Art & Development

Katharina Grosse on Impermanance

Valuing vs. being indifferent to permanence.

Katharina Grosse’s Public Art Fund artist’s talk at New School last night was inspiring. Her large scale, site-specific spray paintings were a revelation to me. I enjoyed how she constructed her talk from a studio perspective, revealing how the questions she asked herself led her to new questions and techniques in subsequent works. Her practice seemed experimental, and her thinking fearless.

Frustrated with the NYC’s market orientation, and its emphasis on permanence as a way to protect artworks’ commodity values, I asked Grosse about how impermanence shapes her work. She said she doesn’t think about it. She is most excited about making the work, rather than looking at the work. Before she moved on to a new question, she added that thinking about permanence may hinder one’s studio development.

Maybe I have been privileging permanence. When I look at recent projects, I have been making art objects that are easily shipped and exhibited. It’s been a matter of logistics and productivity—my capacity is such that I feel the need to take opportunities even when I have limited time and budget, and having works ready to ship makes that more feasible. At the same time, maybe to some extent I am limiting myself with values and conventions of the art world that are not my own.

I admire how Grosse is simultaneously unpretentious and confident about her practice: there seems to be no gap between this is what I’m interested in, and this is what I’m going to do. It’s an unrestrained way of working. I wondered how my art would grow or change if I had 5% more of this fearless quality. Or, what might my work look like if I spent a year making only temporary, ephemeral projects?

 

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Artists

Iran do Espírito Santo’s Poetics

Iran do Espírito Santo, Water Glass 2, 2008, crystal, edition 23/25, 14 x 8.5 x 8.5 cm. // Source: Ingleby Gallery, inglebygallery.com. If you're ever not sure what to get me for my birthday, well, this would be nice.

Iran do Espírito Santo, Water Glass 2, 2008, crystal, edition 23/25, 14 x 8.5 x 8.5 cm. // Source: Ingleby Gallery, inglebygallery.com. If you’re ever not sure what to get me for my birthday, look no further.

Tonight’s artist talk by Iran do Espírito Santo, a Brazilian sculptor and installation artist, energized me. It was part of the Public Art Fund’s excellent series of talks at the New School’s Vera List Center.

Santo constructed a slide lecture that began with a sequence of formally related artworks—a room with circular cutouts, followed by a plaster block with Swiss cheese holes dug out with coins from different currencies, followed by an installation of plaster hemispheres on gallery walls. From there, Santo showed site-specific wall paintings that referred back to the existing architecture, such as floor-to-ceiling brick pattern painted inside SFMOMA in 1997 referring to the brick façade outside. He showed “folding” glass plate installations, wall paintings of gradations of grey, and solid sculptures based on specific forms, such as tin cans, pint glasses, and lamps. 

IRAN do ESPÍRITO SANTO SWITCH, 2012 latex paint on wall dimensions variable unique // Source: Sean Kelly Gallery, skny.com.

IRAN do ESPÍRITO SANTO
SWITCH, 2012
latex paint on wall
dimensions variable
unique // Source: Sean Kelly Gallery, skny.com.

Santo delivered his talk in a matter-of-fact way: In this project I did this, this site was that. He didn’t get into what he was thinking or trying to do. At first, I wanted to hear more—to ask what Jon and Anna from Eastport asked me, because they wanted to ask all artists:

Why do artists make art?

I wanted to know why Santo made what he made.

As the images continued, however, the question seemed less pressing. Though Santo worked in many media, they all seemed to make sense as a body of work. There was a coherence of sensibility and thought to them, even if I couldn’t spell it out how or why.

I still tried to find a logic or connecting thread to them, and here’s what I formulated: Santo’s work is rarely representational but often mimetic (having a referent), while some of his work, such as the gradient paintings, aren’t mimetic. They are about perceptual experiences. What these divergent works shared is open-endedness, a need to be interpreted or looked at, which seemed to suggest generosity or consideration of the viewer.

Santo spoke beautifully about his concern for the viewer. He explained that he (I’m paraphrasing)

envisions his work operating cinematically, because as viewers, we are moving cameras.

I love this idea, because I think a lot about how the aesthetic experience unfolds over time, and how looking is a process that at times is simultaneous and at times sequential.

He also said something like

how the viewer accesses the work is part of the works’ poetics.

That’s a fantastic and fascinating choice of words. I am excited to continue to consider the idea of poetics in terms of art, mulling over theories of how things take an effect on viewers, in Santo’s art, and my own.

