get excited: Josephine Meckseper, Josiah McElheny, Rob Carter

This week I’m looking forward to:

Josephine Meckseper The Complete History of Postcontemporary Art, 2005. Courtesy the Artist, New York, and VG Bild-Kunst.

Josephine Meckseper The Complete History of Postcontemporary Art, 2005. Courtesy the Artist, New York, and VG Bild-Kunst. Source:

Monday, April 9, 7PM
Subjective Histories of Sculpture: Josephine Meckseper
44-19 Purves St, Long Island City, Queens

Citing specific works, bodies of work, texts, or even personal anecdotes taken from inside and outside cultural production, and inside and outside art, these subjective, incomplete, partial, or otherwise eclectic histories question assumptions and propose alternative methods for understanding sculpture’s evolving strategies.

Josiah McElheny, Island Universe (installation view), 2009. Courtesy the artist, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and Andrea Rosen Gallery,  New York. Photo: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid © Josiah McElheny. Source:

Josiah McElheny, Island Universe (installation view), 2009. Courtesy the artist, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Photo: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid © Josiah McElheny. Source:

Wednesday, April 11, 6:30pm
Public Art Fund Talks at The New School: Josiah McElheny
The New School, John Tishman Auditorium
66 West 12th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues, NYC

McElheny is whip-smart and I expect nothing less than to be blown away.

Public Art Fund is pleased to present a talk by Josiah McElheny, an American artist whose multifaceted artistic practice has incorporated decorative and functional traditions of glass, as well as research, writing, and curating to explore materiality and its relationship to the ways in which we see and experience objects. Often using narratives inspired by the histories of art, design, and glass as points of departure, McElheny has created massive sculptures of shining chrome and transparent glass that layer myriad references as diverse as twentieth-century fashion, modernist design, sixteenth-century Italian painting, and even the Big Bang theory.

Rob Carter. Faith in a Seed, 2012. Image courtesy the artist. Source:

Rob Carter. Faith in a Seed, 2012. Image courtesy the artist. Source:

Opening: Friday, April 13, 6-8pm
Exhibition: April 13–June 23, 2012
Rob Carter: Faith in a Seed
Art in General

79 Walker Street (just off Canal and Broadway), NYC

I helped to build out this show, and I’m very excited to see how the installation and videos have come, quite literally, to life.

Faith in A Seed intertwines the languages of science and history into a living sculptural form. Rob Carter’s installation centers on the houses and gardens of three men of the 19th century. Miniature replicas of Charles Darwin’s Down House, Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden, and Sir John Bennet Lawes’ Rothamsted Manor are the centerpieces of a large-scale triangular garden.

Viewers are invited to witness Carter’s controlled but fragile ecosystem in three distinct ways: time-based video projections, peepholes cut into the sides of the garden, as well as from an elevated viewing platform.


Fun Facts

Last weekend, I enjoyed the rare honor of speaking publicly about my work twice in the same day.

First, I delivered a guest artist’s talk to a graduate seminar in San Francisco via Skype (a first for me). Emphasizing the vicissitudes of my life in the arts, I shared a factoid I learned from Creative Capital’s Professional Development workshop. I hope I remembered it correctly:

One positive response for every 13 to 15 applications for grants, residencies and awards is a pretty good average.

(Artists: It’s Spring deadline season. How are your applications coming along? Listings here.)

Being an artist can be variously trivial, serendipitous, laborious, or intentional. So I might have over-explained my art for these students, but it seems a worthy risk if it counter-balances, at least a bit, the obfuscation and unspoken rules about engaging the art world as an emerging artist.

While I wanted to convey the principle, nothing free—paying dues and investing sweat equity—I came away marveling at my good fortune to have benefitted from so many supportive organizations, foundations, and individuals… such as people who dream big, put in work, show up, share, and ask good questions—like the seminar students. The end of the Q&A came too soon.

Then, I participated in a group artists’ talk alongside other artists in Voices of Home at Jenkins Johnson Gallery. Independent curator Kalia Brooks did a great job moderating the panel, which included wave-splashing painting teachers and self-effacing younger artists. The artists have varied practices, terrain enough for an engaging discussion.

The audience, which exceeded the gallery’s seating capacity, was really great; thanks to everyone who attended.

