Travelogue, Impressions

Manchester and London Travelogue: Top Ten

I just returned from the UK, where Chinese Arts Centre invited me to install Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) in their new project space / pop-up shop. I had a fantastic trip, extended, at the last minute, by Hurricane Sandy.

I wish all those affected by the disaster a smooth, quick recovery. Cheers to first responders, volunteers, and everyday workers—like those at JFK who, by simply turning up to work despite hamstrung transportation, allow people like me to come home.

I spent a week installing the show and learning more about the art scene in Manchester. I also visited Liverpool, and spent six days in London. Here are my UK trip highlights.

#1 Being an artist.

Like most artists, the overlap between my practice and income is small, so increasing the amount of time I can be an artist is an ongoing process. That’s why the support of organizations like Chinese Arts Centre is so valuable—it scales up my work and exhibition opportunities. CAC shared their resources, space, talent, and time so that I could create and present my art. For that, I am unspeakably humbled and grateful.

I arrived a week ahead of the opening, and got to work right away prepping the newly remodeled space. I painted the walls and readied the space for Jon, the art technician, to help me mask and paint diagonal stripes. This exhibition design detail is important to me because it relates to a psychological study that found a correlation between upward movement and positive sentiment.

Chinese Arts Centre Curator Ying Kwok and Programme and Engagement Co-ordinator Liz Wewiora making selections.

The stripey blue wall awaits art, as CAC Curator Ying Kwok and Programme and Engagement Co-ordinator Liz Wewiora make the final selections.

Cheers to Jon, Gass, and Lee, whose technical assistance was tremendous, as was their patience with English-American differences in units of measurements, names of tools and materials, etc. (FYI, Americans: If I understand correctly, joint compound, spackle, and filler area all simply known as fillers. Drywall and Sheetrock are gibberish terms to Brits. Ironmongery means hardware. Paint isn’t latex, but emulsion.)

Vinyl posters in progress.

Vinyl Posters in progress.

I also made new site-specific works—two Vinyl Posters using ribbon, thread, transparent vinyl and acrylic. They’re inspired by supermarket’s oversized sale posters, which were ubiquitous in my childhood but seem less common today.

Vinyl Poster #1 & 2, 2012, vinyl, acrylic, ribbon, thread, 36 x 45 inches each.

Vinyl Poster #1 & 2, 2012, vinyl, acrylic, ribbon, thread, 36 x 45 inches each. View from the Thomas Street windows.

None of this would be possible without the vision of curator Ying Kwok, and the support of all of the staff. I’m especially grateful to the staff and volunteers for the lovely preview they hosted; I’m so honored to have been a part of it.

Opening reception of Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK on October 25, 2012.

Opening reception of Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors) at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK on October 25, 2012.

The exhibition continues through February 16, 2013. More info at CAC’s exhibition page.

#2: Transparent democracy and the merging of art and life in Manchester.

Mike Chavez-Dawson is an artist and curator, an impresario of the contemporary art scene in Manchester, among many other things. He told me about the idea of ‘transparent democracy’ and how it shapes his practices. His art and curatorial work are integrated into his life and vice versa, and woven into the fabric of Manchester, too. For example, in addition to curating a show of propositional work by David Shrigley at Cornerhouse (through Jan. 6), he worked with Shrigley to create Shrigley’s Anti-Psychotic Brain Bread at Bakerie (with beets and ginko).

David Shrigley's Anti-Psychotic Brain Bread at Bakerie, Northern Quarter, Manchester.

David Shrigley’s Anti-Psychotic Brain Bread at Bakerie, Northern Quarter, Manchester.

MCD’s the inaugural curator-in-residence at a cool new project space called Lionel Dobie. More on transparent democracy will be forthcoming in the form of MCD’s PhD and, surely, future exhibitions.

Drawing in the Sketch-O-Mat. Sitters drop a suggested donation of £1 for a 5-minute portrait.

Drawing in the Sketch-O-Mat at Cornerhouse. Sitters drop a suggested donation of £1 for a 5-minute portrait.

MCD also let me trade off drawing with him during his Sketch-O-Matic session. The Sketch-O-Matic is like a photo booth, except an artist sits inside and makes a drawing of your likeness. It’s a brilliant idea, and I’d love to see it franchised in other places. Situated at Cornerhouse, which is really an intersection of food, drink, art, and film, the booth attracted a really wide audience. I had a lot of fun doing a public project that still allowed the privacy of a tiny studio.

