Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Art in America/Marlene McCarty

Marlene McCarty's Resilient Fury

Perhaps Marlene McCarty's most challenging body of work, for its unsettling and often sexually explicit unification of man and beast, is a series of large-scale pen and ink drawings that recall the hairy, erotic realism of the illustrations of Alex Comfort's original The Joy of Sex. In McCarty's world, human beings consort with primates and give birth to primate babies. Viewers recalibrate their respective comfort levels, and are left to wonder whether evolution is linear progress in the service of dogmatic modernism. This series, which continues, comprises a psychically significant section of McCarty's current survey at 80wse in New York, and serves as a fascinating point of entry to the work of an artist defined by canny aesthetic prescience and lifelong political activism.

This retrospective, "I'm into you now," is a truncated whole, spanning from 1980 to 2010 and giving most of its space over to McCarty's signature drawings. Curated by Michael Cohen, the survey includes the artist's infamous series of drawings depicting young female killers, in which her subjects, genitals and nipples visible through their clothing, are reborn as complicated packets of sexual persona rife with a murderous perspective on the margins of society. The narrative of each girl's life makes startlingly similar progress, ostensibly the conceptual impetus for the artist choosing to continually depict young women who lives have been sculpted by this criminal act. "The girl, as she matures, is losing her position as a child in society," explains the artist. "Now she's being sexualized, not only physically and hormonally, but also by outside desire. She's living in these domestic environments with her parents, and generally her mother is going through this stage where she's losing her sex appeal and her cultural currency. And in each case, there's an impulse. The impulse for the girls was: I have to get out of here, I have to free myself, I have to get rid of this environment of parents, family and everything that is oppressing me. And murder was the way out."

McCarty, who grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, developed a correlation between politics, art making and design when she moved to Switzerland as an undergradute to study graphic design at Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule Basel. "People were very politically engaged and politically concerned in Switzerland, and [it opened my eyes and made me] disgusted with what was going on in the world," says the artist, who at this time was exposed to youthful revolutions based around public space as well as nuclear disarmament. She also resided in a building where many young Swiss punk bands, including Mother's Ruin and Lilliput, would perform. McCarty began making intriguing, Bauhaus-tinged graphic backdrops for the bands to play in front of (which have been reproduced as window displays for the exhibition), and one sees in these works the early activation of a political agenda. That "disgust" traveled with the artist when she moved to New York City and became involved in AIDS activism, in and outside of artist collective Gran Fury, where she produced socially critical design-based activist materials (also on view at 80wse).

"Not to sound puritanical, but I think art should be challenging," says McCarty, and the work presented in the exhibition acts not only as a survey for McCarty, but also as an intriguing timeline for feminist artwork from the ‘80s onward. Many of McCarty's confrontational sculptures and wall pieces, including the three-panel heat transfer on canvas untitled (pussy, beaver, cunt) (1989–1990), a text piece detailing the nicknames for vagina, paved the way for the riot grrl aesthetics (the show's catalog features an introduction from musician Kathleen Hanna).

Society writ large has taken a shy step back from the confrontational female voices that dominated '90s activism, and this survey illustrates most clearly that McCarty's work, specifically her primate drawings series, have only become more provocative. "I feel like art should take people places that they haven't really thought about," says the artist. "It shouldn't just be big glittery pieces that are like, 'wow, that's really big and shiny.' It should deal with things that are close to people, but that are complex, difficult, and interesting-things that people can carefully think about. You have to remember that about 40% of the population thinks that the earth was created in 6000 years and that dinosaurs trotted the earth at the same time as Jesus."

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Presented by The Last Magazine, THE LAST SPACE is a reinterpretation of the magazine through a physical exhibition of the art, fashion, film, poetry and personal effects featured in the current issue. As the contemporary idea of what a magazine is and could be continually changes, through an influx of one-offs, iPad editions and digital downloads, we have begun to think about a shift in perspective toward actual experience and human involvement.

The creative entities that live on the two dimensions of a paper magazine are the final products of collaborations between stylists, designers, photographers, editors and writers. All of these people take their subject matter and transform it into new creative formats suitable to the printed page. But art and music are sensuous experiences, fashion is about movement with the body and its touch against the skin, and the images and rhythms of poetry activate differently when spoken. As the makers of this magazine, we have the opportunity to understand these objects and events in their purest forms, before we invite them to move in together on our pages. And we would like for our readers to have the opportunity to understand them this way as well.

Within this exhibition, we have included artwork from artists including Josephine Meckseper, Mickey Smith, Marco Perego and Stephen Irwin, all of whom highly individualistic, culturally attuned images filled with wit, anger, contemplation, beauty, romance and sexuality. Irish middleweight champion John Duddy has leant us his gloves, while our favorite go-kart champion, 12-year-old Santino Ferrucci, has donated his extra-small racing suit. The work of young fashion designers including Joseph Altuzarra, Graeme Armour, Alexander Wang and Eddie Borgo is alchemized with Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy. For film, we are presenting As If We Existed, a collaboration between Icelandic artists Ragnheidur Gestsdóttir and Ragnar Kjartansson, as well as American filmmaker Daniel Peddle’s Trail Angels. Recordings made by young musicians Anna von Hausswolff and Tame Impala will be presented, as well as a poetry and fashion match up between fellow Californians Quinn Latimer and the Rodarte sisters.

