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.
Niels Geybels is a visual artist, graphic designer, and musician based in Antwerp, Belgium. I was introduced to his work last year through Zeitgeists Publishing, an independent publisher of art and music editions. (They also work with Terence Hannum, who I featured in an earlier interview). As a musician, Geybels establishes a distinctive keynote by layering long, deep, and spanning tones. He builds complex textures using a variety of internal dynamics such as rhythm, phasing, harmonics, and dissonances. This description could also be applied to his visual art, which includes painting, printmaking, photography, artists’ books, and video. His artworks are often about tone or atmosphere. Photographs of the Swedish mountains appear throughout Geybels website; it is as though he has redirected his impressions of them into guitar effects and xerography. In each, there is a sense of fog and the smear of dense clouds rolling above, the rhythm of grass blades in the distance, and the hard surface of rock breaking through a surface and jutting into the air. In this interview, Geybels and I talk about his project Sequences, his 2011 zine Monoliths, and his forthcoming project Beneath the Earth. (In thinking about the Transmission column as a whole, I am considering here how Geybels’s work resonates aesthetically and conceptually with the work of Faith Coloccia, who was featured in this column last year.)
Happy New Year!
First, just to update last week’s column regarding some of the most teachable moments in 2012, it was brought to my attention that I missed a few:
Rineke Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, along with Zoe Strauss at the Philadelphia Museum, taught us that portraiture most certainly can go beyond appearances and telling stories. It can even teach us about ourselves.
A new teaching assignment at NYU, which included supervising the Saturday Visionary Studios program for high school students taught me that thematic courses, not just units of study, can be exciting for teachers and students alike.
Scaling back the more traditional format for TASK and using very few supplies taught us that you don’t need a ton of materials to achieve the goals intended, as we did with Oliver Herring this past July to kick off our 4th year of Art21 Educators in New York City.
Finally, revisiting Richard Long’s “A Line Made By Walking” was another teachable moment that has become, for me, a metaphor of sorts when it comes to teaching with contemporary art.
Now, getting back to Speak About What’s Unspeakable, which was written just after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Ct, I want to share an update on some next steps for my own classroom….
I am in the midst of writing a unit of study for the 2nd semester titled That’s Entertainment?? Students in my high school foundations classes will be doing research into children’s games, video games, films and television shows that in some way make the act of harming or killing other people the main objective. I believe that one way to construct a dialogue about what has happened at twenty-one K-12 schools since 2000 is to begin having frank discussions in the classroom about America’s obsession with violence. Continue reading »
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.
As a family we watched television. We watched during dark afternoons with the blinds closed and on summer evenings with the doors open. We watched during dinner and on afternoons and sometimes late into the night. We watched on a large television set downstairs with a pirated cable box on top and on two small sets upstairs, one in my parents’ bedroom, another hidden in a cupboard in the living room. We did not discriminate: game shows, golf tournaments, detective shows, sci-fi, sitcoms, and slapstick played across the various screens.
Of all the shows we watched, sitcoms affected me the most. I could see myself and my family in their anesthetized versions of daily life and longings: in Cliff Huxtable’s penchant for hoagie sandwiches, in Mallory Keaton’s superficial preoccupations, in the Brady siblings’ rivalries. But I also didn’t recognize us: the jokes were too funny, the clothes too stylish, the conflicts less enduring. A foreign element persisted; enough was unfamiliar for the shows to function as an escape. As a family, we watched these onscreen families, not always certain which of us was real and which was imagined.
Our latest Exclusive video is now live! Click to watch Tabaimo: “dolefullhouse” on Art21.org.
Filmed in 2010 at 601Artspace in New York and Parasol Unit in London, Tabaimo discusses her animated video installation dolefullhouse (2007). The Japanese artist did not begin working on the artwork with a preconceived idea but rather started by adding disparate elements to the animation that then formed meaning through their interactions. Tabaimo asks that viewers not seek to understand her intentions behind dolefullhouse but instead create their own interpretations.
Tabaimo appears in the Season 6 (2012) episode “Boundaries” of the Art in the Twenty-First Century program on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via Art21.org, PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes, or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.
CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Craig Feldman & Yasushi Kishimoto. Editor: Morgan Riles & Mark Sutton. Translation: Hitomi Iwasaki, Justin Jesty, Reiko Tomii. Voiceover: Jennifer Weiser. Artwork Courtesy: Tabaimo & 601Artspace. Special Thanks: James Cohan Gallery. Theme Music: Peter Foley.