My Sketch-O-Matic drawing of Mike Chavez-Dawson.

My Sketch-O-Matic drawing of Mike Chavez-Dawson.

Mike Chavez-Dawson's Sketch-O-Matic drawing of me. It's with a digital collage of Noel Gallagher's face.

Mike Chavez-Dawson’s Sketch-O-Matic drawing of me. It’s with a digital collage of Noel Gallagher’s face.

(Plus, MCD invited David Byrne, who was in Manchester, to my preview. I’m a conceptualist, so the fact that the idea of my art has been thought, even for a millisecond, in that genius mind, is kind of an honor.)

#3 The Hospitality and Kindness of New Acquaintances and Old Friends

Huge thanks to Kate and Paul, muay thai buddy Mai and Danielle, and my Airbnb hosts. I’m so thankful for their hospitality in the days while I scrambled to re-schedule my flight home to NYC following Sandy.

Best sofa-surf ever: a view of the full moon from MW's sunroom.

Best sofa-surf ever: a view of the full moon (echoed by double glazing) from MW’s sunroom.

#4 The excellent curation of photography on in London right now.

Out of Focus: Photography 
Saatchi Gallery
Partially on through Nov. 4

Maybe one of the best shows of photography I’ve seen ever. Saatchi’s perfect galleries help. But also the amount of space given over to individual artist’s projects, so that viewers get thorough looks at significant bodies of work, is really key.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008, 2010, Archival pigment print on cotton rag paper mounted to plexiglass, 39 × 29 inches (99 × 74 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008, 2010, Archival pigment print on cotton rag paper mounted to plexiglass, 39 × 29 inches (99 × 74 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

Katy Grannan‘s portraits of people in Los Angeles and San Francisco are stunning for the character of the individuals, who express aspirations of glamour and rude realities simultaneously. Shot in unforgiving sunlight, printed large, and hung on a very low centerline, every wrinkle and scar is on display. After my initial disgust wore off (if there were two empty seats on a bus, and one of them was next to one of these characters, you might opt for the other seat), I got a sense of Grannan’s sense of  humanity for her subjects. It was a nice turn.

David Benjamin Sherry, Holy Holy Holy, 2009, traditional color print, 40 × 30 inches (102 × 76 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

David Benjamin Sherry, Holy Holy Holy, 2009, traditional color print, 40 × 30 inches (102 × 76 cm) // Source: Salon94.com.

David Benjamin Sherry‘s lovely landscapes in color tints are majestic and somehow right, despite the unearthly color shifts.

John Stezaker, Seat (Film Portrait Collage) III 2008 Collage 10.31 x 8.46 inches // Source: Petzel.com.

John Stezaker, Seat (Film Portrait Collage) III 2008 Collage 10.31 x 8.46 inches // Source: Petzel.com.

John Stezaker‘s collages of b/w head shots are compelling. They work, but it’s not clear why. We see two faces, then one, then two again. Other collages place non-portraits within portraits, yet the brain still seeks out facial features in the patterns. Even with dozens of photos on display, the ingeniousness doesn’t wear out.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin‘s reprints of archived material demonstrates a keen eye, penchant for acts of omission, and attraction to social violence.

Unfortunately, the show was only partially on view, as many of the galleries had been changed over for Karl Lagerfield’s The Little Black Jacket photo show. As KD said, with the oversized portraits of models and celebrities printed with a visible halftone pattern, “It’s basically like being inside a fashion magazine.” Another room, featuring huge multi-color prints on perspex, was blatantly Warholian. Yawn.

Also on at Saatchi, Prix Pictet’s exhibition, Power (ended October 28), featured works from twelve photographers, with some very strong selections.

Seduced By Art
National Gallery
Through Jan. 20

Ori Gersht, Blow Up #1, 2007, c-print mounted to acrulic 98 x 74 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches // Source: CRGgallery.com

Ori Gersht, Blow Up #1, 2007, c-print mounted to acrulic 98 x 74 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches // Source: CRGgallery.com

Seduced By Art exhibits traditional paintings alongside early and contemporary photographs that they inspired. It’s a beautifully installed exhibition, with tasteful black walls and spot lighting. The didactic texts were thankfully concise. There are a few works by photographers I recognized—Jeff Wall, Nan Goldin, Renee Dijkstra, Sam Taylor Wood—as well as many others new to me—Ori Gersht (awesome image of exploding flowers frozen with liquid nitrogen), and Helen Chadwick among others. I found it an enlightening exhibition whose premise seems obvious (unless you’re a whinging traditionalist), but whose execution is thoughtful.

