Archive for the ‘Short Review’ Category


December 3, 2009

As should be fairly obvious at this point, the blog is currently on hiatus.

Thanks to all those who have been regular readers, I’ll try to get back in the saddle here soon.

The goal is to return to normal production in the new year.

Optical Encounters with Dan Graham

August 18, 2009
Dan Graham, Heart Pavillion, installation view a the Carnegie Museum of Art. via artnet

Dan Graham, "Heart Pavilion", 1991, two-way mirror glass and aluminum, 94 x 168 x 144 in., Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund and Carnegie International Acquisition Fund, 92.5, photo courtesy of the artist, via

Emerging from the cavernous darkness of Sadie Benning’s video installation PlayPause, I stepped off the elevator on to the 4th floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art and rubbed my eyes to get my bearings. It was immediately apparent that in so doing, the soft, ploymer contact lens that allows my right eye to overcome its normal nearsightedness, had become dislodged from its intended site over my pupil, and was presently gliding back into the farther recesses of the socket.

When the polite, if stern, gallery guard informed me that the nearest restroom was located on the second floor, I couldn’t imagine stumbling back down all those stairs when I had just arrived. So, relying on my good left eye, I surveyed the terrain. The nearest work in the installation–immediately to my right out from the elevator–provided a convenient solution to my optical predicament. Heart Pavilion, 1991 offered up its straight, perfect mirrored wall for a proper inspection of the corner of my eyeball. As I approached the polished surface, a European couple entered the pavilion ahead of me. Upon entering, the two-way mirror obscured these explorers from my view, while the entire gallery remained on view to them. Face three inches from the pavilion, I scratched away at my cornea, a final strike extracting the offending concave bugger. A quick swab of saliva, and all was back in place.

Stereovision restored, I perambulated through the Heart Pavilion, now empty but for myself. From the inside, I realized that anonymous couple had an optician’s view of my impromptu operation. While perhaps not the erotic or romantic intimacy suggested by the work’s title, it certainly suceeded in instigating an unwitting encounter in the architectural flow. I was left to ponder the ludic as well as political dynamics at work in how these architectural structures frame “a view.” The experience raises thoughts about surveillance, voyeurism, and performance, though such ideas, especially regarding a place of privilege in such non-reciprocal relationships, are not Graham’s alone. The exciting possibilities of Graham’s work are due to the pavilions’ construction with two-way mirrors. Those subjects on the darkened side of the mirror may of course see into the lightened side, but on the brighter side the glass only appears as a reflective surface. However a simple change in lighting may reverse this dynamic: quite suddenly the role of viewer and viewed could be reversed in a Graham pavilion. 

No such magical mutation in lighting design took place that day at the Whitney, but from inside one could observe, with impunity, the flow of other visitors around the open gallery. A guard admonished two young women applying the cosmetics at Girl’s Make-Up Room, 1998-2000. Tourists moved quickly from one black and white text and video to the next. Others pulled faces for the opposing mirror video installations. I lingered for a while and, quite simply, looked.

While the location of the pavilions within the museum gallery may be observed to neuter the opportunity for chance encounters, this viewer found that under the right terms of  contact it was still possible to unsettle the relationship between sight and site.

Dan Graham: Beyond at the Whitney Museum of American Art through October 11.

Tris Vonna-Michell: History-Telling

July 8, 2009
Performance view, Photo by CAD

Performance view, Photo by CAD

As mentioned in the previous post, Tris Vonna-Michell’s performance at Governor’s Island was enthralling, and in its own way, virtuoso (*gasp*). The setting was thus: a musty room in one of the many historical buildings on the island. The exterior hallways are covered with history murals depicting iconic events in American history. Inside, rows of chairs face towards a lone microphone (recording), flanked by a large aerial photo over Governor’s Island and Lower Manhattan. The Twin Towers, the photographic quality, all bespeak the 1960s or early 70s. Clearly exhausted in what ended up being his last performance of the weekend (he decided to forgo the final one), Vonna-Michell endeavored to describe the circuitous events ¬that led him to that very place, all beginning, unlikely enough in Japan in the early 2000s, when it seems the artist was traveling and low on funds. Straightforward seeming enough, except for the artist’s self-imposed time restriction of 10 minutes given to the task. This time limit is elemental to the project, and gives his storytelling a particular urgency. Part of the meta-narrative is an admission that he has yet to get to finish explaining through any of the previous performances, so he will have to try to go even faster.

