Impressions

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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Art & Development

points of reference, starting with the rückenfigur

Yesterday with ABC, I re-visited Glenn Ligon: America, the beautiful mid-career survey at the Whitney. It’s a stellar show, and I experienced anew this installation:

Glenn Ligon, Rückenfigur, 2009, neon, paint. Source: Whitney.org.

Glenn Ligon, Rückenfigur, 2009, neon, paint. Source: Whitney.org.

The word rückenfigur refers to portraits with figures looking at a landscape with one’s back to the viewer, as in the famous Caspar David Friedrich painting below. Rückenfigur is one of Ligon’s  masterful America neons, and it’s an elegant use of text, in title and in form. Ligon’s neon features individually-reversed letters; the word is clearly “America” at first glance, but it is not backwards, yet individual letters, like the “R” and “C,” clearly are. This causes an experience of uncertainty, of not comprehending what is plain before you, similar to trying to grasp the vast culture of the US.

Additionally, the sign is painted black on the back side; viewers see no soft glow on the wall, just hard linear neon, an effect that is extremely rare among this nearly ubiquitous type of sign. Listen to the audio guide that accompanies this work.

Caspar David Friedrich, The wanderer above the sea of fog, 1818, oil on canvas. Source: Wikipedia.org.

Caspar David Friedrich, The wanderer above the sea of fog, 1818, oil on canvas. Source: Wikipedia.org.

The rückenfigur also appears in Ligon’s self-portraits, installed as a series of five photographs rendered in screenprint on canvas. Of the five images, four are of the back of the artist’s head.

Glenn Ligon, Self-Portrait, 1996, screenprint ink and gesso on canvas. Collection of the artist  ©Glenn Ligon. Source: Whitney.org.

Glenn Ligon, Self-Portrait, 1996, screenprint ink and gesso on canvas. Collection of the artist ©Glenn Ligon. Source: Whitney.org.

ABC—always an inquisitive and passionate interlocutor—and I discussed these images. She guessed that they were gestures of turning towards a landscape of sorts. I surmised that the artist was giving us his back, refusing to be identified, pinned down, or boxed in, or perhaps, embracing or representing the anonymity or blankness of social perceptions. They seemed to be about ambivalence, or making the viewer project his or her own assumptions onto the image to me.

Ligon is an artist of remarkable subtlety; the exhibition tells a compelling story about an artist who expresses pointed political stances through others’ language. The show is gorgeously paced and installed; I even became fond of the Marcel Breuer-designed galleries, to which I was indifferent to (though I’ve always loved the lobby, with its grid of chandeliers with half-silvered bulbs). America continues through June 5 at the Whitney, then travels to LACMA in the fall of 2011 and to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in early 2012. Mark your calendars.

Claude Glass, Manufactured in England, 18th century. Source: V&A Museum website.

Claude Glass, Manufactured in England, 18th century. Source: V&A Museum website.

In thinking about the rückenfigur, and the negation of turning one’s back, I recalled the Claude glass, or black mirror, which I’ve blogged about before. The Claude glass is a pocket mirror of black glass that Romantic painters would use to restrict the tonal range of the landscape. To use the mirror, painters would turn their backs to the landscape and reflect the landscape in the glass. They’d paint the reflection, not the actual landscape.

Thanks to Google Images, I came across a series of beautiful photographs of a Claude glass in action by Carter Seddon. The site is under construction, but if these photos are any indication, I’d advise: Get it together; the pictures are good.

 Arcade Fire’s “Black Mirror” single comes to mind. View the arcane and lovely filmic video on YouTube.

Detail, untitled, 2008, site-specific window intervention: window film, gels, acetate

Late one night in 2008, I was installing Activist Imagination at Kearny Street Workshop. One of my projects required tinting a window with black film. After nightfall it was much easier to see my reflection than it was to see what I was doing. The Arcade Fire single came on, and my mood surged; I was overjoyed by the coincidence.

mirrorsblackportrait, 2011, mirrors, paint, frames, wire, motor, hardware; 112 x 21 x 21 in / 2.8 m x 0.5 x 0.5 m (site variable).

mirrorsblackportrait, 2011, mirrors, paint, frames, wire, motor, hardware; 112 x 21 x 21 in / 2.8 m x 0.5 x 0.5 m (site variable).

Memory and time…. Earlier today, I participated in the artist’s talk for The Black Portrait at Rush Arts Gallery in NYC. It’s an exhibition to which I contributed mirrorsblackportrait, a kinetic sculpture of two mirrors, one painted black on top, one painted black on bottom. During the talk, I mentioned the Claude glass, and the idea that suppressing perceptions might have the paradoxical effect of opening up a space for viewer’s experiences. Then, I had the good fortune of receiving kind and thoughtful feedback from other artists in the show. KO told me that as the sculpture turned, his mind stitched the memory of the lower reflection with the memory of the upper reflection. SS added that in revisiting a memory, it becomes strengthened. In this sense the work is also about time and recognition.