Wednesday, December 1st, 12–6pm
The Webster Miami
1220 Collins Avenue, 3rd floor
Miami Beach

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Last Magazine/Ragnar Kjartansson and Ragheidur Gestsdottir

American painter James McNeill Whistler

notoriously loved to dress and act the part of

the dandy, causing fellow artist Edgar Degas

to chasten him: “Whistler, behave as if you

have no talent... If you were not a genius,

you’d be the most ridiculous man in Paris.” It’s

a common belief that those who try too hard

to look interesting rarely are. Equally, as we

live in an image-driven culture, the younger

creative class is riddled with individuals who

make it their personal mission to look and

act like artists, to the point of being more

invested in their costume than their creative

output. Making art is very difficult and typically

not very glamorous. Looking like an artist is,

conversely, extremely glamorous.

Ragnar Kjartansson is an Icelandic artist

devoted to the exposition of the romantic idealization

of the artist. Rather than toil away in a studio

looking like a beaten bear, Kjartansson cuts a

dashing figure in his well-tailored suits. In 2007,

Kjartansson performed a durational performance

piece in Chelsea titled Folksong. For six hours a

day, the artist crooned on a moodily-lit set in a

vacant lot, replete with painted trees as props.

Dressed as a ’50s country heartthrob in headto-

toe white and wielding a cherry red vintage

guitar—his hair Brylcreemed to perfection—Kjartansson

channeled Vito Acconci as reimagined by

David Lynch. “It totally comes from ’70s endurance

performance art,” says Kjartansson. “Like

Marina [Abramovic] and Chris Burden. It’s a very

direct link to that. I started doing my own experiments,

asking, how hard is it to do an endurance

performance? And then I found out that it was

not hard at all. It was like a brilliant escape from

reality. So I became addicted to it.”

Last year, the addiction was explored to even

greater depths by virtue of the artist’s invitation

to represent Iceland in the Venice Biennale. For

his contribution, titled The End (Venice), Kjartansson

(who is the youngest artist to ever represent

Iceland) chose to enact a sort of ode to traditional

painting through a durational piece. For six months,

the artist made one painting a day, with a male

model as his subject, whom the artist chose very

carefully. “I was going to be there for half a year with

this young man,” says Kjartansson, “so there had

to be a camaraderie—not like an artist-and-model

kind of thing. I wanted it to be like at the beginning of

The Picture of Dorian Gray, where they’re hanging

out in the studio and chatting about philosophy.”

The setting for the temporary studio was the

Palazzo Michiel dal Brusa, which Kjartansson

quickly littered with empty bottles and ashes,

thus making it all the more painterly. “I was very

interested in making a performance where the

main document would be paintings,” says Kjartansson.

“I was in the painting department when

I was in art school, so I kind of always wanted to

be a painter. But then I started to study performance

art and became greatly interested in

that. Then I wanted to [explore] the performative

aspect of painting. Not like a comment on painting

itself but more like the atmosphere around

painting—that there’s a ceremonial or almost a

holy atmosphere.”

While some may find the studio a quotidian

place where an artist’s work is accomplished,

Kjartansson seems to view it more in terms of

a set. “Honestly I almost have to kind of put on

a show for myself—to kind of act out the artist,”

he explains. “When I go into artistic mode I kind

of get into that costume in my head. Like, now

I am the artist. And, in Venice, I wanted to turn

that up to eleven.” There is a tension, in his work,

between performance and art-making, and

between what is real and what is being acted out.

This is made even more evident by the

filmed documentation of the piece, titled As If I

Existed, which is being made by Icelandic artist

Ragnheiur GestsdoÅLttir. The film reinstates Kjartansson’s

agenda in both look and feel, and riffs

on it with GestsdoÅLttir’s own unique ideas about

representation and documentation. GestsdoÅLttir’s

first film project was a documentary of fellow

Icelandic artist BjoÅNrk (she has since made two

additional films with BjoÅNrk), and she has also

trained her lens on famed Icelandic conceptual

artist Hreinn Frifinnsson for an experimental

documentary due out next year. Describing the

collaboration with Kjartansson, which she is

presently in the middle of editing, GestsdoÅLttir

explains, “I was particularly interested in this

idea again of representation. The whole thinking

behind the piece was a kind of factualization of

this persona that Kjartansson created. I guess

that was the place that I was most interested

in. When does he step out of the character and

when does he step in—how can you maintain that

persona? It was like, I’m making a portrait of this

guy who is making a portrait.” The film she is

working on perfectly mirrors the idea of painting,

with woozy montages that hearken to Russian

filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Yet her piece, in its

ability to be an artwork and also an examination

of an artist, feels very new. “I’m interested in that

multi-layered way of reading a piece. I originally

wanted to use 16mm film footage”—GestsdoÅLttir

shot the piece in both film and HD video—“to create

a kind of theatrical distance between Ragnar’s

performance and then shoot the non-performance,

the ‘real-life’ Kjartansson, on video. As the project

grew, both his paintings and my film, I felt the film

footage was closer to what both of them were about.

