Posts tagged "contemporary art"

subscription models for contemporary art, or, THE THING quarterly.

My adventures in contemporary art collecting continue! In September, I became the proud (temporary) owner of a print by Cohen, Frank, and Ippolito, thanks to the List Visual Arts Center; now, I have a Tauba Auerbach gracing my walls.

And how did I manage this on a grad school budget? At the New York Art Book Fair this September, I happened to stop by the booth of THE THING Quarterly, a San Francisco-based publication that caught my fancy. Instead of producing a glossy magazine four times a year, The Thing invites a contemporary artist, writer, musician, or filmmaker to create a useful object that incorporates text in some ways. I subscribed (well, shared a subscription) for the Issue 20 through 23 cycle, with projects by Auerbach, Ben Marcus, John Baldessari (!), and David Korty. When we placed our order, we only knew what the first object—the 24-hour analog wall clock by Tauba Auerbach—would be. I’m excited to see what comes in the mail every four months, and plan to document these experiences on this blog. 

Auerbach’s statement, from The Thing’s website:

I’ve always had a very fraught relationship with time. I was born two weeks late, and I’ve been late to pretty much everything since. I relate to time in a totally illogical, fantasy-based way, and when I really start to think about it, I’m not sure I believe it “actually” exists. Why is it asymmetrical, running only in one direction? Or does it? Could it be an artifact of another spatial dimension? Could it be a circle or a surface rather than a line? 

For the last few years I’ve been trying to become friends with time. Trying to be punctual, trying to see time as an ally rather than a foe. In a conversation with my friend Xylor a few years ago, I learned that she always finds extra time in her day, which is quite different from my experience. Upon parting ways I asked her to help me become friends with time. She then sent me a post card with some tips. One of them was to buy clocks that I like and display them prominently. I took this advice, and have since acquired a collection of interesting time pieces. One of my favorite purchases is a clock that has a 24-hour movement. I’ve found this one particularly helpful because it forces me to stop and think for an extra second or two when I’m reading the time. The hand positions are not what I’m used to, and I can’t just glance at it and know what time it is. I have think, to interact with time anew and at a little bit of a distance when I look at this clock, not as a familiar, problematic relative that I engage with lazily. I wanted to spread this experience out and make it more my own by designing my own 24 hour clock.

The numbers on the clock’s face take on Two Wire, Auerbach’s signature typeface. 

Issue 20 Tauba Auerbach Promo Video from THE THING Quarterly on Vimeo.

Dia napkin decoded (and re-encoded).

I saved this napkin from my visit to Dia:Beacon, to preserve not my notes revealing some random spark of wit and brilliance, but somebody else’s.

Pristine white paper with orange-and-gray text imprinted in a serious sans-serif typeface, these napkins serve various functions. The first, of course, is obvious and practical, as one will undoubtedly need to clean up after consuming an overpriced sage pesto and aged cheddar panini. But these napkins are also a subversive and clever piece of museum interpretation. The list of names outlines the 28 male artists* Louise Lawler utters (and squawks and warbles) in her sound installation. Museumgoers can enjoy a bite on Dia’s grounds with Birdcalls (1972/1981) as their soundtrack, wiping mayonnaise smudges off with the very transcript of the work. You, too, can listen to Birdcallscourtesy of our friends over at Ubuweb.

In this piece, Lawler translates the names of contemporary art bigwigs into quite convincing avian cheeps, tweets, and shrieks. At Dia:Beacon, the sounds seem to emerge effortlessly from the upstate New York landscape, as if a pair of birds were having a pecking skirmish in neighboring bushes. Upon closer listening, however, I realized that the screeches were actually the names of artists engrained in my head as a result of my art history education: Sol Lewitt, Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys. Lawler selected this list as a pointed yet hilarious commentary on the privilege and recognition bestowed upon male artists.

