Everyday UFOs & Shame the Devil

I’m pretty excited about these two openings coming up this week. The first features some really fun and funny photos, and the second is curated by a friend and hardworking curator from CCA.

March 16 – April 23, 2011
Gregg Louis: Everyday UFOs
Nohra Haime Gallery
730 Fifth Avenue, between 56th & 57th Streets, NYC, NY
Opening: Wednesday, March 16, 6 – 8 PM

Everyday UFOs, an exhibition of recent photography by artist Gregg Louis will be on view in the project room at the Nohra Haime Gallery from March 16th through April 23rd.

In his first solo exhibition in New York, Louis uses photography to construct uncanny images of UFOs out of found household objects such as light bulbs, TV antennas, dishes, plungers, ect. His process of arranging, stacking, and transposing these mundane objects against a black backdrop creates surreal images that humorously and sometimes eerily re-imagine everyday reality. By transforming these ubiquitous objects that typically fade into the background of our daily lives, Louis creates playful images that at once feel unique, familiar, and otherworldly.

Everyday UFOs mediates between an optimistic child-like playfulness and a skeptical investigation into projections and blind faith in phenomena beyond the earthly realm. The work blurs the line between belief, imagination and reality, and explores the potential we have to knowingly or unknowingly redefine our everyday perceptions for better or worse.

Gregg Louis, a multidisciplinary artist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to New York and received his Master of Fine Arts from School of Visual Arts in 2009. Louis was a participant in the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Residency Program in 2009. His work has been exhibited in both the US and abroad. Louis currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.


Photo: Kenya (Robinson)

March 17–April 30, 2011
Shame the Devil
The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, New York, NY
Opening: Thursday, March 17, 6-8pm
Exhibition Hours: Tues-Fri, 12-6pm; Sat 11-6pm

Curated by Petrushka Bazin

The genre of comedy, in all its various manifestations in stand-up, theater, literature, television, and movies has long provided rich and valuable inspiration for artists seeking to critique contemporary society using parody, satire and dark humor. Inspired by the parallel ability of both the stand-up comedian and the artist to play the role of cultural observer and provacateur, this exhibition presents new sculpture, video, installations, and photography by artists, who strategically examine, with their frank observations and dry wit, the socio-political dimensions of power associated with cultural, racial, and economic issues. Titled after the longer idiom “tell the truth and shame the devil,” which means to speak honestly and without censor, these artists, following the long traditions of political caricature, offer up wry send-ups of political commentary on such critical issues as global poverty, racial profiling, anti-terrorist paranoia, and right-wing extremism. Artists include: Jabari Anderson, Elizabeth Axtman, Michael Britto, Wayne Hodge, My Barbarian, Huong Ngo, Jessica Ann Peavy, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Jimmy Joe Roche, and Kenya (Robinson).

Art & Development

Not So Great Northern Art

AKA, “When Poor Curation Meets Bad Design and the Idea For an Art Show”

Before I go on an art trip, I try to weed out bad venues or weak exhibitions by scanning the web. In the case of Leeds Art Gallery’s “Rank: Picturing The Social Order 1615-2009,” the social premise sounded interesting and contemporary art was promised. Plus, an art blogger slammed the show so violently my curiosity was piqued. “Rank” was duly noted on my map.

Unfortunately, I left the show quite angry, and I had to side with the foaming-at-the-mouth blogger. I think the main problem is one of identity: the exhibition was advertised on art websites and mounted at the an art gallery, but “Rank” is not an art show.

“Rank” is a discursive educational exhibit dressed as an art show. The show’s organizers seem more invested in the wall texts than discriminating curatorial decisions. They would have benefited from looking to Britain’s wealth of great natural history and science museums for inspired exhibition displays, instead of making an art exhibition of not very much art.

Instead of changing tactics, the organizers filled the gallery with faux “works”—interpretative footnotes made by contractors. These contractors’ poorly-fabricated cakes (to illustrate pie charts) made me suspect they’re not artists. If they were exhibition designers, I suspect they would have better integrated the interpretations and didactic texts (like in the text-heavy yet eye-catching displays about inventors at the Museum of Science and Industry, or the energetic money exhibit at the Manchester Museum). Instead, putting interpretive works in picture frames caused confusion. Judging by the poor resolution of data (see Edward Tufte), and the odd choices of materials, I’d wager that they’re designers. (No offense. It’s my high esteem of design that makes poor design inexcusable).

display at MOSI
Back-lit exhibit display at MOSI, Manchester.

I don’t blame the contractors, however, so much as the show’s organizers, who probably offered the contractors a budget and free rein, and not enough direction or quality control.

Why did the show’s organizers commission these non-art interpretive footnotes? To present data borrowed from academics or print sources like The Economist. To pique interest in wordy didactic texts, abusing viewers’ inclinations to seek exposition about images, and supplying instead the organizers’ postulations. The information about the work seemed secondary—or, better yet, tertiary, as it was often buried in a text following a quote. (See burying the lede.)

I don’t mean to dismiss the art by contemporary artists in the show; they never stood a chance. The show’s organizers devalued the artist’s contributions by installing the artworks alongside everything else, and not naming the artists in press materials or exhibition signage. They could have easily distinguished the art works from the non-art works. A little typographic contrast never hurt anybody.

Finally, the didactic texts were under-designed. In an art exhibition, wall labels should be quiet, so viewers can focus on the art. But in a show featuring information graphics, the wall label design could bear more visual appeal and graphics. For example, one chart that distinguished data with color lacked a key. The accompanying wall label should have included a color key; instead, the colors were explained in a block of text. What should be a holistic visual experience becomes severed and slowed. In another forehead-smacking move, four brilliant maps of global wealth were installed in a grid, but their corresponding years appeared in the wall label as a sequential list. Duh! Viewers had to guess the correspondence between maps and years. Again, a simple key would have sufficed. The researchers’ efforts—the quality of their data and cartography—are put at risk by the poor wall text.

Had “Rank”’s organizers conceived of the show for what it was—an educational exhibit, with some artworks thrown in—I think it could have avoided some of its major failures.