Thursday, January 20, 2011
Following its own 2008 group survey, New York gallery Sperone Westwater continues to propose reevaluation of the post-war German group Zero with its latest show, a solo presentation of artist Heinz Mack's silvery "Early Metal Reliefs," dating from 1957–1967. The works are made of aluminum, stainless steel, wood, glass and other industrial materials, which the Zero bunch used for their simplicity and commonness. The artist turns 80 next year.
With artist Otto Piene, Mack founded the Dusseldorf-based Zero Group in 1957, responding to Germany's post-war rubble, economic miracle, and creative vacuum. On the occasion of this solo show, the artist told Art in America of his discussions with American counterpart Barnett Newman, about Adorno's pronouncement of the end of lyrics poetry after Auschwitz: "That statement impressed me, but we wondered: Is beauty allowed?"
Mack's works use reflection to manifest the artist's search for immaterial essence in the formal principles of light. Box of Light Spirals (1966), for instance, is a playful sculpture that uses the form of the vessel to explorelight and motion.
One of the most elemental works is Lamellen-Relief (1967–1968), a wall piece comprising short strips of shiny aluminum on a wood base, illustraingt the efficient transcendence of this work.
The other works here are kinetic, a hallmark of the ZERO crowd and a testament to the period's hyper-industrialization and interest in dynamism. Silber-Rotor (1956–1960) rotates an aluminum disk with simple, direct precision. It's a clear influence on artists like Olafur Eliasson and Janet Cardiff. The divide between Mack's stationery pieces and his kinetic sculptures is gossamer-thin, however: Viewing these works together, the motion of the motors is replicated by the catalytic motion of the viewer in the still sculptures.
Mack cites Moholy-Nagy as the originator of electric artworks, but recalls when Yves Klein first invited him to visit the Paris workshop of Jean Tingueley. The latter had built up a very powerful object of iron rods welded together with a small, fast motor, to which Klein had added some signature blue paper. The collboration made a lasting impact, says Mack: "Tingueley pushed me-before I began making kinetic sculpture, he said, 'What you're doing with your art is completely all right, but you really should work with motors.'"
More than 100 artists have exhibited in ZERO-themed shows, and the group has been cited, notably by Valerie L. Hillings, as a loose artistic tendency that was trans-national and, in some ways, trans-generational. Lucio Fontana was integral; he was nearly three decades older than Mack and Piene. Close associates like Tingueley, Klein, Günther Uecker and Piero Manzoni produced pieces that effectively distill the foundational principles of the group: fundamentally, a desire to reinstate the analysis of materiality in the wake of Europe's pan-destruction.
At the time there were only two galleries in Dusseldorf, and the ZERO artists first exhibited with Alfred Schmela gallery. Says Mack, "There were no collectors, and because of this we felt a wonderful freedom. We could do what we wanted to do. This freedom was really powerful." The current show coincides with an increased market value for this work, and a scholarly interest that continues to lag. However, this spring, the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn hosts a career retrospective, "Light-Space-Colour," and follows the artist's progress after ZERO disbanded in 1967.
Indeed, Mack's reliefs are just one segment of his output, which is unique because many Zero artists stuck to signature media. He's also painted, drawn, and made works of public and land art. "There are some artists who create one flower, and, with all due respect, they just take care of that one..." says Mack. "In my case, it's not one flower and it's not one garden: it's a landscape and it's very large and diverse."
"EARLY METAL RELIEFS" IS ON VIEW THROUGH FEBRUARY 19.
ABOVE: LAMELLEN-RELIEF, 1967–1968. COURTESY SPERONE WESTWATER.
SOFIA COPPOLA'S MASTER OF MODERNIST ART
Text Aimee Walleston
An artist who has been steadily making work in New York for over two decades, American painter Michael Scott has modestly persevered in blazing an individualistic course, which aligns him with many of the heroes of art history. But it is the artist’s shy, quixotic, and entirely unpretentious disposition (reflected in the simple reverence of his abstract stripe paintings) that recalls the insightful, unvarnished storytelling of director Sofia Coppola. Perhaps this is why she is drawn to collecting Scott’s work.
According to Scott, his art career began in earnest in 1989, when legendary gallerist Tony Shafrazi sold out an entire show of his methodical, black-and-white-stripe enamel paintings before the opening—though not necessarily, says the artist, due to the gallerist’s blind faith. “Tony was great [to work with], because he didn’t like anything,” he says. “He liked one artist: Roy Lichtenstein.” Unlike the work of Lichtenstein, Scott’s paintings have a deeply poetic, conceptual bent; they have sought to explore the idea of self and the role of the artist, aligning him with process-focused artists like Robert Morris. Inspired by On Kawara’s date paintings, wherein the artist has, since 1966, simply painted the date each day, Scott went through a period in which the width of each stripe in his paintings was determined by a mathematical code. Eliminating artistic choice in the service of a quasi-Eastern philosophy of selflessness—“To break through the idea of originality,” says the artist—the paintings made during this time period suggest a looming sense of the sublime. However, “As we live through life, we reinvent ourselves,” the artist says, and he soon began creating thick, tactile stripe paintings with a “sloppy intuitiveness” devoid of artificial instruction.
