Monday, June 29, 2009

Art in America/Song Dong

Song Dong Feeds the Masses

For those who may have pondered what a mountain of meat might taste like, Chinese artist Song Dong answered that gastronomic inquiry on Thursday evening at Pace Wildenstein gallery, where the artist created a site-specific food landscape to complement a conversation between himself and Sarah Suzuki, an assistant curator at MoMA. The subject of their talk was Waste Not, an installation comprised of the artist's mother's belongings now on view at MoMA until September 7th.

Waste Not is 3,000 square feet of carefully displayed ephemera, including linens, crockery, and all manner of quotidian wares, accumulated over the past fifty years by the artist's mother, who passed away earlier this year. Though Song's mother was born well off, her standard of living greatly diminished in the wake of China's Cultural Revolution, and she began hoarding belongings as a way to ensure that she and her family would never be without. Waste Not reflects not only on Song's personal relationship with his mother and her need to find safety in objects, but also on the character of a nation struggling to learn how to function in a state of deprivation. When Song completed the work in 2005, it was, for his mother, almost a playful retribution. Her response to the piece amounted to, "See Song, everything is functional."

Song's work is informed by the past, andit is interesting to note, when considering his practice, how richly his work communes with Western conceptual artists of the 60s and 70s. Water Diary (1995-present), for example, focuses on the artist's ongoing practice of writing calligraphy underwater. This evanescent series finds a conceptual and aesthetic relative in a black-and-white film by Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, which portrays the artist composing a letter with ink that immediately washes away in the rain. Both works explore the public and private existence of the written word, proposing the notion that letters aren't ever really meant for others --perhaps they are meant only for ourselves.

At Pace, Song's sculpture was surely meant for everyone -- especially those who arrived with an empty stomach. For previous works in this vein, Song has presented massive gingerbread houses-cum-cityscapes made of locally sourced cookies, which were greedily devoured and consumed by his audiences. As a comment on the creation and destruction of civilizations, these cookie communities could be considered a slightly sweeter entry point to the artist's "meat mountains." Though not strictly made of meat -- one landscape presented on Thursday was a pile of chocolates -- Song has recently been making food sculptures of such terrains, which also reference Chinese scroll paintings (a poem about the food is painted above each dish). In the gallery, the sculptures served by the artist (somewhat intimidating piles of roasted pork, prosciutto and chocolates) were happily consumed by many in the audience, blurring the line between landscape sculpture and communal trough. Reformulating the idea of what it means to be a cultural consumer, Song's edible sculptures also provide an object lesson in the pleasure principle: The piles of chocolates were by far the most popular snack, while the broccoli floret trees held less immediate appeal.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Interview Magazine Blog/Mark Beasley


Up to Great Good

AIMEE WALLESTON 06/25/2009 02:32 PM

Tue Greenfort, Project for the New American Century, 2009. Photo by Charlie Samuels, courtesy of Creative Time

Governors Island has long held the psychic space of New York at its most unresolved. The island, a former military facility, has been virtually unoccupied for years; various attempts to figure out what to do with it have proven less than triumphant. Finally, there is a project that both honors the island's history and reframes its landscape, and previously inaccessible buildings, to more peaceful ends. This summer, Creative Time has inaugurated a new public art quadriennial (that means every four years) PLOT, to celebrate the island's landscape and architecture. PLOT's first edition, the Mark Beasley-curated This World and Nearer Ones, explores some of the island's more moribund themes. Adam Chodzko's video installation depicts the imaginary discovery of a game played by the island's former residents; Edgar Arceneaux's ghostly sound piece is a poem of remembrance. Taken together, the the works signal an exaltation of the spiritual life of the island, and perhaps of the artists themselves, coupled with the dueling imperatives of looking back and moving forward.

AIMEE WALLESTON: All the works presented in this exhibition are site-specific. When you were planning the layout of the show, did you incorporate the artists in the process of deciding where each of their works would be shown? Or did the work itself kind of dictate where it would best be shown?

