Saturday, December 12, 2009
Text by Aimee Walleston
I see a rainbow and I want to paint it black. Men experience a curious mix of love and hate when they look at images of their celebrity brethren. They see the person they want to be and the competitor they want to destroy. Richard Phillips is known for his figurative paintings of high-gloss surface glamour fraught with questions of fame, power, and commerce. In his newest work, “Most Wanted,” commissioned exclusively by VMAN, Phillips sheds new light on some of America’s most recognized faces. Like the phases of the moon, Phillips’s portraits illustrate the temporal stages in the lives of the most in-demand male celebrities.
In these portraits, the subjects stand in front of “step-and-repeat” backdrops, the staged red carpet photo-op settings supplied by advertisers sponsoring premieres and events. Actors get press coverage by being photographed in front of walls plastered with sponsor logos. Sponsors get their brands blessed by the power of celebrity. By reinterpreting these photographs (which Phillips describes as “utterly worthless, and completely harnessed to commerce”) in pastel, Phillips has effectively brought each of these famous men into the realm of sorcery. The medium recalls ancient cave painting, where our ancestors used abstract depiction to conjure the essence of what they drew. The gestural quality makes these boys more touchable than the camera ever could, and more real, yet their poses and the Easter egg colored backdrops retain an implacable otherness. They remain above and beyond us still.
This tension seems integral to Philips’s intricately-wrought conceptual framework for the piece. “There is funny double play with this work,” the artist explains. “It’s a come-on. I’m literally inviting you up to show you my pastels.” By depicting sought-after celebrities, Phillips is repositioning power roles. What if a Versace step-and-repeat wall is truly a distillation of the ‘fuck all y’all glamour’ of Versace? What if, in front of it, Zac Efron becomes not just a teen fantasy item for sale, but the very thing his identity purports him to be—the boy every American boy wants to be; good and maybe a little bad, American to the core without a hint of pretension, and doubling over with raw ambition (to match his lady love’s naked ambition)? He is Zac Efron, with the mystical magic of Versace glamour to back him up.
Who we cannot be—scratch that, who we do not allow ourselves to be—becomes totemic to us. In our strange, animal hearts, we choose pretty young men as our leaders. We make our beautiful actors into gods only to shove them in front of step-and-repeats so that they become indistinguishable from the advertised product scrawled behind them. And then a question gets raised: to what end does it behoove a young man to have that particular label behind him? “Pick me, LV, for your next campaign—don’t we look gorgeous together?” And what happens to these pictures of icons leaning against icons? They disappear into pixel dust—forgotten upon sight and remaining as a ghostly archive on Perez or Dlisted (the fame bashing/worshipping blog whose editor lovingly captioned each portrait).
The minutes that tick by in our lives often matter far less than we hoped they would. By this standard, the moments we imagine our stars living must live up to expectations we could never fulfill for ourselves. Our culture strives to apply meaning to the meaningless—and the development of a consistently successful pose at the step-and-repeat can exist as a code for a beautiful life. What is stardom but a private trailer and an assistant handing you a fresh towel?To quote Oscar Wilde, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” So what are these portraits? Critique or worship? Fantasy or fodder? Perhaps what they truly shed light on is the collective, willful naïveté in believing that those distinctions can be so easily parsed.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
WALLESTON / DECEMBER 8TH, 2009
Living forever at the crossroads of Canadian and amazing, artist and curator AA Bronson is New York’s answer to a conceptual art soothsayer and savior. Originally a member of the art collective General Idea, Bronson’s practice has always pushed the boundaries of art to its spacial and spiritual limits, and continues to do so. While other people are staging outlaw art exhibitions in salon-style environments and disused commercial spaces, Bronson is currently exhibiting an immaculate collection of artworks—by Marina Abramović, Bas Jan Ader and Scott Treleaven, among others, and themed around the idea of “Compassion”—in a seminary. The visually astounding Union Theological Seminary, to be exact. Created in conjunction with the newly-formed Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice, the show will be on view until December 19th. Here we speak to Bronson about the organization and the show’s premise.
Aimee Walleston: Your practice, both as an artist and a curator, has often been linked to creating and distributing art beyond the confines of the museum or gallery space. Why did you decide to have this show at the seminary?
AA Bronson: I began studying at Union Theological Seminary a little over a year ago. For the last years, Union, like many seminaries, has been very shut off from the world, and almost no one I know has seen the inside of this quite amazing complex. As much as anything, the exhibition was a way to open Union’s doors, and get people moving through the spaces, to give some awareness of what is there, both architecturally and in terms of its resources, such as the extraordinary library. At the same time, I wanted to bring people’s awareness to the ways in which art addresses “spiritual” issues. None of the artists in the exhibition would be considered out of the usual in the Chelsea art world, but by framing their work in the context of the word “compassion”, and a “pilgrimage” through a seminary, other aspects of the work begin to leak out, the work is enriched by the context, and vice versa.
