Josephine Meckseper, a German artist based in NYC, has been making photographs, sculptures, installations and videos critical of American military power and consumer culture. I had seen her famous Pyromaniac 2 photo before, but am finally spending more time with her vitrines of readymade objects and store-inspired displays.
I’m late in getting familiar with Meckseper’s work (it might have been useful for thinking through a 2010 show about 99¢ stores). But it’s just as well now, as I’m currently thinking about new projects that are off the wall, and Meckseper uses some inventive display strategies.
Art Production Fund and Meckseper recently teamed up for the Manhattan Oil Project, a monumental kinetic sculpture/intervention in Times Square, currently on view through May 6th at 46th Street and 8th Ave.
Meckseper is an anti-capitalist activist. At her recent talk at Sculpture Center, she cited the forms of sculpture that have inspired her, including the fall of monuments to great men, and the Berlin Wall. I liked something she said about working in social contexts, which I paraphrased in my notes as:
What are the oppositional voices in the neighborhood?
I was very inspired by Josiah McElheny‘s talk in the Public Art Fund’s lecture series at the New School.
I liked McElheny’s works, and appreciated learning about these stunning projects:
A beautiful installation at the Crystal Palace in Retiro Park in Madrid. Project with Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Visiting the Crystal Palace is going on my bucket list.
This is a really cool video installation using kaideoscopic imagery made with substrates of mirrors and wood. I’d love to see this and I’m looking forward to this show coming to Boston ICA this summer!
McElheny is pound-for-pound one of the most brilliant contemporary artists of our time. First, the craftsmanship of his handblown glass is impeccable. Second, he’s an artist’s artist, constantly experimenting and advancing art historical dialogues, such as with his remake of The Metal Party and the Light Club of Italia. Third, he’s a formidable intellect, whose contributions to Artforum are not an insignificant part of his practice. He said one of the things he enjoys as an artist is to generate new research, and one of his forthcoming multiples is a translation of Blanque’s “Eternity through the Stars: An Astronomical Hypothesis.” While this text has inspired Borges and other writers, it’s never been translated into English before, and McElheny is searching for a publisher.
He talked about
display as a sequence of events,
how ideas are expressed in objects.
On readymades, he expressed that
artists must transform an object because industrial production resists transformation. Readymades propose that consuming is art. It’s a dangerous idea that competing with the capacities of industrial production is difficult, and that artists can only react.
His opposition to Adolf Loos’ “Ornament and Crime” theory of modernism is based on his principle that
the desire to make a mark on the world and show you exist is universal.
I especially loved the way he phrased that urge:
To make a material mirror.
These are fundamental quandries for artists. For artists who are interested in the concepts embedded within the materials we use, and who want to make work that embodies, rather than illustrates, our ideas, it is an essential one.
During the Q&A, someone asked if McElheny saw his practice as a moral one. He equivocated away from making a personal statement, but did say:
The ethics of art are to create more permissive thinking—to generate more, and not less, thought.
I did see the interlocutor’s point, as McElheny stated his ambivalence about beauty. He said something about seeing how quickly beautiful things can turn ugly. It reminded me of Yi-Fu Tuan’s point in Passing Strange and Wonderful: Nature, Aesthetics and Culture (Island Press, 1993)—that for most of human history, beauty and goodness were synonymous, so the aesthetic carries a moral tint.
McElheny’s practice seems to be experiments in enacting or expressing moral principles through strategies of aesthetic production and display.