Eugene Hyon: The Non-Ephemeral

“Coming To Brooklyn,” an exhibition of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists’ Coalition

Reviewed by Susan Scutti

Still photography more than any other art form is all about time. When we “take” a photograph, we essentially snatch a single moment, a single image from the infinite number of moments and images that eternally pass us by. In this way we redeem what is random and pronounce it worthy. Art, though, is an interpretation of the world and not simply a capturing of cascading reality. The artifice inherent in all great photographs, then, is the discovery of what is timeless in what is momentary. And so an exceptional photographer — and Eugene Hyon is exactly that — teaches us what is immutable about our world and ourselves.

Hyon’s range of subjects is vast and he seamlessly moves back and forth between digital and film photography, yet no matter what subject he chooses or which method he selects, he creates with a painter’s eye for composition. Each of his photos evidence the patience required to get things just right and his attention to craft and detail is what holds a viewer’s attention. And although it takes mere seconds to lift a camera and press the shutter, Hyon’s many years of making art and his wide-ranging knowledge of art history inform each momentary image. This timelessness is not only seen but more importantly felt by a viewer. Absolutely nothing he does is throwaway.

His work is currently exhibited in the show, “Coming to Brooklyn,” at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists’ Coalition, as well as on the website Artslant.com. A digital photograph ”Baked Goods and Books” (July 2011) shows a storefront bakery within a yellow brick building which also boasts a sign advertising a Polish bookstore and “Garage Gallery.” A 718 area code in the sign locates this building in Brooklyn and so one infers the neighborhood is Greenpoint, with primarily Polish residents. A huge hat painted beside the sign onto an area of whitewashed wall spills alphabetical letters, words, punctuation marks and phrases from its gaping brim. Significantly, the building stands behind a delicate wrought iron fence delicately painted white. What Hyon conveys in this elegant composition is diaspora as opposed to desperation; looking at this image a viewer senses the success and not just the struggle of American immigration.

In “Welcome to Greenpoint,” July 2011, a painted mural occupies the left half of his photograph while three adults and a baby stroller walk out of the frame in the lower right hand corner. The mural, which is painted in green, blue, white, gray, black and red on a concrete block wall, appears to be a government commission; the banality of its message — “Welcome to Greenpoint BK” — suggests this most of all. Scrawled on top is the indecipherable tag of some local graffiti artist — an embellishment of perfect disrespect. Painted within the mural’s block lettering is a separate image of a smiling, heroic-seeming man as well as a crowd of workers and the proportions of these figures are reminiscent of Eastern European propaganda during the years of the Cold War: the heroic, smiling man is twice the size of “the people.” He neatly echoes and subverts this idea within his photograph; the cluster of real, live people are also half the size of the heroic man, no different from the painted people except for the fact that they are walking away from their supposed leader. Thus, he subtly conveys a feeling of individuals who ignore and disobey what dwarfs them and so escape their historic past of oppression.

It seems appropriate that Hyon would choose digital photography for his urban fringe, but when documenting the natural world, he turns to film and achieves a more classical countenance. “Revival” (2010) and “Dancing at Night” (2005) are both black and white film photographs. The former is a lengthwise (11X14) close-up of leaves at the farthest edge of a branch weighted by snow; despite the starkness of this winter image, with its gray tones and icy whiteness, he impossibly conveys the promise of a Spring bloom. The second photo is an upper story view of city trees; dressed in white lights, they appear to be moving, essentially tangoing against a background of buildings, sidewalk, and street. Because the names of the stores are blurred in the photograph and cannot be read, he suggests that what is most significant and most soulful in the city is the natural world.

Stillness and elegance can be found within each of his images. The subjects and images which another, lesser artist might glibly sensationalize, he calmly observes until he finds a kernel of hope. More importantly, a viewer of his photographs never senses overweening intention or manipulated intervention; what is uplifting occurs simply and as a result of patient witness. And so the rigorous, spiritual beauty infused in each of his images prevents his photographs from becoming lost in the noise of the temporary and trivial.

A Review of The Barnes Foundation at its New Philadelphia Home

Continuing the Conversation:

A Review of The Barnes Foundation at its New Philadelphia Home

By Mary Wise

Room 18, east wall. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Room 18, east wall. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

A museum is a museum is a museum – until we pass through the path moving us inside the walls of The Barnes Foundation’s new home on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City, Philadelphia. Enveloped by high walls, the artfully constructed building within a garden, a concept designed by architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, immediately boasts of intellectual mystery and charm.

Though beyond those garden walls the city pulses with its usual fervor, all thoughts of that world melt away and is immediately replaced with the calm bubblings of a growing ardor one can only recognize as the anticipation of greatness. Upon approach, I was met by a large metal sculpture tipping the building’s beautifully still reflecting pool. The piece, raised high into the air above, seemed a marker,  a promise of something grand. And the building itself, patterned with a multidimensional façade reminiscent of cubist art, became a tapestry to accent the powerful design of this essential garden. So we walked, my friend and I, down the tree-lined path noticing the loud and constant sound of streaming water, which seemed to come from nowhere. It beckoned us to stop and just be for a moment, nestled within this garden sanctuary, centering ourselves within our bodies before venturing on beyond the grand wooden doors of The Barnes Collection’s new home.

Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Most know Dr. Albert C. Barnes was a man who obsessively acquired and arranged brilliant works of art. Many are even aware that he made the millions to do it through his invention of Argyrol, an antiseptic silver compound that, still frequently used today, treats and prevents numerous ailments, including infant blindness. Few, though, realize that Barnes was first and foremost an educational pioneer, having developed his ideology from those of William James, George Santayana, and John Dewey. And that focus on education, along with his passion for art, is what drove him to create. He believed that learning through experience was essential, and he designed his collection in an effort to expand the public’s thinking. He wanted art to be accessible to everyone and for everyone to come away from viewing art with a profound sense of new understanding, not just of the artist’s work but of life itself. Through art, he believed, we could learn to see everything in a vastly different light.

Paul Cézanne, French, 1839–1906. Still Life (Nature morte), 1892–1894. Oil on canvas. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Paul Cézanne, French, 1839–1906. Still Life (Nature morte), 1892–1894. Oil on canvas. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Amazingly, those he employed needed only about 6 of the 8 hours in their day to complete their work. Barnes, instead of allowing the time to be wasted or increasing their workload, took that as an opportunity to educate. He began requiring his workers to attend classes during the remaining hours of their workdays.

This concept was the impetus that drove him to carefully craft his many rooms of  strategically placed paintings and artifacts. And this concept is what had many up in arms at the idea of moving his masterpiece from the Lower Merion mansion and gardens he built as its home to its current Philadelphia residence, a setting that promised to be starkly different from the original. Many believed that moving such a collection would inevitably alter its integrity, and Barnes’ vision, in a devastating way. In fact, when established in 1922, Barnes decreed that upon his death this collection must remain exactly as he crafted it. However, as a result of zoning restrictions and low funding, the foundation’s board of trustees made the difficult but necessary decision to make the move.

Henri Rousseau, French, 1844–1910. Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest.  1905. Oil on canvas. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Henri Rousseau, French, 1844–1910. Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest. 1905. Oil on canvas. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

They did not, however, decide to alter the arrangement by even a millimeter. Those involved spent painstaking hours measuring the exact space between every one of the works. The integrity, they said, would be preserved and even enhanced, which is something all involved believed was exactly in line with Barnes’ educational philosophy and would have, therefore, made the man proud.