I’ve always dreamt of shooting on film. I knew it

would be hard to go back to video because film is

just so damn beautiful! I like its seductiveness.”

What is quite striking about both works is what

could be read as a sort of cock-eyed optimism

in the face of Iceland’s utter economic collapse.

When questioned about how this has affected his

art-making, Kjartansson says, “For us artists

here it’s a very exciting period. It’s like living in

a test tube—there are, for example, no more

businessmen. It’s as if they’ve gone into hiding.

You see the effects really strongly. In the U.S.

you notice that nothing really changed but here,

everything changed.” Fittingly, one of his recent

works celebrates an individual whose longevity

is a testament to riding out tough times. “It’s a

video called The Man, and it’s a performance

by Pinetop Perkins, one of the Delta bluesman.

He was born in 1913. He’s ninety-seven years old.

He’s been playing blues music for seventy years.

He started playing in 1927, and he’s mind-blowingly

good. So I did this piece with him in Texas—it’s

also like an homage to him and I love his music

and I just love the blues.” And how was it to meet

someone whose life stands as a representation

of durational performance? “It was kind of like a

meeting with the Dalai Lama of badass.”

The Last Magazine/Michaela Meise

The German writer W.G. Sebald sidestepped the accepted

dictums of fiction-writing to create a new form

of storytelling. Juxtaposing incongruent narratives

and combining image and text, he produced works

that acted like a grand, panoramic narrative of life

in the world: for every personal moment of tragedy

or euphoria, there’s always (and equally) a car that’s

simply driving by—the quotidian and the epiphanic

are not indistinct. In Sebald’s world, the sight of a

couple making love on a beach becomes intertwined

with an image of a two-headed monster from beneath

the sea, highlighting the distinction between fantasy

and reality, between perception and experience.

Comparisons unite people in life, and the cruelty

inherent in those comparisons is often what breaks

people apart. Berlin-based German artist Michaela

Meise’s unique hybrids of image and object offer

intriguing juxtapositions that, like Sebald’s writings,

hold more than the sum of their parts. Here, we

speak to the artist about her many inspirations—from

Sebald to Starbucks.

Aimee Walleston Can you explain the juxtaposition of

images and objects in your work? Do these have roots

in any kind of theoretical ideology?

Michaela Meise The relationship between image

and object has to do with thoughts about the frame.

Where there’s an image there’s always a picturecarrier,

but the picture-carrier is subordinated to the

image. The frame and the image-carrier are shaping

and delivering an image, but at the same time their

presence is almost excluded from perception. Together

with my interest in Greek Orthodox icons, my

interest in this led to my emphasizing the physicality

and presence of the picture-carrier. And after a while

the picture-carrier didn’t even have images on it

anymore. In the specific relationship between image

and objects, the books of W.G. Sebald and their image

editing had some influence.

AW You seem to create a lot of sculptures that, at first

glance, look as though they could be utilitarian. Is it

your intention to critique the line between art object

and furniture or architecture?

MM I have no intention to blur the differentiation of

art object from design, but I’m interested in the difference

of value it implies. I like to recreate domestic

forms, because they carry familiar proportions;

surfaces and colors that definitely have a specific

space in the subconscious. That’s one aspect. Additionally,

I look into aesthetics from neighboring fields

like craftwork or hobby art objects, because they lack

an “art value.” I like to weaken an object’s authority.

I don’t know if this is visible, but it’s my motivation. It

puts some stuttering into the work.

AW You have a unique draw toward certain materials,

and I wanted to see how that played out in your

thoughts around your work.

MM Some familiar objects have the potential to

condense social and historical circumstances, they

can almost turn into a metaphor. I use tea boxes in

my work, for example, that show a photo of a cup

of black tea that has already been brightened with

milk. It refers to a specific tea-drinking habit which

is popular in Great Britain, but as well in countries

which have been colonized by England. I’m also

captivated by products from Starbucks, though I

know why only to some extent. The material range I

use to build objects is narrow—apart from Plexiglas

and cardboard it’s mostly wood. Probably because I

can cut the wood myself and build sculptures without

help from someone, and probably because wood,

aside from clay, is the oldest traditional building


AW I am interested in art that looks backward to

minimalism without treading over the same ground.

Do you feel the tenets of minimalism have any

relationship to the work you are making now?

MM The only minimalist artist I consciously relate

to, or at least admired when I was a student, was

Charlotte Posenenske. If I should answer why my

sculptures look minimalist it’s probably because

minimalism already infused popular culture and

shaped my memory. It infused textile design,

furniture, and architecture. When I started to build

my sculptures they probably looked like the kind

of furniture that was built by techno-club owners

in Frankfurt, where I studied. There was some DJ

aesthetic of minimal, colorful, customized furniture

and clothes. Another source for minimal shapes is

educational toys for children. Though their formlanguage

is probably derived from Bauhaus and not

so much from minimalism.