AW: Can you explain a bit about the Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice, and your involvement with it?
AB: Union is known for its involvement with social justice issues, and all seminaries include some relation to the arts in their program. However, I noted that nobody at the seminary had any idea of the massive amount of activity, especially amongst younger artists, in the contemporary art world related to social justice. Creative Time’s recent summit, “Revolutions in Social Practice” is a case in point. I proposed to the President of Union that we should found the Institute of Art, Religion, and Social Justice to facilitate some sort of conversation between the worlds of art and religion and she immediately agreed, making me the Artistic Director. At the moment we have only two projects, the exhibition “compassion,” and a series of dinners in which we bring together artists and theologians for mutual benefit.
AW: Spirituality is not something broadly discussed in artistic practice anymore. Your interests have often involved shamanism and less organized methods of spiritual practice. How do you see organized religion in regard to contemporary art practice?
AB: Organized religion does not interest me, per se. And at any rate, who is to say what is “organized” and what is not. Religion exists in so many hybridized forms today, and even the most conservative Roman Catholic is liable to be studying yoga on the side. Union is a non-denominational Christian seminary that is making rapid strides toward becoming multi-faith. Two of the professors are both Christian and Buddhist, and there is a number of Buddhist students, many Unitarians, a Quaker or two, and even an occasional agnostic. My own background is in Tibetan Buddhism, which I practiced for fourteen years; and, yes, I am also interested in shamanism and spiritualism, as well as voodoo and other African diaspora religions. The exhibition includes both Hindu and Buddhist forms, although the majority of the works are more “spiritual” than they are religious. I think that the intersection between art and religion can be seen through the lens of social justice, and social justice is a theme that is occupying many young artists today, especially the more radical collaborative practices, such as LTTR, Red76, or the Center for Tactical Magic.
AW: For whatever reason, compassion seems to be a tall order to ask of people. In relation to images that are meant to evoke compassion, like war images, where do you think contemporary art stands? And how does compassion relate to passion?
AB: Compassion has always been and will always be a tall order. As the world becomes more complex and more difficult, I see an increasing interest in compassion rather than a decrease. Alfredo Jaar’s Rwanda works, for example, address genocide in sometimes very explicit forms, while Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace projects come at compassion from the opposite direction. The popularity of the Dalai Lama, whose primary message is compassion, speaks to our need in today’s world. As for passion, that is a more complex question. The word comes from the Latin for suffer or endure, but the Passion of Christ is clearly not what you are referring to here!
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway at 121st Street
Rose Mandala Mirror (three reflections for HHDL), 2006
Glass, mirror, roses
Courtesy the artist, New York
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Wife and Muse: Claire Wesselmann on Tom Wesselmann
For the first time, the drawings of artist Tom Wesselmann (1931–2004), which approach two-dimensional depiction as both an aesthetic endpoint and conceptual premise, have been assembled in a comprehensive exhibition, now on view at New York's Haunch of Venison. Curated in 2003 by both Wesselmann and his wife Claire, who envisioned the show in a museum setting, "Draws" features work that spans not just the breadth of the artist's career, but also the theoretical boundaries he pushed from the position of drawing. Later Wesselmann works include "drawings" in the form of laser-cut steel and three-dimensional hand-cut paper sculpture.
The show also includes work from the artist's best known series, "Great American Nude." Many of those works feature Claire in the role of model-a role wherein the viewer can witness her identity morph seamlessly between model, muse, wife, fellow artist and creative co-conspirator. In each nude Claire posed for, she is rendered wonderfully alive. Her nudity becomes an embodiment of shameless vitality, exalted humanity, and matches her inexhaustible passion for her husband's work. In person, Claire Wesselmann is as alive as in Wesselmann's drawings, with a keen intellect and a uniquely personal take on her husband's practice:
AIMEE WALLESTON: The retrospective at Haunch of Venison is the largest compilation of Wesselmann's drawings ever shown. How did this come about, and how far back do the works span? LEFT: DRAWING FOR GREAT AMERICAN NUDES #20, COURTESY HAUNCH OF VENISON
CLAIRE WESSELMANN: Tom and I selected the drawings in 2003. We anticipated doing the show in a museum, but when my dealer joined Haunch of Venison, it did seem ideal. The show is scheduled to travel to other museums, where it may change from venue to venue. Tom and I graduated from Cooper Union in 1959, and these drawings are from then until 2004, which is the year Tom died.
WALLESTON: Before attending Cooper Union, your husband served in the army, during which time he drew a lot of cartoons. Was that the beginning of his art-making?
