For those of you who will be in the New York metropolitan area this Thursday, we invite you to participate in a NEW trivia event inspired by contemporary art and the culture of our time presented by Art21 and 92YTribeca. In the spirit of Art21′s mission to increase knowledge of contemporary art and in combination with the social traditions of game night and happy hour, this multi-media event invites you to test your knowledge of current art, film, music and online cultural phenomena. Form a team of colleagues, friends and frienemies—or come solo and join a team on the spot to meet other art appreciators/lovers/aficionados —and compete for cultural greatness…or maybe just a prize.
Art:21 Season 5 featured artist Mary Heilmann will be in attendance and is providing music for the first trivia night. The event will take place this Thursday, January 28 at 6:30 pm at the 92YTribeca, located at 200 Hudson Street. Prizes for Culture Wars are generously donated by the Phaidon Store, Soho and 20X200.
Teams will be limited to 5 people. This is not a ticketed event; however, there will be a cost of $5 per team, payable at the bar, to participate.
Yes, we know January is more than halfway over and it’s a bit late for yet another compilation of Top Tens. But we’ve been busy speaking and planning the next year of this site. Hopefully we whetted your palate with some end-of-year roundups of the guest blog and video Exclusives rosters. And what about entertainers who moonlight as artists? Or the Year in Meat? We would be remiss, however, not to share with you some of the other images, events, websites, and phenomena caught by our radar not only in 2009 but also across the aughts.
Catherine Wagley, Columnist, Looking at Los Angeles
For art, this has been the decade of the image, just like it’s been the decade of the single song for music. Images can be downloaded as easily as MP3 files, and much of the notable art I’ve encountered since 2000 came to me via Google. I first saw each of these ten photographs on a computer screen, and while I eventually saw many in person, that initial online encounter seared them into my memory.
Outlandish, strangely severe and self-important, Levi Van Veluw’s approach to landscape seems perfectly suited to the virtual information age. It approximates the textures and colors of land, but couldn’t be more unnatural and alienating.
Coolidge’s photograph is equal parts candid and cunning. It plays with normalcy just enough to reveal what we already know: there’s no such thing as normal.
Taken in an abandoned embassy in Germany and then damaged by an airport X-ray machine, Beshty’s murk-filled Travel Pictures, literally scarred by diplomacy and bureaucracy, are relics of contemporary history.
With the uncanny composure of a Jeff Wall image and the rough-and-tumble defiance of grunge, Snow’s photograph straddles a provocative line between professionalism and rebellion.
Images are commodities and technology a game in Lassry’s work. This particular photograph acts as a one-liner, a pithy visual gesture that collapses the difference between design and meaning.
This photograph appeared in W Magazine before Brad and Angelina, the “it” couple of the decade, were officially together. It’s visually arresting, melodramatic, and a prescient mockery of the domestic lives of the rich and famous.
Maier-Aichen made landscape seem unfamiliar again and this particular topography looks so flat and textured that it feels like an intimate abstraction even though it’s an expansive aerial shot.
Pfeiffer re-imagined romanticism in the context of a basketball court, removing and manipulating contextual details and imaging emotionally raw, vulnerable scenarios.
Vulnerable, voluptuous and defiant, Opie’s self-portrait, simple in its premise, ushered identity politics into a new era.
Placing a young man in the pose of Helga, painter Andrew Wyeth’s famous muse, Schorr created what I believe is the decade’s most resonant portrayal of gender performance.
Ben Street, Columnist, Letter from London
[Caveat: one of the requirements of writing an end-of-year best-of list is that you remember what you've seen right from the beginning of the year, and I'm not sure that the pieces of art I remember seeing this year are necessarily the best ones. (I can remember, for instance, Adel Abdessemed's fighting animals video at David Zwirner in New York quite clearly, although I thought it was pretty rubbish as art). The other requirement is that you demonstrate a) that you're an enormously well-traveled and cosmopolitan person by featuring art from a broad range of far-flung locations and b) that you have privileged access to the most obscure and under-the-radar art events which most ordinary mortals won't even have heard about. So, actually, the best art show I saw this year was a video installation down a mineshaft in Azerbaijan, but in the interest of the reader, I'll try and keep it relatively mainstream. So: this is a list of (mostly) individual works of art that I've seen this year that have both stubbornly remained in my memory and are, I think, really good.]