MARK BEASLEY: When you're out on the island and you have only two hours to look at everything and plan what you want to do, it just made sense for me to have two or three buildings where I just said, "OK, well these artists make work about this, so, this work could fit." In the case of the work of Krzysztof Wodiczko, the Magazine Building in Fort Jay just seemed like a perfect marriage. He'd shown me a version of the work, Veteran's Flame, which is a projection of a naked candle flame with a voiceover of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. If you're going to have a work that's as loaded as that, than the site should equally suggest some way of reading the work. With A.A. Bronson and Peter Hobbs' Invocation of the Queer Spirits [a séance ritual held two days before the show's opening], we basically sat in a little cart and drove around the island, and we were led by A.A.'s response to the spirit life of the island, which was quite an incredible experience in and of itself. And with Klaus Webber's Dark Windchime [the work has been tuned to the diabolus in musica tritone, a musical interval which has been believed to summon the devil]—that was very much led through a remote discussion, where I took pictures of different sites and then sent it to him.

AW: Were you interested in presenting this show, an ostensibly serious one, in the context of a summer show? It's not a typical time for serious shows.

MB: In many ways, it was the artists responding to the site. But they are artists who are critical of the spirit of the age we are in. What fascinates me about the younger artists included, like the Bruce High Quality Foundation collective, is their critical response to the time we're in now. They have a different response than more established artists in the show, like Lawrence Weiner or Anthony McCall. I was really interested in commissioning younger voices: They're recently out of art school, so what does that mean now? The market is what the market is now. What does that mean for practices that have been created with the idea that ultimately they'll be straight into Chelsea? With Bruce High Quality [their film, Isle of the Dead, is shown at the island's abandoned movie house], their critical response is less about the market crash. It's more about the position of a cultural producer in New York. They're exploring how a younger practitioner goes about operating in a city that's one of the most expensive places to inhabit. Their zombie movie is talking about how, as younger practitioners, they operate or don't operate in the face of what is almost a zombie culture. It becomes a satire of this idea of always speaking with "a corpse in your mouth," the idea of nostalgia as a corpse. I think, by making a zombie film, they're going so overboard in overplaying that idea of looking back to the past that they're actually trying to kill it. It's very Oedipal: Kill daddy so the kids can play.

AW: You also have an audio piece, Message in a Bottle, by Patti Smith and her daughter Jesse Smith. And with that work, you have the celebration of the union of family and of different generations. It's also the exaltation of an authentic icon, Smith, who is known to produce works that deify other artists-Rimbaud for example. Smith's very much about heroes.

MB: The first time I heard got to know about Rimbaud, or William S. Burroughs, was reading about Patti Smith. I think, in other decades, this idea of quoting the past was about putting up little flag posts. If you really wanted to get into a counterculture, you had to work at it, and those flag posts were there to help. But now, we live in a time where it's all available, it's all on the Internet, so one's relationship to that idea of counterculture is very different. You don't have to struggle to find your alternative.

AW: And perhaps that alternative is coming more from within, rather than from outside cultural forces?

MB: Perhaps, yes. This is a very oddly spiritual show, in the end. Maybe this is my mid-life spirit moment.

PLOT opens June 27, 2009 with a reception 2–4 PM. You can reach Governors Island by The Governors Island Ferry, which departs from the Battery Maritime Building, adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Art in America/X: No Soul for Sale

NEW YORK CITY In The Devil's Dictionary, an assassination-by-satire on duplicitous political argot published by Ambrose Bierce in 1911, peace is defined as "a period of cheating between two periods of fighting." Nearly a century onward, the same sense of integrity that compelled Bierce's dry pen also inspires "No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents," a program created by X Initiative to celebrate and advocate for not-for-profit independent arts organizations. Opening this evening and running until June 28th, "No Soul for Sale," an anti-art fair of sorts, will prove that market analysis and opaque curatorspeak aren't the only languages spoken in the international art world. According to X's curatorial director, Cecilia Alemani, NSFS's agenda is, in fact, the exact opposite of an art fair: "We are not interested in selling or buying. We are interested in recognizing the centrality of ideas and the centrality of personal relationships, which can accomplish so much more than money."

VIEW SLIDESHOW Light Industry: Still from 3D Trick Pony, a video and performance by Ben Coonley (2002); ;

Each of the forty local, national, and international organizations featured at NSFS will occupy their own piece of real estate within the X Initiative's cavernous space, where the festival's floor plan and layout form an unlikely film reference. Says Alemani: "The movie Dogville was a sort of inspiration because on many levels, "No Soul For Sale" has to do with hospitality and coexistence. Hopefully, though, the whole atmosphere will be much more friendly than in the city imagined by Lars Von Trier."

We're confident it will be. Here, we take a look at five of New York City-based collectives included in the program.

