News of artists famous in one field crossing over into another is very often met with public derision. Bruce Willis, one of the most talented pub-rockers of the late 1980s (Return of Bruno), fell foul of the critics when he tried to branch out into acting (The Whole Nine Yards), as did indie songstrel Scarlett Johansson (Match Point) and rap supremo Joaquin Phoenix (Signs). De Kooning-esque abstractionist Paul McCartney’s forays into popular music have similarly met with the critical thumbs-down, and latterday expressionist Bob Dylan’s adenoidal folk-rock has received little more than shrugging indifference on the international music circuit.
The message seems to be that there’s a kind of selfishness to cultural versatility and a public unwillingness to square fictionalized and “real” identities. (Perhaps the critics might have been kinder to Willis’s Under the Boardwalk if it had been released under the name of John McClane…well, there’s no point in wishing your life away). In any case, contemporary artists – operating as they do on the fringes of mainstream culture – are in the best position to facilitate an effective crossover into the mainstream, Schnabel’s professional volte-face being its axiom. Cultural crossover is, in other words, invariably outside-in, never effectively the other way around. Just ask Russell Crowe (wear a helmet, though).
Steve McQueen’s disheartening pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale was conducted very much as mainstream cinematic spectacle. You queued up in time-honored British fashion (imagine that at the French pavilion!) to be informed of your slot, waited around, got ushered in, and were told that you “weren’t allowed to leave for the duration of the film” (I paraphrase, but that’s pretty much what we were told). Naturally, this ruffled feathers in Venice, for a crowd accustomed to a 10-second whip-around in search of free tote bags, and ran counter to conventional experiences of art, directly proportional as it usually is to the duration of the audioguide, tour guide’s explanation, or syntactic adroitness of wall text. (Picture enforced viewing times for a Robert Ryman show, for instance, and you get the idea). For contemporary artists, cinema offers an opportunity to condition the duration of the viewer’s experience; after all, you’ve paid ten quid to get in anyway, and you might as well stay til the end to see who the dolly grip is. Little surprise, then, that Matthew Barney chose to screen some of his arduous-at-best Cremaster films at arthouse cinemas as well as galleries, or that Douglas Gordon’s lugubrious Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait was released “as” a mainstream film. And the forthcoming theatrical release of Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy, a biopic of John Lennon’s childhood, will provide the video artist with a captive audience her ponderous and often pompous video works are rarely granted.
This foray into the mainstream, soon to be followed by an as-yet untitled project by the Chapman Brothers which I’m hoping will be turn out to be Hostel IV, might be read as testament to the increased visibility of contemporary artists in mainstream culture, but there is a clear demarcation, certainly in McQueen’s work, between his cinematic and artistic’output – a demarcation seemingly ignored in his Venice installation, which really should have been submitted for the film festival later in the year. The language of cinema forces the artist’s hand as well as the audience’s presumed attention – after all, you can (and should) wander out of the majority of displays of video art whenever you like, whereas leaving a cinema, clambering over snogging couples while scattering popcorn into their laps, is awkward at best and, strangely, frowned-upon (in Britain, anyway). For someone of middling talent like Taylor-Wood, the narrative and durational demands of cinema might shear off some of her worst indulgences (e.g.); comparing McQueen’s film, Hunger, with his art video, Giardini, is evidence enough of the ameliorative effects of cinematic convention. Still, it’s hard not to somewhat begrudge, as anyone with any stake in marginal cultural activity must (and, let’s face it, contemporary art, regardless of its glamour quotient, economic symbolism or intermittent tabloid friendliness, is a marginal cultural activity, like scat or bodybuilding), contemporary culture’s mainstream magnetic pole.
Upon arriving in Athens, several curious and helpful people gave me every warning to stay far away from the Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio neighborhoods, which was exactly where I was headed, for ReMap KM 2. Settled by new immigrants from Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, and dubbed Little Bangladesh, these neighborhoods are defined by poverty, drugs, petty crime, and prostitution.
