Signs, packaging design and more.
Signs, packaging design and more.
Longtime New Yorkers, including Martha Rosler, like to point out how suburbanized New York City has become. However, I could argue that, as real New Yorkers, they do not truly know suburbia. I thought about this as I stepped off the SFO-originating BART and into the slow, foggy town of my teenage years, where, over the coming days, I would complain about how the Home Depot’s layout is backwards from its usual lumber-on-the-right floor plan, and, for even the most middling of needs, visit Target at a mall whose property line would encompass two subway stops on the N/Q. No stranger in a strange land, I’m a prodigal daughter in an ur-burb. I mull “basic culture”—the concept, terminology, and usage, and all the classism and cultural elitism it entails—while consuming it too.
With this in mind, Tram 3 struck me as extremely _____, in multiple ways. Here, rather than a symbol of purity, it’s a non-color, a normative default, nothingness. It pervades the works with the angst of pointlessness.
For Tram 3, the Wattis is a large, airy, sky-lit cube immaculately painted in matte, cool _____. Nary a patch glinted. Several oversized, oversimplified human-like cutouts populate the space. They’re simply constructed from steel plates, but are painted so matte and so _____ that they could well be Sintra (a rigid foam board). Casually taped on them are quick sketches of portraits on _____ paper, drawn as if the artist was short on graphite and time. On the walls are similar drawings of trams and tram riders. They’re framed but unglazed. The whole space is luminous with soft, reflected light. Even the track incandescent lighting approximates ambient fluorescents.
In a cavernous neighboring space, the artist’s video, Die Aap van Bloemfontein [The Ape from Bloemfontein] (2015) plays. Or, rather, the media advances. It’s a spectacle of inaction, a series of painfully long shots of tableaux in which actors imitate motionlessness. The actors are all _____. They are shot under hot lights, in unflattering, tight close-ups. Moles glisten. Crooked teeth are bared. A narrator’s voiceover describes transformations of objects into subjects and back. Rather than magical, it’s passively futile. Nothing happens, acutely. It’s not liberating Zen; it’s oppressive sameness. It’s monolithic culture, Northern European social order, and suburban predictability. It’s ennui born of (first-world) boredom. Sartre flat-packed in IKEA.
The exhibition signage is black text in Times Roman, a signature that Wattis director Anthony Huberman imported with him from the Artist’s Institute in NYC. Simple, black-and-___, and open is a quietly loud differentiation from predecessor Jens Hoffman, who with graphic designer Jon Sueda gave each exhibition assertive identities via color, typography, and architectural interventions. Under Huberman’s lead, the Wattis’ collateral has become restrained and cerebral. The website features no images, as if to say that art is not objects and visuals, but a series of open-ended ideas and exercises best experienced temporally and ephemerally. Thankfully, the exhibition brochure is written with concision and wit. While it ascribes absurdism to de Gruyter’s and Thys’ work, I didn’t see this lightness. If there is humor, it’s only black.
Through April 18
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Tram 3
San Francisco, CA
Text-based works and a sculpture are selectively lit by un-diffused LED arrays. The lights are staged, but rather than theatrical, they feel forensic.
A light box displays a long textual description of a super-sensing machine. The gist of it—I found it a little too bright in the darkened space, with afterimages hindering reading—could be science fiction. Or like Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, it seems like a description of the very near future or a depressing parable for the life of a current screen-addict.
Nearby, a panel of black and white encoding is mounted and displayed like a photograph. The dense, random pattern recalls a Magic Eye picture (no 3-D illusions appear). By withholding signification, it seems anomalous in the oeuvre of this literary artist.*
Standing on end in the far corner, a large red LED sign scrolls text about an exorcism.
A smaller LED bank illuminates a hyperrealist sculpture of detached fingers. It seems like a continuation of a fascination with horror as explored in HalfLifers, Discenza’s performance/video project in collaboration with Torsten Z. Burns, here manifesting as a phobic vision.
There’s practically no ambient light in Et Al’s long, narrow basement space in this show. Thankfully the architecture is well renovated—while it is entombed without natural light or airflow, it doesn’t feel as creepy or claustrophobic as say, the subterranean levels of Sculpture Center or the now-defunct Triple Base. The lack of human hand in the work and clean, white box display mostly refrain from theatricality, in contrast horror’s tendency to be cliché, campy, or funny. The bloody, detached fingers are revolting—the realism is accomplished—yet there’s something absurd in knowing that they are representations… fakes. Discenza’s work can have misanthropic and despondent notes. Considering the works in Trouble Sleeping again makes me think about how adolescent interests in horror and existentialism give way to mid-life mindsets informed by real encounters with aging and mortality.
