet John Giorno’s “Dial-A-Poem” (1968–2012). For over four years anyone could dial (212) 628-0400 and hear a poem read and recorded by various artists and poets ranging from John Ashbery to Black Panther Bobby Seale. It became an installation in which four phones were connected to two hundred randomly activated prerecorded poems.

John Giorno "Dial-A-Poem" (1968-2012)

John Giorno “Dial-A-Poem” (1968-2012)

Two audio drone pieces worked especially well in the white spaces. There is Cerith Wyn Evans’s fascinating “A=F=L=O=A=T” (2014) audio sculpture made up of 20 transparent glass flutes, extended by long transparent tubes, all ending in a visible blowing mechanism. Hung in the shape of an ellipse, each of them continuously plays one note from a composition by the artist. The superimposed sounds enveloped me in a vibratory continuum.

The other strong audio work is Oliver Beer’s “Composition for a new museum” (2014), a sung drone that transformed an empty room made to vibrate by three singers placed in the corners. Combining the material and the immaterial, the visible and the invisible, it offered me an immersive experience of transport and beauty.

But perhaps the star of the show, from my perspective, is Christian Boltanski’s “September 6” (2005), a melancholic rush of media sound and image created from the National Institute of Audiovisual media archives. It is a blur of television and cinema news that took place on September 6 (Boltanski’s birthday) between 1944 and 2004.

Christian Boltanski - 6 septembres �ADAGP, Paris 2014 �Fondation Louis Vuitton Marc Domage

Christian Boltanski, “September 6” (2005)

The spectator can stop this speeding stream of fast-forward images and sounds with a simple gesture, freezing shots of anonymous individuals or political and entertainment personalities. It makes media momentum apparent by extending the retinal limit in a way that would be previously regarded as outside of phenomenological thought. It took me on a trans-subjective rush down an abstract media river that I found not at all unpleasant. “September 6” takes the obvious and accessible, and turns it towards cancellation — where the very foundation of branding, speech, and thought are undercut.

La Fondation Louis Vuitton (8 avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne, Paris) opens to the public on October 27.

Art from Solitude

John Baldessari, “Two Horses and Riders,” 1997. Lithograph, pochoir on paper. Overall: 17 3/4 x 25 in. (45.09 x 63.5 cm). From the ASU Art Museum collection.

John Baldessari, “Two Horses and Riders,” (1997), lithograph, pochoir on paper, overall: 17 3/4 x 25 in (45.09 x 63.5 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection)

Two words in the English language describe what it means to be alone. “Solitude” results from a willful act of self-reliance, while “loneliness” stems from being involuntarily deprived of company. For most artists, though, the boundaries between these states of being are less sharply defined.

In Solitude, Where We Are Least Alone at ASU Art Museum affirms the impulse toward reflection and self-reliance — critical to any creative endeavor — while also contemplating the thin line that keeps loneliness at bay. As first-time curator Brittany Corrales asks, “At what point does solitude cease to be a refuge from society?”

Corrales takes her cue from American transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who saw seclusion as an act of disconnecting from society in order to better one’s self. “Guard well your spare moments,” Emerson once advised. “They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”

The curator chose artworks that encourage introspection through an intimate, one-on-one connection between the art and viewer (as opposed to the more interactive installation that have become popular). Like the transcendentalists themselves, artists Tamarra Kaida, Mark Klett, Robert Farber and Marcelo Brodsky tap nature as a vehicle for self-reflection. Others (including John Baldessari, Art Werger, Aimée García Marrero, Claudio Bernardi and Van Deren Coke) explore existential themes through the human body itself. Still others, like Esteban Vicente and Matsumi Kanemitsu, use abstraction to stimulate meditation.

The show is timely, considering that distractions offered by social media are increasingly eating away at our ability to enjoy solitude, even if they don’t necessarily make us less lonely. “[When] we’re hyper-connected in that way, we’re not always being mindful,” Corrales told The State Press. “You’re distracted by everything, and it can be really overwhelming. [This exhibition] is meant to cultivate an experience for the visitor that is full, rich, and reflective.”

*   *   *

Tamarra Kaida, “Desert Paint,” 1987. Type C color print. Overall: 24 1/8 x 30 in. (61.28 x 76.2 cm).  From the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of the artist.

Tamarra Kaida, “Desert Paint” (1987), type C color print, overall: 24 1/8 x 30 in (61.28 x 76.2 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of the artist)

Art Werger, “Passing,” 2010. Lithograph, etching with rosin aquatint. Overall: 25 x 18 7/8 in. (63.5 x 47.94 cm). From the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of the artists.

Art Werger, “Passing” (2010), lithograph, etching with rosin aquatint, overall: 25 x 18 7/8 in (63.5 x
47.94 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of the artists)

Van Deren Coke, “The Witnesses,” 1959. Black and white photograph. Overall: 7 1/4 x 7 3/4 in. (18.42  x 19.69 cm). From the ASU Art Museum collection.

Van Deren Coke, “The Witnesses” (1959), black and white photograph, overall: 7 1/4 x 7 3/4 in (18.42
x 19.69 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection)

Marcelo Brodsky, “Lago O'Higgins,” 2002. Photographic digital print. Overall: 42 1/4 x 70 3/4 in.  (107.32 x 179.71 cm). From the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of the artist.

Marcelo Brodsky, “Lago O’Higgins” (2002), photographic digital print, overall: 42 1/4 x 70 3/4 in (107.32 x 179.71 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of the artist)

Claudia Bernardi, “Quien Dijo que Esta' Todo Perdido?,” 1998. Monoprint. Overall: 30 x 30 in. (76.2 x  76.2 cm). From the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of Sara and David Lieberman.

Claudia Bernardi, “Quien Dijo que Esta’ Todo Perdido?” (1998), monoprint, overall: 30 x 30 in (76.2 x
76.2 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of Sara and David Lieberman)

Pipilotti Rist, “Core of Touch (Kern der Gerugrung).” Video still, ink print on rag paper. Overall: 31 x 24  in. (78.74 x 60.96 cm). From the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of Pipilotti Rist.

Pipilotti Rist, “Core of Touch (Kern der Gerugrung),” video still, ink print on rag paper, oerall: 31 x 24
in (78.74 x 60.96 cm) (from the ASU Art Museum collection; gift of Pipilotti Rist)

(Image courtesy of ASU Art Museum)

Installation view, ‘In Solitude, Where We Are Least Alone’ (image courtesy of ASU Art Museum)

(Image courtesy of ASU Art Museum)

Installation view, ‘In Solitude, Where We Are Least Alone’ (image courtesy of ASU Art Museum)

(Image courtesy of ASU Art Museum)

Installation view, ‘In Solitude, Where We Are Least Alone’ (image courtesy of ASU Art Museum)

In ___We Trust: Art and Money at the Columbus Museum of Art

Curator Tyler Cann’s In ___We Trust: Art and Money is a fresh and imaginative approach to exhibition-making. The title definitively removes higher moral or spiritual motives—so often claimed in art making—from the framework of the exhibit, and it seems especially fitting that Andy Warhol, a lover of all things material and monetized, opens the show. Hanging on the first wall are three works: the print One Dollar Bills (1962), the drawing Five Dollar Bill (1962), and a project by Komar and Melamid called Souls Project: Andy Warhol (1979), in which Warhol sells his soul to the duo for $0. Though these objects feel a bit thin as historical context, they operate alongside the title wall to underscore the interdependence between contemporary art and money.

Claire Fontaine. This Neon Sign Was Made By..., 2009; Back-painted neon, 6400k glass, cables, fixtures and transformers; 19 11/16 x 118 1/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Photo: Erin Fletcher

Claire Fontaine. This Neon Sign Was Made By…, 2009; Back-painted neon, 6400k glass, cables, fixtures and transformers; 19 11/16 x 118 1/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. Photo: Erin Fletcher

As a whole, the exhibition doesn’t seek to be subversive in its mode of delivery or to propose solutions to the underlying tensions that are activated. However, several of the works use activist tactics or use their cultural position as art to create commentary on ethics. A tone of doubt and mistrust towards the international banking system is set by Superflex’s Bankrupt Banks (2008-present). Seventeen oversize panels list the names of all the banks, as on a mass grave, that collapsed due to the financial crisis. In between each panel is a banner (thirteen in total) of an iconic image that was part of a bank’s branding, meant to build trust but now stripped of a name and institutional affiliation to back up the promise. These line the halls outside of the galleries like tapestries, which visitors pass as they enter and exit. In Insertions Into Ideological Circuits 2: Banknote Project (1970/2014), Cildo Miereles uses currency for its ability to circulate stamped messages and questions that would be censored in everyday speech by a dictatorship.

Superflex. Bankrupt Banks, 2008 – present; Banners: paint on fabric, 79 x 79 in. Panels: vinyl on painted MDF, 79 x 39.5 in. Coppel Collection, image courtesy of Nils Staerk and Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo.

Superflex. Bankrupt Banks, 2008 – present; Banners: paint on fabric, 79 x 79 in. Panels: vinyl on painted MDF, 79 x 39.5 in. Coppel Collection, image courtesy of Nils Staerk and Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo.

Another group of objects use valuable materials as a medium to call attention to notions of value. An installation by Susan Collis called Lavartus Prodeo (2014) appears to be a series of holes and screws in the wall, but on closer inspection these are made from gemstones and other precious materials, calling attention to some notions of value surrounding framed and hung art. Mark Wagner’s collage Liberty Installation (2011) creates a whimsical narrative with the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop, which is composed from 1,121 one-dollar bills. Ester Partegàs’s oversized hand-drawn receipts call out the familiar connection between consumerism and psychology with phrases like “JUST FOR FUN” where each word stands in for a purchased item. Gabriel Kuri’s Untitled (2012) uses skilled labor to turn his restaurant and market receipts from three countries into large woven hangings, calling attention to wealth’s command of labor. Finally, Claire Fontaine’s This Neon Sign Was Made By… (2009) makes the purchase and cost of the work its subject. All of these works are compelling and thoughtful in approach, though none of them seem to turn the corner from awareness to a deeper reckoning with privilege.

Left to Right: Mark Wagner. Liberty Installation, 2011; Currency collage on 13 panels. Ester Partegàs. Detours (Series), 2014; Pencil, watercolor, marker, acrylic, paper. Courtesy of Christopher Grimes Gallery and Foxy Production. Gabriel Kuri. Untitled, 2013; Hand woven wool gobelin. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Center: J.S.G. Boggs. Boggs Bank of Bohemia, 2014; Children’s drawings of $1 bills. Photo by Erin Fletcher.

Left to Right: Mark Wagner. Liberty Installation, 2011; Currency collage on 13 panels. Ester Partegàs. Detours (Series), 2014; Pencil, watercolor, marker, acrylic, paper. Courtesy of Christopher Grimes Gallery and Foxy Production. Gabriel Kuri. Untitled, 2013; Hand woven wool gobelin. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Center: J.S.G. Boggs. Boggs Bank of Bohemia, 2014; Children’s drawings of $1 bills. Photo: Erin Fletcher.

Cann also incorporates a number of participatory works in Art and Money. In addition to creating deeper engagement in the galleries, these moments force viewers to decide whether or not they wish to support each work’s statement with their participation. We Make Change (2008) by Paul Ramírez Jonas offers a penny-press machine in which to flatten pennies so that they bear the words “TRUST” on one side and “WE” on the other (which can also read as “ME”). Other works like Roger Hiorns’ Untitled (2012) installation feel more aggressive, as it spits pennies into the gallery with the word “GOD” crossed out. Gallery goers can create this same effect with a penny of their own by placing it in a nearby stamping press and hitting the stamp with a hammer. Caleb Larson’s $10,000 Sculpture in Process (2009) accepts bills from viewers for the support of his artistic practice. Of all of these, the most playful is also a work that encourages participants to continue it beyond the parameters of the exhibition. In Boggs Bank of Bohemia (2014), J.S.G. Boggs invites children to draw one-dollar bills and to try to spend them.

e-flux. Time/Bank, 2010-present; Mixed Media; Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle. Photo: Erin Fletcher.

e-flux. Time/Bank, 2010-present; Mixed Media; Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle. Photo: Erin Fletcher.

Overall, Cann’s approach is to survey so many different attitudes and relationships between art and money that it leaves the viewer with the sense that the relationship to the topic is one of acceptance and ambivalence. The directness of the address is welcome, but the equivocation as a whole left this viewer with two questions beyond the scope of the exhibition: “What do we trust?” and “What are our alternatives?” Two works speak to these questions—Ori Gersht’s looping video installation Liquid Assets-A Portrait of Euthydemas II, King of Bactrica 180 BCE (2012) presents a shifting puddle of liquid metal that slowly settles into the form of a coin from a lost empire located near modern day Afghanistan. Like the dynamic and unstable region it represents, this video suggests that we can trust that change will happen regardless of money or ruling system. The final installation in the exhibit by e-flux, Time/Bank (2010-present), builds on the idea of the time bank.[1] Beginning with the Cincinnati-based Anarchist Josiah Warren, who operated a time bank store for three years in 1827, this installation presents an ongoing work with video components, an archive for research, a table for discussion, and a wall filled with ways that people have exchanged their time for services. These two works left me with a lingering curiosity to see where this exhibit could have ended up if it had stretched beyond exposé and oriented towards a deeper social, psychological, historical, and political analysis of the relationship between wealth and culture.

Erin Fletcher graduated with an MA from John F. Kennedy University in Museum Education and Interpretation in 2010 and an MA in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts in 2011. Her research interests are in gender and performance, art in public space, and the relationship between art and activism.

[1] E-flux describes a time bank as “a tool by which a group of people can create an alternative economic model where they exchange their time and skills, rather than acquire goods and services through the use of money or any other state-backed valued.”

Rare Portraits of Kings and Commoners from 19th-Century Nigeria

Reclining young lady Hand-colored photograph by Chief S.O. Alonge, c. 1950 Benin City, Nigeria Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge Collection EEPA 2009-007 National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution, Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Stella Osarhiere Gbinigie (age 16)” (1950), Benin City, Nigeria, photograph and hand-colored print (Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, all images courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of African Art)

For over five decades Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge photographed the royal court and everyday life of Benin, Nigeria. Drawing on their collection of over 2,000 glass plate and large format film negatives, as well as around 100 prints, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art is exhibiting some of his rarely-seen photographs.

Alonge - self-portrait - seated, c. 1942, Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Self-portrait, seated outside wearing formal attire and spats” (1942), Benin City, Nigeria, Glass plate negative (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria opened last month to coincide with the century marking of Nigeria’s colonial unification in 1914. Along with the photographs by Alonge are artifacts from the Benin Royal Court, as well as some of Alonge’s cameras and equipment.

Born in 1929, he started with a Kodak Brownie and worked his way up to his own studio in Benin City called Ideal Photography Studio, establishing himself among the first professional West African photographers. While at court he documented the lavish ceremonies and pomp of the obas (the Benin kings), in the studio he captured portraits of the whole spectrum of the community. More importantly, the photographs trace through a time when, as Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, people were choosing how to portray themselves.

As curator and senior archivist Amy Staples explained in a release: “Through his portrait photography in the Ideal Photo Studio, Alonge provided local residents — many for the first time — with the opportunity to represent themselves to themselves as dignified African subjects.” Max Kutner adds at Smithsonian Magazine: “Though the British remained in the region until 1960 (Alonge photographed Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1956), Alonge helped usher in an era of Nigerians representing themselves and acting as keepers of their own history.”

Despite this unique insight into Nigerian history, Alonge, who died in 1989, remains mostly obscure, especially outside of Africa. Yet his photographs are a valuable portal into the traditions of the Benin court, as well as self-portrayal in portraiture, both colonial and not.

Woman standing with flowers; clock on table;"Brasso metal polish" [Dame Merry Oritsetimeyin Ehanire nee Cardigan (Osagie Ehanire's mother)]

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Dame Merry Oritsetimeyin Ehanire née Cardigan” (1940), Benin City, Glass plate negative (Chief S.O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Portrait of Chief Francis Edo Osagie” (1960), Benin City, Silver gelatin print with hand-coloring (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Madame Ogiugo” (1960), Hand-colored photograph (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Wedding portrait” (1937), Glass plate negative (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Oba Akenzua II, c. 1937 [Matphson/Matthieson - colonial on left], Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Visit of the Earl of Plymouth [right] to the Oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua II, Benin kingdom, Nigeria. Oba Akenzua II holds the coral regalia of Oba Ovonramwen, returned by the British in 1938. Sir John Macpherson, Governor-General of Nigeria, stands on the left” (1935), Glass plate (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Boy with tennis racquet and trophy, Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Prize winner” (1937), Glass plate negative (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Daughter of Oba Eweka II, wearing commemorative cloth from coronation of King George VI, May 1937,” Silver gelatin vintage (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Oba Akenzua II greets Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (not shown) on a Royal visit to Benin City. On the left is Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the Western Region, 1952-1959. On the right is Sir John Rankine, Governor, Western Region, Nigeria, 1954-1960,” Silver gelatin print and hand-colored (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Commemorative cloth of Iyoba, Queen Mother of Benin (photograph by Solomon Osagie Alonge, 1981) (Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives,  National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria

Solomon Osagie Alonge, “Self-portrait with painted studio backdrop” (1942),  Silver gelatin print, with sepia tone (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)

Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria continues at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (950 Independence Avenue, Southwest, Washington, DC) through September 13, 2015. 

NEWS: David Hall (1937–2014)

What Can We Learn from Artists’ and Curators’ Desks?

E. Brady Robinson, "Hansen Mulford, Orlando Museum of Art" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Hansen Mulford, Orlando Museum of Art” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

There is something fascinating about seeing the spaces in which creative people work. Not only for the simple interior-decoration voyeurism it affords, but also for the ways their desks, easels, drawing boards, dark rooms, workshops, and so on reflect the ways their minds function. It’s precisely this feature of the desk — the way it can serve as an even more revealing portrait of a person than an image of her face — that the photographer E. Brady Robinson highlights in her series Art Desks, published by Daylight Books on October 15. For Robinson, this marks the culmination of a four-year project.

“The series started in 2011 in Washington, DC following an assignment from CulturalDC,” she told Hyperallergic in an email. “I was on location at Flashpoint Gallery to photograph headshots and editorial for their annual report. The director at the time said ‘have at it’ and basically gave me permission to photograph anything I wanted on site. I was waiting for the staff to arrive above Flashpoint Gallery for a group shot and photographed the desk of Karyn Miller (former director of visual arts and communication, CulturalDC). The workspace was both empty and present at the same time. This was my ‘a-ha’ moment when I discovered desk as portrait.”

E. Brady Robinson, "Mera Rubell, Collector" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Mera Rubell, Collector” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

After her revelation, Robinson began approaching artists and art world professionals across the US, asking to photograph their work spaces, and the project quickly gained momentum.

“One shoot led to the other,” she recalled. “With each visit on location, I would ask for names of potential subjects. One recommendation led to the other. DC was fairly easy to navigate. I have a lot of support here. Other markets were more challenging, but most people said yes. In each market, I would reach out to someone I personally know and they would help with further introductions. Kind of like a six degrees of separation in the art world from New York to Miami.”

E. Brady Robinson, "William Christenberry, Artist" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “William Christenberry, Artist” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

The resulting photos vary enormously in their level of interest. Orlando Museum of Art curator Hansen Mulford’s work station is charmingly eclectic, with a child’s drawing and conservator’s gloves sitting alongside more macabre fodder like the skull of a small animal and a small artwork showing a sailor being shot in the back of the head. Dealer Brian Paul Clamp, of Chelsea photo gallery ClampArt, has a comparatively unremarkable desk — unless you consider his predilection for Perrier particularly revelatory. Still, Robinson noticed enough variation among her subjects while working on this project to spot some broader trends in art world desk organization.

“Many galleries have closed traditional brick and mortar spaces and are embracing this shared economy, becoming mobile and embracing collaborative spaces with new partnerships,” she said. “And, for the artist space I’ve witnessed the collapse of the personal and professional. Many artists create in a live-work space environment. Boundaries collapse.”

E. Brady Robinson, "Daniel Cooney, Daniel Cooney Fine Art " (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Daniel Cooney, Daniel Cooney Fine Art ” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Anna Walker Skillman, Jackson Fine Art " (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Anna Walker Skillman, Jackson Fine Art ” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Jennifer Schwartz, Crusade for Art " (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Jennifer Schwartz, Crusade for Art ” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Katherine Hinds, Margulies Collection" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Katherine Hinds, Margulies Collection” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Jamie Smith, PhD, CONNERSMITH" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Jamie Smith, PhD, CONNERSMITH” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Jay Flynn, Photographer" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Jay Flynn, Photographer” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Lee Wells, IFAC" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Lee Wells, IFAC” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Dina Mitrani, Dina Mitrani Gallery" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Dina Mitrani, Dina Mitrani Gallery” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Flashpoint Gallery" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Flashpoint Gallery” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Michael E. Northrup, Photographer" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Michael E. Northrup, Photographer” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Patrick and Holly Kahn, SNAP! Space" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Patrick and Holly Kahn, SNAP! Space” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, "Brian Paul Clamp, ClampArt" (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

E. Brady Robinson, “Brian Paul Clamp, ClampArt” (2014) (Images courtesy of the photographer, copyright 2014)

Art Desks is available now from Daylight Books and ARTBOOK DAP.

An Iranian-American Artist Revisits Images from the 1979 Revolution

Taraneh Hemami's Theory of Survival Souvenir Shop reimagines iconic images from the revolution as affordable memorabilia.

Taraneh Hemami’s Theory of Survival Souvenir Shop reimagines iconic images from the revolution as affordable memorabilia (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

SAN FRANCISCO — Follow a major social movement today, and unless you can afford to travel onsite, you’re likely to experience it through photos, hashtags, and video uploads. But a movement’s record has always had global resonance, distributed through a mix of broadcast and pre-internet forms of citizen media like pamphlets, posters, and zines.

The archives of the Iranian Student Association (ISA) of Northern California capture imagery from the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the response material from Iranian-Americans in the Bay Area at the time. These archives form the backdrop of artist Taraneh Hemami’s Theory of Survival: Fabrications. Fabrications is an ongoing show and series of events set up around the concept of a bazaar and night market. She invited 12 local artists to participate and set up their work in Southern Exposure’s gallery space, and each weekend, they’ve held a series of community events.

As Hemami noted in an interview with Hyperallergic, the concept is influenced by the ISA’s methods of community gathering, where large numbers of activists, artists, and journalists gather to research and discuss creative opportunities for exchange and advocacy. The events have been centered around readings, music, performance, and conversation, with the gallery at Southern Exposure divided into booths, each artist’s work appearing in discrete segments like stalls in a public market.

Hushidar Mortezaie's Dozd Bazaar: Bootleg Identities borrows from thieves' markets in Iran, with objects reimagined as dismembered activists, celebrities and writers.

Hushidar Mortezaie’s Dozd Bazaar: Bootleg Identities borrows from thieves’ markets in Iran, with objects reimagined as dismembered activists, celebrities, and writers

“It is very important to us,” noted Hemami of the many everyday objects like t-shirts, coasters and rubber stamps, “to disseminate and distribute the objects and souvenirs as widely as possible … [and] to give their ownership an ordinary flavor — less exotic and precious and more common and everyday.”

Fabrics and clothing, so common to bazaars and markets, plays a key role in Fabrications. Haleh Niazmand’s 2DIE4 series fashions the “dissident iconography of Iran” into high fashion items, playing with how activist imagery is repurposed in capitalist societies, while Taravat Talepasand takes a more casual approach with the Islamic Youth series, consisting of t-shirts, tank-tops, and sweatshirts with pictures of young Muslim women wearing sunglasses and smoking cigarettes.

