Clients are the difference between design and art. — Michael Bierut
Last week I looked at two nearly identical works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Tobias Wong as a way of exploring the differences, and similarities, between art and design. The temptation to sum up the complex relationship between these two vast areas of practice in a pithy statement is as tempting as it is futile. But that futility can be a really useful tool for further exploration. These one sentence definitions can be used as a metric for comparisons, to hold up against real world examples to see when and how the axioms inevitably fail.
Michael Bierut, superstar graphic designer for Pentagram, has said that the difference between art and design is clients. Design is made with a client in mind, art is not. But is this always true? What happens when artists do work directly for clients? Are they suddenly designers and not artists?
Bierut’s distinction is smart in that it doesn’t even mention what designers or artists are physically producing. Instead it gets right to the how and why of their practice. The idea of artists moving beyond mere object production–the dematerialization of the art object–is well documented and explored. What was surprising to me, when I was first exposed to it about a year ago, is that approaches to design have undergone a similar process.
Design thinking is a term popularized by the principals of the design firm IDEO. It refers to using design strategies in a broad context, putting tools usually used in the design process–research, ideation, prototyping, etc.–into practice at a much higher strategic and conceptual level. The process may or may not lead to the production of a new product or campaign. It could just as easily lead to a rethinking of existing resources. The concern is with designing whole processes rather than just designing objects and images. In short, design thinking is the dematerialization of the design object.
In 1913, Marcel Duchamp created a ruckus with an assembled inverted bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. The provocateur stirred controversy soon after with more found objects, most famously a urinal entitled Fountain (1917). Duchamp’s witty play with gallerists and major art shows did more than question what constitutes art; it shone a light on the fabrication of the art world itself – a commercial construct defined somewhat arbitrarily by elites. It’s a tough pill for any institution to admit to, but today many major museums make deliberate attempts to dismiss distinctions between high and low art, decrying elitism in art. But one such line seems to be drawn in vanishing chalk – endorsing private companies in public institutions. At major Québec museum Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, an exhibition celebrating local fashion designer Denis Gagnon’s tenth anniversary features designs from his latest collections. Almost across the street, at luxury department store Holt Renfrew one can purchase some of said designs where they hang in a much more user-friendly context: on regular hangers and clothing racks, with price tags in the vicinity of “too-damn-expensive-for-me-to-even-THINK-of-trying-these-on!” So there you have it: in one place these “sculptures” float esoterically in a white cube and are sold as art; in another, they’re sold as clothes. Semantics and context are everything in art; they can be called upon to strategically craft meaning in the most inconspicuous of ways. Perhaps it is because of these reasons that the museum decidedly chose to steer clear of the “is fashion art?” debate for this exhibition. Instead, a markedly Montreal show unabashedly does more to celebrate local work than it provokes.
As a fashion stylist and an arts journalist, it would be tempting to say that I attended the Denis Shows All exhibition wearing two hats; but I didn’t. For me, both of these seemingly worlds apart spheres inform one another. I like to think that I approach fashion with a critical mind and that I approach art criticism from a productively experiential standpoint as an artist myself who constantly experiments with materials for costume and clothing. When I interviewed the exhibition’s curator Stéphane Aquin, he echoed a similar disdain for the application of airtight categories, citing architecture as an example of (public) art and paintings as design in so far that they also serve a function in covering wall space. Despite our best efforts to champion the theoretical transgression of categories, practically speaking, we often end up enforcing them. Aquin makes the point by having invited acclaimed architect and Governor General medal recipient, Gilles Saucier, to collaborate on the show, allowing Gagnon’s clothing to more justifiably call the gallery walls “home.”
As summer 2010 winds down this week’s roundup gets ready for an exciting fall season when Mark Dion embarks on an expedition in Oakland, Andrea Zittel lands on the Portland Art Museum front patio, Cindy Sherman steps out in Balenciaga, and Matthew Ritchie and Trenton Doyle Hancock gear up for Super Bowl XLV and more!
- The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art presents a live, audiovisual collaboration between Charles Atlas and musician/composer William Basinski as part of the Time-Based Art Festival. “This is a rare chance to see a virtuoso performance from Atlas — a pioneer of the integration of live video with stage performance known for acclaimed collaborations with Michael Clark, Leigh Bowery and Merce Cunningham — and New York experimental media musician and composer William Basinski. — forma.org” The festival will run September 9-19.
