Impressions: Lygia Clark, Other Primary Structures, Mel Bochner, and more

Some notes on exhibitions at the MoMA and the Jewish Museum.

Driven by cabin fever (I’ve been cooped up in the home studio rendering video for three hot days) and hungry for inspiration, I met up with NM and visited the MoMA and the Jewish Museum of New York. The shows we attended were excellent. I couldn’t be happier with our selections.

Lygia Clark wearing Máscara abismo com tapa-olhos (Abyssal mask with eye-patch, 1968), a work made of fabric, elastic bands, a nylon bag, and a stone, in use. Courtesy Associação Cultural "O Mundo de Lygia Clark," Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Sergio Gerardo Zalis, 1986 // Source:

Lygia Clark wearing Máscara abismo com tapa-olhos (Abyssal mask with eye-patch, 1968), a work made of fabric, elastic bands, a nylon bag, and a stone, in use. Courtesy Associação Cultural “O Mundo de Lygia Clark,” Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Sergio Gerardo Zalis, 1986 // Source:

Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988
Museum of Modern Art 
Through August 24, 2014

  • The curatorial premise of the show is that the Brazilian artist started off as a Modernist painter of geometric abstraction, transitioned into making interactive sensorial objects, and finally left art to practice psychotherapy. (This seems unusual, as the default curatorial impulse is to historicize and affirm the importance of an artist within art history.)
  • The size, texture, and visuals of the early paintings reminded me of Constructivism. However, Clark expanded beyond the rectangle and engaged in a reflexive investigation. (NM and I wished to shape our own practices around questions more, as open-ended inquiries.)
  • A room of black and white, 2-D, Neo-Concretist compositions had a lot of energy—lots of visual tension and concision. I especially loved the wall text explaining how Neo-concretism differed from the Concretist aim to rid all external referents, acknowledging that (We are always embodied!):

“the work of art is a projection of the body”

  • The final room invites interaction with replicas of her iconic mirror goggles, and instructions for actions, including a surprisingly delightful Möbius strip activity. This is a rare participatory space in a museum that is completely authentic and appropriate. 
  • Clark met resistance in art and psychotherapy—as a wall text explained, “her work was an abyss, an absence pointing to open, unresolved questions in both disciplines.” (Art is presumed to take all kinds, but then why is it so uncomfortable when projects become too akin to other realms? I think Clark is totally underrated, and I hope the exhibition and substantial monograph act to remedy this.)
  • Installation notes: [Sometimes I wish I could turn this habit off, as it detracts from my experience of the art; on the other hand, I hope it hones my exhibition-making craft.] Most of the work is installed very high on the wall—I’m guessing on a 66″ centerline. I felt like I was craning my neck to look at the pictures. The last room, however, featured projections flush to the floor, so maybe the height was designed to emphasize Clark’s evolution to participation. 
Edgardo Antonio Vigo. Hazlo (Do it). 1970. Photo: David Horvitz // Source:

Edgardo Antonio Vigo. Hazlo (Do it). 1970. Photo: David Horvitz // Source:

The Unmaker of Objects: Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s Marginal Media
Museum of Modern Art
Through June 30, 2014
View the exhibition site.

“This exhibition celebrates the mail art, visual poetry, performative works, and publications of the Argentine artist Edgardo Antonio Vigo (1928–1997).” —MoMA site