KO also mentioned a fascinating project of his involving flea markets, and how the lives of objects often outlast the lives of their owners. This reminded my of my favorite Daniel Spöerri quote, which is just as fresh and relevant to my practice now, as it was when I first read it five years ago:

We are all fetishists snared by the object…. The object is the vehicle of the affections… until they reach the flea markets of the world, where these objects continually pile up stripped of their magic and cut off from the memory of their history… All that remains of these preserves is the container the artists made for the time, the “can” the preserves came in…. The container will never interest me as much as the contained, but where would I pour my wine without a glass?—and it is in between these two poles of the inseparability of the two that my anxiety of finding a definite solution will oscillate, which could be interpreted positively as the desire for instability and change.

—Daniel Spoerri, The Mythological Travels, 1970.

To this, SS added her memories of going to the racetrack as a child. She recalls it as a site populated by outsiders, rife with belief in luck, superstitions and talismans. The idea of imbuing an object with magic or meaning carries over in to so much of what artists aspire to do.

Another attempt to refine a sensibility: CV recently pointed out that my work is not about optimism and pessimism per se, but that it’s about the moment of discovery. I think she meant that my work offers experiences that elicit responses, which highlight optimistic or pessimistic tendencies.

As my work has shifted towards happiness and sentiment, I’ve encountered skepticism—disbelief of my earnestness. And as a viewer, I am not always sympathetic to earnest works of art. Social practice gardening, for example, can seem a bit cutesy, and not very thought-provoking to me. So how could I expect or encourage viewers to take my earnestness at face value, and to not assume that sincerity is antipathetic towards criticality?

I recently posed two questions, and received two very good responses from friends. As I interpret it, AV answered in terms of what an artist or his/her work of art should exhibit to a viewer.

What makes earnestness beget curiosity and kindness?
AV: Genuine commitment.

What makes earnestness beget cynicism and ridicule?
AV: Naive idealism.

AR answered with what a viewer should bring to the work of art.

What makes earnestness beget curiosity and kindness?
AR: Courage.

What makes earnestness beget cynicism and ridicule?
AR: Fear.

Demonstrating genuine commitment in my inquiry seems like a more tangible goal than cultivating courage in viewers.

Whimsy, earnestness, sentiment and insignificance… On a somewhat related note, I recently came across Charlotte Taylor’s 2005 article in Frieze about whimsy. The article counterposes The Believer‘s intellectual whimsy against n+1. In the process, Taylor identified these observations:

…whimsy triumphs when the import of the apparently insignificant and the relevance of the random are discovered.

Like camp, intellectual whimsy is not best understood as ironic: it places a premium on unabashed sincerity while at the same time treading a fine line of self-parody. It often signals this self-parody by appropriating typographical and design conventions from the past… The provocative or unexpected becomes the precious….

For the editors of n+1 whimsy signals a dismaying lack of conviction and encourages the conspicuous squandering of energy on trivialities rather than issues of substance….

Wes Anderson’s films are whimsical because their unexpected juxtapositions are imbued with sentimental significance.

…whimsy values the ability to appreciate the aesthetic harmony possible among myriad incongruent objects. It draws attention to the act of perception and the sensibility of the perceiver. This is why intellectual whimsy can readily become grating—it invites you to be pleased by the innovations of another person’s taste.

Ironically, the style of these Points of Reference posts is to draw connections between seemingly incongruous ideas. Though I’m still sorting them out, I believe these points relate and that finding their similarities can be a productive exercise to advance my studio practice. I’ll leave you with a paraphrased quote, from today’s NYT video of friends pitching in to save one Alabama man’s house from flooding. As they built levees against a rising river, a friend expressed, without contradiction, his simultaneous feelings of futility and determination:

It may seem like a wasted effort. But it would not be for lack of effort.

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Art & Development

Frieze rocks

I love Frieze. I hope to attend the Frieze Art Fair one day. It’s exceptional because scholarship and artists’ projects are just as prominent as sales. The magazine is beautifully designed, well written, global yet succinct.

Here are even more reasons to be excited about contemporary art, courtesy of Frieze:

1. This cover.

Cover of the June-Aug 2010 issue of Frieze

2. Frieze Fair Podcasts
My two favorite art podcasts are recordings of art lectures from the Tate and from Frieze Art Fair. (Right now I’m working my way through Tate’s series of talks held in conjunction with their recent exhibition, Pop Life.)