The result is a compression of language, often incoherent as narrative to the audience. Words become dislocated from grammatical structures, taking on an almost hieroglyphic function in the litany of places, brands, historical events that come flowing out as though a stopper has been removed: at the same time releasing only nouns and the occasional verb, filtering out all prepositions, adjectives, articles… Repetition is the norm, and after seven minutes, a “sentence” like “Toblerone, Koji” not only makes sense and has some sort of context (temporal as much as narrative), it is absolutely hilarious. Or, apologetically, Pardonnez mon mauvais francais.” All of this travels through, in no particular order, Hiroshima, London, Berlin, Paris, the Stasi, Detroit, the Berlin train station, which of course can’t get you to Tokyo… Autobiographical and historiographic information are part of a single constant stream. Martin Herbert describes Vonna-Michell’s performances as

The possibility of knowledge emerging from the intersections of personal experience, history, and coincidence… a dazzlingly fast, borderline-impenetrable monologue recounting his quest, edited or expanded on the fly… semi-improvised recitations…

Vonna-Michell foregrounds his performance as an act of storytelling, in which each “telling” is a conflict with the act of integrating what is relevant within the limits of language and narrative. Every word becomes a calculation of what is essential, more concerned with the evocative than the factual. Gestures and a sort of sign language evolve to accompany the story; the lanky artist sways around the microphone like a dancer, every movement fluid as though conducted by his words.

Action shot, to quick even for the camera. Photo by CAD.

Action shot, too quick even for the camera. Photo by CAD.

The performance ended, predictably enough, with Vonna-Michell apologizing because he has run out of time, and of course his tale is nowhere near Governor’s Island. When I saw him later that afternoon as we were exploring other works included in Plot 09, the artist explained that it seemed appropriate that the commission was incomplete. Part of this was pragmatic: during the performance, and again in personal conversation afterwards, he admitted that the curator’s proposal of something like 10 performances in two days was a bit absurd considering he had done just four such performances in the previous year. But there was also an appropriate poetics to the cancelled final performance, suggesting a synecdochal relationship to the failure of each of the individual monologues to complete a story. Embodying a corollary relationship to larger mechanisms of history in process, what constitutes Vonna-Michell’s oeuvre remains a series of open-ended archives.

I highly recommend Martin Herbert’s introduction to Vonna-Michell’s work from the January issue of Artforum (Log-In required.). As I re-read it I found it dealt with almost all of the major ideas that I brought away from the Governor’s Island performance. Herbert points out the archival aspect of TVM’s project as well—certainly a theme of interest to me personally.

Also: X-Initiative’s Phase 2 opens today, and includes solo shows by Vonna-Michell, Keren Cytter and Luke Fowler. Each occupies an entire floor of the old Dia building.

On the one hand I am very excited about this, as what I have seen of each of these artists is impressive and makes me want to experience more for myself. But there is also a bit of the business as usual here that the cynical side of me wants to question. The press release goes to great lengths to point out that each of these artists has been included in major international biennial-type affairs. They’ve each received notable awards, received profiles in the major art magazines, etc.

When I first saw the line-up, my first thought was, “Oh—they were all in Younger than Jesus.” Granted, a full floor allows a very different presentation than the limited spaces allotted each at the New Museum, but when you remember that X Initiative curatorial director Cecilia Alemani is also the partner of Massimiliano Gioni (one of the curators of YTJ)… well, I’m ambivalent. Granted, X Initiative is working from a sort of ad-hoc model, with limited planning timelines and exhibition budgets, so it makes sense to present exhibitions heavy on ephemerality and video (low shipping costs). So I while I am excited to see the exhibitions and the potentially ambitious presentations from each artist, I do wish that X would take a greater risk.

Historical Erasure at the Pictures Generation

May 18, 2009

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current blockbuster, The Pictures Generation 1974-1984 is on the one hand a sprawling historical survey, and yet also a revisionist history. Jerry Saltz describes it as “less a critical survey of a highly influential aesthetic than a feel-good class reunion. Rather than opt for scholarship and tough choices, curator Douglas Eklund cultivated a gang’s-all-here coziness. It’s a huge show, with hundreds of objects, books, posters, films, and videos, and works by 30 artists.”

