Art21′s latest Exclusive video has just been posted–check out “William Kentridge: Meaning“ on Art21.org! Filmed at his Johannesburg studio in 2008, William Kentridge discusses how the physical activities of cutting, tearing and collaging generate ideas and infuse his work with meaning. Rather than starting with an idea that is then executed, Kentridge relies on these freeform processes and the resulting juxtapositions to find connections and raise questions. Finished works are shown at the Annandale Galleries in Sydney, Australia.
William Kentridge is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Compassion of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series as well as the Art21 special William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible (2010), both on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes (link opens application), or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.
CREDITS | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Philippe Charluet & Robert Elfstrom. Sound: Ray Day. Editor: Paulo Padilha. Artwork courtesy: William Kentridge. Special Thanks: Annandale Galleries. Video: © 2012 Art21, Inc. All rights reserved.
Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy is the Curator of Contemporary Art at Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. Between 2009-2010, she served as the director of Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. Before then, she worked as curator at Art in General and earlier at Americas Society, both nonprofit arts organizations in New York City. She has curated independently: Autopsia de lo invisible at MALBA in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Archaeology of Longing at Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, France, where she was in residence for part of 2008; and together with Raimundas Malasauskas and Alexis Vaillant, the IX Baltic Triennial Black Market Worlds (a.k.a. BMW). Hernández Chong Cuy writes regularly for exhibition catalogues and art magazines, as well as for her blog, www.sideshows.org.
Having followed Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy’s curatorial practice for a decade now, I am very pleased to present to you our discussion on contemporary Latin American art and Hernández Chong Cuy’s current projects.
Georgia Kotretsos: You just held a seminar series at the Konshall, Spånga on “What Does an Art Institution Do?” The inquiring spirit of that program invites dialogue, so I would like to begin by asking you this very question – since thus far your name has always been closely linked to an art institution. I’d also like you to consider, what do art institutions do for you?
Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy: I think the title of the program is telling; simple but challenging. It titillates with the not-knowing. It doesn’t exactly invite a naïve albeit possibly-interested public that may want to learn about the role of art institutions, though it may, but rather, it is an invitation to reflect on art institutions’ commitments to a public. Since “doing” involves affect and effect simultaneously, it collapses motivation and end at once, at least in the title of the program. There are certainly many kinds of “doings” in the world, and thus many kinds of art institutions. I’ve worked in a variety of cities and institutions, and in each one, these so-called doings—whether you call it art or culture, niceties or politics—and their so-called institutions are very different from each other.
I never expected to be working on a TV show, much less one that’s based on my own life, but that’s what seems to’ve happened.
Since last summer I’ve been meeting with filmmaker John McNaughton to talk about my cabdriving career. I met John through Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, who I had the the pleasure of chauffeuring around town for a couple of years; they’re friends from way back. I’ve been a fan of John’s movies since my high-school days at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, where we were one of the first places in the country to give his debut Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer an extended run. The way that film implicated the audience in the gruesome doings of its characters has never left me. To meet the guy who made it and to end up working with him wouldn’t be anything I could’ve ever dreamed up. I’ve never dreamed up much of anything in fact, doing my best work directly from life.
I never even intended to write except that I kept seeing things driving a cab that I couldn’t get down in my sketchbook. I had to start using words. These words eventually turned into a book and the book caught John’s attention. Tony had been saying that Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab should be turned into a movie or play for most of the time that I drove him around. When people say things like that you tend to laugh them off. When an actual filmmaker approaches you it’s another thing altogether. The first few times we talked about it, it was indeed about a possible feature film. The trouble is that there is no beginning, middle, and end to my book (or much of my written work for that matter.) It’s episodic and fragmentary and can’t truly be otherwise unless I start to embroider or invent. I observe people for random moments rather than neat and tidy story arcs. It would be difficult to make a traditional narrative film out of these disparate bits and pieces. After a time John decided that a TV series might work better.
I had no idea what to write about this week, so I asked my son, Paul…. He’s six.
“Write about words and art,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because words help explain art. You know, in case there’s some wacky drawing there, you know what it is,” he told me.
The kid’s right.
The soup de jour for galleries (not so much in museums, though) when it comes to avoiding all wall labels of any kind leaves me, well, speechless. I’m all for giving art an opportunity to work on my soul, but eventually I want some information to work with- a title, a name, the media. Please!
When it comes to teaching with contemporary art, it’s important to remember we’re always modeling and teaching, even through our displays and school exhibits. Students may very well create a wide variety of work that will elude even the most astute observer. Take opportunities (often) to include narratives, descriptions, and artist statements when exhibiting student work.