While geometric abstraction often exasperates with its emotional opacity, Scott’s work possesses a thorough humanness and vulnerability, which in turn has driven the artist to examine his formal breakthroughs, however subtle, the way a parent might chart the progress of a child’s growth with pencil marks on the wall. These thought-soaked progressions make one think of the male character type Coppola is so gifted at creating—a past-his-prime Sleeping Beauty slowly awakening to the paralysis of his armor of charm-laced bullshit. While this type of man could not be more different from the rational and circumspect Scott, the truthfulness of such a character study unites both creators in their search for art’s evanescent moment of meaning.
Untitled, 2007; Artwork Michael Scott
Photography André Morin. Courtesy Gering & López Gallery, NYC
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
by aimee walleston 01/18/11
"Lee was a very careful and skilled person," says Barry Rosen of the Lee Lozano Estate, with deceptive subtlety. However innocuous, the description runs countrary to the sensationalism that has dogged the artist's legacy. After her struggle with cervical cancer ended in 1999, Lozano has been pegged with the ghettoizing "insane" or "outsider" tag. This is in part for notoriously getting evicted from her SoHo loft and "dropping out" of New York's art world in the 70s, at the height of her career, to move to Dallas. Viewing the recently opened "Lee Lozano Tools," an exhibition of graphite drawings and large oil paintings made by the artist in 1963 and 1964 (now on view at Hauser & Wirth), one finds work marked by rigor, precision and formal grace. The works—which include a handful of large-scale oils and several graphite studies—have never been shown as a group. Most have never been exhibited at all.
The conjecture about Lee Lozano's mental stability seems unabating (virtually all essays discuss or allude to theories of her psyche, including a recent long-form piece in the New York Times by Dorothy Spears, wherein PS1 founder Alanna Heiss waxes poetic: "Lee was cruelly caught in the space between art and madness"). In their most helpful moments, these amateur diagnostics lead us to contemplate her peers' and contemporaries' compulsion to speculate.
Rosen, who with partner Jaap van Liere has represented Lee Lozano's work since the 1980s, picks fact from fiction. "She wasn't insane," says Rosen, who was acquainted with the artist until her death, "She allowed herself flexibility to live her life and make the work she needed to make." Prior to representing the estate, Rosen had heard stories about her temperament. "Is it crazier to be an artist who defines a way to make your art, or to be Dick Cheney and feel like you have to kill everybody who is in your way?"
What Lozano's paintings and drawings bring most to mind is the idea of creative, emotional and psychological boundaries. She began work on her exquisite close-up studies and renderings of tools in 1963, and they preface a somewhat better-known body of cartoonish tool images. Here, one finds a lovely, rhythmic graphite detail of screws (No title, 1964), which suggests the mind of an artist manually investigating the precise formal properties of a household object.
Each piece in the exhibition examines a familiar object so closely that it finally becomes, by virtue only of true intimacy, something foreign and new. When rendered in oil, Lozano's tools grow larger than life, and they breathe. No title, her 1963 depiction of a hammer with three heads denotes the action of hammering (one never strikes the same place twice) and percussion—as well as an anthropomorphous notion of sex. "Her work is always tied to language, there's double entendres with tools. Lozano was tremendously and unapologetically sexual," says Rosen. "And she was dealing with tools, which wasn't really something women were supposed to be doing."
These works contextualize the greater oeuvre, including Lozano's infamous Boycott Piece (1971), a conceptual work wherein the artist chose to avoid contact with women (this work reportedly remained active, by degrees, until her death in 1999). Rather than focus on the sensational aspects of such a piece (Lozano's Times obituary featured the piece in its headline), it is interesting to look at the telos of the piece. Eliminating women from her life, the artist was also, in effect, boycotting an aspect of her own identity, vis-à-vis her own identity as a gendered person. By its rigid, determinate negation, the work asks us to consider the delineation and segregation of the sexes, and the self.
