Artists

Preparator Magic

Working as a preparator, I’m halfway through a two-week install involving lots of building. It’s exciting and exhausting, requiring focus and grace. You work with materials, tools, people, institutions, vendors… elevator systems, security systems. You aim to please, perhaps even aspire to perfection, yet you have to manage expectations, including your own. Preparators are only midwives to artists’ visions, but pride—not to be discounted—is at stake. Behind the impression of timelessness that artworks and exhibitions strive for is a lot of risk/hopethatworks/noonewillknow. Dive in, fight fatigue, feel crumbly yet alive, playing a role in a complex that fuses creative ambition with material reality.

In my research about Jim Hodges this weekend, I came across examples of the paradoxes/great cosmic jokes that preparator work involves.

Jim Hodges, Untitled, 2011  Mirror ball, mechanics and water; dimensions variable. Source: GladstoneGallery.com.

Jim Hodges, Untitled, 2011 Mirror ball, mechanics and water; dimensions variable. Source: GladstoneGallery.com.

Jim Hodges oversees the deinstallation of Untitled at Gladstone Gallery. Source: WalkerArt.org.

Jim Hodges oversees the deinstallation of Untitled at Gladstone Gallery. Source: WalkerArt.org.

Different locations, same artist, same gallery.

First image: Jackhammered hole.

Second image: Concrete floor protected in gaffer-taped Masonite. Note pieces cut-to-size for break-away brace. Nifty.

In art and art exhibitions, the visible is often just the tip of the iceberg, while many more systems, materials, labor, and even experiences, are kept invisible.

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Artists

Mathieu Mercier

Stumbled upon the witty conceptual sculpture of Mathieu Mercier (B. 1970, France). I love the look and feel of it. To boot, he uses some of my favorite things: houseplants, lights, chandeliers, diamonds — yes!

Mathieu Mercier. Source: Spencer Brownstowne Gallery blog.

Mathieu Mercier. Source: Spencer Brownstowne Gallery blog.

Mathieu Mercier. acrylic on canvas, 60 inches diameter. Source: Spencer Brownstone Gallery.

Mathieu Mercier. acrylic on canvas, 60 inches diameter. Source: Spencer Brownstone Gallery.

Mathieu Mercier, Lampe double douille, 1999 | Hopf & Wortmann, Dna, 2006. Source: ioNoi.

Mathieu Mercier, Lampe double douille, 1999 | Hopf & Wortmann, Dna, 2006. Source: ioNoi.

Mathieu Mercier. Structure de mélaminé blanc pour plante, Loraine Bodewes Fotografie. Source: Observantonline.nl.

Mathieu Mercier. Structure de mélaminé blanc pour plante, Loraine Bodewes Fotografie. Source: Observantonline.nl.

Shelves to support leaves. Yes, that plinth looks like pegboard to me too. Brilliant!

Mathieu Mercier. Des spectres et des automates, 2008. Source: le-dojo.org.

Mathieu Mercier. Des spectres et des automates, 2008. Source: le-dojo.org.

Matheiu Mercier. Le-Dojo.org.

Matheiu Mercier. Le-Dojo.org.

 

Also, here’s some very interesting work that challenges the identity of objects by Francisco da Mata (B. 1968, Portugal). View his website.

Francisco da Mata. installation view of the "First try to spell my name" show | 2010 | The Foundry, Shanghai. Source: Francisco-da-Mata.com

Francisco da Mata. installation view of the "First try to spell my name" show | 2010 | The Foundry, Shanghai. Source: Francisco-da-Mata.com

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Artists, Sights

10/18: The Nelson Manobar: lecture at SVA

I’ve chatted with these guys. They’re really funny and unpretentious. This should be a great talk.

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The Nelson Manobar
Tuesday, October 18, 7pmSVA Theatre
333 West 23 Street, NYC
visualandcriticalstudies.wordpress.com

Jimbo Blachly and Lytle Shaw, editors of The Chadwick Family Papers, discuss the Nelson Manobar, an occupiable scale model of Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory that was long a fixture at Chadwick Manor. At once a theatrical stage set for recitations of Nelson’s death speech and a nautically-themed pub, the Manobar was thought lost until its recent rediscovery in a remote storage unit belonging to the Victoria and Albert Museum in Mumbai. The discussion includes the circumstances of the Manobar’s rediscovery, the saga of its passage back to the United States, and its singular place within the Chadwicks’ larger nautical collections. Gloria Kury, whose Periscope Publishing issued The Chadwick Family Papers: A Brief Public Glimpse, moderates the lecture; artist Steve Dibenedetto is a respondent. Presented by the BFA Visual & Critical Studies Department.The BFA Visual and Critical Studies Department at SVA is a multidisciplinary studio program designed to engage and challenge ambitious students in areas beyond a single medium of expression and creation. This dynamic course of study reflects our rapidly expanding visual culture and the increasing urgency to educate students about all aspects of visual experience. Visual & Critical Studies allows students an extraordinary opportunity to shape their own multi-dimensional art education through a guided combination of studio courses and academic offerings focusing on myriad forms and venues of contemporary visual life.

