Now blogging for us through September 27 is Max Weintraub. Max received his Ph.D. in the History of Art from Bryn Mawr College in 2006, where he completed his dissertation on the art of Bruce Nauman. He has worked in curatorial and educational departments at the Denver Art Museum, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. From 2006-2008, he was the curator of The Reis Collection of Modern & Contemporary Art in New York City. Presently, Max is an adjunct professor in the Department of History of Art at Hunter College in New York City, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on Modern and Contemporary Art.
The most exciting moments of the intersection of art and science, for me, are when artists’ use of scientific materials and methods reveal new aspects of their media. Genetic evidence is becoming increasingly important in both winning and overturning criminal convictions, yet the methods used to produce this evidence have been found to be inconsistent and subject to error and manipulation. In Paul Vanouse’s Latent Figure Protocol (2007), artistic self-reflexivity is transformed into an imminent critique of the methods of DNA fingerprinting. While such fingerprinting is conventionally used to create an image that uniquely identifies a person, Vanouse uses the same molecular biological techniques to create images that are – literally and figuratively – generic. For example, a copyright symbol is created as an apt “portrait” for an industrially produced microorganism whose genome has been patented.
Latent Figure Protocol is a live demonstration of the process of producing these images, which Vanouse performed most recently at Exit Art. Video documentation of the experiment is now available online. His presentation mirrors that of a professional scientific research paper, including a detailed description of his materials and methods, images and diagrams of the results, and a discussion of the implications he draws from the data. Vanouse’s reserved performance ironically deploys his own technical expertise in the service of the critical goal of the project which, in his words, is “to downgrade the scientific authority of the ‘DNA fingerprint’ to the status of a ‘portrait’ (an association aided by my own status as ‘artist’ rather than ‘scientist’).”
The force of the artwork lies in Vanouse’s sophisticated and unconventional use of DNA testing techniques. He summarizes his methods as follows:
Hungry? Here’s some arty brain food for you all…
- “Sometimes the most interesting thing about an artist is the disparity between their work and the established perception of it. Eva Hesse, the late German-American sculptor of ratty latex and dog-eared fiberglass, has suffered from what Nabokov called ‘dotting every i with the author’s head….’” Ben Street writes to us from London in Part II of Hot Scots.
- It’s the start of the gallery season! If you’re in New York, what openings did you hit up last night? There’s still much to see this weekend! Thanks for the update, Trong.
- “Breaking free of routines, while at the same time making investigation and inquiry part of the first few days, can kick things off in surprising ways…” Another beautiful post by Joe Fusaro in the weekly column, Teaching with Contemporary Art.
- PLAY ART LOUD: Creating Characters on ArtBabble
Works by: Pierre Huyghe, Joshua Mosley, Catherine Sullivan, Eleanor Antin, Tara Tucker, Marci Washington, and more!
- “Lecturing doesn’t do it, you have to see the light in the students’ eyes that they get it.” Meet John Baldessari in this Season 5 sneak preview.
- Have you been to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Yinka Shonibare MBE exhibition yet? Erin Riley-Lopez asks some pertinent questions in this review.
- A body that is once imaginary and hyper-real? Blogger Dehlia Hannah “thinks on” the relationship between the intersection of art and science alongside with the works currently on view at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, Anatomy in the Gallery.
- Art21 Exclusive: Artist Ida Applebroog discusses the differences between making work and living in New York City versus her home in upstate New York
- New Flashpoints Topic! Introducting Systems
- It’s the BOMB: Check out this vintage interview with Barbara Kruger by Richard Prince.
Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week we’re featuring a vintage BOMB interview relating to a Season 5 artist. This week, we stepped back into our archive looking for a piece by John Baldessari only to find this portfolio of his work from 1986. But since we promised you an interview, we stepped back further in time to find this conversation that correlated to Baldessari’s work instead. In this interview from BOMB Issue 3, Summer 1983 (26 years ago!), Richard Prince and Art21 artist Barbara Kruger ask each other the same question that result with some varied responses. Read the full interview here.
Richard Prince: What about all these recorded conversations we hear about these days?
Barbara Kruger: Presidents, interview, things like that?
BK: Well, in most cases recording seems to offer both the curiosity of replication and the resoluteness of evidence.
RP: Does this have anything to do with the pictures we’re looking at?
BK: Yes. I think in some ways their definitions are interchangeable.
RP: Fiction feels good and recanting causes stress. Like lying, in the physiological sense, the telling of a true story is an unnatural act. Do you think fiction has anything to do with replication?
BK: Pictures and words seem to become the rallying points for certain assumptions. There are assumptions of truth and falsity and I guess the narratives of falsity are called fictions. I replicate certain words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction.
In celebration of the fifth season of Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, premiering this fall on PBS, the current round of Flash Points topics correspond to our four thematic episodes: Compassion, Fantasy, Transformation, and Systems.