AW How important is the identity of being an artist to

you, in relation to how you make your work?

MM The topic of identity is a recurring issue to me.

Possibly this derives from a feminist perception

which was part of my academic education. I gravitate

toward analytical positions, but accept the inherent

subjectivity as well. Philosopher Roland Barthes

denied in his late philosophy any categorization of his

profession. He stated that he didn’t want to decide if

he’s a philosopher or an author. Furthermore he criticized

the outlines of what a philosophical text should

be as structural repression. It’s not obvious what an

artist is and there’s a lot of mythology involved.

The Last Magazine/Josephine Meckseper and Elizabeth Dee

If I were Dorothy, I would have made it my first mission

to get behind Oz’s curtain, not back to Kansas,

because nothing is more interesting than the truth.

More than that, nothing is more fascinating than

the truth that lies behind power. New York gallerist

Elizabeth Dee has taken the idea of power to places

yet unmapped in the New York City art world. With a

program of multigenerational artists that includes

’70s performance-art vanguardist Adrian Piper,

video-art pioneer Alex Bag, and wunderkind Ryan

Trecartin, Dee has transformed the idea of what a

gallerist can be in a way not unlike Jeffrey Deitch.

However, while Deitch turned a portion of the art

world into an inclusive, party-friendly playground,

Dee has promoted challenging, uncompromising,

politically-charged art—works that don’t hang very

easily over the sofa—complicating the idea that

dealers are meant to be tucked away in their killing

rooms counting coins like Scrooge McDuck.

Emblematic of Dee’s vision is Josephine

Meckseper, an artist she has known since 2002.

Meckseper’s work—which was shown in this year’s

Whitney Biennial, for one—is a dissection of iconographies.

Her work revolves around the manufacturer’s

logos and icons that keep our culture always

on the want. By making these logos seem both in

and out of place—when placed in a gallery, they are

both comforting and startling—Meckseper examines

the way advertising and marketing infiltrate almost

every corner of our lives. But instead of swallowing

whole the symbols of extravagance and power

offered by magazines and malls, Meckseper’s work

tilts them until they’re just one or two degrees off.

Within that slight difference, the reality of a life filled

with consumption is illuminated—and what is most

obvious is our own blindness to the world beyond our


Needless to say, it takes a very special art collector

to buy work that is essentially a slap on the

wrist to wealth and capitalism. And it takes a very

special gallerist to understand how to represent

that kind of work. Dee, who grew up in Ohio and

studied studio art and philosophy before beginning

her career in galleries, has a very specific,

collaborative approach to dealing. Meckseper’s

artistic practice developed with an equally contemplative

and considered approach. The artist

attended graduate school at CalArts before moving

to New York in 1992. She didn’t immediately enter

the gallery system, but published an independent

journal, or a “fake magazine,” as she has called it,

titled FAT. It dealt with the examination of commodity

and pop cultural aesthetics in a tabloid-esque

format (it was designed to look like Italy’s Cronaca

Vera). Meckseper’s attraction to the nexus between

art object and art publication continued with the

catalog the gallery published in connection with

her first solo show there: “The book was a vehicle

for getting outside the gallery spaces and reaching

a broader public,” says Dee. “It allowed her to

distribute these ideas more widely, into the hands

of European curators who were planning exhibitions

that were taking a slightly different angle than

what was happening in New York.”

Meckseper has always been devoted to a strong

desire to inspect and engage in current political

and cultural climates. “The market became very

strong for Josephine’s work,” says Dee, “but also

I think that success here was the result of the

shift in focus from 2002 to 2006—suddenly there

was a lot to discuss: we were at war, we had been

through 9/11, people were much more politically

engaged than ever. And so when everyone shifted

toward that field of interest, Josephine had already

been there making this important work for over a

decade.” For Meckseper’s part, she views her work

and practice as equally reflective of contemporary

culture. “Sometimes, I think my work is a way to

capture what is happening now in my own way so

that it becomes some kind of document for the

future,” she says. “My work always feels like it has

a lot less to do with me than with everything around

me. Other artists work more in the opposite way,

I think. It’s more about their world, their life, their

expression. I’m creating something that’s my own,

too, but to me it’s all about having that as a part of

everything else, not something that’s completely

shut off or inaccessible.”

The relationship between Meckseper and Dee

seems to transcend the typical mercenary agenda,

while keeping it firmly in mind. Meckseper avoided

the gallery system until Dee, who was just then

beginning her program and who has presented

herself as a sui generis presence in the New

York art world ever since. One project that Dee

spearheaded, beginning in 2008, was X Initiative,

a not-for-profit art program that ran for one year

and was a welcome and rejuvenating force in an

art market—and a global economy—that had begun

a terrifying descent. “I don’t think it was purely

the economic shift that precipitated [forming X

Initiative],” says Dee. “I think it was also that we

had been so professionalized in our occupations

due to the system’s growth. Everything had an

agenda. And what was very immediate about X

Initiative’s programs was that there was no agenda

or expectation.”