As promised, upon the highly anticipated unveiling of this new home on May 19th 2012, much of the public’s intense consternation was not only quelled but reversed. This building, the grounds, and the gallery not only uphold his original collection’s integrity, it intensifies it, adding new layers to the already mind-altering experience. Both my friend and I came away from the visit with a new understanding of art, history, and yes, even the world. We felt completely energized and elated throughout our visit and for days after. I sit here writing this days past our trip still thinking, almost obsessively, about my experience, about the art work, about the artists, about the arrangements and pairing, and about Barnes himself. I am simply and completely in awe and have already planned my return and am plotting to become a founding member.

Room 6, east wall. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. Photo: © 2012 Tom Crane

Room 6, east wall. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. Photo: © 2012 Tom Crane


Walking through the gallery, I felt as though I was entering someone’s home. The setting is intimate, subdued, and because the ticketing is scaffolded, the space is breathable and alive. The large undressed windows were created to allow in only 17% of the natural light, so the work can be viewed organically. Each element of this setting is essential. Unlike the traditional museum which allows elbow room between each work of art in order to emphasize each piece’s singularity, Barnes piled art upon art to emphasize their commonality and to create, in and of itself, a museum that is truly its own work of art.

Each painting included in the collection is an amazing, titillating microcosm of the artist’s rendering of a moment in time. Barnes, however, saw the threads that weave them all together into an inseparable fabric. And we step into this web, bringing with us our own thread, our own schema, and leave not having added to the collection but having the collection added to us, warmly wrapping us in this new way of seeing.

Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926. The Studio Boat, 1876. Oil on canvas. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926. The Studio Boat, 1876. Oil on canvas. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

To this end, he combined artists such as Mattise, Soutin, Cezanne, Renior, Rousseau, Miro, Picasso, Daumier, and Van Gogh, to name only a few, with metalwork decorations, hinges, and cages, with wooden cabinets, bureaus, and chairs, with ceramic and glass vases and cups, pewter candlesticks and teapots, and artifacts that range from 3000 BC Egyptian hieroglyphs to 20th century African sculptures. Barnes aimed and succeeded in crafting a collection that continued the conversation the original artists began. Each work of art speaks to each other through concept, color, contour, and rhythm. The 2 dimensional paintings accented by the 3 dimensional objects also bring us into the conversation by placing us in the art. We inhabit the room, the newly constructed artwork, and therefore become part of the threads woven throughout and become part of the conversation. The reality of each piece is driven into us because they are tangible, because they are alive and speaking. The room, though silent to our ears, is full of amazing chatter – so much so that it is almost overwhelming. Where does one begin? And the answer is anywhere. Let your own thread guide you, and then plan to return because the conversation will continue. There will always be much, much more to be said.

Seated Couple, late 19th–early 20th century. Dogon peoples, Mali. Wood. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Seated Couple, late 19th–early 20th century. Dogon peoples, Mali. Wood. Photo: © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

As with most museums, a very easily maneuvered audio tour, is a welcomed enhancement. This aids our understanding of every aspect of the collection and its home. Unlike most museums, however, the building includes a rich library and The Foundation offers numerous lectures and art education courses to the public. Each of these furthers the conversation between the art, and furthers the educational philosophy of its creator.

In order to fully process all we’ve absorbed, however, we need time to reflect. The architects, remaining true to Barnes’ ideology, not only created a building within a garden, they also crafted a garden within a building. This intimately small and quiet glass room, including trees and greenery, provides a sanctuary for one to momentarily pause again, just as we did in the outer garden before entering. This moment, taken at any time, is a needed breath, not just of literal fresh air, but of spiritual and emotional renewal. We center, again, within our bodies. We gel and solidify, we reorganize and meld all that we’ve encountered, all that we’ve learned, with ourselves. Again, again, again, the threads continue – through art, through history, through man-made objects, through nature, and through our individual selves. The threads will stay with us. This is what art is meant to do. It is meant to hold us together in times of dismay. It is meant to fill us with energy for life. It is meant to move us, to guide us, to change the way we understand and relate to life. It is meant to connect us to our world, to each other, to ourselves.

In every way, and unlike most other museums, The Barnes Foundation honors this purpose. The clarity with which all involved see Dr. Albert C. Barnes’s vision, and the clarity with which all involved see the purpose of art, is rendered majestically throughout every aspect of the collection’s new home.

The Barnes Foundation is more alive today than ever before. Threading the old conversation with the new, it continues breathing as if just born. If you visited it in its original home, make the time to revisit it in its new setting. Join the work’s continued conversation. The grand experience will become part of you.

Photo by Ryan Donnell. © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

Photo by Ryan Donnell. © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

 

The Richard Prince Fiasco

The irony of the case Patrick Cariou brought against Richard Prince is that it changes nothing. Prince remains as reclusive an artist as ever, following his own creative bent in his upstate New York studio, while the name Cariou is still only a curio: the man who was able to take Larry Gagosian to court, and actually win. For those unfamiliar with the details of the case, Richard Prince was accused by the French photographer Patrick Cariou of wrongfully pirating imagery derived from photographs taken by Cariou. Prince appropriated some twenty or so Cariou images for a series called “Canal Zone,” which exhibited at Gagosian New York. At around the same time, Cariou was denied the opportunity to exhibit some of these same images at a different New York gallery, as the gallerist who originally wanted to show his photography did not want to exhibit work similar to what was already on display at Gagosian. Disappointed, Cariou did what any civilized person would do in similar circumstances: he sued Prince and Gagosian for damages.

And he won. The court actually ruled in favor of Cariou, and Prince’s and Gagosian’s lawyers are working to appeal the verdict. At the moment of writing this, the works Prince made out of the photographs taken by Patrick Carious have basically been impounded, but some of images are still available on the Internet. “Canal Zone” featured work that looks like this:

In light of this image, isn’t strange that we have to speak of “Canal Zone” in the past tense? Neither Cariou’s, nor Prince’s, the images here are the property of no one. Cariou’s certainly didn’t make them—nor, legally, did Prince. But the legal question that has been raised concerns the issue of “fair use.” Are the works Prince exhibited duly transformative of Cariou’s? The Internet also provides us with images like this—

Such an image makes apparent the work that Prince started with. But can ANYONE really argue that Prince doesn’t create something toto genere different Cariou’s “original?” From tone to content, we’re viewing a completely different work.

Does the case hinge on anything more than insecurity on Cariou’s part? If Cariou had been permitted a solo show, it’s possible that Prince’s appropriations might never have come under his radar. Perhaps the gallerist is to blame, then, for deciding against the exhibition of works similar to ones produced by Richard Prince? Arguably, a savvier gallerist could have turned the situation around to her own favor, as certain collectors would love to possess one of the “originals” from which a Richard Prince derives. But really there’s no one to blame; the case has in no way altered Richard Prince’s reputation, nor has it made Patrick Cariou famous. If anything, it has opened up a legal can of worms that more or less extends from Prince’s long-time creative practice, and even bolsters certain minimalist tendencies in his art. Some have spoken of copyright infringement—but even that is weak, and can easily pass notice. The fact that people pay any attention to case at all, though, signals that something is happening that they can’t quite articulate in terms of legality or creative sanction. And that’s just the issue: underlying the noise that even Prince himself is trying to move away from is the fact that creativity and privitization are butting heads in a painfully undialecitcal fashion.