*Examples of Discenza’s work—including projects that are like one-page books—can be seen in a group show at Catherine Clark Gallery through February 14.
Through February 27
Anthony Discenza: Trouble Sleeping
Et Al Projects, San Francisco
[I visited on Friday, January 30; the exhibition will change week-to-week.]
An immersive installation of light shades and globes.
[Full disclosure/Take this with a grain of salt: I’ll be showing at Interface Gallery next, and Hott and I share ties to Ortega y Gassett, an artist’s collective.]
Carrie Hott: After Hours
Interface Gallery, Oakland, CA
In After Hour, Carrie Hott employs a restrained set of materials: lamp shades and diffusers, textured gold paint, wobbly black cutouts (perhaps of MDF or wood), and curved cuts of polished metal. Hott combines these in modestly-scaled, floor- and wall-based sculptural assemblages. They are packed densely in the small, darkened space and lit with soft, blue-green lights. A soundtrack of glass pings in increasing frequency has a soothing effect while adding a sense of mystery. It is a pleasing physical environment—the textured gold catches and reflects teal glints as you move around. There is so much to navigate that surprising works and angles appear.
It’s dramatic to see an installation transform Interface Gallery’s compact space. After Hour creates an unfamiliar environment whose poetics unravel over time visually and spatially. In that way it made me recall Ola Vasiljeva’s Jargot at Art in General last year. Some of the shelf-based works read as landscapes, while others as a collection of objects, and when the objects seemed more discrete, Haim Steinbach came to mind. But Hott’s interest is unique—it’s is in electricity, light, and how both have changed human society. The Oakland sunshine outside seemed to be begging to be let in.
Through January 7, 2015
ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s
Guggenheim Museum, NYC
Pulled in by the preview image of a swirling light-based installation, I visited this exhibition of experimental artists who emerged from post-war Europe. I’m surprised I hadn’t learned about these predecessors playing with light and kinetics prior. The show succeeds as a well-organized, beautifully displayed art historical survey with a concise amount of text and context. I especially admired the artists’ futurism and optimism.
The Guggenheim’s website features a smartly designed and scored exhibition site. An exhibition trailer shows additional works. Together, the two form a good substitute if you can’t make it to NYC. I’ve linked to the images there for your reference.
I found it rewarding to approach the works as art historical objects, and consider the works’ technical or mechanical accomplishments, the development of industrial materials, and the period of art history that was still very painting- and sculpture-oriented. For example, at least half of the artworks use two-dimensional, rectangular substrates, even when the artists were not interested in painting per se. These flat-ish works offer experiences that fluctuate between illusion and materiality. There’s a pleasant appropriateness to placing the earlier, more two-dimensional works in the lowest and narrowest part of the rotunda walkway, and the later, larger installation works in the higher and wider end of the ramp.
At first I was surprised that there were so many paintings and painting-like objects, but I enjoyed some real stunners: Walter LeBlanc’s painting-sculpture using twisted poly-vinyl strips (1965) made for high-impact Op-Art, and Lucio Fontana’s large slashed canvas Concetto spaziale, Attese (1959)—soft lighting heightened the matte paint and perfect slashes.
The inclusion of several works by Yves Klein, including a field of blue pigment, was a treat, as these works losing vibrancy and tactility in reproduction. I also wondered why Klein’s prints of women are seen more often; these monochromes possess more potency to me.
The kinetic sculptures of louvered glass by Heinz Mack [see the exhibition trailer at 3:00] dazzle, and I wavered in my critical reactions. Their shapes are content-free, geometric, and ultimately inoffensive, yet they represent an unique expression of the group’s interest in movement and vibration. It was also interesting to see the use of acrylic and think about the contemporaneous experiments by California Light and Space artists like Larry Bell and Robert Irwin.
Perhaps the most stunning display was the theatrical reinterpretation of the original ZERO exhibition held in a warehouse [see the exhibition trailer at 0:18]. Included was an effective Vibration painting/assemblage by Jésus Raphael Soto. As a fan of Fluxus associated artist Daniel Spoerri and his attempts to merge art and life, I was delighted to see that one of the most compelling works in the space—a kinetic, mirrored sculpture with three different scores on scrolls—was Spoerri’s, made with Jean Tinguely [see on the right of the trailer at 0:18]. Yet Auto-Theater was intended to spur action and participation, so while it was compelling to look at, viewing seems like an incomplete engagement, unfortunately. Similarly, Spoerri’s Variations on a Meal, by Noma Copley (1964), was probably remnants of an action that was the locus of the artwork, and not meant to be viewed as an autonomous art object. The wall texts for this work, and Jan Henderikse’s Bottle Wall (1962) alongside it, seemed to call for more context about the merging of art and life.
