Sights

Impressions: No More Place, Christopher Williams, and Robert Gober

Art, through a cold-induced fog.

Post-Eve Of… and pre-day-job-slam, I saw an artist-organized show in Newark, and subjected myself and GQ to the pain and pleasure of the MoMA. I have a cold that’s largely fueled by brainpower, so pardon if these impressions lean extra impressionistic.

Julie Nymann, Shreds of Laughter, 2014, 0:06:00, 9:16 HD, Vertical projection, stereo, wood shavings // Source: julienymann.com.

Julie Nymann, Shreds of Laughter, 2014, 0:06:00, 9:16 HD, Vertical projection, stereo, wood shavings // Source: julienymann.com.

Through 19, 2014
No More Place
93 Market Street, Newark, NJ
Gallery hours: M-F 1-5; Sat & Sun 3-6

No More Place is an artist-organized group show featuring 20 participants who met in the Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Artists in the Marketplace program. I made the trek to Newark to support my colleagues’ grassroots efforts,* and was impressed with several new works on view.

There’s lots of strong work displayed over two large, open floors. It ranges from painting, sculpture, video, installation, and photography, to site-specific wall drawings (notably, Margaret Inga Wiatrowski’s window project engaged Newark history, and she seemed to make a strong personal connection with passersby).

Some of the works that left the most lasting impressions on me were videos. Catherine Telford-Keogh’s video of an act of extreme intimacy—eyeball-to-eyeball contact—will haunt the squeamish. Tatiana Istomina’s edit of a film of a Ronald Reagan speech didn’t include any words by the former president. He’s shown pausing, sighing, and breathing. Yet the audience reactions sounded occasionally, at a slightly-above-comfortable volume. Compellingly, the absences became provocative.

Julie Nymann’s video installation, Shreds of Laughter (2014) was shot as a bird’s eye view of the artist hand-planing a wood panel, but the surface of the wood was replaced with a video portrait of the artist laughing (though it also seemed like crying at times). As she scraped, she obliterated her own image. The projection was in a stairwell covered in wood shavings. Viewing it offered time for reflection: Was she silencing the ego? Overcoming emotions? Facing mortality? Nymann’s technical proficiency as both a performance and video artist made it engaging, while the gesture’s poetry was satisfying.

Also mesmerizing were David Gregory Wallace’s 3-D animation using drone footage (it’s under the stairs; don’t miss it), and Brian Zegeer’s installation using macramé, bicycle tires, wallpaper, and audio. This latter work seemed the most successful in negotiating the second floor’s quirky architecture, specifically the angled mirrors chamfering the space—vestiges of once-ubiquitous retail surveillance preceding our security camera-studded present.

[*As in The Eve Of…, the artists had to change over a rough space, using time, money, and skills to make an exhibition out of an idea. I heard that Tasha Lewis took on much of the leadership and responsibility for the install. It’s challenging for one person to assume so much responsibility; but it’s also hard to know how groups of artists can distribute labor more evenly. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: how to step up and step back, and how groups of individuals equitably contribute.

I also enjoyed the chance to check out Newark’s art scene. It’s easy for New Yorkers to complain about the same old same-old; it’s harder to get off the beaten path. Crying about how you can’t see art at openings? Then make the extra effort to frequent spaces where you won’t be “seen” or “run in to” “people.”

The Newark scene seems anchored by Gallery Aferro, which made No More Place possible. In a cluster of galleries on one block, there were window interventions, a community-based art exhibition, and an exhibition of works examining queer African identity. One gallery was selling Newark-pride T-shirts, including an 80s retro overall print on a tiny crop top. It felt buoyant. Looks that sassy don’t just happen anywhere.]

Installation view of Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness, The Museum of Modern Art, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © The Museum of Modern Art, New York // Source: moma.org.

Installation view of Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness, The Museum of Modern Art, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar. © The Museum of Modern Art, New York // Source: moma.org.