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Artists, Community, Research

College Art Association: artists, ideas, inspiration

[Apologies for the duration since the last post. I’ve been busy working towards an exhibition—Portraiture: Inside Out, opening at the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University in New Jersey on March 3rd. I’ve also been preparing for a stint as a contributor to SFMOMA’s Open Space blog from March through June.]

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The College Art Association (CAA) 2011 Annual Conference is in New York this week, so I took some time out to attend. I first heard of the conference from classmates seeking academic jobs, but it turns out that the conference has a lot to offer non-job-seekers as well.

My personal highlights are:

During the “Data As Medium” panel, Brian Evans (University of Alabama) talked about cognitive linguistics (someone’s been reading Lakoff/Johnson!) and found similarities between Kandinsky’s point-line-plane schema with databases’ variable-array-table. He also drew parallels between the hierarchy of information (noise-data-info-knowledge) and the experiential spectrum (reality-sensation-perception-cognition). I was fascinated.

Penelope Umbrico, Img Collection #6: Universal Remotes, (for sale on the Internet)

Penelope Umbrico, Img Collection #6: Universal Remotes, (for sale on the Internet). Source: PenelopeUmbrico.net

Penelope Umbrico, For Sale/TVs From Craigslist

Penelope Umbrico, For Sale/TVs From Craigslist. Source: PenelopeUmbrico.net

I adored the artist’s lecture by Penelope Umbrico (Bard College and School of Visual Art). She uses mundane sources like Flickr and Craig’s List to find images of mundane things, like sunsets and armoires. What made her talk especially engaging and funny is the way she structured her narrative to follow her thought process. First came the sunsets, then armoires followed, then televisions. Then photos of people in front of her installations of photos of sunsets at museums, such as the nice installation at SFMOMA’s 75th Anniversary collection show. The worm eats itself.

Curiously, Umbrico cited numerous authors already on my list of to-reads:
Walker Percy, a 20th century fiction and non-fiction writer interested in cognitive science; Vilém Flusser, a Czech philosopher whose writings are oft cited by artists; and Milan Kundera, Czech author of books like The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

The discussion was especially provocative after reading “The Postmedia Perspective,” a recent article by Domenico Quaranta on Rhizome.org (brought to my attention by the astute and curious ET). Quaranta, summing up Peter Weibel, says:

postmedia art is the art that comes after the affirmation of the media; and given that the impact of the media is universal and computers can now simulate all other media, all contemporary art is postmedia.

Or in Weibel’s words:

This media experience has become the norm for all aesthetic experience. Hence in art there is no longer anything beyond the media. No-one can escape from the media. There is no longer any painting outside and beyond the media experience. There is no longer any sculpture outside and beyond the media experience. There is no longer any photography outside and beyond the media experience.

I also attended “Making a Living With or Without a Gallery,” in which the panelists could offer little beyond common sense career advice (dealers aren’t parents {or peyh-rints, in the New York idiom}; getting a gallery is not an end; artists should make their own scene). Thus my highlight was running into art critic Jerry Saltz. I think his writing is accessible, smart and unpretentious. Indeed, I’ve heard people say that the New York Magazine and Work of Art critic is–aided by social media–populist to a fault, but I think in the art world, where playing nice-nice for self-advancement seems like the rule, I find his willingness to say what he really thinks, to engage mass audiences, and to be uninhibitedly enthusiastic at times to be refreshing.

A panel on residencies hosted by the Alliance of Artists Communities exposed me to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. It sounds like a great residency if you can commit to seven (winter) months in New England.

I did not manage to formulate my comment into a question during the Q&A session, but I wanted to say that after all the hours (and fees) I’ve spent applying to residencies (14 applications to residencies, fellowships and studio programs in the past 12 months), I have come to appreciate specificity. I am grateful to those organizations that state what kind of artists should apply, and frustrated by organizations who cast very wide nets, even if the artists they have awarded in the past fit a specific profile—perhaps they are international or established, or comfortably 2-D or 3-D work.

Even if application fees merely offset the costs of the program, and organizations want to attract the largest pool of entries in order to secure the best applications since you never know what the jurors will go for, it seems like being specific about which artists should apply would behoove the jurors and applicants. While I wouldn’t want any artist to lose out on opportunities, let’s be realistic about the odds of success and the wasted efforts of hundreds of applicants.

For example:

The A.I.R. Gallery’s 2011 Fellowship program received 250+ applications for six fellows.
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Smack Mellon’s 2011 Artist Studio Program received 600+ applications for six studios.
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The Public Art Fund’s In the Public Realm new work commission program received 400+ applications for a 10-person shortlist, for up to three commissions.
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The Lower East Side Printshop Special Editions Residency Program received a whopping 600+ applications for four awardees.
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[See more art competition odds.]