Philip Smith, All the Answers, 1998

Philip Smith, All the Answers, 1998

Given the breadth of the show and its apparently inclusive approach, it is particularly surprising that Philip Smith was not included, even though he was one of the five artists that Douglas Crimp selected for the original “Pictures” show at Artists Space in 1977. Crimp’s revised essay, published several years later in October, is arguably responsible for the enduring currency of the “Pictures” moniker, and substitutes Cindy Sherman for Smith. It’s a critical decision that the Met has apparently perpetuated; Eklund has explained to CultureGrrl that “I didn’t respond strongly enough to his work to include it.”

Fair enough.

Remembering that chief photography curator Malcolm Daniel explained the Met curator’s mission as “To collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all at the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards,” it is clear that Eklund had the license to exclude Smith on the grounds of quality alone.

What disturbs me more is the way that the Met has entirely erased Smith’s inclusion in the original exhibition. At least one wall label for a work by Tory Brauntuch mentions him as one of the four artists in the Artists’ Space exhibition. The didactic material here needs to be qualified.

Reviewing the show, Martha Schwendener perpetuates the error: “The show at Artists Space featured only four artists. Ironically, neither Cindy Sherman nor Richard Prince, who would become figureheads for Pictures art, were included.”

So what happened to fact-checking? The museum gift shop, at the exit to the exhibition, is discretely selling copies of the catalogue for the Artists Space show (only $30). One need only flip to the title page to see that Crimp’s artists numbered five: Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith. CultureGrrl cornered Crimp at the press preview and asked what he thought of the omission:

Q: What do you make of Philip Smith’s absence from the Met’s show?

A: He was not so much of the group, of the social world, of the people who formulated this. He’s gay and this [the Met’s show] is a very straight configuration of artists. I don’t know what’s happened to him, career-wise. It’s a slightly touchy subject: I think Philip is upset, reasonably.

Schwendener rightly points out that the show “was organized by a photography curator intent on showing how the medium was integrated into “mainstream” contemporary art.” Beyond the social circle aspects of the show that Crimp and Saltz emphasize, I wonder if Eklund’s curatorial omission also has to do with the fact that Smith’s work seems to be grounded in drawing.

Whatever Eklund’s his reasons for excluding Smith, the historical record is being distorted. It might not make good copy for wall labels and audio guides, but this decision making process should be more transparent, or at least represented truthfully in the history of Pictures.

Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

April 29, 2009

38942224My recent visit to LACMA was filled with highs and lows. Let’s start with the good stuff:

Franz West: To Build a House You Start with the Roof didactic wall text: It’s a good sign, and indicative of curatorial wit and perceptiveness here, that I laughed out loud a number of times when reading the curators’ descriptions accompanying wall labels. One example elucidated West’s intention that an art object be used while “doodling or relieving oneself;” another work, a painting with a hook is contextualized with text that blithely implores “Please feel free to try on the cap.” The labels were not lacking for contextual or serious information, but it was also with leavened by a humor simpatico to the work it described. Bravo.

Focus installations from the collection: Tucked into odd corners of the permanent collections, these mini-exhibitions were little windows into the curatorial mind: pet projects that just plain work. In photography there is a humble installation juxtaposing the 1970s magazine-based works of Robert Heineken with Elad Lassry’s contemporary photographs, often based on imagery from that era. Simply titled Photographic Conversations No. 7: Found, it speaks for itself, and how.

beall3Deep in the Art of the Americas building is a revelatory gallery featuring a selection of posters by graphic designer Lester Beall. Basically Constructivism meets the Heartland, it is fascinating to see how avant-garde aesthetics get filtered over into posters for the Rural Electrification Administration. The colors are bold and brash, with dynamic, simple lines activating the rather banal imagery. For more info check out Unframed’s post on the subject.

Now for the bad news. This was my first visit to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. When it first opened in February 2008 I remember the Guerrilla Girls making a stink about the severe lack of diversity in Broad’s collection and the inaugural installation of the BCAM. At the time, 30 artists were included in the installation, of which 97% were white and 83% were male. The Guerillas engaged in a delightful tête-à-tête with Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator of the Broad Collection. No wonder their archives ended up at the Getty.

Fifteen months later, things are even worse. The few women represented in that installation were primarily located on the second floor, subsequently displaced by the exhibition Art of Two Germanys. Gone were the Jenny Holzer’s and Cindy Sherman’s. What is now on view is the usual white, boys’ club, names sung by Louise Lawler’s trained birds: Baldessari, Warhol, Ruscha, Cy Twombly, Beuys (at least some of them are gay) plus Johns, Serra, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, etc. But unless this was some Sturtevant retrospective masquerading as the Broad Collection, it is nothing short of offensive that this was the best LACMA could pull out. To add insult to injury, much of the art looked impotent in the cavernous space. The curatorial politics of such a presentation are laughable.

