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

Installation/text/light artists

Recently I stumbled upon a trove of online installation art. Many of the works were curious and conceptually-leaning. It was quite a surprise to find so many works that appealed to my sensibilities and interests in contemporary art.

This started a few days ago, when a photo of my installation, Dark into Light, was featured on ArtSlant Amsterdam, in a monthly section called ArtShow. Curiously, my work was in the Established/Blue Chip category, alongside work by artists like Nancy Spero and Marcel Broodthaers. I’m not being modest to say that I don’t belong in this classification, but I’m grateful for the inclusion for the simple fact that it drove me to poke around the site, and be introduced and re-familiarized with some really fantastic artists.

Below is a list of artists whose work resonated with me. I drew connections between these works, my past and future projects, and projects by my colleagues.


Allen Ruppersberg, Wallpaper from The New Five Foot Shelf, Dia Projects. Image source Dia Art Foundation Artists Web Projects
Allen Ruppersberg, Wallpaper from The New Five Foot Shelf, Dia Projects. Image source: Dia Art Foundation Artists Web Projects.

It can take me a while to warm to the work of certain text-based artists. Allen Ruppersberg is one example, though he is certifiably Blue Chip. I didn’t have a way (or maybe, a reason) to engage his work more fully, until I came recently across his Dia Art Foundation Artist’s Web Project (2004). There’s a lot to appeal to me:
–the exuberant typography and effervescent cheer of vintage musical scores (which relates to my Cheap & Cheerful explorations, but really, what hungry graphic designer wouldn’t love these?),
–interwoven found texts (see: Jonathan Lethem’s “The Ecstacy of Influence” in Harper’s Magazine for a great example of this form of conceptual writing),
–the instantly-recognizable Duchamp catalog I poured over in graduate school, and
–this sentence from the Introduction:

For an artist whose practice is centered around reading, to make available these texts is metaphorically equivalent to handing viewers the painter’s brush and palette and letting them loose in his studio

I love this for two reasons. First, my reading time — an essential part of my studio practice — seems perpetually vulnerable. To make it a central — rather than a desirable — aspect of one’s practice sounds brilliant. Second, I think it’s brave and interesting when artists allow the viewers a greater engagement.

The photos of Rupperberg’s office (available as downloadable wallpapers) are pretty great too — dense photographs that reward snooping, and it makes for a cheeky conceptual “desktop.”

Now I’m kicking myself for missing his recent show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.


Damian Ortega, Cosmic Thing, 2002. Image Source:
Damian Ortega, Cosmic Thing, 2002
Image Source:

I’ve admired Damián Ortega‘s work for some time now, so I’d love the chance to see “Damián Ortega: Do It Yourself,” a mid-career exhibition at the Boston ICA. On display is his famous exploded-view of a VW Beetle installation, “Cosmic Thing” (2002).

I’m also appreciating his Artist’s Page on White Cube’s website. The bio is really well-written. I find these passages especially concise and informative (as well as related to my current interest in consumer culture):

Damián Ortega’s work explores specific economic, aesthetic and cultural situations and in particular how regional culture affects commodity consumption.

He creates sculptures, installations, videos and actions inspired by a wide range of mundane objects, from golf balls and pick-axes to bricks, rubbish bins and even tortillas, all subjected to what has been described as Ortega’s characteristically “mischievous process of transformation and dysfunction”.

Germane facts about an idiosyncratic practice.

I’d better understand NYC-based Samara Golden‘s maximalist installations of found imagery, found objects and video if I could see them in person. In lieu of that, you can visit her webpage. The assemblages are so densely packed I don’t know where to start looking at them; it’s a sensation that some of my upcoming projects might create, and I’m ambivalent about it. Her use of found digital imagery mounted on foamcore recalls Stephanie Syjuco’s Greymarket project, and some of her stage/altar-like installations exhibit an unbridled psychedelia and desire to be living that remind me of Donna Huanca’s work. These are pretty feeble comparisons, I know, and if anything it drives home a point for me: found materials in large quantities are transformed in different ways than traditional art materials, which lend the idea of autonomy, and perhaps a more easily-attainable formal coherence.

Pittsburg- and NY-based Kim Beck’s Everything Must Go project utilizes cheap, ubiquitous fluorescent shop signs that have inspired many artists, myself included. I like how Beck describes their visual appeal:

these signs announce an amazing, momentous, but also catastrophic, clearance event.


Pipilloti Rist, Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters), 2008 Multichannel audio-video installation Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Frederick Charles, Image Source: Hauser &

I haven’t had the chance to experience Pipilotti Rist‘s immersive environments first-hand, so I examined the images of her work at Hauser & Wirth’s website. I noted the application of theatrical light sources (LED PAR cans!), the combination of massive projections or images and spaces with human-scaled furnishings or home interior elements, and an appealing sense of humanity/universalism. While her videos sometimes depict herself, the viewer experience seems central in her work; she seems to create environments for interaction and shared experience. The results are trippy, chill, of-the-moment, maybe a bit P.L.U.R., and very generous.