WESSELMANN: The cartooning was simply army humor, I think, in the beginning. He did it to keep himself sane. He didn't get sent overseas, which he was grateful about. But he did come to New York to become a cartoonist, which was obviously not the case in the end. When he came to New York to go to Cooper Union, he was redirected toward art, as he was introduced to Abstract Expressionism and all of that.
WALLESTON: And before he went into the army, that he got a degree in psychology. Did you ever talk about how that related to his artistic practice?
WESSELMANN: No, I never did. I wasn't there at the time.
WALLESTON: But once he got to New York, he became fairly firmly entrenched in the art world. Despite his relationships and strong ties with other artists, however, it seems that Wesselmann was very centered on his individual practice. He and his peers weren't replicating a New York School type clique—he was very much on his own.
STUDY FOR STILL LIFE #22, COURTESY HAUNCH OF VENISON
WESSELMANN: That's very true. None of the Pop artists were really included in each other's practices. Tom was grouped with the Pop artists only after he began to have his work shown. I remember we went to a seminar in Ohio, not far from where he grew up, where Lawrence Alloway was the moderator. It was Alloway who came up with the term "Pop Art." People began to see things and identify this work as a movement. Later, Tom spent a good portion of his career trying to get rid of that title, only because it has been seen in terms of being a movement, and it was not a movement.
WALLESTON: And his work had ties to so many other time periods and genres. There are influences of de Kooning in Wesselmann's work, his "Great American Nude" series directly reflects de Kooning's "Women," though the reasons behind the creation of the works seem very different. I see the biggest departure in the fact that de Kooning could be blunt about women. There is, at times, a lack of joy and a certain cynicism in his "Women." Wesselmann's depiction of women, in contrast, never seems at all cynical; he seems want to delight in women, and to make women look appealing.
WESSELMANN: In his own words, he would say, "I'm not just some old geezer drawing nudes." He was drawing me, and I was his wife and his friend, and he said he cared very much about that.
WALLESTON: Do you remember how that process came about, that he came to draw you?
WESSELMANN: First of all, it was at Cooper. And, then, you know he drew all the time. If he wanted to explain something to you, he drew it.
WALLESTON: And when you began posing for your husband, did you see that as a collaboration?
WESSELMANN: Well, because I painted too, it was secondhand knowledge to me. I knew exactly what this was about. I felt like I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing. He needed a model, he asked me to model. It wasn't like the standard model from drawing class. If you're just a model—and I don't mean to denigrate that at all—but if you're somebody who has done some artwork, you understand the dialogue. And if it's somebody you care about, it adds another dimension. But sometimes the sitter wasn't someone Tom had a personal relationship with. Sometimes it was someone he was just fascinated with... their eyes or their look, and he wanted to get it down on paper, because it intrigued him.
WALLESTON: And he drew you off and on for the duration of his career. Do you have an idealized Wesselmann artistic period, a time when he was doing something that stands out as your personal favorite?
WESSELMANN: Not really, because I was present the whole time, so I saw how each thing led into the next. I love each period for what it resonated. The early little collages (1959–1962) are quite beautiful. I would watch him pick up scraps of paper in the street and add to them to his compositions. STUDY FOR BIG MOUTH, COURTESY HAUNCH OF VENISON
WALLESTON: And to go into Wesselmann's starting point for his major series, "The Great American Nude"... I've heard that the series started with a dream he had about the colors red, white and blue—is that right?
WESSELMANN: Yes, and then he added both gold for the stars and khaki to represent the army.
WALLESTON: And why do you think Tom wanted to explore aesthetic signifiers of America in his work?
WESSELMANN: I'm fond of saying that Tom is an Ohio boy. There is something very specific I mean about that, having met more than some Ohio boys in New York. I can remember being at parties and talking to someone who would claim to be from some exotic place, and then, when I would ask if they were born there. They would say, "No, I was born in Ohio." It's crazy, but there were many. Jim Dine was from Ohio, and there were a lot of guys during that time period that came from that part of the country. They brought with them experiences from their past, partly conservative, but also more expansive than city living. More wide open spaces. More experiences with woods. Tom was a pretty straightforward guy, and that is part of the work.
DRAWS IS ON VIEW THROUGH JANUARY 2. HAUNCH OF VENISON IS LOCATED AT 1230 SIXTH AVENUE, NEW YORK
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Jennifer Rubell for Performa 09
Formerly a food writer and party planner, Jennifer Rubell has recently endeavored toward food eventing, an invented media that has naturally garnered her a specific niche in the art world. At a 2007 event at Art Basel Miami Beach, Rubell—daughter of the Miami-based pack of collectors, and niece of Studio 54's Steve Rubell—greeted guests with a deconstructed take on breakfast, featuring enormous platters of hard-boiled eggs, croissant and bacon, with only surgical gloves as service. On Friday, Rubell's agenda was to provide sustenance to 500 attendees of the opening celebration of the fourth Performa Biennial, the vast, three-week performance art invitational founded and overseen by Roselee Goldberg that this year features 170 artists and 25 curators (not to mention not-by-invitation satellite performances). Rubell's dinner included an experience that played out, in descending order, over three floors, and many of the art world's most famous faces were faced with food and drink at its most conceptually liberated.