Animatronic Designer Jon Dawe reveals the process behind the robotic creature effects in artist Paul McCarthy’s sculpture Bush and Pig. Dawe’s previous work, as part of Stan Winston Studio and Tatopoulos Studios, includes special effects and mechanical designs for the popular films Jurassic Park, Hellboy, Underworld, and Fantastic Four, among others.
Paul McCarthy’s video-taped performances and provocative multimedia installations lampoon polite society, ridicule authority, and bombard the viewer with a sensory overload of often sexually-tinged, violent imagery. With irreverent wit, McCarthy often takes aim at cherished American myths and icons—Walt Disney, the Western, and even the Modern Artist—adding a touch of malice to subjects that have been traditionally revered for their innocence or purity. Whether conflating real-world political figures with fantastical characters such as Santa Claus, or treating erotic and abject content with frivolity and charm, McCarthy’s work confuses codes, mixes high and low culture, and provokes an analysis of fundamental beliefs.
Andrea Zittel is building a floating island in Indiana. And early next summer, a college student from the nearby Herron School of Art & Design will climb aboard and take up full-time residency as it floats on the lake that is in the heart of soon-to-be-open 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
As part of this site’s Flash Points series, I invited Ms. Zittel to talk about this project and the way it responds to the natural world, as well as to discuss some of its conservation issues.
Richard McCoy: Will you describe where you were and what you were thinking about when you when you first thought of making a floating island for 100 Acres?
Andrea Zittel: I’ve been working on various ideas for habitable islands for over ten years, but it isn’t so often that you find an institution with a protected body of water willing to take on the challenge of maintaining a floating work of art. The idea of an island appeals to me as representation of many of the values that we strive for in our 21st-century culture: individualism, independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency. Yet at the same time, these are the same desires that isolate us and lessen collective social and political power. I am fascinated at how the things that set us free are also the same things that oppress us; you could say that the concept of the deserted island is both our greatest fantasy and our greatest fear.
But regardless (and probably even because) of these complicated readings, I’m drawn to structures that generate a kind of personal autonomy for their inhabitants. In 1998, I made a very large habitable island in Scandinavia that eventually had to be destroyed because it was too large to be maintained. Fortunately, the project for 100 Acres is hopefully in for the long haul, and better yet, the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) will allow a series of residents to live on the island over successive summers. The fact that the Indianapolis island will be a living and evolving project with multiple occupant/collaborators makes it particularly exciting.
RM: How did you first represent your ideas for this project (with drawings, sculpture forms, digital images)?
AZ: I had been working on a series of models for quite some time, so by the time that I received an invitation from the IMA, I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like. The next step was to make a working model for the fabricators, so I hired Steve Kim to make digital images of the island as well as a laser-cut model and scaled drawings that could be used by Smilee Barnacle (of the Los Angeles-based Barnacle Bros.) for the actual construction.
RM: I recently read this quote on Robert Smithson’s webpage about “A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites”:
By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a site, or a topographic map, one draws a ‘logical two dimensional picture.’ A ‘logical picture’ differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for. It is a two-dimensional analogy or metaphor — A is Z.
With this in mind, can you talk about how this has evolved from an idea or concept to what is now floating on the lake here in Indianapolis?
AZ: I interpret Smithson’s “logical picture” as one that refers to the relationships generated within the work rather than the external appearance of it. I would say that the island in its current condition (completed but uninhabited) is still only one element of the larger equation that will ultimately end up as the “work.” In this sense, it is still only a concept, but once the first inhabitant arrives and begins to add the accoutrements of his or her life, it will become activated into something that is more complete and multi-dimensional. At that time, it will make a far more interesting “logic picture.”
