We’re a couple of weeks into the new year, and so in the interest of getting organized, here’s a preview of what to see in New York in the upcoming months:
New Museum: NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (February 13–May 26, 2013)
The 1990s, which can still feel very relevant if you associate that time with being twenty, has now become a subject of historical study. Have we really reached this place? The New Museum is mounting a massive five-floor survey, entitled, NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, for those of you who recognize the Sonic Youth album title. The exhibition is focused on that pivotal year in which a decade begins shaking off its predecessor (the tenacious eighties, in this case—its overblown fashions, $$, angular haircuts, and hard-edged living) and establishing its own identity.
The Clinton nineties, what I still think of mistily as the gentle nineties, are refracted through the lens of their emerging artists, who take on global and national events (Waco, Texas; the LGBT March on Washington), and the irreverent dialogue between mainstream and underground. NYC 1993 promises to include reconstructions of exhibitions and installations from that year, and to trace an artistic trajectory reaching forward to the present. As if that isn’t exciting enough, here is just a small sample of the participating artists: Glenn Ligon, Janine Antoni, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman (the four of whom are featured on Art21), Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Nari Ward, Coco Fusco, David Hammons, Andrea Fraser, and John Currin.
This month, I didn’t even have to leave my block to interview “new kid” Nyssa Frank. She is owner of The Living Gallery, an alternative art space and community outreach venue located in Brooklyn. Frank, who hunkered down in Bushwick four years ago, has been working with local parents and teachers to cover cracks left by recent budget cuts to public schools in the neighborhood. The Living Gallery hosts a variety of regular events and classes, from drawing to drama to cooking. The Living Gallery will remain at its current location on Flushing Avenue until this coming April; Frank is currently searching for a new storefront in Bushwick.
Name: Nyssa means the goal and the beginning in Greek
Date of birth: December 15, 1984
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite band: Cum Blood
Favorite artist: Wassily Kandinsky
Last dream: ”Ummmm, something involving my kitten, I’m sure.”
The end of the calendar year marks the beginning of winter break in academia. For me, it has been tough juggling an academic residency with my creative endeavors, so I let out a big sigh of relief after classes ended. And then I went right back to work. This period is critical, as it gives artists who have academic careers some time to pursue their own work. In recent weeks, I have been assisting two such artists: Marina Zurkow and Claude Wampler.
I first worked with Marina years ago when I was her intern at Eyebeam. She later became my academic mentor, guiding me through the often treacherous lands of graduate school. But nothing we’ve done together compares to the past week of working as a two-person quilting bee. We’ve been finishing up Tyvek sculptures for her solo exhibition Necrocracy, which opens today at bitforms gallery in New York.
One of the biggest problems facing teachers today (besides the fanatics who want us to walk around schools with guns) is the fact that many kids just don’t like to read. As excited as I may get about certain books, articles and interviews, it’s the rare occasion when a student goes the distance and actually reads, never mind purchases, a work that is recommended unless it’s assigned and part of a graded project.
Contemporary artists and performers offer pathways into literature for the hard-to-inspire. Artists such as Glenn Ligon, Jenny Holzer, and even performances like the off-Broadway production of My Name is Asher Lev offer students ways to get inspired and involved with literature from different starting points.
Glenn Ligon’s appropriated text-based works ask students to look through (and into) quotes by Walt Whitman, Zora Neal Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin and even Richard Pryor in order to examine the connections between what the quotes say, how the artist frames it, and what the sum of these parts produce.
Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, created by distilling an extensive reading list featuring both Eastern and Western literature and philosophy, allow students to visualize and make sense of the larger meaning behind so many of her “summaries”.
Next week, I am fortunate enough to be attending a performance of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev at the Westside Theater in New York City with one of my classes. It’s before, during and after this play that I am looking forward to sharing the story about Asher in order to inspire great work and great works of art with them. We will soon be working with quotes from both the book and performance in order to instigate not just works of art, but also debates and discussions around what it means to be an artist today.
When works of literature make the leap to places like canvas, articles of clothing, electronic signs, billboards, subway cards and stages, options for teaching with (not necessarily instead of) the printed page become more attractive.