Prince isn’t setting himself up as the spokesperson of anything; rather, he’s a player in a game that so-called liberal democracy has been playing for some time. Let’s consider the facts of the case, the origins of the complaint. Prince’s importance as an artist rests on how he makes works that are stylistically pure, valuing method over aesthetic results. He’s known to disassociate himself from works he has produced (and even sold), and has openly stated that he exhibits work he does not personally like. This kind of objectivity regarding his own methods and practice makes him suspect in a political climate that values ownership above all other things. And when Prince spoke in court about “Canal Zone,” stating how he constructed the series, and what he intended to result from it, he openly stated that he sought neither to delight, nor instruct, which made him culpable in that the court could not readily identify where Prince’s creative responsibility lay. If Prince had claimed that his appropriation of Carious’ photography was for didactic purposes, “fair use,” would have worked in his favor as a defense. But Prince was not trying to teach through Carious’ photography, so much as he was trying to continue tendencies he already saw implied by such work (which is different than anything contained in individuality of each Cariou’s “originals”).

When put on stand as a defendant, Prince was honest about what he trying to do: to make good paintings. A valid enough response, which should never have entered the context of a court of law. But as the work of Prince comes under fire, his techniques have also become visible to a wider audience. And it would seem that Prince and Gagosian lost their case, not because Prince did not in fact rework exiting materials begun by Cariou, but because the judge who presided over the case thought Prince’s work was bad. For the record, then, let it be known that the methods of appropriation practiced by Richard Prince are strategic inversions of the style made famous by Andy Warhol, especially in the latter’s Double Elvis (1963) and Lemon Marilyn (1962). But Prince’s appropriations are not motivated by Warhol’s working-class yearning to possess what one doesn’t have. Prince appropriates as the result of an acculturated immersion to an environment where everything is reduced to generic types. Hitherto visible mainly to connoisseurs of art, Prince’s appropriations perceptively toy with the established conventions of what art can be, what it’s designed to appear as and what it’s expected to accomplish. The fact that his art has now entered the courts gives his work political ramifications which even Prince does not suspect.

-Jeffrey Grunthaner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classical Music at the Guggenheim

Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949–1960June 8–September 12, 2012
Installation view: Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, June 8-September 12, 2012

For all their suffering and toil, the Abstractionists of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s sure were making some pretty pictures. Some saw it then – Frank O’Hara, most memorably, who was a painter’s critic, if ever there was one. Others, of course, thought abstraction was the worst artistic development in the history of mankind, doodling by grown men and women. But visit the Guggenheim’s Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949 – 1960 and all you will find are admirers, flocks and flocks of them. The young and the old alike, those that were born into their total worship and those who, in political terms, would be called flip-floppers, can’t get enough of the suddenly classic and classical, inviolate and violating artists of that post-war era.

 

This past Tuesday, remembering O’Hara as much as the painters he loved, I brought a couple of quotes with me to the Guggenheim’s crowd-pleasing block-bluster. All of them were from a characteristically mesmerizing article O’Hara wrote back in 1962, on the Guggenheim’s Abstract Expressionists and Imagists exhibition:

“The Abstract Expressionist Movement is basically anti-museum in spirit.”

“Abstract Expressionism is the art of serious men.”

“Brilliant, uncomfortable works.”

“Where else is the big, brave art happening?”

As great as O’Hara was, my visit to Art of Another Kind confirmed only half of one of those quotes – they are evermore “brilliant…works.”

 

2012.1
Outburst (Éclatement), 1956
Oil on canvas, 136 x 160 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift of the artist in honor of Kálmán Makláry
© Judit Reigl

 

While Art of Another Kind begins in the most conventional way – with an intimate, early Jackson Pollock – the vitality of the show lies in its range. Not only do the pieces look right at home in the museum (they don’t even looked tamed, for that matter), they are from all over the world. A beautiful painting by Yutaka Ohashi (born in Japan) gives the Rothko to its right a run for its money (and speeds past it); a recently purchased Judit Reigl (born in Hungary) has to be one of the most elegant of all; two sculptures by Jorge Oteiza (born in Spain) conclude the entire show! And that’s only the beginning; the work on view is immensely international. Art of Another Kind has its holes – and its obvious gender bias toward men (so maybe half of another O’Hara quote is true) – but it succeeds in creating a more complex, widespread and dynamic picture of the groundbreaking period. And of the American painters represented here, several lesser-known artists get an equal chance to shine: Sam Francis’ “Shining Back” and Grace Hartigan’s “Ireland” are paintings you catch a glimpse of on your way up and paintings you just can’t keep your eyes off of on your way down. Both are deliriously wild and poetic and are reason enough for retrospectives in this city.

 

Grace Hartigan

Grace Hartigan,
Ireland, 1958,
Oil on canvas, 200 x 271 cm
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
© Grace Hartigan Estate

 

 

The chart-toppers are here, too. Franz Kline’s “Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105),” one from his infamous blue body paintings (Kline would direct nude female models covered in paint to lie down on the canvas), is probably the show’s largest piece and a perverse titan. Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, William Baziotes, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt (with his very yellow, “Yellow Painting”) and Jean Dubuffet, join Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, as does my personal favorite, Cy Twombly. Many of these artists were responsible for producing and encouraging the “serious” and “uncomfortable” distinction, and, although they might have taken themselves very seriously, these paintings occupy all registers, from the flighty to the resounding, from the shrieking (see Elaine de Kooning’s) to the most quiet. Needless to say, they are stellar.

 

I do have one warning for visitors of Art of Another Kind: it’s a very long show. The museum approximates that there are one hundred works on view, which isn’t an unusual number, but these are towering works of art that will have you craning your neck and taking your time. It’s best to come well-fed and energized, because getting to the top of the Guggenheim is something you will want to do – the uppermost spiral tends to save the best for last. This one doesn’t quite work that way, but there are some good surprises, I assure you.

 

In Art of Another Kind’s catalogue, Joan Marter takes on the place of sculpture within the show. Historically, as Marter will tell you, sculpture’s relationship to this era has been tenuous at best and there are a fair amount of sculptures included in the Guggenheim’s show. An Alexander Calder mobile, “Red Lily Pads,” hangs from the rafters and, although it doesn’t have too much business being in the show, it looks as wonderful as they all do (fun fact: you can find his mobiles in several American airports – look out for an article of mine visiting them all). Robert Rauschenberg’s half-painting, half-sculpture, “Red Painting,” is also a bit of stretch but an energizing piece nonetheless. The Guggenheim makes its biggest attempt to welcome sculpture into the fold, however, in the gutsy decision to conclude the show with the aforementioned Jorge Oteiza sculptures. Despite how fascinating Oteiza’s work is, it’s ultimately an awkward move for Art of Another Kind; it doesn’t quite feel fair to Oteiza or the show itself and as a result, it’s more a whimper than a bang. Include Oteiza earlier and finish with one of the many great paintings Joan Mitchell produced in 1960 and you have yourself a better statement, easier to fulfill – a female painter from the male-dominant era, lesser-known but just as magnetic, who would go on to explore the possibilities of abstraction for the rest of her career.

 

One of the most popular things to do right now in the discourse on abstraction is to rail against its most noted theorizer, Clement Greenberg. The gist of the criticism lies in the fact that Greenberg emphasized the formal breakthroughs of abstraction at the expense of its social and political ambitions. (In Marter’s words, “[Greenberg] espoused formalism, while transforming himself into an a-political art-world personality.”) In truth, the movement was both an artistic and political statement, and its emergence in the immediate post-WWII era was not a coincidence; I encourage you, however, to enjoy the paintings as naturally as you can. Precisely because they are abstract, they won’t often give you specifics about “the atomic age,” but hear what you will and don’t listen too hard if what you hear is only a murmur.