Just as I was about to head into the first gallery, Nice & Fit from Berlin, a teenager came barreling around the corner, ran out into the intersection, and was gone without a trace. Six of Athens’s finest gave chase for a couple blocks before giving up the pursuit. Perhaps the bad reputation is sadly deserved. But there was a tremendously festive spirit that night. Hundreds of brave art appreciators were following maps, strolling between abandoned buildings where the 21 international galleries and 16 independent projects had set up squats. It felt like we visitors had set up a block party on derelict pedestrian streets after the residents had agreed to disappear for the night.
Many of us ended our tours at Breeder Gallery’s elegant new space at the end of the nearly empty Iasonos Street. Co-owner George Vamvakidis explained to me that these seedy blocks were once part of Athens’s most affluent neighborhood, the grand homes creating a romantic passageway. As the city expanded, younger residents moved to further out suburbs, their parents died, and the crumbling facades were left to decay. I asked George if it had been a good idea to relocate his gallery to oblivion. He said he liked the action the street gets—all types of action—and that the foot traffic increased as the city grew darker each night. As it turns out, the vast majority of the seemingly abandoned-looking buildings were far from empty. Rather, they had been adapted into brothels, woven into the massive web of Greece’s legal sex trade.
Early the next morning, when I returned to the area to take a few photos in the light, I found myself walking behind the only other person who was out and about. He was dressed smartly, with a polo shirt tucked into his jeans and I assumed him to be a fellow tourist, perhaps a gallery-hopping collector, as we were both fumbling maps while walking. Suddenly he stopped, looked left, looked right, steadied himself, and then bolted through the front door of one of the brothels. I was left alone in the middle of the walkway completely surprised.
Perhaps it isn’t so shocking, the intertwining of ad-hoc galleries amongst prostitutes. Certainly, artists have long investigated the links between the two ancient professions. Marlene Dumas famously wrote, “lf a Prostitute is a person / who makes it a profession/ to gratify the lust of various persons / for economical reasons or gain, / where emotional involvement may / or may not be present— / Then it seems not so far removed / from my definition of an artist.” And six years ago, Andrea Fraser debuted her video, Untitled. She had sex with an unnamed collector who had paid her $20,000, then displayed the bird’s-eye-view footage in galleries around the world. (The $20,000 apparently did not cover the full girlfriend experience. They commenced with intercourse, engaged in a bit of talk, and then exited to opposite sides of the frame.)
With great pleasure, artistic provocateurs have explored every angle of the sex trade, but my recent European vacation made me wonder about the exploitative nature of the art viewer. See, in full confession, not long after I saw the john in Athens, I engaged in my own degrading activity — only mine took place at the entrance gate of an art museum in Venice.
Before I say that Prospect.1 New Orleans was the most exciting art event to take place in the U.S. in the last decade, I should probably provide the disclaimer that I was responsible for its docent training (on a volunteer basis) as well for its archival photography (on a not-so-volunteer basis). But you don’t have to take my word for it: my Art21 blogging colleague Hrag Vartanian did a great job of chronicling the biennial on these very pages. It was truly a landmark event, and it’s a safe bet to say that there are still a lot of us here in New Orleans who are still catching our breath from the whole magnificently chaotic experience.
Prospect New Orleans curator Dan Cameron, however, doesn’t have the luxury of catching his breath like the rest of us. It’s the nature of biennials that plans for the next one begin the moment the previous one is finished, and Cameron is already immersed in preparations for the opening of Prospect.2 in the fall of 2010. I sat down with him this week at his home in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans to find out what’s in store.
John d’Addario: Let’s start by talking about some the lessons you learned from Prospect.1 that will change the way you’ll be doing things for Prospect.2.
Dan Cameron: Well, it’s not so much a case of what lessons were learned as it will be tweaking the model a little bit and improving on things that did work.
One of the top things I want to see happen is having the biennial more neighborhood-identified within the greater context of New Orleans. Over the course of Prospect.1, I noticed that some people found the whole thing very daunting given the scale of what we were doing, especially people from out of town who maybe were just encountering New Orleans for the first time, or who didn’t know that there’s a lot more to the city than the French Quarter. And a lot of those people might not have been familiar with what the different neighborhoods in New Orleans were all about.