  • Gorgeous typography. Much of the ephemera was beautifully produced letterpress or woodcut prints with custom cutout shapes. Hailing from the late 1960s, it was stylish, exuberant and not overly complicated. It wasn’t on fancy paper with a pronounced de-boss, or dream-of-the-1890s-hipster-baroque. It was tasteful and original. In my thinking about simple gestures and conceptual works, I tend to recall Stanley Brouwn’s scribbled scraps or Fluxus’ typewritten  instructions. However, elemental/conceptual gestures can be accompanied by killer graphic design, too.
  • One piece of paper, one cutout, two words = more than most art achieves.
  • Many of the works bore prompts or procedures. I’ve wanted to improve my atrophied Spanish skills, and this became one more reason.
  • Installation notes: Four vitrines in a mixed-use atrium. Not the most ideal venue, but the display inside was great. The ephemera was laid out on wool or some other non-woven fabric, and the grey texture contrasted the paper nicely, grounding it in everyday usage.
An unfortunately small thumbnail of an installation view of Other Primary Structures at The Jewish Museum, New York. Photo: David Heald/The Jewish Museum.  // Source:

An unfortunately small thumbnail of an installation view of Other Primary Structures at The Jewish Museum, New York. Photo: David Heald/The Jewish Museum. // Source:

Other Primary Structures
The Jewish Museum
Through August 3, 2014

  • Jens Hoffman, formerly of the Wattis Institute, restaged the seminal Minimalist exhibition with non-Western artists.
  • The physical space was challenging—ornate architecture, small rooms. But Hoffman bent the space to his will with his stylized, almost aggressive exhibition-making. Reproductions of the original exhibition loomed on billboard-sized temporary walls. They crowded the small spaces, and positioned the actual physical works in a more literal relationship to the original show.
  • There was a surprisingly great amount of tension in the show. The works were present, palpably.
  • The minature model of the original show, fabricated by Bay Area artist Andy Vogt, is a treat.
  • Museum notes: The Museum’s identity is being re-designed by Sagmeister…. Jon Sueda and Jens Hoffman were an unstoppable duo, IMHO. Also, the way the Upper East Side building had been selectively renovated as a contemporary museum reminded me of places like the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK. Being reminded of such history in physical spaces makes totally-white cubes seem boring.)
Mel Bochner, Going Out of Business, 2012, oil on velvet, 93 ½ × 70 ¼ in. (237. 5 x 178.4 cm). Private collection, New York. Artwork © Mel Bochner. // Site:

Mel Bochner, Going Out of Business, 2012, oil on velvet, 93 ½ × 70 ¼ in. (237. 5 x 178.4 cm). Private collection, New York. Artwork © Mel Bochner. // Site:

Mel Bochner: Strong Language
The Jewish Museum
Through September 21, 2014

  • I’ve been a huge Bochner fan since seeing his retrospective at Whitechapel.
  • This is another great exhibition. See it! Reproductions of Bochner’s text paintings do not do them justice!
  • Bochner’s exhibition reviews—including Primary Structures—dating back to the 1960s are also on view. It’s not often that artists’ critical writing practices are acknowledged alongside their gallery work.
  • Bochner has talked about his love of graph paper—numerous drawings attest to his usage of printed grids of all sorts as a medium for sketching and expanding the conceptual bounds of portraiture.
  • Installation note: In the final room, three subtle text paintings use interference paints (reflecting light in different colors), but it’s nearly impossible to tell they way they are installed.

Excellent venues, exhibitions, and curatorial vision are bountiful, if you know where to look, or find them with good luck and/or persistence.


Art & Development

Reasons to Get Excited

The art fairs are coming to NYC this week: Armory, Pulse*, Independent, VOLTA, Red Dot, Scope, ADAA, Fountain, and Verge [see’s Art Fair Google map] not to mention the slew of concurrent activity. But in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m missing out on the solo shows of some dear friends. These are people who work super hard and are finally getting their due. See what they’ve been toiling at.