Meckseper’s practice as an artist also fits into

the larger framework of this ideology, in that she

initially seemed quite hesitant to make her work a

gallery-approved product. “I started FAT for that

reason,” says Meckseper, “because I wanted to

create my own context for what interested me.”

Dee seemed to ease her into the gallery system by

allowing Meckseper to set her own rules rather

than kowtow to typical gallery objectives. “I

represent a lot of women artists,” says Dee. “I also

believe in defending their prices. In Josephine’s

case, we continuously built a market around her

work that was very healthy and intelligent, but also

very clear.” As a result, “she’s been able to work to

evolve her practice on a very large scale, and to do

some fabrication that was maybe not possible in

the earlier years.”

However brazen this may be in the era of an

art market that can kill an artist’s career with its

fickleness and rigidity, both Dee and Meckseper

aren’t necessarily interested in viewing themselves

as renegades. When asked if she considers herself

a radical, Dee is resolute. “I don’t,” says the gallerist.

“I really don’t see my authorship in this process

occupying the same place as the observations of

the artist. I’m much more of a collaborator and that

comes through a lot of give and take.” When the

same question is posed to Meckseper, she offers:

“I never think that making art is really that radical.

It seems like just one step removed from reality.

What motivates me more is the idea that it’s an

experiment. I think for us, being women in the art

world, there’s also something entrepreneur-like.

I like to think that I’m not doing it just for myself. I

want younger artists to know that there are women

who can do this. Louise Bourgeois, she was alone

for decades. I think that’s actually the only way.”

The Last Magazine/Invisible Exports

New York City is a place of currents and tides.

A theme or trend gets whispered about in some

downtown corner, and six months later that same

whisper is being shrieked at every magazine shop,

rock show, and gallery exhibition. This can be,

in turns, frustrating and exhilarating. In the late

’90s, the art world began a slow free-fall into the

exaltation of persona—the artist as celebrity—from

the integrity of the artwork being shown. Where

once the young New York art world housed truly

groundbreaking images and ideas, by the early

2000s much of it began to slowly stagnate into a

sea of cardboard-cutout shock and awe, with a

barely-beating heart.

If the bombing of the Twin Towers served as the

wake-up call for an America overly willful in its

oblivion, it also felt a little too true and real—a little

too close to home. The response of many young

artists was to take the fear out of death by making

life appear utterly meaningless. What the tragedy of

9/11 should have done, for artistic creation, was emphasize

the foundational existential reason people

make art: to imbue the meaninglessness of life with

sensuous meaning. Instead, it led to cartoonish

artistic, musical, and literary explorations based

primarily on a creator’s own narcissism and ability

to willfully deceive his or her audience. Artists

working in this vein produced extremely cynical

and superficial bodies of work, ones that exalted

the aesthetics of pointless, unstudied violence,

indiscriminate drug use, and love-resistant sex.

While nihilism may be an airtight philosophy on the

page of a book, it proved a difficult one within which

to negotiate the making of artwork. It’s no surprise

that Vice had its heyday in the ’00s.

2010 is a different story, and, after the tragic

deaths of many truly talented creators in the fields

of art, fashion, and music, there are artistic entities

afoot that are negotiating and defining the difference

between, quite simply, creation and destruction.

As artist Kenneth Anger famously exclaimed, I am

not a cynic. True transgressives never really are,

and the ones now showing their faces most clearly

in the young New York art scene balance out their

transgressions with an optimism and an interest

in exploring the complications of life, rather than

avoiding them in favor of death-drive drug habits.

One of the leaders in this new way of thinking is

Lower East Side gallery Invisible-Exports.

Founded by Risa Needleman and Benjamin

Tischer in 2008, Invisible-Exports has since

ushered in some of the most openly and smartly

subversive work to be shown in New York. Named

after a term derived from finance theory, describing

exports that are intangible, the gallery acts

as a sounding bell for what Needleman would

describe as “smart art.” Its focus has been almost

singularly transgressive, beginning with their first

group show, a conceptual exploration of the 1980s

gallerist Andrew Crispo, whose lifestyle and link to

an awful S&M murder (Crispo’s gallery assistant

was convicted of the crime) were explored in the

David France–penned trash masterpiece Bag of

Toys. Rather than simply celebrate Crispo in the

reckless anti-glory that defined the mindset of

many ’00s LES artists and gallerists, Tischer and

Needleman sought to use Crispo as an object lesson

in the thoughtful analysis of what occurs after

decadence and debauchery turn dystopian. Coming

in the fall of 2008, after the economic crash and the

art world’s burst bubble, the show was a wise and

necessary baby for smart downtown to coo over.

As individuals, Tischer is the man you meet at a

dinner party who you want to talk to until four in the

morning, someone who is packed with great stories

and an inveterate culture vulture whose taste for the

demimonde belies his affable, Midwestern demeanor.