Aptly, the one work I noticed at BCAM by a female artist was Barbara Kruger’s special commission lining the central elevators, titled, Cassandra-like, Shafted.

Objects Most Resembling Contemporary Art

April 6, 2009

In her reviews of recent art fairs, Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City gave out “awards” to booths and artists on display, denoting both highlights and lowlights. Of my favorites, and ubiquitous to the contemporary art fair is the “Object Most Resembling Contemporary Art.” This negative interpretation can be attributed to the nature of the environs, which don’t exactly encourage deeply thoughtful critical reflection, often negating any sense of context or allowing favorable conditions for display.

Bethan Huws: Tour, 2007

Bethan Huws: Tour, 2007

With that in mind I couldn’t help thinking of Johnson’s award when I visited Yvon Lambert’s current group exhibition, Espéces d’Espace. One would like to think that artworks fare better presented in a gallery than an art fair booth, but sometimes no degree of formality can save them. Ostensibly predicated on an increased awareness of the space in which objects exist and the implications of space for the work of art and it’s display, the exhibition seems more like an opportunity to show otherwise unrelated new work by gallery artists. And some of it is a joy to see: a gorgeous new Jenny Holzer (but why not just go to the Whitney?), a mystifying drawing by Roni Horn (coming soon to the Whitney), a Jill Magid text-based work on paper exploring intimacy (no Whitney show that I know of–she seems more like a Guggenheim type).

But much of the work seems to compete for the Object Most Resembling Contemporary Art award. The competition is tough: a (carefully) fractured mirror would be too obvious a choice however. Zilvinas Kempinas is represented by Double O, 2008; two industrial fans face off, whipping magnetic tapes in wild oscillations. I suppose some viewers might be hypnotized by the self-cancelling airstreams and spinning black lines of tape, but the effect never rises above 7th grade science fair oohs and awes, perhaps relying too much on Olafur Eliasson-like natural world wonder but without any sense of the viewer’s alterity.

Zilvinas Kempinas: Double O, 2008

Zilvinas Kempinas: Double O, 2008

Worse, in my mind, was Bethan Huws’s contributions. Like many “contemporary artists,” Huws mines the legacy of Duchamp. The first work Nu Descendant un Escalier, 2004 spells out the title in movable type underneath a commercial signage display, the text wending its way downward in a misconceived moment of concrete poetic inspiration. Across the main gallery Huws’s Tour, 2007, takes Duchamp’s first unmodified readymade, Bottle Rack, 1914, and goes all Dan Flavin/Bruce Nauman: recreating said bottle rack in white neon. Is there a handbook for artists that says “take reference to Duchamp, add reference to Minimalism, pour over ice”? Combining Flavin’s phenomenological response to commercial lighting, Nauman’s linguistic puns with the title “Tour” (Tower), and Duchamp’s early work certainly shows that the artist can fluently parse Artforum, but does it add up to any more than that?

The Melancholy of Robert Frank

March 5, 2009
Hoover Dam, Nevada, 1955

Hoover Dam, Nevada, 1955

Tucked into a corner of the National Gallery of Art’s exhibition, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, is a remarkable photograph not included in the final edit of that iconic book. The image, Hoover Dam, Nevada, 1955, shows a tightly cropped detail of a roadside visitor center or gas station. Visually dense, one immediately registers three images within the photograph, like windows incised in the picture plane. Bundles of postcards are arranged in a column at the center of the frame and held in place by a wire rack. Perhaps it is because of the bleached registers of the Southwest afternoon light, but the surrounding details are negligible, focusing the greatest clarity on the postcards.

The scene is familiar to anyone who has piled into the family vehicle (seen here in the background) and set off across the American highway. The car’s wheels turn off the highway, crackling through the gravel and dust along the shoulder, and pull around into the fueling station. Sticky bodies peel off the seat covers and get out for a stretch, tendons flexing and chins raised to catch any available breeze. Perhaps one walks inside to find a Coke or ice cream bar, or walks around the back of the small building, really just a large shack, to find a toilet. If this way station is anywhere near those constellations of the American road trip—national parks, casinos, roller coasters, in-laws—then there will surely be those selfsame postcard racks, totems to the vernacular picturesque. So we buy postcards, polite missives to those left at home or cheap souvenirs to be filed away in closets or cornered in scrapbooks.

