Impressions, Research

Points of Reference: Haim Steinbach, The Meaning of Things, and Irrational Exuberance Anew

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), installation view at Sight School, Oakland, CA. 2010.

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), installation view at Sight School, Oakland, CA. 2010.

It’s been three years since I created Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), a body of work inspired by discount store culture, pleasure and decoration. Recently, I’ve encountered salient art and writings related to those ideas. These references are not too late—in fact, they are perfectly on time, as I’m currently revisiting Irrational Exuberance to envision a new body of work and self-initiated project.

The references are like three planets with shared orbits:

A Two-Hour Drive. A Three-Year Journey.

Featured guests (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

Featured guests at As Is, the dialogue at Irrational Exuberance at Sigh School (L-R): artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez, curator and critic Glen Helfand, and writer and curator Patricia Maloney.

In the dialogue that accompanied Irrational Exuberance in 2010, artist and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez cited Steinbach’s work (download her interview with Steinbach from his site):

I’m interested in looking at Christine’s work, and work like Christine’s, that transcends consumption as a closed system of signs and symbols. That conversation can be transformative. … I was really interested in how [Haim Steinbach and Allan McCollum’ talked about their objects. …. There are political ramifications for words like consumption—like nihilation—so I think the ability to tackle, and transcend, those conversations is really exciting for me.

I had looked at reproductions of Steinbach’s most iconic works: found objects displayed on shelves. I was inspired by how modest they were, but also found the objects un-transformed, recognizable identities difficult to overcome. Like the drawing instruction, “Draw what you see, not what you know,” when I as faced with Steinbach’s artworks, it was hard to see what was in front of me when it kept on insisting to be what I knew it to be. I couldn’t find the space for visual or conceptual discovery at the time.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (bird, nesting dolls, vase), 2006  MDF shelf; ceramic bird; wooden nesting dolls; Korean ceramic vase 11-3/4 x 33 x 10-1/2 in. (30 x 84 x 27 cm). // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (bird, nesting dolls, vase), 2006 MDF shelf; ceramic bird; wooden nesting dolls; Korean ceramic vase 11-3/4 x 33 x 10-1/2 in. (30 x 84 x 27 cm). // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

I was still curious to learn more, so I visited once again the world is flat. Bard is a two-hour drive from NYC, but it was worth the trek. I gained a profound appreciation for Steinbach’s work by seeing it in person, in abundance, and with exceptionally keen curatorial direction by Tom Eccles and Johanna Burton united with spot-on exhibition design for maximum effect. I didn’t love all the work, or completely understand it, but I fully respected it. I had to wrestle with what Steinbach was doing, what the viewers are meant to do or experience, and what I felt, which was at times pleasure, bafflement, and also despair—the world is flat, leaving my preconceptions about value in limbo. While Steinbach’s work is still potently mysterious to me, I found the accompanying catalog to set interesting parameters about what, exactly, Steinbach’s ideas and works are.

Brute Material Facts

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (skull, vessel, figurine, toy, fruit bowl, sphere, peasant), 2006  Birch plywood, plastic laminate and glass box; synthetic polymer skull; Korean ceramic vessel; plastic figurine; plastic baby toy; Chinese fruit bowl; straw ball; Chinese ceramic statuette 37-3/4 x 53-3/4 x 14-3/4 in. (95.8 x 136.6 x 37.5 cm) // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

Haim Steinbach, Untitled (skull, vessel, figurine, toy, fruit bowl, sphere, peasant), 2006 Birch plywood, plastic laminate and glass box; synthetic polymer skull; Korean ceramic vessel; plastic figurine; plastic baby toy; Chinese fruit bowl; straw ball; Chinese ceramic statuette 37-3/4 x 53-3/4 x 14-3/4 in. (95.8 x 136.6 x 37.5 cm) // Source: HaimSteinbach.net.

The aesthetic experience of contemporary art is often like an act of unraveling a riddle. Familiarity with the tropes usually leads towards plausible hypotheses: commenting on this, re-contextualizing that, hybridizing this plus that—you get the idea. Steinbach’s work is more abstruse. It offers no Tootsie Roll center like the center of a Tootsie Pop. In her essay, “Some Collectables,” from the exhibition catalogue for once again the world is flat., curator Johanna Burton points out:

These are not … representations of things, but rather presentations of them.