Photos by Aimee Walleston
The evening began with Rubell's no-frills take on a dive bar-cum-house party. Guests were greeted with an enormous table crammed with every mason jars and cordial glasses. In the far corners of the space lay giant piles of peanuts and ice. Around the corner, bottles of liquor, mixers and garnish of all stripe lay unopened, for guests to partake of. Harkening to a truly great BYOB, somewhat reluctant guests soon were soon persuaded to participate—to great mess. The art world is not the refuge of the rejected barmaid.
One floor below, Rubell presented the main course: one ton of ribs (a nod to Adam's creation of Eve via Rubell's devotion to round numbers in food preparation) which lay in a single, enormous pile. Streams of honey poured from the ceiling into small pools around the meat, recalling Joseph Beuys' 1977 action "Honey is flowing in all directions," wherein the artist distributed honey, by a pipeline, through the various chambers of the Museum Fridericianum. The final floor (dessert) featured three whole apple trees, each felled and lying in sculptural disarray on the floor, seemingly taking the blame for Eve's appetite. In the middle of the room, large bags filled with powdered sugar, into which sweet freaks donning rubber gloves dove in and fished out cookies, emulated an innocent cocaine fantasia in the spirit of Rob Pruitt's "Cocaine Buffet" (1998). The far end of the room featured oversized dark chocolate bunnies, created by famed chocolatier Jacques Torres, that had the look of Jeff Koons' famous bunny sculptures in miniature form. Hammers were provided to smash each rabbit, giving in to man's most base instinct (after hunger and procreation): aggression.
There's something wonderfully cynical about Rubell's food performances, in which food occupying its most honest state. In her large food piles, the interest in sheer tonnage recalls slopping the pigs-feasting becomes feeding, albeit with the most exquisite-tasting of nourishment. Democratizing the way people dine, and reducing it into a crude bodily function, Rubell creates an experience where art is as enchanting as it is transitory, and consumption is stripped of its delicacy.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
BY AIMEE WALLESTON / SEPTEMBER 21ST, 2009
What does it mean to be a wild girl? For women, the eventual transformation from free spirit to sad mess seems too often to be predetermined. To avoid casualty status, renegade women must form an individualized identity wherein rebellion and nonconformity don’t cave in to tragedy. And it isn’t easy. Artist Naomi Fisher seeks to reform ideas around non-traditional femininity and cultural constraints. Her latest show, at Leo Koenig gallery in New York, takes up this cause in a body of video, photography and drawings. A cast of five women—many of whom Fisher has collaborated with before—set out on a nine day camping trip to Oleta State Park in outer Miami to form “Camp Primitivo.” A chance to live out a primitive, all-female existence—in vintage Versace ensembles the artist found at a sale of the unclaimed contents from an unpaid storage space—the project focuses on the visual aftermath of the group’s experience.
Though the works are about unity and collaborative living in some regard, the unique identities of each of the women are crucial to the project, says Fisher: “In most semi-staged faux fictional photography, the anonymous nature of the subject is very important. It allows the viewer to superimpose their fantasy on the subject. Women make an especially easy blank canvas. In my work, the subject, their history, and their personal relationship to me are all very important.” In the images, there is a juxtaposition of tenderness and intimacy against the “wild” setting—and also what seems to be an attempt to locate a more animalistic mentality in each woman. Females, be they animal or human, care for each other, but they also tend to their instinctual needs quite selfishly. Any of that arise? Says Fisher: “The only thing that did not happen was selfishness. We all really cared for each other and the experience was incredibly positive.”
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Genesis P-Orridge Cuts Many Figures
By AIMEE WALLESTON 09/09/2009 03:02 PM
Born Neil Megson, Genesis P-Orridge first came to the attention of the London avant-garde in 1976, when his art collective, COUM Transmissions, staged a retrospective called "Prostitution." And the transgression, as they involved rituals and the body, hasn't stopped. As a ten year anniversary gift P-Orridge and his lover, Lady Jaye, embarked upon a project they called "Pandrogyny" and which involved the gradual melding of their bodies. A retrospective, "30 Years of Being Cut Up," opens tonight at Lower East Side Gallery Invisible-Exports and focuses on collage works. We asked P-Orridge to respond to some of her looks through the year, with first-hand commentary.
1. This is one was taken Laure Leber right after I got my surgery—you can see I’m still out of it from the pain killers—and my shirt says “stop staring at my tits.” Lady Jaye and I always thought black eyes were really sexy.