The songs of Ferguson and Hong Kong are today boosted worldwide thanks to YouTube, but soundscapes have been a critical part of every revolution, especially as a broadcast strategy in the 20th century. Morehshin Allahyari’s #AsYouScrollDown makes aural — in vinyl format — the top Tweets from the country’s recent Green Movement; Ala Ebtekar’s Mixtapes series combines music and news records from the 1979 revolution. Ebtekar’s choice of format makes the audio virtually inaccessible to modern audiences, Allahyari’s choice of medium makes it as hip as social media itself.

Ala Ebtekar's Mixtapes series contains audio recordings from the 1979 Revolution in neat rows of colored cassettes.

Ala Ebtekar’s Mixtapes series contains audio recordings from the 1979 Revolution in neat rows of colored cassettes

Hemami’s own contribution to the show turns the ISA’s archives into a souvenir shop, with gift wrap, coasters, and tote bags, reimagining iconic images from the 1979 Iranian Revolution as handcrafted memorabilia available for purchase. The image of the raised fist and a young woman flashing a “V” with her fingers while holding up a rifle reminded me of how iconic these gestures were during the social movements in the 70s and 80s, from the Black Power Movement in the United States to the People Power Movement in the Philippines. Visitors could stamp these icons onto free cards distributed at the show, and I ended up purchasing a small coaster of the woman making the “V” sign.

Hemami told me that the participating artists are a mix of several generations of immigrants to the US. While Fabrications is intended for all audiences and is quite accessible to those unfamiliar with the country’s recent history, the show is also a way for Hemami to start a conversation across generations of Iranians, many of whom are reluctant to speak about their memories of the period.

“It is difficult to engage [Iranian activists and revolutionaries from the time] in a direct conversation of the complicated layers of that very personal history. Intergenerational conversations have become a strategy for us to use to engage them in a roundabout way,” Hemami said.

During the "Connecting History to the Present," attendees gathered for group conversations—just one of many events held during the month.

During the “Connecting History to the Present,” attendees gathered for group conversations—just one of many events held during the month

In this way, the bazaar format helped create new spaces for conversation, including a thoughtful event held October 5 called “Connecting History to the Present.” Organized by Hemami with Deirdre Visser from the California Institute of Integral Studies, the event invited people of diverse backgrounds to convene for food and conversation in small groups around their personal histories, before sharing with the larger group.

As Visser explained to Hyperallergic, the format was designed as much to disrupt conventional hierarchies implied by a panel format as to engage attendees with the broader themes of the show. But it also elicited a verbal engagement that brought together perspectives of first, second, and third generation immigrants from places like Korea, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and others.

Poet and cognitive scientist Pireeni Sundaralingam led participants in an exercise borrowing from the research of clinical psychologist Thomas Cottle. Drawing circles representing past, present, and future, participants revealed how their histories intersected with their current lives and imagined futures. Each participant had wildly different representations, from intersecting circles like Venn diagrams, nested ones like Russian matryoshka dolls, and circles that didn’t intersect at all.

A detail of Sanaz Mazinani's Conference of the Birds (Flags), blending images from the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring.

A detail of Sanaz Mazinani’s Conference of the Birds (Flags), blending images from the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring

Sundaralingam told Hyperallergic that, “Given that our event sought to engage us in discussion around the nature and function of history, I felt that it was important to acknowledge that we possess such disparate models of the world, even when it comes to thinking about abstract time, independent of specific historical events. I wanted to make the invisible, visible, to see what assumptions we each carry regarding the unfolding of Time and History.”

Situated in the Mission District, a part of San Francisco with a deep connection to social movements and culture, the show inevitably brings up questions about how imagery, archives, and movements intersect in a hyper-documented present. Sanaz Mazinani’s Conference of the Birds addresses this most directly, with an array of flags, each of which blends images from the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring. Both of these events were famous for their innovative uses of social media in very different contexts to document and disseminate images to the broader public.

According to the artist statement, Gelare Khoshgozaran's Convergences is a backgammon board whose background contains pieces of "archives from the US Iran-Contra documents collected and restructured after the occupation of the US Embassy by the Iranian Revolutionary Students in 1980 Tehran." The checkers start camouflaged in the board and over time, the messages are distorted and shifted as the game commences.

According to the artist statement, Gelare Khoshgozaran’s Convergences is a backgammon board whose background contains pieces of “archives from the US Iran-Contra documents collected and restructured after the occupation of the US Embassy by the Iranian Revolutionary Students in 1980 Tehran.” The checkers start camouflaged in the board and over time, the messages are distorted and shifted as the game commences.

On my way out from the event, I passed by — and documented — a piece of street art on cement that said “415 to 510” and “Guess I’ll move to Oakland!” Referencing recent struggles with gentrification in the neighborhood (and the respective area codes of San Francisco and Oakland). The stencil was just one of many street works created in the Mission (and presumably by a former Mission resident), a neighborhood famous for its gorgeous murals. Decades later, archives of these works may present a new way to engage with and remember this particular moment in San Francisco history.

The success of Fabrications lies in making the archives feel alive, rich, and relevant today, while playing with the idea than any archive can present a definitive view of history. Whether on Instagram and YouTube today or in pamphlets and posters in 1979, images, sound, and iconography play a major role in every social movement, but they are but one perspective on incredibly complex and multilayered events. They can inspire participants, and they can be bought and sold out of their original contexts. Hemami and the artists participating in this show embrace this reality, asking questions and provoking conversation more than providing definitive answers.

“Having a space of gathering has been at the center of this project,” Hemami said during the October 5 event. “The dialogue begins there. The artists have helped turned the gallery space into a place of gathering for the two months that we have occupied it.”

A side table next to Taraneh Hemami's souvenir shop includes rubber stamps with iconography for visitors to place on cards or any other objects they bring.

A side table next to Taraneh Hemami’s souvenir shop includes rubber stamps with iconography for visitors to place on cards or any other objects they bring

Theory of Survival: Fabrications continues through October 25 at Southern Exposure (3030 20th Street, San Francisco). It closes with a final Saturday Bazaar at 6 pm.

Why Are We Attracted to Troubled Artists?


NEWS: Winners Announced for New York Dance and Performance Awards, aka The Bessies

PICKS: “Secondhand”

08.01.14-05.01.15 Pier 24, San Francisco, review written by Monica Westin

Greyhound Abstraction and Lyrical Expressionism at the Painting Center

Installation view, 'David Fratkin: Apparitions on a Greyhound Bus,' at The Painting Center (all images courtesy The Painting Center)

Installation view, ‘David Fratkin: Apparitions on a Greyhound Bus,’ at the Painting Center (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Bedraggled tutus? Rogue angel wings? Dried tofu twists? Though unidentifiable, the forms in David Fratkin’s five works at the Painting Center glide about with considerable self-possession. Produced through an elaborate combination of painting and block-printing techniques, they exude a svelte intricacy. Organic grids of pale blues float before patterns of pinkish-ochre; elegant blue- and green-grays shift above purples. In places, inner paint layers have crackled, as if weathered by time. All these effects seem sealed — encapsulated, if you like — beneath lustrous, smooth surfaces.

David Fratkin, “Greyhound Bus: Hypnagogia 1” (2014), acrylic, 55 x 45 in (click to enlarge)

David Fratkin, “Greyhound Bus: Hypnagogia 1” (2014), acrylic, 55 x 45 in (all images courtesy the Painting Center unless otherwise noted) (click to enlarge)

What vision triggered these luminous, stilled images? As the title of the show, Apparitions on a Greyhound Bus, suggests, they were inspired in part by a bus’s upholstery, absorbed during a long trip by the half-asleep artist. Gallerygoers familiar with another category of Fratkin’s work — his gleefully macabre scans of menaced (and menacing) dolls — will recognize his predilection for injecting the prosaic with the portentous. I found the Greyhound Bus works more resonant in their subtler humor and felicity of craftsmanship. As with Pop, these works draw on the frisson between elevated culture and mass-market banalities. But Fratkin’s lusciously layered pigments and rich surfaces possess a tactility different from the cool touch of Warhol or Lichtenstein. He reveals not just wit but personal engagement in endowing his abject motifs with majestic airs.

If Fratkin flirts with the satiric, Jo Ann Rothschild’s abstract paintings revel in their passions. Her 12 canvases on view at the Painting Center exude an unabashedly lyrical expressionism. Strokes of paint range from even brushings to thin scribbles, scrapings, and thick trowellings. These gestures fill the dimensions of each canvas with local exuberances of color, using a palette that favors deep carmine reds and dark blues set against warmer, more neutral hues. Everywhere one senses the urge to find a color to anchor this area or a particular mark to locate that sequence.

Jo Ann Rothschild, “7-9-2013” (2013), oil on canvas, 66 x 96 in

Jo Ann Rothschild, “7-9-2013” (2013), oil on canvas, 66 x 96 in

Suggestions of real-life subject matter abound, but never in conclusive fashion. In several canvases one could imagine the discombobulating energy of a street scene, spread out before one’s eyes. A punning exception, in these insistently hands-on paintings, is the pair of outlined hands appearing in “7-9-2013.” (All works in the show are titled according to their dates of completion. The title of one painting, finished the day the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional, adds the phrase, “An Important Day.”)

Jo Ann Rothschild, “4-15-2013” (2013), oil on linen, 25 x 34 in (click to enlarge)

Jo Ann Rothschild, “4-15-2013” (2013), oil on linen, 25 x 34 in (click to enlarge)

The sum of each of these paintings may not always be greater than its effervescent parts. But in the most powerful of them, local energies accumulate, imparting weight to canvas-wide events. In “4-15-2013,” a broad division of the painting between subdued blues and greens leads, across layered horizontals, to a compacted outlying ultramarine. It’s just one example of passions aligning, point by point, with a conviction of form.

David Fratkin: Apparitions on a Greyhound Bus and Jo Ann Rothschild: An Important Day continue at The Painting Center (547 West 27th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 25.

NEWS: Proposals Plentiful as City Officials Debate Fate of Former Aspen Art Museum Site

The Aspen Daily News

French President Pledges Support of Paul McCarthy’s Butt Plug

François Hollande and Paul McCarthy's "Tree" sculpture (illustration by the author for Hyperallergic; Holland photo via Wikimedia Commons)

François Hollande and Paul McCarthy’s “Tree” sculpture (image by the author for Hyperallergic, photos via 1, 2)

France’s chief of state has pledged his support for the American artist Paul McCarthy, after the artist’s 80-foot-tall inflatable sculpture “Tree,” which bares an uncanny resemblance to a butt plug, proved intolerable to prudish Parisians.

“France will always be on the side of artists, just as I am on the side of Paul McCarthy, whose work was sullied, no matter what one’s opinion of the piece may have been,” said François Hollande at last night’s opening of Paris’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, according to Agence France Presse. “We must always respect the work of artists … France is always ready to welcome artists and creatives coming from every country in the world.” Both McCarthy and his artwork were attacked, forcing the piece’s emergency de-installation.

“France is no longer herself when she is folded in on herself, tormented by ignorance and intolerance,” Hollande added hyperbolically. “The country would plunge into decline if it refused to be itself, if it was afraid of the future, afraid of the world.”

The sculpture had been inflated in Paris’s Place Vendôme as part of the public art programming surrounding this week’s art fairs in the French capital. Now, visitors to the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain will have to content themselves with just one giant erotic monument.

Architecture Studio at SCI-Arc Proposes Hybrid Brothel/Child-Care Center


SCI-Arc’s elective vertical studios pair small groups of upper-level, graduate, and undergraduate students with elite faculty and international architects. In these studios, students develop projects which explore particular interests. They have the opportunity to work with architects visiting the school and gain insight into a broad range of issues concerning approaches to building, the environment, technology, theoretical stances, and personal interests.

Visiting faculty Jeff Kipnis’s design studio, one of 10 vertical studios offered at SCI-Arc this fall, is focused on developing a design proposal for a hybrid brothel/child-care center (watch studio intro here). The unique brothel would offer female and male services to select clients with a full range of additional optional accommodations, including gourmet meals, fine libations, and entertainment. The day-care/pre-school would accept infants through kindergarten, scheduled and on short notice. For every age and length of stay, the school would be programmed, outfitted, and staffed to match the extraordinary service level of the brothel.

In recent years, vertical studio faculty have included noted architects such as Lise Anne Couture, Michael Sorkin, Peter Trummer, Wolf Prix, Merrill Elam, Hernan Diaz Alonso, Hsinming Fung, Marcelyn Gow, Craig Hodgetts, Coy Howard, Wes Jones, Robert Mangurian, Eric Owen Moss, Dwayne Oyler, Marcelo Spina, Peter Testa, Tom Wiscombe, Andrew Zago, and Peter Zellner. The vertical studio faculty-to-student ratio is 1:16, with many classes employing additional TAs to assist students.

SCI-Arc is now accepting applications for the Master of Architecture program. Deadline to apply is December 15, 2014.

NEWS: Proposals Plenty as City Officials Debate Fate of Former Aspen Art Museum Site

The Aspen Daily News

The Many Uses of Rhizome’s New Social Media Preservation Tool

Screenshot of Amalia Ulman's Instagram project "Excellences & Perfections" as preserved on Colloq

Screenshot of Amalia Ulman’s Instagram project “Excellences & Perfections” as preserved on Colloq (screenshot via Colloq)

How do you capture and preserve the experience of a new media art work created on Twitter in 2010? How do you recreate the design and feel of Twitter’s interface at that time, and populate that interface with users’ contemporaneous profile photos? These are the types of questions that New York’s digital art nonprofit Rhizome is trying to answer in the development of Colloq, a new conservation tool that will help artists preserve social media projects not only by archiving them, but by replicating the exact look and layout of the sites used, and the interactions with other users.

Though Colloq could be invaluable to artists who use social media in their work — not to mention social media users in general — its development was spurred by very practical concerns.

The idea for Colloq came “not so much [from] a particular project, but rather the realization that Rhizome will be unable to accession new, contemporary Internet art if we don’t rethink archival practices,” Rhizome’s digital conservator Dragan Espenchied told Hyperallergic. “Our archive, the Artbase, was conceptualized at a time when artists would create and host their own software, so it is very much based on the assumption that there are objects the artist created and hands over.” The situation now is different.

“Today many artists working on the net use all kinds of complex services, that might be Google Maps or social media widgets or embedded videos, some have moved their appearance completely into social networks,” Espenchied said. “Such projects cannot be collected as a set of files that can simply be served up on the web. With Colloq we will be able to conserve many of those. I certainly hope that the possibility to archive such activities will give artists working on the net a better position and control over their work.”

That’s assuming artists using social media want control over their social media work in the first place.

“It’s great for people to have a tool to archive a version of a project or performance, much like photos did for Vito Acconci, Tehching Hsieh, or Marina Abramović, and I commend the effort. For the most part I have little interest in revisiting the majority of my old projects as they were meant to be experienced in real time, and, well, they’re in the past,” says Man Bartlett, an artist who has done a number of projects using Twitter and other social media platforms. “Seeing a version of time suspended isn’t nearly as interesting to me, no matter how it’s archived. At times throughout my career I’ve been pretty antagonistic about archival processes and digital nostalgia in general.”

In many cases, what may have attracted artists to using social media is precisely the impossibility of archiving, preserving, and collecting such works.

“It’s completely intangible, which is also what has drawn me to it as a platform for creative production,” Bartlett added. “All of that said, I’ve recently been seeing an increased interest from other folks about that body of work, so I’ve slowly been considering ways to bring back some version of an archive that doesn’t feel disingenuous. Colloq may end up being one interesting way to do this.”

Nevertheless, the tool’s potential applications for artists and other art professionals — not to mention the general public — are innumerable. For one, Colloq could prove invaluable for museums trying to archive their social media initiatives and gauge the success of their online engagement projects.

“Colloq is a really exciting development for us and would have helped enormously on our 1stfans membership project,” said Shelley Bernstein, the Brooklyn Museum’s vice director of digital engagement and technology. “During 1stfans, we had artists using a dedicated Twitter feed for monthly projects which were available to members. When we decided to close that program, we had no easy way to archive the artist’s work on that feed. We had to use Twitter’s API [Application Programming Interface] to create an archive manually and were lucky to have web developers on staff who could accomplish this task. Even though the resulting archive represents each project well enough, it does not go so far as to replicate the user interaction at its fullest.”

For now, Colloq is still in its early stages of development — helped along by a recent $35,000 Knight Foundation grant — and for Espenchied and his team it is constantly raising new questions and challenges.

“We are in contact with folklorists, sociologists, web communities, of course artists and looking for more to learn about what they might want to do with such a tool,” he said. “The ethical implications of what it means to capture behind the login is also something we are researching.”

Then and Now: A Conversation with Prospect.3’s Franklin Sirmans


Tarsila do Amaral, “Study for Antropofagia” (1929) Ink on paper, 9” x 7.68” (courtesy Gilberto Chateaubriand Collection, MAM RJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

NEW ORLEANS — While the curator Dan Cameron debuted the city-wide international art biennial Prospect.1 in 2008 on a grand scale — demonstrating the role of the arts in rebuilding the city following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and declaring New Orleans a city worthy of joining in on international art conversations — cost soared, workers were slow to get paid, and questions of Prospect’s sustainability arose. Then Prospect.2 failed to meet its biennial appointment, having slunk into New Orleans in 2011 with a few spectacular exhibitions but an overall lack of fanfare. Now, Franklin Sirmans, curator of contemporary art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), has replaced Cameron as artistic director for Prospect.3: Notes for Now, the biennial’s latest installment. So there is a lot riding on Prospect.3, which opens on October 25 — especially for Sirmans, whose role at the helm takes him beyond the museum and into the expanse of a multi-venue biennial for the first time.

 *    *   *

Adam Falik: The title of Prospect.3 is Notes for Now, yet at the press conference you opened with a quote from Percy Walker’s The Moviegoer, written half a century ago, which was followed up with an image by Paul Gauguin. How do these function as voices of now?

Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head, Contemporary Art at LACMA (photo (c) 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA)

Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head, Contemporary Art at LACMA (photo (c) 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA)

Franklin Sirmans: For me the discussion of contemporary art is not only about contemporary art. This is not a show that is going to be about the last two years in terms of its visual production, but is about the last couple years in terms of what it has to say within the now. That’s how I think you go from the 19th century to the 1960s to the present. Many of the artists in the exhibition, although they’re working in the here and now, are also very much connected to the 19th century, and also the 1960s. I think they find a lot of sustenance in those periods. Thus: “Notes from Now.” I thought that reference to a deceased European painter was quite interesting, especially a European painter like Gauguin who spent time in Peru and was about going out into the world. We talk about him searching for self in an exoticized other, and the idea of the search is also a good part of The Moviegoer by Walter Percy. The Moviegoer provides an interesting framework to think about New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and the southern United States. You have this conversation visually between Gauguin and a woman who is from Brazil, [P.3 exhibiting artist] Tarsila do Amaral, who is similarly concerned with this idea of defining another. So geographically, culturally, historically, I thought I had some sort of focal point there.

AF: How have some of the smaller themes evolved as you pulled P.3 together?

FS: The only way to truly understand ourselves is through others, that is something that comes across in many different artists. And then there’s the idea on movie-going in a very broad general sense. Our generation sees screens, this is a way we see the world, and film and video are such an important way in which we view contemporary art now, so I wanted to allude to that. Crime and punishment is something that comes up throughout the exhibition. I think that’s important now not only in a place like Louisiana, which is home to Angola [State Prison], but part of a much bigger conversation. Mohamed Bourouissa has a piece filmed in a prison outside of Paris, [but] would you know that it was Paris?


Mohamed Bourouissa, “Untitled (Temps mort)” (2008–9), C-prints, 363⁄8 × 447⁄8 in. (92.5 × 114 cm) (courtesy The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Contemporary Friends)

AF: There is this habit here of New Orleans-izing everything. When King Lear and Macbeth are performed here, they are set in New Orleans. Even the Basquiat show that is part of P.3 is “Basquiat on the Bayou.” Are you worried that you’re New Orleans-izing Prospect?

FS: That’s a line to walk and I would say there’s a lot of people in New Orleans who say there’s not enough New Orleans in this exhibition. My gut was that it was about striking a balance. Around 20% of the artists are making site specific work where New Orleans comes into play in a specific way. I think there are two things that are super important to this type of project: you have to be cognizant of where it takes place, and that context has to be an important part of what will be said. Liu Ding is making performative work that is specific to New Orleans, but he hasn’t spent time there before. It’s my desire that people walk away with a real sense of New Orleans and its city and its context, but they also walk away with: Ok, it’s a show about international contemporary art right now and this is one possible way of looking at it.

AF: Do you think a curator should have a personal identifiable stamp on an exhibition?

FS: I don’t know if I believe it or not, but I think it’s inevitable. If I think about Documenta, and I know Carolyn [Christov-Bakargiev], that’s Carolyn’s show. If I think about Massimiliano [Gioni] and think about Venice, that’s Massimiliano’s show. If you are part of the conversation and can identify these things then it’s a part of the conversation. Does it necessarily need to be for most viewers? I don’t think so.


Jean-Michel Basquiat, “CPRKR” (1982), Acrylic, oil-stick and collage on canvas, mounted on wood, 60” x 40” (courtesy Donald Baechler Collection, New York) © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York 2014

AF: You keep using the phrase, “the conversation.” I think I know what you’re referring to, but I’m not sure if I understand specifically. What are the conversations of P.3?

FS: There’s an overall conversation in terms of contemporary art, and you can focus that to a conversation on biennial-type exhibitions, so that’s the conversation I’ve been having with myself and my peers for the last few years in a really focused way. That’s the conversation I’m referring to. Then there are more intimate conversations one has with artists in studio visits, on Skype, via email, on the phone. So there’s that conversation. But metaphorically I would say the exhibition is about conversation. This idea of the search as a conversation, that the only way to truly understand one’s self is through others and therefore requires conversation.

AF: So we’re not talking about art as a conversation abstractly, but conversation as one of the direct themes of Prospect.3.

FS: Absolutely.

AF: How does all this connect to Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibal Manifesto,” which you refer to in both press and in your catalog notes? What does it mean in regards to Prospect.3?

FS: I’m piggy-backing on a conversation that happened in the 1998 San Palo, a line that ran through it that was also about “The Communist Manifesto.” You have to understand all sides in order to function. And by that I mean very concrete things, like what is soul food, for instance? It’s a mix of everything. It’s leftovers. It’s making do with what you have. What is gumbo? We talked about the emphasis on New Orleans, but there’s an emphasis on the region as well. And so we must eat our African, our Native, our European in order to show our true selves. So that puts us on the other side of the world and it also puts us in a really interesting place vis-à-vis New Orleans, the most European city in this country, and probably the most African city in this country. Here we are at what can be described as the most Northern Point of the Caribbean rather than one of the most Southern points of the United States.

AF: So the eating of the other is a place where Europe meets America, where we meet our history, where we eat one another.

FS: Yeah. Where else can you have the Vieux Carre right up against Congo Square. It almost writes itself.

Prospect.3: Notes for Now opens October 25 at various venues in New Orleans.

NEWS: Oscar de la Renta (1932–2014)

The New York Times

An Intimate Portrait of Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden (all images courtesy RADiUS-TWC)

Edward Snowden (all images courtesy RADiUS-TWC)

Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden, premiered to a sold-out audience at the New York Film Festival on October 10. The film was not originally part of the festival lineup, its inclusion only announced less than a month prior. The premiere understandably generated an overwhelming amount of anticipation, promising a personal look at the enigmatic figure who leaked a trove of classified NSA documents that expose a horrifyingly massive, US-run surveillance program directed at both US and global citizens and world leaders. Snowden is currently wanted by the US government for treason and continues to live in Russia, which has granted him temporary asylum.