 

The poet Henri Cole says that a poem can be measured in two ways: by its content (what it’s about) and by its “symphony of language.” What I love most about Art of Another Kind is the sheer “symphony of paint,” lavish, running, boiling and sensitive. The colors. Unlike Cubism, which had many terrible forgers and very few true heirs, abstraction afforded the artists of Art of Another Kind seemingly limitless and genuine artistic possibilities. At the time, it was an explosive revolution in the arts; in its boldness and its defiance, it did seem “anti-museum in spirit.” But its home in the museum is not its cage, it’s where it was headed all along, and with Art of Another Kind, it’s where it continues to flourish in new and exhilarating ways.

Bobby Elliott

CINDY SHERMAN UNTITLED: TRANSCENDENCE AND TRANSFORMATION

CINDY SHERMAN UNTITLED: TRANSCENDENCE AND TRANSFORMATION

Museum of Modern Art, February 26–June 11, 2012

Untitled 235, 2000

From an early age, dressing up in their mother’s clothes, girls are encouraged to enhance their appearance in order to attract men and the world at large, often to the extent of self-betrayal. At the same time, the idea of such endeavors as the beleaguered expression of the oppressed doesn’t really tell the whole story. Play has the ability to defuse the so-called oppressor’s grip on identity and, of course, there is power in sexual magnetism. It’s in this sense that I prefer the word “play” over “work” in relation to Cindy Sherman.

For four decades Sherman has been instructing us in the various, unique memes that mask and, at the same time express, the individual self. She plays dress-up and we are the mirror into which she looks. Her play explores images ranging from the heightened drama of film to the ordinary person on the street struggling to create herself as her own ideal self. Sherman takes images from paintings of ordinary and historical figures, from the sublime to the ridiculous, the plebeian to the surreal, the ripeness of youth and it’s opposite. She challenges us to look at what would ordinarily disgust, in full, blazing, high definition color on a large scale. She explores identity in all its intentional and unintentional beauty and repulsiveness, and presents attempts to mask age and decay, the layering over of lost or failed beauty, as something horrifically, pathetically, clown-like. Sherman, like Hannah Wilke before her, stares out from behind these altered selves, challenging the male gaze, at times reclaiming her co-opted image, at others, defying it. All of this being said, it’s also important to point out that Sherman’s work–this show– is fun.

Refraining from an editorial stance, all images are labeled simply, “Untitled,” with a number. The rooms are basically arranged into groups: Film Stills (’77-80), Centerfolds (1981), History Portraits (1988-90), Fashion, (Early ‘80s) Sex (1992), Monumental (2008,) Society Portraits (2010-present). Walking through the galleries is not necessarily a chronological journey through the work’s evolution. Some of the earliest pieces are astounding in their simplicity and sophistication. The earliest is a picture of Sherman and a friend in 1966 dressed as two old ladies. Her photo booth series (“Untitled #479,” 1975) shows her transformation from bespectacled student to glamorous, cigarette-smoking femme fatale. A stop-action collage film of Sherman as a tiny paper doll trying on cutout clothes is impresses with her ingenuity. These early explorations in black and white confirm her as an innovator of photography as fine art among the few women who also used their own image and film to convey concepts of identity and gender: Hannah Wilke and Claude Cahun, most prominently.

At the entry to the retrospective is a monumental sized photograph of Sherman in a  loose-fitting, pajama-like body suit replete with breasts and pubic hair. These secondary sex characteristics look like just that, afterthoughts, as if attached by an eight-year-old for a self-made, ill-fitting Halloween costume.

Untitled 26, 1979

In the first room we see the photographs that secured Sherman’s career in the late ‘70s, “Untitled Film Stills.” More than simply re-creating iconic images of women in film, these images reflect heightened moments in emotional lives during a time when women were presumed to exist primarily in domestic and romantic contexts. These narratives  defined a young girl’s present sense of what she was in the eyes of others as well as her aspirations of what she might become. Delivered on large screens with musical accompaniment, even the past was filtered through this romantic lens. Yet, Sherman manages to create something closer to the true emotional life of these celluloid women, lying abandoned and disabused on a kitchen floor, standing in black and white on a street alone, shot from below, cowering in fear among shadows. What comes across most strongly is that, despite being a solitary figure in the frame, these women all have the look or pose of being watched. The torque of the body stretched out on a couch, the pout of the lips and upward glance holding a letter, caught in medias res–a moment of some life-changing, emotional event. For these women, perhaps most women, there is always the sense that the camera is rolling, even when they are alone, waiting for some unseen object of desire.

The “Centerfolds” from the early ‘80s are not the clichéd poses of nude woman stretched across two pages of a glossy magazine. Sherman presents her centerfolds as reflective, sad, somber, in rumpled polyester, languishing on a cheap couch, parked on a bare floor or staring at a telephone. Even in these solitary surroundings, there is still the sense that these women feel themselves as characters in their own movies.

 

Untitled 214, 1989

As Sherman’s success grew, her resources increased. The Historical Portraits are as magnificent as the originals they reference for the technical and visual splendor they employ. Again, putting prosthetics, costume and make up to great use (she clearly enjoys the process as much as the result), resisting the temptation to use digital techniques to alter her appearance, Sherman gives us her own version of art history and portraiture. She also resists irony in these images, though there is sometimes more than a hint of humor. Venturing beyond her former female-based tropes, she cross dresses, dons a beard here, a bald pate there. She bares an anatomically-impossible placed breast in the medieval style, place a clearly fake nose in profile. In other words, here she presents the full range of images of another time that also shaped a cultural psyche– Ingres, Caravaggio, Raphael, among others, are represented with astounding skill and attention to detail.

 

Untitled 299, 1994

The Fashion Portraits are among the funniest and most fun. Sherman takes it to the max. Unlike most of her previous images she stares into the lens, sometimes defiantly; a panoply of characters: heroine chic, fashionista, Anna Winotur style bitch-on-wheels, and some that are clearly from the recesses of Sherman’s very dark imagination. This darkness is the flip side of her humor, sometimes confusing us as to which is which. Her clowns are of the horrifying variety that scare little children at the circus despite their intention to make them laugh. Her series of mud-caked, decaying creatures, vomit, pimpled prosthetic asses, broken body parts, where she is often absent from the picture, are some of the most disturbing images ever displayed in an art context. The beauty of these “disgusting” images comes from an almost abstract combination of color, light and scale.

 

Untitled 264, 1992

The “Sex” photographs take pornography to a level of absurdity. She collages together prosthetic penises, vulvas and breasts in constructions that can only be described as surreal objects that one might put in the Mutter Museum. She seems to  be asking to what extent fetishism, or kinkiness, extends before it becomes repellent.

Untitled 476, 2008

Some of the most poignant of Sherman’s images can be found in the rooms devoted to her Society Portraits and photographs of Hollywood has-beens or, more likely, never-beens. These women, layered with thick makeup and carefully, if sometimes unwisely chosen, outfits, sum up the quixotic aspirations to extend youth and beauty by women past their prime. Even those who have unlimited means at their disposal, cannot transcend the indiscriminate decline of aging. One picture particularly caught my eye. It was “Untitled #476” (2008), showing a woman in luxurious surroundings with a small dog on her lap. Her makeup is perfectly and thickly applied, not a hair out of place, everything within view is tasteful and expensive. Yet one thing betrays that all is not perfect in her world: her nails are bitten to the quick. This is the kind of detail that makes Cindy Sherman a master of disguise that succeeds in revealing the truth behind the mask.