2. This is a still for the Psychic TV video that we made called “New York Story.” In the video, Jaye and I play these two glamorous call girls who are so in demand that they’re still bandaged up from their latest procedure while working Times Square.
3. I don't know if it was a premonition or what, but Lady Jaye contacted Laure Leber and said she wanted her to document our love affair, which she did with still images and which Marie Losier is doing with her documentary film. You can really begin to see the melding of the two of us here.
4. This is probably from 1974—so we're 24 years old in that picture. Here, we're dressed as a character we called Crystal. We did quite a lot of political drag, and would run around Notting Hill Gate and cuddle straight men, and kiss and makeout as a statement for gay rights. You can see the "Mum and Dad" collage that's in the Invisible Exports show in the background.
5. This is Eva Adolf Braun Hitler, a character I invented. This was in New York City in 1996, for a night out at Jackie 60. We actually grew that mustache, just for one night out. Jaye also filmed me as this character for a series of short films I made for Pigface, an industrial music super-group I was in.
6. I was 21 years old in this picture, and we look older here than we do now. That's the hairy one—most people could never imagine, when seeing me now, that I once looked like that. The biggest way to say, philosophically, you'll never be part of a war is to look completely the opposite of anyone in a war.
7. I love this one. It's so glamorous, and the outfit was all Lady Jaye's clothing, and all the gold jewelry was both of ours'. And I have the perfect Nico hairdo. I had been grieving Jaye for six months, and I'd gotten skinny enough to fit into all her clothing.
8. There's me as a little boy. Looking a bit mischievous, like we've got plans. I imagine we're thinking, "Wait ‘til we grow up out of this little boy's body, you're gonna be shocked what we'll do to your culture."
9. Jaye used to call my dreds my "hair tent." This was 1993, and one of her friends, Miss Marti Domination—Jaye was in the House of Domination—took these pictures. All the objects in my hair, the beads and the snake vertebrae, were woven in by Jaye.
10. This was at university in Hull in 1969. It was really strange there. All the people at university were very aristocratic—except me, because I was on scholarship. And everyone there voluntarily wore suits and ties every day. And this was in the 60s! And I'd discovered psychedelics by the time this picture was taken—you can tell from my eyes.
11. This is just a straight rock and roll picture from 1978, with me playing bass in Throbbing Gristle. We're 28 years old here, but we look like a little boy again.
30 Years of Being Cut Up opens tonight, 6–8 PM, and is on view through October 18. Invisible-Exports is located at 14A Orchard Street, New York.
Monday, August 31, 2009
As an artist whose work explores, in myriad mediums, an interest in “how sound is visualized,” Christian Marclay now seems newly compelled by how sound can be eulogized. For his current show at Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea, Marclay has created a group of large cyanotypes that act as gravestone etchings of popular music’s essentially moribund medium: the cassette tape.
Lacking the nostalgia and distinctive sound that has allowed vinyl records to remain relevant (one would even say even popular—sales of 12-inch vinyl records increased 36 percent from 2006 to 2007) the tragic flaw of cassette tapes is that, like VHS tapes, they were born to die. Both were created with the knowledge that they would ultimately become useless. While “technology” artists like Corey Archangel have played with the degenerative quality of VHS tapes by producing films whose main objective is deterioration, the audio cassette has rarely found itself to be a muse of contemporary art.
Enter Marclay, who, in this body of work, has exalted the cassette tape for (of all things) its formal visual qualities. His elegant Prussian blue cyanotypes, which in their antique process and abstraction nod to the 19th-century photograms made by Anna Atkins, feature swaths of unfurled cassette tape strewn hither and thither, as well as the ghostly figures of transparent cassettes. The tape continually crosses and overlaps against itself and the photosensitive paper, creating a depth of field that gives the works the illusion of three dimensions.
Expression comes into play immediately, and Pollock’s drip paintings provide an unlikely reference point. Many of the pieces, including Memento (True Love), 2008, feature long, loose, drifting currents of tape that recall Spanish moss draping over tree branches in the Deep South. That feeling of static ancientness one has when looking at the primordial everglades comes across in the work, and the broken tapes lying at the bottom of the image suggest prehistoric alligators, poking their watchful eyes out from an algae-covered swamp. In other pieces, like, Untitled (Madonna, Thy Word and Sonic Youth), 2008 one encounters the tapes unspooled in a way most reminiscent of the curled ribbon and streamers found at a child’s birthday. That same evocation of forgotten time is present, though these images seems to be more about remembering the party than remaining in the past. As a whole, the show exists as a memento mori to two antiquated mediums, and further tells a tale of our throwaway culture’s obsession with newness and convenience—and our blindness to that which has been left to rot.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Whitney's Biennial Gives Young Artists a Second Chance at a Biennial
Celebrity comebacks indicate that there are second acts in American life—even third and fourth acts. And when reality television is the obstetrician for these rebirths of identity, the comeback effort can be as transparent as a stint in celebrity rehab—or, as is the case with singer Whitney Houston, several mortifying public displays of drug addiction followed by obligatory "crack is wack" denials and mea culpes.
