read: fine sentences

If I were a purveyor of fine sentences I would stock gems such as these.

In his post comparing jury duty to conceptual art, art critic Glen Helfand wrote on SFMOMA’s Open Space (“Justice Redux,” June 22, 2011):

Here’s my account of the case to which I was assigned: Ms. E drank something troubling, a crystal clear bottle of water with its Harrah’s label intact. It may have been standard transparent plastic, but was corrosive all the way down. She described burning up inside, but not as dramatically as her lawyer, who also relished, in words and sometimes pictures, the horrors of esophageal surgery….

What might be the real costs of a Drano cocktail, in PTSD dollars? It was as if there was a short circuit in my thinking patterns—all of a sudden, this was capital R real. Unlike forming a critical position on the Gertrude Stein exhibitions, our decision would have some measurable impact on someone’s life.

Lots of pleasing word-smithing here. The double duty of “capital”—both financial and figurative—is nice. Plus it’s nice to take the enterprise of criticism down a notch sometimes.

Though critics do articulate fine ideas too:

the seemingly infinite archive of world events produced by photography conflates surface appearance with psychological depth, iconicity with memory, publicity with history….

Eva Díaz paraphrasing critic Siegfried Kracauer in a review of Drawn from Photography at the Drawing Center, NYC (Artforum, Summer 2011). Díaz goes on:

Artists… hand-copy photographs and photo-based media, thereby lengthening the duration of the image’s production and, for the viewer, transforming perception by fastidiously rendering what once presented itself with glossy immediacy.

Also in Artforum, Catherine Wood previewed the Manchester International Festival and this summer’s iteration sounds equally high-brow and low-brow—and totally fun. Adding the MIF to my bucket list.

One more Artforum goodie*: Graham Bader considers Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes paintings. In doing so, he quotes David Joselit, who characterizes painting’s “reification trap” thusly:

maximum prestige with maximum convenience of display

which means, as Bader writes,

[painting] is inevitably and intimately linked to the commodity.

The Brushstroke paintings are Ben-Day dot paintings depicting painterly strokes. Very cheeky. They are funny and interesting because they’re quotations, and I can’t help but think about Jerry Saltz’ recent rant against tired postmodernism:

The beautiful, cerebral, ultimately content-free creations of art’s well-schooled young lions…

…many times over—too many times for comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic ­institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar. Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white archival footage, abstraction that’s supposed to be referencing other abstraction—it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all dead in the ­water. It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.

in his reaction to the Venice Biennale on Artnet. (Though he did like some things, including an installation by Argentinian Adrián Villar Rojas, who made a massive beached whale for Moby Dick at the Wattis in 2009. Congrats to AVR, and to his collaborator Alán Legal!)

The June 27th issue of the New Yorker is a good reminder of why I’m a subscriber. Rebecca Mead’s profile of Alice Walton, the Walmart heir opening a major museum in Arkansas, is quintessentially New Yorker. It’s about an individual of influence, yes, but the story is far from the stuffy Upper East Side. That I’ve yet to hear about this museum via typical art channels makes it even more intriguing. I’m also looking forward to reading Adam Gopnik’s essay on drawing. But in the meantime, Ian Frazier’s Talk of the Town contribution counterposes events in Harlem: a mostly-POC poetry reading and a mostly-white Socialist film screening. The description of the latter setting will ring a bell among radical buddies in Berkeley:

At a counter by the entry, racks of densely printed leaflets, the left’s traditional accessories, sat near new paperback editions of books by Leon Trotsky….

“O.K., everybody, can we all sit down…?” The last words were pronounced in the hopeful, rising tone that might be called the Leftist Exhortative….

The watchers in Freedom Hall roused themselves for a lusty booing and hissing of Dick Cheney when he came briefly into the frame….

…even the familiar pleasure of hating horrible things didn’t seem to buoy the Freedom Hall crowd. In the flickering dark, a palpable gloom.

Having been to a few gatherings like this myself, I found Gopnik’s humor winsome. The activists’ pessimism in the final couplet is too close for comfort. I suppose whatever inspired me to make the Activist Complaints drawings in 2007 still resonates with me.

*This issue of Artforum is called “Acting Out: The Ab-Ex Effect.” Talk about tired of Ab-Ex.