The talk was organized in recognition of Black History Month, so with a panel of all (but one) Black artists, the subject of race and representation in the art field came up for discussion.

For emerging artists in San Francisco, New York City might still be seen as an art world center, with the center-of-the-center being Chelsea. For a panel of largely Black artists, speaking to a largely African American audience in a commercial gallery in Chelsea, geography was a non-issue, but access, via the lens of identity, was still a concern.

Some of the artists rejected the idea that they ought contend with identity in the studio, but no one disavowed as much when it came to engaging the professional field and the public realm.

Have you fantasized about de-activating your Facebook account? Me, too. Paul Martin’s definition of addiction—desire without pleasure—has characterized my recent experiences.

The headline,

“The Anti-Social Network: By helping other people look happy, Facebook is making us sad,”

of Libby Copeland’s article on Slate last year provides a clue to the problem.

Here is some irony about positive sentiments: I tried to keep my status updates positive, but willfully-upbeat presentations may actually be annoying, and en masse, distressing. I don’t think this undermines the value of optimism and positive enthusiasm in general, but speaks to Facebook’s perniciousness as a substitute for interaction and companionship.

So I’m taking a Facebook hiatus. It’s been four days, though it seems longer than that. Congratulations to me, I know. <Hallelujah hands.> [Sarcastic, I know. But I ought to share my un-Photoshopped sentiments, too, apparently. You have to start somewhere, buddies.]

One more fun fact, by way of Ritter Sport chocolates:

What Germans call “Halbbitter” (literally, “Half bitter”) is the same as what Americans call “semi-sweet.”

The half-full, half-empty optimism/pessimism riddle just got a chocolate-y analogue.

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.

The Nelson Manobar
Tuesday, October 18, 7pmSVA Theatre
333 West 23 Street, NYC

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.


candyass is coming

I'm sick of making art; get up you lazy bum

One of my all-time-favorite conceptual artists is coming to the Bay Area this weekend.

Cary Leibowitz (AKA CandyAss) in conversation with Glen Helfand

Cary Leibowitz mixes Jewish identity, kitsch, modernist critique, Queer politics, and design culture into dryly witty multiples and paintings. The artist will be in converation with the San Francisco Art Institute’s Glen Helfand celebrating the release of a new limited edition artwork developed especially for the Museum Store.

Leibowitz’ work was included in the landmark exhibitions Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities at the Jewish Museum New York; In a Different Light at the University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley and Bad Girls, New Museum for Contemporary Art, New York. His work has also been seen in exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Contemporary Musuem, Honolulu; Arcadia College, Pittsburgh; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Kunstverein für die Rhineland und Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art; ICA Philadelphia; Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt; Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin; Phoenix Art Museum; National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne; the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT; List Visual Art Center, MIT, Cambridge; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum, New York. He holds a B.F.A. from the University of Kansas, and lives and works in New York City.

Free with museum admission

Activist Imagination, Research

Artist’s Talks: Rave. Rave. Rant.

Just heard two fantastic artist’s talks tonight!

I love artist’s talks that create narratives and contextualize work with key biographical facts, relevant personality traits and intellectual and artistic interests. It’s a superior means of learning about art and artists than reading C.V.s and looking at still images. I’m much more compelled to hear what the artist has to say and why he/she makes art. I’m looking for evidence that the artist is deeply engaged in an ongoing inquiry.


That’s why I loved hearing the talk by Scot Kaplan, a visual artist from Ohio with a conceptual- and performance-based practice engaged with the psychology of contemporary life. He also teaches theory in a university art department, which I believe accounts for his articulate, well-oiled presentation, insightful self-examination, and that driving, insistent willingness to challenge dominant paradigms (a characteristic of all the theory professors I’ve met).

Kaplan’s presentation was great because he was ready to establish the context at the start, posing the questions that drive his inquiry (about examining power relationships) and citing influences, like a Harper’s Index item on the average time spent looking at a work of art in a museum (0.6 seconds). Contending with the typical viewer’s superficial engagement with works of art, Kaplan admitted to feeling belligerence towards the viewer; that as an artist, he would require some investment from the viewer to experience his work. I wholeheartedly agree: I’m not interested in making work for others’ visual pleasure, available at their leisure. The world is full of beautiful, attractive, cute or endearing images, and the avalanche of imagery shows no signs of slowing. So as my work becomes less visual and more experiential, I’m fine with leaving those 0.6 seconds of the typical viewers’ gaze behind, if it means more selective but more meaningful engagement.