: In a time when the social imperative of fiscal austerity has compelled many to feign frivolity, it's heartening to see an organization unafraid to take itself seriously. Art relies on altruism, and thus begat W.A.G.E.: Working Artists for the Greater Economy, an advocacy group that seeks to "draw attention to the economic inequalities that exist in the arts, and to resolve them." Formed in 2008 by artists K8 Hardy, A.L. Steiner, and A.K. Burns, W.A.G.E advocates for a working wage for artists and curators working within the art market. Since the culture wars of the 1980's and 90s, many have maligned the allocation of government arts grants to favor institutions over individuals. Part of W.A.G.E.'s initiative is to mandate that art workers will be paid for consultations, lectures and reproductions, thus negating the empty, yet all-too-common promise of exposure as compensation. As the group says: "Art institutions must operate as ethical economic entities, just like any other societal institutions. We are advocating for artists to be paid for the work that we provide when working with institutions."

LIGHT INDUSTRY: Developed and overseen by Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, Light Industry is an independent, not-for-profit art house theater-cum-gallery based in Industry City, an industrial complex in Sunset Park. Their lineup for NSFS is impressive and exhaustive, packed with conversations (film historian P. Adams Sitney and artist Paul Chan will speak), performances (artist Bruce McClure will make music using 16mm film projectors) and screenings. The content reflects Light Industry's programming in general, Beard says, and is "Pointedly catholic. The lineup might seem borderline schizophrenic - videogames, Grindhouse fare, cable access, Third Cinema, postwar avant-garde film -- but I feel that all of this work belongs together. To my mind, Doris Wishman is as crucial a figure in the history of cinema as Paul Sharits, even though their respective practices differ quite radically." Though their allotted space at NSFS is quite a departure from their normal headquarters, Beard isn't worried: "Even a small space, like the one we have at X, can be really liberating."

STOREFRONT FOR ART AND ARCHITECTURE: Founded in 1982, the Storefront for Art and Architecture is something of a conceptual grandfather to the many of the younger art nonprofits featured in NSFS. With its twelve opposable walls and windows, the now-legendary space, located on Kenmare Street, is the collaborative effort of artist Vito Acconci and architect Steven Holl. Like Keith Haring's late, great Pop Shop, and the Muppet madness that was Kenny Scharf's Scharf Shack -- both of which existed mere steps away from the center -- the Storefront is a New York institution of quixotic art and architectural charm. Its inimitable history will be highlighted at NSFS, where a selection of Storefront's 'newsletters' will be displayed. Says director Joseph Grima: "For each of its shows over the past 27 years, Storefront has produced a poster-size newsprint ‘newsletter,' which is mailed out as invitations to the opening. One side contains information about the exhibition, and the other side is usually a poster for the exhibition. For NSFS, we have selected some of the most interesting ones related to interesting or groundbreaking shows such as Diller + Scofidio's "Bodybuildings" and Dan Graham's "Environmental Aesthetic."

: As a nonprofit organization with a Williamsburg gallery space called The Change You Want To See, Not An Alternative maintains a purposefully fluid agenda. Their main goal is to unite art, theory, and activism, which often steers them toward uncharted, irresolute territories. However, when it comes to art and its relationship to activism, the group often relinquishes individual authorship. Says NAA: "One of the most overtly politicized contemporary art movements, the era of ‘Institutional Critique,' was essentially lost to activists because artists were so consumed with attaching their name to everything they made. We believe that ways of thinking have changed somewhat with the influence of discourses related to open source and online decentralized production. This has allowed for much more of an activist mindset (get stuff done and don't worry about who made it), and has affected an interesting opening-up in contemporary art practice." In their space at NSFS, the group will show photos and print material configured as a loose model of their gallery space.