Short and sweet, An Ode to Hill & Adamson is sure to charm. It’s a sped-up, making-of-a-photo video by Maisie Broadhead and Jack Cole, wherein a model and production crew re-stage a historical photo also on view in Seduced by Art. Watch it on Vimeo.

#5 The potent everydayness of the players of Tino Seghal’s show at Tate Modern.

I walked into the last night of Seghal’s show in the Tate’s Turbine Hall (closed Oct. 28) at just the right moment. There were clusters of people standing around. I stood among them and waited for something to happen. It was late, and already dark when I crossed Millenium Bridge to get here. I started to wonder if the performances had ended for the day.

Then, people started singing, en masse. People who I thought were the public were actually performers, while there where viewers like myself, and then members of the public just chitchatting. Soon the performers broke from their spots, and everyone began to disperse. As people passed me, I searched their faces for indications: Were they actor or viewer? It was a revelation—being in this situation created a change in me. I saw people differently; I saw their potential, and the possibilities for our interactions in a new way.

I observed as the ensemble walked in various formations, chanted statements, and made their way around the massive hall, while the lights went on and off at key junctures. I was attentive, but self-conscious, behaving in a way that says: I’m  respectful of your performance, staying quiet and out of the way. There were only the walls of Turbine Hall, yet I remained behind the psychological fourth wall of the theater. Then, after the ensemble  sang a composition from static positions, one of the activators walked straight up to me and, standing very closely and behaving as though we were very dear friends confiding in each other, she told me the story of her immigration and path towards finding confidence in herself. This was for an audience of one—me. I felt intensely honored to be engaged on this one-to-one level, with this larger exhibition, with this unique stranger who I might never meet again. It seemed to me a great act of generosity.

There was a statement, which I couldn’t quite remember, which seemed to be a central tenant of Seghal’s show, if not his entire purpose: that even in this technological age, the potential for humanity and human relations is great. In my words, it sounds trite, but it was enacted by such a moving, pitch-perfect ensemble that I felt like I was in a different place or time, like I was observing a super-race or our future selves, so unified and purposeful were the actions, despite the various ages and everyday appearances of the actors.

[Note: I did shoot many photos, but I decided not to include them here. These experiences and revelations are so much larger than what the work looks like; I can understand why Seghal doesn’t want his work photographed—it would reduce the gesture too much.]

#6 Painters of colorful texts. Two solo shows in London. 

Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes
Whitechapel Gallery
Through Dec. 30

Thank goodness for art capitals. I might have to go to London to see such an in-depth survey of a longtime New York conceptualist painter, but it’s a damn fine show and I’m glad someone organized it.

In the ground  floor galleries, Bochner’s concern with the basics—texts, numbers, shapes, color, blocks and grids—is illustrated with experimental works and installations.

In the upper galleries, viewers encounter works that trace refining conceptual and textual interests.

If the Color Changes #4 (1998) features a brilliant text from Wittgenstein’s “Remarks on Color” (1950-1):

One observes in order to see what one would not see if one did not observe.

I love this text—it fuels the patience necessary for looking at art. Also, the form and content jackknife beautifully: Bochner painted this text in offset layers, so that the interactions of color provide countless opportunities for observation.

Meditation on the Theorum of Pythagorus (1974) is a surprise—it’s a series of shards of colored glass arranged on the floor in rectangles and squares, with an empty space for a right triangle.

Mel Bochner, Amazing!, 2011 oil and acrylic on canvas, two panels.  Courtesy Peter Freeman // Source: nga.gov.

Mel Bochner, Amazing!, 2011 oil and acrylic on canvas, two panels. Courtesy Peter Freeman // Source: nga.gov.