Lastly, after a series of illuminating posts on Transformation (thanks to our fabulous guest editor Hrag Vartanian), we conclude this series with Systems. The Systems episode features artists who realize complex projects, whether through acts of appropriation, accumulation, collaboration, or creating projects so vast in scope as to elude comprehension.
Keeping with Flash Points tradition, we always highlight a key question to consider over the course of a topic’s run. To this end, we ask:
Can art transcend paradigms?
Additional questions to ponder include:
- How and why do artists use systems?
- Why do we find comfort in some systems while rebelling against others?
- What new forms of grammar and logic do artists invent in today’s supercharged, information-based society?
Throughout this time, we’ll publish in-depth posts about the artists profiled in Systems — John Baldessari, Kimsooja, Julie Mehretu, and Allan McCollum— as well as feature musings from our roster of guest writers, extending the theme beyond the series to real world networks, matrices, conventions, and subversions.
Help us start the conversation by leaving a comment below. Feel free to note other artists whose work addresses the topic of systems — we’d love to collectively envision a broader landscape of how it is considered in contemporary art practice. And save the date for the premiere Systems episode which debuts nationwide October 28, 2009 on PBS!
Artist Ida Applebroog discusses the differences between making work and living in New York City versus her home in Upstate New York.
Ida Applebroog propels her paintings and drawings into the realm of installation by arranging and stacking canvases in space, exploding the frame-by-frame logic of comic-book and film narrative into three-dimensional environments. Strong themes in her work include gender and sexual identity, power struggles, and the pernicious role of mass media in desensitizing the public to violence.
In an exhibition currently on view at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, artist Vesna Jovanovic both courts and antagonizes the intersection of art and science in the role of the medical illustrator. In this traditional division of labor, science provides the content and the standards of representation, while art serves as the means of communication. Where other artists have inverted this relationship by employing scientists and scientific techniques as means for producing novel artifacts [such Eduardo Kac's transgenic organisms or Gary Schneider's Genetic Self-Portait (1998)], Jovanovic works within scientific conventions of realism to explore how they have been internalized and how they might be transformed by artistic practice.
This year’s exhibition of Anatomy in the Gallery, on view until October 16, juxtaposes work by students and faculty from the University of Illinois – Chicago’s Biomedical Visualization program with Jovanovic’s series of drawings based on ink spills, Pareidolia. ‘Pareidolia’ is a psychological term for the common tendency to perceive order or significance in random visual or auditory stimuli, like seeing the shapes of animals in clouds, or faces in the moon. Jovanovic uses ink spills, like rorschach tests, for exploring the ways in which scientific imagery and concepts reside in our collective unconscious—where, it seems, medical instruments, chemistry equipment, organs, and blood vessels grow and mutate into monstrous chimeras.
I had the opportunity to see selections from Pareidolia, along with pieces from Jovanovic’s Hybrid series, in another scientific venue, the Gordon Center for Integrative Science at the University of Chicago last May. In Timekeeper (Self Portrait) (2007), inkblots are replaced by medical images that reflect a lifetime of the artist’s ailments and injuries. In the shadowy images produced by x-rays and MRI scans, Jovanovic discerns, through a process that could also be likened to pareidolia, a kind of physiological unconscious. The result is an anachronistic cyborg composed of new and old machines, human and animal parts, a body that is at once imaginary and hyper-real.
Yinka Shonibare MBE (Season 5) has a mid-career retrospective currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum through September 20, 2009. The exhibition was organized and toured by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia and after the Brooklyn Museum’s presentation it will travel to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The installation at the Brooklyn Museum is sprawling and elegant. Much of Shonibare’s work is rooted in art historical, historical, and literary references, making it all that more intriguing from a contemporary standpoint. Although installed on two floors of the Museum, the exhibition definitely has a sense of cohesiveness thanks to the poppy pink color used throughout the installation, which in turn echoes the catalogue design.
Shonibare’s work, according to the Museum’s press release, grapples with the relationship of contemporary African identity to European colonialism and explores themes of frivolity and excess. Much of the work in the exhibition deals with the 18th and 19th century, at the height of Victorian splendor—something the artist critiques throughout his work. Such is the case with Diary of a Victorian Dandy, based on a series of works by William Hogarth that depicted characters encountering some kind of social evil; in Shonibare’s version, the artist also appears as a photographic version of Oscar Wilde’s character, Dorian Gray.
Interestingly the critical reception of the exhibition has not been altogether favorable. In a Time Out review, Howard Halle mentions his first encounter with Shonibare’s work ten years prior. At that time, “the politics of identity still carried some urgency. Since then, the world has moved on while Shonibare, judging from this mid-career survey, has not.” And Karen Rosenberg’s review for The New York Times was equally ambivalent when she ended the review by writing, “But this artist, now on a world stage, needs to challenge himself and his audience.” However, Rosenberg was nonetheless able to find some relevance to contemporary society in Shonibare’s work when she wrote, “It doesn’t hurt that he is attracted to scenes of frivolity and excess, some of which resonate in the current economic climate. The figures in his installation Scramble for Africa are meant to be heads of state divvying up a continent, but they might as well be corporate titans at an investment bank board meeting.”