: As one of the more high-profile organizations featured in NSFS, Artis Contemporary Israeli Art Fund has sponsored well-recognized projects promoting contemporary Israeli art, not the least of which is the MFA Israeli artist Fund, a partnership with Columbia University's Visual Arts MFA program (graduates of this program include Guy Ben-Ner and Mika Rottenberg). Yet the organization remains committed to international artmaking at its least commodified, as confirmed by their contribution to NSFS. Premiering his dreamy, poetic work in New York, the street artist Know Hope, who lives in Tel Aviv, has created a 40-by-16 foot paper collage on X's fourth floor. The work exists somewhere in the realm between a 3D installation and a mural, though the artist is not one for strict definitions: "If I get specific about what I am addressing here, there is a limitation. Accessibility is my top priority. I want to create a common moment and maybe a common feeling of awkwardness." On June 28th, Artis will feature a performance by Israeli visual artist Naama Tsabar in collaboration with eight New York City musicians. Tsabar's work often explores Minimalist aesthetics, and the visual component of the performance, titledComposition 8, employs amplifiers as sculptural pedestals for the musicians.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Art in America/Frank Haines

Anger Takes a Holiday: 'Blood Transfusion for a Ghost' at PS1

On Saturday night, it seemed as though filmmaker Kenneth Anger had, like Zeus, sprouted an Athena in the form of American artist Frank Haines. Haines's celebration of the summer solstice, Blood Transfusion for a Ghost, was a big, bright aesthetic mess, met with ritual noise and pagan glee. Organized in collaboration with Kate McNamara and MoMA's Poprally series, the night featured performances by curator Mark Beasley (who is at the helm of Creative Time's soon-to-open group show This World & Nearer Ones, held on Governors Island), filmmaker Rose Kallal, poet Cedar Sigo, and the band Miracle of Birth (which one attendee described as "intellectualized heavy metal").

The showstopper of the event, however, was Haines's own trio, Blanko and Noiry, which features legendary electronic music innovator (and septuagenarian) Chris Kachulis. The band has played at several art events in the past, including Pati Hertling's Eva's Arche und der Feminist, and their performances are nothing if not riveting. Amidst a set often composed completely in black and white (there are stalactites, stalagmites, and a smattering of black candles), the trio take occult ritual, electronic dissonance, and art history for a joyride. Saturday's performance included the emptying what appeared to be dinosaur eggs filled with paint onto an all-white-clad Haines, who has said that the performances are in part homage to the films made by the Vienna Actionists.

Kachulis's vaudevillian ghost attire and vaguely creepy crooning of Doo Wop hits, including "Under My Skin," was the icing on the Anger cake, so to speak. Not to mention, a very good complement to the survey of Anger films that remains on view at the museum until September 14th. In Anger's work, magic is both the ritual and the rabbit: deeply held belief systems are met with an acknowledgement of -- and affinity for -- the kitschy iconography magic conjures in Western thought. His forays into the teachings of Aleister Crowley were made hand-in-hand with explorations of sexuality and camp aesthetics (Scorpio Rising is as much a swirling homoerotic fantasia as it is a paganistic attempt to imbue inanimate motorbikes with humanistic sexual prowess). The great gift of Anger's work has always been the myriad conceptual inroads it makes for other artists: one finds another nascent devotee in art photographer David Benjamin Sherry, who curated the group show currently on view at Bellwether gallery and often cites Anger as an influence. Like Anger, Haines' work (the artist has a solo show of sculpture and paintings on view at Lisa Cooley Gallery until July 3rd.) is also deeply ingrained with religious inquiries. And, as is most firmly evident with his performances, Hainess' art feels at once joyous and profane. Explorations into hermetic realms are always met, in the end with a big, bright, glow-in-the-dark smile.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Art in America/On Stellar Rays

Gallery Guide: A Conversation with Candice Madey of On Stellar Rays

When opening her gallery, On Stellar Rays, on Orchard Street last September, one can imagine Candice Madey receiving her fair share of consoling pats on the wrist. As it has been reported endlessly in the media, now is an exceptionally bad time to involve oneself in anything that unites art production with the financial sector. Perhaps the art world is wrapped in a metaphorical cocoon, anticipating its metamorphoses: a necessary process, but not always as exhilarating as one may hope for. Galleries like Madey's aren't rolling over and playing dead; nor are they commodifying themselves to be the art world's version of an off-price retail shop.

Madey, who earned her MBA from Ohio State, uses her gallery to present programming that is conceptually challenging. The artists who show at On Stellar Rays make exciting work, but it not easy; it requires patience. That Madey employs her business education and her artistic intellect in tandem is one thing that is so exciting about the space: it is built to last, but not for a quick profit. Younger, more independent-minded galleries don't always follow the most concrete, long-term business models (many artists and gallerists resist to the idea that, at some point, bills and rent must be paid). As a young, educated, and passionate visionary who is able to balance the demands of her artists and her programming with the realities of finance, Madey represents a new type of gallerist and curator. On Stellar Rays' most recent show "Do Jaguar," a performance piece by artist Georgia Sagri had very few physical objects for sale, apart from a fantastic series of lushly disturbing images of wounds printed on scarves. This show is almost the embodiment of Madey's ethos: a thoroughly thought-out conceptual leap underpinned with a finely honed sense of fiscal acuity. Her next exhibition, opening June 20th, is a group show titled Lover, which Madey curated in collaboration with artist Kate Gilmore.