Mel Bochner, Oh Well, 2010, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011 // Source: http://jumpsuitsandteleporters.com/

Mel Bochner, Oh Well, 2010, oil and acrylic on two canvases, 100 x 75 inches. Courtesy Peter Freeman Inc., New York © Mel Bochner 2011 // Source: http://jumpsuitsandteleporters.com/

Lastly, a gallery filled Bochner’s two signature styles. First, tidy lines of all-caps rounded sans serif texts, including thesaurus entries. I had much more engagement with the paintings than reproductions I’ve seen in the past. I especially resonated with a positive/negative pair, Oh Well and Amazing (both 2010) Second, colorful paintings that display their own dimensions, quite baffilingly, fill Whitechapel’s wall perfectly. I wonder if this conceptual piece is re-made for every institution that shows it? If so, it’s a brilliant, if time- and materials-intensive painting series.

Bob & Roberta Smith: The Art Party USA Comes to the UK
Hales Gallery
Through Nov. 17

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, exhibition view, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, exhibition view, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta Smith—a single artist that goes by the moniker of a duo—might be known primarily as a painter of signs, but there is much more (especially in contrast to the the nostalgic craft artifacts exhibited in art galleries by New Bohemian Signs-affiliated sign painters) to it. As this new show demonstrates, Bob and Roberta are even more political and topical now.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, detail.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, detail.

Join the Art Party appeals directly towards Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to restore art education in the UK. Bob and Roberta encourages audiences to appeal to Gove as well.

The exhibition exudes cheeriness. The walls are lined with cloth pennants and several paintings. Kooky, folk-arty, figurative sculptures fill the space. Bob and Roberta appear in a sweet, educational-style video outlining the platforms of the Art Party (it’s shot in a small wooden shed capriciously labeled as an institute for contemporary art by the artist). The video is presented on a mobile screen, and viewers are offered brightly colored molded plastic chairs for seating. It evokes a schoolroom, gently nudging adult viewers to recall the art that lined their childhood classroom walls.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta Smith, The Art Party USA Comes to the UK, 2012, Hales Gallery, London.

Bob and Roberta have a knack for stating truths simply: “All things are made,” he argues in the video in support of art education in UK schools. “Demand that all schools are art schools.”

The aesthetics and forms are endearing, optimistic, and winsome. It would be cloying but for the urgency of the message.

#7 Manchester’s growing contemporary art scene.

When I spent three months in Manchester in 2009, it seemed like a pretty good place to be an artist: cheap studio rent, active alternative and artist-run spaces, and vibrant activity via the universities. I was really inspired by artists’ mutual support.

This visit followed the Manchester Contemporary art fair weekend and coincided with the Free for Arts Festival. I also visited newer spaces Lionel Dobie Project and Malgras|Naudet.

Chris Kenny, Cultural Instructions, 2012, found text, scanned, enlarged, printed, mounted. On display in The First Cut at Manchester Art Gallery.

Chris Kenny, Cultural Instructions, 2012, found text, scanned, enlarged, printed, mounted. On display in The First Cut at Manchester Art Gallery. Through Jan. 27.

I sensed more energy; indeed, momentum. MCD estimated that there are many more practicing artists now. There were three shows at three venues exhibiting the work of recent graduates (Bachelor’s degree students). (I liked the title of one, So Far, So Good.) The question that occurred to me, as more artists work to gain access to more exhibition opportunities, is to what degree with the mutual support continue, or give way to an atmosphere of competition?

Corridor8 is a new publication exposing the art scene in the NW. Issue #3 includes fascinating interviews with local leaders such as Whitworth Art Gallery Director and Manchester Art Gallery Director Dr. Maria Balshaw. Those interviews lend insight on the direction of major institutions.

One thing that seems missing, however, is critical writing on all these shows happening in Manchester. A weekly column in a paper would be too centralized and limited. Something like Art Practical, with a large, distributed base of writers comprised of artists, critics, and curators, with editorial excellence, and a fixed schedule, could do a lot to document the art scene and create more rigorous dialogue. There are plenty of very, very bright minds who can provide artists and venues with a feedback loop. They just need the right platform.

#8 Fallowfield Loop.

A railway line converted into a running and bicycling path through the southern part of Greater Manchester. Cool, damp, green, quiet. A place to run for miles, away from the traffic that baffles this American.

#9 Cheap Eats.