For more information about teaching with works by Glenn Ligon, download our season 6 educator guide here. Jenny Holzer and artists from the season 4 educator guide can be found here. And for information about current performances of My Name is Asher Lev, please visit asherlevtheplay.com.
The trick, intelligently applied, today allows us to make visible the supernatural, the imaginary, even the impossible. —Georges Méliès
As a professor of modern and contemporary art history I have found myself on more than a few occasions defending, justifying or otherwise explaining a work or exhibition of contemporary art that has left friends confounded, exasperated, or both. In truth, I can sympathize with their plight. To my mind, the best contemporary art is that which is both conceptually rigorous and visually compelling, but more often than not it seems that the former is emphasized at the expense of the latter. Every once in a while, however, there comes along a work that so succinctly and accessibly coalesces some of the grand themes and concerns of art and art theory while presenting them with such wit and virtuosity that it stands as a tour de force of contemporary art. Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010), currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is one such work.
Before we continue talking about last week’s “Speak About What’s Unspeakable,” I thought it might be good idea to end the year on a constructive note by looking back at some of the most teachable moments- events, exhibits, chance happenings and other opportunities – that made for uncanny entry points in the classroom…
Wayne LaPierre’s ignorant and insensitive remarks one week after the Newtown, Ct. school shooting, where he actually had the nerve to suggest that not only there be armed guards in every American school, but that teachers be armed themselves, became another chance to build on our conversation about gun control and America’s lust for violence. It also made me think of Hawkeye Pierce: “I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns. I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!”. I am currently in the middle of writing a unit of study called “That’s Entertainment?” where students will examine games and films that glorify violence in our society and respond with works of art that question the “entertainment” value of the media explored.
Union-busting legislation in Michigan raised the issue of whether, as the Michigan governor claims, union-busting is “good for workers” (?!). This is one hell of a ripe topic to examine across the curriculum.
The NHL lockout continues to offer us the opportunity to see that greed gets you nowhere. In this case it’s actually pushed the NHL into irrelevance as basketball and football simply get more space in the Sports pages. (Sorry, just had to add this one.)
Recent exhibitions by Mark Bradford, Keltie Ferris and Trenton Doyle Hancock taught us that painting is not only alive and well, but that it’s also being shaped and revisited to explore elements that expand how we see painting. Keltie Ferris, especially, kicked ass in her most recent Mitchell-Innes & Nash show.
Zoe Strauss’ exhibition, “Ten Years” at the Philadelphia Museum was a wonderful opportunity to see how this photographer with little formal training made us slow down and really contemplate the “American working-class experience,” and to convey what she calls “an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life.”
New teacher evaluation systems were launched across the country and it taught, if there was a bright spot at all in this mess of a roll-out, that reexamining our curriculum to clearly state what constitutes learning is a good thing for all of us.
Clint Eastwood talking to a chair at the Republican National Convention taught us that improvisation, for all its merits, is not always a good thing if you don’t actually give a few seconds of thought to what you’re doing on stage.
Janine Antoni’s keynote speech at the National Art Education Association’s annual conference in New York City, on the other hand, taught us to consider how we might teach students to wait, that creativity is NOT linear, how to “trick ourselves” into modes of creation, that “creativity exists outside of consciousness,” and that even marriage is about “sculpting a place in between.” Janine continues to be one of my favorite artists to work with in the series.
Finally, the launch of Art21’s Season 6 taught us that with 100 artists to work with in our Peabody Award-winning documentary series, not to mention New York Close Up, Art21 is one of the first places to investigate when looking to teach about and learn with contemporary art….
Happy New Year to all. May you find inspiration and joy in 2013 and thank you for continuing to read Teaching with Contemporary Art each week!
Two years ago, writers Megan Fizell of Feasting on Art and Andrew Russeth of the New York Observer helped me compile the first year-end roundup of food-art. That is, food inspired by art and art inspired by or involving food. They’ve kindly returned to the blog to do it again. Together, we’ve come up with a list of some of this year’s best, from museum feasts and baking performances to mobile farm stands and guacamole sculpture. Bon appétit.