March 12-April 9
Pablo Guardiola
Jet Travel

Reception: Saturday, March 12, 6-9pm.
Romer Young Gallery
1240 22nd Street, San Francisco
Gallery hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 6-9; Friday & Saturday, 11-5, and by appt7

March 4-April 1
Charlene Tan

Reception: Friday, March 4, 6:00-8:30pm
Ampersand International Arts
1001 Tennessee Street (at 20th. st.)
San Francisco, California 94107
Gallery hours: Thursdays and Fridays, noon-5pm, and by appointment

Details TBA: ~ April 1
Anthony Daniel Ryan

Lake Gallery, San Francisco

Plus, Weston Teruya has curated a show with some great artists…

March 11-April 23
On The Ground
Taha Belal, Gaye Chan, Sofia Cordova, Sergio De La Torre, Malak Helmy, Juan Luna-Avin, Jerome Reyes, Rene Yung

Reception: Friday, March 11, 2011, 7-9pm
Southern Exposure
3030 20th Street (@ Alabama)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12-6pm

I designed the poster… We were inspired by maps and blue lines.

On the Ground, Southern Exposure poster. Design: Christine Wong Yap.

Poster for Southern Exposure's exhibition, On the Ground. Design: Christine Wong Yap.

*Art in General‘s booth at Pulse to preview a new multiple by William Pope.L!

Art & Development

Points of Reference

Assorted sources of gratification, amusement, and inspiration.

Sol Lewitt at Dia:Beacon

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1085: Drawing Series-Composite, Part I-IV, #1-24, A+B, (detail), 1968/2003. Photo: Bill Jacobson.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1085: Drawing Series-Composite, Part I-IV, #1-24, A+B, (detail), 1968/2003. Photo: Bill Jacobson. Image Sources: Dia:Beacon

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1085: Drawing Series-Composite, Part I-IV, #1-24, A+B,, 1968/2003. Photo: Bill Jacobson.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1085: Drawing Series-Composite, Part I-IV, #1-24, A+B, (detail), 1968/2003. Photo: Bill Jacobson. Image Source: Dia:Beacon

Learn why this combo rocked my world in the previous post, “Good New for Art Lovers.”

Designer and happiness evangelicist Stephen Sagmeister’s TED talk videos

Graphic designer Sagmeister wants to promote happiness. He’s compiled some advice on living in an exuberantly designed book called “Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far.” In his TED talks, he presents his ideas in a very elemental, approachable style. At the risk of making a huge generalization, I found his demeanor self-possessed in a European way—dry wit and nonchalance just short of indifference. (It makes American enthusiasm—wide eyes, big smiles—seem like ostentatious over-sharing.) Presenting simple, innocent gestures with such unconcerned confidence can sometimes come off with a whiff of entitlement, but for all his success—which is evidently abundant—he is modest and gracious, always using the pronoun “we” to share the authorship of his work (but never naming names).

Anytime designers can break free from the conventional corporate path is great; Sagmeister’s direction—happiness—is an interesting choice.

Some of Sagmeister’s projects look like art. He makes installations, photographs and other creative gestures, often on his sabbaticals. Some of the appropriations of contemporary art techniques seem a bit apparent. At one point during his slide show, I winced, because a text made of shadows so recalled the work of Fred Eerdeckens. I haven’t got a problem with designers, or other artists, trying creative approaches that have been done before. It’s just that designers’ images aren’t held to the same critical standards that the works of contemporary artists—the creative risks are not the same. With Sagmeister’s office located in Chelsea, it’s safe to assume that he sees lots of art; a nice gesture, if he does borrow from what he sees, would be to collect art, rewarding those whose inspiration has enhanced your life (if not also your firm’s bottom line).

[On a related note, M is currently studying design that moves beyond visual style. I’m eager to see what he discovers. As designers generate content, and become authors and researchers, with what criteria should their work be judged?]

Designer Ed Fella charms and confuses young ‘uns with talk of photostats and Letraset at the Walker

Ed Fella is an interesting counterpart to hip Sagmeister. Fella, known for his handmade design work and typographic doodles, has a cult-like following among art and design students. His work is delightfully old-school. He’s also completely transparent about his appropriation of styles, and of the insignificance of the content of his work beyond the design community.