Art & Development

As Is transcript, Great Balloon Giveaway photos posted!

as is audience and panel

In case you were wondering:

What’s the role of pleasure in art?
How do you gauge sincerity?
Can Pop art transcend radical negative consumerist critique?

You might like to have a gander at the transcript of As Is: Pop & Complicity, the closing dialogue of my solo show, Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Sight School, featuring Glen Helfand, Patricia Maloney, and Ginger Wolfe-Suarez.

Some highlights:

The show is like an experiment; it’s a sincere embrace of different things that are supposed to make you happy. She’s taken a lot of objects that supposedly exude a lot of optimism to see what sort of effect they may have. I don’t think the sentiment in the objects is sincere, but the sentiment in her embrace of that possibility is. (Victoria Gannon)

The term that comes to mind in regards to Christine’s work is ‘added value.’ For example, learning what the Banner photographs are made of makes them more exciting to me. They’re cheesy gift bags that have been transformed. Even though they’re working in the language that the materials are intended to be about—the notion of the gift—they become something ghostly. There’s an added layer of what the artist can bring to the materials. (Glen Helfand)

Also, I’ve just posted some beautiful photographs of The Great Balloon Giveaway shot by Paul Kuroda. Here are some sneak peeks:

The site-specific public project and social sculpture took place at the Camron-Stanford House on Lake Merritt in Oakland a few weekends ago. It was part of a series of projects sited in historic Oakland architecture called Here and Now. A closing reception for Here and Now is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 26, 8-10pm at Mills Hall, which is also the last chance to see Elaine Buckholtz’ light installation! Prior to that, catch Floor Vahn’s audio installation at Pardee Home Museum.

Full details available at Mills Art Museum or Invisible Venue.


Junk Pirate Rocks

Yesterday, during a dialog at Sight School, Julia Hamilton mentioned the pleasure she found in familiar objects.

I experienced this delight, over and over, when I visited Junk Pirate, Pete Glover‘s solo show at The Compound Gallery. Glover works at a junk store (when he’s not co-directing Rowan Morrison Gallery with Narangkar Glover).

Over the years, he’s amassed an impressive collection of objects. He’s lovingly composed these objects into shadow boxes, picture frames and vitrines. The show is a collection of collections, filtered through an unabashed love of popular culture and humor. It’s like the garage sale of a fabulous window display artist.

Junk Pirate exhibition view, detail

The objects are nostalgic, curious, and insouciant. Some are truly visually arresting, particularly a composition of fluorescent orange water guns in a black shadow box. Art history buffs might enjoy a chuckle as they recall Claes Oldenburg’s Ray Gun Mfg. Co. in relation to this work.

Pete Glover's assemblage of orange water guns

A few works suggest glimmers of the transgressive or anti-social, such as a found photograph of a man with one eye, or a class photograph in which every kid’s portrait has an “x” drawn over it. But despite his participation in street/skate culture, Glover rarely indulges in cred-proving, candid “how effed is that” photos. His eye for the peculiar is more amusement-arcade than in-your-face.

In yesterday’s dialog, featured guest Glen Helfand suggested the idea of “added value.” That is, an artist might start with something cheap and through the investment of labor, creativity and display, the object gains value, both monetarily, visually, and perhaps psychologically. In contrast with the whimsy of oddities in Wunderkammers, Pete displays a fanboy’s attention to Complete Sets. This unabashed embrace of sentiment and nostalgic 80s amusements reveals itself in his devotion to tokens, cards, video game controllers and jokily branded popcorn bags. Kitsch, promotional collateral and residue of material life collide.

The show is largely about appropriation, popular memory, composition and display. Scented stickers, for example, are framed without glass to encourage interaction. The most successful works include vitrines of board game characters and “nipples” sorted by color. The results are graphic, striking, miniature and absorbing. These offer more to read, infer and return to.

What I love about Junk Pirate is that not all the cases are art. They are all clearly re-configurations of recognizable things. A few objects transcend their humble origins to become a dynamic hybrid of art/collections/decoration/keepsakes. In a brilliant stroke, Glover extended the gaming theme to the pricing of the works, so that a roll of a die determines the price to be paid. This reinforces the objects/collections non-art identities, and refers back to the chance in Glover’s procurement process of discovering and identifying treasures in mounds of detritus.