As Paul says, if you’re sharing “some wacky drawing”, it sure helps to have a little help understanding…
On a separate, yet important note: Rest in peace, John Parente. My mentor. Our teacher and friend. Your lessons live.
Open Enrollment | Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic
It seems that in the past year the subject of political art, after a long hiatus, has returned to the forefront of art discourse. Political sentiment and popular discontent have awakened in ways unseen since the AIDS crisis of the 1990s. We live in a politically charged time, where art again is looking for content outside of itself. The Occupy movement has no doubt adopted strategies familiar to art discourse, from those of the Situationists to Fluxus.
In major museums, exhibitions of political art abound, from MoMA’s 9 Scripts from a Nation at War to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago’s This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, and even the Tate Modern’s Photography: New Documentary Forms, in which photographers focused on subjects such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the elections in Congo.
As an artist who skirts the territories of fine arts, social justice and political engagement, I am always looking to other artists that are in one way or another looking outwards to society for their content. Though the aforementioned exhibitions are rich in their breadth and certainly helpful to my practice, I found more compelling modes and explorations (and examples of political strategies) elsewhere, namely within the Art Institute of Chicago’s Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph exhibition.
On February 23, artist Katie Paterson gave a talk at The Art Institute of Chicago. Of the many works discussed, she described Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected Off the Surface of the Moon), a work from 2007 in which she took Beethoven’s infamous sonata, translated it into morse code and sent it to the moon via radio transmission. She waited for the sonata to bounce back. Apparently there is a whole network of people who do this: transmit and collect messages to and from the moon’s surface. These self-identified “moon bouncers” set up small transmitters in their backyards and spend evenings snatching encoded sentences from the ether. They have to decipher meaning in what they find, for some of each message gets lost in its return: patches of code are swallowed and mislaid due to the moon’s irregular surface, combined with unpredictable weather patterns that bend or skew the sound waves on which our messages rely.
Paterson’s art piece is both a visual and audio representation of this distortion. When exhibiting this work, she hangs the original Morse code transcript beside its lunar twin. Whole passages of text are visibly missing. She re-translated that Morse code back into musical notation and sets up a self-playing piano in the corner of a gallery. Because the piano bench is not immediately visible, one would assume a pianist would be there, especially given the score’s coherent beginnings. At first the sonata occurs according to Beethoven’s intentions. After a few minutes it deteriorates. Seconds of silence endure where one expects a sequence of notes. Yet the silence has kept its own time and when the music resumes, it does so in league with its origin. In walking towards the piano, turning the corner of its slick wooden lid, you see an empty bench. The spirit of the moon is conjured in the emptiness, it feels like an active presence in that it has swallowed, or withheld, something of the original sonata. “By encoding information, absences become present,” Paterson said during her talk, “and presence become audible.”
“When you love someone and they leave, there is that empty, angry feeling that walks around inside you wanting nothing but revenge. You still love them, you want to fill this void, but it is impossible. So you take something they love, something they have dedicated their life’s work to, and make it your own.”—Shay DeGrandis
When Shay DeGrandis and I met in 1997 we didn’t hit it off. We met because I was working at Pearl Art & Craft with her best friend, Nancy, who she’d known since their high school days in Miami Beach, Florida. Shay was going to SAIC for art history. We hung out at the same coffee shop—Jinx on Division—where I worked on paintings and smoked and she pored over notes in preparation for teaching an ill-fated art history survey course to a cadre of mostly-indifferent SAIC freshman. We rubbed each other the wrong way. I’d saunter over to her table and tell her that all the artists she was including in her lectures sucked. She thought I was an asshole and that I smelled bad.
Shay’s been making art for pretty much as long as I have but our work has very little in common. Hers is almost always personal whereas mine rarely is. Hers is about the internal world whereas mine is about the world outside. Hers depends and often springs from great emotion whereas mine works best when it’s done in a calm state and from an emotional distance. These are all generalizations of course, but suffice it to say, no one would mistake her work for mine or vice versa.
Bodily fluids and functions figure often in the things she’s made. Blood, hair, skin, crotches, limbs wrapped around other limbs, they all form her subject-matter. Overwhelming feelings color so much of what she does. It sometimes makes looking at the work an uncomfortable experience. Like we’re seeing something that wasn’t meant for everyone to be looking at.