Steinbach’s objects are not metaphors or symbols to be deciphered. They are all surfaces and cultural associations. They are the point. Whereas, discussions of the readymade, appropriation, and mass production, Burton states,

are only tangential to the brute material fact of what’s actually there.

That “brute material fact” is exactly what I couldn’t overcome initially. And this may also be another point of Steinbach’s—for me, as a viewer, to look at what’s there and to forget habits of looking. As Burton says, the very title

asks us to reconsider what we think we know, and to survey the terrain around us, as if we were seeing it for the first time again.

In other words, Steinbach is asking viewers to move beyond recognition to perception. In The Meaning of Things, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton explain John Dewey’s ideas of perception versus recognition. Recognition is

when we experience a thing and interpret it only as something we already know

Hence, there is no new organization of feeling, attention or intentions within the viewer. Just as I could only see the objects’ identities when I first encountered Steinbach’s work, I could not garner a meaningful aesthetic experience from them. On the other hand, perception is

when we experience a thing and realize its own inherent character … [the] object imposes certain qualities on the viewer that create new insights.

Certainly art objects are intended to create aesthetic experiences that “create new insights” on the viewer; Steinbach challenges viewers to perceive quotidian objects anew.

The Quotidian

In Irrational Exuberance, I sought to question class and value distinctions inherent in decorative objects. Many of the works in Irrational Exuberance are multiples, reinforcing discount stores’ feelings of immediacy and abundance. The subtext is that idea serialized objects can also be personally meaningful. Burton explains that this holds true for Steinbach too:

Steinbach’s interest … in collecting as a mode of production would seem to court the individualistic, affective drive toward objects, while also acknowledging the serial nature of every such ‘special’ object.

For the Things authors, everyday objects bring together the self and the world:

household objects become sights of a wider network of meanings that embrace the whole world.

echoing the very title of the Steinbach show: once again the world is flat. This leveling works two ways: bringing art objects ‘down’ to the same level as quotidian objects and elevating everyday things ‘up’ to the rarified realm of artworks.

In “Not a Readymade” (reprinted in the exhibition catalog and also downloadable from Steinbach’s site) Anthony Huberman interviews Steinbach, who reveals that his work

embraces the idea that art is always with us, a function of the everyday.

Vinyl Ficus #3 & 4, 2010, vinyl, mylar, thread, lacing, wire, ~18 x 12 x 12 inches / 45 x 30 x30 cm each

Christine Wong Yap, Vinyl Ficus #3 & 4, 2010, vinyl, mylar, thread, lacing, wire, ~18 x 12 x 12 inches / 45 x 30 x30 cm each

The Things authors even wrote about the role of objects in visual art thusly:

Creative artists are those who can find a convincing visual solution to a problem that was never previously formulated. In the solution, and even in the formulation of creative problems, objects stimulate and help develop the artist’s thought.

In 1980, they could not known to what extent Steinbach would use objects expressly to advance thought.

Sentiment

Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

Christine Wong Yap, Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

In 2010, I wrote that Irrational Exuberance was an immersion in sentiment:

… an exercise in pleasure, modest expectations and accessibility.

With its unabashed enthusiasm, … Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) marks a shift … I became enamored with the aesthetic, symbolic and conceptual potential of discount store culture, the decorative impulse, and the search for happiness.

…sentiment and immediacy are embraced. The exhibition’s title highlights the paradox of thinking rationally about emotional and internal experiences.

My previous work had been “cool”—often black-and-white, reserved, and materially minimal. I found kinship in a quote attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

The meanest habit of humankind is to be skeptical of sentiment.

In the public dialogue, sentimentality appeared divisive; perhaps in the age of irony, audiences automatically assume that elation and enthusiasm cannot be sincere. It’s a comfort to me that Steinbach does not shy from sentiment either. In Giorgio Verzotti’s “Object, Sign, Community: On the Art of Haim Steinbach” (reprinted in the exhibition catalog and also downloadable from Steinbach’s site), he states:

What Steinbach highlights …. is the object as a focus of emotion.

The Reciprocal Relationship Between Objects and Selfhood

Christine Wong Yap, Unbounded/Unfounded, 2010, fan, metallic fringe and light box: pegboard, wood, acrylic, vinyl, lights, paint, 73 x 60 x 48 inches / 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m.

Christine Wong Yap, Unbounded/Unfounded, 2010, fan, metallic fringe and light box: pegboard, wood, acrylic, vinyl, lights, paint, 73 x 60 x 48 inches / 1.8 x 1.5 x 1.2 m.