- Miradas: Mexican Art from the Bank of America Collection, organized by the National Museum of Mexican Art in collaboration with Bank of America, includes work by Gabriel Orozco. The exhibition will be on view September 10, 2010 – January 9, 2011 and is comprised of “the most extensive corporate collections in the U.S. and takes a close look at the paintings, prints and photographs created over the past 80 years.” Continue reading »
When I was a little kid I was obsessed with comic books. I consumed anything super hero related with a sense of urgency. I imagined that some day I would move to a big city to take up fighting crime. Instead I’ve become a fiber artist, which in many ways is as close as I can get without being bitten by a radioactive spider.
Comic books and fiber arts share a history of composing of identity through the use of cloth. Take Mark Newport’s 2009 exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum Super Heroes in Action, for example. Acrylic yarn is clearly not the best fabric choice for dodging bullets or, like in Newport’s “Aquaman” (2004), swimming through the depths of the ocean. Yet evoking images such as these (and perhaps some childhood aspirations), Newport suspends acrylic yarn costumes from coat hangers in order to reflect a modern sense of ironic vulnerability. Continue reading »
Biennials, cremated canvases, German faces, cashmere sportswear, sculptural tour de force, fashionable shoes, and an iPhone app comprise this week’s roundup:
- 2010: Whitney Biennial will open at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Thursday, February 25. Art21′s Ellen Gallagher (Season 3) is one of fifty-five artists selected by curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari for this year’s show. She was also included in the 1995 Biennial, and had a solo exhibition at the museum in 2005. This time Gallagher has partnered with Dutch artist Edgar Cleijne on a film installation that includes sculptural construction and silk-screened panels. Gallagher recently told The Providence Journal: “In some ways, it feels very similar to my first Biennial. I mean, it’s a huge honor for any artist to be invited to participate in a Whitney Biennial. In a way, it’s a little like being nominated for an Academy Award. You feel this wonderful sense of validation.” 2010 is on view through May 30.
- Shrew’d: The Smart & Sassy Survey of American Women Artists, a biennial invitational at the University of Nebraska’s Sheldon Museum of Art, focuses on the work of artists who question social norms of representation in art, pop culture and daily life. According to the website, the survey “takes a critical feminist perspective on society’s mixed messages about assertive women, which describes what some contemporary women artists have had to become.” Carrie Mae Weems (Season 5), whose work is included in the exhibition, will lecture at the museum on March 30. Shrew’d continues through May 9. (Watch a slideshow here.)
- Pure Beauty is the largest retrospective exhibition ever mounted in Spain that is dedicated to Season 5 artist John Baldessari. The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona display features more than 130 works created between 1962 and 2009. Curated by Leslie Jones, Jessica Morgan and Bartomeu Marí, the exhibition brings together many of the artist’s most relevant works, such as God Nose (1965); Cremation Project (1970), which marked Baldessari’s burning of all the canvases he had produced between May 1953 and March 1966, accompanied by its corresponding urn, commemorative plaque and death notice published in the San Diego Union newspaper; Commissioned Paintings (1969); and Baldessari Sings LeWitt (1972), featuring the artist singing every one of Sol LeWitt’s thirty-five conceptual statements to the music of different popular tunes, such as “Singing in the Rain” and the American national anthem. Pure Beauty (titled for one of Baldessari’s early works) will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- German Faces — an exhibition that draws from a long-term body of work by Season 2 artist Collier Schorr — is on view at Modern Art Gallery in London through March 20. Every summer for the past 18 years, Schorr has traveled to southern Germany, working in and around the small town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. She used the landscapes of artists Sander, Kiefer, Beuys, Baselitz and Chagall as a ground on which to play out imagined and inherited histories of Germany and her own Jewish heritage. Schorr’s images are further influenced by reportage, fictional films, and portrait photography. The installation of this project, completely arranged by the artist, includes photographs, drawings, collages and videos. Schorr was recently named “Artist of the Week” by The Guardian.
- Through April 23, works by Season 2 artist Maya Lin are on view at The Arts Club of Chicago. The exhibition includes wood constructed land formations and bodies of water, wire wall pieces, drawings, pastel rubbings, and a piece created specifically for the city. According to Chicago Art Magazine, “Maya Lin’s show is a sculptural tour de force, which will surely be counted among the year’s best.”
