Art & Development

See: Domus Magazine (Italy)

I’m really enjoying the graphic design of Domus Magazine, out of Italy. Or more accurately, I’m enjoying its web design: large, handsome photos and just two type families on a very clean grid. With the selective use of color and scale, there’s typographic contrast that expresses style and energy. Fanciful and functional.

Long texts on the web doesn’t have mean that the text has to be tiny or spread across several pages. Domus sets type huge, with a comfortable column width; they break the text flow often with the liberal use of photos. Domus’ designers didn’t fret that there’d be too much “under the fold” or too much scrolling. Good for them. The daring design is well worth it.

There’s also some good art reporting from around the world. Here’s three of my favorite things together: a review of Dan Graham’s exhibition at Eastside Projects (Birmingham, UK) in Domus Magazine. I love that there’s a Google Map at the end of the review for viewers’ convenience.

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Research

Post-Minimalism for All

In yesterday’s New York Times, Roberta Smith champions painting, and states a formal history of–and argument against–the idea that painting is dead (“It’s Not Dry Yet,” March 26, 2010).

This is a positive follow up to her negative opinion, “Post-Minimal to the Max,” (NYTimes.com, February 2, 2010), in which Smith takes aim at the current slate of exhibitions at NYC’s major museums. Exhibitions of the work of Gabriel Orozco, Roni Horn, Urs Fischer, and Tino Seghal

…share a visual austerity and coolness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note. After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and Conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand.

…Instead [of individuation and difference] we’re getting example after example of squeaky-clean, well-made, intellectually decorous takes on that unruly early ’70s mix of Conceptual, Process, Performance, installation and language-based art that is most associated with the label Post-Minimalism. Either that or we’re getting exhibitions of the movement’s most revered founding fathers: since 2005, for example, the Whitney has mounted exhibitions of Robert Smithson, Lawrence Weiner, Gordon Matta-Clark and Dan Graham. I liked these shows, but that’s not the point. We cannot live by the de-materialization — or the slick re-materialization — of the art object alone.

Smith put it rather bluntly (I don’t think we could live by expressionistic painting alone, either), and I relate to feeling bored by monotony in exhibitions. At the same time, however, I take issue with her points, and my reaction is grounded in my identities and environment.

First, if the post-Minimal programming of New York’s art institutions sync up, who cares? In the end you still got to see the Tino Seghal show at the Guggenheim, and the Urs Fischer show at the New Museum. The phrase “embarrassment of riches” comes to mind.

Second, this is a generational and coastal difference, but I never really perceived any serious threat to painting. San Francisco’s unique history in conceptual and performance art is known amongst specialists, but many more know about Barry McGee, and the San Francisco Mission School of painting that he helped to popularize. I found the arguments against the death of painting fatiguing in my studies–along the same lines as eye-rollers like “So what is art?”–so I find it perplexing that Smith would take up arms for painting now.

To state the obvious, painting’s not going anywhere. The Everyman still considers “painting” and “art” synonymous, to the exasperation of non-painters everywhere. Most art museums house room after room of paintings. Most art stores feature a prominent aisle of paints and brushes. Ask people to draw the idea “art” and I guarantee that three of the top 10 responses you get will be: a palette with paints (you know, the round one with a hole for your thumb), gilt picture frame and canvas on an easel. Extending “pictorial history” is just not my priority, nor should it necessarily be curators’.

Third, I’m reminded of something the artist Paul Chan enigmatically said in his SFAI lecture, about “those who’ve been left behind by Modernism” — subcultures who are developing their own Modernisms, not to speak of tackling Post-Modernism (or Post-Minimalism, for that matter). I think that if thousands of tourists and students get to see the retrospectives by Roni Horn (the only female artist on Smith’s lists) or Gabriel Orozco (the only artist of color and person from the Global South; not splitting hairs about Gordon Matta-Clark, OK?), good for all of them.

Smithson, Matta-Clark, Graham and Weiner form like a board of directors of Post-Minimalism, and though I’d wonder what makes a Weiner show urgent or necessary, I’d guess that scores of art students and artists are grateful for the chances to see Smithson’s, Matta-Clark’s and Graham’s work in person, a small ameliorative for the feeling of being born too late to see Earth works and site-specific interventions of the 1960s and 70s. Smithson and Graham are significant influences for young contemporary artists, especially when you look at the resurgence of cheeky Romanticism in the curatorial work of Lawrence Rinder, the earthy Transcendentalism of shows like Alchemy at Southern Exposure and the emphasis on viewers in social/relational art.