Currency conversion = constant sticker shock. Cheers for healthy, reasonably priced bites: This and That curry in the Northern Quarter. Sainsbury’s bag of pre-washed raw veg: green beans, mange tout (snap peas) and broccoli. Onogiri from Wasabi. Thai Pie (green curry in a English pie) from the Manchester Market in Piccadilly.

#10 Turner, not the one you’d think.

I went to see the Turner Prize show a the Tate Britain, which had great drawings by Paul Noble, who continues his uncanny text/architecture drawings.

But the JMW Turner show had some pleasant surprises for me.

Color and Line: Turner’s Experiments
Tate Britain
Through Spring 2013

These interpretive rooms are educational, accessible, and not overly complicated with digital gee-gaws. In fact, there weren’t any screens. There were static (!) texts, charts and some electrical displays showing the physical properties of light á la the Exploratorium. There was a suite of amazing intaglio prints that examined how Turner’s color was interpreted by printers working in etching, aquatint, and mezzotint. Spend some time with these if you can.

There was a time line which elaborated paint colors with their years of invention, and a map that showed how Turner adjusted his palette for different sites. Finally, there was a series of drawing tables, where viewers can sketch a Turner image and display their drawing. It was a wonderfully low-tech educational exhibit.

Celmins Selects Turner
and
Artist Rooms: Vija Celmins

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Yellow Sky, circa 1820-30 // Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Yellow Sky, circa 1820-30 // Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/

There were two additional rooms that showed museological inventiveness: In the first, contemporary realist draughtsman Vija Celmins selected Turner’s sketches and underpaintings. It’s a really lovely, exceedingly elegant set of washes and expressions of light and weather that I think a lot of young artists would relate to today. In the second room are Celmins’ own works, always a treat in their mastery and unthinkable labor. Her drawings of starry skies are unbelievable.

Vija Celmins, Night Sky 3, 2002 // Source: NationalGalleries.org.

Vija Celmins, Night Sky 3, 2002, Aquatint with burnishing and drypoint on paper, 37.20 x 47.10 cm // Source: NationalGalleries.org.

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Community, Travelogue, Impressions

Points of Reference: West Coast

Some aesthetic impressions from a Portland-San Francisco tour:

Looking east up the Columbia River Gorge, from Crown Point in Oregon, USA. Author: Hux. // Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Looking east up the Columbia River Gorge, from Crown Point in Oregon, USA. Author: Hux. // Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Columbia River Gorge. The more I visit grand vistas, the more I understand Romanticism.

Landscape paintings don’t usually affect me—but imagine living in a crowded, dirty city in the Industrial age, then exploring such vast, stunning locales like the Columbia River Gorge, the Catskills, or the Lake District in the UK. Post-postcard, post-Ansel Adams, I might be desensitized to the images of these places, but I never fail to experience awe—smallness in light of something greater—when I visit these places. It seems natural to want to capture the grandeur and qualities of light, as much as preserve the environment for future generations. [Go Parks!]

Ryan Pierce. Preview image for New World Atlas of Weeds and Rags. // Source: ElizabethLeach.com.

Ryan Pierce. Preview image for New World Atlas of Weeds and Rags. // Source: ElizabethLeach.com.

Get excited:
Ryan Pierce: New World Atlas of Weeds and Rags
Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Portland, OR
Through June 23

Really happy to catch the solo show of my CCA MFA classmate. Ryan specializes in hard-edged, post-apocalyptic narrative painting over luminous Flashe washes. He constructed this show around weeds, with tight botanical renderings of thistles, milkweeds, etc., as well as giveaways of pesticide-resistant seeds. My favorite paintings were from a sequence featuring the sun and the moon. I sensed some Charles Burchfield-esque visionary heat.

Karl Blossfeldt, Adiantum pedatum, Maidenhair fern, young unfurling fronds, 12x. // Image source: PortlandArtMuseum.org. Caption source: karlblossfeldtphotos.com.

Karl Blossfeldt, Adiantum pedatum, Maidenhair fern, young unfurling fronds, 12x. // Image source: PortlandArtMuseum.org. Caption source: karlblossfeldtphotos.com.

Karl Blossfeldt’s New Objectivity photos of botanical geometry.
70 Years/70 Photographs
Portland Art Museum
Through September 9

My knowledge of photography is a bit anemic, but this means that I get to enjoy many discoveries in the repair process. Blossfeldt’s images were a delight. See more at karlblossfeldtphotos.com.