Citizenfour is the third film in Poitras’s documentary trilogy about the post–September 11th world. My Country, My Country (2005) captures the chaos in Iraq leading up to that year’s elections, focusing on a Sunni doctor who’s running for political office. The Oath (2010), one of the most underrated documentaries of the past five years, follows Abu Jandal, a winningly charismatic Yemeni taxi driver who also happens to be a former member of Al Qaeda, and for a time Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard. The Oath and Citizenfour are philosophically two-of-a-kind — meditations on individual responsibility amid fundamentalism, violence, and abuses of power. Both present nuanced portraits of characters whose political sympathies do not split along traditional lines. George Packer’s profile of Poitras in The New Yorker recounts the reaction of Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, to The Oath: “I’m trying to get people out of Guantánamo, and your film is not helpful.” Snowden too is an enigmatic character, certainly not the darling of all liberals, and has been aggressively prosecuted by the Obama administration; Michael Cieply, writing in the New York Times, queried how Harvey Weinstein, Jeff Skoll, and Richard Plepler, heads of companies that backed Citizenfour, could reconcile funding the film and financially supporting Obama.

Although often described as such, Citizenfour is not truly a piece of political reporting. After all, the revelations of NSA spying detailed in the film happened months before. Nor is the film, although it perhaps aspires to be, much of a deep character study. We learn little of the complexity of Snowden’s psyche — he presents a clear, consistent motive of political principle to his interviewers, and reveals little about himself beyond his concern with the questions at hand. Rather, what Citizenfour captures is the nail-biting suspense of a short period of time in which a man sacrifices himself for his political ideals.

Communication between Edward Snowden and director Laura Poitras, from 'Citizenfour'

Communication between Edward Snowden and director Laura Poitras, from ‘Citizenfour’

The film begins with Poitras narrating her first email communications with Snowden, code-named “citizen four.” Snowden contacts Poitras cold, explaining that he chose her because of her personal experience with surveillance. (As a 2012 Salon article by Glenn Greenwald details, Poitras has been frequently detained and questioned when re-entering the US, likely because of her earlier films.) Snowden makes clear to Poitras that he plans to abscond with a vast amount of classified information, and he asks her to bring on Greenwald as a partner. (Snowden had previously contacted Greenwald; according to the film, their relationship had been discontinued because they were unable to establish a secure connection.) Poitras and Greenwald arrange to meet Snowden in Hong Kong. The bulk of the film occurs during that time, when Poitras, Greenwald, the Guardian’s Ewan MacAskill, and Snowden congregate inside a Hong Kong hotel room, in the days after Snowden has made an irreversible decision.

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong (click to enlarge)

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong (click to enlarge)

Citizenfour’s narrative is driven by intimate shots of Snowden. The mood is tense, and our hero is paranoid. Or is he? He repeatedly teases Greenwald about a lack of computer security measures, which he immediately fixes. He questions the veracity of a sudden, repeat fire alarm. (It turns out to be a test.) He realizes he’s forgotten to unplug the hotel phone; it could be used as a clandestine surveillance microphone. He puts a blanket over his head while typing, since passwords can be discovered through hand movements. Snowden has suddenly stepped out of one life and into another; it seems he is nervously learning how to play whistleblower. In a later scene, before he must leave the hotel, he opens a large black umbrella, holding it low to cover his face. Realizing he looks absurd, a cliché of an undercover spy, he ditches the umbrella. And in one of the film’s most emotional moments, Snowden emails with his girlfriend, who has no idea where he is or what he’s in the process of doing; she tells him that police have questioned her.

The time in the hotel captures a series of world-changing events from an intimate perspective: Greenwald starts to publish; Snowden decides to reveal his identity, then leaves the hotel, seeking asylum. After his departure, Poitras cannot film him — the security risk is too high. The final section of the movie chronicles the media storm surrounding the leaks, before Poitras finally reunites with Snowden and Greenwald in Moscow; during this meeting Greenwald reveals the existence of a second NSA informant.

There has been very little critical discussion of Citizenfour in a cinematic context — its subject inherently dominates. Citizenfour is a competent film, but no great artistic accomplishment. Given that most of the story occurs in a hotel room, visually there isn’t much to work with. The depth of characters is also limited; the focus is on the revelations at hand. And so, perhaps reasonably, much of the discussion around the film has become a debate about Snowden himself, his motives and character.

Fred Kaplan’s review in Slate paints the whistleblow as ultimately irresponsible, berating him for the amount of classified information he gave to Poitras and Greenwald: “What kind of whistleblower hands over a digital library of extremely classified documents on a vast range of topics, shrugs his shoulders, and says, I’ll let you decide what to publish?” Kaplan criticizes the film for portraying Snowden as ultimately conscientious. Even Packer’s New Yorker piece, generally sympathetic towards Snowden, notes that Citizenfour leaves elements of his motives unearthed: “Snowden went to great trouble over a long period to amass the astonishing quantity of secrets that he passed on to Poitras and Greenwald—including taking a private-contractor position solely with the aim of downloading N.S.A. files. None of this is revealed under Greenwald’s questioning.” 

What may actually bother these critics most is Snowden’s singled-mindedness. He’s so sure of his convictions and in possession of such a clear sense of personal responsibility that he colors a shocking number of people in a comparatively dark moral light: anyone with security privileges at the NSA; many members of congress; the President; anyone else who was aware of the NSA’s data collection programs and did nothing. Citizenfour shows that Snowden has absolute faith in his own principles. He repeats that he doesn’t want to become the focus of attention — the leaks themselves should have the news spotlight. He explains the information he has, but makes clear that he wants Poitras and Greenwald to decide what to reveal and when to publish it. Generally, he comes across as smart, extremely principled, and unassuming. It’s a convincing portrait.

The NSA (photo by Trevor Paglen)

The NSA (photo by Trevor Paglen)

The US government has a fairly robust history of spying on its citizens. The FBI sent threatening letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. and watched on John Lennon. Under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover, a program called Cointelpro monitored everyone whose political work the agency considered suspect, from members of college black student associations to those with possible Communist sympathies. But it’s crucial to remember that this history of surveillance involved following people, bugging apartments and phones — work that had to be done by humans. What is perhaps most disturbing about Snowden’s NSA revelations is the impersonality, magnitude, and infallibility of our contemporary government’s practices. No longer does one person listen in on another’s phone line; rather, data centers quietly spy on everyone. At the premiere, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were all being monitored; Poitras, Greenwald, journalist Jeremy Scahill, and members of Snowden’s family were all present. The event seemed a likely target for enhanced NSA data flagging. While US society is still open enough that this type of film can premiere at a major festival, we now know that we live in a surveillance state. Whatever one believes Snowden’s motives to be, the information he exposed must radically change the way each of us thinks about, understands, and enacts our relationship to democracy in this country. And for that, we should be thankful.

Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour screens at BAMcinématek (Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave, Fort Greene, Brooklyn) on October 23 and opens in theaters nationwide on October 24.

NEWS: Wolfgang Hutter (1928–2014)

Der Standard

Hammer Projects: N. Dash at The Hammer Museum

N. Dash’s solo exhibit at the Hammer Museum begins with a series of Duratrans transparencies displaying magnified wreaths of frayed fabric in architectural light boxes. Her work, which faces the open and airy courtyard of the Los Angeles museum, was presented in conjunction with the Mandala of Compassion for two weeks, a live exhibit in which Tibetan Buddhist monks constructed a sacred mandala using colored sands and methods passed down over two millennia. It’s no coincidence that Mandala of Compassion and N. Dash’s work were featured around the same time: They converged harmoniously in their emphasis on creative process, organic materials, and the ultimate impermanence of matter.

N. Dash. Untitled, 2014 (detail); gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: The Hammer Museum.

N. Dash. Hammer Projects: N. Dash, 2014; installation view, Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: N. Dash.

Dash’s floor-to-ceiling light boxes illuminate pale wreaths of fibers floating in a cool, aqueous light that ripples almost undetectably. These suspended fibers were deconstructed by her hands over many hours in her daily routine, and she began photographing the twists of fabric in 2002 to make a physical record of her creative energy.

The documentation of her process through physical objects continues upstairs in the vault gallery with silver gelatin prints of various worked fabrics, each a testament and witness to the invisible but powerful reality of creative energy. These prints are featured beside her larger works made of adobe, indigo, jute, oil, graphite, wood, linen, and string, some of which are stapled directly into the museum wall in order to show each individual work’s journey through different spaces. Dash is particularly interested in “wear,” the accumulation of texture of an object as it passes through different spaces.

N. Dash. Untitled, 2014; adobe, oil, pigment, string, acrylic, linen, jute, and wood support. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: The Hammer Museum.

N. Dash. Untitled, 2014; adobe, oil, pigment, string, acrylic, linen, jute, and wood support. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: N. Dash.

N. Dash. Untitled, 2014; adobe, pigment, string, acrylic, linen, jute, and wood support. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: N. Dash.

N. Dash. Untitled, 2014; adobe, pigment, string, acrylic, linen, jute, and wood support. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: N. Dash.

Dash’s exploration of space, matter, and process stems in part from her visit to New Mexico in 2002, in which she visited an adobe house that had been built with the excavated earth beside it. The transformation of dirt—and the negative space that remained as a reminder of the structure’s autochthonic origin—greatly impressed Dash, who now uses the New Mexican earth in her works, often mixing and applying adobe by hand. All untitled, the larger works possess both feminine and masculine qualities in their structural geometry, earthiness, and sensuality.

Hammer Projects: N. Dash is on view at Hammer Museum in Los Angeles through January 25, 2015.

N. Dash was born in Miami Beach, Florida in 1980. She lives and works in New Mexico and New York. Her work has been featured at High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree and Brand New Gallery in Milan, Italy, among others, and is currently on view at Pace Gallery in London.

Under the Big Top with a Century of Art

August Sander, “Circus Artists” (“Zirkusartisten”), 1926/1936 printed later. Edgar J. Lownes and Walter H. Kimball Funds. © August Sander. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

August Sander, “Circus Artists” (“Zirkusartisten”) (1926/1936, printed later), Edgar J. Lownes and Walter H. Kimball Funds (© August Sander) (all images courtesy the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Long before television or the internet infused daily life with spectacle, there was the circus. Between 1850 and 1960, this lowbrow performance art — a theater of animal riders, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, and clowns — captured the public imagination, drawing a century’s worth of artists to illustrate its wondrous sights and the eccentric characters orchestrating them.

Circus, a new show at the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island, invites visitors back into the big top to consider it through the lens of art. For people like Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the circus’s doors (or flaps) opened onto an arresting world of garish color, mesmerizing costumes, and live human subjects ranging from the graceful (James Tissot’s “Ladies of the Chariots”) to the grotesque (Max Beckmann’s “Behind the Wings”). In short, an artistic goldmine.

The show — which includes 40 paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs — also looks beyond the circus’s aesthetic appeal to consider its historical and political significance. As a press statement explains:

Although the circus created an illusory world unto itself, it was also deeply tied to the 19th and 20th century industrialization of the United States and Europe. Enabled by rapid technological advancements, such as an expanding railroad system, the circus to came to both large cities and small towns. At the same time, highlights such as menageries and ethnographic exhibitions broadened visitors’ exposure to cultures from around the world, thus shaping viewers’ knowledge while simultaneously reinforcing Western hegemony over colonized lands.

Take a look at some images from the show.

American, Circus Poster, 1850-1855. Museum Works of Art Fund. Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI.

American, Circus Poster (1850–55), Museum Works of Art Fund

James Tissot, “Ladies of the Chariots,” ca. 1883-1885. Gift of Mrs. Water Lowry. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

James Tissot, “Ladies of the Chariots” (c. 1883–85), Gift of Mrs. Water Lowry

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “At the Circus: Bareback”, 1899. Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “At the Circus: Bareback” (1899), Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth

Alexander Calder, “Tumblers with Spectators”, 1931-1932. The Albert Pilavin Memorial Collection of 20th Century American Art: gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irving J. Fain. © Alexander Calder. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Alexander Calder, “Tumblers with Spectators” (1931–32), The Albert Pilavin Memorial Collection of 20th Century American Art: gift of Mr. and Mrs. Irving J. Fain (© Alexander Calder)

Henri Matisse, "The Nightmare of the White Elephant" ("Le Cauchemar de l’éléphant blanc"), 1947. © Henri Matisse. Mary B Jackson Fund. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Henri Matisse, “The Nightmare of the White Elephant” (“Le Cauchemar de l’éléphant blanc”) (1947), Mary B. Jackson Fund (© Henri Matisse)

Charles Demuth, “Bicyclists,” ca. 1916-1917. © Charles Demuth. Gift of the Fazzano Brothers. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Charles Demuth, “Bicyclists” (c. 1916–17), Gift of the Fazzano Brothers (© Charles Demuth)

Georges Rouault, “Parade,” 1934. © Georges Rouault. Gift of the Fazzano Brothers. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Georges Rouault, “Parade” (1934), Gift of the Fazzano Brothers (© Georges Rouault)

Max Beckmann, “The Barker,” 1922. Museum Works of Art Fund. © Max Beckmann. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Max Beckmann, “The Barker” (1922), Museum Works of Art Fund (© Max Beckmann)

Max Beckmann, “Shooting Gallery," 1922. Museum Works of Art Fund. © Max Beckmann. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Max Beckmann, “Shooting Gallery” (1922), Museum Works of Art Fund (© Max Beckmann)

Max Beckmann, “Behind the Wings,” 1922. Museum Works of Art Fund. © Max Beckmann. (Courtesy of the RISD Museum, Providence, RI)

Max Beckmann, “Behind the Wings” (1922), Museum Works of Art Fund (© Max Beckmann)

Circus continues at the RISD Museum (224 Benefit St, Providence, RI) through Feb. 22, 2015.

Study Confirms What We Already Know About the Importance of Artists’ Authenticity

Appendix for "Artist Authenticity" paper (courtesy the authors)

Appendix showing the paintings in used in “Artist Authenticity” study (courtesy the authors)

For all the studies considering how we relate to artwork and artists that are producing fascinating results, there are others that are duds. “Artist Authenticity: How Artists’ Passion and Commitment Shape Consumers’ Perceptions and Behavioral Intentions across Genders,” published in the journal Psychology & Marketing, proposes to study the effect that an artist’s perceived authenticity has on potential consumers’ evaluation of — and inclination to buy — the artist’s work. It also suggests that women and men evaluate art differently. But its evidence and findings feel thin.

The authors of the paper, Julie Guidry MoulardDan Hamilton Rice, Carolyn Popp Garrity, and Stephanie M. Mangus, of, respectively, Louisiana Tech University, Louisiana State University, Birmingham-Southern College, and Michigan State University, define “artist authenticity” as “the artist being motivated by his or her true passions as opposed to other external motivations, such as prestige and profits.” They go on to analogize artist authenticity with brand authenticity, explaining that previous research has shown consumers prefer brands that are perceived as genuine. “As both the producer of the work, and the public ‘face’ of the product, artists fit the definition of a human brand,” they write.

So, the question becomes: how does this authenticity affect a viewer’s judgment about an artwork, and thus the question of whether or not to buy it? Moulard et al attempt to discover this with a survey. Their sample size is small: 518 adults, 288 of whom are undergraduate business students. And for what it’s worth, “32.9% of respondents who reported annual income indicated an income of over $60,000, with 26.1% reporting an income over $80,000.” The survey, conducted online, involved asking participants to evaluate two paintings, presented as the work of a single artist, with the aim of helping a gallery determine what artists to show. All participants viewed the same two paintings, but the appended biographies of the artist varied, indicating different levels of genuineness (from passionate to sellout, essentially). Respondents were then asked to evaluate four categories: artist authenticity, their attitude toward the artist, their attitude toward the artwork, and behavior intentions (regarding browsing and buying), by the use of multiple choice and an agree–disagree scale.

A table from the "Artist Authenticity" study (courtesy the authors)

A table from the “Artist Authenticity” study (courtesy the authors) (click to enlarge)

Their findings, unfortunately, read like a series of fairly obvious statements to anyone who’s spent time in the art world or studying art:

A conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that the artist’s brand plays a pivotal role in how artistic authenticity affects behavioral intentions. Artist authenticity was predicted and found to affect attitude toward the artist.


Given the difficulty in evaluating art (i.e., art is a credence good), the results of the study suggest that consumers use their attitude toward the artist to aid them in their judgments about the artwork.


An artist’s authenticity is a critical determinant of a consumer’s attitude toward the artist, which in turn is a critical component used in consumer appraisals and decision making. In a practical sense, this suggests that the image of the artist must be treated and managed as a brand, since artwork is not merely being evaluated by its own merit (e.g., actual components), but also by consumers’ attitudes related to the artist’s own authenticity.

These are not exactly news. The most interesting conclusion actually stems from something the researchers didn’t find:

Additionally, given that artist authenticity was conceptualized as an artist’s passion about and commitment to his/her work, artist authenticity was expected to affect attitude toward the artwork. Consumers’ perceptions of a passionate and committed artist were expected to lead to perceptions that the outcome of the artist’s labor is high-quality artwork. Surprisingly, however, this relationship was not supported. Rather, the results suggest that attitude toward the artist fully mediated the effect of artist authenticity on attitude toward the artwork.

This suggests that our feelings about an artist affect our judgment of his work more than our evaluation of his authenticity. We may think someone is a genuine and committed artist, but if we don’t like him, it doesn’t matter much.

The authors also attempted to study the different ways that gender plays into our evaluation of artwork. They write:

… the relationship between attitude toward the artist and behavioral intentions was stronger for men. Given that men tend to have a schema-based, heuristic processing style, they are more likely than women to use the artist’s brand as a heuristic. Females, however, process more cues, demonstrating a stronger relationship between attitude toward the artwork and behavioral intentions, due to the difficulty in evaluating art that males are more prone to avoid.

Figure from the "Artist Authenticity" study

Figure from the “Artist Authenticity” study

This could potentially be revealing with further research, but I think the larger problem here is with the limited range of this particular survey. Can we really learn much about people’s art-buying habits from a study that only surveys 500 people, more than half of whom are undergraduate college students? Do undergrads buy art? Even if they do, there’s a vast gulf between agreeing with the statement “I would like to have this artist’s artwork displayed in my home or office” and actually purchasing said artwork. The participants also only saw images of these paintings (which, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly MoMA material) online, which likely influences how they evaluated them. And while buying through the internet is becoming more prevalent, I’d suspect that for most beginner art collectors, it wouldn’t suffice. (The study does not indicate whether these participants have ever bought art before; my assumption, based on personal experiences but potentially incorrect, is that most of them haven’t.) Buying art — unlike books, movies, expensive clothes — simply isn’t ingrained enough in our broader cultural habits.

As for artist branding, it’s no surprise that it matters, but it also seems like a given, at least when dealing with the question of authenticity. Even Damien Hirst, whose brand involves being a “bad boy” and attempting to shock and piss people off, doesn’t actively call himself a sellout. If we’re going to understand the effects of an artist’s image on the sale of his artwork, we’re going to need more nuanced categories and more refined questions.

All Systems Go at Gowanus Open Studios 2014

Installation view of a pop-up show at 610 Smith Street, including a large tapestry by Shura Skaya at far left (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Installation view of a pop-up show at 610 Smith Street, including a large tapestry by Shura Skaya at far left (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Over the weekend, more than 300 artists opened up their work spaces to the public for the 18th annual Gowanus Open Studios. The event drew huge crowds to typically deserted blocks near the notoriously polluted waterway from as far south as 18th Street all the way up to Pacific Street.

As the guide of an official, ticketed Arts Gowanus walking tour, I had the pleasure of leading a group around the northern end of the Gowanus Canal on Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, studios I visited on 12th Street and in the TI Art Studios on Lorraine Street were already very busy, suggesting a robust turnout for one of Brooklyn’s big three open studios events (along with Bushwick and Greenpoint).

Pop-up exhibitions seemed especially popular this year, with spaces as diverse as the historic Old Stone House and the grungy studio building at 610 Smith Street hosting weekend-long group shows.

A sculpture by Saint Clair Cemin in a pop-up show at 610 Smith Street

A sculpture by Saint Clair Cemin in a pop-up show at 610 Smith Street

Work by Swoon in a pop-up exhibition at 610 Smith Street

Work by Swoon in a pop-up exhibition at 610 Smith Street

A new print in the studio of Brian Adam Douglas at 183 Lorraine Street

A new print in the studio of Brian Adam Douglas at 183 Lorraine Street

A mural by Brian Adam Douglas in the hallway at 183 Lorraine Street

A mural by Brian Adam Douglas in the hallway at 183 Lorraine Street

A painting by Rachel Schmidhofer, "Chapstick," in the artist's studio at 126 13th Street

A painting by Rachel Schmidhofer, “Chapstick,” in the artist’s studio at 126 13th Street

A jigsaw puzzle in Rachel Schmidhofer's studio combining pieces from two unrelated puzzles

A jigsaw puzzle in Rachel Schmidhofer’s studio combining pieces from two unrelated puzzles

Amy Stienbarger, "Grill" (2014) in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein's studio at 110 Nevins Street

Amy Stienbarger, “Grill” (2014) in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein’s studio at 110 Nevins Street

A sculpture by Amy Stienbarger in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein's studio at 110 Nevins Street

A sculpture by Amy Stienbarger in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein’s studio at 110 Nevins Street

Detail of a sculpture by Daniel Wiener in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein's studio at 110 Nevins Street

Detail of a sculpture by Daniel Wiener in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein’s studio at 110 Nevins Street

A sculpture by Daniel Wiener in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein's studio at 110 Nevins Street

A sculpture by Daniel Wiener in a pop-up exhibition at Abby Goldstein’s studio at 110 Nevins Street

One of Charles Heppner's "Prayer Rug" photos in his studio at 232 Bergen Street

One of Charles Heppner’s “Prayer Rug” photos in his studio at 232 Bergen Street

Sculptures made from wood shards from Liz Sweibel's pop-up studio at 295 Douglass Street

Sculptures made from wood shards at Liz Sweibel’s pop-up studio at 295 Douglass Street

A sculpture made from wood splinters from Liz Sweibel's pop-up studio at 295 Douglass Street

A sculpture made from wood splinters at Liz Sweibel’s pop-up studio at 295 Douglass Street

Installation view of "Common Ground Gowanus" at the Old Stone House

Installation view of ‘Common Ground Gowanus’ at the Old Stone House

Joanne McFarland, "Stunned by What She Saw"

Joanne McFarland, “Stunned by What She Saw” in ‘Common Ground Gowanus’ at the Old Stone House

Ellen Driscoll, "Untitled I" (left) and "Untitled II" (right)

Ellen Driscoll, “Untitled I” (left) and “Untitled II” (right) in ‘Common Ground Gowanus’ at the Old Stone House

Works by Dale Williams, "Kings County Content Producers Barbecue" (2013, left) and "Commuter Kick Restarts Subway Train" (2013, right) at the Old Stone House.

Works by Dale Williams, “Kings County Content Producers Barbecue” (2013, left) and “Commuter Kick Restarts Subway Train” (2013, right) in ‘Common Ground Gowanus’ at the Old Stone House

Street art where Degraw Street ends at the Gowanus

Street art where Degraw Street ends at the Gowanus

Gowanus Open Studios 2014, of which Hyperallergic was a media sponsor, took place October 17–19 at spaces throughout Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Fortuitous Paintings, Between Plan and Action

Installation view of Amy Feldman's "High Signs" at Blackston Gallery. (All photographs courtesy of Blackston Gallery)

Installation view of Amy Feldman’s ‘High Signs’ (all photographs courtesy of Blackston Gallery)

Among the crop of painting shows that opened this season in New York, Amy Feldman’s High Signs is particularly notable for its visual impact and irreverent sense of humor. The front room of Blackston Gallery offers five large scale paintings in Feldman’s signature gray and white barrage of spontaneously doodled canvases. Daubed quickly in vigorous gray paint, there is a sense of immediacy and of action committed in the heat of the moment. Splashes, drips, and flurries of the brush inundate the otherwise matte gray surfaces. Each painting is enacted in one sitting, often times after lightly sketching her plan of attack and meditating on the surface. This practice might be viewed as a re-enactment of sorts, a conjuring of juvenile, casual energies. Each of these paintings beings with a series of sketches in sharpie marker on notebook paper. The translation from sketchy daydream to fully realized painting seems somewhat like a performance in its own right. This is a reimagining; the result is like looking through a foggy car window at a  familiar landscape. While we experience a common sense of graphic power, her compositions carry differences born in the moment of their creation.  The resulting images hover in front of the eye as they conflate positive and negative space.