I’m interested in how objects accrue meaning or sentiment. Are objects merely containers for human associations? Or do they “act” as well? This transaction may be more reciprocal than I think, as objects can also shape humans.

Verzotti describes the link between objects shape the self:

An object, inasmuch as it forms part of our daily lives … to satisfy certain needs, becomes, Steinbach says, vital to the construction of our identity.

This is essentially what the authors of Things set out to study:

how the most complex pattern of emotion and thought can become embedded in and symbolized by concrete things, that is how things themselves are part of the interpretive sign process that constitutes meaning.

They elaborate:

Things actively change the content of what we think is our self and thus perform a creative as well as reflexive function….

Objects affect what a person can do, either by expanding or restricting the scope of that person’s actions and thoughts…. Objects have a determining effect on the development of the self.

According to Burton, Steinbach’s work conjures very similar ideas:

Objects are less about their owners, … and more about the circulations they make…. Objects reflect much of their owners’ beliefs, systems of faith, and measures of value… [and] also produce [them].

The overlap in the ideas between the Things authors, Burton, and Irrational Exuberance are abundant. One of Burton’s paragraphs in particular is especially sociological and psychological:

Our drive to acquire and organize things is, in part, how we understand ourselves. Less a comment on capitalism than an investigation of the production of self, Steinbach’s work acknowledges the fragility of subjecthood—that our funny, fragile egos are bound up in the unexpectedly rich terrain of the knickknacks and bric-a-brac, to say nothing of priceless mementos, we collect and covet.

This is a sequence of ideas that are relevant even line by line. First, she writes,

Our drive to acquire and organize things is, in part, how we understand ourselves. …[Steinbach’s work is] an investigation of the production of self…

This echoes the Things authors:

the potential significance of things is realized in a process of actively cultivating a world of meanings, which both reflect and help create the ultimate goals of one’s existence.

Next, Burton specifies that Steinbach’s work is

Less a comment on capitalism

This, too, came up at the dialogue at Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors). Some viewers assumed a negative, oppositional critique on my part where there was none. I embraced the bright colors and cheap materiality as sincere expressions of enthusiasm and pleasure, so this perspective was confounding. Where was it coming from? I had theorized that works of art can operate like barometers for optimism and pessimism, and this seemed further evidence that viewer’s projections are just as integral to the reading of the work as the work itself.

Last, Burton writes

our funny, fragile egos are bound up in the unexpectedly rich terrain of the knickknacks and bric-a-brac

This could very well be a statement for Irrational Exuberance.

The Social Life of Objects

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) buttons #1–3, 2010, badges, 1–1.75 inches / 2.5 x 4.5 cm dia. each.

Christine Wong Yap, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) buttons #1–3, 2010, badges, 1–1.75 inches / 2.5 x 4.5 cm dia. each.

In the study of positive psychology, improving one’s subjective wellbeing seems to always begin with the self and expand towards the social. There seems to be a parallel here: beginning with the habits of mind such as recognition and perception, acknowledging the everyday, and considering the organization of the self, and moving on to relationships.

In Steinbach’s interview with Huberman, he states

my practice is directly committed to the social.

How is it that inanimate objects can be social? Steinbach suggests how can they not:

There’s always more than one object at hand. Being here means you and here.

Verzotti’s points out the relational aspect of things between people:

Each object is both an object and a sign associated with a specific social dynamic, a token of exchange with we weave our interpersonal relations…

I’d thought about art objects as props that mediate relationships. Now it appears that objects might function similarly.

Christine Wong Yap, a diagram of how artists and viewers inform works of art and thereby mediate relationships between artists and viewers.

Christine Wong Yap, a diagram of how artists and viewers inform works of art and thereby mediate relationships between artists and viewers.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton elaborate on the many levels of this social potential:

Objects … serve to express dynamic processes within people, among people, and between people and the total environment. These processes might lead to a more and more specific differentiation or increasing integration…

by which they mean, the individuation of the self or alignment with others. They add:

Differentiation is the result of control, whereas integration is based on participation.

This calls to mind my idea that art experiences are opportunities for enacting trust or skepticism. Perhaps another way to think of art experiences is as opportunities for expressing differentiation/control or integration/participation.

Integration and Differentiation

When I read the once again the world is flat. exhibition catalog, so many points seemed to overlap with my own interests in Irrational Exuberance that I became nervous—which I self-diagnosed as the anxiety of influence.