Martin Durazo, STOR, 04, Acuna Hansen Gallery. Image source:
Martin Durazo, STOR, 04, Acuna Hansen Gallery. Image source:

Kimberlee Koym-Murteira, Pulsation, Interactive Installation Video, Dimensions Vary, Modesto Junior College, Modesto, CA. Image Source:
Kimberlee Koym-Murteira, Pulsation, Interactive Installation Video, Dimensions Vary, Modesto Junior College, Modesto, CA. Image Source:

These works by LA-based Martin Durazo are pretty great too. Assemblages of recognizable mundane materials, color, light, making sculptures that are not static, and avoid that implacable sense of permanence. Only because they both make installations using light and colored water, I thought it would be neat to also look at Kimberlee Koym-Murteira’s work.

Jeremy Earhart, The Thin Ice of Modern Life, Installation Shot, 2008, acrylic sheeting, automotive paint, string, blacklights, dimensions variable. Image Source:
Jeremy Earhart, The Thin Ice of Modern Life, Installation Shot, 2008, acrylic sheeting, automotive paint, string, blacklights, dimensions variable. Image Source:

NYC-based Jeremy Earhart makes Plexiglas sculptures. He cuts, buffs and assembles tinted acrylic sheets, and exhibits them under full-spectrum or UV lights. He employs pop imagery and design strategies. The results are fitting for Vegas. Earhart is “a decorative painter” in the medium of Plexiglas.

I do like the medium of Plexiglas, and I think its kitsch value can be intelligently explored, however, Earhart takes the ambiguous stance (which many artists enjoy) of muddling the presence of content with significance of concept.

Beat Zoderer, installation at Art Basel Unlimited 2009. Image Source:
Beat Zoderer, installation at Art Basel Unlimited 2009. Image Source:

Beat Zoderer, Installation Art Basel Unlimited 2009 – Flying carpet. Image Source:

The Swiss sculptor and installation artist Beat Zoderer expresses color and form. I have a love-hate relationship with pure formalism, but in investigating optimism, I began thinking about making works that declare unwarranted exuberance. Zoderer’s installation at Art Basel Unlimited (2009) is breathlessly exuberant, and yet very formal. He placed a charmingly oversized ball of strips of color in a white cube. It’s whimsical, surprising and sweet. My visceral reaction to it is a sense of play; it is not unlike a play structure for children. I also enjoy the cheekiness of upsetting the viewing paradigm; like Tetsuo in the final scenes of Akira, the sculpture threatens to steamroll or absorb viewers and architecture indiscriminately. My critical reaction to Flying Carpet, however, is a sense of repulsion; it looks like inoffensive public art fitting for corporate business parks. When art selection committees believe that the role of public art is to beautify, you end up with public art like this. Civic landscape rick-rack.


I’d seen the work of Swiss interdisciplinary artist Olaf Breuning in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, but the experience did not stand out to me. At the time, I jotted in my notes, “self-indulgent.” Lo-fi drawing styles like his can be read as a slackness in craft that is hard to distinguish from laziness.

But I visited his website, which is loaded with Easter eggs, and his work and site are utterly charming. The insistent humor, the obsession with cartoonish figures/toys and a very cute, accessible aesthetic make for work that is not afraid to look “dumb.”

Olaf Breuning, The Apple, 2006. Image Source:
Olaf Breuning, The Apple, 2006. Image Source:

Olaf Breuning, Bread Vs Potato, 2006. Image source:
Olaf Breuning, Bread Vs Potato, 2006. Image source:

Bread vs Potato is a brilliant example of this. You take the visual similarity between rolls and potatoes, add scary red eyes and a marching formation and voilá, contemporary art. It’s so dumb and hilarious and interesting to look at you wish you thought if it yourself. Like so many mutterings in museums of modern art, I look at that and think I could make that.

But the fact is, I didn’t. I could put eyes on potatoes, but I didn’t think of it. I don’t have the brain that comes up with things like that, nor do I have the nerve to install a marching army of rolls and call it an example of my life’s work.

I think Toni Morrison wrote something about the inability to distinguish between courage and simply being tough. Similarly, I think to take creative risks, artists have to summon courage, resilience, persistence and recklessness, though viewers may only sense the latter.

You can see a large slide show of Olaf Breuning’s works on Beck’s Colorspace webzine. I especially like his Clouds (2008) piece consisting of rows of multi-colored smoke bombs, especially after my recent contribution to Color&Color, a new artist’s publication.