This city is made up of incredibly diverse, vibrant neighborhoods and I want Prospect.2 to become more closely associated with places like Mid-City, Tremé, the Warehouse District … the list goes on. So we’re hoping that by branding the different neighborhoods as exhibition venues, it will make the whole experience more manageable for the people who come to see it.
Another thing is that Prospect.2 is going to be more focused on music than Prospect.1 was. On one level, the Prospect biennial is an art festival, and I always wanted to differentiate it from other festival-type events like Jazz Fest. But instead of using the festival concept as a restraining idiom, I want to focus on the concept of an art festival as grab bag: the biennial as centerpiece of a wider festival of the arts, which will include music as well.
So we’re planning to have some kind of music event somewhere in the city every night of the exhibition—we’ve already been discussing programming in terms of “65 Nights,” which is how long the biennial will run. It will be similar to the type of programming that goes on during an event like a World’s Fair, or a Documenta, except that our focus would be mostly on music. We’re thinking about a possible collaboration with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and about inaugurating a visual and performing arts community space in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Of course we had a strong performing arts presence in Prospect.1 too … there was Kalup Linzy’s “Members Only” cabaret at Sweet Lorraine’s, and Navin Rawanchaikul and Tyler Russell’s jazz funeral for Narvin Kimball. But there are so many amazing performance spaces here in New Orleans that I’d like to utilize over the course of the exhibition, like the mortuary on North Rampart Street that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation has taken over and Le Chat Noir, a cabaret on St. Charles Avenue. So there won’t be a problem finding enough material to have every night covered. It’s hard to predict how it’s exactly going to pan out at this point, but that’s what I want to see happen.
Jd’A: So what other changes can we expect to see in Prospect.2?
DC: There’s a somewhat higher number of New Orleans and Louisiana-based artists proportionately, though there’s also fewer artists overall: about 60 this time around, compared to over 80 last time.
We’re also going to charge this time, which hopefully won’t surprise too many people. Right now we’re discussing how best to do that, though it will probably involve a tiered system of day passes, weekend passes, and exhibition-long season passes. We’re fortunate that pretty much every institution that was involved in Prospect.1 wants to be on board for Prospect.2 as well, so that will give us the opportunity to do more clustering of venues throughout the city as we add new locations to make it easier for visitors to see everything.
A big challenge is how to expand the biennial’s presence in the French Quarter, which is of course the part of town that most visitors are familiar with – although we want to convey the idea that it’s a genuine neighborhood, not just a strip of bars on Bourbon Street. A lot of people told me how much they liked the “treasure hunt” aspect of Prospect.1, going all over the city to seek out some of the more out-of-the-way venues. That would work really well in a neighborhood like the French Quarter, and would give us the opportunity to draw attention to some great cultural landmarks a lot of people don’t get to see.
Seeing people in the New Orleans art community take advantage of the occasion to mount related exhibitions was one of the most exciting things about Prospect.1, and I want to see those satellite programs become even larger than the biennial itself. I want everyone – visitors and residents alike – to be able to see art all over the place, all the time.
I also expect to see at least twice as many visitors as we did for Prospect.1. We had 89,000 visitors last time, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see that figure double next year.
If you had to point to one institution that best illustrated the progress of the arts community in post-Katrina New Orleans—not to mention the progress of the city in general—you wouldn’t have to look any further than the Colton Middle School on St. Claude Avenue.
Named for an evidently well-regarded member of the New Orleans Board of Education in the early years of the 20th century, the Charles J. Colton School opened in 1929 and operated for more than seventy-five years as a middle school serving a community which included the Bywater, Faubourg Marigny, Tremé, and Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods. Although the school was one of a handful to reopen shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a dispersed population and resulting drop in attendance led to its closing after the 2007-08 school year.
Shortly after its closing as a middle school, the city’s Recovery School District leased the building to the Creative Alliance of New Orleans (CANO), a non-profit arts-focused economic development organization spearheaded by “cultural entrepreneurs” Jeanne Nathan and Robert Tannen. The couple organized the Studio at Colton partly as a response to concerns voiced by artist Paul Chan, who noted while visiting New Orleans for his landmark production of Waiting for Godot during Fall 2007 that there was not enough affordable studio space in the city.