An obvious similarity between once again the world is flat. and Irrational Exuberance is the use of common objects displayed on shelves. Though I used found objects in non-shelf displays, I collaged, sewed, and constructed most of the objects in Irrational Exuberance. My work conveys “craft” more than “brute materiality.” Further, Steinbach invests much of his constructive energy in the shelves, not the objects on display; in my work, the attention is reversed.

I like to think that I’m forging a different path on shared terrain. Or to use a different metaphor (same idea, different things), since orbits have different trajectories, coincidental moments of proximity are the result of traveling great distances.

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NYC Art Itinerary: Wave Hill

Relaxing after a hike in the woods and in the galleries at Wave Hill, Bronx, NY.

Relaxing after a hike in the woods and in the galleries at Wave Hill, Bronx, NY.

Today I visited Wave Hill, a public, NYC-owned garden and art center in the Bronx. It’s one more place checked off on my ongoing NYC Art Itinerary.

As soon as one enters, there’s a spectacular view of the cliffs of the Palisades across the Hudson River. The grounds are not insurmountably huge, but the landscaping is impeccable, and the trails, walks and greenhouses offer lots to explore. 

M and I got there early, and I highly recommend doing the same. We virtually had the place to ourselves for the first hour. It was a lovely change of pace to explore the gardens at our own unhurried pace. We encountered empty gazebos where we enjoyed the serenity to ourselves. Technically we weren’t even outside of the five boroughs, but it felt a universe away from the crowds.

We visited the Glyndor Gallery, which had an exhibition of works by artists in the Bronx Museum of Arts’ Artists in the Marketplace program. The work was all over the place, including abstract installations, brushy paintings, some technically capable and cool photography, sculpture, videos and video installations, and a metal assemblage wall work. The most captivating for me was Elisabeth Smolarz’ $100 project, a 13-channel video installation documenting her visits to every G8 +5 country and seeing how many people she could hire for $100 for one hour, and what they would do.

We also visited the Sunroom Gallery, which is reserved for emerging NYC artists’ solo projects. It’s a challenging space, with two walls of windows, and the remaining two walls made of brick and punctuated with many doors. There are also four skylights. My impression was that the original intended use of the space—to view the outdoors—still dominated the space; the meadow, woods, river, sunlight, and breeze beyond the windows seem to call for the viewer’s attention and pulls one towards a reflective mood.

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Claes Oldenburg @ MoMA

Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store 
Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing
April 14–August 5, 2013
Museum of Modern Art, NYC

It’s likable. Dive in.

Claes Oldenburg. Pastry Case, I 1961—62 Burlap and muslin soaked in plaster, painted with enamel, metal bowls, and ceramic plates in glass-and-metal case. 20 3/4 x 30 1/8 x 14 3/4" (52.7 x 76.5 x 37.3 cm). The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 1961—62 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Kate Keller. // Source: moma.org.

Claes Oldenburg. Pastry Case, I, 1961—62. Burlap and muslin soaked in plaster, painted with enamel, metal bowls, and ceramic plates in glass-and-metal case. 20 3/4 x 30 1/8 x 14 3/4″ (52.7 x 76.5 x 37.3 cm). The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 1961—62 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Kate Keller. // Source: moma.org.

I’ve found that there are two common ways of responding to Pop art inspired by familiar objects. The first is skeptical: viewers resent low culture intruding in high museums, and/or presume an underlying oppositional agenda when none is proffered. The second response is more open and instinctual; viewers delight in identifying with common objects and enjoy the humor in the familiar made strange.

For me, Claes Oldenburg’s works in The Store are imminently likable. The objects are ultra quotidian: hats, men’s dress shirts with ties, canvas lace-ups, ice cream sundaes. They are rendered in drippy, cragged plaster covered in vibrant gloss enamels. The forms are rough and exaggerated; the effect is both grotesque and comical.

Some of the genius in these sculptures comes from Oldenburg’s selection of common yet iconographic sources. Traces of the early 1960s appear, but do not pervade. For example, the 7-Up logo and other trademarks are obsolete. And I surmise that the preponderance of sundaes may correlate to a midcentury ice cream parlor vogue. But most others objects—such as burgers, shoes, and pants—have not changed much in the past five decades, and they remain current and relatable. Indeed, the shiny enamel is beautifully preserved (or probably, simply durable), and still conveys commerce’s exuberant newness.