Bonny Finberg

Arte negro en la Casa Blanca

Clasificación: [NARA]
Estimada Ms. Sentís
Cuatro son los artistas afroamericanos representados en la Colección de la Casa Blanca. En 1995, La Casa Blanca adquirió Sand Dunes, Atlantic City (C. 1885) de Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). Esta fue la primera obra de arte de un artista negro en formar parte de la colección y actualmente está colgada en la Green Room.
El Presidente William Clinton y la Primera Dama Hillary Clinton encargaron a Simmie Knox (1935- ), un retratista afroamericano, que pintara sus retratos oficiales. El retrato del Presidente Clinton se incorporó a la colección de la Casa Blanca en 2002 y el de Mrs. Clinton en 2004. El retrato del Presidente Clinton está colgado en la Entrance Hall, y el retrato de Mrs. Clinton en el Ground Floor Corridor.
Dos pinturas de afroamericanos fueron adquiridas durante la administración de George W. Bush. La primera fue The Farm Landing (1892) por Edward Bannister (1828-1901), adquirida en 2006. Esta pintura se exhibe en la China Room. En 2007 se adquirió una pintura más moderna y abstracta de Jacob Lawrence. The Builders (1947) de Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) está actualmente colgada en la Green Room.
Además de estos cuatro artistas negros representados en la colección (Henry Ossawa Tanner, Simmie Knox, Edward Mitchel Bannister y Jacob Lawrence) también hay una escultura de Charles Alston (1907-1977) en el Oval Office. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1970) es un busto de bronce que la National Portrait Gallery ha prestado a la Casa Blanca.
Espero que esta información le sea útil. Por favor, si tiene más preguntas, hágamelo saber.
Mis mejores deseos,
Monika Mc.Kierman

Esta es la respuesta que recibí tras ponerme en contacto con el despacho de la actual First Lady de Estados Unidos, entre cuyas asignaciones figura el White House Office Curator. Esta Oficina fue creada en 1961 por Jacqueline Kennedy, con el propósito de mostrar y conservar obras escogidas por los presidentes de turno. Salvo excepciones, la colección permanente —cuyos fondos se adquieren mediante recursos procedentes de donaciones privadas— no puede incorporar piezas de artistas vivos (influiría en su caché), por lo cual está compuesta, sobre todo, por producciones artísticas del siglo XIX. En la actualidad, la integran unos 450 cuadros y 50.000 objetos.

Así como la aportación más destacada de Jacqueline Kennedy fue rodearse de los ocho cézannes de la colección permanente, los Obama anunciaron como prioridad el arte contemporáneo multiétnico. Para ello han solicitado préstamos de diversos museos de Washington, ya que otra de las reglas es no acudir a galerías privadas, por la misma razón que no se incluyen artistas vivos. Finalmente —hubo devoluciones y cambios—, la pareja presidencial seleccionó 45 obras, de autores como Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, Giorgo Morandi, Susan Rothenberg, Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, Nicolas De Stael…

¿Y cuántos artistas nativos, latinos, asiáticos o negros? Muchos menos de lo que cabría esperar. Tan solo dos piezas de la pintora Alma Thomas (1891-1978), una del también afroamericano Glenn Ligon (1960), y tres cerámicas de las nativoamericanas Maria Poveka Martinez y Lucy Lewis. A este repertorio hay que añadir el ya mencionado busto de Martin Luther King, que reemplaza, por solicitud expresa del presidente Obama, a otro de Winston Churchill. No pueden considerarse nativos o afroamericanos a George Catlin (1796-1872), que está presente en la colección con dos pinturas de inspiración indígena, ni al famoso Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), de quien Obama solicitó en préstamo The Problem We All Live With, que evoca el primer día de clase de la primera niña negra que asistió a una escuela en el hasta entonces segregado sistema de enseñanza del sur. Tuvo que ir acompañada por soldados federales enviados por la administración Kennedy. Como vemos, no forma parte de la colección ningún artista latino ni asiáticoamericano.

De los Obama, reconocidos amantes del arte contemporáneo, cabía esperar alguna elección más osada (fotografía, instalaciones, videoarte, arte sonoro) y, desde luego, más firmas pertenecientes a las llamadas minorías. Si la Casa Blanca representa a todo el país, alguien debería haber tenido en cuenta los porcentajes de la población estadounidense: un 16,3 de hispanos; un 12,6 de negros; un 4,8 de asiáticos; un 0,9 de nativos. El censo especifica que entre los blancos —un 63 por ciento— no se incluye a los hispanos de este color.

No se trataba de que la primera pareja presidencial afroamericana de la historia estableciera cuotas, pero sí parecía lógico que, como las primeras damas hacen con los modistos nacionales, Michelle apoyara un contingente algo más amplio de creadores procedentes de las minorías, y especialmente, por razones obvias, de la afroamericana. Tenían sobradamente dónde elegir. Su presencia en el panorama estadounidense es significativa desde la década de 1920, cuando el denominado Renacimiento de Harlem atrae el interés del mundo blanco sobre los artistas de color. No hace falta ser un historiador del arte negro para señalar entre sus representantes unos cuantos nombres importantes de la escena norteamericana.

Por supuesto, la figura del artista negro no tenía cabida en la sociedad esclavista anterior a la Guerra Civil. Con excepción del ornitólogo y pintor Audubon, las manifestaciones del arte negro estaban estrechamente ligadas a la artesanía: piezas de hierro forjado, o los célebres quilts, cuya inmensa variedad responde al hecho de ser utilizados como señales de ruta por los esclavos fugitivos. Concluida la guerra (1865), los afroamericanos pueden empezar a escoger hasta cierto punto sus ocupaciones, y los artistas se inspiran en el modelo clásico o romántico. A esta etapa pertenecen dos huéspedes de la Casa Blanca: Tanner y Bannister.

En el ámbito artístico, la conciencia negra comienza a desarrollarse durante el Renacimiento de Harlem, cuyo ocaso coincide con el crash de 1929, aunque dará coletazos hasta bien entrada la tercera década del siglo. En ese periodo se inscriben, además de Jacob Lawrence, los pintores Archibald Motley Jr., Aaron Douglas y Horace Pippin; el fotográfo James Van Der Zee; los escultores Richmond Barthé y Augusta Savage. Tras la Segunda Guerra Mundial, aparecen en escena autores de formación más global, que a menudo pasan temporadas en el extranjero: Beauford Delaney, Charles White, Hale Woodruff. Entre la segunda mitad de los años 50, cuando se inician las luchas por los Derechos Civiles, y la década de los 80, destacan, en el campo de la escultura, Elisabeth Catlett, Barbara Chase–Riboud, Betye Saar y Melvin Edwards; en el de la pintura, Sam Gilliam, Norman Lewis, Robert Colescott (que representó a Estados Unidos en la Bienal de Venecia de 1997), y Romare Bearden; en el de la fotografía, Roy DeCarava y Gordon Parks.

