Recently I stumbled upon a trove of online installation art. Many of the works were curious and conceptually-leaning. It was quite a surprise to find so many works that appealed to my sensibilities and interests in contemporary art.
This started a few days ago, when a photo of my installation, Dark into Light, was featured on ArtSlant Amsterdam, in a monthly section called ArtShow. Curiously, my work was in the Established/Blue Chip category, alongside work by artists like Nancy Spero and Marcel Broodthaers. I’m not being modest to say that I don’t belong in this classification, but I’m grateful for the inclusion for the simple fact that it drove me to poke around the site, and be introduced and re-familiarized with some really fantastic artists.
Below is a list of artists whose work resonated with me. I drew connections between these works, my past and future projects, and projects by my colleagues.
TEXTS & TYPEFACES
Allen Ruppersberg, Wallpaper from The New Five Foot Shelf, Dia Projects. Image source: Dia Art Foundation Artists Web Projects.
It can take me a while to warm to the work of certain text-based artists. Allen Ruppersberg is one example, though he is certifiably Blue Chip. I didn’t have a way (or maybe, a reason) to engage his work more fully, until I came recently across his Dia Art Foundation Artist’s Web Project (2004). There’s a lot to appeal to me:
–the exuberant typography and effervescent cheer of vintage musical scores (which relates to my Cheap & Cheerful explorations, but really, what hungry graphic designer wouldn’t love these?),
–interwoven found texts (see: Jonathan Lethem’s “The Ecstacy of Influence” in Harper’s Magazine for a great example of this form of conceptual writing),
–the instantly-recognizable Duchamp catalog I poured over in graduate school, and
–this sentence from the Introduction:
For an artist whose practice is centered around reading, to make available these texts is metaphorically equivalent to handing viewers the painter’s brush and palette and letting them loose in his studio
I love this for two reasons. First, my reading time — an essential part of my studio practice — seems perpetually vulnerable. To make it a central — rather than a desirable — aspect of one’s practice sounds brilliant. Second, I think it’s brave and interesting when artists allow the viewers a greater engagement.
The photos of Rupperberg’s office (available as downloadable wallpapers) are pretty great too — dense photographs that reward snooping, and it makes for a cheeky conceptual “desktop.”
Now I’m kicking myself for missing his recent show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
I’ve admired Damián Ortega‘s work for some time now, so I’d love the chance to see “Damián Ortega: Do It Yourself,” a mid-career exhibition at the Boston ICA. On display is his famous exploded-view of a VW Beetle installation, “Cosmic Thing” (2002).
I’m also appreciating his Artist’s Page on White Cube’s website. The bio is really well-written. I find these passages especially concise and informative (as well as related to my current interest in consumer culture):
Damián Ortega’s work explores specific economic, aesthetic and cultural situations and in particular how regional culture affects commodity consumption.
He creates sculptures, installations, videos and actions inspired by a wide range of mundane objects, from golf balls and pick-axes to bricks, rubbish bins and even tortillas, all subjected to what has been described as Ortega’s characteristically “mischievous process of transformation and dysfunction”.
Germane facts about an idiosyncratic practice.
I’d better understand NYC-based Samara Golden‘s maximalist installations of found imagery, found objects and video if I could see them in person. In lieu of that, you can visit her webpage. The assemblages are so densely packed I don’t know where to start looking at them; it’s a sensation that some of my upcoming projects might create, and I’m ambivalent about it. Her use of found digital imagery mounted on foamcore recalls Stephanie Syjuco’s Greymarket project, and some of her stage/altar-like installations exhibit an unbridled psychedelia and desire to be living that remind me of Donna Huanca’s work. These are pretty feeble comparisons, I know, and if anything it drives home a point for me: found materials in large quantities are transformed in different ways than traditional art materials, which lend the idea of autonomy, and perhaps a more easily-attainable formal coherence.
Pittsburg- and NY-based Kim Beck’s Everything Must Go project utilizes cheap, ubiquitous fluorescent shop signs that have inspired many artists, myself included. I like how Beck describes their visual appeal:
these signs announce an amazing, momentous, but also catastrophic, clearance event.