Through November 2
Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness
MoMA

I don’t know much about Williams, but what I take away from this show is that he’s fearless. The list of things he’s not afraid of include:

  • boring subjects
  • a seemingly-random range of subjects
  • shooting in an almost-no-style style, reminiscent of any product shot ever
  • hanging things on a exaggeratedly low (48″?) centerline
  • showing only modest-sized (16×24″) prints in one’s MoMA retrospective
  • not pandering to audiences by:
    • evincing technique and craft
    • including didactic texts in the galleries
    • including a curatorial statement in the foyer
  • displaying what text there was inscrutably, running off walls like pages of RayGun Magazine, and set in McDonald’s-like yellow on red.

Indeed, it seemed like most visitors I saw didn’t “get” the Williams show—most were walking through too fast, like flicking pages in a waiting room magazine. Without wall labels to anchor the images in information, they hadn’t any signposts to orient themselves. Is that a fault of viewers or curators? Is it a sign of a poor experience, or an unusual challenge? Does everything have to be contextualized?

Robert Gober (American, born 1954). Untitled Leg. 1989–90. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair, 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheiser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober // Source: moma.org.

Robert Gober (American, born 1954). Untitled Leg. 1989–90. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair, 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheiser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober // Source: moma.org.

Through January 18, 2015
Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor
MoMA

The 2009 Charles Burchfield survey curated by Robert Gober blew me away, and made me re-consider this mysterious sculptor of sinks and white collar, White guy legs. Rumors of installation feats were also going around the art handler gossip mill, so I was really looking forward to this retrospective. It exceeded my expectations.

Yes, there are sinks.

They are made of wood, wire mesh, plaster, and paint. When I’ve seen them before, they looked like regular old sinks. But maybe because I am a bit more familiar with the laboriousness of actually sculpting something, or maybe because the lighting’s better, or maybe because I looked harder, the handmade-ness of these works came through better.

Yes, there are legs.

They stick out of walls, wear leather dress shoes, long grey socks, and slacks. They also wear tennis shoes and no pants. They also are burrowed out with drains, or project candles. They get whiter and whiter until they seem no longer attempt to simulate flesh tones. They evolve to include children’s legs, taking a hyperrealist-surrealist gesture further into nightmarish territories.

And, there are prints.

But they look like scraps of paper: ads, clippings, receipts. And yet they are intaglio prints, wood engravings, and unbelievably, potato prints. The absurdist rendering of one disposable thing in a labor-intensive fine art medium reminded me of works I wanted to make in grad school, which I had neither the mastery nor patience to see through.

And there was much more.

Many rooms were completely wallpapered in custom prints. Some were fun, some were trippy. There was a church-like installation, with two similar but significantly different peephole-like views. There were two rooms generously dedicated to showing other artists (no artist is an island). There were oddly rough sketches and wacky oil paintings that were strange to square against such precise realism and craftsmanship. There was, in fact, an installation feat worthy of even jaded art handlers’ gushing, and though most people had an “Oh, cool!” reaction, they missed crucial elements seen from only one view.

Throughout, Gober seems to be saying, “Look again!” Yet there were times when I also thought about Felix Gonzales-Torres, Tom Friedman, and Marcel Duchamp. The verdict? Definitely worth a visit. Be prepared to be both unnerved and amazed.

Exhibition design challenge: Compare and contrast the use of labels in the Williams show (where they were absent) and Gober show (they were informative, revealing disguised techniques and media, and ultimately, more understanding of Gober’s craft and interests). 

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Impressions

Ecstatic Alphabet/Heap of Langauge and Tom Sachs

I am really blessed to live in NYC, as well as have days like today, when I can sample from some of its bounty.

Just as I was finishing up work early, a friend emailed to remind me about Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Langauge at MoMA, a survey of text-based art. A very well-edited selection of 20th c. works on paper and printed works are on view, followed by a larger gallery with bigger projects by contemporary artists.

Among the first half-dozen works viewers will encounter are:

I was hooked. My favorite discoveries in the modern section were:

Marcel Broodthaers. Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard. 1969. // Source: moma.org.

Marcel Broodthaers. Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. 1969. // Source: moma.org.

