Monday, August 31, 2009

Degree Critical/Christian Marclay

Christian Marclay at Paula Cooper

by aimee walleston

Untitled (Madonna, Thy Word and Sonic Youth), 2008

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

Art in America/Whitney's Biennial

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

Art in America/Curation in the Expanded Field

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."

Farimani Forum

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,, and 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

Art in America/Ryan McNamara

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.