In short order, and with a shoestring budget supplemented by donated janitorial services and volunteer work, CANO transformed the vacant 100,000 square foot building into exhibition, rehearsal, and studio space for more than 100 artists and arts organizations including painters, photographers, theater and dance companies, costume designers, sculptors, landscape architects and video production outfits. In return for use of the facilities, many resident artists and groups at Colton conducted free or low-cost classes and workshops for New Orleans student groups and adults. (More than 60 such classes and workshops were offered during the spring of this year.)
Rechristened the Studio at Colton, the building received a high profile boost when it was selected as one of the venues in last year’s Prospect.1 biennial exhibition. Art:21 Season 3 artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s Black Fireworks piece (above) was installed to magnificent effect in the Colton’s main auditorium, and Prospect.1 artists José Damasceno (below, left) and Tatsuo Miyajima (below, right) created room-scale installations in former classrooms elsewhere in the building.
There’s a school of thought that claims that any large-scale survey of art conducted in any year in history will have its share of peaks and troughs, but holding the world’s largest contemporary art survey in Venice gives the lie to that idea, somewhat. Slipping into a church like San Zaccaria, which I did after the onslaught of the national pavilions and the Arsenale, provided a corrective to that idea in the form of Giovanni Bellini’s altarpiece, made about 500 years ago. No, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Herein lies the danger of showing contemporary art in Venice. The magisterial presence of literally hundreds of architectural and artistic masterpieces has a breathing-down-the-neck quality that sends otherwise sensible artists a bit loopy. The vast medieval hall of the Arsenale, which is longer than 5000 tennis courts laid end-to-end, either swamps smaller works or forces artists’ hands in creating huger artistic gambits than they’d do otherwise. Hence the almost total absence of painting in the Arsenale (curated by Daniel Birnbaum) and the preponderance of big film projections, sprawling messy installations, and theatrical light effects. As though second-guessing the inevitable fatigue of the visitor, the show peters out towards the end, sinking in the metaphorical mud in a series of plops and bubbles appropriate for the city sinking into the lagoon (too easy?).
Invariably and problematically (to use a favored Biennale word), the overabundance of stuff means that memorability becomes the litmus test. If it’s not still in your mind by the time you’re being doused in Perrier by a squadron of nude dwarves, or whatever it is they do at the openings (I think my invite got lost in the post, probably), then it hasn’t worked. This is unavoidable in a image-mad culture such as ours which privileges quantity over depth; it means that the Arsenale becomes an impatient channel surf through the last ten years of artmaking, rarely settling on one thing for long. That’s great for the opening, when a hasty whip-through is all the heat or paucity of cocktails will allow, but it makes for a thin viewing experience thereafter.
Having said that, there are a number of stand-out works, especially Paul Chan’s terrifying and hilarious Sade for Sade’s Sake, a projection of silhouetted figures conducting Sadean activities unmentionable on an educational website such as this one, which sees Chan step away from the wistful whimsy of Seven Lights and back to the jerky misanthropy that made his early work so compelling. Jorge Otero-Pailos hangs a huge latex imprint of a wall of the Ducal Palace, which has collected dust and pollution for years, creating both a palimpsest of time and motion and a frozen moment in a city in a state of perpetual entropy, like a skin sample preserved for future cloning. And venerable arte povera maestro Michelangelo Pistoletto has hung big gilt-framed mirrors around three walls of the second room and smashed them; some have big gaping fissures in them, others just a couple of spidery holes. While this is almost one of those you-had-to-be-there performance residuals beloved of art insiders, it makes sense as an after-the-fact installation, a memory of violent action relevant to the city itself (particularly in the Arsenale, its defunct naval factories) and a kind of furious self-portrait—Pistoletto taking a wrecking ball to the elegant mirrored surfaces of the works which made him. As Roger Moore would say, it’s simply smashing.