Presumably with this notion of fame lust and redemption in mind, artists Martha Mysko, MaryKate Maher, Elise Rasmussen, and Davida Nemeroff conceived of Whitney's Biennial, a group show that opens tonight at c.r.e.a.m. projects in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Founded by Jeff Rausch, whose day job is Contemporary Art Property Manager for the Phillips de Pury auction house, c.r.e.a.m. was originally conceived to be a one-off pop-up gallery for a show of work made by Rausch's friend Chris Milk Hulburt, who was going through hard times. Rausch, who admits to reappropriating the gallery's name from the Wu-Tang Clan ("I'm a sucker for hip hop, plus I thought it was fitting for the times we are living in"), has exhibited eight more shows since his first exhibition, yet none have possessed quite the star wattage—or hooky conceit—of Whitney's Biennial.
An invitation to participate in the "real" Whitney Biennial is what young, ambitious artists pray for—and incidentally, artists chosen for the 2010 Biennial are currently receiving the word that they've been selected as studio visits conclude. Being asked to produce work for Whitney's Biennial may have been a bit less of an ego-defining moment for some artists, but it is also far less of a perilous art world ledge to fall from. The four artists who have organized the show planned it to act as a spiritual twin to Houston's attempt at career resurrection, and invited 37 artists to create new art for the assemblage. These requests for work were made at the fictional behest of Houston, explains Martha Mysko, "The invitation email sent to all the artists was from sent from Whitney. It said, basically, ‘My new album is about a drop-make a new piece for this show.'"
And while the show may not be officially Whitney-sanctioned, it is not without street cred in the form of at least three artists, Roe Etheridge, Fia Backström and Kara Walker, whose work has previously appeared in that other Whitney Biennial. Not that the show's focus is on careerism-quite the contrary, says Mysko: "We know a lot of really talented artists, and it just seems like everyone's feeling very frustrated. We thought of doing something with a biennial format, and we thought of using Whitney as a symbol for all struggling artists." Unlike the official Whitney Biennial, inclusion in Whitney's Biennial isn't a rocket to art stardom—it is unadulterated feel-good participation in a show based around an artist who, simply, wants to dance with somebody who loves her. Says Mysko, whose own piece in the show is a 16 foot see-saw that viewers may hop aboard, "We're offering free limo rides on Friday night, with a Whitney Houston soundtrack playing. We just wanted to make art openings fun again."
Whitney's Biennial opens at c.r.e.a.m. projects, 70 Greenpoint Avenue, on Friday, August 28, 7–11pm. On Saturday at 8 PM, Castlemusic will performing live. The show will be on view, 12–6pm, through Sunday, August 30.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Curation in the Expanded Field: Changing Expectations of the Art Blog
If the term "beautiful blog" hasn't been bandied about with much enthusiasm, it's because blogs rarely warrant such a glowing descriptor. Functional to the point of artlessness, art blogs in particular are woefully inept at recording something more than a scroll-down image-and-text archive of its author's whims, or an unedited pedagogical script. But well-curated blogs and forums with innovative design and concept initiatives are challenging the constraints endemic to the aesthetic of blogs, and recalibrating how one looks at art images online. What changes when sculpture becomes a .jpeg? What does it mean to be able to combine and re-contextualize those images at the click of a mouse, no permission from the artist necessary, and only a hyperlink as courtesy?
Christopher Higgs' Bright Stupid Confetti is a case for online image curation as a new form of visual poetry-he combines text and poems to create a free-form exploration of contemporary art. Folkert and Atley's But Does It Float is a conversation of images between two people exploring the infinite discrepancies between like minds. Farimani Forum, reposition online forums as multimedia art exhibition spaces that elegantly transcend the visual ubiquity of the blog.
Aleksandra Domanovic, Oliver Laric, Christoph Priglinger, Georg Schnitzer
VVORK was started April 2006 by Oliver Laric, Christoph Priglinger, Georg Schnitzer and Aleksandra Domanovic. Their previous project, "Mi Magazine" was a print publication that only existed as an insert into other magazines. As an online mega- (and meta-) gallery, VVORK presents artworks and projects—some found, some original works and some by members of the group. Most of the images have been photographed in international galleries and museum settings. These images are posted by individual members of VVORK, with the hope is that each subsequent post plays off the last one in some regard. "We never interfere with each others posts, but try to complement them," says the group. Explanatory text is minimal, though the methods and agendas of conceptual works are often fleshed out for the viewer. The site acts as an art weigh station, information hub, and online magazine/gallery in equal measures, with the VVORK team presiding as both curators and, in a sense, online collectors. As an art blog VVORK is akin to a scroll-down image resource bank-sort of a rarified google images. Which, in a way, is precisely the point, according to VVORK: "We reduce the content to the most emblematic information needed to communicate the work. The descriptions are technical, so the layout uses the strategies of exhibition spaces. The process of sequencing images is very organic and at times more or less successful in appearing as a continuous whole. It's very satisfying to find the right post at the right time, meaning that finding ones that correlate to the previous posts."