Junk Pirate is the Compound Gallery’s first show at its beautiful new location on 65th Street. The gallery is housed in a grand foyer complemented by lots of windows and two side bays: one holds a tiny gallery for drawings; the other houses Professor Squirrel Shop, an adorably appointed indie mart with properly twee décor and accessories for sale. Fittingly, Junk Pirate is sited perfectly between a commercial (albeit indie) venture, and an exhibit of fine art.

Art & Development

Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) Closing

Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) closed today with a closing reception and an open dialogue featuring guests curator and critic Glen Helfand and artist, writer and theorist Ginger Wolfe-Suarez. Writer and curator Patricia Maloney moderated a lively discussion on topics such as optimism and pessimism, pleasure in art, the search for happiness, beauty, Kant, viewers’ experiences, discount stores, metaphorical/literal readings vs phenomenological readings, readings vs experiences, and critical versus psychological readings of the work in the show. Work by artists such as Haim Steinbach, Allan McCollum, Cary Leibowitz, Amanda Ross-Ho and Stephanie Syjuco also came up. Numerous artists, critics and curators were in attendance.

I was honored to help convene such thoughtful guests and attendees. Hearing their responses, reservations and speculations about my work was especially humbling.

As Is: Pop & Complicity

Dialog at the closing reception to Irrational Exuberance, Asst. Colors at Sight School, Oakland, CA

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

Vicki Gannon poses a question, as Amanda Curreri, Frank Ebert, Matthew Rana and others look on.

Art & Development

Sat., June 12: As Is: Pop and Stuffhood, Dialogue and Closing

as is

Sight School presents
Closing reception for Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) art exhibition and dialog featuring Glen Helfand and Ginger Wolfe-Suarez
Moderated by Patricia Maloney
Saturday, June 12
2-4 pm

An open dialogue agitating notions about artists’ shops, pop art, complicity and metaphors

Glen Helfand is a freelance writer, critic, curator and teacher. His writing on art, culture, design and technology, often concentrating on works by Bay Area artists, has appeared in Artforum, Art on Paper, Salon, SFGate, Wired, San Francisco Bay Guardian, and many other publications.

Patricia Maloney is a curator and writer living and working in Berkeley, CA. In addition to her role as Editor-in-Chief for Art Practical, she works with the alternative exhibition space Ampersand International Arts, is a contributing writer to and a frequent commentator on the weekly contemporary art podcast Bad at Sports.

Ginger Wolfe-Suarez is an emerging sculptor, writer, and theorist whose work has used a combination of sculpture, ephemeral events, text, and performance to negotiate shifting concepts of memory–both historical, personal, imagined, and desired.

In conjunction with the closing reception for Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), on view May 14 – June 12, 2010, Wed-Sat, noon-5pm and by appointment.

Sight School
5651 San Pablo Ave (at Stanford Ave)
Oakland, CA

In preparation for the dialog, I’ve compiled a list of artists’ shops. One of my favorites:

Allan Ruppersburg, Als Cafe, 1969 Installation, 1913 West Sixth Street, Los Angeles, CA. Source: Air de Paris website, Artists, Allan Ruppersberg, Kunsthalle Dusseldorf page

Al’s Cafe, a diner re-imagined by Allan Ruppersberg in the 1960s in LA.

To give thanks where they’re due: I first approached Michelle to do a show because I was so inspired after visiting a series of “feral events” programmed by Kim Anno and friends in empty storefronts in Berkeley. The sense of potential that incredible, urgent art experiences could happen here was an irresistible, welcome alternative to the deference given to San Francisco/commercial galleries.

Thanks to Kim for the leadership and inspiration, Josh Churchill for the invitation, and Justin Limoges, Brian Barreto, Dana Hemenway, Suzanne Husky, Amanda Curreri and Michael Yap for the support, without whom Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) would not have been possible.


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

Art & Development

moments in Bay Area art-time


I really liked Kenneth Baker’s review of Kim Anno’s show at Patricia Sweetow Gallery (SF Gate, Sept. 26, 2009) — very concise writing about the work and the context of contemporary painting. How’s this for a tight lede:

New abstract painting arrives today in an interpretive hall of mirrors where quotation, pastiche and the cannibalizing of motifs by designers can instantly embarrass any claim to originality.