A few weeks ago, I was flying from St. Louis to Los Angeles on one of those clear, bright winter afternoons that makes America look like a Björk video. Since the entertainment option in the cabin consisted of watching Madagascar 2 from an angle so oblique that the form of a skull threatened to emerge, my face was mostly glued to the window, gazing down at the otherworldly panorama unspooling below me like an economy class version of Andrew Wyeth’s late career frequent flyer. Vast fields of white snow dotted with traces of civilization gave way to a stretch of Gabriel Orozco-esque center pivot irrigated parcels of land which slowly dissolved into a variegated expanse of desert before being swallowed up by the yawning chasm of…THE GRAND CANYON. Brief aside: granted it must be difficult to name massive land forms, but “The Grand Canyon” is a pretty uninspired piece of work. Unlike such visionary nomenclature as, ahem, The Grand Tetons in Wyoming, TGC falls into the patently less grand “Man with a Van” category of names: plucky with a dash of assonance. There’s a strange mix of hubris and embarrassment in this name that promises a glimpse of the sublime but delivers a Chevy Chase joke. And yet, the affectation of the name belies an anxiety that’s much clearer from 30,000 feet: as much as we love to name, we fear the fact that something so stupifyingly huge can look so incredibly small.
Which brings me to David Copperfield. When I got back to LA, naturally, I searched YouTube to look for a video that resembled my aerial experience of TGC. Unfortunately, all the videos shot from commercial jets did just that – they resembled my experience. Peering through my browser window, I tasted little of the flavor of the dramatic shifts in scale, light, and color that I witnessed through my airplane window. I caught only a whiff of the uncanny multiplicity of speeds I experienced: the physical velocity of the plane hurtling through space, the slow pace of the landscape revealing itself like a tracking shot beneath me and the terror of erosion, that imperceptible force that thinks about the entire era of humankind the way we think about a “dog year.” It was then, in the “Related Videos” sidebar of my YouTube page, that I first encountered “David Copperfield – Floating Over the Grand Canyon.” This was a fly-over, nay, a float-over of an entirely different order.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting The Earth School in New York’s East Village and at one point noticed a science classroom through a small window that immediately struck me- there were plants, bones, drawing materials, cabinets, books, field guides, lots of sunlight and carefully arranged tables and workstations. The room itself was like a beautiful business card for the teacher, Abbe Futterman, whom I’d never met. Anyone could tell this place meant business. There wasn’t a child in the classroom but you could clearly see that the students and their teacher took pride in the work that was accomplished here. After asking a few questions I was quickly introduced to Abbe and pleasantly surprised to find out that she is a Pratt Institute graduate who often teaches science through the arts. Below is a conversation we had following that visit.
JF: You work as a science teacher that graduated Pratt Institute. That alone is interesting. Tell me about that transition.
AF: It was more of the shift from art to the art of teaching because I began as a 3rd and 4th grade teacher. Only later did I become a science teacher. When I discovered how much creativity there is in teaching, it became my first love. I especially enjoy teaching science because it captures the imagination and wonder of the students and myself. Description and documentation are also very important to me and, I believe, for learning science. The processes of Audubon, Darwin, and McClintock have influenced how I view science. Teaching young people life drawing techniques gets them to slow down, observe, and notice the structure of things. Equally important to me is that my students experience what Eleanor Duckworth calls “the having of wonderful ideas,” which I interpret as the imaginative act of discovery and synthesis and which is very akin to a powerful aesthetic experience. I think these acts of the imagination empower and enlighten children and adults similarly.
JF: Can you describe some of the situations or lessons where you use drawing in your classroom? Are there particular artists that have made their way into your curriculum?
