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.
This week I’m looking forward to:
Monday, April 9, 7PM
Subjective Histories of Sculpture: Josephine Meckseper
44-19 Purves St, Long Island City, Queens
Citing specific works, bodies of work, texts, or even personal anecdotes taken from inside and outside cultural production, and inside and outside art, these subjective, incomplete, partial, or otherwise eclectic histories question assumptions and propose alternative methods for understanding sculpture’s evolving strategies.
Wednesday, April 11, 6:30pm
Public Art Fund Talks at The New School: Josiah McElheny
The New School, John Tishman Auditorium
66 West 12th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues, NYC
McElheny is whip-smart and I expect nothing less than to be blown away.
Public Art Fund is pleased to present a talk by Josiah McElheny, an American artist whose multifaceted artistic practice has incorporated decorative and functional traditions of glass, as well as research, writing, and curating to explore materiality and its relationship to the ways in which we see and experience objects. Often using narratives inspired by the histories of art, design, and glass as points of departure, McElheny has created massive sculptures of shining chrome and transparent glass that layer myriad references as diverse as twentieth-century fashion, modernist design, sixteenth-century Italian painting, and even the Big Bang theory.
Opening: Friday, April 13, 6-8pm
Exhibition: April 13–June 23, 2012
Rob Carter: Faith in a Seed
Art in General
79 Walker Street (just off Canal and Broadway), NYC
I helped to build out this show, and I’m very excited to see how the installation and videos have come, quite literally, to life.
Faith in A Seed intertwines the languages of science and history into a living sculptural form. Rob Carter’s installation centers on the houses and gardens of three men of the 19th century. Miniature replicas of Charles Darwin’s Down House, Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden, and Sir John Bennet Lawes’ Rothamsted Manor are the centerpieces of a large-scale triangular garden.
Viewers are invited to witness Carter’s controlled but fragile ecosystem in three distinct ways: time-based video projections, peepholes cut into the sides of the garden, as well as from an elevated viewing platform.
Josiah McElheny is a great contemporary artist and thinker. His latest contribution to Artforum elegantly sums up some of my thoughts about art experiences; that art, too, is a visual as well as cognitive experience.
Surprisingly, though, [Josef Alber’s Interaction of Color] is not really a pedagogical treatise on the modernist use of color. Instead, it is an argument against color systems of all types: It proposes a practice of looking at and working with color that understands it to be constantly in flux. The reader, attentively going back and forth between text and image, is confronted by disturbingly mutable visual and cognitive experience, by the deep instability of color….
[Albers wrote:] “By giving up preference for harmony, we accept dissonance to be as desirable as consonance.”
…”[P]references and dislikes—as in life so with color—usually result from prejudices, from lack of experience and insight.”
…[Albers] argues that perception is contextual; he wants to encourage ‘thinking in situations.’ When he says that ‘interaction’ can be restated as ‘interdependence,’ he implies that what color is is defined by where, when, and how it is—otherwise it is relegated to the abstract, symbolic, theoretical….
In our active, physical engagement with [Alber’s color] tests, we are made aware of the slippery nature of looking—even identifying simple difference is fraught—an experience recalling Ludwig Wittgenstein’s language games.
—Josiah McElheny, “The Spectrum of Possibility.” Book review of Josef Alber’s Interaction of Color: New Complete Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Artforum. April 2010. p. 55.