(Left to right) "Psych Alike" (2014) acrylic on canvas. "Open Omen" (2014) acrylic on canvas.

Left to right: Amy Feldman, “Psych Alike” (2014) acrylic on canvas and “Open Omen” (2014) acrylic on canvas

Feldman’s “Open Omen” is a playfully chunky starburst of white unpainted canvas defined by joyful borderlands of dark gray paint. These oblong islands seem to peer inward at one another; an all knowing diaspora of charismatic smears pushed to the edges of the painting. “Psyche Alike,” hung several feet away, features a similar host of mischievous spheres scuttling their way around the perimeter. The resulting space has a powerful presence halfway between a smirking star and a drunken mandala. Together this pair gives an elusive sense of ornament and simplicity from across the room. It is only in approaching the two that their latent complexity comes to bear through each brushstroke and drip of paint. Wrought in two different shades of gray, sustained looking seems to make the paintings shift back and forth against the gray painted gallery walls. I blink twice, unsure if my eyes are playing tricks on me, but the paint differs in color just perceptibly enough  to register.

"Spirit Merit" (2014) acrylic on canvas

Amy Feldman, “Spirit Merit” (2014) acrylic on canvas

Her “Gut Smut” is defined by a muscular cloud ring of charcoal paint. Its surface seems to ripple and giggle with evidence of hazily sketched paint. Again, the action starts on the borders of the painting, but the eye is pulled to the surface along skeins of brushwork and into the center. The image seems to shift from one moment to the next, it’s final state unresolved, like a maze that is constantly reconstructing itself. I can’t but help feel this painting is teasing me with a  pixie-like glee, enticing me to glance across the surface. This sense of instability is taken to cartoonish, smile inducing heights in “Spirit Merit” the abstracted form seems to slouch forward with a well meaning stare. This is an abstract sketch writ large and possessed by the spirit of Snoopy. I look at it and I’m perplexed, then I smile and I can’t stop.

In a smaller room in the back of the gallery, against gray walls painted slightly darker, two series of four 20-square-inch square paintings, Popular Mantra and Hour Triumphs are a study in repetition and chance. All eight paintings are obvious riffs on the monumental painting “ Killer Instinct,” though one can’t help but feel that rather than pay homage or copy, the artist has gone back to her original marker sketch. They behave like siblings; though they share a similar genetic structure, they are ultimately shaped in different ways, yielding 8 strikingly different paintings, each with its own unique personality and energy. At first the similarities are striking, but the incident of painting lead the artist to undertake a range of choices. This seems like a winking demonstration aimed at proving how important the moment of painting actually is. In fact the entire show seems to reinforce the importance of the hand. All the planning, theory, and carefully crafted art speak go out the window the moment paint hits canvas. These paintings were born in that space where luck, sensitivity, and effort commingle. They feel lucky and are undoubtedly the product of risk taking: a happy reminder that sometimes it pays off.

Amy Feldman’s High Signs continues at Blackston Gallery (290 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through October 26th.

Susan Sollins, Pioneering Curator and Art Documentarian, Dies

Susan Sollins (photo courtesy ART21)

Susan Sollins (photo courtesy ART21)

Susan Sollins, the co-founder of Independent Curators International (ICI) and founder and executive director of Art21 — the non-profit organization that produces an artist documentary series with PBS — passed away on October 13 of unknown causes. Just days before her death, she served on the grand jury of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her age has not been made publicly available.

During Sollins’s 21 years at the helm of ICI she helped the organization mount some 75 exhibitions showcasing works by more than 1,700. After leaving that organization (where she continued to serve as executive director emerita) she founded Art21 in 1997, whose ongoing documentary series on PBS, Art:21 – Art in the Twenty-First Century, she executive produced. She received a Peabody Award for Art:21 in 2007. She received another Peabody for William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, her 2010 documentary about the South African artist. Sollins went by Susan Sollins-Brown during her marriage to the composer Earle Brown, who died in 2002. At the time of her death, Sollins was serving as the president of the Earle Brown Music Foundation.

“Susan was an endlessly supportive colleague and an infinite source of inspiration,” Renaud Proch, executive director of ICI, told Hyperallergic via email. “She was like a compass for us at ICI: Co-founder of ICI — together with Nina Castelli Sundell whom we also lost earlier this year — and the organization’s first Executive Director from 1975 to 1996. She was a true pioneer too, and her founding principles and vision behind ICI four decades ago — and later behind Art21 — never cease to amaze me. They’ve guided so much of the new developments at ICI in the past years, and will continue to do so.”

“To be in an artist’s studio with Susan was to learn from a master filmmaker,” Art21’s associate producer Ian Forster said in an email. “Through the respectful way she documented artists at work — and by asking questions that were insightful but free of preconception — Susan revealed aspects of the creative process that would have otherwise gone unseen. Susan’s tireless work ethic inspired everyone involved in the production process to join her cause and do their best work. She mentored many people over the years and I am so grateful to have been one of them.”

“I have never worked for someone who was as much of a constant inspiration as Susan was,” Jonathan Munar, the director of digital media and strategy at Art21, added via email. “Susan was a direct inspiration as a leader and a mentor, and an indirect inspiration through her films and work. Susan’s passion for bringing contemporary art to broader audiences spoke not just through her own work, but also through the commitment of her staff. We believed in her vision, and she trusted us to help see it through. I am thankful to have worked for such a true visionary.”

“I’ve worked with a number of art world movers and shakers as jurors and speakers at ArtPrize, and Susan was certainly one of the greats,” ArtPrize’s exhibitions director Kevin Buist wrote in a blog post. “She seemed to have an endless network of connections to artists, curators, and directors, all of whom adored her work and her kind approach. She was also a bottomless well of ideas. For all we managed to accomplish in our partnership with Art21, there were dozens of ideas we didn’t get to, most of them Susan’s.”

Vatican Rents out Sistine Chapel as New Visitor Limits Are Announced


The Sistine Chapel (photo by BriYYZ/Flickr)

For the first time in its 600-year history, the Sistine Chapel has been rented out for a private event organized by Porsche, The Telegraph reported. The German automaker hosted a charity concert in the space for 40 guests on its €5,000-a-head (~$8,000) Porsche Travel Club tour of Rome over the weekend. Singing for the automotive enthusiasts under Michelangelo’s 16th-century frescoes was a choir from the 500-year-old Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Though it is not the first time such a concert has been held at the Sistine Chapel, it is the first time the audience has been a corporate donor rather than a private Vatican audience.

“It is an initiative which will support the Pope’s charity projects. It is aimed at big companies which, through the payment of a fee, can contribute to charity activities,” administrative director of the Vatican Museums Monsignor Paolo Nicolini told The Telegraph. The Vatican declined to disclose the exact amount changing hands, though in a coinciding announcement the Church announced it would cap the number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel at 6 million annually. The director of the Vatican Museums told The Telegraph that the site has “reached the maximum number of visitors possible.”

Corrosion from high visitor traffic is the primary worry for limiting the number of visitors to the space, which underwent an extensive restoration completed in 1994. It is unclear what mechanism — reservations or otherwise — the Vatican will adopt to curb visitor flow and behavior, currently thought to be around 5 or 6 million visitors per year. A reduction in access to the Sistine Chapel has been discussed since at least 2012, when the Italian literary critic Pietro Citati wrote that the crowds there “resemble drunken herds.”

The decision taken by the Vatican under Pope Francis seems to follow in the steps of his predecessor’s views on the subject. “When contemplated in prayer, the Sistine Chapel is even more beautiful, more authentic. It reveals itself in all its richness,” Pope Benedict XVI said in 2012.

NEWS: Susan Sollins ( –2014)


NEWS: Susan Sollins


Graffiti Crackdown Snares Sanctioned Street Art in Detroit

Photo of the Grand River Creative Corridor.

A Grand River Creative Corridor mural (courtesy Grand River Creative Corridor)

The city of Detroit launched a secret new graffiti crackdown in the most antagonizing manner imaginable last week: By issuing thousands of dollars in fines to owners of businesses who had commissioned or given permission to artists to create murals on their buildings.

In an effort to combat blight in the bankrupt city, its Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) began issuing tickets last week to business owners along Grand River Avenue, which has suffered from years of blight, according to Motor City Muckraker. But most of those murals had been created over the last two years under the auspices of the Grand River Creative Corridor (GRCC) initiative — which received a “Keep Michigan Beautiful” award from Michigan governor Rick Snyder in 2012 and saw more than 100 artists invited by building and business owners to beautify the area. Real estate executive Derek Weaver, who launched the GRCC and owns local gallery 4731, received some $8,000 in fines and was detained for an hour by four police officers last week. The officers also seized the equipment of a PBS camera crew that had been filming an artist working on a mural.

“We were treated like criminals …They threatened to arrest us,” Weaver said to Motor City Muckraker. “I told the mayor that if you aren’t careful, and if you come down with iron fists, you’ll force a lot of good artists, entrepreneurs and small business owners out of the city,” Weaver told the Detroit Free Press.

Photo of the Grand River Creative Corridor

A Grand River Creative Corridor mural (photo by ddatch54/Flickr)

Detroit mayor Mike Duggan was quick to apologize for the gaffe and void the tickets.

“I felt like I gave explicit directions that wall art and murals done with owners’ permission should not be ticketed,” Duggan said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “We made a mistake. But we also issued a large number of tickets for graffiti that was appropriate.”

The graffiti crackdown also snared Brooklyn Street Local, a diner on Michigan Avenue in Corktown whose exterior features a sanctioned mural that recently suffered water damage and is currently being removed. Mayor Duggan paid the eatery a visit to apologize personally for the $130 fine that owners Deveri Gifford and Jason Yates received.

“I understand that graffiti is a problem in this city and a problem for business owners who get unwanted tags etc on their buildings, however the street art is a significant part of what makes Detroit great and unique and it deserves to be celebrated!” one of Brooklyn Street Local’s owners wrote on the diner’s Facebook page. “We would also like to express our appreciation to mayor Mike Duggan who quickly responded and personally apologized for the issued tickets.”

Despite the initial hiccup, the city’s new anti-graffiti initiative will continue, focusing on the major corridors of Michigan, Grand River, Gratiot, Jefferson, and Woodward avenues, and Vernor Highway.

Photo of the Grand River Creative Corridor.

A Grand River Creative Corridor mural (courtesy Grand River Creative Corridor)

“I wouldn’t say the (inspectors) were overzealous,” Eric Jones, the director of the BSEED, told Crain’s Detroit Business. “They are hard-working men. Some of the graffiti art was blurred and ambiguous and questionable, so they erred on the side of enforcing the code … After a second look, we decided we were going to move forward with locations that are clearly blighted.”

According to Detroit’s laws, building owners are responsible for removing unwanted graffiti from the exteriors of their properties. Once a ticket has been issued, they have 14 days to remove the graffiti, after which time the fine is enforced.

Predictably, Detroit’s official definitions of graffiti and “art murals” leave much room for interpretation, as Crain’s Detroit Business points out. Graffiti, according to section 9-1-3 of the municipal code of ordinances, consists of “Unauthorized drawings, lettering, illustrations or other graphic markings on the exterior of a building, premises or structure which are intended to deface or mar the appearance of the building, premises or structure.” Meanwhile, per section 3-7-2 of the code, legal murals are “any mosaic, painting or graphic art, which is applied to a building and does not contain any brand name, product name, letters of the alphabet that spell or abbreviate the name of any product, company, profession or business or any logo, trademark, trade name or any other type of commercial message.” The distinction between the two, apparently, was too subtle for the city’s inspectors.

“I’m embarrassed,” Duggan told the Free Press. “I thought we had given clear direction to our inspectors that, when you have wall art and murals that had the permission of building owners, that was not going to be ticketed.”

Reconstructing the Legacy of Surrealism


Sam Durant, “The Séance, When History Wakes Up (Frantz Fanon)” (2014) (left) and “Poetry Must Be Made By All, Not By One” (2014) (right) (all photos by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

A Surrealism of hokey séances and dripping clocks has long superseded the movement’s political and conceptual radicality in the contemporary imagination. Such a retroactive sanitation has less to do with Dalí dormitory posters than the annals of official history: recall that in his famous art-genealogical flowchart, the art historian and founding director of the Museum of Modern Art Alfred H. Barr fed Surrealism and Dada into “non-geometrical abstract art.” And while Barr was only working through the Modernist legacy of abstraction, this two-dimensional worldview and its attendant narrowing of Surrealism’s legacy has proven difficult to rehabilitate. Sam Durant’s recent exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, Invisible Surrealists, offered a subdued yet polemical critique of this neutered inheritance.


Sam Durant, “Invisible Surrealists” (2014) (click to enlarge)

Not quite an alternative history, Durant’s show redrew the historical record in graphite, reconfiguring the photographic record of Surrealism’s European “great men” with the insertion of such practitioners as the Martiniquais Aimé Césaire, the Cuban Wifredo Lam, and the Egyptians Georges Henein, Fouad Kamel, and Joyce Mansour, among others. So too are the contributions of the Great War’s trenches made evident, from a depiction of André Breton in a hospital ward, “1916, Shell Shock, Psych Ward, André Breton Becomes Aware of the Unconscious” (2014) — which Durant told me was Surrealism’s “primal scene” (an intentionally Freudian term) — to the literal art of the trenches, period handicrafts from soldiers that the artist collected and presented on a table, along with a purpose-built homage to the genre, a suspended wind chime made of large-bore artillery casings called “Non-Vicious Circle” (2014).

“[T]radition is never given but always constructed, and always more provisionally than it appears,” the art historian and critic Hal Foster, who was also an early proponent of Durant as an exemplar of “archival art,” has written. Here the omissions from our constructed Surrealist tradition — and cultural history in general — are presented in “There’s No Such Thing as a Time Line” (2014), an annotated chronology that revisits the well-traveled notion of contingent histories, with a nod to the limits of such linear constructions in the first place. These casual yet frenetic hand notations of key radical moments in Surrealist and broader cultural history were at first only a part of Durant’s notes, but his choice to present the work was prescient: underscoring that the historicist task at hand is far from over, Karen Rosenberg, writing in the New York Times, distressingly referred to the annotations as “conspiratorial.”


Detail of Sam Durant’s “There’s No Such Thing as a Time Line” (2014)

The strength of Durant’s strategy lies in its near-total restraint from overt didacticism, even as he insistently pushes toward a revision of our historical understanding of one of the 20th century’s most important (and wide-ranging) art movements. And although the academic scholarship is beginning to catch up — for example, Breton’s account of his time in Martinique was translated into English for the first time in 2008 — there remains the matter of disabusing the general impression of Surrealism’s thin political and conceptual content, no small task given the easy populism of such exhibitions as MoMA’s recent blockbuster Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. This is a question of sensibility as much as it is one of education. As far as the latter goes, a stacked display adjacent to the entrance of Paula Cooper, “Another Future Was Possible (Kiosk from Mai 68)” (2014), presented undoctored maps and manifestos attesting to Surrealism’s political and geographical reach.

This is not to say that the “alternative” history of Surrealism within Durant’s scope here is itself beyond reproach. The relationship between Breton and Césaire, in particular, was critiqued by Frantz Fanon, who in the first chapter of Black Skin, White Masks wrote, “there is no reason why André Breton should say of Césaire, ‘Here is a black man who handles the French language as no white man today can.’” Almost thirty years before Tom Wolfe gave us Leonard Bernstein’s version of “radical chic,” Breton was off to Port-au-Prince to abet an indigenous revolution with a lecture called “Surrealism and Haiti.”


Sam Durant, “Another Surrealist Map of the World” (2014) (left) and “Another Future Was Possible (Kiosk from Mai 68)” (2014) (right)

The inclusion of trench art in Invisible Surrealists was on one level a salient introduction of the dimension of class into the legacy of Surrealism, through the trauma of the war as experienced by the anonymous soldier; it cohabited with the racial and colonial tensions at hand, stepping away from manipulating the historical record to present vernacular found works. Durant also hosted an engaging historical talk with the scholar Robin D.G. Kelley, whose essay on anti-imperialist Surrealism, “Keepin’ it (Sur)real: Dreams of the Marvelous” inspired the show, but there may have been a missed opportunity to similarly incorporate the actual work of these other Surrealists elsewhere in the exhibition, to further question the false narrative of passive marginalization, to underscore that the non-European Surrealists were in fact appreciated by their contemporaries — Breton, for example, reportedly referred to Joyce Mansour as a genius.

Durant’s exhibition nonetheless demonstrated that there’s more to Surrealism than the facile specter of Freud or the mythologized antics of “great men,” and as such was an important intervention in the record, and one which we should hope to see more of. If Shana Lutker’s production of The Nose, The Cane, The Broken Left Arm for Performa 13 scratched the surface in demonstrating that the self-serious machismo of Surrealism’s progenitors was not without absurdity, Invisible Surrealists carries the torch considerably further, shedding light on a global cast of artists and writers whose presence argues, from history’s margins, for Surrealism’s centrality.


Trench Art as found objects in “An Ingression of the Superstructure Into the Base” (2014) (foreground)

Sam Durant’s Invisible Surrealists ran at Paula Cooper Gallery (521 West 21 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) from September 12 through October 18.

PICKS: Michael Knutson and Carol Benson

09.30.14-11.01.14 Blackfish Gallery, Portland, review written by Stephanie Snyder

PICKS: Mark Lewis

09.11.14-11.01.14 Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto, review written by Bryne McLaughlin

NEWS: Koons Retrospective at Whitney Museum Vandalized Again


Crude Beauty and Wordsworthian Grandeur


Stanley Lewis, “Study for Big Painting” (2013), oil on masonite, 10 1/4 x 14 inches (All images Courtesy of Betty Cuningham Gallery).

The artist Stanley Lewis draws and paints the landscapes closest to him, places where he works, teaches, and travels like nearby lakes and roadsides in Chautauqua, New York, or his backyard and studio window views in Leeds, Massachusetts. His compositions, currently on view at Betty Cuningham Gallery, have a surprising asymmetry, often two different subjects come in from the left and right or top and bottom; a large tree facing the side of a house, or neighborhood streets abutting a grassy lawn. The scenes are not quite centered and have a provisional quality befitting lonely, unnoticed places. From these commonplace sites which could be easily overlooked, Lewis is sensitive to finding the remarkable in the everyday.


Stanley Lewis, “Smith House Parking Lot” (2013), oil on canvas glued to cardboard, 20 x 29 1/2 inches.

Lewis’s work has an astounding physicality in the manner of such British landscape painters as Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. He heavily reworks the surfaces of oil paintings and pencil and ink drawings as he delineates an object’s close-up specificity or grounded sense of place. A work’s surface roils with the accretion of years worth of heavy and thin paint or dense tonality. But Lewis goes even further than just wiping away paint or erasing marks to physically cutting away canvas and paper so as to reorder the actual working support. He will move or add strips of canvas sections to his paintings then paste, staple or nail these swatches to an underlying piece of cardboard or canvas board.


Stanley Lewis, “Hemlock Trees Seen from Upstairs Window in the Snow” (2007-2014), pencil on print paper, 68 3/4 x 59 3/4 inches.

In the monumental drawing “Hemlock Trees Seen From Upstairs Window in the Snow” (2007–2014), Lewis’s digs and tears with his pencil and scrubs through the front of the paper with his eraser. He revises by ripping away paper or cutting out sections and repairs holes in the surface by patching paper swatches to the backside. In lieu of pentiments the work has incisions and excisions, the paper becoming so stratified into layers as to resemble a sculptural relief. The drawing of a massive tree in the snow with every branch meticulously transcribed is spectacular — a primordial fusion of man and nature with a Wordsworthian grandeur.


Stanley Lewis, “Matt Farnham’s Farm with Truck” (2014), oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 44 1/2 inches.

The convolutions of inspiration and labor that mark Lewis’s working methods results in a sort of ugly beauty. Choppy tree branches, grassy weeds, and figures materialize as the compositions are wrested out of marks that are awkwardly urgent, never ornamental which makes them feel all the more real. The paintings are as much about Lewis’s sensibility and humanity as he captures a place and moment in time. The more you stand in front of one, the more a painting loses its two-dimensionality and the “thingness” asserts itself, a record of Lewis’s struggle to get things right. Lewis takes in a scene piece by piece from different perspectives, often panoramic with a lot of second guessing. The artist’s doubt and facture add up to a convincing sense of place with the character of a thing like a boat or truck intact.

Walking through the exhibition, one is reminded of how paintings are a series of relationships: speed versus precision, negative and positive space, static versus temporal, specific to general, value or color. And one keeps registering the presence of negative space and contour as ordering devices. Lewis is looking as much at these abstract currents as he is at the familiar anchors of domesticity like a road or a porch.


Stanley Lewis, “Backyard Jeckyll Island, GA” (2014), oil on canvas, 43 3/4 x 28 1/4 inches.

Lewis lays down patches of paint that both mold and flatten, while resembling the textured patterning of Intimist artists, like  Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. In “Backyard Jeykll Island, GA” (2014), ephemeral elements like grey, elongated shadows on the lawn merge with a steely blue gaggle of lawn chairs. A ramble of crooked trees with gnarled branches hang over a neighborhood yard, the particularity of each shrub or shack etched out by the surrounding blue sky, or fence latticing. Some areas are rendered with gestural speed, others highly congealed or minutely specific all adding up to a believable, peculiar place. The palettes are grounded by earth tones but all over there are flourishes of softer, pale blues and greens, lilac and rose.


Stanley Lewis, “Winslow Park, Westport” (2010-2014), oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 35 1/4 inches.

Lines criss-cross through Lewis’s compositions in the form of wire gates, fencing, bricks, jagged branches, tangles of weeds or, most notably, electrical wires racing overhead. As Lewis takes in discrete sections bit by bit, these drawn lines coupled with the incised or excised cuts to the canvas read as containers of activity. The cuts and contours impose structure reigning in the wilder, chaotic, and speedy swathes of paint and remind one a bit of the energetic, gestural slashes in Auerbach’s portraits or street scenes. Objects are observed, askew, in their proper place even as we get a sense of how something may have moved or been disrupted, and this adds up to a believable sense of elapsed time.


Stanley Lewis, “Karen with Roof Rake” (2013), pen and ink on paper, 21 x 15 inches.

There’s a crazy, urgent energy to the creative process that extends to the physical supports; as if Lewis grabs what is ever at hand before the clarity of the vision departs. Many of the finished pieces have odd, irregular perimeters that are finally fastened to a backing with buckling, sutured or pocked bits, the warts and all on view. In Cuningham’s upstairs gallery, there are a series of winter scenes viewed through a kitchen window that remind one of Bonnard’s interiors. Rendered in ink on paper the window pane bulges with a fish-eye view balancing the separation between outside and inside. Lewis has had the inspired idea to work with a black ballpoint pen, a great idea for quick, graphic accumulations of sensations.

SL Basement

Stanley Lewis exhibition, installation view in Betty Cuningham’s new space at 15 Rivington Street, LES.

The notion of a picture plane with a series of interrelated events, each uniquely considered had me thinking of another underrated artist who invigorated landscape painting, the late Gretna Campbell. Both she and Lewis are known as painter’s painters with well established reputations as influential teachers. On the days I visited Lewis’s show the artist himself was present holding court, meeting and greeting admirers and former students. Both joining Cuningham’s stable of artists and being included in the recent See it Loud exhibition at the National Academy have helped to raise Lewis’s profile and one wonders if this newfound visibility will draw a larger audience for his work. Certainly one can see traces of Lewis’s innovations in artists as diverse as Ellen Altfest, Marc Connor, and George Shaw, a younger generation of painters who are also pushing the boundaries of landscape painting.

Stanley Lewis continues at Betty Cuningham Gallery (15 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through October 25.