- Art21 artists Vija Celmins (Season 2) and Robert Ryman (Season 4) have inspired recent runway fashions. Payless ShoeSource tapped designer Lela Rose for a special fall shoe collection that debuted during New York Fashion Week. According to CNN Money, “The collection’s inspiration stems from the textural and ‘craggy’ landscapes of the moon and earth, and the graphite works by Vija Celmins featuring lunar floors and nighttime skies.” Huffington Post reports that designer Jason Wu’s fall collection was inspired by Ryman’s monochromatic canvases, resulting in minimalist “sportswear with a highly civilized twist and turn.”
- Works by Barbara Kruger (Season 1) and Lari Pittman (Season 4) are featured in the exhibition Disquieted at the Portland Art Museum. The show explores our social condition and how living artists have responded, challenging our preconceptions and exposing our vulnerability in turbulent times. The exhibition boasts its own iPhone application that includes video interviews with artists; commentary from curators and educators; and a map so visitors can easily locate featured works of art. Disquieted is on view through May 16.
Hello and welcome to Nothing is New via Art21. During my stint as guest blogger, you will see posts are very image-heavy with a brief, excited description explaining each set of pictures. The images are discovered while roaming around digital Internet archives of museums and libraries. Nothing is New features a vast range of themes, from artist profiles to interiors of Brooklyn apartments in the 1970s, to bead work of the Zulu. Nothing is New hopes to inspire your creative contemporary lifestyle.
Layers upon layers of vivid color, pattern and fibers create the costumes of the Hopi and Navajo katsina dolls. Katsinas are believed to be spiritual messengers that have supernatural powers controlling nature and people. The paintings above by Raymond John Poseyesva retell the strength of these vibrant icons.
This young artist’s Motherboard series features appropriated Internet porn—nubile women sprawl across large cotton panels, cross-stitched in silver and gold thread with digital precision…Witty videos filter sex scenes through those round eye-test patterns of colored dots you might remember from grade school. Substantially more men than women are color-blind—Ross offers one way to subvert the “male gaze” amid the Internet’s panopticon of voyeurism. — Village Voice
In pursuit of finding more groundbreaking contemporary work that explores the self (and the shame of being the self), I had thought of Alicia Ross. I remember the first day I met her, when I was doing a photography project at a company she then worked for in Cleveland. She is bubbly, kind, outgoing, and (I mean this as a true compliment, Alicia) vulnerable. In other words, she is so Midwestern that I long for her kind of smile as I now wander the streets of ice cold NYC. When she handed me the catalog to her recent exhibition at the Black and White Gallery in Chelsea, I was blown away. Her work is truly provocative, sublime, rich with color, texture, and questions. I wanted to have four of those questions answered, and like a good Midwestern girl, one that likes to cross-stich and embroider pornographic images at that, Alicia responded.
Maria Stenina: Your work is so sinful. It is not a woman’s place, after all, to explore pornography and overt sexuality with such craft and beauty. Can you address your dealings with the grotesque and the sensual?
Alicia Ross: My work isn’t necessarily an exploration of the grotesque or the sensual independently, but rather an examination of the marriage between the two. The tension that I am specifically interested in is the domestic woman vs. the woman of sexual desire or the conflict between mother vs. mistress. The work isn’t necessarily taking sides between the taboo or the ladylike but materializing the balance for the viewer to decipher.
I think it’s interesting you would use the word ‘sinful.’ Unless you see sexuality as sinful, I don’t think the work is sinful at all, but honest. I do think it’s precisely a female gesture to take something taboo or grotesque and want to make it beautiful. Just like the work is taking pornographic images and through manipulation and sometimes by sheer output, is transforming the images into a more widely excepted form: embroidery. To me, the whole point of the work is to question two often clashing, feminine impulses.
(Interviewer’s note: I should have said “deliciously sinful,” as I meant it to be a positive kind of sinful.)
- Vital Signals: Japanese and American Video Art from the 1960s and 70s is a three-part screening program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Presented in collaboration with Electronic Arts Intermix, the series focuses on artists experimenting with video in both the United States and Japan. On October 20, early videos by Art21 artists William Wegman (Season 1), and John Baldessari (Season 5), will be screened along with works by Joan Jonas, Mako Idemitsu, Norio Imai, and Hakudo Kobayashi.
- On October 8, Tim Gunn of Project Runway (a former student of Anne Truitt) will moderate a panel discussion at the Hirshhorn Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection. Season 2 artist Martin Puryear, filmmaker Jem Cohen, and photographer John Gossage will also be on hand to discuss Truitt’s installations. The event begins at 7 p.m.