Oldenburg’s project expanded the boundaries of art, helping to merge high art and low commerce. The exhibition also makes other equivalences clear too. This is exemplified by a vitrine containing a model plane, a salad, and a man’s hat. It suggests that food and possessions are alike as objects of consumption. They call us with our desire for them and reaffirm us as reflections of our identities.

From a historical perspective, the show allowed ample opportunities to think about zeitgeists and simultaneous developments. Oldenburg’s display cases full of pies (or tartines, created for a show in Paris) recall the luscious frosting-like paintings of Wayne Thiebaud. An oversized wall calendar made of stuffed, sewn fabric numbers brought to mind Jasper Johns’ number paintings. Neither comparisons diminish said works.

Claes Oldenburg. Floor Burger 1962 Canvas filled with foam rubber and cardboard boxes, painted with acrylic paint. 52" x 7' x 7' (132.1 x 213.4 x 213.4 cm). Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Purchase, 1967. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Sean Weaver. // Source: moma.org.

Claes Oldenburg. Floor Burger, 1962. Canvas filled with foam rubber and cardboard boxes, painted with acrylic paint. 52″ x 7′ x 7′ (132.1 x 213.4 x 213.4 cm). Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Purchase, 1967. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Sean Weaver. // Source: moma.org.

Oldenburg’s monumental soft sculptures provide a nice climax for the show. Floor Cone, Floor Burger, and Floor Cakewere designed for a spacious gallery that was meant for the display of luxury cars. This use of scale brilliantly addresses the massive spaces that have become so common today, while remaining totally appropriate to the works (in contrast to many contemporary works’ use of monumental scale to convey power and wealth). These individual portions of dishes at preposterously large scale, in sewn and stuffed painted canvas, exude comfort and welcome. They suggest an invitation to play, if not literally, than imaginatively. Taking a nap on one might be an entirely reasonable way to relate to it. I appreciated that these floor-specific works were actually exhibited on the floor, not on white plinths that keep viewers at bay. The Street, in an adjoining gallery, is installed this way, with ample space, which formalizes the seemingly-abstract cardboard shapes and seems remote from the original inspiration—colorful 1961 Lower East Side. The works fall flat in a disappointing compromise between a lively street-level feel and the MoMA’s staggeringly-trafficked museum needs.

Also on view are Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing, two exhibition halls housing found, readymade and created objects, developed for Documenta in the 1970s. The wall text explains that Oldenburg demonstrates an equivalence between creating and collecting. The installation seemed to reward prolonged viewing. The more you look at dissimilar objects, such as the children’s toys, sex toys, gloves, and food sculptures in Mouse Museum, the more similarities you’ll see. The longer you look at similar objects, such as the gun-shaped things in Ray Gun Wing, the more acute the differences become. A brief look was like an insight into Oldenburg’s thought process. But the nature of the long queues for these structures at MoMA made it seem indecent to linger for long.

Oldenburg’s plaster-and-enamel sculptures of everyday commodities has been an important reference point for me for several years. They signal a way to think about merging art and life, embracing the everyday non-art materials and subjects around us, and the viability of artist-initiated exhibitions (Oldenburg exhibited The Store as an immersive installation in his studio). MoMA’s and Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien’s decision to exhibit precisely these seminal works is a testament to the mandate of these collecting, preserving and presenting institutions, for which I am grateful.

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Frieze Art Fair: 2013 prowl-through

N and I were able to attend the Frieze Art Fair thanks to O (whose pass spared us each $42 entrance fees). I convinced her and M that the cross-Triboro Bridge walk would be lovely. It was, but I neglected to consider that once we got to the fair we’d be on our feet another 2.5 hours. Weary-legged and short on cash on an island where a bottle of water costs $4, I had little time or attention to really engage the artworks.

(When I used to go on long runs, I’d carry hydration and fuel—AKA water and snacks—with me. I should have the same mentality when visiting fairs can take as long as an endurance race.)

Mostly, as in past fairs, I looked at methods of display, uses of materials, and forms related to upcoming projects—which now are banners and textiles.

Andrea Bowers, in both booths housing her work, shared this useful statement that sheds light on Frieze’s use of non-union labor. (One thought about the lack of mass response to OWS Arts & Labor’s call might be attributed to this: NYC’s unions are very active in picketing non-union business. In fact, it’s common enough that one might see the inflatable picketing rat a few times a week. New Yorkers just keep walking.)