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Art & Development, Community, Research, Travelogue

Bits and Bobs

Detail from a drawing/sculpture in progress.

Detail from a drawing/sculpture in progress.

Cheap and cheerful

Here in Manchester, there’s a saying, cheap and cheerful. It means what it sounds like. For example, This and That is a tasty curry house that offers three items for £4.20; it’s praised as epitomizing cheap and cheerful.

I like the phrase because:

  • It’s thoroughly appreciative, even though Mancs can seem totally unsentimental.
  • It’s characteristic of something local: As Stuart Maconie put it in Pies and Prejudice,

    …many of the north’s market and mill towns … have become shrine[s] devoted to binge drinking and discount shopping.*

    Within a half-mile radius, there are three pound stores–Poundland, Pound World and Pound Empire, whose business name, confusingly, is Pound Kingdom–and one Quality Save.

  • It reminds me of a Chinese expression, which is nearly identical (literally, “has attractiveness, has cheapness”). For my ultra-frugal immigrant parents, no higher compliment could be paid.

I’m about four days away from the Open Studio reception (Thursday, April 23, 5:30-7:30 pm, Chinese Arts Centre), so I’ve been working hard to finish several projects. Some are inspired by cheap and cheerful, so I’m making use of knickknacks from pound shops, like fans with multi-colored LEDs. Here’s a studio shot of the fans wired together to run on grid power instead of batteries, something I learned from this Instructables page.

Studio view

Studio view

Dan Graham, Tate Podcasts

Though I missed Dan Graham’s speaking engagements in the SF Bay Area this spring, I got his podcast lecture from the Tate. I enjoyed his talk, even without the pictures; he’s whip-smart, brisk, and completely free of affectation. For someone to have shown in as many Biennales and Documentas as he has, it’s very refreshing to hear him say in the same even, ego-less tone, that the Queen of Norway commissioned him to make a pavilion, so he made one on a fjord, it’s quite popular, and it’s referred to as a shower stall. Asides like this, from most other artists, would come across as false modesty.

Projections!

Preparing for T.S. Beall's artist's talk at Islington Mill

Preparing for T.S. Beall's artist's talk at Islington Mill

I enjoyed meeting Tara Beall, the artist in residence at Islington Mill, whose work is a fascinating combination of Arte Povera, webcam-sourced-video, boundaries, interstitial spaces, architecture, and installations that are a hybrid of kinetic art and video projections.

Her work seems in dialogue with the work of Ed Pien, whose new show at the Chinese Arts Centre is being installed right now. I’ve been getting sneak peeks of it — mirrors, projectors, cut paper, and macramé on the scale of architecture — and I think it’s going to be phenomenal!


*To be fair, Maconie also wrote, “Like [Manchester] at its best, [The Smiths] had glamor and gloom, winsomeness and wit; they were magical and proletariat all at once.”

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Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

Great Northern Art

AKA, “My Art Highlights from Birmingham, Liverpool, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Leeds.”

Grey clouds in Birmingham, UK

Grey clouds in Birmingham, UK

The Chinese Arts Centre offers a travel stipend for Breathe artists-in-residence to conduct research within the U.K. Earlier, I attended the Fly Eric symposium in Barrow, and the Global Modernities symposium in London. This past weekend, I, along with the good-humored traveler N.M., sought out contemporary art in Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds. The skies were grey and misting, and clocks would not cooperate with us, but we pushed onwards and we were rewarded with some gems among these Northern industrial cities.

Birmingham & Stoke-on-Trent

I’ve heard that just as cars represent freedom to Americans, the rails are a symbol of escape for the British. I can see why: On the train to Birmingham, I found a quiet car, opened a good book, and felt that my modest expectations—passing scenery and a period of uninterrupted time to think—were all fulfilled. I was flooded with a sense of contentment.

Since I visited Annette Messenger’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, I’ve been thinking about her premise that one cannot talk about happiness without clichés. It’s a maxim I find both truthful and discouraging, so unexpected contentment, in its minor way, is somewhat miraculous.