The review also mentions a show by stellar artists Walead Beshty, Patrick Hill and Karl Haendel at NOMA Gallery. I’ve been a fan of Haendel’s insanely detailed graphite realism since Glen Helfand’s Particulate Matter at Mills College Art Museum, and of Beshty’s since I saw his Fed-Ex’d glass cubes at the Whitney Biennial, so I regret missing the chance to see their work as well as Hill’s.

Another show I wish I saw was Ian McDonald and Conrad Meyers II at Queens Nails Annex. I totally loved Ian McDonald’s mixed media sculptures at Rena Bransten and YBCA’s Bay Area Now 5; in both exhibits he showed ceramics works that were functional yet their identities were somehow unhinged, with a lot of great material juxtapositions. His latest work about everyday objects and usability really resonates with my Pounds of Happiness project, but I just haven’t been able to make it over there…

Besides opening a show in LA last weekend, I’ve been logging hours at the studio…


…where I’ve been nerding out on behind-the-scenes art stuff, like:

1. Taking joy in the small things in life.

1. Taking joy in the small things in life.

I haven’t painted in ages, but that doesn’t mean that I no longer enjoy that brand-new brush buzz… This is my first-ever Purdy. It’s sharp as a razor, and it buoys my hope that craftsmanship can still exist within mass manufacturing.

Some things, though, don’t change: Wood stain, it turns out, smells exactly like the last time I used it, in junior high wood shop class. I’ve lost my printmaker’s tolerance for oil and solvent smells, but gosh, it’s satisfying to wipe down fresh stain and see the wood grain magically re-appear.

Lately, I keep thinking back to Mr. James’ shop class, and my dad’s garage, because those are the places where I learned most of my woodworking skills. I picked up a few things in college and grad school, and I’m picking up new skills quickly as a preparator. But the foundation is the same, and certain traits seem to show through. For example, in junior high I found the jigsaw and bandsaw least intimidating, and to this day I still use circular saws with extreme respect and caution. I also still appreciate my dad’s improvisational handyman approach — try to use what’s around, instead of running to the store for every little bit of hardware or new tool — and his good humor inherent in tinkering.

2. Building a big crate.

2. Building a big crate.

This crate, which has a detachable compartment, took about:
— 2 hours to design,
— 2.5 hours procure and unload the materials, and
— a solid day and a half to construct.
To move the crate, though, is gonna take three people and a truck.

(A recurring puzzle: Why do people think that artists just make art all day? When in fact, there’s so many other things that need to be done, like making crates, storing stuff properly, framing, writing, reading, research, procurement, bookkeeping, seeing art, talking to people, emails, etc. That’s why CARFAC Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le Front des artistes canadiens is so exceptional: it reflects an understanding that an artist’s work extends beyond studio work and exhibition installs. See their PDF guidelines for Professional Fees, which include admin and preparatory work, as distinct from baseline Exhibition Fees.)

This crate is for mirrorsblack, my newest sculpture, which will be unveiled at…

FUTURE / Art events I won’t miss:

Friday, October 16, 8–10 pm (Member’s Opening)
Saturday, October 17, 4–10 pm (Public Opening)
October 17–December 12, 2009 (exhibition)
Southern Exposure, 3030 20th Street, San Francisco
I stopped by SoEx’s new digs the other day and it’s all abuzz with activity. Their purpose-built gallery/office/classroom is brand spanking new. I can’t wait for the inaugural exhibition to launch. There’ll also be loads of activities and artist’s projects at the Public Grand Opening / Block Party, so hope to see you there.

Monday, October 5, 7:30 pm
Fred Tomaselli lecture
SF Art Institute
Tomaselli’s resin-cast mixed-media paintings are mind-bending. His works in MOCA’s Ecstacy show were trippy and hallucenagenic enough, but his more recent work at White Cube were completely stunning. He also seems like a down-to-earth kind of guy. I think his lecture will be great.

Thru December 12
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art
Though I helped to install this show, I didn’t get to spend much time looking at the work, especially the media works. I’d love to spend more time with the lovely paintings by Marcel Dzama, prints by Rockwell Kent, and the installation by Ellen Gallagher and Edger Cleijne. Also, I’ve heard high praise of the film by Peter Hutton.