A medida que los artistas afroamericanos van alejándose de las formas tradicionales para abordar la representación de la realidad sociopolítica y el análisis de los media, toda la herencia recibida se desplaza hacia posiciones conceptuales. A partir de los 80, el hip-hop y el graffiti invaden la cultura urbana. La sensibilidad estética negra es ya universal, y el auge de los artistas plásticos va en consonancia. Jean-Michel Basquiat constituye el gran ejemplo. Pero hoy día ningún aficionado al arte contemporáneo desconoce el trabajo —agrupémoslos grosso modo— de los pintores Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Hawordena Pindell o Gary Simmons; el de los escultores Martin Puryear y Alison Saar; el de las fotógrafas Carrie Mae Weems y Lorna Simpson; o el de los artistas conceptuales Fred Wilson, Kara Walker, Adrian Piper y, el más cotizado de todos, David Hammons.

Black Like Me, la pieza de Glenn Ligon escogida por los Obama, toma como punto de partida el libro del mismo título escrito por el periodista John Howard Griffin, quien en 1960 se oscureció para pasar por negro y poder contar cómo se sentía un hombre de ese color en Estados Unidos. Ligon reproduce repetidamente una frase del libro: “Todo rastro del Griffin que había sido quedó borrado de la existencia”. Las palabras van ensombreciéndose hasta desaparecer, alusión a la invisibilidad del negro, narrada de forma magistral por Ralph Ellison en El hombre invisible, novela publicada en 1952. Una invisibilidad que, paradójicamente, parece perpetuarse con el paso de los años.

Mireia Sentís

THE UNGOVERNABLES VS. THE WHITNEY BIENNNIAL by Norman Douglas

THE UNGOVERNABLES VS. THE WHITNEY BIENNNIAL (2012)
Eungie Joo & Ryan Inouye vs. Jay Sanders & Elisabeth Sussman

Impressions on two contemporary art surveys at Gotham
by Norman Douglas

I’m not sure that I take in museum shows in the accepted fashion, but somewhere along the desultory path I call my life, I learned (probably from one artist or another) to start out on the top floor and leisurely make my way down to the lobby. In following this route a couple of times in a couple of days over the weekend, my impression of New York City’s two biggest spring art shows was inadvertently sealed early on.

My visit to the New Museum began in the elevator, where the guard immediately engaged my friend and me in conversation. “The stairs are long going up,” he concurred with our plan to wend our way from top to bottom. He was hardly the only employee there to wear his humanity openly, even shamelessly. Later on, and a few floors down, at least three of them danced with abandon and aplomb to the pounding techno soundtrack of Cairo-based Hassan Khan’s “Jewel,” even replicating the video’s study of two men idly dancing “alone” (as if singing in the shower) to club beats. The New Museum guards’ knowing grins invited visitors to join them in their spontaneous footwork, or dared guests to upbraid or report them. They danced with a mixture of defiance and grace, in gratitude for the awareness that working conditions at the New Museum stand apart from the deadening decorum one expects at other sanctified art institutions. The Whitney, for example, continues to display the mannequins of color dressed in museum guard uniforms that caused such a stir at curator Elizabeth Sussman’s first Biennial, nearly a decade ago. Meanwhile, the Whitney guards act in kind, just as stiffly, warning people to stand behind the lines etched onto the floor, to keep away from the displays, to not touch, to not sit, to keep moving, keep moving. In the older museum’s dark gallery halls, one can’t shake the feeling of being watched by the minions of authority, as if one might somehow incongruously forget that one is in the home of the holy and consecrated, the precious and well-appointed.

Tom Thayer, This Life Is Nothing More Than Waiting For the Sky To Open, 2011. Paint on canvas, cardboard, string, wire and mixed-media. 72 x 48 in. © Tom Thayer; Collection of Michael Coppola and Ann Zumwalt, courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery, NY.

Back at the top, we stepped onto the New Museum’s upper floor, which features an open-air balcony overlooking downtown. Here and there, the unseasonably hot weather enticed a few groups of excited neighbors onto the rooftops to bid farewell to winter. Certainly, not everyone recalls Robert Moses’ failed bid to slice a highway a block or two north along Houston Street—now undergoing a facelift that will ostensibly leave it more pedestrian-friendly than ever—let alone the flophouse next door known as the Sunshine Hotel, its ground floor now home to an upscale diner and a gallery run by the daughter of a former NY Stock Exchange president. From this high up, long-time phantoms of the district may note the legion of yellow cabs plying streets once avoided by all but the bravest, or the rise of modest towers among the industrial age walk-ups and depression era federal housing. Head in the sky, feet on solid stone, this initial immersion in daylight space reflects an architectural approach to an ideal function of art: a shift in perspective, a reminder that there are ways of seeing we may overlook, that await detection, that inform and inspire the artist and student of culture alike.

Inside, the New Museum’s open floors, white walls and even lighting lend the art on display a weightlessness that contrasts the Whitney’s overarching darkness. The older venue’s somber atmosphere fixes the artworks to the wall like so much evidence of a criminal enterprise captured in flagrante. Curiously, while much of the stuff on view at the Whitney adheres to a more conservative aesthetic, the New Museum’s younger coterie of artists seem to court the margins, even proceeding from the notion of art as crime as if it is a given. Great attention is paid to how objects are displayed—Argentine Mariana Telleria’s Dias en que todo es verdadarranges found objects and created pieces on long, uncluttered shelves that suggest a studied lack of the personal; in Acepto que nada es mío, Peruvian Rita Ponce de León arranges scores of tiny pen and ink drawings that seem like the detritus fastidiously sliced from a whole kept intact by their confinement to a tabled vitrine (I immediately recall Stephen Millhauser’s short story about a royal miniaturist whose detailed figurines grow increasingly imperceptible to all but the artist); Egyptian born Iman Issa presents a handful of works from her “Material for a sculpture…” series (…commemorating the life of a soldier who died defending his nation against intruding enemies, …proposed as an alternative to a monument that has become an embarrassment to its people, …representing a bygone era of luxury and decadence, …representing a monument erected in the spirit of defiance of a larger power) that effectively parody the function of art as memorial, erections rendering formal concerns—like the selection of materials—irrelevant. One of the first works one sees (assuming one follows the downward route), Jonathas de Andrade’s Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover), incorporates a row of pages from a found diary displayed out of order but hung on a level plane that is occasionally interrupted by a block of found snapshots (this piece struck me as bearing more significance to the artist’s exploration of questions of process and the random nature of memory than that of communication with the viewer). In O seculo! by Cinthia Marcelle & Tiago Mata Machado, a static video frame highlights the mayhem of numerous objects large and small noisily hurled at a sidewalk curb (the snapping and smoke of miniature explosives, the clanking of numerous tin cans and oil drums, the popping of fluorescent bulbs and the wail of a car alarm stirred my adrenaline), a rain of cast-offs that gradually subsides, leaving us to ponder the messy quietude and the leftover debris that remain, dynamics that serve as evidence of child’s play or the devastation of war. The most narrative and—in my humble opinion—most successful offering at both shows, O seculo! (The century!) posits the use-value of objects by reducing their temporary “lifespan” to a tenable immediacy. What we see discarded is less relevant than the fact that consumerism transforms everything into the lowest common denominator; in the limited space of a single video time-frame, what we discard is what we reject, our refuse is our refusal to the bogus imperative that we consume. Danh Võ’s We the People is a trio of full-scale copper forms made from identical—albeit, unidentifiable—sections of the Statue of Liberty laid on the gallery floor—presumably to achieve a smidgeon of the incongruous via the strategy of sledgehammer subtlety. Dave McKenzie’s The Past Into the Future, in which he arrays found objects amid acrylic box fragments on a wooden table, and Amalia Pica’s Eavesdropping (version 2) fixes the mouths of various drinking glasses to the length of an entire wall. All three of these works represent some of the less appealing examples of this frenzy for resituating objects. I’m reminded of how David Hammons once observed that one can place anything in a gallery and people will call it art. This attitude prevails in Eunjie Joo’s New Museum triennial, though the results are more often dubious than not.