PICKS: Robin Rhode

09.18.14-11.08.14 Lehmann Maupin | Hong Kong, Hong Kong, review written by Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Indicting Higher Education in the Arts and Beyond

Figure showing primary occupation self-reported by those with undergraduate degrees in the arts.

Figure showing primary occupation self-reported by those with undergraduate degrees in the arts. (image via Arts Report BackBFAMFAPhD, 2014, p. 7)

There’s one very clear take-away from the latest report released by the collective BFAMFAPhD: people who graduate with arts degrees regularly end up with a lot of debt and incredibly low prospects for earning a living as artists. Or, as they put it in the report, titled Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists, “the fantasy of future earnings in the arts cannot justify the high cost of degrees.”

As they did with their previous work, collective members Vicky Virgin, Julian Boilen, Susan Jahoda, Blair Murphy, and Caroline Woolard analyzed data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Specifically, they looked through a publicly available slice of that data (the 2012 1-year Public Use Microdata Sample). From that sample they extrapolated their numbers about the larger population, estimating that there are a total of 1.4 million people in the US who self-identify as having a primary occupation of “writer, author, artist, actor, photographer, musician, singer, producer, director, performer, dancer, choreographer, [or] entertainer” — the group’s definition of a “working artist” for this report.

According to BFAMFAPhD’s analysis, a very small percentage of art school undergraduates end up as working artists (~10%), and that fully 40% of working artists over age 25 don’t even have undergraduate degrees of any kind, let alone art degrees. So why on earth would anyone spend so much money on such a degree? The reality is that there’s some larger context and nuance that makes their numbers a little complicated for reasons that I’ll get into in a moment. But some of those issues with the data also reveal just how little solid information is available to help anyone get a clear picture of how artists make a living in the US, if they do at all.

And, similarly to their earlier report, the group also highlights in this new report the disproportionately high representation of white, non-Hispanic males among working artists, and the fact that white, non-Hispanic people of any gender are over-represented in arts degree programs.

Figure showing representation by mutually exclusive race and ethnicity categories. (Source: Arts Report Back, BFAMFAPhD, 2014, p. 10)

Figure showing representation by mutually exclusive race and ethnicity categories. (image via Arts Report Back, BFAMFAPhD, 2014, p. 10)

Zoom In

Data is wonky. I’ve been part of a very different effort the past couple of years attempting to get some preliminary data on artists living in Staten Island and it’s not easy at all. It’s particularly hard because artists are slippery buggers when it comes to easily quantifiable information.

Most reports about artists that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a fair number) that are based on quantitative data are pretty fuzzy when it comes to the thing that many artists would love to know: How much money do artists make from their creative work?

Why is the data so imprecise? Because almost everything about the ways that artists work seems to defy typical practices for collecting labor and earnings statistics, which may also speak to the larger problems with the ways we collect labor statistics in this country in general, but that’s a discussion for another day.

By and large, it appears that labor statistics, like the ones collected in the American Community Survey, generally assume that most workers have a single or primary job that provides the largest share of their earnings and that job is comprised of a bounded set of tasks or modes of earning money—for example, if you say you are an auto mechanic, the assumption is that you earn most of your money fixing cars. But as many artists know, when you say you’re an artist, how you earn your money can and often does come from a wide array of sources—it could be sales or commissions, it could be royalty payments, fees for presenting work, or teaching in various forms, which many artists lump into their occupation as an artist. Income could also come from things like licensing deals, work-for-hire, or consulting, where an artist does things similar or related to their creative output, but for a company or another person, and on and on.

All of this makes it really tough to understand what income really means for an artist when you’re trying to isolate their artistic earnings. So even reporting modest numbers like the fact that working artists with degrees in New York City make a median income of $25,000 (as BFAMFAPhD did in their earlier data analysis), if you dig into that number for each individual, the sources of that money are likely to be highly variable and rarely exclusively from creative output. That all makes it tricky when you want to present young people with a clear picture of their earning prospects from artistic work.

Which is to say, income numbers that add everything together can run the risk of inadvertently supporting what I wholeheartedly agree is a fantasy of steady, lifelong earnings from art-making alone.

The other wrinkle is of course, who gets counted, which gets talked about every time there’s a report about artists. Like Vicky Virgin, the analyst who helped crunch the numbers in this report and is also an artist, I generally wouldn’t appear in these stats because my primary income comes from a day job unrelated to my art or arts writing. A huge number of artists who are receiving money for their creative work simply would not appear in these figures, and we know from other stats that a huge number of artists who are showing in very prominent arts institutions have been paid nothing at all for their work.

When I spoke on the phone with Vicky Virgin about this new report, she said that “The most difficult part of this project was the definitions.” One of the ways she grounded the choices they made, at least as far as choosing occupational categories for artists, was by mirroring the categories used by researchers at the National Endowment for the Arts. But the nuances within the earnings are much harder to get at, and she seemed to share a desire to find ways of revealing some of those nuances.

Beyond earnings, there’s a particular risk the group runs in highlighting the lack of college degrees in working artists over 25. The fact is that there has been an enormous increase in the number of degrees awarded in the past decade — in fact, the increase is a little shocking.

Chart showing the change in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded per capita from 1987 - 2010. (Source: "College degrees awarded per capita in the USA," Randal Olson)

Chart showing the change in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita from 1987 – 2010. (image via “College degrees awarded per capita in the USA,” Randal Olson)

In doing some research for this article, I came across the above graph put together by Randal Olson, which shows the increase per capita in undergraduate degrees in the US over a 20+ year period. It’s clear from this graph, not to mention the others he put together on PhDs, as well as Masters and Associates Degrees, that there have been dramatic increases in the number of degrees being awarded since the 1990s, but particularly since around 2002. Which means it’s probably not accurate to make a direct comparison between degree numbers for people over 40 and people under 40 because the entire higher education landscape has shifted dramatically across the past couple generations.

Lastly, for many people today, particularly those who would have started college in or after the 1990s, undergraduate degrees are now seen as a basic requirement for work in the US. And for many people there is not a strong relationship between the subject of your undergraduate degree and your occupation. Two high-level examples: the American Bar Association makes no specific recommendation for the subject area that someone interested in becoming a lawyer should study as an undergrad, even suggesting students pursue degrees in art or music if that’s where their interest lies; and per numbers quoted by Forbes, humanities majors had higher acceptance rates into medical school than either biological or physical science majors.

The fact that only 10% of graduates from undergraduate arts programs become working artists lacks a little bit of context without also understanding how many people graduating across fields end up working at a job that directly correlates to their studies. I think the deeper issue might be the professionalization of undergraduate degrees in general and the increased pressure to turn them into strictly vocational programs rather than a time to increase critical thinking and communication skills regardless of the field.

I don’t say any of this to discount the line of inquiry BFAMFAPhD is pursuing, I’m a big fan of the project, I just want to take step back and acknowledge that undergraduate degrees are a little tricky to focus on in this particular way. The proliferation of graduate arts degrees might be easier to tie directly to professional expectations.

Zoom Out

While this report focuses specifically on the arts, I couldn’t help but notice that it’s a part of a much larger conversation that’s been roiling across fields recently, particularly when it comes to graduate degrees. Our higher education system is producing a vast quantity of workers with educations and expectations for high-level and high-paying jobs that simply do not exist in the quantity needed to employ all these people.

Earlier this month the Boston Globe published a lengthy article highlighting the reality that postdoctoral researchers in biomedical fields, after nearly a decade of schooling, are becoming in some ways the equivalent of interns, with low paying menial jobs that offer little potential for promotion or even hiring. And biomedical sciences are hardly the only ones. There’s trouble for a scientists with PhDs across fields, and while the glut of lawyers seems to be slowing slightly, it hasn’t gone away, and salaries have dramatically decreased for those shouldering huge debt burdens from law school.

Unfortunately in the arts, we seem to be still ramping up when it comes to higher degrees, rather than pulling back. Artists are being encouraged to get a “leg up” on the job competition among MFAs by getting PhDs. (Notice the not-even-slightly-subtle language encouraging artists to consider each other as competitors who must literally step on one another in order to realize success … )

So, this is not an isolated issue in the arts — we’re training hundreds of thousands of young people who dream of gaining lucrative, or at least sustaining, long-term employment in a job market that is over-saturated with precisely those people and has been steadily losing good jobs.

That’s Depressing. What Now?

I absolutely echo the report authors’ desire to eliminate the fantasy that arts graduates or artists, for that matter, can expect to have a long-term sustaining income from art-making alone. I think some added context might actually help strengthen their argument against tying degree attainment to occupational attainment. But because they focuses exclusively on undergraduate degrees, things get a little tricky.

There’s one thing that the report mentions briefly but doesn’t dig into that I think is unfortunately revealing of a reality that continues to drive the proliferation of degrees across fields. On page 8, they state that the group of working artists who do have bachelors degrees in the arts actually earn a good amount more on average than those without one: $36,105 vs. $30,621. And that’s precisely what drives that “leg up” thinking mentioned earlier.

There’s a crazy hamster wheel at play in the US today in which there is an ever-shrinking pot of “good” jobs and we’re all being told to jump through ever more hoops to get those disappearing jobs. But those hoops are really expensive and time-consuming to jump through, which means only those who already have a lot of financial advantages and privileges in the first place are able to get through them (one of the really strong points that came out of the BFAMFAPhD’s earlier study). So the number of those without money and power in the arts, and many other fields, continues to shrink.

One of the recommendations that the collective offers is to “point prospective art students toward low-cost and tuition-free arts programs.” But they also go on to say, “we defend the liberal arts as integral to higher education nationally.” Which feels a little fuzzy in the sense that they seem to be saying get a liberal arts degree but not a fine arts degree. Instead I wonder if the point might be, if you want to get an arts degree or a science degree or a philosophy degree for that matter, go for it, but understand that there is little to no chance you are going to have a well-paying job doing the thing you’re studying, plan accordingly when it comes to finances, and while you’re in school make sure to demand conversations and learning that helps you think about how to apply skills in a variety of settings. That last point is one the group touches on at the end of their report.

Another recommendation they make that I cannot support enough because it is incredibly achievable, is the removal of any requirement anywhere for any program or grant aimed at artists that demands, or even implies a need for a BFA, MFA, or PhD in order to apply. That requirement perpetuates a classist and racist power and reward structure in the arts that is utterly unacceptable. Organizations that make this demand should be roundly criticized and publicly shamed for it.

Near the end of the report they also suggest that higher education and arts institutions could support “solidarity economies” both “intellectually and financially.” It can be tricky to ask the problem institutions to help buoy the solution and they don’t offer a definition in the paper version of solidarity economy beyond offering a visual diagram from Ethan Miller that is a bit hard to parse without prior knowledge, but elsewhere they mention “worker and producer cooperatives” and “resource sharing networks”, and on the website, near the bottom of their “About” section, they provide links to dozens of programs, projects, and initiatives providing alternative frameworks for educating, creating, and living in the world today, many centered in New York City.

Ultimately, this report feels like an important tool that will help drive further conversations around class, race, and the arts economy, not to mention the function of the economy in general. And it’s exciting to have people on the ground tackling ambitious research projects on their own, because while they may not be perfect, the others are far from perfect, and reports like this help give proof to the lie behind many heavily funded projects that claim the arts is a booming and vital industry that is enriching citizens rather than putting more dollars in the pockets of the few.

PICKS: David Hockney

09.05.14-11.01.14 Pace Gallery | 508 West 25th St., New York, review written by Andrianna Campbell

From the Archives – #Hashtags: Divide//Conquer: Artists Confront the Gentrification of Urban Space

Today from the archives we bring you a look back at Anuradha Vikram’s assessment of gentrification, power, and artistic protest. She notes, “The great tragedy of gentrification—which its proponents appear not to recognize—is that groups that are displaced can never be reunited in another, more affordable location.” This article was originally published on October 21, 2013.

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. (Jenifer Wofford, Reanne Estrada, Eliza Barrios). Manananggoogle, 2013. Multimedia installation including website and photographs. Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation and MetLife Foundation.

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. (Jenifer Wofford, Reanne Estrada, Eliza Barrios). Manananggoogle, 2013. Multimedia installation including website and photographs. Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation and MetLife Foundation.

#gentrification #displacement #race #class #technology #industry #neo-colonialism

To understand why artists are compelled to participate in these struggles, first consider how gentrification occurs. An area subject to prolonged neglect is often the only affordable location for recent immigrants, the working poor, and other marginalized groups to reside. Their presence fosters further civic neglect, as these are groups with minimal political clout who remain invisible to many politicians and business leaders. Many artists of note have emerged from within these ostracized communities, informed by their vernacular traditions, and inspired to create positive images and messages to counter the symptoms of neglect. In recent history, these have included founders of graffiti art, mural art, performance art, and interventionist art movements that have transformed mainstream art discourse. Other artists move into these areas because they too have limited means, and find not only cheap rents but a sense of safety in community to guard against the hardships of urban poverty. Eventually, the energizing force of artistic creation helps to revive these atrophied regions despite the lack of civic or capital investment, at which point developers take notice and begin to snatch up the remaining inexpensive or abandoned properties. Those newly renovated properties are marketed to the professional class with the vibrant local culture as a major selling point. As upscale residents move in, the creators whose works helped create interest in these areas often find themselves priced out along with their less affluent neighbors.

Any conversation among artists these days is bound to turn to the question of gentrification—the process of urban renewal by private developers that ultimately displaces poor residents in favor of the upwardly mobile. Modernism in art has always accompanied displacement of poor citizens from city centers, from the time of the Impressionists when Georges-Eugène Haussmann refashioned Paris, to the remaking of Manhattan as a banker’s playground under committed arts philanthropist Michael Bloomberg. As the present-day wealth gap spreads and assets are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest Americans, artists and activists find themselves on the front lines of a battle to preserve the characteristics of ethnic and bohemian neighborhoods nationwide from the homogenizing forces of corporate culture.

Activists engaged in political struggles defined along economic, racial, and sociological lines have an established part to play in defending against this onslaught, and a clear justification for their involvement in protest actions and legal challenges. Artists, on the other hand, have a more ambivalent relationship to these trends. They are often implicated as both the perpetrators and the victims of gentrification. Many believe that their role is not to speak out about social issues, but to communicate self-expression. They are experts in neither legal nor civic arenas. Given these truths, how and why should artists engage in the fight to save urban communities from eviction and displacement?

Despite their involvement in all aspects of this process, artists are generally on the side of the displaced in the gentrification debate. This has been the case in San Francisco, where the long-standing creative denizens of the Mission District are particularly vocal opponents of urban development in its current form. Recently the impending eviction of artists René Yañez and Yolanda Lopez has made headlines, prompting artists around the Bay Area to rally for these two doyens of the Chicano Movement. In an open letter to Yañez distributed via social media networks, internationally-recognized performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña used his considerable influence to draw broader attention to the plight of Latino residents in the Mission and around San Francisco who have of late been subjected to unprecedented numbers of Ellis Act evictions. Outrage is high among the city’s established and visible creators, as articulated by iconic Bay Area author Rebecca Solnit. Nonetheless, the rhetoric coming from developers is that the incoming affluent types are in fact themselves “creative” workers who will contribute to, rather than detract from, the vitality of these remade neighborhoods. The redefinition of “creativity” along corporate lines contributes to the vast cultural divide between the Bay Area’s haves and have-nots.

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. (Jenifer Wofford, Reanne Estrada, Eliza Barrios). Manananggoogle, 2013. Multimedia installation including website and photographs. Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation and MetLife Foundation.

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. (Jenifer Wofford, Reanne Estrada, Eliza Barrios). Manananggoogle, 2013. Multimedia installation including website and photographs. Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation and MetLife Foundation.

As the booming tech industry displaces scores of longtime residents, it is tempting to direct ire at the corporations who attract and generate all of this new money. Filipina performance art collective Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. have satirized the winner-take-all mentality of Silicon Valley with Manananggoogle, a work commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art in which the three portray high-powered female executives in the mode of Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. “J. Baby Wofford,” “E. Neneng Barrios,” and “R. Immaculata Estrada” performed Divide//Conquer: The Manananggoogle Onboarding Experience as part of The Long Conversation, an exhibition commemorating long-standing alternative art space Southern Exposure’s impending 39th anniversary. This occasion is made more monumental by the truth of how few spaces founded in that germinating moment of the 1970s are still around and fiscally sustainable. Incorporating found video, text, live performance, and social intervention, M.O.B. applies a mode of cannibalistic appropriation derived from Latin American Modernist precedents to a contemporary milieu in which the primitive and the futuristic are both intertwined and interchangeable.

M.O.B.’s characters are funhouse distortions who give the lie to common multinational rhetoric in which all of the world’s problems are anticipated to be solved by the Westernization and capitalization of women and people of color. The slogan, “Divide Conquer,” applies equally to the neo-colonial aspirations of American tech multinationals as to the manananggal herself, a Filipino folk demon that splits her top half from her human bottom to manifest as a Harpy-like vampire. Wofford, Barrios, and Estrada comically marry the mythos of the manananggal with the team-building management rhetoric of corporate America to demonstrate that it is the system and not the participants who bears the blame for widespread rapacity. That point was driven home at the event hosted by Global Fund for Women, in which audience members were divided by gender. Women were humorously encouraged to take up space and express power while men were mock-trained to be servile and obsequious in a reversal of the traditional gender hierarchy. Despite everyone being in on the joke, it was notable how the tone of the crowd shifted from one of community-art collegiality toward raw competition with just a little encouragement. The result fell somewhere between the Dunder Mifflin Office Olympics and a low-stakes Stanford Prison Experiment. The parody was maintained through hilarious commentary from Wofford (the Bay Area’s Pinay Lucille Ball), Estrada (playing a CEO-cum-dominatrix), and Barrios (in a fright wig nearly as scary as the manananggal). Jokes aside, the point was well-made that neo-colonialism is as much in evidence in the transformation of our own communities as in the actions of multinationals abroad.

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. (Jenifer Wofford, Reanne Estrada, Eliza Barrios). Manananggoogle, 2013. Multimedia installation including website and photographs. Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation and MetLife Foundation.

Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. (Jenifer Wofford, Reanne Estrada, Eliza Barrios). Manananggoogle, 2013. Multimedia installation including website and photographs. Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation and MetLife Foundation.

Despite such clear objections from artists to the ongoing development of our cities at any cost, it is by no means certain that contemporary art as a culture industry is opposed to gentrification. Property development is the order of the day for any museum wishing to establish itself as worthy of national and international attention. Many boards of art institutions are manned by developers and captains of industry, while affluent and homogenous urban populations are more likely to share the nineteenth-century world views of many high-profile curators (as I have addressed in this space before). Meanwhile, the alternative and community-driven spaces that indigenous and immigrant communities (as well as socially marginalized groups) have historically created to support themselves financially and as proponents of free expression are shuttering at an alarming rate. Gentrification affects not only individuals and families, but cultural institutions as well. Particularly vulnerable are those that came about in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to NEA funding that is no longer available, to serve populations which have since been dispersed. The great tragedy of gentrification which its proponents appear not to recognize is that groups that are displaced can never be reunited in another, more affordable location. Instead, the critical mass that drove cultural innovation and fostered community is lost permanently, and with it, the collective energy that drives our most essential artistic developments.

The Long Conversation is on view at Southern Exposure through October 26, 2013.

#Hashtags is a series exploring the intersection of art, social issues, and global politics.

NEWS: Paul McCarthy’s “Butt Plug” Sculpture Vandalized in Paris

The Guardian

Another Vandal Hits Jeff Koons Retrospective

Photos of the vandalism provided to Hyperallergic by @davidjudegreen

Photos of the vandalism provided to Hyperallergic by @davidjudegreen

Last night, a graffiti writer identified by the New York Times as Christopher Johnson, 33, of Manhattan, vandalized a fourth floor wall of the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art. According to the Times, the NYPD said he was “arrested on charges of criminal mischief, making graffiti, possession of a graffiti instrument, and criminal nuisance … He was taken into custody by police after he struggled with the museum’s security guards.”

Zoë Lescaze of ArtNews, who was at the scene, broke the news. She also reported the strange mood last night at the Whitney:

Beyond the graffiti incident, there was a generally apocalyptic atmosphere to the late-night scene. Two young girls navigated the artist’s hardcore “Made in Heaven” series with unsettling nonchalance. Someone opened an emergency exit on the second floor and the shrill beeps joined drunken voices echoing through the stairwell. A woman wearing a wedding dress drifted past “Hulk (Organ)” (2004–14) like it was a roadside attraction in the desert on the way to her Vegas chapel. Only a very skeletal crew of museum staff appeared to be on hand. It almost felt as though the building was going to be torn down after this one last blowout.

This is the second major act of vandalism at the blockbuster show. Back on August 20, Istvan Kantor also illegally painted on the wall of the retrospective using ink and blood.

A video of his action, which doesn’t appear to have damaged any of the art, was posted 13 hours ago on Instagram by J. Miller (aka @so_outlandish) with the words “witnessed the tag”:


witnessed the tag #Whitney #JeffKoons

View on Instagram

Carlos Cruz-Diez, Dazzle Ship (2014)

2014-09-20 11_Fotor

In the event of a submarine attack, the safest place to be in Liverpool right now is on board the Dazzle Ship by Carlos Cruz-Diez. It presents a ‘moving’ target even when moored up.

Clashing colours and disruptive patterns were hit upon during World War One as a way of confusing German U-Boats who, after all, were visually handicapped by periscopes.

Dazzle paint was the invention of Norman Wilkinson who could therefore add the job title camoufleur to his CV along with marine painter, poster artist and illustrator.

The Navy bought into his theories in a big way and this dock in Liverpool, called Canning Graving, was during 1917-18 busy with Dazzle designs and painting crews.

Another artist employed with this war effort was Edward Wadsworth, a Vorticist, who was to make a number of Dazzle woodcuts and stick with maritime themes.

Venezuelan artist Cruz-Diez has found a new use for Dazzle camo: the appointment of a literal flagship for the Liverpool Biennial. It will delight as much as it will confuse.

But the full name of the piece is another obsfucation: Dazzle Ship: Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship.

Incidentally, the Edmund Gardner is a pilot ship built in 1953. Its peacetime role has been to provide a base for those who safely guide ships in and out of Liverpool.

But did I say ‘peacetime’? That’s an easy mistake to make. After all, dazzle is everywhere these days. It is the human cost of ongoing conflict we now strive to camouflage.

Cruz-Diez may be making a formal statement with his Induction Chromatique. But Dazzle Ship harks back to the moment abstraction and pure form got pressed into service by the real world.

Dazzle Ship can be seen at the Liverpool Biennial, until 26 October, and beyond until the end of 2015.

Weekend Words: Tower


Marten van Valckenborch I, “Tower of Babel” (n.d.), oil on panel, 69 x 98 cm. Private collection (image via Web Gallery of Art)

A new luxury condominium tower (104 units, $7,000,000-$95,000,000) under construction in Manhattan has just topped off at 1,396 feet — 150 feet taller than the Empire State Building.

From an article in The New York Times:

Tony Malkin, whose family has controlled the Empire State Building since 1961, said he would not add 432 Park to the interactive displays on its observation decks, which help visitors identify the skyline. “It’s medieval,” Mr. Malkin said. “That’s where towers come from, the Middle Ages. The wealthy built them for protection and isolation from the city below.”

“They have undertaken to build a tower, and spend no more labor on the foundation than would be necessary to erect a hut.”

—Johann von Goethe

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

—Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

“Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fish pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.”

—Song of Solomon, 7:4 (KJV)

“I don’t ascribe to the idea of the ivory tower composer who sits alone in a room composing his masterpieces and then comes down from Mount Sinai with the tablets. It doesn’t work like that. The job of a composer is putting something down on a piece of paper that will inspire the person who’s playing.”

—John Zorn

“Giotto’s tower,
The lily of Florence blossoming in stone.”

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Giotto’s Tower”

“I’ve been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a tower, and it’s leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich.”