But the napkin serves a third, much more subliminal and calculated function. While Lawler’s piece mocks the idolization of a certain set of male artists,** a good number of these guys are on view in Beacon’s cavernous galleries. Dia has certainly got a type: conceptual art giants who produce megalithic works and who are now revered in the art world. Of the 26 artists on long-term view, only 5 are female.

But people eat this shit up. Dia’s football field-sized galleries are jaw-dropping; the megalithic works residing in them are elegantly confrontational, forcing you to step within its steel walls, or imagine yourself as you plunge into its abyss. I recognize that I, too, am a culprit of such idolatry; I was certainly in trance when I was surround on all sides by Lewitt wall drawings.

Dia Beacon, aerial view (source)

The fact is: Museums build a history of art. The simple act of displaying an object is a proclamation of what should be valued by generations to come. Dia is clearly building a history of a very particular type of art, a type that allows us to forget smaller, more subdued but often equally brilliant works.

So we have this napkin, our key to decoding Lawler’s Birdcalls, a work that derides the domination of men in the art world. But this napkin is simultaneously a clever and paradoxical branding strategy for Dia. It advertises the kind of artists that you’ll see within the gallery walls, while mocking the very art world that deemed these artists worthy of being there in the first place.

Lawler’s birdcalls are hilarious. The only appropriate reaction is to smirk at the parroted artists’ names, and then hang your head in shame for loving them so intensely, and so blindly.

*Or collaborations, as Gilbert & George is a duo.

**A set adored by the folks over at J. Crew, as evidenced by the Men’s Shop’s book selection. This fact always makes me snigger.

Secret: I borrowed the napkin picture from this blog. Mine has some mustard stains on it.

For Kids! by the Whitney

I am oh-so-pleased to announce the launch of the Whitney’s new section of the site for eight to twelve year olds! It’s called For Kids and it is awesome. 

To quote our programmers, Linked by Air:

"The new site turns the main Whitney website’s design grammar on its head, keeping some of the same structure and attitude but giving it a whole new look. Kids can explore all the same artists and artworks as adults can, but in their own design language, and dozens of artist and artwork pages have all new, richly engaging kid-specific content.

"Kids can also do a lot more than adults. They can make their own pages on the Whitney’s website, using a kid-friendly version of the same content management system used by Whitney staff. They can take quizzes andpolls, tag artworks, collect artupload their own art, and browse the art of both Whitney artists and other kids. And they can change the background pattern of the whole website, for all to see, using a fun and educational tool.

"The design has been described as “hallucinatory” and kids really seem to connect with it, using the site in many different ways. Some slowly explore all the art; others just want to make their own pages and add tags. Those approaches map to two major approaches of the site: Emphasize parallels and connections between kids and artists; and create a discursive space, like a crowd of kids in a museum who can all hear and see each other talking about and reacting to what’s around them."

Couldn’t have said it better. Also, be sure to play with the pattern maker (requires flash); it’s pretty rad.

elitist, inorganic, and despite my best intentions, I love it.

Installation view of Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (source)

“Elitist and inorganic,” read my friend’s verdict of the exhibition Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I received this declaration via text, no less, as I was still hypnotized by one of Serra’s oversized, tar-like voids. 

True, I conceded, but that doesn’t mean I am any less smitten. How is it that I can be enamored with art that clashes with what I believe are my fundamental values? Though generally cautious around art that stinks of pretentiousness and inaccessibility, I’m pretty sure I left the Serra exhibition as giddy as a schoolgirl. Or consider this: I count Edgar Degas, Balthus, and Egon Schiele as three of my favorite painters, even though their sexualized and objectifying representations of woman should rile up my feminist sensibilities.


Still from Oops I Did It Again, 2000 (source)

I know that good contemporary art is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, challenge your preconceived notions, and so on. (I work in museum education, after all; engaging with challenging art is dogma.) Take Laurel Nakadate, for instance. For her 2000 work Oops, Nakadate invited herself into the houses of various wayward fellows she met on the street. Hello Kitty boombox in tow, the artist taught pathetic-looking men the choreography to Britney Spears’ Oops I Did it Again and subsequently videotaped the two dancing the song from start to finish. The idea that a young, pretty woman was willingly cavorting with unsavory individuals perturbed me, with words like “kidnap” and “sexual assault” inevitably clouding my overly panicky mind. The thing is, though, Nakadate inverts the traditional power structure of such relationships. Instead of strange men asserting their power over her body, Nakadate is the one in control.