LIGHT & COLOR
Pipilloti Rist, Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters), 2008 Multichannel audio-video installation Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Frederick Charles, fcharles.com. Image Source: Hauser & Wirth.com
I haven’t had the chance to experience Pipilotti Rist‘s immersive environments first-hand, so I examined the images of her work at Hauser & Wirth’s website. I noted the application of theatrical light sources (LED PAR cans!), the combination of massive projections or images and spaces with human-scaled furnishings or home interior elements, and an appealing sense of humanity/universalism. While her videos sometimes depict herself, the viewer experience seems central in her work; she seems to create environments for interaction and shared experience. The results are trippy, chill, of-the-moment, maybe a bit P.L.U.R., and very generous.
These works by LA-based Martin Durazo are pretty great too. Assemblages of recognizable mundane materials, color, light, making sculptures that are not static, and avoid that implacable sense of permanence. Only because they both make installations using light and colored water, I thought it would be neat to also look at Kimberlee Koym-Murteira’s work.
Jeremy Earhart, The Thin Ice of Modern Life, Installation Shot, 2008, acrylic sheeting, automotive paint, string, blacklights, dimensions variable. Image Source: thewhiskeydregs.com
NYC-based Jeremy Earhart makes Plexiglas sculptures. He cuts, buffs and assembles tinted acrylic sheets, and exhibits them under full-spectrum or UV lights. He employs pop imagery and design strategies. The results are fitting for Vegas. Earhart is “a decorative painter” in the medium of Plexiglas.
I do like the medium of Plexiglas, and I think its kitsch value can be intelligently explored, however, Earhart takes the ambiguous stance (which many artists enjoy) of muddling the presence of content with significance of concept.
The Swiss sculptor and installation artist Beat Zoderer expresses color and form. I have a love-hate relationship with pure formalism, but in investigating optimism, I began thinking about making works that declare unwarranted exuberance. Zoderer’s installation at Art Basel Unlimited (2009) is breathlessly exuberant, and yet very formal. He placed a charmingly oversized ball of strips of color in a white cube. It’s whimsical, surprising and sweet. My visceral reaction to it is a sense of play; it is not unlike a play structure for children. I also enjoy the cheekiness of upsetting the viewing paradigm; like Tetsuo in the final scenes of Akira, the sculpture threatens to steamroll or absorb viewers and architecture indiscriminately. My critical reaction to Flying Carpet, however, is a sense of repulsion; it looks like inoffensive public art fitting for corporate business parks. When art selection committees believe that the role of public art is to beautify, you end up with public art like this. Civic landscape rick-rack.
I’d seen the work of Swiss interdisciplinary artist Olaf Breuning in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, but the experience did not stand out to me. At the time, I jotted in my notes, “self-indulgent.” Lo-fi drawing styles like his can be read as a slackness in craft that is hard to distinguish from laziness.
But I visited his website, which is loaded with Easter eggs, and his work and site are utterly charming. The insistent humor, the obsession with cartoonish figures/toys and a very cute, accessible aesthetic make for work that is not afraid to look “dumb.”
Bread vs Potato is a brilliant example of this. You take the visual similarity between rolls and potatoes, add scary red eyes and a marching formation and voilá, contemporary art. It’s so dumb and hilarious and interesting to look at you wish you thought if it yourself. Like so many mutterings in museums of modern art, I look at that and think I could make that.
But the fact is, I didn’t. I could put eyes on potatoes, but I didn’t think of it. I don’t have the brain that comes up with things like that, nor do I have the nerve to install a marching army of rolls and call it an example of my life’s work.
I think Toni Morrison wrote something about the inability to distinguish between courage and simply being tough. Similarly, I think to take creative risks, artists have to summon courage, resilience, persistence and recklessness, though viewers may only sense the latter.
You can see a large slide show of Olaf Breuning’s works on Beck’s Colorspace webzine. I especially like his Clouds (2008) piece consisting of rows of multi-colored smoke bombs, especially after my recent contribution to Color&Color, a new artist’s publication.