Simon and Tom Bloor's exhibition at Eastside Projects

Simon and Tom Bloor's exhibition at Eastside Projects

Contemporary art can require a sense of adventure—sometimes quite literally. On the quest for it, you will find yourself on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks in strange cities, seeking out alternative art spaces with little to no signage, and having faith that the artwork will be cutting edge and worth the effort. Such was the case with Eastside Projects. Nestled between junkyards and auto shops, this artist-led gallery is a spacious, high-ceilinged warehouse showing top-notch contemporary projects. It’s keen on conceptualism and new media (it features a semi-permanent Lawrence Weiner text work and a large video screening room, and the office is housed in an absurdly impractical structure made by artists). The current exhibit, Simon and Tom Bloor’s “As Long As It Takes,” is visually attractive, conceptually rigorous, and cunningly specific to Birmingham. The twins present new sculptures, watercolors, drawings, a billboard and a limited edition print around the history of local modernist public sculptures. The shapes of the geometric models are strangely familiar—one recalls the structure in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza. Like Aaron Curry, the Bloors use spray paint to defile Modernist purity. But a series of hand-painted watercolors, reproducing satirical newspaper cartoons complete with halftone dots, makes clear that the process of appropriation transforms the originals. Here’s what I mean: “high” modernist sculptures were parodied in a “low” editorial art from, which the Bloors re-made as “high” conceptual art. Brilliant! I really enjoyed the show, as well as Eastside Projects’ founder’s eclectic publications, including a series responding to R. Buckminster Fuller’s 40 Strategic Questions.

Armando Andrade Tudela. Untitled (Rattan 4), 2009, Rattan, metal, wood, Installation view, Ikon Gallery, 2009, Photo: Stuart Whipps
Armando Andrade Tudela. Untitled (Rattan 4), 2009, Rattan, metal, wood, Installation view, Ikon Gallery, 2009, Photo: Stuart Whipps.
Source: IKON Gallery.

In the sunny side of town, IKON Gallery is an ICA in a converted cathedral, and it had the rare distinction (for this part of the U.K., anyway) of showing projects by three international artists. I was most impressed with the work of Armando Andrade Tudela, a Peruvian video/sculpture/installation artist. I really liked his installation involving only a sheet of survival-blanket mylar pinned to the wall by an industrial sheet of glass. It created two overlaid reflections: the glass offered a barely perceptible, but undistorted, reflection; the mylar, a picture of a fractured self. It made me think of Dan Graham’s use of sheet glass as a metonym for corporate power. This wasn’t Tudela’s expressed intention, but I noticed that other works, including walls skinned with pegboard, and woven works that were equal parts baskets and paintings, played with moiré patterns and perceptions too.

Also at the IKON, Manthia Diawara presented “Maison Tropicale,” a documentary video airing the perspectives of the former owners of Modernist prototype homes, which were later purchased by Ângela Ferreira for an exhibition at the Venice Biennale and re-sold at much higher prices. I found the story captivating, though the art and post-colonial politics were a mess, underscoring that there are no easy solutions, but an excess of guilt to go around.

Stoke-on-Trent

Richard T. Walker's   it’s hard to find you because i can’t quite see what you mean to me.  2009

Richard T. Walker's it’s hard to find you because i can’t quite see what you mean to me. 2009

Just before my residency, I was so busy I missed “Trying to Cope with Things that Aren’t Human (Part One)” at David Cunningham Projects in San Francisco. Luckily, the curator, Ian Brown, is based in this part of England, and brought the exhibition to Stoke-on-Trent’s airspace gallery. Richard T. Walker’s slide show of waving “hi” and “bye” to the sun is endearing. In the back room, two identical glass spheres are topped with polar caps that are revealed inside as icebergs.

Liverpool

Markus Hansen's Other People's Feelings, Courtesy of VirgilGallery.com
Markus Hansen’s Other People’s Feelings. Source: VirgilGallery.com

“Until it Hurts”, a four-person exhibition at Open Eye Gallery, is organized around the mutability of identity, a theme in photography that can seem exhausted or obvious. Thankfully, two particular works in the show are precise and effective. Josh Weinstein’s video, “Cross Examination” (2005), is a quirky, feel-good documentary of strangers on the streets of New York hazarding guesses about the artist based on his, how do you say, humble appearance. The responses are weird, wonderful, presumptive and sometimes rude, but the artist maintains a disarming smile throughout. The effect is that viewers learn very little about the artist (except, maybe, that he’s enormously self-composed, and his art is rather generous), and a lot about the assumptions of others. Markus Hansen‘s “Other People’s Feelings” (2000-5) sequences pairs self-portraits with headshots of others as a video. In each self-portrait, the artist mimics the other people. It’s enchanting to compare and contrast Hansen’s feat of emoting, acting and photographing.

David Osbaldeston's Your Answer is Mine, 2006. Source: MattsGallery.org
David Osbaldeston’s Your Answer is Mine, 2006. Source: MattsGallery.org

In 4×4 at the Bluecoat, David Osbaldeston presents a text-based billboard in mixed media, combining intaglio with digital reproduction, 19th century letterpress style with 21st century hand-done graphic design, and critical theory with vaguely subjective pie charts. The billboard’s lack of color, but richness of grey, is startling. Its paradoxes engage.