In his lecture at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, he’s got a kindly conversational style, both grandfatherly and professorial. With his quirky hoarding of images of vernacular signage, his pursuit of offbeat methods, his unapologetic borrowing of historical styles, and his insistence on making room for young designers, Fella is generous and forthright.

[Can I just say how great it is to be able to access museum lectures online? It’s a proper extension of museum’s purposes.]

Chris Duncan
Eye Against I
Baer Ridgeway Exhibitions, San Francisco

Chris Duncan, Eye Against I, installation view

Chris Duncan, Eye Against I, installation view. Source: Baer Ridgeway Exhibitions, San Francisco, CA.

Chris Duncant, Obstructed Image 14, 2010  Found paper and tape  14 x 20 inches

Chris Duncan, Obstructed Image #14, 2010, Found paper and tape, 14 x 20 inches. Source: Baer Ridgeway Exhibitions, San Francisco, CA.

This show manages to be sparse but massive. In encompassing and altering the gallery’s architecture, it brims with Duncan’s ambition. It places the viewer literally within his vision. The smaller works look brilliantly simple and expertly executed. I think the tape-out pieces are sublime.

Wish I could be in San Francisco to experience it firsthand.

Art & Development

Coffee cups, and military strategy

I am often told that my art work is about design, which surprises me. I rarely think about design as I’m making my work, and further, I couldn’t make work in a design-free vacuum. Design is the matrix of material forms in our lives. Typography is the very medium of visual-textual communication. As one would apply formal and conceptual considerations to materials, so too should typography be thoughtfully selected. Materials provide visual, textual, material content, as well as design meaning.

The importance of design ought be self-evident. This week, the New York Times provided positive and negative reminders to appreciate design.

“Leslie Buck, Designer of Iconic Coffee Cup, Dies at 87”
Margalit Fox, April 29, 2010

“We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint”
Elisabeth Bumiller,, April 26, 2010

Above: An epic fail of an infographic. (Unless the point was to convey “quagmire.”)

Art & Development

Spring Cleaning, Part 1: Dad’s Garage

Can I just say, my dad had a roto-tiller?
That he built a play structure out of a barrel, a 2×6, and an old rotor he pulled off of a car?
That when I as 8, he gave me and my sister a huge saw and had us cut down a small tree?

I took it for granted that dads have workbenches. Of course, this is a dwindling phenomenon in the U.S., squeezed out by manufactured obsolescence and injection-molded everything (even car motors are socked away from view when you lift a hood of a new car).

In the face of disposable, virtual culture, I’d like to share some photos of my dad’s workbench and tools, and raise a wrench to tinkerers worldwide.

Yup, that's a tofu carton.

Of course Dad built his own workbench. No fancy slides for his drawers. Just a scrap of door frame moulding and some nails do the job.

Knick-knack drawer!

Making use of architecture!

Filled to the rafters.

In my opinion, it was a bad idea to stop making tools in baby blue.


Machine caboodle!

More bits and bobs in a Danish-but-so-Chinese cookie tin. You know you're Asian when your breakaway boxcutter is pink.

These transparent handles are so iconic. If they're not part of a design museum collection, they should be.

Dad's drill is so old the forward/reverse switch is one of those square bobbers on the back side of the handle. It sounds like forks in a blender but still packs a hefty punch.

That's what you call graphic and industrial design. Note the drill is operated with a chuck key.

Art & Development, Community

first set of referents for 2010

Lacey Jane Roberts, Building it Up to Tear it Down, Southern Exposure
Lacey Jane Roberts, Building it Up to Tear it Down, Southern Exposure

Now through February 20, see three solo shows by Genevive Quick, Lacey Jane Roberts and Andy Vogt at Southern Exposure. Quick‘s optical devices constructed from paper and foamcore are phenomenal, pretty, and pretty phenomenal. I’m also looking forward to Mike Lai‘s one-night only performance on February 26. I honestly can’t remember being this excited for Chinese New Year because of art. Lion Dancers, a dance battle, giant fists! If there’s a new year’s cake (buttery mochi baked to a golden brown), I’m gonna freak out.