AF: I use drawing or scientific illustration in various ways with my students. For example, if they are studying biology using snails, or mealworms, or plants, or pillbugs, I have them do large detailed studies. I teach this technique starting in Kindergarten right through fifth grade- explicit life drawing techniques that I call “Looking and Drawing.” I model first using pencil and an art eraser. I implore them to look a LOT and draw a LITTLE; look a LOT and draw a little more; to erase as needed; and redraw. I emphasize the looking: “Is this plant the exact green that’s in the paint set?” “Is the entire plant the same green?” Then I show them some basic mixing and blending techniques. Students often draw and then label the parts. They get to draw microscopes, flowers, fruit, etc.
JF: You mentioned enjoying teaching science because it captures the wonder and imagination of both the students and yourself. I teach visual art for the same reason. Do you feel that teachers need to have a sense of wonder in order to teach effectively? If so, how do you keep that sense, that spark, alive in your own work?
AF: Children are by nature “wonder-igniters” since they live in the world of imagination and discovery. The hard part is listening well and not getting carried off completely by the day-to-day logistics of classroom life. I think teachers need to stay open to their students and to know each one well enough to be awed by him/her and his/her work. The opposite of that– not seeing/knowing the person, the individual– is what drains our positive energy from teaching.
Caring for contemporary artworks usually requires a team effort.
I’ve been fortunate at the Indianapolis Museum of Art to work with colleagues who take their role in caring for artworks very seriously. For instance, I worked with former Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Rebecca Uchill, who arrived in 2005 and left Indy in 2008. Soon after her arrival, she began putting together exhibitions that among other things challenged the existing procedures of the museum and in a variety of ways pushed us to more clearly define our roles. In 2008 Uchill left Indianapolis to pursue a PhD at the MIT department of History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture. While I appreciated the exhibitions she brought to the IMA, one the most important projects she spearheaded is the creating of the Variable Art Team (VAT), an interdisciplinary team focused on the preservation of artworks that possess a changing observable state. Such artworks can involve variable presentation formats, time-based fluctuations or other types of variables, for example:
- Installation or site-sensitive artwork with artists’ instructions for implementation;
- Electronic or media-based art with updating platforms and devices;
- Conceptual art, ephemeral art, or art made with unsustainable materials.
Since Uchill’s departure, the VAT, currently led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Sarah Urist Green and myself, has grown in scope and continues to be a museum-wide collaborative and interdisciplinary effort.
Richard McCoy: Will you go back to 2006 and talk about what you had in mind when you started the Variable Art Team (VAT)?
Rebecca Uchill: I had been speaking with my friend Cara Starke, Assistant Curator of Media Art at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), about their similar inter-departmental group, and I was also interested in the work of Jon Ippolito in naming and thinking freshly about Variable Media. My original, very simple intention was to make clear and evident that everyone had a role not only in the process of putting an artwork on exhibition and that these roles also contributed to an artwork’s preservation in different ways. As you know, sometimes documents related to the production of artworks weren’t archived because they seemed incidental at the time, but they would later emerge as essential–or at least desirable–records. For example, an artist’s napkin sketch drawn in the exhibition design offices might later become an important art historical document, as well as a partial roadmap to future re-creation of the work.
RM: I think finding, storing, and then retrieving all of the necessary documents around contemporary projects is among the biggest challenges facing institutions these days. One thing I remember from those early meetings is that we didn’t want to make any new institutional policies, and we didn’t want to try and force people to attend the team meetings. Raising awareness of what each person’s role in the exhibition and preservation of an artwork is complicated enough. I also remember spending a lot of time working with the VAT to make the “Variable Artwork Production and Archiving Flowchart.” While that isn’t always how artworks are produced at the IMA, it provides a good framework for how they could be commissioned.
RU: The flowchart definitely forced a conversation about what people were actually doing, and demonstrated that almost everyone has a role. It made it possible to have a more nuanced conversation about what interactions or transactions were happening at each stage of a process.