One sees something of a kindred in Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, whose "pandrogyny" transformation—based on intensely original philosophies concerning self, identity and the boundaries of love relationships, and very much part and parcel to her visual practice—has been met with both acceptance (P-Orridge's visual work has been collected by the Tate Britain) and derision as kitsch. Truly challenging artwork is not easy for audiences, however forward-minded they imagine themselves to be. "Lozano would say, ‘People think I hate women, but that's not true,'" explains Rosen. "She was disciplined: she decided to do that piece, and she did it. And it wasn't easy, and she did it for a zillion years. Would I want that life? No. Do I respect that someone does that? 100 percent—because it's hard to do."
LEE LOZANO TOOLS IS ON VIEW THROUGH FEBRUARY 19. HAUSER AND WIRTH IS LOCATED AT 32 EAST 69TH ST, NEW YORK. ABOVE: NO TITLE, CIRCA 1964. COURTESY HAUSER AND WIRTH
Thursday, January 13, 2011
MARINA ABRAMOVIC’S EXPLOSIVE ART STAR
Photography Brett Lloyd
Text Aimee Walleston
The work of artist Nico Vascellari should come with a warning label. In both mind and body, the 34-year-old Italian channels the ’70s-era wildcat charisma of artists like Chris Burden and Vito Acconci. A true performer, as well as an accomplished visual artist, Vascellari began making art not in an Ivy League classroom but at punk shows in the Italian countryside. “I used to organize concerts in the living room of my parents’ house when they were gone,” says the artist.
As the DIY scene demands, he promoted his shows with self-made materials, a precursor to the visual art he now creates. “I was making flyers, very rough drawings and collages with political or emotional statements,” he recalls. For newer image-based works, the artist has gone back to his collage origins to create obsessive assemblages using fashion photography. The work, in its stalker-esque creepiness, recalls imagery from the 1978 film Eyes of Laura Mars. “I have a very large archive on Kate Moss: I have been collecting images and articles on her for over ten years,” he says. Four years ago, he decided to transform that archive into a work titled I Kate You. But Vascellari’s interest in fashion goes beyond the supermodel to include the most avant-garde. “It comes from an admiration for the incredible creations of Martin Margiela, Rei Kawakubo, and Jun Takahashi,” he says.
His roots, however, are pure punk. Vascellari is well-known as the singer for the bands With Love and Lago Morto, and it was during his time touring that he began to integrate an interest in visual culture with his music. “I started visiting museums of contemporary art in the morning, just after we played the last concert and right before we would play the next one,” the artist recalls. “All of a sudden, I started feeling frustrated while playing music, because [unlike an art exhibition] there were so many aspects of the performance that I couldn’t completely control: lights, time, audience, location. On the other hand, I have never felt the same energy, violence, and fear in a museum as I have at a concert.”
As a result, he decided to combine the two. In his performances, Vascellari vibes on a certain punk energy—most notably a physical interaction with the audience that does not adhere to the standard rules of decorum. A recent performance at Marina Abramovic’s Institute WEST in San Francisco examined the link between provocateurs Klaus Kinski and punk legend GG Allin; the latter of the two had an intensely violent relationship with his audiences. “I consider the space of my performances as a territory,” says Vascellari of his physically aggressive and emotional performances. “It’s a territory in which I’m the one deciding the rules and the boundaries.” If you’ve never had an artist make you question your safety or sanity, well, you really should get to his next show.
Friday, January 7, 2011
by aimee walleston 01/06/10
"There's something really sexy about a card," says Turner Prize-winning Keith Tyson, introducing his most recent body of work. It sounds like a provocation from an artist who has not shied from the role of provocateur, and whose work has consistently pushed a degree of de-personalization. For two decades, his highly varied mixed-media work has consistently obeyed what he calls "rules." "You stand in front of a blank canvas, and you don't know what it's going to be," says the artist. "And then you make some rules for yourself, and you create something. The residue is there, and what it is really is an exchange from potential to specificity. An artist is on that boundary all the time, in the studio negotiating the work."
INSTALLATION PHOTO BY G.R. CHRISTMAS/COURTESY THE PACE GALLERY
Tyson's rules have previously involved using chance to dictate form and content; his current exhibition at The Pace Gallery, "52 Variables," takes this conceit at face value (literally). The artist has created 52 mixed-media on aluminum paintings that, like a computer screen or a canvas, serves as a vessel for images: the back of a playing card. Each image is culled from the artist's collection of playing cards (though he only collects the Jokers), and the selections—the Twitter logo, traditional red and blue playing card motifs, a trepanation scene and an ornate geisha—rides deliberately outside of history, proposing the ahistoric nature of icon and game.