The group, who all studied together at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, now live in Berlin, London and Vienna and are currently working on individual and group art, music, theatre and design projects. Success for them in gallery and museum environments has been forthcoming. "We have done a few shows in galleries. Our first show was in Galerie West in The Hague, followed by a show at MU in Eindhoven andPlatform 3 in Munich," says the group. And, online or off, they are continually challenging the expected notions of how art viewers view images. They are currently preparing a "public maze of images" for thephoto biennale in Mannheim; and the next project to occur in real life will be a Variety evening at the New Museum in New York on October 30.
Bright Stupid Confetti
Christopher Higgs, Curator
According to Christopher Higgs, Bright Stupid Confetti started in December 2005, "But the website you see today bears little resemblance to that first incarnation." Higgs, a writer who has worked in the film industry and a PhD candidate in Twentieth Century Literature and Critical Theory at Florida State, also teaches undergraduate writing courses. He has never curated in a gallery setting, and maybe it's for that reason—an outsider perspective—that Bright Stupid Confetti is one of the more innovative and quixotic curated art websites in the blogosphere. A continuous scroll of contemporary art images are aligned with music videos, snippets of philosophical and poetic texts, and interviews culled from other online sources. The site is an interactive, sui generis online presence that challenges the hierarchy of the "insider's" art world. Higgs takes contemporary art images out of the hands of gallery and museum-sanctioned curators, and into the arms of a renegade whose way of uniting images and text feels more related to poetry than to the expectations of art curation. Only recently has he removed personal information from the blog.
While his site has a blogspot domain name, it's cultural content bears little resemblance to what one typically thinks of with blogs. Says Higgs, "When people call it a blog I usually don't protest, I simply bite my tongue and cringe inside because to me a blog is a place where people post personal commentary about what they ate for lunch or how much they dislike the Republican party or whatever. Which is decidedly not my project."
Michael Capio, Editor
Michael Capio, Editor of Farimani Forum, is an independent curator and critic based in New York. His work editing the online component to Farimani, an internationally-distributed artist publication that explores critical, theoretical, and music-based art inquiries, is directly aligned with other curatorial models. Says Capio: "Early in the Forum's development, Farimani's Founding Editor Amir Mogharabi and I talked a lot about Jean-François Lyotard's "Les Immatériaux" exhibition for the Centre Pompidou in 1985. The exhibition has been described more as an "informational space," where sounds, projections, music and text become unified under the aspect of immateriality. The publication is very much about restoring the materialism of the text, while the Forum accepts the interchangeable or inter-contextual aspects of information-based systems." The online model features a grisaille palate with color images, and includes anachronistically subdued hyperlinks that direct readers to artist videos, and long-form theoretical and critical texts.
Capio says that Farimani is "first and foremost a publication," but explains that a print-based distribution model poses limitations for collaborative work between Farimani's far-flung editors. The online Forum represents an attempt to challenge the inherent constraints posed by the book format. And much—but not all—of the content on the Forum is original commissions, aligning the site with the world of publishing versus the world of gallery curation. Says Capio, "Although variable, the material-based component of Farimani insofar includes original work created specifically for our overall project. The work featured on our website thus far, has also been provided by the artists themselves. Although not always original, it is, by way of our montage aesthetic, available in an original format, often complimented in its interdependency with other elements in the Forum."
But Does It Float
Folkert Gorter / Atley Kasky
But Does it Float was started in February 2009 by two Los Angeles-based designers, Folkert Gorter and Atley Kasky, whose other projects include SpaceCollective.org, GOOD.is, and cargocollective.com. But Does It Float serves as a dynamic visual conversation between Folkert and Atley, wherein art and design images line up against vintage aerial photographs and other visual ephemera to form a seemingly infinite image scroll that chatters back and forth, creating a new form of telling. With an inquisitive, otherwordly drive to collect and show, Folkert and Atley have created an art blog that sits widely outside both the worlds of contemporary art and ubiquitous blogdom. The site began, says the two, "As an idea to organize and focus our meanderings around the Internet. We're both collectors of visual artifacts and use the internet heavily for finding, storing, and sharing. We felt that our joint sensibilities and appreciation of ‘good' work across all genres would make for a distinct filter, separating the wheat from the chaff. We started doing this not only for ourselves, on a purely archival basis, but also for the edification of our prospective audience. We have the time and the interest in sorting through the maze of internet clutter, most people don't." The resulting site looks and behaves like a cabinet of curiosities as viewed through an infinity mirror.