AW: What lead you to open On Stellar Rays? When you were in grad school, did you have the idea that you were going to be involved in the art world?

CM: Yes, always. I could easily say I decided to open this gallery twelve years ago - everything I've done has lead up to this. I don't think I took the traditional track at all; I bounced around and did a lot of different things. I worked at Christie's for a bit, I worked for an estate, I worked for galleries in Chelsea. But typically I worked in smaller-scale institutions. And at every gallery job I had, I worked as a registrar, as a curator and doing sales -- I always combined those things.

AW: You majored inArt History as an undergradute. Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?

CM: I looked into Art History programs when I was getting my masters' degree. I always felt, since it's such a strong interest for me, that my art education is always happening in some regard. It's an ongoing process. Business, on the other hand -- I would never go read accounting books for pleasure. And I wanted the structure of a program, as there are practical things you learn on a day-to-day basis [in graduate school]. I took a lot of finance classes, a field which possesses its own language. To understand the financial market is very important to me as it changes how I look at the art market.

AW: For so many art makers and people involved in the art world (especially younger people) the financial sector is an opaque glass wall. It's the thing that people don't understand and don't want to understand as it is so antithetical to the somewhat irrational process of making art.

CM:That's why my business education is important to me. At the same time, the first year of this gallery has been so consumed with administrative responsibility, so I am always trying to think of ways to integrate my continuing education in art with my business responsibilities.

AW: Integration is important to your programming. You have a very supportive relationship with your artists; I remember coming here when JJ PEET was preparing for his show, and he had turned the basement of the gallery into a private workspace. It reminded me of how, in the 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat was living and working in the basement of Annina Nosei's gallery. Only your relationship with PEET isn't based on him churning out paintings for you to sell. It's less cut and dried. A lot of the work you show, as well as some of your collateral programming (On Stellar Rays' artists have created performance pieces where they sell t-shirts and CDs on the street in front of the gallery), has some basis in Relational Aesthetics, but none of it feels completely a part of that movement.

CW: I am reading Claire Bishop's book Participation at the moment. It's brilliant, because it includes older essays about work from the 1960s as well as more contemporary work. I am not certain that the artists typically associated with Relational Aesthetics interest me as much as thinking about other genres, and looking at art as we experience music, or film, or live readings of poetry. This idea of producing rather than consuming is interesting to me. It is more demanding (though I am also careful to show work that is accessible). Obscure and opaquely intellectual work for the sake of that bores me. Showing work that pushes, yet also can relate to people outside of the art world is a constant challenge and balancing act. This also creates challenges in a commercial space, but I feel that as long as I can find a way to support the artists in making work I am satisfied. My business model assumes that there are enough people out there who will in turn support the gallery -- and who will support this way of working as an artist and as a gallery.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Moment/Bushwick Biennial

In Brooklyn, a Basel for Beginners

Acrylic and gouache on paperImage courtesy of Molly Larkey PR“Untitled (Pastel Bars)” by Molly Larkey.

The upcoming Art Basel and just-opened Venice Biennale have some scrappy, sidewinding competition this year, and New Yorkers needn’t book a seat in first class to find it. Last weekend heralded the return of Bushwick Open Studios and inaugurated the Bushwick Biennial.

Like Basel, the Biennial has works for sale. But, according to Benjamin Evans, Director of the Nurture Art and ideasmith for the Bushwick Biennial, “The fact that something is for sale doesn’t mean that there is any commerce going on. I know Bushwick gallerists who are proud of the fact that they’ve never sold anything. But I don’t want to belittle artists’ attempt to sell their work. We’re totally non-profit, but that doesn’t mean our artists are.”

The Bushwick Biennial runs through July 19th at the Nurture Art, Pocket Utopia and English Kills galleries.

Holy text on paper, 20 x 22 inchesImage courtesy of Meg Hitchcock“Radiance” by Meg Hitchcock. Words taken from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11 (The Universal Manifestation) from the Bible and The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9.