The Robert Frank photograph in question was taken on the road trip that provided the source material for The Americans. Funded by a Guggenheim fellowship, Frank piled his wife Mary and their young children Pablo and Andrea into the car like so many other pater familias, and wove their way clockwise around the continental United States. Like other photographs taken on this trip, Hoover Dam, Nevada, 1955 visually arranges information in a way that leads to an often disturbing revelation. Reading the postcards top to bottom, the images move from the Grand Canyon to Hoover Dam to a mushroom cloud. With deft economy these quotations suggest pristine landscape, nature harnessed by man, and finally nature destroyed. It’s an stunning indictment of human progress and a portrait of a world gone wrong.

And stunned I was. My jaw dropped seeing this image for the first time a few weeks ago. It fell even lower when I read the inscription on the print, which is on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery. In Frank’s hand it says, “For Pablo—Remembering the trip to California 1956 – Hoover Dam Nev.”* This photograph encapsulates the personal, familial nature of the trip, and the way a picture’s content can be read through the photographer’s biography. Pablo suffered from schizophrenia and died in a hospital in 1994. Much of Frank’s later work, especially in films like Home Improvement, confronts the psychological trauma of dealing with Pablo’s mental illness and the death of his daughter Andrea in a 1974 plane crash. I remember reading somewhere the dialogue from one of these films in which Robert admonishes Pablo for always seeing the worst in world, for his insistence on darkness and depression. Why then would he have chosen this photograph to give to Pablo? I imagine that in this gift the father acknowledges the demons of the son, and recognizes them as his own.

*It is interesting to note that Yale and the National Gallery date the photograph as 1955, while Frank’s inscription says 1956.

Exhibition schedule: National Gallery of Art, January 18–April 26, 2009; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 16–August 23, 2009; Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 22–December 27, 2009

Mark Ruwedel: Westward the Course of Empire

February 28, 2009
Mark Ruwedel: Picacho and Colorado River #3, 2000

Mark Ruwedel: Picacho and Colorado River #3, 2000

Yossi Milo Gallery

Feburary 5 – March 14, 2009

Karen Rosenberg has a nice review of Mark Ruwedel’s exhibition Westward the Course of Empire, and successfully covers the historical and aesthetic context, but the exhibition raises a number of additional questions. Ruwedel re-traces railroad lines across the American West, photographing the deteriorating infrastructure. In many instances the lines are completely abandoned, recognizable only by the scars left by their grading or the splinters of the ties and trestles. Beautifully printed, Ruwedel (I believe) shoots 8×10” black and white film and contact prints, dry-mounting on 16×20″ mat board. The artist titles each work in pencil directly on the mount, describing the name of the railroad line, for example Canadian Pacific #3. Rosenberg makes all of the right references to the New Topographics (in particular Robert Adams) and Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson.

The press release says Ruwedel “acts as an archivist,” but this is not the most accurate term. “Archivist” usually describes someone who organizes an existing collection of materials, whereas Ruwedel is himself creating material—to use the term is to de-emphasize his authorial role. Partially this misuse of terminology may arise due to fashion, witness the outstanding exhibition last year at ICP, Archive Fever, curated by Okwui Enwezor. Rosenberg perpetuates this idea, writing, “The presentation tends toward the archival.” But the photographs are framed and hung on the walls, in a typological style, and the pencil titling is an affected throw-back rather than an earnest attempt at filing and labelling. I’ve read somewhere that the artist considers the landscape as a repository of histories. Is the landscape an archive, or do landscapes simply bare the traces of prior events? Ruwedel is in a sense a person who creates an archive; he is documenting a set of sites that highlight technologic and historic entropy. Is to document the same as to archive?

What Ruwedel is doing may be more accurately attributed to atavism, that is, a reversion to a previous photographic form (a term taken from George Baker, again). As Rebecca Solnit’s book River of Shadows elegantly makes clear, the history of photography and the history of the railroad are inextricably bound as contemporaneous modern technologies at the height of Enlightenment aspirations. But in the American West the relationship is even more explicit, with photographic luminaries like Watkins and Jackson frequently hired by the railroad companies (as well as government land surveys) to document their industrious advances. Some of the most pristine prints from this era survive in large bound portfolios supplied by the photographers to their corporate employers. Photography and railroad were twin pillars of the Manifest Destiny propelling westward development. Ruwedel pays lip service to this spirit – albeit ironically – in the title of the exhibition, and also explicitly in compositions that echo his 19th century predecessors. The artist very deliberately adopts the formal strategies of a previous age, highlighting a genetic connection between photographs.