From your perspective as a conservator, it seems what’s interesting (with the flowchart) is to figure out the legacy of the documentary traces of an artwork’s production. But what I find additionally interesting, as an art historian, is to see the distributed agency in the production of an artwork made manifest through that kind of chart. One often conceives of an artwork as being the product of a particular artistic position, but frequently it’s not that way entirely. There are other attributes–as with any other creative or productive act–that influence the outcome. Thinking about those influences that result from institutional contexts of production and display is now an academic focus for me.
This summer, for example, I am going to work in residence at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), where I will conduct research on the ways that certain 20th- and 21st-century museum architectures have affected contemporary art or reflected its changing approaches, especially towards the performative and dialogical.
Sports, the human body and Gap t-shirts come together in this MLK day weekly roundup:
- Sports and masculinity are central themes of Hard Targets, an exhibition at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts. Via the press release, “Hard Targets seeks to revise and complicate our time-honored stereotypes of male athletes and athleticism (as aggressive, heterosexual, hyper-competitive, and remote) by presenting alternative, possibly more democratic, interpretations of subjects frequently revealed to us only in authorized and frankly commercial images.” Works by Art21 artists Paul Pfeiffer, Matthew Barney, Collier Schorr (all Season 2), Mark Bradford (Season 4), and Jeff Koons (Season 5), are included in the show. Originally organized by Independent Curators International, another version of Hard Targets was presented by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2008/2009. The Wexner Center exhibition runs January 30 – April 11.
- Always After (The Glass House), a film by Season 4 artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, will begin showing at the Art Institute of Chicago on January 21. The film (created between 2000 and 2006) is the fifth installment in a series of works meditating on the career of Mies van der Roe. The film was shot on location at van der Rohe’s old hangout, the IIT campus in Chicago and, according to the Art Institute, “obliquely documents the 2005 ceremonial dedication of the building’s renovation during which [van der Roe's] own grandson broke the windows with a sledgehammer.” Always After is currently being screened at Mass MoCA in conjunction with Manglano-Ovalle’s installation Gravity Is a Force to be Reckoned With. The film will show at the Art Institute of Chicago through May 31.
- In October 2009, Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery opened the exhibition Vortexhibition Polyphonica, kicking off a year-long initiative to explore and display their collection in new ways. Henry curators selected objects to act as conceptual “hubs” around which larger themes were established and other objects revolved. This month, the exhibition was reshuffled by the Henry’s Chief Curator Elizabeth Brown. Works by Art21 artists Ann Hamilton, James Turrell, Richard Serra (all Season 1), Collier Schorr (Season 2), Jenny Holzer (Season 4), John Baldessari, and Cindy Sherman (both Season 5) are on view. According to the Seattle Times, this is the first Henry show to draw on the museum’s entire collection since their exhibition 150 Works of Art in 2005. Vortexhibition Polyphonica continues through March 2011.
- Carrie Mae Weems (Season 5) is included in The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The title refers to both the ability of the figure to reflect the human condition and to the facility of artists to depict it. The exhibition explores images of the human figure and what they reveal or conceal about a person’s experiences, identity, or character. Works by Frank Big Bear, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, José Bedia, Lesley Dill, Jim Dine, Till Freiwald, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jaune Quick-To-See Smith are also on view. The Human Touch continues through April 18.
- Season 4 artist Lari Pittman is one of 65 artists selected to participate in The 185th Annual: An Invitational Exhibition of Contemporary American Art at the National Academy Museum & School of Fine Arts. This multimedia “biennial invitational” features artists from across the United States such as Ghada Amer, Petah Coyne, Dana Schutz, Robert Yasuda, Chris Martin, Alison Elizabeth Taylor, Nina Yankowitz, Barkley L. Hendricks, Cildo Meireles, Anna Lambrini Moisiadis, Elise Engler, and Janet Ballweg. The 185th Annual runs February 17 – June 8.
- The Gap has partnered with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on a new set of artist t-shirts. The project is part of the museum’s 75th anniversary celebration. Season 1 artists Kerry James Marshall and Barry McGee have each contributed one of the eight graphic designs. SLAMXHYPE has the scoop.