N.M. and I also stopped at the Tate Liverpool (Melanie Smith’s painting/video/installation in the DLA Piper show is still fantastic, as are William Blake’s bookplates) and the International Slavery Museum, which takes a frank look at how English slave traders and industrialists participated in and profited from slavery in the American South like cotton and sugar. (A U.S. National Slavery Museum, long overdue, is being constructed in Fredricksberg, VA, by the way.)

Manchester

“Small world.”

I am always surprised—though I shouldn’t be —when I come across references to the San Francisco Bay Area here in Manchester. For example, by chance, I read a book in Birmingham in which the narrator attends a lecture at CCA. And the traveling exhibition on Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, is now at URBIS, just a few blocks from the Chinese Arts Centre. I met Emory in Oakland years ago. I never would have put “Emory Douglas” and “Manchester” together. Luckily, someone at URBIS did. The quality of the exhibition is phenomenal, and Mancs should take note.

The whole exhibition—art, graphics, displays, historical context, and multiple voices and personalities—makes for a vibrant, thorough, interactive experience. I was happy to see lots of visitors taking their time absorbing the show, which in turns inspires shock, rage, pride, admiration, outrage, grief, and gratitude.

At Cornerhouse, I watched 24 Hour Party People, a movie about the early nineties Madchester music scene. I loved every minute of it. It’s the story of Tony Wilson—impresario, BBC personality and music promoter. He is portrayed with searing wit, a touch of madness, egomania, and an unflappably stiff upper lip. When he breaks the “fourth wall” of the film, it doesn’t make you feel like he’s over-explaining the narrative, but somehow helps to speed it up; aware, as brilliance is, of the fleeting nature of good times.

Leeds

Perhaps my art tolerance was starting to flag, but Leeds bore the brunt of a more intensely critical eye. Asta Gröting’s exhibition at Henry Moore Institute was pretty good, even if I felt mostly pushed away by the hermetic sculptures, which varied wildly from spooky kinetic hemispheres around office chairs, to brass “potatoes” in chiseled angles, to an oversized clod of earth with no discernible referent, to a silicon cast of intercourse, to a Mona Hatoum-like beaded cage. I couldn’t sew it all together; the works seemed completely discrete in form, content, concerns. The only thing I could make sense of is the fact that Gröting was a student of Joseph Beuys; this may be stereotypical, but I find some meaning in the fact of her German-ness, as I’ve felt similarly—locked out of deadly-serious Art with a sense of mirthless laughter—about Martin Kippenberger’s work too.

Keith Arnatt, from Self-Burial in 9 photographs, courtesy MediaArtNet.org
Keith Arnatt, from Self-Burial in 9 photographs. Source: MediaArtNet.org

Upstairs, the work of Keith Arnatt, an early adopter of American Minimalism, Conceptualism and Performance Art in Britain, is represented with a modest selection of black-and-white photographs, a text work, and a series of color sketches of geometric sculptures. I liked the photograph documenting a cubic hole in the earth lined with mirrors. Very simple stuff that any art student today might come up with, but at the time it was on the pulse of a movement, or two. I also liked “Self-Burial in 9 Stages,” a series of photographs documenting, well, the artist burying himself standing up, until only a patch of wavy hair is visible in the newly-turned earth. It really resonated with my recent thoughts about the dissolution of self in installations like Gregor Schneider’s Kinderzimmer (see Claire Bishop’s Installation Art, Tate, 2005), or the dissolution of the artist as in Josh Weinstein’s video at Open Eye Gallery, or the implicit denial in Chu Yun’s work (see Philip Tinari’s profile in the March Artforum, or this year’s Venice Biennale, whichever is handier). Incidentally, the trooper N.M. had a complimentary experience, engaging the drawings and passing more quickly over the photographs. Admittedly, given the chronological distance, the photos lack urgency, and while I’m usually not bothered by a gallery’s white-cube-ness, the presence of earthworks by way of only photos made the gallery seem especially sterile.

At the Leeds Art Gallery, I was intrigued by Shahin Afrassiabi’s installation, “Jalousie Gelocht, Als Blend Schultz” (2003), which is comprised of mundane objects like a television with nothing in particular onscreen, a roll of wallpaper, a table, a lamp, a funny blue geometric painting, etc. It was memorable because the TV emitted a brief, cheerful instrumental song. The pleasure was surprising, because I find that many installation artists create theatrical tableaux that rely too heavily on a “reading” of pathos to be meaningful.