Bowers’ drawings on cardboard of Victorian icons of liberation were quite lovely, and much looser than her photo-realist graphite drawings, interestingly.

Open letter from Andrea Bowers regarding Frieze's use of non-union labor.

Open letter from Andrea Bowers regarding Frieze’s use of non-union labor.

Photolithographic etching on copper-clad plastic by Sam Lewitt at Miguel Abreau Gallery (NYC). Having just worked on a vinyl sculpture, I thought this way of displaying floppy plastic was really smart.

Photolithographic etching on copper-clad plastic by Sam Lewitt at Miguel Abreau Gallery (NYC). Having just worked on a vinyl sculpture, I thought this way of displaying floppy plastic was really smart.

Handmade crochet by Servet Kocygit at Rampa (Istanbul). This is just pretty and in-your-face. Though I'm not sure what it means, I thought it was useful for thinking about how to frame textile text works. The crochet looks like it was treated with a glue, such as a matte medium, and pinned in place to a (removed) substrate, so it lays flat. The substrate it's now on is a woven fabric.

Handmade crochet by Servet Koçyiğit at Rampa (Istanbul). This is just pretty and in-your-face. Though I’m not sure what it means, I thought it was useful for thinking about how to frame textile text works. The crochet looks like it was treated with a glue, such as a matte medium, and pinned in place to a (removed) substrate, so it lays flat. The substrate it’s now on is a woven fabric.

Cameron Platter's monumental wood text at Whatiftheworld/Gallery (Cape Town). Another puzzle in terms of content, and yes, the scale suits the obviousness of fairs. But it is pretty smart to appeal to people's love (or fetish?) of wood type, and use condensed gothic typography.

Cameron Platter‘s monumental wood text at Whatiftheworld/Gallery (Cape Town). Another puzzle in terms of content, and yes, the scale suits the obviousness of fairs. But it is pretty smart to appeal to people’s love (or fetish?) of wood type, and use condensed gothic typography.

Amir Mogharabi at Ibid Projects (London). Things. On shelves. This is like a little poem, with mother-of-pearl.

Amir Mogharabi at Ibid Projects (London). Things. On shelves. This is like a little poem, with mother-of-pearl.

Maybe the collection of works where I could have spent a lot more time and gotten a much richer experience: Catherine Sullivan and Valerie Snowbeck's installation of texts on laminated fabrics and sculptural works at Galerie Catherine Bastide (Belgium). The materials and typography were so unusual, and I suspect the works told a well-conceived narrative. I regret the momentum that propelled me to march onward, instead of lingering and looking more closely.

Maybe the collection of works where I could have spent a lot more time and gotten a much richer experience: Catherine Sullivan and Valerie Snowbeck’s installation of texts on laminated fabrics and sculptural works at Galerie Catherine Bastide (Belgium). The materials and typography were so unusual, and I suspect the works told a well-conceived narrative. I regret the momentum that propelled me to march onward, instead of lingering and looking more closely.

Lily Van Der Stokker's installation at Kaufman Repetto (Milan). This is just kooky and happy. The chest in plaid is so humorous. In working with fabric I've been wondering how to distinguish my work from craft—more specifically, something crafty, cute and consumable from Etsy. Van Der Stokker seems to tackle this distinction head-on with these works. What makes a painting on canvas art, a textile design, and a painting on a cabinet any less a painting?

Lily van der Stokker‘s installation at Kaufman Repetto (Milan). Kooky. Happy. The chest in plaid is so humorous. In working with fabric I’ve been wondering how to distinguish my work from craft—more specifically, something crafty, cute and consumable from Etsy. Van Der Stokker seems to tackle this distinction head-on with these works. What makes a painting on canvas art, a textile design, and a painting on a cabinet any less a painting?

Mmm, banners. Matthew Brannon's banners at David Kordansky Gallery (NYC). With their stylish design, Brannon's screenprints on paper were always charming; it's interesting to see larger works in textiles that are also a bit more open-ended.

Mmm, banners. Matthew Brannon‘s banners at David Kordansky Gallery (NYC). With their stylish design, Brannon’s screenprints on paper were always charming; it’s interesting to see larger works in textiles that are also a bit more open-ended.

I like Peter Liversidge's conceptual practice. His work appears in a lot of fairs, but every project is unique to the fair, which makes the encounter a little more special for audiences. Liversidge typed the letter at left describing the work to be produced, adjacent. That this type of conceptual practice still exists is great. The fact that it appears commercially viable is interesting; it's one of those questions that perhaps better remains unasked. At Sean Kelly (NYC).