The above video is excerpted from the Season 5 episode Systems, premiering on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 10pm (ET) on PBS (check local listings). Systems features four artists — John Baldessari, Kimsooja, Allan McCollum, and Julie Mehretu — who invent new grammars and logics, finding comfort in some systems while rebelling against others in today’s supercharged, information-based society.
Who is John Baldessari and what does he have to say about systems?
John Baldessari was born in National City, California in 1931; he lives and works in Venice, California. Synthesizing photomontage, painting, and language, Baldessari’s deadpan visual juxtapositions equate images with words and illuminate, confound, and challenge meaning. He upends commonly held expectations of how images function, often by drawing the viewer’s attention to minor details, absences, or the spaces between things. By placing colorful dots over faces, obscuring portions of scenes, or juxtaposing stock photographs with quixotic phrases, he injects humor and dissonance into vernacular imagery. For most of his career John Baldessari has also been a teacher. While some of the strategies he deploys in his work—experimentation, rule-based systems, and working within and against arbitrarily imposed limits to find new solutions to problems—share similarities with pedagogical methods, they are also intrinsic to his particular world view and philosophy.
On the subject of systems in art, Baldessari talk about the liberating potential of systems (in the forthcoming Season 5 book):
Usually, I seem to start I think my emergence in the art world was linked with conceptual art, minimal art, but I never quite totally subscribed to it. I thought it was a little boring. But there were a lot of things I did want to shed, and one of them was being tasteful. The idea of using systems, which was in a lot of that work, appealed to me where I could let this taste emerge as I worked. Because, you know, it’s sort of like toilet paper on your shoe.
What’s a system? I think my idea is this: not so much structure that it’s inhibiting or that there’s no wiggle room, but not so loose that it could be anything. It’s like a corral around your idea, a corral that you can move—but not too much. And it’s that limited movement that promotes creativity. Did I just say something profound?
What happens in Baldessari’s segment in Systems this October?
“I’m always interested in things that we don’t call art, and I say why not?” asks John Baldessari. Filmed in his Venice, California studio, the artist consults with his assistant on a color-coded group of maquettes for Raised Eyebrows / Furrowed Foreheads (2008), a series of photographic bas-reliefs. “One of the reasons I gave up painting is because it’s all about being tasteful,” he explains, “I just decided to be very systematic about it and use the color wheel.” Throughout a segment that features over fifty pieces, including works in the inaugural exhibition of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA (2008), Baldessari assails conventional wisdom about art and meaning. “Words are just a way we communicate. Images are a way we communicate,” he asserts, “I couldn’t figure out why they had to be in different baskets.” In the installation Brick Bldg, Lg Windows w/ Xlent Views, Partially Furnished, Renowned Architect (2009) at Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany, Baldessari humorously reconfigures an entire brick building by noted architect Mies van der Rohe. “Aesthetically, I always look for the weak link in the chain,” he says, comparing his method to “a corral around your idea…limited movement that promotes creativity.”
What else has Baldessari done?
John Baldessari received a BA (1953) and MA (1957) from San Diego State College, continuing his studies at Otis Art Institute (1957-59) and Chouinard Art Institute. Baldessari has received several honorary doctorates, the most recent from the National University of Ireland, Burren College of Art (2006). He has participated in Documenta (1982, 1978); the Venice Biennale (2009, 2003, 1997); and seven Whitney Biennials, most recently in 2008. His work has been shown in more than 120 solo exhibitions and 300 group exhibitions. A major retrospective will appear at the Tate Modern, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2009-10. John Baldessari was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007.
Where can I see more of Baldessari’s work between now and the Art21 premiere this October?
John Baldessari is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris. His work can be seen in the exhibition John Baldessari: A Print Retrospective from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco—Legion of Honor in San Francisco through November 8; at Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris, from September to October; and at the Tate Modern in London where a major retrospective titled John Baldessari: Pure Beauty is on view October 13th, 2009 until January 10th, 2010.
What’s your take on Baldessari’s inclusion in Season 5?
Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below!
Have you ever pretended to be someone else? Is there a difference between fictional characters and historical figures lost to time? This week we’re looking at videos of artists who create memorable characters in their work, often by adapting existing personae—be they well known, obscure, or anonymous.
Artists Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno purchased a Japanese Manga character and, through some legal wizardy, returned the copyright to the character itself. (via Art21)
Joshua Mosley imagines an imaginary conversation between the philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau and Blaise Pascal on the subject of nature and faith. (via MCASD)
Catherine Sullivan and Sean Griffin (introduced by fellow Art21 alumn Barbara Kruger) have a conversation about Sullivan’s anxiety-inducing recent work Triangle of Need set in James Deering’s faux-historic Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Florida. (via Hammer)
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