I also enjoyed Angela Bulloch’s cubic sculpture, “Extra Time 8:5,” which was reminiscent of both Minimalism and sort of also a TV set. Furthering this mimesis is the fact that the single-pixel screen changed colors according to a BBC program.

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Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

new manc art highlights

Islington Mill Studios; hallway.

Islington Mill Studios; hallway.

The Dilemma of Archive
New library
Islington Mill

Islington Mill is a really cool artist-initiated studio compound with a gallery, performance venue, experimental school, and now, a new library focusing on art books. I find the whole idea of the place very grassroots, appealing and innovative.

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin


detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

detail of installation by Maurice Carlin

Last night, I attended the opening of The Dilemma of Archive, a show featuring the work of Maurice Carlin and G. Leddington. The exhibition space is a disused studio — about the size of a bedroom, maybe 15×12 feet. But the modest space held a really tight grouping of four works, which were peculiar and quiet and rewarded sustained attention.

Slide show/installation by G. Leddington at Islington Mill

Slide show/installation by G. Leddington at Islington Mill

I really liked G. Leddington’s slide show of a turning carosel box, which reminded me of the work of Anne Collier and Tacita Dean. But Leddington’s accompanying works — photo prints of obscure articles, book plates and photos relating to Henri Michaux, art collector/smuggler swung the content away from the project of photography and back towards the archive.

My contribution to the new library.

My contribution to the new library.

The curatorial statement is quite smart, pointing out the paradoxes inherent in any archive — exhibitions, art collections or libraries. I really liked the high conceptual quality and grassroots venue partnered with the new library initiative. I keep telling people that Manchester is a cool city, and if they can look past the binge drinking and American-style malls, they’d see the local points of vibrance like Islington Mills.

Gregor Schneider‘s Kinderzimmer
Subversive Spaces
Whitworth Art Museum

I couldn’t be bothered to see this pitch-black, one-viewer-at-a-time installation — the wait times were always long, but today, by happenstance, I was able to get in after a brief 10-minute wait.

I won’t spoil what’s inside for those who yet to see it, but I will say this:

I found it extremely effective. It was emotional — the darkness was so complete it was terrifying, and upon exiting, my sense of relief gave way to a curious ecstasy. It was provocative and I experienced a sense of convergence between:

  • Dan Graham’s interest in the just-past
  • In Claire Bishop’s Installation Art: A Critical History (Tate 2005) darkness and the dissolution of self…
  • …and how Kinderzimmer manages to include pure phenomenology, mimesis and representation
  • how Schneider exploited the flaws in human hardware
  • how the installation achieved high aspirations in spite of the humble materials
  • grief and existential subjectivity
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Art & Development

oh, the irony!

About ten or fifteen years ago, I was a twenty-something-year-old woodcut printmaker primarily concerned with expression. I felt that big expensive art was tacky and elitist, while prints were affordable and proletariat.

One day, in a tony downtown gallery, I was completely bored by an outlandishly expensive work of art. It a cube of glass about 4x4x4′, raised to eye-level by a simple chrome structure. The glass transitioned from clear to two-way mirror, creating a few optical tricks. My knowledge of art after modernism was pretty weak. I felt that it looked like corporate art scaled down for a rich person’s home. The artist, Dan Graham, didn’t ring a bell; the price, $100,000, made me laugh out loud. Who would pay that much money for this thing! It had no content, no beauty.

Which, I’ve since learned, is exactly the point of Minimalism. It’s not about expression or representation, but about the viewer’s relationship to the art-object.

Lately, I’ve been working with mirrors and have come around to studying Dan Graham’s work. He is interested in power and public versus private space (there is content, after all), so the corporate feel is probably intentional.

Conceptual art is often hard to “get”—the clues to content and context are hidden, so viewers often need to be armed with information to appreciate the art. When I first saw Graham’s work, I saw a content-less structure in the context designed for private sales. But I can appreciate this work now because I have more information about Minimalism, Conceptualism, Graham’s interests, and the ideal context, which is a public park, like his project with Dia:Beacon.

[I also don’t find the cost of the work so outrageous anymore. Here’s why:
• Galleries sometimes offer discounts to long-term collectors.
• The gallery (and there can be more than one) gets half.
• Graham gets the other half, to allot to his costs: labor (including architects, fabricators, engineers, designers), studio costs, health care, materials, assistants, etc. Shoppers are used to paying for corporation’s overhead costs, but sometimes approach products and services by individuals differently. For example, it might only cost $5 to manufacture a shirt, but that doesn’t deter shoppers from paying $50 for it.]

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