There’s a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak is on at the Contemporary Jewish Museum closes January 19. Unfortunately, I went on a weekend and could hardly see a thing. Sendak’s empathy towards children’s emotions and vulnerability, and his fantastic line, color and typography have always been dear to me. It’s a treat to see original drawings on tracing paper, quick dummy mock-ups of books, and photo-ready art — acetate line work over watercolor on paper. Overall, though, Sendak is a hugely prolific artist, and I would have liked to see much more space allotted to the exhibition, some attention to his lettering, and proper screening rooms for the videos. Three videos are online, but many more interviews with Sendak are only viewable on monitors in the gallery with single headsets.

A lot of arts presenters are creating quality interactive content, but very little of it seems to escape the gallery walls. The Tate Channel and partners working with are wonderful exceptions. Quality videos featuring artist’s projects and interviews are great resources for art students, and they help the public appreciate contemporary art.

The 75th anniversary exhibition at SFMOMA had a lot of “greatest hits.” Having visited the collection galleries before, I was familiar with many of the works on display. There were some nice surprises: a selection of very elegant modern typewriters and their wonderfully designed poster advertisements, a television show produced by the SFMOMA to help their early audiences appreciate modern art, photographs by Will Rogan documenting “public sculptures” such as a Sainsbury’s bag stuck in a fence, and the gallery on Bay Area Figuration — one of the few places you can see several of David Park’s drippy, barely figurative paintings.

Another pleasant surprise was Jennifer Sonderby’s gorgeous exhibition signage: neat columns of matte black vinyl text, set off from the gallery walls with subtle fields of Tuftesque flat cream. I often wonder why proven conventions in print design (such as columns no wider than 60 characters) are disregarded in exhibition signage. I’m starting to believe that anything less than great visual design in modern or contemporary museums is inexcusable. There’s just too much design talent and typographic sensitivity among mass audiences for graphic design to be compromised.

A less pleasant surprise was the decision to organize a few rooms to honor specific early donors. I get that many museums were founded by philanthropists whose embrace of modern art should be acknowledged, still, when I consider the 20th century, I can’t ignore that wealth and power was often consolidated with the aid of discriminatory gestalts. Art exhibitions are ideological. It may not always be explicit, but curating rooms to honor donors sure makes it apparent.

To date, only the second floor galleries were open. An exhibition of photographs is forthcoming. I’m looking forward to visiting prints by Larry Sultan.

I also had the chance to visit the ICA Boston recently. The building was stunning, so much so that the art inside sometimes paled in comparison.

Damián Ortega: Do It Yourself is a great overview of conceptual strategies: improvisational sculptures made of everyday materials, serializing and re-ordering mural-painted bricks to create chance compositions, photographic taxonomies of building materials, formal examinations of cubes. His installation of an exploded view of a VW Beetle did not disappoint. I was surprised by the striking experience of perception in three dimensions. I also adored an installation of nine looped 16-mm film projections of domino-effect bricks in various wild and semi-inhabited landscapes. But the show also illustrated the risk of making work that doesn’t seek to please: sometimes the sum is underwhelming.

ICA Collection: In the Making confounded me: I thought ICAs are ICAs because they are not museums/collecting institutions. It was also hit-or-miss: I thought a small-sized gallery neutered works by Cornelia Parker and Roni Horn, but the show redeemed itself with transcendent, ethereal installations by Tara Donovan.

I wanted to like Krzysztof Wodiczko’s …Out of Here: The Veteran’s Project, because it’s so rare for contemporary artists to address current political issues. But the installation, which simulated the experience of being in an Iraqi neighborhood that falls into a chaotic combat zone, was loud, cinematic, and manipulative. If its goal was to make me feel vulnerable, it succeeded. But the fact is, I wasn’t actually there; I was in a gallery on the Boston waterfront getting shaken up by digital animations, voice actors reading a script, and sound effect artists having a field day. It was heavy handed, and yet, no more meaningful or revelatory than a video game.