I like Peter Liversidge‘s conceptual practice. His work appears in a lot of fairs, but every project is unique to the fair, which makes the encounter a little more special for audiences. Liversidge typed the letter at left describing the work to be produced, adjacent. That this type of conceptual practice still exists is great. The fact that it appears commercially viable is interesting; it’s one of those questions that perhaps better remains unasked. At Sean Kelly (NYC).

Rudolf Polanszky's vitrines of decrepitude at Ancient & Modern (London). These, on purely emotional levels, worked for me.

Rudolf Polanszky’s vitrines of decrepitude at Ancient & Modern (London). These worked for me, formally and emotionally.

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nyc art itinerary: Museum of the Moving Image

M surprised me by suggesting a visit to the Museum of the Moving Image. Though it’s in Queens, I’d never made it there, so it found its way onto my 2013 NYC art itinerary.

M had heard that the exhibition design is particularly good, which turned out to be delightfully true. But let me start with the bigger picture.

First, the building itself is really cool: beautiful typographic and graphic storefront window treatment, intriguing angles, gleaming white surfaces, spacious, modern and LEED-certified. The gallery spaces were full of character, yet allowed the artifacts, photos, and videos proper presentation. For example, there was a GIF project in the foyer; sometimes foyer projects get the short shrift in presentation—like a flat-screen installed randomly in an imposing antechamber. Here, five projectors screened a massive three-part composition, plus a didactic text. It was seamless, huge, yet because of the pace of the animations, it was not overwhelming—I thought it was perfectly installed and curated. It set the tone for the ambition of the institution nicely.

Second, the exhibition design is super cool. Clearly they are not skimping on signage, wall graphics, dramatic paint treatments, etc. Typographically the Spectacle: The Music Video exhibition was stellar—the exhibition title was in neon (!) while a historical section used hundreds of square feet of printed vinyl to add loads of charm to older videos. (Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, did you know, was shot in 4 hours and edited in 5? No excuses!)

One challenge with media shows is audio-bleed—and the museum was managed it in a variety of ways. On the first level of the show, a lot of restraint was used, allowing the sound from large theater to spill over into the exhibition area, where all videos were on headsets (though the light-bleed on the projection was less than desirable). On the second level, parabolic speakers, as well as speakers set in long boxes, like pedestals mounted to the ceiling, directed the sound to specific areas.

Overall I was really impressed with how beautifully everything was staged—the lighting and spatial design was directed, soft, yet dramatic. There was stagecraft, such as a neat short-throw projector that used a mirror to cast a huge projection just a few feet from the lens. I also appreciated a captivating edit of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies video with its dozens if not hundreds of YouTube re-makes. By presenting a video mosaic, which scrolled to different sections and zoomed into individual videos, viewers got a sense of the global popularity. It brilliantly unified a ton of user-generated content, but it took directorial and editorial vision to get there. Money, time, and expertise went into all of these strategies. For installers like me, it is appreciated, while visitors value it by way of just seeing the content, vibrantly displayed.

There is a lot to see, beyond the temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibition, with vintage film cameras, cathode ray tubes, mics, and even some Muybridges and a zoetrope, will be educational and fun next time I return, which I surely will.

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Impressions

nyc art itinerary: Museum of the City of New York

It’s been over a month since I wrote a list of NYC art places I aim to visit in 2013. Today I ticked off my first of seven sites when I visited the Museum of the City of New York for the Designing Tomorrow exhibition on the 1939 World’s Fair.

The exhibition was a good overview for the World’s Fairs in the 1930s, spanning San Francisco, San Diego, Cleveland, Chicago, and of course, Queens. I came away with some interesting info:

  • Robert Moses’ initiative to convert the area that is now Flushing-Corona Meadows Park from marsh and dumping ground into a World’s Fair site and park was the largest reclamation project ever undertaken.
  •  The Panorama, now housed at the Queens Museum of Art, is over 9,000 square feet, and is the result of the labor of 100 people working for three years.
  • ConEdison commissioned a diorama that showed the lights of NYC going on and off in a 12-minute cycle. It was three stories high and a block long.