Many of the artists reclaimed the tools and experiences of warfare for positive acts of artistic creation, using unconventional media and techniques to create optical and sensorial artworks. Mack’s Light Grid in Space (1961-69) [see the exhibition trailer at 2:53], a series of long, twisted strips of chromed brass, is a reflective, proto-Cornelia Parker hanging installation that turns reflections a surreal 90º. Digging deeper, it’s inspired by “chaff”—metal strips dropped by warplanes to interfere with enemy radar. While attempts at transmogrification—of making something beautiful out of something as heinous as war—sometimes feel insubstantial, I believe the ZERO artists’ lived experiences of immense devastation imbue these actions with courage.
Otto Piene’s Light Ballet (1961) motorized-light installation is a transcendent, celestial experience. But it’s also lent gravity by the fact that Piene was inspired by watching nighttime aerial campaigns when he was tasked with anti-aircraft duties as a member of a youth corps.
A section was devoted to artists using fire and smoke for mark-making. Wielding a flamethrower post-war must have been shocking, yet the artists insisted on the positive.
Publications including ZERO magazines and an exuberant poster set in Futura were on view. Graphic design nerds will enjoy them. I could have seen more, but it seems that the Guggenheim exhibition was geared toward sensorial experiences with the works themselves, which is fine too.
The show culminates with a recreation of a late exhibition: a large installation of several light-based kinetic works. There’s something very sweet about a group of artists who’ve developed their interests both discreetly and collaboratively being exhibited in this setting with a unifying score. As Piene said:
teamwork is nonsense if it … rules out individuality or personal sensibility.”
Perhaps this fundamental autonomy is the basis for ZERO artists’ faith in the freedom and transformative power of art-making.
Some art shows I saw in San Francisco and Oakland.
When I visit California during holidays, I recall the familiar, discover what’s changed, and encounter weird schedules. It’s catch as catch can.
Baby (Medium for Intercultural Navigation): An installation by Michael Arcega @ SFAC Grove Street. Kids dream of floating down a river, and MA has made a real outrigger sailing canoe. It works. Hope you got to ogle it, suspended in flight.
The Point: Kirk Crippens in Collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community @ SF City Hall The SF Arts Commission’s humanizing portrait series continues, and currently ties in to The Last Black Man in San Francisco moment.
Here’s an interesting line-up of spaces to visit back-to-back: Kiria Koula (nice fluorescent white cube with cool, linear, geometric interventions), the expanded Ratio 3 (terrifyingly perfect and high-ceilinged white cube with hard edged, linear, oft black-and-white interior design and architectural installations) and CULT/Aimee Friberg (b/w architectural interventions/wall paintings/geometric sculptures).
Stephanie Syjuco @ Workshop Residence. A combination of things difficult not to like: a residency, workshop, and artist’s multiple store, with very desirable objects. Even shopping-agnostic-I couldn’t resist a tote bag to support the artist and program. The price points were mostly out of my range, but nobody said that manufacturing things in SF would be cheap.
Dud: Oakland Black Friday. I tried not to spend money, out of respect for Ferguson, and lingering memories of Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day. I had some help—parking meters were free thanks to “Plaid Friday” (Is the Oakland Chamber of Commerce targeting lumber-sexuals?) and Arizmendi was closed (in an almost-throwback against the creep of retail hours into the holidays). But I was only able to visit three of four galleries on my list. Admittedly, I failed to look closely enough at their websites to see if they were, indeed, actually open. So Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Random Parts, and City Limits Gallery, I guess I’ll have to check you out another time. Thanks, Johannson Projects, for opening your doors.
Some notes on exhibitions at the MoMA and the Jewish Museum.
Driven by cabin fever (I’ve been cooped up in the home studio rendering video for three hot days) and hungry for inspiration, I met up with NM and visited the MoMA and the Jewish Museum of New York. The shows we attended were excellent. I couldn’t be happier with our selections.
Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988
Museum of Modern Art
Through August 24, 2014
“the work of art is a projection of the body”
The Unmaker of Objects: Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s Marginal Media
Museum of Modern Art
Through June 30, 2014
View the exhibition site.
“This exhibition celebrates the mail art, visual poetry, performative works, and publications of the Argentine artist Edgardo Antonio Vigo (1928–1997).” —MoMA site
Other Primary Structures
The Jewish Museum
Through August 3, 2014
Mel Bochner: Strong Language
The Jewish Museum
Through September 21, 2014
Excellent venues, exhibitions, and curatorial vision are bountiful, if you know where to look, or find them with good luck and/or persistence.