Having dipped his toes in many of New York’s cultural

frontiers, including as a former co-runner of K48

Magazine and as sometime-archivist for the legendary

Genesis P-Orridge, whom the gallery now

represents, Tischer met Needleman in the gallery

world. Needleman, who grew up in New York and who

matches Tischer’s sweetness with her own unpretentious

and kindhearted demeanor, cut her teeth

by working at Sotheby’s and at several galleries,

including that of Michele Maccarone, whose intellect

and rigor Needleman feels deeply influenced her.

Like a kid obsessed with toy trains who grows

up to be a conductor, Needleman began parsing less parlor room-friendly artistic tropes at a young

age. While attending Dartmouth College as an

undergrad, she curated a show around the aesthetics

of violence. Needleman was inspired in part

by Dartmouth alumnus Dr. Seuss, and his painted

re-interpretation of Poussin’s infamous Rape of

the Sabine Women. As Needleman explains, “In the

[Seuss] painting, there’s a woman with a huge ass.

It was like a ritual for the guys at school to slap it

every time they walked past it.” Such may be the

way of the inchoate American male college student,

but it is intriguing to see a curator’s mind formed

by this type of event. This past summer, Invisible-

Exports presented a group show titled “A Vernacular

of Violence,” curated by the gallery and artist

Lisa Kirk (who is known for, among a large body of

politically-attuned work, creating a fragrance with

perfumer Patricia Choux called Revolution, which

is scented with tear gas and decaying flesh). As

Kirk explains, “The show emerged after a conversation

I had with Ben and Risa. I was interested in

the aestheticization of contemporary images of war

and violence, and the general matrix of politicizing

these pictures. All of the artists presented in the

show attempt to tackle these ideas and recreate

them through remixing and simulating their own


In the summer of 2009, the gallery presented two

exhibitions that were almost perfect counterpoints

to each other. Both Needleman and Tischer agree

that the first, “Rape New York,” was probably one

of their least-viewed exhibitions. The show, by

artist Jana Leo, was an open archive documenting

the artist’s real-life rape—and viewers had to be

photographed and documented by the gallery before

gaining permission to look through the archives.

While it’s true that one should study and confront

one’s aversions whenever possible, it was a difficult

show to want to go to—impossible in my case. Leo is

an intensely difficult artist whose desire to bare her

wounds is at once inspiring and deeply disturbing.

Says Tischer of the show, “She told me she was

going to do a book about her rape, and after reading

it I told her that it was brilliant, but good luck finding

a publisher. And that she had to change the name.

She didn’t, and lo and behold a few months later

had a publisher. Then she told me she wanted it to

be an exhibition. Again, I balked, and told her no

commercial gallery would sanely house the project.

But the more Risa and I talked about it, the more

interesting the project seemed. We opened the

show, extended it a bonus week, all the while having

zero in the gallery for sale. ‘Rape New York’ was one

of those shows that gave more the more you gave

into it. People stayed for hours. It was incredible.

Art should shift your reality a bit, no? ‘Rape New

York’ was incredibly effective in this sense.”

In contrast, the gallery later that summer staged

a retrospective of the visual artwork of Genesis

P-Orridge, titled “30 Years of Being Cut Up,” a

beautiful celebration of a sui generis cultural figure

whose artwork had been exhibited in several New

York galleries, but never, according to the gallerists,

given the proper attention of a retrospective.

P-Orridge had been known more, at that point, for

the iconic music groups COUM Transmissions and

Throbbing Gristle, but the Invisible-Exports show

displayed him/her as the dedicated visual artist s/

he is, collected by the Tate Britain and exceedingly

gifted in collage and painting. Many of the works

presented in the show elucidated and celebrated POrridge’s

love affair with artist and performer Lady

Jaye, and detailed, through binary collages, how the

two used somewhat radical plastic surgery, among

other rituals, to become more and more visually

alike—as a way to physically manifest their psychic

oneness. Encountering P-Orridge is like standing

before a bodhisattva, and while the show recognized

the gentle and fiercely attuned beneficence of the

artist, it also acted as a heart-wrenching portrayal

of a love affair that traveled beyond both flesh and

death. In that sense, it connected seamlessly to

what seems to be one of the gallery’s foundational

principles: a life dedicated to the arts—preferably at

their most boundary-crossing and transgressive—is

a life well-worth pursuing to every end possible.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Art in America/Roman Signer

Roman Signer: Suspended Moments

"Four Rooms, One Artist," Romans Signer's current solo show at the Swiss Institute New York, gives viewers the experience of a blockbuster museum show in miniature form. In said four rooms, curated by Gianni Jetzer, Signer's decades-long practice reveals the artist's synthesis of comic and romantic effects housed in an economy of motifs and material.

The show begins with a new work, Waiting for Harold Edgerton (2010), comprised of a single apple that levitates in a cordoned-off room, visible through a window. The title references Edgerton's famous still photograph of an apple being pierced by a bullet, and the impetus of the piece is the action, or non-action, of waiting: "It's kind of similar to Edgerton because the image in that photograph is also frozen in time. I like the idea that I could wait in front of an apple tree until the moment that an apple falls down," says Signer. "The idea of waiting for an apple to fall has a similar structure [to Edgerton's work]: waiting until something happens. But I would need a bit budget for Super 8 film to do that. And probably what would happen is that the apple would fall down at night!" As it stands, the piece elicits its own anticipatory emotion, which is of a part with its conceptual premise, according to the artist. "It's very crucial that people not be able to enter the room—it's like a safe room, or a forbidden room. I would be very upset if people started to touch the apple or move it around."