Digital C-print, 40 x 30 inchesPhoto courtesy of Jason Falchook“Fill” by Jason Falchook.

The exterior of the towable RVPhoto courtesy of Kim HollemanThe exterior of “Trailer Park” by Kim Holleman.

The interior of the towable RVPhoto courtesy of Kim HollemanThe interior of “Trailer Park” by Kim Holleman.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Art in America/Spencer Finch

Flowing Both Ways: Spencer Finch Re-routes the High Line

The aesthetics of the pixel are marked by paradox: Large, ungainly squares in video and still images connote "old technology" cheapness, an undesirable lack of smooth, bright HD quality. But those same pixels, newly ripped away from their LCD screens, have made their way onto everything from Marine Corps fatigues to Dunkin' Donuts coffee cozies. Off-screen, pixellation is often used in all facets of design, as shorthand for a sense of contemporaneity. Want to make something look now-ish? Pixellate it.

But pixels can also be beautiful. And at the newly opened High Line Park (New York's public got its first bated-breath view today), American artist Spencer Finch has created a public art piece that celebrates pixellation in all its four-sided rapture. With The River That Flows Both Ways, commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the Highline and The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Finch reinterprets the Hudson River in a series of 700 colored glass windows placed in the extant structure of a loading dock -- a leftover from the High Line's former days as afunctional train track. 700 is the magic number: the artist created the source images for the piece by photographing the Hudson River 700 times in 700 minutes, in one single day. Finch captured the Hudson River's unique quality: it has currents that flow in opposite directions at once ("one of the few rivers of this kind in the world," according to the project's curator, Creative Time's Meredith Johnson). The artist traveled up and down the river by tugboat, using only the river's currents as propulsion, and photographed the same moment in 700 different points in space and time. Then, says Johnson, Finch isolated a pixel from each photograph and used it as a narrative point. From there, the squares were reproduced on uniquely printed film, which was then laminated onto each pain of glass.

The resulting structure is a large, multi-paned gradation of greens, blues and purples, which moodily filter the sunlight that passes over the Hudson in the late afternoon. The feeling one has when experiencing Finch's piece is that of being in a forgotten pre-war train station; there's a sense of romantic dereliction that is highlighted by the disused train tracks that have been kept in place throughout the park. While the High Line Park itself is wonderfully imbued with the possibilities of improvement (poppies and irises sprout up everywhere, beckoning rebirth), Finch's piece allows for a quiet moment of remembrance.

The piece has a cousin -- cosmetically, at least -- in what has become one of the most popular public art projects in recent history: Gerhard Richter's Domfenster (2007), which the artist made for Germany's Cologne Cathedral. For that piece, Richter reinterpreted an older "color chart" painting he created, 4096 Colors (1974), by taking each individual block of color in the work and reconfiguring it as individual panes of glass in a Gothic stained glass window structure. While Domfenster is, in some ways, a secularized interpretation of religious cathedral windows, The River That Flows Both Ways introduces a healthy dose of American, Robert Smithson-tinged Transcendentalism to the medium. (This makes sense: Prior to joining Creative Time, Johnson was Assistant Director at Minetta Brook, which presented, in 2005, Robert Smithson's "A Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan"). Finch brings things forward, however, and his own conceptual reconfiguring of the Hudson River reflects on the spiritual nature of time and circumstance, while encouraging alternate modes of aesthetic thought around the ever-ubiquitous pixel.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Moment/Photography Wow

Now Showing | Photography Wow

Mariah RobertsonImages courtesy of Marvelli Gallery, New York.“Gladiola Window RGB 1″ (2007), by Mariah Robertson

There’s a strange summer tradition in New York City of waxing conceptual about photography. In the summer of 2007, Luhring Augustine gallery’s “Strange Magic” show celebrated artists intent on dragging traditional photography into the far realms of abstraction. Last summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art played host to “Photography On Photography: Reflections of the Medium Since 1960,” a large-scale survey that helped group together what is now considered the conceptual photography rat pack: Liz Deschenes, Roe Etheridge, Sherrie Levine and Christopher Williams.