Baker sees contemporary photography operating between the dialectics of abstraction and atavism. Extending Baker’s argument, Ruwedel clearly operates according the Barthesian this has been. There is a timeliness to such images of collapse, but from a certain liberal or neo-Marxist position such a reading might be inevitable regardless of the S&P 500 rating. Given the formal elegance of the images and their loaded aesthetic history, in as much as they suggest an “infinite return,” they are also an ode to entropy, and therefore point to the future as well as the past.

Allora & Calzadilla: Stop, Repair, Prepare

February 25, 2009
Allora & Calzadilla: Step, Repair, Prepare

Allora & Calzadilla: Stop, Repair, Prepare


January 23 – February 21, 2009

Saturday afternoon your faithful correspondent briefly absconded from his desk, slithering down the block to Barbara Gladstone to witness the final performance of Allora & Calzadilla’s exhibition Stop, Repair, Prepare. The artists have cut a hole in the center of a Bechstein piano, from which a rotation of seven pianists performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” every hour on the hour during gallery hours for the duration of the exhibition. The performer is given license to improvise, and pushes the instrument (on large casters) throughout the gallery. Blending sculpture and performance, the result is incredibly fascinating. With the keys arranged backwards from their normal progression and forced to play the entire composition upside-down, the virtuosity of the performer is an endless source of wonder.

At least 14 strings are missing from the piano to accommodate the performer; as a result the musical score has been re-arranged, pushing notes to the higher and lower registers of the keyboard. Towards the end of the final performance, pianist Sun Jun began to play the keys from which strings had been removed. Despite lacking the intended tune, the rhythm of the music was maintained—creating a surprising experimental interlude. The anthropomorphism of the piano creates a surreal object that suggests Jamie Isenstein’s sculptural explorations of performance via David Cronenberg’s Crash—the apotheosis of man and machine intermingled. It is a fantastical, strange sight to see a piano shepherding a crowd of over one hundred people around the otherwise bare gallery, bottlenecking between rooms.

Without the aid of the press release the viewer might not know that “Ode to Joy” has played a role in historical events as far ranging as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Third Reich, and the European Union— raising questions about the many lives of canonical artworks, and their appropriation into systems and ideologies beyond the intents of their authors. While the specific history of this composition might not be self-evident, the work successfully engages the same conceptual interests through the literal embodiment of the performer in the instrument. Breaking down the boundaries between performer and instrument, composition and performance, all of these normally distinct categorizations are intertwined. As such the music is malleable to the identity and will of its handlers, incapable of transcending its context under such conditions. Thus politics, history and ideology come to bear on the performance or presentation of a work of art.

Are You With Me?

January 14, 2009

aywm_install1lgSMALL A PROJECTS
January 4 – February 15, 2009

A welcome dose of hedonism, Are you with me?, is indulgent in its ludic creations. United by their investment in social ritual and with Dionysius as apparent co-conspirator, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Jesse Willenbring and Jennifer West bring material ebullience to the proverbial (and literal) table. Willenberg’s oil-on-tablecloth abstractions appropriate lofty Modernist aesthetics but are grounded by their decidedly domestic base. Potluck-ready, Hutchins’s crude glazed ceramic vessels were enlisted for a small dinner at the gallery. Set on a slick modern dining table in the center of the room, the absurd containers seem unsure if they are meant for a pedestal or a buffet. West’s films blend performative events with the substances that influence them; in this instance Bloody Marys and the briny Pacific marinated 16mm documentation of full moon Malibu skinnydipping. Splashing nude bodies occasionally emerge from within the acidic flares and chemical burns affected on the film’s emulsion, but the effect is more SEMINA than Brakhage. Each of the three mediums on view here—painting, ceramic, film—speak as disparate voices among friends; formal resonances abound in the stains and messes at the core of the artists’ work, making for lively discourse. Amidst all the gloom and doom of late, it is tonic to be reminded of the transformative powers of social communion. But just as these works evince tension between physical surfaces and representation, questions remain about the terms of engagement. Potential models of exclusivity, one wonders how these rites translate to a wider audience. Anyhow, to the exhibition’s probing title, why not?