Marcel Broodthaers‘ version of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coupe de Dés…” Simple redaction rectangles on translucent vellum. Hints of what will come, and what has past, is visible. The book is time, and the open spread the present moment. It’s such a simple idea, but so well executed, that its elegance is quite profound. Being moved by simple gestures is always welcome.

Carl Andre‘s now now (1967). I have mixed feelings about Andre, but the textual/typographic gesture was so simple, yet so evocative of objects in space, that I really had a durational experience, to my surprise. (See it on page 2 of this exhibition PDF.)

There were many more works I enjoyed by Henri Chopin and Christopher Knowles. Of course, it’s really amazing and cool that Robert Smithson‘s Heap of Language is on view.

The contemporary gallery provided a nice opportunity to see Shannon Ebner‘s large photos of landscape interventions, as well as Tauba Auerbach‘s paintings.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas (Volume 1), 2011, Digital offset printing on mohawk superfine paper, 3200 pages, linen, binder's board, acrylic paint Measurements for closed book Binding: Daniel E. Kelm and Leah H. Purcell at the Wide Awake Garage in Easthampton, USA Edition of 3 / SOTA/S 2011-036/1. // Source: StandardOslo.no.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas (Volume 1), 2011, Digital offset printing on mohawk superfine paper, 3200 pages, linen, binder’s board, acrylic paint Measurements for closed book Binding: Daniel E. Kelm and Leah H. Purcell at the Wide Awake Garage in Easthampton, USA Edition of 3 / SOTA/S 2011-036/1. // Source: StandardOslo.no.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011). // Source: Rhizome.org.

Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011). // Source: Rhizome.org.

Most of all, Auerbach’s recent RGB Colorspace Atlas series was ingenious and visually lush. They’re books—blank, hardbound, filled with pages so that it forms a perfect cube. Then, it’s airbrushed to create an RGB colorspace. Six examples are on view—three closed, three open—and they’re breathtakingly beautiful.

Paul Elliman. My Typographies (2). 1994 Paul Elliman (British, b. 1961). My Typographies (2). 1994. Photogram, 11 x 14" (27.9 x 35.6 cm) Courtesy the artist. © Paul Elliman. // Source: moma.org.

Paul Elliman. My Typographies (2). 1994 Paul Elliman (British, b. 1961). My Typographies (2). 1994. Photogram, 11 x 14″ (27.9 x 35.6 cm) Courtesy the artist. © Paul Elliman. // Source: moma.org.

I also appreciated getting to know the work of Paul Elliman (British, b. 1961), whose Found Fount series is a series of typologies of odds and ends. (Fount/Foundry/Font, get it?) The objects are on view, but the photograms are also very enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I decided to switch directions in the studio and give text-based art a rest to see what would happen to my work. I was afraid that working with text might be too easy or formulaic, and result in art that is too quick a read. Ecstatic Alphabets/Heap of Language reminded me of the joy of elegant solutions—textual or not—and my love of the printed page.

The crowds were in full force for Free Fridays at MoMA, rewarding persistence and patience. About a mile uptown, I visited Tom Sachs’ Space Program: Mars, organized by Park Avenue Armory and Creative Time.

Tom Sachs. Creative Time/Park Avenue Armory. Source: CreativeTime.org.

Tom Sachs. Creative Time/Park Avenue Armory. Source: CreativeTime.org.

Tom Sach's Space Program: Mars. Source: Park Avenue Armory newsletter.

Tom Sach’s Space Program: Mars. Source: Park Avenue Armory newsletter.

It was my first visit to the Armory. I knew that art and antique fairs are held there, so I understood that it is a huge space. Still, nothing quite prepared me for turning the corner of the sole freestanding wall in the Armory, and seeing the expanse of space populated by precisely-lit installations/stage sets as well as various artist-made (or artist’s studio-made) space vehicles.

The show was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I found myself at a loss for words. I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone, so I’ll leave you with the fragment M shared with me: “It’s so earnest.” The exhibition continues through June 17. I recommend attending a public program, such as the Demonstrations. And allow lots of time.

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