—Danny DeVito

“Thus they relate,
Erring; for he with this rebellious rout
Fell long before; nor aught availed him now
To have built in Heaven high towers; nor did he scape
By all his engines, but was headlong sent,
With his industrious crew, to build in Hell.”

—John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1

“What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you.”

—Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

—Saint Augustine of Hippo

Hands On and Off: The Forest Fringe Festival

Purge_Credit_Aaron Reeves 4

A photograph of Brian Lobel’s performance, entitled “Purge” (courtesy the artist)

The Abrons Arts Center hosted the Forest Fringe Microfestival over the weekend of October 3. Forest Fringe originated at the Edinburgh Festival, a fringe within the Edinburgh Fringe, and has become internationally mobile as an independent entity. Though the festival promotes itself as experimental and radical, the events did not prove quite so mind-expanding.

The theater company describes itself as “not a theater” and “not a company.” Call it what you will, it was founded by three artists whose works were presented along with some installation and on-site ongoing performances over the course of the weekend.

Forest Fringe co-founders Andy Field and Ira Brand’s put your sweet hand in mine lives up to its title, though it follows a circuitous route to a tender finale. Two rows of chairs, facing each other and about three feet apart, await the audience. The performance space is dimly lit by a row of incandescent bulbs hanging overhead. In the darkness, an actor planted in the audience begins a recitation, alluding to the discomfort of our sitting together this way, the forced intimacy. Then another actor planted further down on the other side picks up the talking. You are asked to imagine that you are sitting on a train and have a sudden romantic connection to the person sitting opposite you. The narrative speculates on your future life together, as romance turns into a daily grind.

Later, the actors perform a striptease and a song, followed by an apology. Then they tell the spectators to hold hands with the person opposite. A sexual charge hovers over the moment, thanks to the preceding romantic narration, yet it also calls to mind group prayer. The handholding goes on long enough to become an unexpectedly intimate and revealing experience. In New York, decorum requires that we sit in close proximity on the subway and in theaters and stand shoulder to shoulder in elevators, but we do not touch. Violating the rule will provoke alarm, quite understandably. Here we were encouraged to do the forbidden. I became aware of the shape and feel of my partner’s hands and, through the way they were proffered and held, something of the character and sensibility of the person attached to them.

Deborah Pearson - The Future Show

A promotional image for Deborah Pearson’s performance, “The Future Show” (courtesy the artist)

Deborah Pearson, also one of the co-directors, performs her process-based work, titled The Future Show. The conceit, as described in the show’s blurb, is that she writes a fresh script for each performance, though at Abrons she said that she reused parts of old scripts as well. The set-up is simplicity itself. Lit by a handful of standard white theater lights and a reading lamp, Pearson sits at a desk, her hands palm down in front of her, reading from a binder. She rarely moves, except to turn the pages, though she makes eye contact with the audience and speaks to them directly. In an opening speech, she cleverly anticipates the audience’s dutiful applause when she ends the show by taking her bow and gesturing toward the tech booth to acknowledge her offstage assistance.

While her first-person narration is in the future tense, it often sounds like the events have already occurred. She talks about her obsessive-compulsive disorder; she relates an incident that happened when she was seven years old; she frets about writing the script and performing; she talks about things in the neighborhood of the theater, such as a bar on the Lower East Side, and where she’s staying in Brooklyn; she charts the unspectacular events of her daily life to demonstrate that she wrote a new script for this particular show. And she anticipates her review in the newspaper, reviewing herself in effect before the show is over, and ruminates on her old age (“I will not always be young.”)

Some of the narrative becomes overly cute as she quits and rejoins Facebook. She disrupts her future-oriented thrust by bringing up the past: à propos of almost nothing, she throws in that her parents emigrated from Hungary to the United Kingdom sixty years ago. Her process is intriguing: having to write in a hurry could have led her to some startling discovery or caused her to relate some fresh, accidental experience. At least in this rendition, however, she did not meet the challenge of creating a script worth our time.

Made in China Image

Made in China performing “The Gym Show” (courtesy the artist)

Forest Fringe co-founder Ira Brand performed with a group named Made In China, which created Gym Party, a piece that plays off the game-show format. Wearing white gym outfits and pink wigs, three actors compete in unusual contests to win the audience’s approval. The audience is polled about which cast member was raised in the most prosperous family, and which one they would most want to kiss. The actors shamelessly debase themselves, competing to stuff the most marshmallows in their mouths among other stunts. They repeat several times that they are performing for the benefit of the audience and show appreciation for their co-stars when they win the individual rounds of the competition. But there is punishment for losing, usually verbal humiliation.

The show is determinedly pop-culture-oriented and deliberately shallow. It strives to be twisted but remains rather tame and blandly familiar. The kind of forced, clichéd audience participation upon which the show rests isn’t experimental or radical, nor does it lead to any new ideas or perspectives. In the context of a larger fringe festival, say, if you’ve been trapped in a windy piece of bad theater, Gym Party might be a good tonic, but as an isolated vehicle it did not have a lot to offer. The Forest Fringe is right to think about the space and function of the audience, but it needs to be more daring, sensitive, and truly experimental when exploring this delicate terrain.

The Forest Fringe Microfestival took place at the Abrons Art Center (466 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) between October 3 to October 5, 2014.

Bland in an Interesting Way


If the War on Drugs’s Lost in the Dream is a brilliant soft-pop masterpiece, a theory I am perfectly willing to entertain, it is brilliant in a way more suited to a platinum bestseller than to a critics’ record. Notwithstanding the band’s arty reputation, their strength is in their massive riffs and grand musical release, not in the subtleties of their instrumental sound and certainly not in the sensitive songwriting. By the hazy, abstract standards of psychedelic-electronic alternative rock, this album’s clear, pop-friendly shape isn’t just a breakthrough, it’s a marvel. If not for the long synth breaks and stiff textural overlay, half these songs would sound perfectly at home on oldies radio, right alongside Bruce Hornsby’s “The Valley Road” and Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence”.

I’m exaggerating, but not by much. Certainly lead Warrior Adam Granduciel writes more fully-formed songs than most of his acid/ambience-damaged contemporaries; certainly he sings more expressively. As with his cofounder Kurt Vile, who left the band in 2008 to pursue a solo career, Granduciel’s music can slide into somnolence at times, and circa 2011’s acclaimed Slave Ambient, the Philadelphia-based band came across like a surprisingly lucid, predictably dreamy instance of the impressionistic, reverb-drenched chillwave that was then igniting the blogosphere. But they’ve since gotten faster and more distinct, with crisper guitar lines and tighter melodies, and even on Slave Ambient if not 2008’s messy Wagonwheel Blues they were jumping up and down with a lot more energy than the norm among most neopsychedelic wizards. Released this March, Lost in the Dream has inspired countless rave reviews highlighting the spiritual torment in Granduciel’s songwriting — “an immaculately assembled portrait of a man falling apart,” quoth Pitchfork’s Stuart Berman, and if you pay attention to the generalized, existential lyrics you might agree. But nobody would have noticed if the band weren’t suddenly rocking a lot more confidently over a strong four-four beat, melding exquisitely engineered guitar and glistening layers of keyboard into a slick stream of hookcraft. They don’t sound happy, exactly, but they do sound relaxed, gentle, and easy to listen to.


In retrospect, Vile’s departure seems like a turning point. Wagonwheel Blues was dominated by shades of the poky, acoustic slacker Americana that Vile has since settled into on his solo albums, but by Slave Ambient the band had already absorbed pulsating slices of keyboard and wobby blasts of guitar riffage into its sound. Lost in the Dream goes even further in its obsessively seamless, shimmeringly electronic smoothness, and where Vile’s exceptionally laid-back roots-rock band and sleepy drawl get by on their charming amateurism, Granduciel has since revealed himself as some sort of crazed studio perfectionist, polishing his songs until they sparkle like shiny rays of Fairlight streaming through a gauzy cloud of stardust. What both musicians share is that they take refuge in blandness — boldly, consciously, as a deliberate aesthetic project, the way bands like Grizzly Bear and the Dirty Projectors take refuge in precious obscurantism, as an antidote to existential displacement, to political alienation, to personal torment. Vile’s blandness generally falls into the lethargic aw-shucks variety, and Granduciel is definitely more beholden to slick late-’80s AOR soft-pop. But despite Granduciel’s indie-electronica bona fides, he does buy into a tame, mild ethos that has roots in both said soft-pop and the studio folk-rock concocted in secret California laboratories by money-hungry former hippies in the early ‘70s. In fact, his tenderhearted side is what makes his music so fascinating, if not quite compelling enough.

Lost in the Dream may just be the strongest bland album I’ve heard all year. Kicking off with the epic, breathless “Under the Pressure” leading into the readymade arena crowdpleaser “Red Eyes,” the musical strategy combines the hazy psychedelic environment that is Granduciel’s chosen sonic playground with the efficient pop production that is his secret love: out of a cold, misty lake, filled with quietly strummed guitar and shiveringly atmospheric synthesizer gloss, rise hulking, enormous anthems that glide with surprising elegance and calm poise, gracefully crooning their refrains to the sky before diving down to crash and dissolve into the waves, flowing back naturally into the pale atmosphere, leaving trails of whoosh and quiver scattered all over the water’s surface. Soaring beneath texture upon pristine texture, the craft inherent in these abundant blankets of blurry synthesizer tone never obstructs its perpetual rhythmic momentum. When megahooks like the ones on “Red Eyes” and “Under the Pressure” and even the wistfully sentimental “Eyes to the Wind” lock into place, there’s no denying their sumptuous, sweeping majesty. When he slows the tempo down for quieter, more thoughtful ballads, however, the loss in drive is palpable, and rid of any formal backbone, many songs are reduced to the shifting and humming of glazed electronic sound effects plus Granduciel’s soft, lonely voice. As an expressive troubadour he definitely has his limits; song topics include fire, wind, the ocean, rivers flowing, the burning in your heart, calling out your name in the darkness, and the arrival of a new day. Even at his most most spirited, even at his hardest-rocking, the pleasure in his music is still dependent on the kind of childishly open emotionalism that always turns mindless, feelgood, passive.

For this wacked-out, experimental band to suddenly and miraculously discover the joys of the catchy pop song represents a definite step forward, not just for them but for their whole genre. But hooks come in all shapes and sizes, and ultimately these add up to a soulful, comforting exercise in escapism for troubled young people. As such an exercise it’s infinitely more intelligent than just about anything the vast majority of their contemporaries has come up with, and rather more musically rewarding, but the music does falter. No matter how you put it, we have here a subculturally respected, critically celebrated alternative rock band who sound almost exactly like Bruce Hornsby. Something is very wrong in the world.

Lost in the Dream and Slave Ambient are available through

Paul McCarthy’s Epic Plug de Noël Goes Flaccid After Mounting Problems

(via @Flosh)

(via @Flosh)

After a rough start for Paul McCarthy’s 80-foot tall “Tree,” that included a few punches and name-calling by people unhappy with the artist’s provocation, the inflatable green sculpture has been, well, unplugged.

Within a day of being unveiled, “Tree” was already the target of critics, who turned off the fan keeping it inflated on Friday night. Later, several straps that were keeping the work securely in place were severed, according to Le Figaro. Eventually authorities decided to deflate the sculpture after the artist agreed yesterday that its time in Place Vendôme was over.

Le Figaro reports that McCarthy said (translation mine):

“Au lieu d’engendrer une réflexion profonde autour de l’existence même des objets comme mode d’expression à part entière, notamment dans la pluralité de leur signification, nous avons assisté à de violentes réactions.” (“Instead of generating a deep reflection on the very existence of objects as a means of expression in itself, especially in the plurality of its meaning, we have witnessed violent reactions.”)

French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin defended the work and criticized vandals in two tweets (1, 2):

La dégradation volontaire d’une œuvre, quel que soit le jugement esthétique qu’elle inspire, n’est pas seulement une infraction pénale. C’est une atteinte insupportable à la liberté de création. Sans parler de l’agression physique d’un artiste. Soutien à Paul #McCarthy (Voluntary degradation of a work, whatever the aesthetic judgment it inspires, is not only a criminal offense. This is an intolerable infringement of creative freedom. Not to mention the physical assault of an artist. Support Paul #McCarthy)

While the work has gone, the controversy has certainly generated a lot of interest in McCarthy’s large Chocolate Factory show, which opens next week in Paris.

Another view of the deflated "Tree" (via @nalan2000)

Another view of the deflated “Tree” (via @nalan2000)

Needless to say, #buttgate, as some people have been calling it, is already being meme-ified:

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 4.32.33 AM

An unfortunate play on the serious #BringBackOurGirls hashtag (via @ParisZigZag)

(by Michael Hanson, via Zach Alan's Facebook profile page)

(by Michael Hanson, via Zach Alan’s Facebook profile page)

Ehren Tool: One Death Is a Tragedy at Pro Arts Gallery

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Amanda N. Simons reviews Ehren Tool’s solo exhibition One Death Is a Tragedy at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, California.

Ehren Tool’s cup-throwing demonstration; Frank Ogawa Plaza, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014; Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California. Courtesy of the Artist and Pro Arts Gallery. Photo: Amanda N. Simons.

Ehren Tool’s cup-throwing demonstration; Frank Ogawa Plaza, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014; Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California. Courtesy of the Artist and Pro Arts Gallery. Photo: Amanda N. Simons.

Ehren Tool’s 2 x 2 Solos exhibition, One Death Is a Tragedy at Pro Arts Gallery, is about cups. This series of innumerable, hand-thrown ceramic cups is intricately decorated with low-relief stamps, muted colors, and image transfers that deliver liberal criticism of the American war machine, bank bailouts, and police gun violence. Simple, charged, and effective, these carefully handcrafted pieces hold their own as aesthetically pleasing objects of anti-propaganda. However, each Saturday during the exhibition, the artist offers an additional layer to the work—himself as an interactive interface for demonstration and conversation, and ultimately, as a means to unexpectedly take home a piece of art without the burden of monetary exchange.

During his last public appearance, without signage or advertizing, Tool was seated at a manual potter’s wheel in Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, making more cups. Despite the afternoon heat, he sat in the shadow of a small canopy tent in a long-sleeve shirt, jeans, and heavy work boots. Layers of quickly drying gray mud coated, cracked, and flaked from his skin and clothes as he kicked the wheel, pushing and pulling clay forms in an enthralling rhythm. Cup after cup covered the surfaces around him. Tool’s intermittent audience consisted mostly of passersby: a mother with two small children, an Oakland police officer on a bike, a man on his way to the bank, a man collecting cans. Some asked questions, and others just watched as Tool made polite conversation, and when prompted, also shared his resolute but genuine viewpoints on the personal costs of military service. At the end of the conversation, Tool invited the stranger to go into the gallery and choose a cup from the exhibition to take home: a simple gesture, and an invitation that prompts a new perspective. The question of ownership prompts the viewer to reevaluate the worth of the objects, consider their use value, and also to honor just one out of the overwhelming number of cups displayed.

At first glance, these unsolicited, uncontextualized public demonstrations appear to be bait—a means for the artist to deliver a conversation that the work itself may fail to communicate—but quite the opposite is true. As Tool publicly forms the clay, the cups are a result of the time spent with each viewer, and the free gift is the viewer’s record of that interaction. No matter the subject matter of the conversation or the content of the work’s surface; the hundreds of free cups that will leave the gallery during the month of October are records of effective communication delivered personally, one-by-one.

One Death Is a Tragedy is on view at Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California, through October 31, 2014.

Amanda N. Simons is an artist, writer, and educator who lives in Oakland. She received an MFA in Studio Art and an MA in Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts, and is the Exhibition Coordinator for San Francisco’s Queer Cultural Center.

FILM: Camp Camp

Melissa Anderson on Camp X-Ray

Rainy Day Woman: Jane Wilson Re-Visions Reality

Jane in studio by John Gruen

Jane Wilson in her studio, 2095 Broadway, New York. January 8, 1999. Photograph by John Jonas Gruen (all images courtesy the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York, except where noted)

Some sixty years ago, when she was a young artist involved in the downtown New York City scene, Jane Wilson stopped trying to be an Abstract Expressionist. Of course, Wilson was not alone in that mutiny. But what distinguishes Wilson is how effectively she negotiated a long career premised on a delicate balance between absolutely naturalistic subject matter and an abstractionist’s care for the purity of color and form.

Jane Wilson at 90: East Village/East Hampton at DC Moore Gallery epitomizes that achievement. In her landscapes and cityscapes, atmosphere is, literally, everything. In diverse locations and ever-changing climates, sunlight is consistently active in these paintings, like a sovereign creative agent.

This show brings Wilson’s rarely seen cityscapes from the mid-1960s into meaningful dialogue with her sky-and-landscape paintings completed over the last twenty-five years. Through supple brushwork and radiating, overlaid chromatic arrangements of paint, these mostly large oil paintings capture the gradual, scattered and tinctured nature of sunlight, the natural impressions and undulations caused by wind patterns, the brooding textures of storm fronts, and the wild effects of humidity on light. Most interestingly, the weather depicted in Wilson’s paintings provides an immersive experience for the viewer, steeped in human vulnerability and anomie, an inspired tradition which extends back to epochal paintings like J.M. Turner’s “Sunrise with Sea Monsters” (1845) and Gustave Caillebotte’s “Rainy Day” (1877). Into the twentieth century, the same spirit also informs the moodier landscapes and portentous cityscapes of Wilson’s like-minded New York School brethren, such as Fairfield Porter and Jane Freilicher. In Wilson’s work, clouds and light appear so viscous and so tenuous that they carry self-referential weight. Her outdoor transformations point to the constant re-visioning of reality that is the very reason painters paint.

Porter Jane Wilson

Fairfield Porter, “Jane Wilson” (1957), oil on canvas, 57 x 32 inches (© 2014 The Estate of Fairfield Porter / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Wilson’s biography partly explains her preoccupation with arresting landscapes, animated skies and raw color. Born and raised on a farm in the Midwest, she traveled widely with her family during the Great Depression, coursing through the Dust Bowl on trips that took her to Big Sky Country in the Rockies and eventually to the mist-filled Californian coast, all of which left indelible impressions on her. So too did the iconoclastic painter Philip Guston, who was briefly on the faculty while Wilson studied at the University of Iowa in the 1940s. “What I got from Guston,” Wilson once told interviewer Mimi Thompson, “was the importance of questioning the substance of the paint. Whether it’s thick or thin, the paint has such a range of qualities, you can go strolling through it.”

In her description of the artist’s medium, Wilson could just as well be speaking about the thick atmospheric conditions that her paintings depict. In an earlier interview with Thompson, Wilson declared a kinship with Mark Rothko. She credited her visit to the Museum of Modern Art’s 1961 Rothko retrospective as inspiring her to work in — of all genres — landscape: “It [the Rothko retrospective] made me think about landscape in the sense that I felt I was looking into the density of air, differing densities layered and floating.”

Near Night Tompkins Sq019

Jane Wilson. “Near Night, Tompkins Square” (1964), oil on canvas 40 x 35 inches

Few locales could be as inhospitable to starting a career as a landscape painter than the pedestrian corridors around Tompkins Square Park, where Wilson and her husband, the photographer, John Gruen, lived from the late 1950s through the 1960s. Yet she seems to have used the area’s particular outlooks and corners as a frequent inspiration.

“Near Night, Tompkins Square” (1964) is an eerie, quasi-Gothic study of the park’s shadows and silhouettes that lurk after a cloud-filled, city sundown, the bluish afterglow barely visible in the chalky ceiling of clouds. “Rain on Avenue B” (1965) takes as its main subject the vector created by the planes of sky and street during a rainstorm. The air’s leaden tone is captured just as the sun begins to burn through the haze, spreading its wan light through the smooth cloud covering. Meanwhile in the lower half, the wide, slick street becomes an unevenly glazed mirror reflecting the park’s bare trees, whose branches spike the brightening air with geometric precision, as if nature were imitating the painter’s abrupt stabs of oil paint on the canvas.

Avenue B Bus

Jane Wilson, “Avenue B Bus” (1966), oil on canvas, 60 x 75 inches

In the breathtaking “Avenue B Bus” (1966), the gray streets and the browns of the buildings seem to dissolve skyward into the winter-white clouds. The climatological and terrestrial starkness is then humanized by the ordinary features of the city, details that exceed their practical functions with reassuring and surprising bursts of pure color within a mostly pallid winter scene. These include the yellow bands of the crosswalk, a rectangular green sign on a white lamppost, red paneling on the downtown bus and pick-up truck, and even in such miniature schemes as the rusty greenish fire hydrant and the blue, orange and russet-colored clothing of two pedestrians. In this somewhat contracted panorama, everything is at once mundane and mythic, palpably immediate yet abstract and distant.

“Tree on the Hudson River” (1964) further exploits the uneasy coincidence of the urban and the natural. Stylistically, it shows Wilson drawing on some of the dramatics of action painting. A foregrounded tree with a zigzag trunk bisects the picture plane like an enormous crack or fantastic lightning bolt. The background river is present as an aura rather than a substance, outdone by the blue, white and yellow cadences of the winter sky. In a golden brown distance, the skyline of the New Jersey palisades flickers faintly.

Over the last couple of decades, Wilson’s passionate attention to the scattering of natural light has produced even larger, more ambitious, and more boldly colored paintings than the mid-1960s cityscapes. But the more recent results tend to be uneven.

“Sun After Rain” (1990) draws directly from the Color Field playbook to dramatize, in a realistic vocabulary, the visible spectrum and vibrating strata of colors created in the sky by receding heat, cloud layers, obscure ether, and fading sunlight. The colored bands of Wilson’s sky are undeniably arresting in their details. But in its straddling of severe abstraction and neo-realism, it never fully registers its content in either mode. A much more convincing portrait of the sky saturated by sunlight is the eye-pinching “Heat in Watermill” (1997), in which solar refractions and radiating bands find a subtly blended representation in unrelentingly intense yellows and whites. The image is nothing less than mesmerizing.

Heat in Watermill

Jane Wilson, “Heat in Watermill” (1997), oil on linen, 42 x 34 inches

Enormous semi-abstract vistas of clouds and horizons dominate Wilson’s work from in the 2000s. Each depicts the sky in jarring colors. “Green Sky in Autumn” (2004) traces the contours of tightly compacted decks of cumulus clouds. Wilson paints them so meticulously that, combined with the overall shocks of green, these long furrows protruding from the sky seem like land formations on some forbidden planet. The grandeur verges on surrealism.

“Sun and Rain” (2004) manages to render the intermingling tints and resonances of blue sky and yellowish white rain clouds with a subdued, astonishing delicacy. A top layer of brushwork produces translucent, watery downward streaks that sheen the entire landscape, as if the painting were the very sun shower it depicts.

Sun and Rain

Jane Wilson, “Sun and Rain” (2004), oil on linen, 70 x 70 inches

At their most convincing, Wilson’s scenes provoke the same emotional response that the kaleidoscopic sunlight has on our psyches, as it surrounds us, immerses us, and as it appears, disappears, reappears and generally oversees our landlocked busyness through pleasant and adverse seasons. These paintings also remind us that color is purely appearance and that sight itself is a strictly personal, embodied phenomenon. When we register new configurations of color in nature, or note how movingly the sky changes, Wilson’s paintings seem to tell us that we are seeing and describing ourselves, even as we seem to be reflecting exclusively on the earth and clouds.

Jane Wilson at 90: East Village/East Hampton continues at DC Moore Gallery (535 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through November 1.

Robert Gober’s Unanswered Questions


Robert Gober. “Untitled” (2005-2006), aluminum-leaf, oil and enamel paint on cast lead crystal. 4 3/4 inches high × 4 1/4 inches in diameter. Collection the artist. Image Credit: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. © 2014 Robert Gober (all images courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, New York)

The sprawling, high-ceilinged contemporary art gallery on the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art might have been built for Richard Serra, but Robert Gober owns it.