The titanic sculpture, A Person Loved Me by Triennial darling Adrian Villar Rojas (whose name proliferates on every press release and text about the show), is certainly a competent rendition of some sci-fi film prop—a realm rife with artistry—but hardly packs the wallop, despite its immensity, of a Louise Bourgeois spider or a Jeff Koons bunny. Its effect is more akin to that of a trinket, a giant tchotchke, a clumsy curiosity, that wonders aloud “What’s that thing doing in here?”

Richard Hawkins, Ankoku Collage (in progress) 2011. Collage, 11 x 14 in. Collection of the artist. © Richard Hawkins 2011; Courtesy Greene Naftali, New York, & Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles.

Mumbai-based Minam Apang’s two large drawings, He wore them like talismans all over his body and How the wind was born inspire a shortness of breath due to the mastery of material and technique not found in the surfeit of conceptually arduous works exhibited in the show. The series of portraits by Londoner Lynette Yiadom-Boakye exuberantly meld traditional and popular styles. The canvases seem to borrow from black-light paintings in the liberal application of black paint to both the figures and backgrounds she portrays, such that the subjects and the brushstrokes that convey her images share the weight of eternity. In effect, Yiadom-Boakye has fixed these paintings in a time of their own, one that references the past and the present without carrying either too deeply into the resultant mix. For whatever reason, these pieces stand out as the only examples of what one customarily thinks of as art, overwhelmed as they are by what was called “new media,” “conceptual art,” and “institutional critique” twenty years ago.

There are other pieces in The Ungovernables, audio and video pieces that endure in their multiple perspectives, referencing archival, commercial, and industrial practices. The four pieces I offered my attention did little to maintain it, so I will refrain from naming names. Sadly, my visit to the Whitney left me feeling similarly inattentive overall, with a few exceptions.

I began the biennial by speaking to a member of Red Krayola that left me feeling underwhelmed. While I attempted to discourse on the familiarity of Skype technology and how Red Krayola imagined subverting and/or highlighting this everydayness, I got the feeling that the person on the other end was distracted. Instead of badgering him or monopolizing the connection, I bade farewell and stepped aside, expecting some one of the many other museum-goers who had listened to us to take a turn. Only one young woman stepped forward, and that was to do nothing more than to name-drop. Apparently, she knew someone who knew someone and thought it important to tell the band member so. Having gotten that off her chest, she left. I could go on about art and technology, the difficulties of participatory, two-way communication, the pratfalls and pitfalls of interactivity, the fundamental similarities between hammer and computer, telepathy and remote control, spider-web and internet, the inevitable supremacy of human users over whatever tool one might reference, but I’ve done that elsewhere, repeatedly, and at length. It merely astonishes that we believe we’ve come so far in this realm, when in fact, the ubiquity of digital gadgetry has changed very little in terms of fostering communicative and technological relationships.

While the Whitney curators felt that a Michael Clark dance rehearsal would fit the bill as art (and, I assume, process), the performance This Could Be Something If I Let It by Dawn Kasper reprises the familiar resort to living in the museum/gallery with no significant twist or spin. An animatronic dummy spouting text by transgressive scribbler Dennis Cooper is nothing more than a Disney World display gone bad and shabbily produced. ISP graduate Sam Lewitt’s decision to cover part of the floor with magnetic liquid might hold my sons’ attention for an hour, if they could touch it. Because they won’t be able to even get close, it might make my younger boy holler in protest while the older one would depart in another prepubescent huff at the hypocrisy of grown-ups.

Nicole Eisenmann’s portraits are a joy to behold, as is true of the majority of her paintings for the past twenty years. I was surprised to see so many of Richard Hawkins’ collages on display. His paintings have always featured an element of borrowing, and it’s great to see him submit his skill as a painter to the craft of collage, not to mention his furious and steady output. Latoya Ruby-Frazier’s photo campaign for a hospital in blighted Braddock, Pennsylvania recalls the fabricated images of Les Krims1 in their employ of architecture as entity; the series succeeds at reflecting a singular eye for the humanity of documentation, communicating both real need and visualized history in every image. Kai Althoff’s shimmering and riotously-colored hanging is nothing less than a thing of beauty that almost invisibly transforms the room it bisects. My favorite discovery was the work of Tom Thayer, who mixes media to create works that live somewhere between the diorama of childhood craft and the scenography of ritual drama. I lingered longest in the room holding these shadowy plays on darkness as light. Other than these works, I found little of appeal at the Whitney and so, in keeping with former art critic Jim Lewis’s decision not to criticize the hard work of others, I remain silent in this respect.

Nicole Eisenman, Untitled, 2011. Mixed-media monotype, 24 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. The Hall Collection © Nicole Eisenman; Courtesy Leo Koenig Inc. New York.

 

While I had initially hoped to compare these two shows, each to the other, the sheer number of artists in each makes such an endeavor next to impossible. In addition, both shows serve as hubs for film and video programs, public art projects, performances, lectures, workshops, and other events at venues throughout the city. One would have to possess a rather outsized ego to declare a knockout without catching every round. One would also have to spend a few visits to these institutions, as well as tour the farther reaches of the city, to take in every offering selected and included by the curators. Given this challenge, I can only point to the profusion of light that gave the Ungovernables a better feel than the somber Biennial. But even this qualitative difference may reflect the New Museum’s mission to focus on young, “emerging” artists, as opposed to the Whitney’s dedication to showcasing those who have endured the art world’s shifting fancies for at least a couple of decades. Such effects have less to do with the particular shows than with the implicit positions of the venues that showcase them. In either case, both shows add to the abundant opportunities for inspiration—both positive and negative—offered by the arts in the city. For that, one hardly requires the amblings of one who puts words on a page, cataloguing the unclassifiable in a futile bid to stave off a slow fade into the dustbin of mystery. Go forth then, and spectate…

1  A photographer who has staged most of his output since the late 60′s, and who parodies “concerned photographers” in his Chicken Soup monograph.