- William Kentridge (Season 5) is featured in The New Yorker (Note: only subscribers can access the entire article online). According to writer Calvin Tomkins, an exhibition of the artist’s work will open on February 24 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And a Kentridge-directed-and-designed production of The Nose, a rarely performed opera by Dmitri Shostakovich, will première at the Metropolitan Opera on March 5.
- Library of Water, a 2007 project by Roni Horn (Season 3), is discussed in the December/January issue of the Brooklyn Rail.
- Demons, Yarns & Tales: Tapestries by Contemporary Artists, a group exhibition at James Cohan Gallery featuring works by Shazia Sikander (Season 1) and Kara Walker (Season 2), is reviewed by ArtKrush.
- Ida Applebroog (Season 3), whose exhibition Monalisa opens tomorrow at Hauser & Wirth in New York, is featured in the New York Times.
What was it like before the internet was invented? Can you remember? Where did all that pent-up aggression go before you were able to express your rage with the world via the medium of the comments thread underneath a video of a cat falling into a pond? Were we all walking around corking a volcano of white-hot fury, clenching and unclenching our fists, unable even to lol or rofl to let off much-needed steam? And what about all those knee and cushion and peanut butter fetishists, trapped in loveless marriages, unable to voice their darkest passions in the anonymity of the chatroom?
The triumphant rise of the lonely voice of boiling frustration and melancholy has transformed the way we interact with culture these days, which brings us on to Avatar, James Cameron’s big, loud, colourful, enjoyable, silly 3D film about magical blue cat-men who live in a neon jungle planet. In it, a soldier in a wheelchair gets to hop and skip with the big blue aliens via a lookalike avatar while his ‘real’ body is passive and immobile, in a brilliant bit of self-reference that has made the film wildly successful among its passive and immobile audiences, perhaps disturbingly so. CNN quotes a blogger named Mike, whose comments on one of many discussion forums for the film characterize what appears to be a widespread phenomenon:
Ever since I went to see Avatar I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora [the neon jungle planet] and all the Na’vi [the magical blue cat-men] made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it. I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora.
Another poster, who wisely opts for a psedonym (“Eltu”), comments:
When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning. It just seems so … meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world.
Evidently for Mike and “Eltu,” the experience of seeing the film unlocked a more profound psychological disquiet that would be insensitive to diagnose. But haven’t we all had similar, if less dramatic, reactions when reaching the end credits of a film we’ve invested in emotionally (for me, it’s Tremors every time)? Who wasn’t depressed when they realized R2D2 wasn’t real? Or elated that the Ewoks weren’t? That’s the nature of art’s power to move (that it’s ephemeral) and the reaction evidence of the possession of a soul. And it might be suggested that the presence of a forum to voice their despair led these writers to exaggerate their angst in a perfect illustration of Godwin’s Law (thanks, Joel). However, the reactions and the extraordinary popularity of the film as cultural phenomenon (buoyed by the proliferation of self-styled “Avatards,” obsessive fans that paint their heads blue and see the film again and again, in alarming echo of Tobias Funke) speaks to a human delight in illusion that’s been a staple of art and its reception for hundreds of years.
Thanks to Joel Holmberg for guest blogging this last fortnight. Up next is Karthik Pandian. Karthik is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles. He is represented by Richard Telles Fine Art and has contributed essays to Bidoun and Motherwell. While his work may best be described as 16mm film installation, his practice follows in the footsteps of such diverse figures as Imhotep, Steve Wynn, Carmen Sandiego, Ole Worm, and Benjamin Franklin Gates. He is currently working on a solo exhibition slated to open at Midway Contemporary in Minneapolis in September 2010, but hopes one day to reopen the Musée de l’Homme on the Pacific Trash Vortex, where he will serve as Curator of Ruins and IMAX 3D projectionist.