A few more insights I learned tonight are below. If you already like Santo’s work, you can skip this paragraph. The following info will not better equip you in your encounter with the work, as you already have what you need. Read on, however, if you’ve yet to be won over.

While I don’t want to conflate the artist with the art for oeuvres like this, more facts about Santo help contextualize his work. First, he has a background in photography, which he discussed during the Q&A when someone asked about the tension between the Platonic ideal and the found. (This is an uncommon case where the Platonic ideal is actually relevant, as so many of Santo’s work are in such a state of material perfection that they seem otherworldly.) Santo explained that perhaps his photo background relates to his interest in reducing images, simplifying forms, and seeing light. Another audience member’s question prompted Santo to discuss his interest in architecture, which formed the support and informed the content of his wall paintings. But for his objects, too, I can see a rigorous, almost severe formalism that seems related to architecture, or what we mean when we describe something as “architectural.”

Playground, Santo’s project for the Public Art Fund, is on view through February 16, 2014 in Central Park.

A few of Santo’s works will also be on view in a group show at Sean Kelly gallery that opens Friday.

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Sights

See: Common Ground @ City Hall Park, Lower Manhattan

I just spent the past few days assisting an artist producing a massive concrete sculpture for Public Art Fund’s upcoming exhibition. If the other projects in the show are as ambitious the one I worked on, it’s going to be very inspiring.

May 24–Nov. 30, 2012
Common Ground
Public Art Fund
Elmgreen & Dragset, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Roger Hiorns, Jenny Holzer, Matthew Day Jackson, Christian Jankowski, Justin Matherly, Paul McCarthy, Amalia Pica, Thomas Schutte
City Hall Park
, Bordered by Broadway, Chambers Street, Centre Street, and Park Row, NYC
Opening: Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 5:30 – 6:30pm
Performance at 5:45pm // Remarks at 6:00pm

Throughout history, art in the public realm has been a means to represent common beliefs, values, and ideals. However, in our own diverse and pluralistic society, we value art most highly as the expression of a unique personal vision. Common Ground brings together the work of an international group of contemporary artists, each with a strikingly original artistic language and a strong engagement with the civic role and context of public art.

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Community

The Joy of Work

I’m feeling very lucky to work with awesome art organizations.

Yesterday I helped out with Public Art Fund’s art auction. It was the biggest, fanciest nonprofit art auction I’ve eve been to, with lots of great work by big time artists, including performances and live art. I also enjoyed the people watching—lots of amazing style on display, and being slightly starstruck by the number of artists and curators whose work I’ve admired from afar for so long. Everyone at PAF and the rest of the freelance crew was a pleasure to work with, and I’m feeling just really lucky to have been a part of it. Looking forward to their future programs especially Oscár Tuazon in Brooklyn (his architectural installation at the Whitney Biennial is so interesting).

Tonight I attended the Welcome party for new NYC artists, organized by Sally Szwed and Deric Carner. It is always a sweet, joyful party, with people just being friendly, down-to-earth and earnest. Really lovely all around. Nice to see representation from lots of great art orgs: Creative Time, EFA, and Flux Factory (the latter two have current calls for artists BTW!) To boot, it was held at Art in General, where Rob Carter’s stellar exhibition is on display. I was thrilled to help out with that install too, and see the event’s attendees enjoy the show. I hope they spread the word; it’s a great show.

Just wanted to share a little gratitude for such amazing organizations, and the staff, funders, donors, and artists who make it all possible.

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Bucket List, Impressions

Josephine Meckseper, Josiah McElheny

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.

Josephine Meckseper Pyromaniac 2  2003  C-Print  101 x 76 cm // Source: Saatchi-Gallery.co.uk.

Josephine Meckseper, Pyromaniac 2, 2003 C-Print 101 x 76 cm // Source: Saatchi-Gallery.co.uk.

Josephine Meckseper, Jaguar, 2010, Mixed media on reflective slatwall, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. / 240 x 240 x 31.8 cm // Source: timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Jaguar, 2010, Mixed media on reflective slatwall, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. / 240 x 240 x 31.8 cm // Source: timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Afrikan Spir 2011 Mixed media in steel and glass vitrine 80 x 80 x 20 in. / 203.2 x 203.2 x 50.8 cm // timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Afrikan Spir, 2011, Mixed media in steel and glass vitrine, 80 x 80 x 20 in. / 203.2 x 203.2 x 50.8 cm // Source: timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, The Concept of Irony, 2010 Toilet brush, costume jewelry, sandals, newspaper, decorative wall hangings, hosiery, book, framed collage with newsprint and colored acetate on paper, acrylic painting on canvas, cloth, metal and acrylic display fixtures on metal rack 74.5 x 24.75 x 24 inches (189.2 x 62.9 x 61 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com