This week, the U.S. Department of State celebrates the 50th anniversary of Art in Embassies (AIE), a program that facilitates the Department of State’s public diplomacy through the power of the visual arts.
As part of the celebration, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will honor five artists—Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems—by awarding each artist with the U.S. Department of State’s inaugural Medal of Arts. The Medal of Arts is given in recognition of each artist’s outstanding commitment to the AIE program and international cultural exchange.
Over the last decade, Art21 has worked closely with all five honorees, each of whom has extended their relationship with our organization beyond their initial filming sessions for the Art in the Twenty-First Century series. We have experienced first-hand each artist’s passionate commitment to facilitating dialogue through visual art, across many cultures. Through our own international screening programs, we have witnessed conversations generated by the work and words of these artists in communities around the world.
Art21 is proud to support these artists in their commitment to cross-cultural dialogue, and we congratulate each artist—Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems—for receiving this very special recognition for their efforts from the U.S. Department of State.
Watch highlights from each of the artists’ Art in the Twenty-First Century segments below.
In 2011, Beatriz da Costa underwent brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Her video triptych Dying for the Other gives us glimpses into her life in the three months following the procedure. The artist is shown at different times moving about with the support of a walker, exercising her motor skills, stretching her limbs, sorting her daily medications, and chopping kale. The moment when da Costa is asked to spell words like truck and picture is telling: she’s unsuccessful and seems completely unaware. Footage from a New York City lab for breast cancer research is juxtaposed with these difficult moments in da Costa’s life. Bald female mice aged four to six-weeks old are being weighed, prodded, injected and dissected. Rarely do I feel sorry for the city’s vermin but this is awful to watch. It’s hard to distinguish the live mice from the dead ones. You have to wonder if there’s not a better way. Then again, does it matter if it saves human lives? In the years since her surgery, da Costa has explored this question about the price of sustaining life. Her projects in the series The Cost of Life have taken a variety of forms, from this video triptych to a demonstration garden and most recently a cooking class.
Dying for the Other is on view at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, where it is included in the exhibition Art, Environment, Action! The theme of the environment has become a fall tradition at the Center. They’ve paid particularly close attention to the role of art and design in food systems, urban agriculture, and climate change. With this show, curator Radhika Subramaniam wanted to present an exhibition that went beyond art that’s explicitly about nature. She says of da Costa’s video, “It’s not just about illness of the planet but asks what is the relationship of our body to the world outside?” Oftentimes when people talk about the environment it sounds abstract, like something we exist at the side of, instead the force on which our lives depend—and to which art almost always, in some way, responds. Da Costa’s work brings the conversation, says Subramaniam, “back to the body.”
Looking at Los Angeles | Moving Time: A Fossil-Fueled Journey from Appalachia to Los Angeles through Motion Pictures
*Ed. Note: This week, we introduce a new Looking at Los Angeles columnist while bidding a fond farewell to Lily Simonson, who is leaving in order to focus on her artistic practice. We wish Lily the very best of luck with all of her upcoming endeavors! We’re also pleased to have Danielle McCullough join Catherine Wagley as the new co-contributor to Looking at Los Angeles. Danielle is a visual artist who has exhibited work in Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, Marfa, TX, Seattle, Berlin, Amsterdam and New York. She has written articles for publications that include White Hot Magazine and In These Times. Danielle is also the co-founder and editor of Los Angeles Art Resource, an online forum for the Los Angeles arts community to share job opportunities, calls for entry, studio vacancies and regional grant/fellowship deadlines. Welcome aboard Danielle!
I went to art school in Athens, Ohio—one of the oldest European colonized areas in North America. Athens is an Appalachian college town known for, among other things, its brick roads, spiritualist séance homes, underground railroad haunts, an annual Halloween party attended by thousands, fraternities, utopian hippy isolationists, and a partially-rehabilitated asylum known as “The Ridges.” This 1874 compound was built to resemble a Shaker monastery, and in fact, both the institution and its sprawling grounds were designed by a student of Frederick Law Olmstead—the architect responsible for New York City’s Central Park. In the 1990s, Ohio University acquired the compound and transformed it into The Ohio University Kennedy Museum of Art, assorted offices, university surplus storage, and the graduate art studios.