The gallery, which “was designed and built specifically with [Serra’s] sculptures in mind,” as Christopher Hawthorne wrote in the Los Angeles Times, is a block-long space featuring double-height ceilings, column-free vistas and “floors that have been reinforced to carry heavy steel.” The positive notices trailing Serra’s forty-year survey in 2007 seemed to validate at least that one component of Yoshio Taniguchi’s cold and empty expansion.

While a number of exhibitions, including the recent Sigmar Polke retrospective, have made imaginative use of the gallery’s height and flexibility, I have never felt as thoroughly immersed in a single artist’s vision has I did in Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, which casts a highly selective net over a pivotal artist’s prolific career.

As in the Polke exhibition, the individual pieces tend to be subsumed into the esprit of the whole. In Polke’s case, the overriding impression was of unconstrained freedom and possibility; for Gober, it’s the perfect mesh of objects and environment. The subdued color, modest scale and workaday demeanor of many of the pieces seem designed for display in an aggregate, even before the idea of manipulating a room’s viewing conditions became part of the artist’s repertoire.

As Roberta Smith intimated in her New York Times review of The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, once you’ve seen one of Gober’s plaster sinks, with or without a drain hole, you’ve kind of seen them all. But here, the placement, repetition and recapitulation of these mutant plumbing fixtures and other personal motifs lure you ever deeper into a dream state you’ll be loath to leave.

I once read in an essay whose title and author escape me (and whose apparently Google-proof source has resisted attempts to locate it) that James Joyce turned reality into a dream and Franz Kafka turned dreams into reality. Gober possesses the singular ability to do both, fusing hyper-detailed realism into handmade objects that, in their seamless conflations of memory and apparition, feel deliberately calibrated to defy any attempt to decode them.


Robert Gober, “Untitled Closet” (1989), wood, plaster, enamel paint. 84 x 52 x 28 inches. Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. © 2014 Robert Gober.

The first room is a knockout, with just five artworks, two of which are very small. The focal point is an empty, doorless closet (“Untitled Closet,” 1989) with trowel marks on the hand-plastered interior and a thick jamb that seems to have been repainted generation after generation. The closet contains an upper shelf but lacks a clothing bar, giving it a cool, geometric look that conveys the sense that Gober’s work, as a number of commenters have mentioned, is a content-based response to Minimalism.

But the artist’s meticulous rendition of the plastering, an all-but-obsolete craft, and his ersatz buildup of paint on the doorjamb evoke the passage of time as they send a signal, repeatedly reinforced throughout the show, about the illusory nature of memory and its inescapable enfoldment into the present.

The room also includes one of Gober’s perpetually alarming truncated legs (“Untitled Leg,” 1989-90), which are typically clad in pants, socks and shoes from another era — the time of the artist’s childhood, the mid-1950s and ‘60s, if not earlier. The bone-white skin, made from bleached beeswax and individually applied strands of human hair, peeks out from the sliver of space between the bottom of the pant leg and the top of the sock, an unadorned icon of death-in-life, as intuitively alien as it is profoundly ordinary, which has retained its fascinating horror over the quarter-century since it first appeared.


Robert Gober, “Untitled Leg” (1989-1990), beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair. 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20 inches. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheisser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober.

The other three works in the room mark different points in the artist’s career — a graphite study for a fabric pattern (“Study for the Slip-Covered Armchair,” 1986), a hand-painted paint can (“Untitled,” 2005-06) and a facsimile of a homemade cat-sitting advertisement (“Untitled,” 2000-01) — rounding out the themes that Gober returns to again and again: domesticity and decoration, the body, and the transformation of the everyday. His signature metaphor of domesticity, the sink, shows up in the second room, consecrating it as an uncannily sacred space.

There are five sinks altogether in that room, all untitled and dating from 1984, three years into the AIDS epidemic (Gober became a prominent activist during the crisis). They’re missing faucets, drains and pipes — only the sepulcher-white basins and backsplashes are left — and they’re hung low, much below standard waist-level. Their siting on the wall, especially in relation to the double-height ceiling, accentuates their dual role: simultaneously sinks whose lack of plumbing renders the act of cleansing impossible, and implied tombs or columbaria — death as a hole in need of filling.

Where the retrospective works best, the meaning of an object or environment hinges on the intersection of formalism, craft, allusion and contradiction. Gober’s excavation of the quotidian requires a sensitive equilibrium between life and art — too much of the former, and the work becomes trite or bland; too much of the latter, and it dissipates into its sources.


Robert Gober, “Untitled” (1984), plaster, wood, wire lath, aluminum, watercolor, semi-gloss enamel paint. 28 x 33 x 22 1/2 inches. Rubell Family Collection. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. © 2014 Robert Gober.

The two artists the exhibition repeatedly brought to mind, for better or worse, were Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte. While there is a patent correspondence between Gober’s sinks and Duchamp’s urinal (“Fountain,” 1917), I was thinking not of the readymades per se — the idea of which Gober has turned on its head with such fiendishly handcrafted simulacra as “Plywood” (1987) and “Untitled Door and Door Frame” (1987-88) — but of “Étant donnés” (1946-1966), Duchamp’s secret final work, which features a pair of peepholes drilled through a set of rough-plank double-doors, revealing a partially obscured female nude reclining in a wooded landscape, her left hand holding aloft a gas lamp. I was also reminded of “Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?” (1921), a quasi-readymade comprising a cage, a thermometer, a cuttlefish bone and more than a hundred pieces of marble impersonating sugar cubes.


Installation view of “Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,” The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015. © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. All works by Robert Gober © 2014 Robert Gober.

A couple of Gober’s works follow the example of “Étant donnés” in form and spirit, most pertinently “Untitled” (1997), in which you peer into an old valise to find a sewer grating instead of a bottom panel, and below that, a tidal pool — with real water — lapping the ankles of a barely-glimpsed man holding a baby,. (The original, more incendiary configuration of “Untitled” featured a white plaster statue of the Virgin standing over the grate, with a long, black drainpipe piercing her abdomen.) The similarities between the dioramas made by Gober and Duchamp, however, seem not as important as the cracks in reality they represent, the intersection between our world and the damaged, ethereal Eden of dreams.

The Heart Is Not a Metaphor is mesmerizing to the extent that it inhabits a heightened — some call it spiritual — plane. The objects are more than themselves, sometimes because they are part of a beguiling environment, elsewhere because the density of the materials and effort put into their creation result in a kind of unitary, metaphysical perfection. This is where “Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?” becomes the template, in which a luxe material, such as Duchamp’s flawlessly white, granularly textured marble, stands in for a household item. Similarly, Gober’s aforementioned paint can is a completely painted-over piece of cast lead crystal, but overall the luster and magnetism his replicas display are derived less from material splendor and more from sweat equity.

This is particularly true of the cat litter bags sitting on the floor of one of the exhibition’s showstoppers, the room-sized installation “Untitled” (1989-1996). The centerpiece is a hand-sewn satin evening gown surrounded on four sides by a wallpaper pattern pairing the images of a white man sleeping in bed and a lynched black man hanging from a tree.   Each of the litter bags, eight in all, are cast plaster and identically hand-painted. The colors of the package design, particularly the black, white and red, feel unnaturally sharp against the plaster support, much crisper and more saturate than they would be if printed on paper, and their exact repetition across the eight sculptures creates, to choose a loaded term, an unmistakable, if deadpan, aura.


Installation view of “Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,” The Museum of Modern Art, October 4, 2014–January 18, 2015. © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. All works by Robert Gober © 2014 Robert Gober.

When I entered the room and my eyes fell on the litter bags, I couldn’t figure out what it was about them that seemed to click alongside the social-commentary wallpaper and the satin gown, when by all rights they should have felt impertinent and jarring. The reason certainly wasn’t related to the explanations found on a wall text Gober wrote about the installation — an instance of curatorial handholding mercifully absent from most of the exhibition — in which he refers to the bags as a “metaphorical fulcrum” that “absorbs the stench of the excrement (the wallpaper) and […] allows for domestic intimacy (think diapers). It is also a reminder of the sacred vows that those who wear the [satin gown] profess — to care for the body of your loved ones ‘in sickness and in health, till death do you part.’” He also notes, “When this piece was made, to many Americans, Gay Americans (an estimated 10 percent of our population) it was a reminder of equality denied.”

Such simple correspondences, even if they are the artist’s own words, flatten out the work’s layers of meaning and turn the installation into a kind of rebus, a secret message spelled out in images. I frankly didn’t see anything connecting the litter bag with the wallpaper and the dress other than the unity bestowed on the three separate items by the artist’s own hand, a formal confluence that speaks to the subterranean passages he plumbed to intuit their association. Even if we are to take the artist’s statement at face value, with its references to civil rights and gay marriage, the leap from lynching to cat litter to satin gown strains causation and logic, but that kind of strain allows for multiple and contradictory interpretations to bristle outward.

Looking more closely at the paired image of the sleeping white man and the black lynching victim, a number of questions arise. Why, for one, is the man asleep, as if dreaming of the lynching, and not portrayed as one of the perpetrators? Could his state be a reference to “String Quartet No. 1 (White Man Sleeps)” (1986) by the South African composer Kevin Volans, which was recorded by the Kronos Quartet in 1987, two years before the start of this project? If so, the implications of white obliviousness and sins of omission make sense. But why is the figure naked, at least from the shoulders up, and why does the image feel so strangely erotic? Similarly, the satin dress, although it is meant to imply a wedding gown, isn’t white but ivory-colored, and rather severely cut. The only thing indicating that it may be intended for a wedding is the length of fabric trailing behind it into an abbreviated train, but it could also be a gown worn by a children’s book princess to the ball. The more you look at Gober, the further certainty dissolves.

Another title forThe Heart Is Not a Metaphor could have been Against Appropriation. Gober’s work, unlike that of Jeff Koons, whose own retrospective at the Whitney finally closes this weekend after an around-the-clock orgy of marketing and kitsch, makes the argument that the mere replacement of an object’s surface material, no matter how flawlessly executed, is not nearly enough. For Gober, who is the same generation as Koons — and, like Koons, was lumped under the Simulationist rubric at the start of his career — the replication of an object is not a process of value enhancement via wood, bronze, steel or porcelain, but an act of seeing and knowing. And the time spent turning that object into art unavoidably opens up floodgates of meaning for the artist and, concomitantly, through the physical nuances the process plays upon the artwork, the viewer.

The intense, resonant, oddball beauty of the installations filling the first half of the exhibition is so heady that the abrupt midpoint transition into two rooms displaying the work of other artists, a generous but disruptive gesture, even if one is Anni Albers, prompts a precipitous drop-off in emotional involvement, a deflation from which, at least for me, the exhibition never quite fully recovers. Also problematic in the second half is the new complexity of the work — the combination and recombination of recurrent themes — which in many pieces recalls René Magritte’s sometimes facile Surrealism, especially where a familiar motif, such as the backsplash of a sink, morphs into planks of knotty wood, seemingly a direct reference to paintings like Magritte’s “The Discovery” (1928), in which wood grain appears on the body of a nude woman. In these pieces, the connection between art and life is severed, and the work, rather than mine an unexpected shaft into reality, seems to chase its own tail.

Conversely, here and there are pieces, such as a pair of ice skates (“Untitled,” 1997), a cash register receipt (“Monument Valley,” 2007) and a vintage, snack-size, apple pie package (“Untitled,” 2008), that feel earthbound, too content to remain little more than precise copies.  And the artist’s multi-part, Catholic-centric September 11th commemoration (“Untitled,” 2002-05), which encompasses two rooms of the exhibition, feels diffuse despite some compelling ideas, as if it were shrinking away from the enormous emotions still latent in its impossible subject.

These are quibbles. More to the point is the enigma nestled in the heart of these works, most of which, as you’ve noticed, the artist chose to leave untitled.


Robert Gober. “Slip Covered Armchair” (1986-87), plaster, wood, linen, and fabric paint. 31 ½ x 30 ½ x 29 inches. Collection the artist. Image Credit: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist. © 2014 Robert Gober.

What psychological exigencies, we might ask, could have led to the image of a man’s leg thrusting out of a birth canal in “Untitled” (1993-94)? Where did the piercing blue eyes of the dog-faced “Death Mask” (2008) come from, or the sweptback, wispy black tresses growing from a wedge of Swiss cheese in “Long Haired Cheese” (1992-93) — a vegetarian answer, perhaps, to Paul Thek’s equally repellant slabs of meat? What is so deeply comforting about the hand-painted slipcase in “Slip Covered Armchair” (1986-87), and why does a little girl’s shoe (“Untitled Shoe,” 1990), cast in wax the color of a Maraschino cherry, feel so heartbreaking?

I went through The Heart Is Not a Metaphor once last week and twice on Monday. Each time, when I came to the end, the accumulation of ideas and cascade of emotions resonated like a real journey, a fully completed arc, and each time I started over, the greeting party in the first room — the closet, the leg, the paint can — held the promise of fresh discoveries. How many retrospectives, especially of a living artist, have done that?

Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor continues at the Museum of Modern Art (11 W 53rd Street, Midtown, Manhattan) through January 18, 2015.

The Way the World Ends: Jude Tallichet’s U-Turn


Jude Tallichet, “Relic” (2014), cast Forton and concrete blocks; 52 x 187 x 120 inches (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

It’s a full-size Hyundai Accent, circa 2000, collapsed in the middle of the gallery floor. Or rather, the shell of one, bone-white and cracked apart, like a melting iceberg or a flash-frozen relic from the next ice age. In fact, it’s called “Relic” (2014), cast by Jude Tallichet in Forton (an architectural casting stone) from a car she borrowed from a friend. The original Hyundai, just so you know, is still in running condition.

This is the second exhibition this year in which Tallichet has dealt with the automobile as an object slated for destruction. In May, in the narrow ancillary space at Valentine Gallery in Ridgewood, she showed “Time of the Season” (2014), in which miniature speakers, blasting an electronic version of the old Zombies tune, propelled seven crayon-colored, football-sized, aluminum foil cars into the air with each burst of a bass note.

The Hyundai in Tallichet’s current solo at Studio 10 in Bushwick looks remarkably like its ill-fated, caved-in, aluminum foil counterparts —dented and crumpled like a deflated balloon — but its drolly pathetic state, spread-eagled on the floor (as much as a car can spread-eagle), also feels starkly, scarily violent. The billowing and wrinkling of the rubber molds, the sharp, jagged edges of the Forton slabs, the pulled-apart doors, bent hubcaps and ripped tires conspire to create a quintessential vision of a nightmare car wreck.


Jude Tallichet, “Relic (detail)” (2014), cast Forton and concrete blocks

If, as the gallery’s press release states, the sculpture is predicated on “the shift in America from the optimism of our old ‘open road’ culture with its romantic connotations of freedom and possibility to the present state of malaise,” it also marks the end of that road — a horrific death within a confined space and the irreversible despoilment of the air, water and soil. And it undermines the denial we practice each time we step into a car, that we’re not strapping ourselves into a coffin.


Jude Tallichet, “Arch” (2014), cast Forton, acrylic paint, steel rod, cast silicone rubber; 132 x 30 x 12 inches

The show is called U-Turn, and the literal U-turn on display is the sculpture “Arch” (2014), slightly off to the corner from “Relic.” As colorful and ascendant as the car is bleached and broken, its gate-like structure and luminously painted surface (cast from dozens of plates and pieces of crockery found in the former Queens synagogue Tallichet shares as a home and studio with her husband, the artist Matt Freedman) feel at once Romanesque, Islamic, Hindu, neo-Dada and graffiti-esque. Thirty inches wide and eleven feet high, it’s both bizarrely ungainly in its concatenation of vases, urns, bowls and plates, and inexplicably elegant in the attenuated, Mannerist lift of its two closely-placed columns, which are capped by the sharp curve of a top-heavy Roman arch. It shouldn’t be able to stand upright, at least not for long, even with the assistance of the steel rod listed among the materials on the checklist, but it does.

The third part of the show is a scattering of bronze-cast cracked and distressed iPhones, each bearing an inscription whose unattributed source can range from the literary (Jorge Luis Borges: “The original is unfaithful to the translation”) to the anonymous. Collectively titled “Small Monuments” (2014), the sculptures’ use of bronze is simultaneously ironic and dignifying. You register them first as alluring, handheld Minimalist objects, then recognition kicks in and you question the conditioning of your response: were you initially attracted to them for their materiality and simplicity, or because they match the length, width, depth and beveled edges of the phone in your pocket? The etched inscriptions, with their wry inversion of the ephemerality of text messages, look like epitaphs on elfin sarcophagus lids, signaling the death of (fill in the blank).

The repurposed car, crockery and phones couldn’t be more dissimilar, almost disconcertingly so. But they’re all relics, in their own way, as well as U-turns. The deconstructed car takes a once-valuable commodity and turns it into a slag heap; the phones give you pause over the monetary and cultural distinctions between an iPhone6+ and a work of art based on an obsolete predecessor (and makes you wonder, if given the choice, which you would rather buy).  On the opposite end of the value spectrum, the castoff, essentially worthless dinnerware is re-imagined as the artist’s own private Ishtar Gate.


Jude Tallichet, “Small Monuments: There are many realities” (2014), cast bronze, patina; 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches

Cars, phones and plates serve basic human needs, but the first two are subject to planned obsolescence while the pottery is universal and timeless — a difference that perhaps played into the inclination to portray the car and phones as archaeological finds and the pottery as an architectural wonder of indeterminate provenance. The casting process is used not to simulate an object but to encase it within a continuum of signification, which the artist further compounds and contradicts. Tallichet’s initial sources aren’t exactly unfaithful to their translations, but they recede rather dramatically into the backstory as the artwork sprouts secondary and tertiary meanings like mushrooms after a thundershower.

You may feel, as you walk into the gallery and confront the shattered ghost-car — piled like hastily reassembled sections of a skull or the exoskeleton of some prehistoric beast — alongside its companion pieces of recycled trash, that you’ve encountered the end of everything. But the sculptures’ fertile conjunction with their sources soon effloresces into an unaccountable buoyancy, a cogency amid the unraveling, an afterlife cocooned within the apocalypse.

Jude Tallichet: U-Turn continues at Studio 10 (56 Bogart Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through November 9.

Everything is Intertwined: Jay Kinney’s Gnosis Magazine

On Wednesday, the forty-eight-year-old San Francisco Bay Guardian announced that it would shut its doors, effective immediately. A report on the Bay Area blog SFist quotes SFBG publisher Glenn Zuehls as saying, “Unfortunately, [...] the obstacles for a profitable Bay Guardian are too great to overcome.” This, despite the SFBG’s wide popularity and the vast wealth that exists in the region

The circumstances of this terminus are echoed in an interview between Art Papers‘ Editor/Artistic Director Victoria Camblin and Jay Kinney, the founder of the journal Gnosis, which operated in San Francisco from 1985 to 1999. In the excerpt below, the two discuss spirituality, technology, and alternative publishing. This article was originally published in the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Art Papers.

left to right: Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968), illustration Jay Lynch; page from Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968) [all images courtesy Jay Kinney]

Left to right: Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968), illustration by Jay Lynch;
page from Bijou Funnies #1 (Fall 1968). Images courtesy Jay Kinney.

Gnosis was a print quarterly devoted to Western esotericism. It closed 15 years ago, around the time of Silicon Valley’s first dot-com boom. Here, Jay Kinney, the journal’s founder, speaks about Gnosis’ genesis, its contributions to the field of occult and spiritual studies, and its relationship to technology. Gnosis was a special-interest magazine conceived in northern California alongside the first Macintosh computers and laser printers; among many other things, it is an example of a seldom discussed shared history between alternative press and the development of the technologies that have been seen both to enable and to undermine it. [...]

Victoria Camblin: I have this theory that society’s interest in esoterica spikes during periods of technological progress. In the late 19th century you had an Industrial Revolution, and you also had a resurgence of occult societies, the tarot came back, the mysteries of Ancient Egypt were all the rage. Now, with the tech industry boom, you have dot-commers going to healing ceremonies, and so on. I can’t help but think of the paths of the Whole Earth team: one direction gave us Wired, and the other, Gnosis, as though technology and inner traditions came out of the margins together.

Jay Kinney: Gnosis was certainly a continuation of the underground media in the 60s and early 70s, when you had cultural permission to make untraditional or alternative publications, and the sense that there might well be enough of an audience so you could get by. Underground newspapers were also made feasible by the fact that you had web offset presses starting to become available all over the country. If the printers weren’t totally freaked out by the content, then you had relatively cheap means to publish a weekly newspaper. So the underground press really benefited from that technological development.

VC: Did that impact the format, too?

JK: I more or less based the first issues of Gnosis on Weirdo magazine, which was published by Last Gasp [an underground comix publisher] and had been edited for several years by R. Crumb. I basically used the same page size, the same cover stock and interior paper, and we could gang up color covers in the same press run: Gnosiscould do a cover run with an issue of Weirdo or some other Last Gasp publication. So my involvement with underground comix made it possible to fit Gnosis into an arrangement with the printer where we only had to pay for half or a quarter of the color cover run. In terms of industrial or cultural changes, the first issue of Gnosis coincided with the year Aldus introduced the PageMaker page-makeup software, which we used to do one or two of the articles in the very first issue of Gnosis. We were one of the first magazines on newsstands to have desktop-published layouts.

VC: That’s incredible for an independent special-interest magazine. Were these alternative publications at the technological forefront just because of your proximity to the tech industry in California?

JK: Well, Stewart Brand had the idea of jumping on the bandwagon with PCs and Macs, which were just starting in 1984. He got in tight with the PR firm that was promoting the very first Macintosh, so I had the opportunity through Whole Earth to get one of the first 128K Macs at a discount—though it was still something like $3,500 bucks—to get the first Apple laser printer, and a beta version of PageMaker that had been provided to Whole Earth to try out and review in anticipation of its imminent release. I was the one who ended up learning PageMaker and doing a sort of trial run on it for a section of The Whole Earth Software Catalog, which came together around that time. I have to say, the beta version of PageMaker that I was working with was maddening. It would crash every two minutes, I would have to save constantly or I would lose my work—and I was saving to floppy discs!

Read the full interview here.

The Revolutionary Postcolonial Imagination of Surrealism


Detail of Sam Durant’s “Les Armes Miraculeuses” (2014), marble, wood, eggs, shells (fabrication, Dan Axe, Telara Studio d’Arte, Carrara, Italy), overall 34 x 18.5 x 24 in. (86.4 x 47 x 61 cm) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

In 1945, Andre Breton traveled to the Haitian capital of Port au Prince to deliver a lecture on “Surrealism and Haiti.” In his own words, that lecture:

“… tried, both for the sake of clarity and out of deference to the underlying spirit of this history, to align Surrealism’s aims with the age-old goals of the Haitian peasantry. In conclusion, I felt driven to condemn ‘the imperialisms that the war’s end has in no way averted and the cruelly maintained game of cat and mouse between stated ideals and eternal selfishness,’ as well as to reaffirm my allegiance to the motto on the Haitian flag: ‘Union makes strength.’”

A local newspaper took up the challenge of Breton’s words, riling up emotions with articles that ignited a general strike, helped spawn an insurgency that brought down a US-backed dictator, and resulted in elections. It is an historic moment that embodies the union of art’s idealism with political change. This is the spirit of Surrealism that artist Sam Durant emphasizes in his current show, Invisible Surrealists, at Paula Cooper Gallery.


Sam Durant’s “Invisible Surrealists” (2014), (clockwise from top left) René Ménil, Wifredo Lam, Aída Cartagena-Portalatín, Hervé Télémaque, Georges Henein, Clément Magloire-Saint-Aude, Joyce Mansour, Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, Baya, Jorge de Lima, Robert Benayoun, Henri Krea, Ikbal El Alailly, Jules Monnerot, and Suzanne Césaire. Center image: Marcel Duchamp from Adam and Eve by Man Ray, 1924, Gelatin Silver print, © Man Ray Trust/ARS, New York/ADAGP, Paris. Graphite on paper (drafting assistance Dina Sherman) (click to enlarge)

While discussions of Surrealism often focus on its white male European champions, lionizing figures like Breton, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalì, the impact of the movement was equally felt in what was then called the “Third World.” Figures like Henri Krea of Algeria, Léopold Senghor of Senegal, René Ménil of Martinique, and Jorge de Lima of Brazil, among others, were important Surrealists that were largely marginalized in art and literary histories. Even figures from minority groups in the “First World,” like African-American poet Jayne Cortez, and French-Canadian artist Jean Benoît, are ignored.