Josephine Meckseper, The Concept of Irony, 2010 Toilet brush, costume jewelry, sandals, newspaper, decorative wall hangings, hosiery, book, framed collage with newsprint and colored acetate on paper, acrylic painting on canvas, cloth, metal and acrylic display fixtures on metal rack 74.5 x 24.75 x 24 inches (189.2 x 62.9 x 61 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com

Josephine Meckseper, Der Wille zur Macht, 2011, Mixed media on steel pole 52.25 x 9 x 9 inches (132.7 x 22.86 x 22.86 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Der Wille zur Macht, 2011, Mixed media on steel pole 52.25 x 9 x 9 inches (132.7 x 22.86 x 22.86 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com.

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.

Josephine Meckseper, Manhattan Oil Project, 2012 // Source: Art Production Fund

Josephine Meckseper, Manhattan Oil Project, 2012 // Source: Art Production Fund

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:

Josiah McElheny, "Island Universe" (detail view), 2008, installed at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Courtesy of artist, photograph by Ivån Caso Lafuente.

Josiah McElheny, "Island Universe" (detail view), 2008, installed at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Courtesy of artist, photograph by Ivån Caso Lafuente. // Source: http://www.veralistcenter.org/

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.

JOSIAH MCELHENY, The Past Was A Mirage I'd Left Far Behind, 2011-2012, Wood, Mirror, Screen material and Projection. Seven multiple reflective screens made of mirrored glass, wood, and projection cloth. Experimental abstract films programmed to change throughout the period of one year. dimensions variable upon installation. The Bloomberg Commission: Josiah McElheny Whitechapel Gallery, London September 7, 2011 – July 20, 2012. // Source: andrearosengallery.com.

JOSIAH MCELHENY, The Past Was A Mirage I'd Left Far Behind, 2011-2012, Wood, Mirror, Screen material and Projection. Seven multiple reflective screens made of mirrored glass, wood, and projection cloth. Experimental abstract films programmed to change throughout the period of one year. dimensions variable upon installation. The Bloomberg Commission: Josiah McElheny Whitechapel Gallery, London September 7, 2011 – July 20, 2012. // Source: andrearosengallery.com.

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,

thinking through

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.

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Sights

get excited: Josephine Meckseper, Josiah McElheny, Rob Carter

This week I’m looking forward to:

Josephine Meckseper The Complete History of Postcontemporary Art, 2005. Courtesy the Artist, New York, and VG Bild-Kunst.

Josephine Meckseper The Complete History of Postcontemporary Art, 2005. Courtesy the Artist, New York, and VG Bild-Kunst. Source: Sculpture-Center.org.

Monday, April 9, 7PM
Subjective Histories of Sculpture: Josephine Meckseper
SculptureCenter
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.

Josiah McElheny, Island Universe (installation view), 2009. Courtesy the artist, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and Andrea Rosen Gallery,  New York. Photo: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid © Josiah McElheny. Source: publicartfund.org.

Josiah McElheny, Island Universe (installation view), 2009. Courtesy the artist, Donald Young Gallery, Chicago, and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Photo: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid © Josiah McElheny. Source: publicartfund.org.

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.

Rob Carter. Faith in a Seed, 2012. Image courtesy the artist. Source: ArtinGeneral.org.

Rob Carter. Faith in a Seed, 2012. Image courtesy the artist. Source: ArtinGeneral.org.

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.

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Sights

See: James Yamada’s installation at Parasol Unit, London

James Yamada, "The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees," 2011. Parasol unit installation view. Photo: Stephen White. Source: Parasol Unit.

James Yamada, The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, 2011. Parasol unit installation view. Photo: Stephen White. Source: Parasol Unit.

According to Parasol Unit’s website, this is perhaps my dream programme:

On 22 November 2011, Parasol unit will unveil the first artwork in its Parasolstice – Winter Light series of outdoor projects to be realised by various international artists, each of whom creates sculptural works that address the phenomenon of light.

This past outdoor light sculpture by Yamada floats my boat too:

James Yamada, Our Starry Night, 2008. Photo by Seong Kwon, courtesy of the Public Art Fund.

James Yamada, Our Starry Night, 2008. Photo by Seong Kwon, courtesy of the Public Art Fund.

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