- Thurston Moore of the band Sonic Youth is launching Ecstatic Peace Library (EPL), a boutique publisher of art books. A catalog listing the publisher’s first releases was available at the New York Art Book Fair this past weekend. If you missed the event, the information will be available on the EPL website beginning January 1. Moore plans to release books in tandem with recordings from artist-authors, including Raymond Pettibon (Season 2). Read more on the LA Times blog.
- A New Literary History of America, an anthology edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, comprises 219 essays that, together, give a picture of U.S. history and culture. The book begins in the year 1507 (when “America” appeared on a map), and concludes with Obama’s election last year. This final entry features a six-page illustration by Kara Walker (Season 2).
- Wind Shadow, a new piece from Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-Min and the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, is at the Barbican Theatre through October 10. Lin has collaborated with Season 3 artist Cai Guo-Qiang on the set, which the Barbican describes as “projections of Cai’s gunpowder drawings that merge into silhouettes and form a moving art installation within which the dancers engage.” See a clip of the performance here.
- On Thursday, November 19, 2009, Season 2 artist Kiki Smith will be honored by the Brooklyn Museum at their seventh annual Women in the Arts luncheon. An exhibition of Smith’s work will open in the Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art on February 5, 2010.
Continuing with my column from May 27, I’d like to suggest a few more books related to contemporary art education that you may be inspired to buy, borrow or steal this summer (but please, steal from someone who has the book sitting on a shelf waiting to be opened, not from your local library!).
First, Julie Thompson’s suggestion to check out Paulo Freire’s Teachers as Cultural Workers – Letters to Those Who Dare Teach is an excellent one. Thank you, Julie! She also mentioned John Dewey’s Art as Experience, which is must reading if you haven’t already.
Other suggestions include:
Elliot Eisner’s The Arts and the Creation of Mind
Olivia Gude’s article, Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education (also a must!)
Anne-Celine Jaeger’s Image Makers, Image Takers: Interviews with Today’s Leading Curators, Editors and Photographers
Please continue to share your ideas for summer reading as we get closer to the official start of the season….
Chakkrit Chimnok dreams of a “banana world,” a utopia in which overlooked or discarded items — specifically, the ubiquitous banana leaves that litter the streets in his home city of Chiang Mai, Thailand — can become the material for a renewed world. Chimnok’s recent forays into this idea (or ideal) transformed the ever-present leaves into clothing modeled after western haute-couture.
“One day I was sitting in a banana garden, when a banana leaf fell on me,” he told me last year. He picked it up and felt it: It was smooth and flexible, unlike the dried leaves many locals get rid of by burning. Senses piqued, he began paying attention to how the leaves had different characteristics, depending on where he found them, their age and the level of humidity where they grew.
He says he was struck by how perfect banana trees are. Both the fruit and the flowers are edible, and the leaves — as his explorations would later prove — could be made into apparel. Chimnok enrolled in a clothing-design class, taking 60 hours of instruction on sewing and pattern-making, and then set out to make functional objects, including a space suit and a dress (sized for his parents, pictured in the installation shot above), handbags, boots and tennis shoes.
This functionality is questionable — as the leaves dry, they become too brittle for regular use — but he appreciates the various layers of symbolism as well. He’s taking gentle jabs at both Thai and western cultures. To often brand-conscious Thai people, he offers fashions from one of the country’s most plentiful, banal and unbranded materials. He patterns his ensembles after western styles, forgoing patongs and flip-flops for western-style skirts and shoes, in order to put the designs both within the vocabulary of fashion but also starkly opposed (the hard, crunchy leaves also stand in contrast to the silk textiles for which Thailand is best known). “We always have the sense that the west looks at us as the third world,” he told me.
While his message addresses international audiences — it was featured in the 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 2005 and was shortlisted for the 2008 Signature Art Prize by the Singapore Art Museum — it is, in essence, local. In his artist’s statement, he writes, “Following the west is viewed as part of destruction of community culture.” His art is a celebration of the local, he says, even if it celebrates one of that environment’s more overlookable features.
But he’s not Thai-centric about it. During the project’s showing in Fukuoka, Japan, he promoted a local variation of recycling. By the end of his three-month residency, he was showing at a fashion show the 20 kimono-inspired garments he’d created — from bamboo leaves.