Entitled Goście / Guests, Krzysztof Wodiczko’s exhibition greets visitors to the Venice Biennale’s Polish Pavilion with the words of political theorist Hannah Arendt: “Refugees driven from country to country represent the avant-garde of their people.” Obviously, Arendt is not referring to “avant-garde” in the artspeak sense that you and I may be accustomed to. Rather, she suggests that the state of displacement is one that will be experienced by entire populations, rather than small persecuted groups. The proclamation comes from Arendt’s 1943 article, “We Refugees,” which calls for a resistance to assimilation and predicts the gradual dissolving of European borders and segregated nation-states. In the context of the Biennale, whose very structure upholds the model of the nation-state, the invocation of Arendt is bold, if not contentious.
Stepping inside of the Polish Pavilion, we can see Arendt’s views embodied, as the solid stone building is suddenly rendered porous and thin by Wodiczko’s trompe l’oeil installation. Projections create the illusion of frosted glass floor-to-ceiling windows on every wall. At first, it seems that you can observe goings-on outside the pavilion through these translucent windows. Within each arched “pane” you can see silhouettes of bodies engaged in various activities—speaking on cell phones, vacuuming, resting on suitcases. Voices, which reveal casual conversations that are all related to issues of immigration (i.e. unemployment, legalization documents, etc.), stir your analytical mind and the sensory illusion dissolves—but not completely. Your mind remains unsettled by mirage of surrounding humans.
While it would be easy to say that the characters in these tableaus—clearly immigrants—are guests, your own status as such is also underscored. As the viewer, you are most likely a guest of Venice, and certainly a guest of this space. In Wodiczo’s Art:21 segment, he describes engaging with memorials as “a vehicle through which the past and the future converge.” Though the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale functions much differently than a memorial, I believe that in quoting Hannah Arendt, Wodiczko ties the perpetual flux of today’s “stateless” immigrants to the mass displacement of Jews and other Europeans in WWII, and ultimately implicates the viewer in this ongoing lineage.
There is no question that the Internet is transforming the way we experience art. A few weeks ago, Art21 tweeted that data released by the NEA indicates that visits to museums and galleries are declining, while more and more people are experiencing art through electronic media. Though the World Wide Web has the potential to bring art to larger and broader audiences, encountering an artwork virtually is significantly different than viewing the “original” in person. But what about work that is made specifically for the Internet?
This year marked the birth of the first Internet Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Conceived by Greek-born artist Miltos Manetas, it is the only pavilion in the 53rd International Art Exhibition that can be directly experienced by any reader of this blog, or almost any individual with online access. Generally classified as “Internet art,” the artworks featured in the Internet Pavilion engage with the World Wide Web in various ways, approaching it as a medium, an exhibition space, and a subject.
Although the Internet Pavilion has a “physical outlet” in Venice, this real world exhibition space seems to function for the Pavilion in the same way that a portfolio website might function for an artist working in more traditional media. During the Biennale’s opening week, the space (located at S.A.L.E, Magazzini del Sale, Zattere) housed a powerful performance by AIDS-3D and Helga Wretman, as well as various subversive happenings by filesharing pioneers/outlaws/activists The Pirate Bay. However, the works that are still on display—a new work by Aleksandra Domanović, a sculpture by architect Christian Wassman, and projected videos from the New Wave online exhibition–feel like shadows of their online selves. Rather than an autonomous exhibition, the embodiment of the Internet Pavilion in Venice serves as a signpost, directing attendees of the Biennale to…well, the Internet part of the Internet Pavilion.
Moreover, national pavilions in the Biennale do not simply exhibit works of art. Rather, each artist also serves a symbolic function, with the goal of embodying, in some way, his or her respective country as a whole. Likewise, Manetas chose the components of the Internet Pavilion as a vehicle to represent the Internet as an entity, a space, a reality. He expanded on this idea, and his overall vision for the Internet Pavilion, in an interview following the Biennale’s opening events in Venice.
Lily Simonson: In its present incarnation, the Internet Pavilion has many participants/ingredients: New Wave show, the Pirate Bay, AIDS-3D, Wikipedia Art Embassy, and more. How did you select the participating artists?
Miltos Manetas: I was thinking of the Chorus in the Greek Tragedy, the power of Chorus, the dynamics of its eventual complaints or its approval. Finally, I choose to let on stage—as the only actor—the Internet itself. In this sense, the Internet Pavilion is a monologue in front of a Chorus, the fragmented talk of the Internets while the artists, the architect, the composers, the designers, and the activists I invited are making noise in the background.