At the age of 72, Swiss artist Roman Signer makes work that seeks to unbind normative space and time. The artist has lived in Switzerland for nearly his entire life, barring a stint in school in Poland, and his focuses are decidedly less urbane than other artists of his generation. His film, video and photographic works deal with their natural settings and give little pause to contemplate the urban rumblings of the world at large. The body of this practice comprises simple, elegant forms, animated and detonated to elucidate the cinematic ideas of suspense, climax and conclusion. His best-known works are Super 8 films and video wherein the artist stages a spectacular event—sending a Piaggio truck over a ski jump (Piaggio on Jump, 2003), for example—or makes a banal moment spectacular in its slapstick simplicity: shown within this exhibition, Shirt, 2010, features a simple, ghostly white button down shirt gliding up and down a hill on a pully. Signer is also perhaps best-known for works involving rockets and combustion, though the works here are newer, and perhaps illustrate the artist's desire for a quieter and more circumspect output.

A second room within the exhibition shows a work that uses the artist's simple, workaday magic to produce a rumination on music. Two large fans blow ping pong balls slowly and chaotically around the strings of an open piano, producing eerie, inconsistent tones. In the last two rooms, four screens showcase Signer's films and video. Office Chair, 2010, exemplifies the artist's ease at effecting visual seduction with an economy of devices: an office chair spins wildly—yet statically—in the flow of a wooded creek. The HD video is a departure from the artist's beloved Super 8. "I want to get back to Super 8, not for questions of nostalgia, but because I think it's a very interesting medium, much more filmic to a certain extent," says Signer. The exhibition also calls into the question the difference between a Signer work created for a film, and the installations he creates specifically for galleries. Parsing this difference, Signer explains: "Film asks for narratives, and you have to think in narrative terms. The installations are more like organisms, that just have a life in themselves. Also, you can enter and exit an installation. Film has fluidity; it's more spontaneous. Before I used film, I would [use still photographs to document] a sequence of different movements."


(2010) combines film and installation, and features a viewing room staged as a schoolhouse, replete with a chair mechanized that rocks back and forth. On the viewing screen, a series of mixed-together outtakes spanning Signer's career presents a quiet, unresolved "greatest hits." While viewers have become used to Signer's devotion to rocket-launch suspense, the montage produces an ambient retelling Signer's career that focuses on the quieter moments in his films, recalling the interstitial events-caught glances, true smiles, guards let down. For all the combustible, narrative energy that drives Signer's work, it is interesting to think of those in-between moments, and how they illuminate a human pathos inherent in each of the artist's little machines.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Art in America/Ryan Gander

Ryan Gander: The Prince and His Public

British artist Ryan Gander's wildly non-signature conceptual undertakings explore order and chaos phenomenologically, and always find a looming kismet in unknown quantities. The artist's inventive, resolutely multi-media works play on the Duchampian interrogation of art as the thing yet to be named, and include the invention of a new word and the exaltation of the artist's lecture.


On Wednesday, Gander unveiled his first public work at Doris C. Freedman Plaza in Central Park. Based on Oscar Wilde's fairy tale, "The Happy Prince," Gander's statue is a sculptural interpretation of the story's climax. The tale sees a dandyish, peripatetic swallow protagonist invited by the story's gem- and gold leaf-encrusted prince statue to pluck off his jewels and distribute them among the city's poor. The prince becoming frailer and less visually appealing in the process. By the end, the swallow learns what it means to love, via the statue's kindness: Then the statue crumbles and the swallow drops dead at his feet.

The story has a personal strand for the artist: "I had an audio book of the story as a child, and every night before bed my mum and dad would play it for me," says Gander. Commissioned to create a piece of public art, "It made sense to me to do this about the story because The Happy Prince is about what public art should be. There's a lot of public art that's much more like public decoration, not really public art. A lot of them seem to be really garish, and they catch your attention, but they don't seem to mean much. So I like the story because it was talking about the value of public art in terms of it looking really bad, but meaning a great deal. The value of it is more than the visual."