3. Frieze Projects
Frieze produces commissioned projects at every fair, including a highly competitive, juried Cartier Award that is open to artists to apply. The 2010 awardees were just announced, and their projects sound fantastic.

Jeffrey Vallance is especially entertaining and delightfully disruptive.

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Art & Development

Zeitgeists, LA art, Mysteries

Frieze, January-February 2010. Source: Frieze.com.

Even critics who hate contemporary art reckon on [the zeitgeist]—it allows them to use a small handful of particularly loathed examples in order to damn an entire system.

Dan Fox, “Spirit Guide: The Many Uses o f the Zeitgeist,” Frieze, January-February 2010.

If I had a nickel for every time someone cited Damien Hirst’s diamond-covered skull as everything that’s wrong with contemporary art….

There are certain sectors of the art world that crave a useful social role for art. Other see art as an activity making important contributions to intellectual discourse. Many look to art for pleasure. And then there are those who appreciate all of this seriousness, but crave the trappings of the entertainment industry too—fame, power, money, glamour, hierarchies, cultural parochialism. One year the art world is interested in this, the next year it’s interested in that. It wants to party, it wants to be scholarly. Markets go up, markets go down. … Everything changes and nothing changes…

—Fox, cont.

Fox’s tone might be interpreted as weary, or maybe even cynical. But I like to think that this passage is the art critic’s equivalent of the maxim, This too shall pass. Chasing the next trend in contemporary art, and comiserating about contradictions in the art world’s collective behavior, isn’t worth the time. Paradox happens.

Glimpse a tiny peek at the massive (9×14′ and up) photographs in Andreas Gursky‘s new exhibition at Gagosian Beverly Hills in “Andreas Gursky makes a long-distance connection” by Suzanne Muchnic, LA Times (March 6, 2010). They’re really a sight to behold.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, rule of thumb. Source: LATimes.com

Check out another great LA Times art review—this one of Minimum Yields Maximum, a group exhibition curated by Gina Osterloh and written by Leah Ollman.

Laura Collins-Hughes inaugurates a new series on alternative arts spaces with a profile of the very artist-friendly non-profit Southern Exposure for ARTicles, the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program.

I had a great time at SoEx’s Monster Drawing Rally, and was really pleased with the result of my hour (OK, 70 minutes) of cutting and collaging. Photos are forthcoming.

Brice Bischoff, Bronson Caves, 2010

Brice Bischoff, Bronson Caves, 2010. Source: SoEx.org


Alchemy, SoEx’s next exhibition, looks like it’s gonna be killer. Curated by Sarah Smith, the artists include Ellen Babcock, Brice Bischoff, Michelle Blade, John Chiara, Randy Colosky, Adam Hathaway, Christopher Sicat, Lindsey White. I suspect there will be many nicely executed photographs about magic in the mundane, and some unabashedly transcendentalist paintings and works on paper. A few years ago, I found San Francisco’s glut of dreamy, semi-ironic, new-age-y paintings terribly insincere and pretentious in their faux-naïveté. I’m still averse to woo-woo-for-woo-woo’s-sake, and laziness regardless of how it’s stylized. Alchemy presents highly capable artists and I’m looking forward to this show. Maybe I’ve sipped the Kool-Aid and it tasted great…. Drink it all in at the opening, Friday, March 12, 7-9pm, concurrent with the opening of Alison Pebworth’s Beautiful Possibility.

Image: Michelle Blade. Source: basebasebase.com

Image: Michelle Blade. Source: basebasebase.com


…Along those same lines, Michelle Blade‘s work can exhibit an earnestness that is anachronistically un-ironic, but I really loved every minute of viewing Blow as Deep as You Want to Blow, her solo exhibition at Triple Base Gallery (through March 21). [Full disclosure: she’s a collaborator of mine; I constructed the lightbox in the show.] She’s turned her high attention to materials and craftsmanship towards transcendence, patterned rugs and metaphysical books. Deploying opalescent paints and vellum marked on both sides, she’s created physical experiences of radiance. It’s Romanticism for 2010. Go see it in person. The front room is great, and if the back room, filled with accomplished works on paper, is not enough, there’s even more works on paper spilling over in a portfolio on the flat files. Inspirational work ethic and spirit-informing content matter.

Perhaps that’s why mystery, now more than ever, has special meaning. Because it’s the anomaly, the glaring affirmation that the Age of Immediacy has a meaningful downside. Mystery demands that you stop and consider—or, at the very least, slow down and discover. It’s a challenge to get there yourself, on its terms, not yours….

The point is, we should never underestimate process. The experience of the doing really is everything. The ending should be the end of that experience, not the experience itself.

J.J. Abrams, “J.J. Abrams on the Magic of Mystery,” Wired Magazine, 17.05, April 20, 2009.

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