But R.H. Quaytman‘s thoughtful, cheeky exhibition of paintings blurred the lines between painting, printmaking, sculpture and installation. They called into question the narrative inherent in exhibition-making, modernist tropes, museum storage and display, optical effects, and surface treatments and materials. It might have been neurotic painting-about-painting, yet it resulted in a curious, thought-provoking experience that I didn’t wholly understand, but enjoyed nonetheless. Ironically (or perhaps predictably?) Quaytman’s exhibition is part of a series featuring emerging artists. The show gave me hope that there’s still more to explore in contemporary art.

The Survival Annex, shop within shoppe
At the Curiosity Shoppe, 855 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Grand opening just past, not sure how long exhibition/shop is on.

Front + Center: Weather Streams
Headlands Center for the Arts, Marin Headlands
Opening Sunday, January 17, 2-5pm
Thru Feb. 28

Ellen Harvey: The Room of Sublime Wallpaper (II)
Art Production Fund LAB
Wooster Street, NYC
Jan. 16 – Feb 20, 2010
Reception: Jan. 16, 5-7pm

Super Diversity – Who Participates Now?
Discussion on the phemomenon of ‘super diversity’ in the visual arts
INIVA, Rivington Place, London
Feb. 2, 2010, 6:30pm

Art & Development

Two Brothers named Design and Art

To be considered a “serious” artist, there’s pressure to downplay one’s non-art practices — even visual ones like graphic design. Art professionals need to distinguish between dabblers and lifers, but that shouldn’t be hard. It’s perplexing that this dissociation persists.

Consider art since 1960, and the typographic sensitivity of many Conceptualists.

on kawara, lawrence weiner, yoko ono, barbara kruger

So you think you are a typophile? Faces named below.

Consider how aspiring artists and designers learn. My early creative interests were unbounded — drawing horses and floorplans as a kid, making zine collages as a teenager, studying printmaking (AKA graphic arts) in college.

Further, my making skills — whether tinkering, bookmaking, or print and web design — enhance my art capacity, especially now that I’m making text-based installations and producing multiples. It seems obvious that design is a useful skill set for artists; fellow artists and art institutions need graphic design, too.

Good design conveys risk-taking and visual sophistication. For example, Stripe‘s print and signage design for the Wattis and Cinthia Wen’s/Design at Noon’s identity design for YBCA* are innovative, flat-out gorgeous assets.

So I’m excited to have the chance to bring my design skills to a contemporary art context. After a terrific experience creating new work for Southern Exposure‘s Bellwether exhibition, I was invited to design the poster for SoEx’s next show. The alternative arts organization has a history of working with award-winning designers like McFadden & Thorpe and Post Tool, so I earnestly accepted. The poster will be arriving in mailboxes and shop windows in the coming weeks. You can’t miss it.

In the meantime, worlds (art and killer typography) collide: Emigré is having a show at Gallery 16.

EMIGRE at Gallery 16
December 18 – January 29, 2010
Opening reception on Friday December 18 from 6 – 9pm

Emigre, Inc. is a digital type foundry in Berkeley, whose magazines were an inspiration since year zero B.M. (Before Macintosh). You can bet that there will be gorgeous posters, publications and, quite possibly, some hand-thrown pots. Because designers can be artists too.

An outro in the rock ballad of this blog post:

I’m not so idealistic as to pretend that there aren’t differences between being a graphic designer and being an artist. Last week when M, a workaholic early-bird designer, started staying up late to obsessively photograph his design portfolio, I told him that he’s becoming an artist. His response:


(*Disclosure: Occasionally I work at the Wattis and YBCA doing design/vinyl/preparator work.)

Avant Garde Medium, DIN Cond Bold, American Typewriter, Futura Bold Oblique