But, overall, I was a little let down. The artifacts seemed outnumbered by tiled photos and didactic texts. I missed the awe,  excitement, and interactivity that all these inert things were trying so hard to convey. Further, many photos were reproduced, either as part of the signage, or in digital slideshows. For example, rare color photos were projected on a standard-definition projector in a too-bright hallway, while photos of illuminated pavilions were shown on a monitor with annoyingly long crossfade transitions. While the graphic designers made chronologically consistent typographic choices, the photos were presented in 21st century means, and the precision and luminosity of the original prints or slides were lost. The exhibition also seemed soft on social history; I would have loved to hear more about how Depression-era audiences, NYC’s disparate communities or the US’ progressive movement engaged the Fairs.

The main things I enjoyed were:

1. Loads of examples of lovely typography—off-set printed on brochures, as well as hand-painted in proposal drawings.

2. Some of the original proposal drawings were truly stunning. This one, in particular, is fantastic in real life:

Micromegas proprosal drawing by Frank Paul.
Micromegas proprosal drawing by Frank Paul.
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Impressions

Armory Art Fair fly-by

I visited the Armory Art Fair yesterday, thanks to the largesse of HWT (general admission, $30). I was glad I went—I saw some work I liked, some materials that might be useful to know about, and got to see what galleries are participating. Of Bay Area galleries, Wendi Norris moved from the Modern pier to the Contemporary pier; Silverman Gallery had a nice booth with staff smartly suited and booted; Haines had nearly the same location and similar works as last year. I liked the conceptually-oriented galleries Ingleby, Sies & Höke, Max Wigram and Tanya Leighton (European, no suprise). I also noticed that there were quite a few works related to flags; whether this is a trend or a result of finding what I’m seeking is hard to say.

In no particular order, some hasty snapshots of artworks that caught my eye.

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Impressions, Sights

NYC Art Itinerary

"Migration Patterns" map by an anonymous contributor, sent to Becky Cooper, and printed in "Manhattan of the Mind" by Zachary Sniderman, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 17, 2013.

“Migration Patterns” map by an anonymous contributor, sent to Becky Cooper, and printed in “Manhattan of the Mind” by Zachary Sniderman, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 17, 2013.

When MA visited NYC last week, he filled each day with an ambitious art itinerary. It reminded me that I used to try to make the most of of my trips to New York. But since moving here, I’ve become lazy, and too borough- and subway-line-centric. I’ll take MA’s inspiring lead and resolve to get out into my own city more often. Here’s a list of places that I would like to visit, but have not yet been—and which I hope to see in 2013.

It’s better to set goals along with strategies, so I’ll include personal notes to make getting there easier.

The Morgan Library
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street 
A short walk from one of my favorite places to eat, Koreatown. Also, not far from Grand Central Station where Nick Cave’s horses will be on view March 25–31 as part of its centennial celebrations.

The Cloisters
99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park
A bit out of the way, in a northernmost part of Manhattan—yet by bicycle, it turns out to be just 10 miles from my house.

Wave Hill
West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx
This is even further out of the way in the western edge of the Bronx, but I could make a longer bike and art day out of it, as it’s only 5.2 miles north of The Cloisters. Thirty miles round trip is nothing for serious riders; I am not a serious rider, but maybe I’ll start to up my mileage come spring.

1939 World Fair collectibles, collection of Kyle Supley, on Designing Tomorrow's Tumblr.

1939 World Fair collectibles, collection of Kyle Supley, on Designing Tomorrow’s Tumblr.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street

This was not high on my list of places to visit, but it turns out that they’ve got a current exhibition on the 1930s World Fairs called Designing Tomorrow. World fairs are generally fascinating to me, but I am especially keen to learn more about the 1930s fairs in Queens (Didn’t I mention I’ve become borough-centric?) for their spectacle, futurism, modern design, typography, as well as the numerous bits and bobs of memorabilia.

 
e-flux

311 East Broadway
Who knows why East Broadway runs at an angle to, and detached from, Broadway. But I know where e-flux is, having made a pilgrimage to its neighboring dumpling restaurant. Now I just need to combine my dumpling craving with astute contemporary discourse.

Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Avenue at 37th Street, Astoria, Queens
My own borough; I hang my head to admit that I’ve been to the multiplex around the corner.

 
Brooklyn Botanical Garden

150 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn

Not art; visual nonetheless. In Prospect Park next to the Brooklyn Museum. Another nice bike adventure come warmer weather and new blooms.

  • Visited May 17. Huge, lovely, and well worth a visit.

 

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