Portland Sewing

The short: Private lessons with Sharon Blair. Highly recommended.

The long: My sewing knowledge comprised making clothes for Puffy, my stuffed Crocker Spaniel, under the guidance of my mother. (Mom’s an excellent seamstress who made some of my favorite childhood dresses. She still uses a Montgomery Ward Singer dating from the late 1970s/early 1980s; to change stitches, she manually changes a baffling array of stamped metal gears.)

Remarkably, this experience, along with much experimentation, has girded me through sewn sculptures and ribbon projects over the past few years. In the same time though, I’d accumulated a battery of questions about fabrics and techniques. Sharon, the instructor, patiently answered them all. She has tons of industry experience, and started the lesson with a quick history of sewing machine manufacturers. <Tool nerd swoon>

I got a crash course in cutting and sewing, and practiced three of the six kinds of fell seams, which will be critical for an upcoming flag project.

The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco), Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop), 2012. // Source: StephanieSyjuco.com.

The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco), Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop), 2012. // Source: StephanieSyjuco.com.

The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco)
Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop)
Montalvo Project Space
Woodside, CA
Through July 20

Friends’ first collaboration. It’s good. Go see it, and bring cash!

Allison Smith, Fort Point Bunting, 2012. // Source: international-orange.org. Photo: Jan Stürmann.

Allison Smith, Fort Point Bunting, 2012. // Source: international-orange.org. Photo: Jan Stürmann.

International Orange
FOR-SITE Foundation
Fort Point
San Francisco
Through October 28

Really good show in an amazing site. Go! I went on a foggy, chilly Monday (no crowds) and it was lovely.

My favorite was Allison Smith‘s Fort Point Bunting. Each of the 75 swags is accompanied by quotes from servicewomen printed on linen and framed in waxed canvas cording. The narratives were empowering. While military intervention is fraught, this insight in the battle for equal access to combat is pretty thrilling.

Stephanie Syjuco‘s International Orange Commemorative Store (A Proposition) establishes a standard of finish and level of production that is sublime, and should have most artists quaking in our boots. Anadamavi Arnold‘s crepe paper gowns were magnificent. I read Kate PocrassAverage Magazine off-site, but found it to be the most entertaining and insightful look at the Golden Gate Bridge. I also loved Andy Freeberg‘s portraits of workers on the bridge, for the diverse, recognizable subjects, rarely-seen perspectives, and cool tools.

Fort Point’s history and vistas were great to explore. I enjoyed how the show engaged the site, so that viewers browsed historical/permanent displays in the course of visiting the exhibition. I expected a strong show due to the roster of international artists; I was pleased to find that the projects that resonated with me most form a collection of articulate, accomplished female artists.

Robert Kinmont: 8 Natural Handstands (detail), 1969/2009; nine black-and-white photographs; 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. each; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photo: Bill Orcutt. // Source: bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Robert Kinmont: 8 Natural Handstands (detail), 1969/2009; nine black-and-white photographs; 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. each; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photo: Bill Orcutt. // Source: bampfa.berkeley.edu.

State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970
Berkeley Art Museum
Through June 17

I’d heard rumors that this is the best show  many locals had seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I had only one hour, so I didn’t have the quiet mind required for uncovering the historical significance of the performance documentation and historical ephemera that ran through the show.

I loved that the show brought the major West Coast art initiative Pacific Standard Time up to Bay Area. Also, it’s not often you get to see an major survey exhibition about California art that doesn’t have a Los Angeles bias. I enjoyed learning more about seminal artists like Gary Beydler, William Leavitt, Bas Jan Ader, and Guy de Cointet (these de Cointet text drawings are fantastic, backgrounding Tauba Auerbach’s text paintings). It’s always nice to see Bruce Nauman‘s video pieces installed—here, Come Piece, two closed-circuit televisions with different halves of their lenses taped off.