LS: Some of the rhetoric surrounding the Internet Pavilion likens the Internet to a country. Also in your essay, “Websites Are the Art of Our Times,” you write that the Internet is “a ‘space,’ similar to the American Continent immediately after it was discovered…” Now in 2009, are we still just explorers of the Internet, or do you think that it is possible to be from the Internet, the way you can be from Greece or from the United States?
MM: Yes, now we can be “from the Internets”—that’s the point of the project. It was President Bush who coined that term: in his…imagination, the Internet multiplied exactly like the bread and the wine produced by Jesus in the desert. President Bush gave us a hint: we know now that the “Internets” are what these people fear. Sooner or later, their Cyclopic hate will break upon us; there will be laws and tech that will aim to censure the Net.
Daniel Birnbaum’s poetic theme of the 53rd Venice Biennale, Making Worlds, is, in some sense, an anti-theme, emphasizing the plurality of art today. Birnbaum’s explanation that “we now live in a multi-centric art world” does not provide much of a compass to viewers who are trying to navigate through a maze of 77-plus pavilions containing hundreds of artworks. In fact, not only does the title fail to orient viewers, but it is also actively disorienting. In a way, there is something paradoxical about the phrase “making worlds”: “making” implies putting things together, cohering, structuring, while “worlds” implies a multiplicity of discrete parts, diffusion, discontinuity.
Come to think of it, my two favorite pieces from the shows that Birnbaum curated (at the Arsenale and the Giardini’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni) explore this notion of simultaneous cohesion and dispersion, using the destructive power of sexuality as a conceit. Paul Chan’s shadow figures in Sade for Sade’s Sake and Nathalie Djurberg’s plasticine puppets in Experimentet show bodies simultaneously merging together in various orgiastic formations while literally breaking apart and dismembering. While the violence of eroticism and the eroticism of violence are age-old themes, I believe that both artists are using this idea to explore larger issues of human struggle.
Paul Chan’s shadow projections interpret Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom in 45-second scenes, which he refers to as “stanzas.” The violent whippings, assaults, and gangbangs literally invoke Sade, while the rhythm of the piece reflects what Gilles Deleuze described, in Coldness and Cruelty, as Sade’s “mechanistic approach [to language] imbued with the mathematical spirit.” This mathematical spirit is also reflected in the video’s interposing of geometric shapes, which Chan describes as a means to establish distance. The shadows themselves seem to be more like geometric forms than human beings, as they are reduced to the simplest contours possible. Chan describes coming to the use of shadow projections as a means to “impoverish” his work. I believe that it is this act of impoverishing that allows Sade for Sade’s Sake to function on the level of the symbolic, as opposed to simply illustrating acts of sex and violence.
But if Chan’s shadow plays are the ultimate impoverishment of animated videos, Djurberg’s installation is as rich and lush as any moving projection can be (watch her accept the Biennale’s Silver Lion award for the most promising young artist here). While Chan’s shadow projections are created digitally, Djurberg’s hand is evident in every part of her work: in the dozens of carefully sculpted plasticine figures animated by the painstaking process of stop motion claymation, in the painterly sets of each video, and in the installation of human-sized, grotesque flower sculptures that surround the three projections. Described in the Biennale catalogue as a “surrealist Garden of Eden,” Djurberg’s set reflects the lushness of the surrounding Giardini, just as the violent austerity of Chan’s video echoes the industrial harshness of the pointedly unmodified Arsenale. One video in Experimentet shows a woman attempting to evade the advances of an older lecher, and in turn both struggle to escape the forest that begins to attack them. Another film displays a group of Catholic priests detachedly observing a parade of nude women as they erotically clamber over each other’s bodies, melting together and then clawing one other apart until only tattered bits of flesh remain. In a third video, a nude female reclines on a Victorian couch (a la psychoanalysis) in a cave of fecal stalactites, while bits of her body break off one by one and attack her. It seems that this video’s reference to the process of psychoanalysis, like Chan’s invocation of mathemeatics and vague shadows, subtly instructs the viewer to interpret these bizarre violent orgies as symbolic of broader struggles. Sure, the worlds that Djurberg and Chan are making may be horrifying and quite peculiar, but ultimately they address ideas that are profoundly universal. And isn’t that kind of beautiful?