The Ungovernables

The Ungovernables
by Emma S. Hazen

“New Art, New Ideas, New Generation,” a J-train advertisement for The Ungovernables, the New Museum’s triennial show boldly promises in large white lettering superimposed on top of an assemblaged pile of junk. The poster’s message seems clear, implying this generation is a generation of phoenixes rising from a discarded heap of debris–resourceful and innovative. Though The Ungovernables is an exhibition of new art–the show includes fifty participants from around the world, many of whom have never exhibited in the U.S. previously–the advertisement only describes the content but not the feeling of the show. Though the work is new to America, the show itself does not feel particularly novel. The title of the exhibition promises rebellion, burning flags, and anarchy, yet this triennal show is more thoughtful and probing than action-based, more soft-spoken and contained than revolutionary.

rojas

The most attention-grabbing piece in the exhibition, A Person Loved Me, by Adrián Villar Rojas, is a grandiose gray clay Transformer-like sculpture that conjures up bittersweet nostalgia for present technologies. Though the piece taps into the psyche of 2012, reading as a subdued memorial to the technology of our time, the megalith clay artifact is not particularly formidable. My attention was caught by the painterly portraits of young men by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Jonathas de Andrade’s 4000 Disparos, a beautiful black and white film of male faces on the streets of Buenos Aires, and the post-stamp size ink drawings, Accepto que nada es mío, of swarms of minuscule people and natural environments, by Rita Ponce de León. Even though these pieces are reactionary, as the title of the show suggests, the reactions are quiet–probing, but not revolutionary.

poncedeleon

Though the exhibition title is partly ironic, referencing the “pejorative term used to describe unruly ‘natives’” as the press release states, the exhibition’s title also references an outcry of anarchy absent from the show, especially absent from the works focused on politics. The Propeller Group’s five-channel video instillation, TVC Communism, for example, pokes fun at corporate culture yet does not question the system deeply. The instillation is composed of videos of a staged office meeting where a corporation is strategizing how to rebrand communism as appealing to the public. The irony of the piece stands in the way of the work drawing the vital connections between corporations and government for the piece to actually be political. TVC Communism is more of a theatrical, absurdist comment on office culture than a reflection on politics or capitalism. Like A Person Loved Me, the instillation is submissive, not subversive.

yiadome-boakye

The most ungoverned artist in the show is José Antonio Vega Macotela, whose systematic works critique the system itself, namely the prison system and the U.S./Mexican oil industry. Many of his works included in the show were made while spending 500 hours in prison over six years in the name of art. Time Exchange 321, a complicated yet crude chart of fingernail clippings representing amounts of money smuggled through prison, exposes the bureaucracies and hierarchies formulated by inmates within the system. With Habemus Gasoline, Macotela creates a rudimentary oil refinery out of a tequila distiller that challenges corporate technology through do-it-yourself aesthetic action. Macotela’s work is powerful in its resourcefulness, offering a genuine evaluation of the damaged systems of our time grossly overlooked by culture, without the tinge of irony that tends to overshadow potential political messages.

macotela

The greatest weakness of The Ungovernables, however, is not the soft-spoken art, but that the show does not address the rapidly changing cultural ideology of our times–an ideology that has evolved even since the museum did their last triennial in 2009. Our culture is of a post-internet mentality, a term coined by Marisa Olson, meaning that the internet is a given banality in 2012–we expect the social networks and the infinite access to media and materials that the internet provides, and we put a lesser importance on fixed physical objects and spaces. In the past, people have used art and other cultural objects to form alliances to make change. Yet, with unlimited social networking, we no longer need to congregate around an object to create a network–we no longer need to burn a flag to be ungovernable. With a few strokes of our keypads we can conjure a digital call to arms reaching people all over the world. Because we have the internet space to rely on, the cultural objects we produce does not have to be inherently ungovernable, because we can raise awareness through our own networks. Take for example the uprisings of Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street, both movements became popular through this generation’s application of the internet. We are ungovernable in the sense that we share information, media, ideas, and images freely, and this sharing does not rely on physical space or a physical object. To be ungovernable in 2012 is not take action directly against the system but to form alternative networks.

Maybe The Ungovernables did not seem like “New Art, New Ideas, New Generation” because I have encountered these ideas before somewhere out in cyberspace. The art of The Ungovernables is a manifestation of post-internet culture, and this culture is not aggressively action-based or physical like the title of the show suggests, but progressively thoughtful and aware due to our increased online presence of the last decade. In that sense, we are a generation of digital phoenixes arising from a culture of consumption, we are new and resourceful, but not in our ideas themselves, but the way in which we transmit them.

Bonny Finberg review

dejavu: the feeling of having experienced being in a place or something that happened before.

the dejavu in this collection is the act of magic one rarely finds in the interplay of image and word, but when one does, though constantly amazed, we sigh and say, “ah yet again another unique vision. another individual way of seeing things.”  in this powerful book Finberg provides her dual magic by presenting photos that are surreal yet make us feel rooted in place and poems and one short novel that while rooted in the “real” display dreamlike qualities. both ground us yet pull us away from the mundane. both work splendidly together as with the piece fragments and the accompanying image. we see bright red flowers on a black and white balcony filled with black and white sunlight yet there is no distinction or blur between the two. we feel right at home though a bit ajar and as the poem explains there is “the logic of beauty and the wait” in “early evening blue for cold, dark night.” the book is filled with contradictions and as the title poem suggests this is a “clean reflection…in a moment that won’t stand still.” we look in the mirror and see life in its all its forms: the meat, the wine, dead lightning and coffee bars. reflections of a life lived. poem as image. image as poem. “the thing itself…a window into the street.” though Finberg states that “no one writes his autobiography in advance” this is a glance into her life and ours. “the logic of a sentence.” the nightmare of…magnificence.” “stolen thoughts.” “countless memories”. “a loosely textured fugue”.

“What is in a body?” Finberg asks. Well in the body of this book we find electricity, intoxication, “the hungry heart”, “a heartless god”, the unlimited possibilities of the here and now as well as “the vantage point of no return.”

 

steve dalachinsky nyc 8/11

 

 

Robert Mueller at NY Public Library by George Spencer

What you will see at the Morningside Heights New York Public Library at 2900 Broadway (at W. 113th St.)
 is the untitled visual work of Robert Mueller, a widely published poet and literary critic who is now dividing his time between literary pursuits and seeking innovation in the visual arts. Working with traditional materials, color, line and form, he is creating a personal mythology. And at the same time he is playing with verisimilitude.  And abstraction.  And with words and phrases interlaced through the colored marks and shapes that make up the work.

He calls these works color cards because they present a message, and they are colorful. Often the message will appear obscured or riddling.  For Mueller therein lies the business of art, to create difference and estrangement, inviting a conveyance of messages of a different order.  There is pleasure here, pleasure of a different kind.

He started the color cards in July of 2010, and most on display were done in November and December of 2011

In earlier works he used colored pencils from a Mattel box for children’s play.  But most of the works on display feature better pencils and pastels aided by paper from white to cream to light grey, all carefully chosen.

Does all of this add up to meaning? Can these be understood? In the traditional sense the answer is no. However, if the viewer is willing to use the imagination, the answer is a very rewarding yes. The pictures are teeming with levels of meaning both at the conscious and unconscious level. For example there are landscapes. Or are they?

This is an audacious display for an artist new to this medium. If one understood Cocteau when he said in The Art of CinemaI was trying to say what I said or as Mueller wrote in one of his poem, Yellow Peak, A Stole, A Bell:

All starting is collecting, all breaching

Of the sterling wall a growing

it becomes clear that the poet/painter practices art as a simultaneous gathering of resources and a journey of discovery for both artist and viewer.

Where does Robert Mueller go from here? Back to poetry exclusively?  To further exploration of the visual arts?  My guess is that the language scattered through the paintings will disappear as he finds ways with color, line and form to convey what language was conveying. Perhaps there will be titles.

There is great promise in the initial show. What comes next? Surprises? Most likely.

 

Carsten Höller: Experience

by Emma S. Hazen

LAB REPORT: Carsten Höller: Experience

ABSTRACT

The New Museum is a laboratory and its visitors are the test subjects with the current show, Carsten Höller: Experience. In this article, I present my current research on the subject, including discussion with the exhibition’s curator, Massimiliano Gioni. The museum will be conducting research onsite until January 15, 2012, and is still looking for willing participants for ongoing experiments.

Continue reading