And while the duo hasn't ever curated in a gallery environment, says Folkert/Atley: "We're essentially hanging images on the page, and in that sense it's a bit like a gallery. We made it a priority to give as much space to the work as possible, to let it have whatever we feel it requires. Browsers and bandwidth limitations have been decreasing steadily, and we are taking advantage of that." And like traditional curators, their goal is to create a unified thesis through the disparate works that they feature "By putting things next to one another you create a relationship and begin to discern connections, intended or not. Additionally, the blog allows visitors to continue scrolling from the latest to the first post, without ever having to click. This seamless interactivity plays with the notion of a filmstrip, resulting in the feel of an endlessly flowing conversation. We've been trying to alternate our posts with an exquisite corpse-like notion, where part of the goal of writing a post is to let it be influenced in some way by the post that preceded it."
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Ryan McNamara Performs Vaudeville Tonight
New York artist Ryan McNamara creates performances and videos imbued with humorous, macabre pop culture references, trenchant inquiries into identity, and a healthy dose of American spotlight-seeking. McNamara's performance tonight, "The Star Parade," puts the artist in the role of variety show host. He will present an array of acts, most still undisclosed, though there's little doubt that the show as a whole will be heavily endowed with the artist's canny, double-twisted wit. Here, we speak to McNamara about tonight's performance:
WALLESTON: What can we expect from this evening's performance?
MCNAMARA: "The Star Parade" is a durational performance about variety involving blue velvet, a spotlight, and gay men ranging in age from 24 to 74. When I say it's durational, I mean it's not narrative per se-which also means people should feel free to arrive and leave at their leisure, anytime between 7pm and 9pm. There's a meta-narrative, maybe, but the beginning and ending are confounded. The characters are ciphers.
The Latest in Blood and Guts, 2009. Courtesy the artist.
WALLESTON You also have a video, "The Latest in Blood and Guts," up right now in Salon 94 Freemans' group show, "Stars!" Can you describe the piece?
MCNAMARA: It's a short, black-and-white video, featuring me in a suit on a stage with a curtain backdrop. Depending on how you look at it, I'm either dancing or pulling my intestines out.
In one sense, it's a memorial for the late newscaster Christine Chubbuck; it's also a rehearsal of my childhood dream to be a variety show host. It's called "The Latest in Blood and Guts," which is a line taken from Chubbuck's last words. Here's something I wrote about that incident:
Thirty five years ago in July, a newsreel jammed and could not be played during the Sarasota, Florida morning news program Suncoast Digest. Chubbuck, the host, brushed the glitch aside and said, "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first-attempted suicide." She then pulled out a .38 revolver from a bag of puppets she kept underneath her desk and shot herself behind the ear.
Sometimes people want to be things they're not cut out for, and they're erased by the friction between who they are and who they want to be. I totally understand. I've always wanted to be a variety-show host.
Christine Chubbuck was, one might say, depressed. Recent behaviorist explorations of trauma have posited that somatic experiencing, a reenactment of physical trauma, provides therapeutic resolution. I wonder if a choreography of miming self-mutilation (and jazz dancing) might prove apotropaic.
WALLESTON: How does "The Star Parade" equate to this piece? (LEFT: STILL FROM THE STAR PARADE, 2009. COURTESY THE ARTIST)
MCNAMARA: Both "The Star Parade" and "The Latest in Blood and Guts" take up the trope of the variety show-it's a bit camp, a bit nostalgic; the host becomes this creepy midwife for talent. (Isn't it funny how often variety looks the same?) Other than that, the pieces are quite different. I sometimes think my character in the video is the same character as in the performance-they both wear the same suit, anyway-but in different states of mind. Perhaps his role in the performance led him to his performance in the video, or vice versa. Neither is particularly upbeat.
WALLESTON: In what way does "The Star Parade" align with other performances you've done?
MCNAMARA: One of the performers in "The Star Parade," Bernie the Magic Lady, was actually my collaborator and the star of my show—"Bernie, The Magic Lady"—at APF Lab last April. But in a way it's something of a departure. I've been sweating this idea for a while, but I kept sublimating my impulses-the idea of using a variety show as subject matter sounded a little too "Bad '80s East Village Performance" to me. I finally gave in. It's fun to do something that scares you. Anyway, now I really like the performance. It's allowed me to live out a childhood dream. If only for two hours.
WALLESTON: Do you have any future projects in the works?
MCNAMARA: I am working with Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery on a musical premiering in late August. It's called "Klaus von Nichtssagend: The Musical."
Ryan McNamara performs tonight, 7–9 PM. Salon94 Freemans is located at 1 Freeman Alley, New York. McNamara is featured in the current group show, "Stars," at the gallery.