Art & Development, Research

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Like: H&FJ, type designers extraordinaire

Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones are lecturing at Cooper Union next Tuesday night. If only I lived in New York…

H&FJ are among the country’s best and most influential living type designers. Years ago, I parlayed my art skills into illustration and graphic design; in the past year or two, I’ve focused my attention on typography — thanks to books by Robert Bringhurst and Ellen Lupton. I think you can see the effect on both my design and art work.

I admire H&FJ for the consistency of the excellence of their output, which is always considered and gimmick-free. Their type families are remarkably thorough and usable; they manage to both timeless and modern. I know my praises sound like platitudes, but you can see their skill with the ubiquity of the typeface Gotham. More recently, Archer has been catching my eye with more regularity. It’s cute, fresh and a little cheeky.

LIKE: Conceptualism and Identity Art, neither compromised

I DON’T WANT TO BRAND something called “Black Conceptual Art.” It’s less a question about who produced the work than of the object’s material history. If you can get to that history, and if that can take you to a very specific place, culturally and racially, then that’s where you locate the blackness. It becomes a secondary discovery rather than a necessary attribute of the work itself.

“30 Seconds Off an Inch” does not look at the conceptualisms that followed Minimalism. Instead, it investigates the kind of art that asks the viewer to think about something beyond the sheer materiality of the object, beyond formalism and formal practice. The works ask you to wonder where the trash originated, for instance, and about the history of a specific cloth and clothing, or whether the work is appropriated. There is a history and a lineage to all the works in the show that lend themselves to conceptual thought beyond the objects.

The viewer should have a sense of recognition when walking through the exhibition. There is not a lot of tape around the objects—I want visitors to be able to put their noses up to the works. The objects in the show are not to be seen as metaphors, but very literally, and you don’t need an advanced degree in art history to read them.

—Naomi Beckwith, “500 Words,” Artforum, 11/25/2009

Beckwith is the assistant curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she organized “the exhibition ’30 Seconds Off an Inch,’ which explores the intersection of identity politics and dominant tendencies of the 1960s, from conceptual practices to Arte Povera.”

Wowee. I like this. It’s plain language on how to look at conceptual art, and how material can have content relating to identity. It challenges the ideas that conceptual art is too élite to be easily appreciated or too hermetic to have meaningful content, and that art relates to identity has to be populist/symbolist/representational. Well done.

LIKE: studio

This morning, in my dream, I found myself in a bare room: white walls, unpainted wood floors. I was sitting at cheap melamine dinette table. To my left was a the kind of kitchen you’d find in economy apartments — cream colored, with a small fridge and low fluorescent tubes. A cutout in the wall from which a cook might engage guests while attending the electric stovetop. But ahead of me was an expansive room, maybe 75 feet long. One side was all old industrial windows. The space was empty, unlit and dusty. It was my studio, and the sense of potential surged in me. It was so much space that I could work on a project, walk away from it, start a new project, and so on, for a long time before running out of space. I wouldn’t have to re-organize whenever I changed projects. To the side of the kitchen, I found a walk-in closet: my painting and flat work storage. The place was a bit drafty and quiet, but I was overjoyed. I was in New York. My job was to make art. The studio was mine.


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