Best Non-Edible Exhibition: Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art
Considering the ritualized act of eating, the exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum in Chicago presents “the work of more than thirty artists…who have transformed the shared meal into a compelling artistic medium.” FEAST brings together artists concerned with the act of consumption with performance pieces by Lee Mingwei, who shared a one-on-one meal with a guest selected by lottery, and Mella Jaarsma’s I Eat You Eat Me, where participants feed one another over a table supported on their lap. Alongside the exhibition, performances and political food truck, the Smart Museum hosted symposiums and children’s programming to further encourage conversation and sharing–both components necessary for a successful feast. —M.F.
Katsutoshi Yuasa’s first solo exhibition in the US (at the ISE Cultural Foundation, New York, through January 4) demonstrates an utterly fresh approach to relief printing, grounded in the wider dialogue of contemporary art and culture. The artist’s meticulous translations of photographs into woodcut offer meditations on humankind’s relationship the natural world, while simultaneously provoking questions of cultural amnesia, memory, and perception. His ongoing Pseudo Mythology series, which explores both natural and man-made disasters/forces, feels particularly relevant in the wake of recent events in the US and Japan.
Yuasa’s source photographs range from the mundane (trees) to the sensational (an overturned tanker) and are culled from his own digital camera as well as the internet. Through the process of converting these images to black-and-white, enlarging, transferring, carving, and finally printing the block in a single tone, Yuasa transforms them from the “fact” of a snapshot into a more subjective representation of how such images are understood and processed by the mind. The final product is recognizable but distorted and flattened, as if through a haze. The works, which range in scale from medium to outsized, are mounted directly to the wall without mediation between viewer and sheet. This allows for a total immersion in the image, as well as a palpable immediacy to the pristinely printed surface, calling attention to its illusionistic qualities.
I must admit that I am often disappointed by contemporary abstract painting. The technical freedom available to and implicit in abstraction would appear to offer entire worlds of possible production, but too much abstract painting today operates within carefully pre-determined formal codes of what abstraction ought to look like, which results in artwork that often uses color and form so as to conjure an aura of meaningfulness yet cannot escape seeming quaintly derivative. Perhaps the art market and institutions have by now weighed so much so on the freedom of aesthetic production, forming and informing our personal and collective comprehension of what constitutes abstract painting, that today abstraction as a formal category often lapses into familiar territory.
It gave me great pleasure, then, to conclude that Mark Bradford’s monumental new work, currently on view at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York, continues the artist’s almost single-handed revival of contemporary abstraction from its doldrums, and affirms to my mind that progressive abstract painting indeed still has much to offer. Bradford, who was born in Los Angeles in 1961 and received a BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, works on a decidedly grand scale—most of the works on view are 102 x 144 inches or larger in size. Bradford, who still lives and works in L.A., uses as the building blocks for his large-scale canvases commercial posters and advertisements that he scavenges while walking the streets and neighborhoods of his urban surroundings. The signage that he finds range from the “quick cash for your house” variety that one might see attached to a chain link fence to low-tech advertisements for local hair salons, jewelry stores or check cashing services one often finds pasted alongside or layered over countless other commercial signs on any readily available external wall.
This past weekend, a group of twenty-six artists displayed their waterlogged, molded, faded, and warped artwork in a gutted collective studio space on 133 Imlay Street in Red Hook, where a five-foot high flood line was still visible. The event, dubbed “Flooded Art Party,” was a fundraiser for the participating artists—all still seeking relief—and featured a joint dance party and silent auction. With bracing optimism, their posters invited the public to join in a “celebration of Sandy-transformed art works.”
The day following the event, I visited the space to talk to Charlotte Kidd, a photographer who used to run 133 Imlay as the gallery Kidd Yellin, and Z Behl, a painter and co-curator of the Flooded Art Party along with painter Paul Korzan. I watched as the show was de-installed by groups of artists and supporters operating heavy machinery. There was a surprising and heartening display of spirited humor and energy in the face of such unfathomable loss, which for a number of artists meant an entire lifetime’s worth of work was gone.