Kaplan presented early work clearly influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s L’Etant Donnes. He made a series of provocative portal-like structures, such as altered viewfinders, wall-mounted boxes into which viewers insert their heads to hear audio tracks, and even a fridge-disguised portal leading to a hidden listening chamber.

Viewer interaction was required to experience those objects and installations, but Kaplan also presented work where the viewer became agent and subject. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about since my work for Activist Imagination. Kaplan’s work, though, directly addressed power relationships. For example, he created a small room that locked viewers inside for 90 seconds at a time, as well as a tightly-controlled project where individual viewers gave commands to the artist, who inhabited an adjacent room behind a security mirror. It was a performative social experiment that tested the lengths to which the artist and viewers would go, and it brought to mind the work of Marina Abramovich (two wrongs don’t make a right, but I still felt somewhat relieved to see someone other than a woman subjected to the disturbing, violent whims of others) and Philip Zimbardo, the author of the Stanford jail experiment that revealed how quickly ‘normal’ people abuse power. Kaplan executed this project in two locations in South Africa: a privileged university campus, and a Black township. While the performance is an important component, perhaps more so, the work is about the findings of the experiment: college students more often gave Kaplan abusive commands, while the township’s residents allowed the artist more dignity.

Kaplan’s work is provocative, but he seems thoughtful and not the least bit driven by shock value or ostentatious moralizing. His projects may be subversive, but are purpose-driven. The works create a condition where the artist’s vulnerability incites the viewers; they become culpable for completing the work of art, and in the process, making or breaking a social bond.


Ivy Ma, an artist from Hong Kong, makes poetic, phenomenological installations and photographs, and quiet but impressive drawings and paintings. I was really impressed with the diversity of her media, her capacity to create site-specific projects on residencies around the world, and how true she is to her investigation. Site-specific work can be challenging in your home town, much less thousands of miles away from your studio, tools and materials.

Like Kaplan, Ma makes some performative works involving her body, but Ma is interested in outdoor environments, like the Finnish lakes or her rapidly redeveloping Hong Kong.

She presented her work in a way that was modest and endearing — this style seems characteristic of non-native speakers from East Asia — yet she’s a fierce intellect, methodical in her presentation style, undaunted by tedious projects (like drawing a nearly life-sized tree with a fine-tipped pen, or sorting beach pebbles by color) and citing references ranging from noted Bay Area authors, Rebecca Solnit and Anne Lamott.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ma’s work and presentation. It wasn’t until later that I thought about Ma’s work in relation to identity politics—something that seems to hound A.P.A. arts presenters and the artists working with them. In fact, Ma doesn’t seem interested in identity politics at all. She’s focused on her relationship to nature, solitude, and her physical environment. She may be a contemporary artist from China, but her work isn’t about the hangover from the Cultural Revolution. She may be an Asian artist making art in North America and Europe, but she’s not hung up on re-hashing cross-cultural issues. Maybe we could lighten up about it too.


Unfortunately, not all artist’s talks are so inspiring.

Twice, I’ve had the odd experience of feeling invisible as artists of color talked about their work in terms of representing a community of identity. What happened was this: male artists of color used their talks to “speak truth to power” — to call out a predominantly white, privileged, liberal audience on their convenient progressivism and color blindness. To me, their radical or identity-based work became less effective, because the talk essentialized their art. Instead of being artists, they became cultural-political ambassadors.

Of course, I have more to learn about other racial perspectives and identities. Of course, the rarefied art world ought to be reminded of its privileged status. Of course, liberalism can stand to be nudged along by radical insights.

But if the goal is to challenge racism, gross generalizations about the whiteness of an audience — which includes people of color with radical politics like me! — is just a poor tactic. One artist seemed intent on assaulting the audience with his didactic videos played at extremely high volume. [I’ll pass. An aspiring drummer in my teens, I’m entering my thirties a tinnitus sufferer. My ears are ringing like I just left a concert–every day.] Another artist made the statement, “We tend to be color blind” or “We don’t talk about race” (“we” meaning, presumably, white liberals). Actually, I talk about race all freakin’ the time. You talking about race and saying that I never talk about it makes me feel invisible. That is color blind.