In this week’s roundup Charles Atlas creates new montages; Arts for Transit mobile app features Elizabeth Murray, Maya Lin and Nancy Spero; William Kentridge discusses his work; and more.
- Charles Atlas’ first Dutch exhibition, Discount Body Parts, is at De Hallen Haarlem. The artist uses his extensive film and video archive to make new montages and combinations of footage. All three video installations in the show are new adaptations of existing films, videos and installations. A special part of the exhibition is a video installation focusing on Atlas’s collaborations with Merce Cunningham, whose dance company gave its last performance in December 2011. This work is on view through June 3.
- Elizabeth Murray, Maya Lin, Nancy Spero and several other artists’ works will soon be featured in a new MTA Arts for Transit mobile app for subway and commuter rail systems in New York City. The app will include photos, background information, and turn-by-turn directions for each of the different art installations. MTA Chairman stated, “This app will help our customers recognize that New York’s transportation system, besides helping 8.5 million people get to work every day, is a world-class art museum with works by many of the most renowned artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
- Fred Wilson‘s new solo show is at Pace Gallery (NYC). Venice Suite: Sala Longhi and Related Works, features Sala Longhi, a room-sized installation comprised of twenty-seven paintings made of black Murano glass, which reference Pietro Longhi’s 18th-century painting cycle in the “Sala Longhi” in the Palazzo ca’ Rezzonico in Venice. Wilson’s Sala Longhi was installed in Glasstress during the 2011 Venice Biennale. This is the first time that it will be shown in the United States. This work is on view until April 14.
- Judy Pfaff‘s work was selected by an alumnus from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS). Celebrating its 20th anniversary, CSS kicks off a new season with Matters of Fact, which revisits a number of key encounters from the institutional history of the Hessel Museum of Art–between collector and artist, curator and exhibition, and art and art history. The show is a collaboration between CCS curatorial and program staff, alumni and graduate students who have overseen the reinstallation of two exhibitions. The current show is open through May 27.
- Doris Salcedo‘s most recent work recently opened at Maxxi in Rome. She is presenting the installation Plegaria Muda, a message of pain but also, and above all, of hope. Plegaria Muda is an installation composed of over 100 pairs of wooden tables, in which each one is turned over another, from which thin blades of grass emerge. In its modular repetition, the work evokes a collective burial place and is a metaphor for sacrificial lives led on the margins of society. The exhibition closes June 24.
- Shana Moulton‘s opera performance Whispering Pines will take place at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill, NC. The performance integrates a three-channel video system and live performance into an opera show. Moulton appears as a speechless main character, Cynthia, who searches for meaning in a world where God has faded from importance. The performances are scheduled for March 27 and 28, both nights starting at 7:30pm.
- William Kentridge talks with Five Themes curator Mark Rosenthal about the uncertainty, ambiguity and polemical politics in his work. The show is on view at the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI) through May 27.
One of my favorite art spaces in San Francisco is the Kadist Art Foundation, a non-profit organization based in both Paris and San Francisco whose mission is to “… participate[s] in the development of society through contemporary art …”. Kadist SF offers a diverse range of programming, including their ever-popular Wednesday evening program that brings in writers, curators and artists to speak or present work, a gallery, a magazine residency program, and a Reading Shop.
Kadist’s dedication to critical discourse is what drew me to feature them here. Each year, Kadist SF hosts one or two magazine residencies. The primary editorial team from the magazine in residence is invited to SF for one-month, with the goal to produce an issue based on their research conducted in the city. To date, Kadist SF has hosted May Revue (Paris), Nero (Rome), and Fillip (Vancouver).
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to Kadist SF Program Manager, Devon Bella, about the Reading Shop, which is open every Saturday and during their Wednesday evening programs. Devon’s thoughtful curation of the space and available publications creates the perfect atmosphere for both casual browsing and research.
Thanks to previous guest blogger Lisa Anne Auerbach for taking the Art21 blog’s readers along on her spinning, shooting, cooking, improv-ing and other daily adventures through Chicago, New Mexico, Philly and Auerbach’s homebase of L.A. You can keep up with Lisa’s current activities by visiting her website here.
Next up, we’re pleased to host Dmitry Samarov, an artist and writer who paints pictures, drives a taxi in Chicago, and is the author of Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Dmitry tells us that he “has to grudgingly admit at this point that this writing business has become a bit more than a once-in-awhile side project,” and notes that he’s “never much cared for the Art World but is trying to make his peace with it in some way.” We’re thrilled to have him on board for the next two weeks — welcome, Dmitry!