The only thing that struck me negatively was the way that political art (works by artists of color and feminist artists) was the last thematic section. The architecture of the last room especially made the agit-prop David Hammons seem like an afterthought. I can’t pinpoint it, but I suspect that the early earth and performance work relates to a spiritual quest in merging art and life, and I intuit a bit of a woo-woo factor there, reinforced by the fact that my contemporaries who are especially fond of these artists tend to make transcendental works themselves.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill, 1996; painting; oil on canvas, 36 in. x 66 in. (91.44 cm x 167.64 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Ruth Nash Fund purchase; © Robert Bechtle  Source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/104616##ixzz1xQHskP3n  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. // Source: SFMOMA.org.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill, 1996; painting; oil on canvas, 36 in. x 66 in. (91.44 cm x 167.64 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Ruth Nash Fund purchase; © Robert Bechtle Source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/104616##ixzz1xQHskP3. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill (1996)
SFMOMA 

Bechtle is a perennial favorite of the SFMOMA’s, and mine too. This late, great painting—on view in the second floor galleries—is like five paintings in one. The JPG doesn’t do it justice. Bechtle’s understanding of reflected light and surfaces is phenomenal. This work was the highlight of my SFMOMA visit, along with Anthony Discenza’s The Effect in  the contemporary language art show, Descriptive Acts.

I expected that The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area and Parra: Weirded Out shows would be more extensive. In fact, the Fuller show has two huge wall graphics that leads to a room of fantastic, large screenprint posters and transparencies. That’s followed by a group show by local, contemporary designers that is so un-related visually that my companion and I assumed that we’d drifted into the permanent design exhibit. The Parra exhibit is a massive mural, that is lovely and loads of fun, but I would have loved to see some works on paper, to get a little more intimate with the person behind these famous graphics.

I also would have loved to see more of Mark Bradford‘s video and performance works, especially documentation of his intervention at the San Diego-Tijuana border, though those could have been in the Bradford show I just missed at YBCA. The extensive selection of Bradford’s collages helped me understand the depth of his innovation with the materials (posters and curling papers) and tools (rope and power sander).

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Community

Your chance to support a brilliant young photographer at a critical juncture

I met Gina Osterloh just before she moved away from San Francisco. So it’s only been through chance encounters, organized exchanges, and art opportunities in Los Angeles, Manila, New York, and recently, Woodstock, that I’ve had the pleasure of being impressed by her work and her intellect. She’s the real deal: a strong photographer with a compelling body of work and thoughtful ideas.

Gina is about to make a big leap—developing three new bodies of work in 2012. And if that’s not ambitious enough, the process will be in the public eye, when she sets up her photography studio in the non-profit LACE gallery, open to visitors.

In the past when sought contributions to fund new projects, I had to gather the nerve to ask. Knowing Gina’s humble demeanor, this is a big deal to create and commit to such an ambitious Kickstarter campaign. If you are able, show your support for this talented, hardworking artist.

Visit the Kickstarter campaign for Group Dynamics and Improper Light: new work by Gina Osterloh.

See more of Gina’s eerie photos.

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Research

Points of Reference

Lars Tunbjörk

LARS TUNBJÖRK, LAWYER'S OFFICE, NEW YORK, 1997, 20 X 24 inches, Edition of 12, C Print. Source: amadorgallery.com

This 1997 photo by Lars Tunbjörk is pretty great. It’s from his series on corporate offices. He’s got a great eye for narrative — the feeling you get is one of hygenic oppression, like Robert Longo’s indicting drawings of white collar workers. I really like the abstraction and sense of space in this picture, and the cheeky realization that it’s the most mundane of mundane things, a garbage bin.

I’m also pretty happy to discover invisible thread. It’s not really invisible, and it’s not really thread, if you think of finely wound fibers, because it’s thin monofilament. It worked great in hand-sewing and in my sewing machine. Brush up on your knot-tying skills with animated demos by Grog.

Small victories in procurement, the art activity I love to hate: For my recent sewing/craft projects, the fabric department at the big CVS (formerly Longs/Payless) in North Oakland has been great. A $4 Fiskers portable scissor sharpener (a sharpening stone in two blade guides at the perfect angle) proved its worth within a few minutes. For more specialist items, visit Discount Fabrics in West Berkeley.

Did I mention Calvin Tompkins yet? His profiles of contemporary artists in the New Yorker have been fascinating. Recent subjects include Julie Mehretu (read the abstract), Urs Fischer (read the abstract) and Bruce Nauman (read the abstract). I found the profile of Nauman most interesting, maybe because his career and work is so unconventional, and the expressions of his psyche so singular. The Fischer and Mehretu profiles operate on surface levels more often, but readers interested in the mechanics of art star careers will find them fascinating.

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