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 ArtBabble.org 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.

Curious:
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

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Art & Development, Sights

so much easier to love…

I came across some snippets of snipes on NYMag.com, wherein two of NYC macho-garde chefs rain rants across the land. It’s hilarious, and it made me wish that there was an equivalently funny bullshit-calling in the art world.

But, there isn’t that much that I hate in art. Hate is a strong word. Maybe I’m just not grouchy enough. Plus, there are loads of things right now that I love, or at least, expect to really, really like:

Maurice Sendak at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
In my college years, I spent hours studying the illustrator’s line and hand lettering. In The Night Kitchen remains one of my all-time favorite illustrated books. We may take for granted the grief and pathos in children’s fables thanks to Pixar, but I think Sendak, along with Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein, bridged a tradition of making children’s stories that are more psychologically powerful and ambiguous than the sanitized moralism of fairy tales and Disney.

Charley Harper at Altman Siegal Gallery
Sooner or later, every designer (myself included) borrows from modernist geometry and late 20th century decoration, but the illustrator Charley Harper was the real deal. I’m looking forward to checking out this show of illustrations from Harper’s estate in person, and spying on his paintings on canvas. It naturally follows that for hard-edged, patterned, geometric abstraction would evolve in Adobe Illustrator, but it’s destined to result in hollow imitations without illustrators’ keen eyes.

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Black Mirrors

Some of my fellow CCA post-grads share an interest in black mirrors. For example, I learned of the Claude glass from Elizabeth Mooney last year. Recently, Bessma Khalaf created a black mirror for a video. The object and video appear in You’re Not There, Khalaf’s current solo show at Steven Wolf Gallery. The exhibition is sometimes funny and often disturbing. Bessma’s style might be described as no holds barred; You’re Not There trades in creepy, powerful experiences that are hard to shake, the visceral discomfort reminds me of Bruce Nauman’s work.

My project for SoEx’s Bellwether, incidentally, is called mirrorsblack. I’ve been literalizing the idea of putting viewers into my work for some time, but this new sculpture also attempts to literalize the dissolution of self as well. So it’s a pleasure to read about the latest massive installation in the Tate Modern‘s Turbine Hall: what it amounts to be is a black hole of visual perception: Miroslaw Balka’s giant, pitch black chamber. So often I think people go into museums expecting only visual pleasure, I love the idea of turning this expectation on its head, and putting nothingness — or, perhaps more accurately, non-visual experience or the vision of darkness — at the fore.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Exercises in Seeing, a show curated by Matthew Post at Queen’s Nails Annex coming up in November. It’s a one-night exhibition in which the gallery will be completely dark. The question of where the art is will be literalized, and again, experience will be emphasized over visuality. I’ll post more details as I hear of them.

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