"I'm not interested in fetishizing a screen, or printing out a picture or creating digital art," says Tyson of his choices. He uses the conventional appearance of the card to create an archive of icons that reflects both a democratic ingestion of images, and some of the social and institutional hierarchies that may remain. "I struggle at the size of a single painting, so I worked on composing the scale of the entire series, the entire deck, and making that work," says the artist. "Society's full of individuals, and [with an artwork] you can model it and say what it does as a mass. But you can also look at any individual of the group, and see it as what it is. Every painting [in "52 Variables"] struggles to be an individual, as every human being does. When I see one individual artwork separated, like a frame in a film, I'm always interested in how that one painting is going to fit in a group." LEFT: 52 VARIABLES (NUMBER 32), 2010. PHOTOS COURTESY KEITH TYSON AND THE PACE GALLERY.
Tyson began his career with "The Artmachine Iterations" (1991–1999), wherein the artist allowed for programmed systems to dictate the form and content of his work. In a string of subsequent shows he dealt with a similar play of input and output, notably 2007's "Large Field Array." Named for the infamous radio astronomy observatory in New Mexico, and comprising some 300 individual sculptures set in a grid, the work struck one as a limitless and lawless venture. Sculptures depicting everything from a tiny, magically-functioning tornado to a giant Friends Central Perk coffee cup riddled the floor and climbed up the walls of Pace Wildenstein; yet the body of work was absolutely defined by the artist's organizing principle. Each axis of the grid represented a different structural idea-example: recreational mathematics-and each sculpture's translated that theme, and that of its bisecting axis.
Its grandiosity now seems a sign of its times. "One of the big criticisms was how much the piece cost to make. But it was made at a certain time when it was possible to make," states Tyson. "And rather than, say, make an object out of gold, I made an object that's about the complexity of mass. So those criticisms were very disappointing, because I found them simplistic. When money is on its way to building a nuclear weapon, it might as well pass through me and generate this."
As a symbol, the card is Janus-faced—changes in fortune, mortality, mood—and living suspended between these two polls is their enduring and tense seduction. Yet his forms inhabit life from the inside: they are not cold or unfamiliar, and in earnest they represent aspects of his personal life. Known for earning more money gambling on himself to win the Turner Prize than the actual sum of the prize itself—a move that would signal a publicity play in a less philosophical risk-taker—the artist has a long-standing fascination with gambling. "People think that people who gamble are really interested in money. But most gamblers I know are not interested in money at all," says Tyson. "They're interested in action, and action is very symbolic in changing money from it's utility to it's true nature, which is kind if an I-owe-you on human value. There's a certain honesty with gamblers in that way: what they're dealing with is just figures, they don't think of money in terms of its utility."
Tyson clearly regards the work as social critique, to a degree, and didactic, and his interest in practicum of process seems in part a way to both define and conquer this distance between knowing and feeling. "I find game theory and mathematics fascinating as a discipline," says the artist. "But for me, art has to communicate something about being a human being in our society."
52 VARIABLES IN ON VIEW AT THE PACE GALLERY, 510 WEST 25TH STREET, THROUGH FEBRUARY 5.
The two have independently produced work defined by an examination of contemporary iconographies that sways into the macabre, and in this show, Lowman’s painted retellings of unlovely landscapes and political and pop-cultural events seem quieter and more individuated in thought. Equally, Liden’s signature Scandinavian landscape photographs—heavy on neo-Pagan feeling—have given way to a series of witty self-portraits of the artist in plastic-bag masks that show her delving into an intriguingly off-kilter aesthetic language. While these works were made independently, a collaborative collage made of receipts is one of the standout works in the show, and illuminates the artistic bond that was the impetus for the exhibition. “We’re so close, and we always know exactly what’s going on with each other, so the show kind of developed from that,” says Liden. “As an artist, the line between your job and your other life is very blurred, so it’s really natural for us to talk about our ideas and what we are making. We do that all the time anyway.” Lowman concurs: “Making art is such a weird thing to do. It’s just easier to talk to other people who are doing it; the conversations are easier.”
And often for the two, those same conversations form the starting point for new works. This show features a painting Lowman made of the infamous Abu Ghraib image of prisoners being forced to lie on top of one another. “I had made a painting of Lynndie England, the soldier [at Abu Ghraib], and I had wanted to do something else on those images for years. But sometimes you need an accumulation of reasons to get into something,” says Lowman. “I had been thinking about piles, and then I saw Hanna’s piece with the pyramid of rats. So I thought I’d pair that with a pyramid of people.” And as far as the Ayn Randian notions of success that have sometimes made the art world a less-than-hospitable place for shared inspiration, Lowman and Liden seem to rise above the fray and emulate a model of collaboration that never devolves into one-upmanship. “I don’t know if it was because the art market was really strong when we all started, but my friendships [with artists] are really constant and not competitive,” says Lowman. “They’re really straightforward. That’s what collaboration is [for me]. It’s friendship.”
“Come As You Are Again” is on view at Salon 94, New York, through January 12