This year, Marvelli gallery, on 26th Street in Chelsea, offers its take with “Palomar: Experimental Photography,” a group show on display until June 29. The exhibition highlights an assortment of up-and-coming shutterbugs whose reinterpretation of photography recalls early ventures into abstract expressionist painting. While the show presents an eclectic group of images that self-consciously play on the mechanics of photographic production, any semblance of traditional representation gets left in the development room. Most works focus on difficult-to-decipher content and geometric patterns built from light, shadows and exposure.

“Sun Abstraction with Color Filters” (2007), by Mariah Robertson.

Like modern-day Hans Hofmann paintings, the images made by Mariah Robertson (who will have a solo show at the space in the fall) are formally elegant and ripe with sensuous color. Some, like the artist Nancy de Holl’s depictions of constricted fabric that allude to a leather dominatrix’s face mask, are visual puns. The Los Angeles-based artist Asha Schechter, on the other hand, offers quietly analytical images that question the very purpose of photography itself. Go figure: Schechter, who recently received his M.F.A. from U.C.L.A., credits his past life as a photo researcher at The New Yorker with his desire to produce more experimental images. “I think seeing pictures used in an instrumental way really pushed me away from wanting to make directly representational work myself,” he says.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Art in America/Lisa Kirk

House Proud: Lisa Kirk Reinterprets the Timeshare

Perhaps the most inelegant object lesson in America's thirst for luxury and escape is the timeshare vacation home. This quintessential "you get what you pay for" bargain is paved with good intentions in the form of a less-expensive holiday in a supposedly comfortable, homelike dwelling. Yet the stories one hears about them typically depict humanity at its least civilized. Timeshares are owned by many and claimed by none. Trussed up and turned out again and again by desperate brokers, timeshares are forever found in deplorable conditions, abandoned by previous tenants. Human nature, it seems, pushes otherwise gracious individuals to divorce themselves from the responsibility of ownership -- even at its most temporary. 

American artist Lisa Kirk explores themes of commodity fetishism and audience participation in her work. Past projects include a perfume she created called REVOLUTION, which features top notes of tear gas and decaying flesh. Her latest project, maison des cartes, employs a critical sense of humor in considering the neglected timeshare. Maison des Cartes was originally created in an interior environment for "House of Cards," her solo show earlier this year at Invisible/Exports gallery on Orchard Street. In its current iteration, the piece has been transformed from an art installation to a rentable timeshare on a waterfront locale in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 

Kirk recently inaugurated the piece with a festive ribbon cutting ceremony. Made from 52 separate pieces of material, "the shanty," as the artist has nicknamed the Maison, recalls a dishabille squat, and includes an outdoor commode, security in the form of both a padlock and a combination lock, and a cheerful, disused kitchen. The structure is placed a few steps away from an abandoned airplane fuselage (property of a nearby prop house), which acts as both neighbor and aesthetic appendage. The shanty's home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is, unfortunately, not permanent. Its placement was a hard-won victory. Says Kirk: "It took us a while to find the perfect place, and finally we ended up knowing someone who had this land." In a gesture that recalls the Fake Estates project of Gordon Matta-Clark -- from 1973-1974, the artist bought the property titles to tiny slots of gutter space from the city government -- Kirk says she looked at lots around the city but found it impossible to jump through the necessary bureaucratic hoops. The Brooklyn Navy Yard proved a fortuitous (and last-minute) alternative.


Lest one think that this is all just for art worldly titters, Kirk is currently accepting weeklong reservations, which are priced at $199.99. (Act now! Due to the Venice Biennale exodus the week of June 5th may still be available). But be forewarned: any potential guests will have their insouciant timeshare habits recorded for posterity in the form of a third exhibition, the location of which has yet to be determined. Says Kirk: "The final show will include ephemera from peoples' stays there. Before and after check-in, the Maison's matron will note any damages on a checklist, as a landlord does. Then I'll come in when they leave, archive the detritus and photograph the environment. All detritus left behind is property of Maison des Cartes."

The piece seems deliver a warning: Buyer beware! A combination of personal experience with a timeshares and an interest in the current decline in property values inspired Kirk: "The time share experience is a nightmare. You're always getting harangued into ‘upgrading,' and that experience is woven into this project. It's also a joke on the art market, with its system of pricing. The people who rent Maison des Cartes will get emails and paper mail inviting them to upgrade and become a ‘collector.' And then, they can move to the next level, and become a ‘bronze collector'." Spoken like a true art veteran of both the art world and the timeshare.


[All images courtesy the author and Lisa Kirk.]