- Krzysztof Wodiczko is the sole artist representing Poland at this summer’s Venice Biennale. The striking video installation of milky windows depicts the shadows of immigrant workers as they take on the daily tasks and routines of life, conversing in various languages. Above is a ScribeMedia video interview with the Season 3 artist.
- Elements of Photography opened this past weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The exhibition focuses on two fundamental elements of nature inherent to the medium: light and water. The “naturalists” in the show include artists Luisa Lambri, Walead Beshty, Adam Ekberg, Hiroshi Sugimoto (Season 3), and others. Through October 4.
- The Stenersen Museum in Oslo opens an intriguing show this week that explores the many dimensions of gender-based violence. Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women, and Art is curated by Randy Rosenberg of Art Works For Change. Several of the 17 participating artists include Marina Abramovic, Laylah Ali (Season 3), Louise Bourgeois (Season 2), Icelandic Love Corporation, and Lucy Orta. Through August 9.
- Ongoing at LACMA is Classical Frieze, an exhibit of recent films and photographs by Eleanor Antin (Season 2). The works on display mimic the ancient world by way of 19th-century neo-classical paintings. Through September 14th.
- White Noise opens this week at James Cohan Gallery. The group show features works that exist at the intersection of visual art, music and sound, exploring “how sound can obliterate as well as elevate; how silence can involve both absence and presence.” Some of the artists include Laurie Anderson (Season 1), Joseph Beuys, Martha Colburn, Rodney Graham, Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg, Christian Marclay, and Raymond Pettibon (Season 2). June 18-August 12.
In his New York Times article on the opening of the Venice Biennale, Michael Kimmelman laments that the look of the exhibition “suggests a somewhat dull, deflated contemporary art world, professionalized to a fault, in search of a fresh consensus.”
Without reading too much into it, the critique that contemporary art has been “professionalized to a fault” feels analogous to the sentiment expressed by the anonymous graffito I mentioned in my previous post: “The only true artists are amateurs.”
Of course, the word “amateur” cuts both ways. In most contexts it connotes a lack of training, sophistication, or seriousness, but its derivation from the Latin amator implies that its foremost meaning is “lover.” Simply put, the amateur is someone who, motivated only by the love of the game, engages in an activity without expecting anything to come of it.
Two exhibitions that I encountered yesterday, Slough at David Nolan New York and Alice Neel: Selected Works at David Zwirner, brought this concept into focus in very different ways. Slough, astutely curated by the artist Steve DiBenedetto, is a group show with a complicated backstory based on the title word’s multiple meanings. As explained in the press release, the range includes “bog-like” and “primordial,” “moral degradation or spiritual dejection,” “cast aside or shed off,” and “the accumulation of dust on the rim of a fan, snow on the edge of a shovel, or trash in the breakdown lane of a highway.”
The show includes striking works by Dieter Roth, Jon Kessler, Robert Bordo, and Michael Scott, who represent quite a heterogeneity of aesthetic objectives and studio practice, but who are nonetheless united by a sense of improvisation, accident, and play: a what-if approach akin to kicking over a can of paint to see what happens next (which, in fact, is what Hermann Nitsch’s untitled canvas seems to be). Philip Taaffe’s swirls of pigment, titled Slough I and Slough IV (both 2003), and Andy Warhol’s invariably lovely Piss Paintings from 1978 adopt pure serendipity as their method and meaning; densely laden works by Larry Poons and the late Eugène Leroy revel in their raw materiality; Carroll Dunham’s surprisingly aggressive Untitled (1984-85), in graphite, ink and paint on wood veneer, bespeaks a jittery call-and-response that, like most of the strongest works in the show, seems to spring from an ethos of risk-taking oblivious to the ultimate salvageability of the results. Nothing is calculated, preconceived, strategized, theorized, or prejudged. The object comes into existence solely to delight its maker or, as it seems with Dan Colen’s chewing gum pictures, for the sheer giddy hell of it.