The chaotically crushed columns of Gander's sculpture, adorned with the dead sparrow and the prince's lead heart—while far from looking "bad," is also not asking to be thought of as winsome. In doing so, it helps to articulate the contemporary peril of artists whose personal work is challenging, yet who kowtow to a massaudience and produce public artworks that are instant crowd-pleasers. "You're liable to a public when you make a public artwork," says Gander. "Art in a gallery or a museum is something you choose to go and see. You don't approach art in a public domain; it approaches you. It's there whether you want to look at it or not. And so [to make public art] is actually quite scary." LEFT: PORTRAIT BY MAARTEN CORBIJN

Opening in October will be another narrative-driven, chaos-hewn installation that the artist will be creating in the Guggenheim Museum's Reading Room. Within the space, the artist create a scene based on the infamous quarrel between Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, wherein the two De Stijlists fell out over Mondrian's disavowal of the diagonal line, the piece illuminates the passions and quixotic encounters that define art history. "I liked the idea that there's a lot of examples within art history where people have collaborated, and then falling out and having an argument. And the trajectory of art history changed because of these relationships, the way that they were made, and how they were broken," says Gander. "Van Doesburg and Mondrian's relationship is a really good example of this: the history of art now exists the way it does because of this argument. I really like the trajectories that go off on these funny tangents. It's like Back to the Future, you get these sort of impossible moments occurring that change history."

Adding to the impossibility is the fact that the two artists will fictitiously crash through a stained glass window, into the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. "Mondrian and van Doesburg were having this argument about vertical horizontal and diagonal lines. And the strange thing is, about seven years before, Frank Lloyd Wright was making stained glass windows that had vertical, diagonal and horizontal lines. But they of course didn't know what was going on over the ocean, necessarily." This tapestry of narratives elucidates the parallel lives of great artists, and highlights the intensity in which artists used to collaborate in times less defined by personal agenda.

Asked whether the piece exalts a forgotten time of collaboration, the artist responds, "In Britain, there's a lot of artists in London making works that I call 'leany bits,' because there's always seems to be something leaning against something else. So similar stylist signatures exist, but I think artists now don't want to be seen to be contributing to each other's work. Before when there wasn't so much money involved in art, and when it was more educational, then these ideas would creep in. It was a common voice, not everyone for themselves."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Art in America/An-My Lê

Battles for War Photography: An-My Le

It's difficult to know where war ends and humanity begins. Perhaps this is why, in recent years, war photography—omnipresent and unresolved (the CIA only recently lifted its ban on the publishing of images of American soldier's coffins)—has been unceasingly re-examined by the contemporary art world. Vietnamese-born artist An-My Lê has consistently produced work that questions the changing face of war documentation, by creating images defined by an almost painterly formalism; clearly distinct from combat photography. "I couldn't do what [combat photographers] do and in the end I am also driven to tell another story," says Lê. "I am interested in an investigation of military culture outside of the sphere of combat."

In her fourth show at Murray Guy, opening Thursday, Lê has produced a body of photographs examining global military themes, including warfare training, sea-based military hospitals and the relief effort in Haiti. The 12 large, emotionally-wrought images in the show articulate the artist's relationship with color and emotion: the sad, blue eyes of an exhausted pilot play against images of lone soldiers and ships hovering over sparkling blue seas; a female monk's saffron robes and beatific features play against the cool blue camouflage uniform and expressionless countenance of an officer seated next to her. The work continues the artist's project of crossing landscape photography and images of war. "For me the language of landscape photography involves using scale to weave narratives; to create tension," says Lê. Where her images differ from traditional landscapes is, obviously, the human element within them, which imbues them with myriad associations and connotations, including that of the history of depictions of war in cinema.

Central to the work of Lê is the changing nature of professional documentation of real-life war events. The War in Iraq and American military combat in Afghanistan has produced a surplus of soldier-produced imagery, almost constantly produced on cell phones and point-and-shoot digital cameras and uploaded to Facebook. It is intriguing that the face of war has been changed by this "amateur" produced imagery, which gives viewers a perspective that both highlights the naivete of many young soldiers, and the psychic dissonance of combat viewed through lo-res, pixelized, postage-stamp-sized images.

Has this changing nature of the "look" of war has influenced her agenda as an artist (and as an individual who was born in Vietnam and lived there as a child through almost all of the Vietnam War)? Lê says, "When Robert Frank's work first appeared, everyone thought it was too grainy and awful looking. Back then, black and white was also the only medium for conveying news, facts and events—reportage, while color was reserved for the glossy advertising world. [Now] there is a great range of image types emerging from webcam testimonials, point and shoot, surveillance images from drones—[and each] has their own kind of authenticity." Now, however, it also seems that the professional black-and-white images of war seem almost too endemic of our collective idea of what combat photography should look, and they cease to adequately depict contemporary war. Although not in Lê's mind: "It's a mistake to think one is more authentic than another," says the artist. "I have chosen the view camera and large format negatives (5x7 inch) [for my work] because I want everything about that place, that space to compete for your attention from the volume and details of trees to the Humvees and the dirt surrounding them. I have chosen high resolution and clarity. All of that speaks of complexity for me. I don't want anything furtive."

In the past decade, many American artists, notably Harrell Fletcher and his "The American War" project—wherein the artist re-photographed all of the images exhibited by The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City-have reconsidered the aesthetic tropes of war. In the process, they have invited for a shift in the historization of one nationalistic idea of war. Lê's practice is of a piece with this recalibration, and also seeks to present a more rational view of the military writ large. "This work is born out of a frustration by the constant mythologizing of the military as a subject as much as it is born out of desire to see what things really look like," says Lê.