I don’t intend to discourage artists from applying (quitters never win!), and I do not mean to imply that these programs don’t warrant their desirability and high level of competition. What I’m trying to say is: Don’t say your program supports emerging artists if rarely awards them in actuality. Save us the time, effort, and dashed hopes. There are certainly easier ways of generating income and finding great artists. The Jerome Foundation is very clear about who and what it funds, and I think it’s a great model.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite panel featured major artists talking about life as artists. Parallel Practices featured Petah Coyne, Philip Taafe, Vija Celmins, Robert Gober, and Janine Antoni. That’s a mind-blowing group of artists. Initially, they responded to the question of what they do when they’re not making art: gardening (Celmins), travelling or walking to observe (Coyne & Taafe), nothing (Taafe), purposively driving cross-country to stop in post-Katrina New Orleans and Laramie, WY (Gober), and seeking to release the unconscious through dance (Antoni; she demonstrated an amazing five-part sequence of movements inspired by Jungian unconscious. To boot, she also mentioned flow, the concept by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, one of my favorite authors at the moment. Of flow, Antoni said, “I live my life for it,” and I think many artists would agree.)

But the Q&A session made me realize that this discussion was not just good because these were great artists, but because the talk focused on two fundamentals of being an artist:
1. Creativity—where it comes from, and how to find it when it’s gone; and
2. Resolving life of an artist, which can feel like an anomaly in conflict with the status quo.

I think hearing these artists speak about such fundamental and personal matters provided a sense of wholeness; implied was the vision of the integrated self, in which being an artist did not conflict with being a committed partner, parent, worker, or invested citizen. While these artists are arguably among the most important living artists of our times (I’m in agreement with Gober, who said such of Celmins), and their realities are much different from the mass at CAA (few know the pain of a bad Venice Biennale show, but most can relate to bad reviews), there was a sense that common conditions to being an artist, like finding balance in art and love, can be resolved. It was hope-inspiring.

At the International Association of Art Critic’s panel, “Artist-Critic: The Critic-Artist,” my negative emotions narrowed in on one critic—I didn’t catch his name because I couldn’t see who was who—but he caught my attention with glib, disparaging statements like,

“I don’t find contemporary art that engrossing.”

“Forty years ago, poets and painters all went to the same events,” (as if there were ever only one scene, or one scene that mattered) “and that’s not so today, so I think that’s why there are no poet-critics.” (What about Kevin Killian and a lively, arty lit scene in San Francisco?)

With the rise of blogs, “there’s rampant amateurism” that the panelists stood against, and deservedly so, because “If you were going to get your car fixed, you wouldn’t take it to a repair shop that’s just been open six months. Likewise, we’ve been looking at art for thirty or forty years, and that experience sets us apart.” (What a bad analogy. I would totally trust a newly certified mechanic with basic repairs. The inexperienced would never become experienced otherwise. Plus, while excellence may be aided by experience, it is not exclusive to the experienced.)

Ironically, someone else on the panel told a joke about critic’s kingmaker complex, for which this self-important critic seemed to be a case study.

Mel Chin, Safehouse

A safe house in New Orleans that will store the hand-drawn “Fundred” dollar bills before they are brought by armored truck to Congress. Source: Fundred.org.

Mel Chin is my new favorite artist. His interview by Miranda Lash of the New Orleans Museum of Art revealed a thoughtful, intelligent, politically-engaged, humble and personable artist. Besides the utter charm of a Southern-accented Chinese American contemporary artist (seriously!), he talked with sensitivity and generosity about his projects, which could be considered social practice or political art, yet seems to come from such a place of intellectual clarity and moral certainty, it seems free of the politically-correct baggage. It is not aesthetic theory that lends these projects value. They are compelling because they act in the world with efficacy.

In Chin’s view, “Art is a catalytic structure that forms the possibility of options.”

Watch a PBS Art 21 video of Mel Chin discussing Revival Field, a scientific experiment to show how plants can remove toxins from soil. Chin’s animation explains the project in greater detail.

I am also a huge fan of the Fundred project, a participatory movement to lobby Congress to clean up the lead-contaminated soil in a New Orleans neighborhood. Get involved and draw a Fundred!

Fundred is an art project envisioned by Chin and executed by children, adults, teachers, and all of us.

Between sessions I attended the California College of the Arts alumni reception. It was really great to see former instructors, catch up with alumni, and connect with other artists new to New York. Being surrounded by bright, thoughtful artists and art workers is still one of my favorite activities.

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Artists

Rosemarie Fiore’s Scrambler Drawings

Amusement park ride + art materials + someone with serious means and a taste for adventurous art = Awesome drawing machine. Watch the video on Rosemarie Fiore’s website.

Though I first came across her Subway Window prints in the sadly now-defunct Art on Paper magazine in 2005, the idea of them is still marvelously exciting to me. How is it possible no one ever thought to ink and wipe, intaglio style, those scribed windows?

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