Invisible Surrealists grapples with the Surrealism of the postcolonial imagination, a challenge to colonial power and its ability to control native and migrant populations through careful administration, indoctrination, surveillance, and the management of every level of civil life. If colonialism controlled the outside world, then many artists on the margins would find that their only freedom was to be experienced through inner fantasy, a world freed from external misery. Figures like Martiniquais poet and politician Aimé Césaire would say Surrealism helped him to free up his poetic language and understand the liberating impact of language. Cuban Surrealist painter Wilfredo Lam would explain, “My painting is an act of decolonization.” The rhetoric of Surrealism was largely anti-imperialist.


Sam Durant’s “”…the great game of hide and seek has succeeded, it is them because, on that day, the weather is most certainly too blindingly bright and beautiful to see clearly therein” (2014) in front of, left, “Sun Filled Fountain (Leopold Senghor, Amilcar Cabral)” (2014), and, right, “Enemy of all that is not Marvelous (Suzanne Césaire)” (2014), graphite and enamel on paper (drafting assistance Gala Porras- Kim) (painting Steve Nunez)

In Durant’s show, this invisible history is found in his doctored images, mostly drawings of archival photographs, that swap famous Surrealist faces with overlooked practioners. His “Invisible Surrealist” (2014) riffs off of the cover of La Révolution surréaliste No. 12 from 1929. At the center of the original image is René Magritte’s “Hidden Woman,” which is circled by white European male Surrealists with their eyes closed. Durant replaced the well-known patriarchs with the “Invisible Surrealists” who have their eyes open and frame an image of Marcel Duchamp as the Biblical Adam in Man Ray “Adam and Eve” (1924). Duchamp, with his passion for slight of hand conceptual frameworks, is the inspiration for this historical rejiggering, as if his mind-expanding notions of art are being pushed even wider.


Sam Durant’s “Les Armes Miraculeuses” (2014), with “1938, Mexico (André Breton, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky and Jaqueline Breton)” (2014) on the left, and “There’s No Such Thing as a Time Line” (2014) on the right.

“Invisible Surrealists,” like many of the drawings in the exhibition, are not slavishly reproduced to fool you into thinking they are photo manipulations. The drawing is looser, often revealing a wobbliness in the faces, making us conscious that they are drawn. Some of the drawings, like “1946, Santo Domingo, La Poesia Sorprendida de André Breton” (2014), have sprays of color that appear to decay part of the image or perhaps infect it. In May 1968, French students often spray-painted Surrealist slogan on the walls of the Sorbonne, an act which was in turn commemorated by Joan Miró in a painting titled “May 1968.” Spraying evokes smells, a Surrealist passion, place making, but also revolutionary fervor, Durant consciously or not evokes all these things.

Detail of Sam Durant's "There's No Such Thing as a Time Line" (2014)

Detail of Sam Durant’s “There’s No Such Thing as a Time Line” (2014)

The lynchpin of the exhibition is the absurdly titled “There’s No Such Thing as a Time Line” (2014), which functions as the unofficial catalogue. The scroll is unfurled to reveal a history of political activism, colonial hubris, significant landmarks in the lives of the invisible Surrealists, and more. The portion we can see in the gallery spans from the early 20th century to 1960s, while the hidden portions push the narrative further in both directions to the mid-nineteenth century and the 1980s. A strong black like waves through through the middle but it is largely meaningless, while the underlying meaning is markedly anti-colonial. Scribbled notes augment printed paragraphs, and history is an accumulation of facts without a clear march forward.

Another type of history is told in an adjacent space with “Another Future Was Possible (Kiosk from Mai 68)” (2014), with maps of the places many of these invisible Surrealists hailed from accompanied by Surrealist manifestos and documents. The kiosk, which Durant’s reimagines from a real object that was used during the May 1968 Paris protests, is another type of history but one that disappears as people posts and remove notices about people, events, and information in an evolving form of social collage. Here the images are fixed, but they are still more mysterious than revealing.

Sam Durant, “An Ingression of the Superstructure Into the Base” (2014), found objects, light bulbs, plaster, wood, marble, steel, wood, MDF, acrylic, gauche, (fabrication Chris Dyson) overall 65.5 x 56.5 x 57 in. (166.4 x 143.5 x 144.8 cm), in the foreground.

Sam Durant, “An Ingression of the Superstructure Into the Base” (2014), found objects, light bulbs, plaster, wood, marble, steel, wood, MDF, acrylic, gauche, (fabrication Chris Dyson) overall 65.5 x 56.5 x 57 in. (166.4 x 143.5 x 144.8 cm), in the foreground, with “Another Future Was Possible (Kiosk from Mai 68)” (2014), some countries of the invisible surrealists and surrealist declarations, statements and manifestos., aluminum, ink on paper, 77.25 x 39.5 x 39.5 in. (196.2 x 100.3 x 100.3 cm), on the far right.

Many of Durant’s objects are influenced by Trench Art, a curious creation of conflict born during the First World War. In “An Ingression of the Superstructure Into the Base” (2014) shell casings are transformed into precious trophy-like objects on pedestals and arrangements usually associated with sculptures by early modernists. “Non-Vicious Circle” (2014) uses rough shell casings in a hybrid sculpture that is equal parts Alexander Calder mobile and oversized rural wind chime. Durant draws parallels between trauma and the modern condition. One of the drawings, “1916, Shell Shock, Psych Ward, André Breton Becomes Aware of the Unconscious” (2014), depicts André Breton experience at the Second Army psychiatric centre at St. Dizier in 1916, when he directly experienced the results of war-inflicted trauma.

Sam Durant's "Non-Vicious Circle" (2014), which is made of powder-coated steel, wood, artillery shell casings, and stainless steel cable. (All photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Sam Durant’s “Non-Vicious Circle” (2014), which is made of powder-coated steel, wood, artillery shell casings, and stainless steel cable. (All photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The only object on display that didn’t look radically manipulated to suggest another history is “Les Armes Miraculeuses” (2014), which is made of marble, wood, eggs, and seashells. The sculpture clearly references Alberto Giacometti’s “On Ne Joue Plus (No More Play)” (1932), but even though Durant changes its color and fills its egg-shaped craters, the work wouldn’t look out of place in a traditional Surrealism show. The transformation here is more subtle. White becomes black, natural objects fill the cavities, and a wooden plinth raises the thick marble base to a table height. According to at least one psychoanalytic reading, Giacometti’s object was about finality, with grave-like forms that hint at resurrection, Durant makes them nest-like cupping eggs and shells planted in each dimple. Giacometti’s work becomes the soil from which organic forms could hatch and grow.

Surrealism was the first truly global art movement, with acolytes on every continent who shared the belief that it tapped into something natural and still largely misunderstood. It was in the momentary glimmer of hope in the unfamiliar that a new — perhaps better — world could be born. The Haitian insurrection that Breton contributed to would have its hopes dashed a few years later when it was overthrown. The Surrealist movement’s promise of a new anti-imperial world never materialized. And yet at no time have the ambitions of Surrealism felt more relevant than today, as states and corporations enact their own neocolonial apparatuses of control, burnishing the allure of escaping into impossible dream worlds. It took me a while to realize that Invisible Surrealists is not only about the desire to be seen but also the possibility of disappearance, and oddly enough both of these things are ultimately about having control.

Sam Durant’s Invisible Surrealists continues at the Paula Cooper Gallery (521 West 21 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until October 18.

Photographs of Urgent Wilderness

Climate Vortex Sutra (For Allen Ginsberg), Hana, Hawaii. Courtesy Danziger Gallery and Salon 94 Gallery

David Benjamin Sherry, “CClimate Vortex Sutra (For Allen Ginsberg)” (Hana, Hawaii, 2014), traditional color darkroom photograph, 30 × 40 in (all images courtesy Danziger Gallery and Salon 94 Gallery unless otherwise noted)

Flush with riveting, enigmatic color and luxuriant depth of field, David Benjamin Sherry‘s monochrome photographs radiate beauty, urgency, and a certain humanness — as if their sublime scenes of mountains, forests, and rock formations had been blasted and dyed by a human detonation. People may be absent from these photos, but the sense that the atmosphere is tinged with their emotions and presence, not necessarily joyous or beneficial, is hard to escape.

In Sherry’s recent work, on view in partnering exhibitions at Danziger Gallery and Salon 94 Bowery, a theme burns through the romanticism: a poetic disquiet about change and catastrophe. The photographs can certainly be enjoyed on the strength of their visuals alone; ethereal and transporting, they’re the sort that could be at home in a New York Times Magazine travel issue — images of rock pillars in Monument Valley, almost doughy and supple from their deep blue bath; of Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite, hazy, purple, otherworldly.

Sherry spends hours in the darkroom, developing, distorting, and coloring these photos, which are largely of the West and southwestern United States. He still shoots in the dying art of analogue, lugging around a large-format 8×10 camera at f/64, that favorite of apertures for Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and others of the famed group. He explores and researches locations over long trips and hikes. Old is still old in Sherry’s work, it’s just brought up to date and forced to lie with the present and a looming future. Sherry’s photos are connected to both history and the land.

Installation view, David Benjamin Sherry at Danziger Gallery

Installation view, David Benjamin Sherry at Danziger Gallery

Salon 94’s show also includes the artist’s more direct connection with humans and other subjects. Sharing space on the sometimes crowded walls are photos of his camera, a set of rainbow-hued nudes, a self-portrait of the artist in drag (“Adaptive Capacity [Self-Portrait]“), and what is apparently an abstract, huge kelvin thermometer, which rests like a Roni Horn aluminum-text sculpture against a wall. Two other photos layer sensuous black-and-white nude pictures over Sherry’s monochrome trademarks. Among so many striking landscapes, it’s easy to ignore these works that zag away, particularly the image of his camera. And perhaps due to our familiarity with the 1960s and psychedelic culture, it’s difficult to bring the same kind of surprising depth and striking emotional response to human bodies suffused with color. But while they are not as visually compelling or thematically rich (or numerous) as his large-format landscape photos, these outliers are nevertheless connected to them, by color, appearance, material. Ideas slide over from one to another, suggesting sensual lands, topographical terrains, a new — or perhaps ending — era.

Installation view D Salon 94 Gallery. Courtesy Danziger Gallery and Salon 94 Gallery.

Installation view, ‘David Benjamin Sherry: Climate Vortex Sutra’ at Salon 94 Bowery

“New Life Forms (Pia and Guadalupe),” “The Sixth Extinction (For Elizabeth Kolbert),” “Climate Vortex Sutra (For Allen Ginsberg)” — Sherry’s titles explicitly link his works to poetry and the coming chaos of human-caused climate change and extinction. Climate Vortex Sutra is also the title of the Salon 94 show, a spin on Allen Ginsberg’s Wichita Vortex Sutraa travelogue lament of dying words and enduring war. Journeying through the Great Plains states, Ginsberg recorded his torrential thoughts about a language beggared by the modern era; he sought, somehow, to give it power or awareness.

Sherry’s project is similar. Working within an old, laborious medium and history, choosing mostly transcendent natural subjects, he too is looking to find ways to make his visions direct, sensuous, powerful, and different. “The color acts as a vehicle to emotional response and intensity that is already in the landscape,” Sherry told Slate. “That’s my intention of it, a type of enhanced reality.” The world is full of countless moving sights; it’s possible to become inured. Sherry’s photographs seek to unearth something new.

Wilderness of Mirrors, Idaho, 2014. Image by the author.

David Benjamin Sherry, “Wilderness of Mirrors” (Idaho, 2014) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

David Benjamin Sherry: Climate Vortex Sutra and David Benjamin Sherry continue at Salon 94 Bowery (243 Bowery, Lower East Side, Manhattan) and Danziger Gallery (521 W 23rd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan), respectively, through October 25.

Natural History Watercolors by a 19th-Century Convict

William Buelow Gould, "Leafy sea dragon"

William Buelow Gould, “Leafy sea dragon” (all images via Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office Commons)

In the most hellish penal colony of Tasmania, a convict named William Buelow Gould painted beautiful watercolors of the sea creatures that washed up on the shores. Gould was transported from England in 1827 for, as his convict record states, “stealing a Great Coat worth 20 pounds.” His sentence was for seven years of labor, but he never returned to his birthplace or his wife and children.

Gould made his Sketchbook of Fishes while at Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land. Troubled by alcohol and continued stealing, he was moved to the most brutal of the British penal stations. Yet the resident medical officer at the station recognized Gould’s talent, and asked him in 1832 to paint the series of fish, which Gould did with lifelike detail and color.

While he received his freedom in 1835, the demons of his life never let him go, and Gould died an impoverished alcoholic in 1853. His 36 fish watercolors continue to be a vital resource for scientists interested in Tasmanian ecology, and were recognized in 2011 with placement on UNESCO’s Australian Memory of the World Register as items of world significance. They’re held by the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts in the State Library of Tasmania, which has digitized them and shared them in a Flickr Commons album, including those below. There’s something haunting about these delicate paintings created in such a dire place, where a convict condemned engaged with the incredible details of these natural specimens.

William Buelow Gould, "Flounder, unfinished views"

William Buelow Gould, “Flounder, unfinished views”

William Buelow Gould, "Flathead"

William Buelow Gould, “Flathead”

William Buelow Gould, "Cow or coffer fish"

William Buelow Gould, “Cow or coffer fish”

William Buelow Gould, "Silver dory"

William Buelow Gould, “Silver dory”

William Buelow Gould, "Toad fish"

William Buelow Gould, “Toad fish”

William Buelow Gould, "Garfish"

William Buelow Gould, “Garfish”

William Buelow Gould, "Sea horse"

William Buelow Gould, “Sea horse”

William Buelow Gould, "Shrimp & unidentified fish"

William Buelow Gould, “Shrimp & unidentified fish”

William Buelow Gould, "Porcupine fish"

William Buelow Gould, “Porcupine fish”

William Buelow Gould, "Stargazer"

William Buelow Gould, “Stargazer”

William Buelow Gould, "Fresh water crayfish"

William Buelow Gould, “Fresh water crayfish”

William Buelow Gould, "Parrot fish"

William Buelow Gould, “Parrot fish”

William Buelow Gould, "Barracouta"

William Buelow Gould, “Barracouta”

View more of William Buelow Gould’s fish watercolors at the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office Commons.

PICKS: Mark Clare

09.13.14-11.01.14 Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, review written by Gemma Tipton

PICKS: Gonkar Gyatso

09.18.14-10.31.14 Pearl Lam Galleries | Hong Kong, Hong Kong, review written by Samantha Kuok Leese

NEWS: Frank Gehry in Talks to Renovate LA MoCA's Geffen Contemporary

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Using Artist Statement Generators to Make Art

Michael Covello, "Smithereens" (2014), acrylic, charcoal, and spray paint on canvas, 26 x 27 in

Michael Covello, “Smithereens” (2014), acrylic, charcoal, and spray paint on canvas, 26 x 27 in

Early last year, I wrote a blog post about the best artist statement generator I’ve seen, which lets you plug in biographical information as well as the media and themes of your work before it whips up an appropriately grandiloquent text for you. A commenter on that post, writer and curator Danny Olda, responded by suggesting that it might be interesting to generate artwork based on the statement rather than the other, more traditional way around.

I loved the idea then, and I love it even more now that Olda’s brought it to fruition, commissioning six artists to make work based on texts produced by various artist statement generators. The exhibition, Machine in the Ghost, is on view at Kirk Ke Wang Art Space in Tampa, Florida, through tomorrow.

For the show, Olda gave six artists — Nathalie Chikhi, Michael Covello, Shawn Pettersen, Selina Roman, Eileen Isagon Skyers, and Mikaela Raquel Williams — six differently preposterous statements, all based on random topics and generated using online tools. They then had a little under three months to create new work in response to the texts.

Michael Covello's statement, to go with  his painting shown at the top of this post

Michael Covello’s full statement, to go with his painting shown at the top of this post (click to enlarge)

It might seem like a doomed endeavor to attempt to make decent, coherent artwork based on verbal nonsense, but, judging by the selections Olda sent me, the Machine in the Ghost artists pull it off unbelievably well. The last paragraph in Michael Covello’s statement, for instance, says this:

His works are given improper functions: significations are inversed and form and content merge. Shapes are dissociated from their original meaning, by which the system in which they normally function is exposed. Initially unambiguous meanings are shattered and disseminate endlessly.

And Covello manages to give that over-the-top language poignant form in his painting of fractured squares awash in thick brushstrokes and thin bolts of color.

Selina Roman, meanwhile, got this:

Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fas- cinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as vision soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the possibility of a new understanding.

Which she turned into a photo album/scrapbook filled with some personal but mostly found photographs of people from immigrant communities getting married. “She seems to imagine the viewer inhabiting the role of the immigration official and judging the validity of each relationship in the photograph,” Olda told Hyperallergic.

Residing at the other end of the spectrum of responses is Shawn Pettersen, who took this conceptual task and further conceptualized it. Pettersen conducted a Google Image search of every word in his statement and overlaid the top results to create a ghostly digital print. He then took it one step further and set the price for the piece using an online Art Price Calculator.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how meaningful the work is. I realize these generators aren’t entirely serious, and some of the statements I asked the artists to work with were honesty mostly nonsense,” Olda wrote over email, continuing:

Still, the artists created rich work, some of it even intensely personal. I was surprised by that dynamic and a sort of contradicting feeling. On the one hand, it’s troubling that artist statements are so convincingly imitated by these programs. On the other, it’s reassuring that the artists still created good meaningful work using these fake statements. I think it says something about the complex relationship between the artist and the way they explain the work to others and even themselves.

Does the success of Olda’s experiment mean we shouldn’t be too worried about artists’ statements being overblown, so long as the work is good? Or does it indicate the possibility for a more meaningful connection between art and text, if done right? I’m not sure. Take a look at some of the pairs from the show below.

Eileen Isagon Skyers's statement

Eileen Isagon Skyers’s statement

Eileen Isagon Skyers, still from "Ninety-nine percent of who you are" (2014), digital video and digital print on fabric

Eileen Isagon Skyers, still from “Ninety-nine percent of who you are” (2014), digital video and digital print on fabric

Shawn Pettersen's statement

Shawn Pettersen’s statement

Shawn Pettersen, detail of "max_res_default.png" (2014), digital print mounted to birch plywood, 41 x 42.5 in (photo by Daniel Veintimilla)

Shawn Pettersen, detail of “max_res_default.png” (2014), digital print mounted to birch plywood, 41 x 42.5 in (photo by Daniel Veintimilla)

Selina Roman's statement

Selina Roman’s statement

Selina Roman, detail of "In Love and Papers" (2014),  mixed media

Selina Roman, detail of “In Love and Papers” (2014), mixed media

Machine in the Ghost continues through tomorrow at Kirk Ke Wang Art Space (5120 N Florida Ave, Tampa, Florida). There will be a closing reception at 7pm.

NEWS: Frank Gehry in Talks to Renovate LA MoCA's Geffen Contemporary

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How to Build a Boat in 24 Hours

James Bowthorpe building his boat in Red Hook (photo by  Alex Colby)

James Bowthorpe building his boat in Red Hook (photo by Alex Colby)

James Bowthorpe, self-described artist, activist, filmmaker, furniture maker, and father, flew from the UK to New York last week to take part in The Feast, a two-day summit focused on creativity and social impact. Bowthorpe had a goal: to build a boat made from the waste of the conference, and then paddle it from Red Hook (where The Feast took place) to Battery Park and back again. To make it a proper challenge, Bowthorpe set a few rules: all building materials had to come from dumpsters within a one-block radius of the conference at Pioneer Works; the tools he brought with him had to fit in his carry-on bag; and, perhaps the easiest one, he had to do it in 24 hours.

The frame of Bowthorpe's Red Hook boat

The frame of Bowthorpe’s Red Hook boat (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

This was Bowthorpe’s second sailing of a boat made from waste; his first was a six-day trip on the Thames in 2010. The idea for that came when Bowthorpe had “a period between gainful employment,” in his words, and found himself crossing the river daily. In Red Hook, holding a tool that had been his grandfather’s, Bowthorpe told me, “I had time to think how London wouldn’t exist without the Thames.” He paused, continuing in a soft voice: “I wanted to make a connection between the two. It’s about more than the environment. It’s transportation, economy … Rivers are a metaphor for everything.”

The water runs deeper. Growing up in Somerset, in southwest England, Bowthorpe lived an hour from two different coasts. “We live on an island,” he reminded me, and perhaps himself. “Every British person has a bit of that in them.”

Despite his close ties to the water at home, Bowthorpe’s education in boats came about when he left England. He did woodworking on the interiors of super-yachts in Barcelona and then on smaller boats in Vancouver. He offered his services before he really knew what he was doing, learning on the job.

The boat, nearer to completion (click to enlarge)

The boat, nearer to completion (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Adventure seems to in Bowthorpe’s DNA. When he first graduated from university in 2000 — with an MA in English Literature — the artist says he nonetheless felt unqualified to put forth any original statements and thus began reaching for experiences. “I want to be a person that can manipulate things with my hands, versus ideas with my mind,” he explained. In 2009, Bowthorpe cycled the globe, breaking the world record by completing the journey in 174 days and 6 hours. His goal had been to raise money for a lab he worked in doing Parkinson’s research, and to break a record that many said was unbreakable. He raised $150,000. When that was over, he again began searching for a meaningful task, but this time he wanted it closer to home. This led him to the Thames, and from there to Red Hook.

Bowthorpe’s day at The Feast began Friday morning and lasted until 3 am on Saturday, when he finished building the boat. Made of trash, the craft was held together by twine and trunnels (nails made of wood); its hull was a broken ladder. Wearily he made his way back to his hotel room, although not for long. At 10:30 am, he put in at the slightly grubby Red Hook shore, a gigantic Princess Cruise ship looming between him and Manhattan. The boat bobbed high with a worrisome bit of extra buoyancy. Bowthorpe set off and, after an hour, had made it about a third of the way into the East River. But there were tricky currents to fight, and he decided to turn around. “I should have sailed when I finished early this morning,” he told the crowd at The Feast later that evening. No one seemed to regard it as a failure. It had been a performance of building, not of sailing.

Next up for Bowthorpe will be his biggest project to date, one that will make use of all of his skills. The Hudson River Project will again involve a boat made from the waste of New York. Bowthorpe will build it on the streets of Manhattan over a two-week period beginning in February 2015. He hopes to engage people along the way, getting them to wonder about the world in the same ways he does. With his flush red beard, pale blue eyes, and unassuming attitude, he answers questions with ease, drawing strangers into his journey.

Once the boat is built, and if he can find a suitable bike, Bowthorpe will cycle with it to the source of the Hudson, Lake Tear of the Clouds near the border of Vermont. From there, Bowthorpe will paddle 350 miles down the iconic river that is many things, depending on whom you ask: primordial nature, international shipping channel, power generator, urban microcosm. (Coincidentally, a group of artists recently undertook a similar journey.) Accompanying the artist will be a crew of five filming the entire process. Far from a solo experience, Bowthorpe hopes that many will see his cinematic story.

When I pressed him to choose one word to describe himself, he couldn’t. “I don’t do anything full time,” he said. “My life is a project.”

The Feast took place October 9–11 at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer St, Red Hook, Brooklyn).

NEWS: Frank Gehry in Talks to Renovate LA MoCA's Geffen Contemporary

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NEWS: Frank Gehry in Talks to Renovate LA MoCA's Geffen Contemporary

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