Nakadate aims to make her audience feel anxious by assuming compromising roles, only to ultimately have us realize she is undermining power dynamics. But there’s a difference between Nakadate’s strategic uncomfortable and the (I’m assuming unintended) uncomfortable I get from Degas and Richard Serra. When thinking of Degas’ pastel drawings of women, I ignore the voyeuristic perspectives and the artist’s known misogyny in favor of the beautiful abstractions of the human form, or those wonderful textures resulting from oil pastel hitting the paper with just the right amount of pressure. And immersed in Serra’s cavernous steel environments, I allow myself to forget that, at one point, the monolithic structures struck me as ostentatious and hyper-masculine.

Edgar Degas pastel (source)

It’s not that I want these criticisms to go unnoticed. Yes, I think that interpreting Degas’ paintings as sexist is completely valid, and this viewpoint only makes art history deeper and richer. But sometimes, it’s nice to put that all aside and indulge in the materials and forms right in front of me. As much as art can rile me up, it can also make me complacent, in a way. It’s like a first boyfriend: you overlook the Linkin Park t-shirts, stash of Magic the Gathering cards, and excessive use of the phrase “no offense, but…” because, for a moment, you really, really like him.

the art jail.

I stumbled upon The Onion's Art Jail article today via Hyperallergic. The spoof newspaper describes a maximum-security prison that must contain the gems of our cultural patrimony, from terra-cotta shards to oversized Rothko color field paintings, lest they intermingle with society at large (god forbid!). The article is funny because the comparison between a museum and a jail is completely novel, but also reveals the realities about our attitudes toward art and how we display it.

For example, why must we “maintain order” by putting “each piece in its proper place,” the Pointilists with the Pointlists and the Monets with the Monets? Why not mix it up, invite the viewer to make fascinating connections between works interspersed unchronologically? Moreover, the author suggests that, like prisons, museum separate art from civilians as if to protect us from great horrors. The tacit suggestion is that art could benefit from breaking free of the confines of the gallery space. Let’s infuse a bit of art into the everyday, and let’s confront it head on, rather than treat it with the same caution and awe that we show toward mythicized and fetishized criminals such as John Wayne Gacy and the Unabomber. 

comparative imagery: corners.

In chronological order.

Richard Serra, Corner Prop, 1969 (source)

Lynda Benglis, Untitled (VW), 1970 (source)

Fred Sandback, Gray Corner Piece, 1970 (source)

Dan Flavin, untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3, 1977 (source)

Maren Hassinger, Excerpt from a Quiet Place, 1985 (source)

Juan Muñoz, The Wasteland, 1987 (source)

Felix González-Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991 (source)

Kara Walker, Darkytown Rebellion, 2001 (source)

littlewhitehead, It Happened in the Corner…, 2007 (source)

Anish Kapoor, Shooting into the Corner, 2008-2009 (source)

Biennale blame games.

Here’s the low down: Art critic extraordinaire Jerry Saltz writes an article for New York Magazine bemoaning the derivative quality of young artists at the Venice Biennale.* In response, Kyle Chayka over at Hyperallergic very astutely suggests to these “Dear established critics” that “if you’re thinking that all is a little too smooth and easy in this young art world, it would behoove you to dig a little deeper for the movers and shakers.”

As Chayka suggests, the problem is not that new, smart art isn’t being produced; it’s that new, smart art is not showing up in the established contemporary art venues. Well no duh, Mr. Saltz. Conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s emerged in the most unlikely of places, from magazine articles to street corners

But I guess Saltz isn’t just whining about the quality of artists; in effect, he is also chastising curators and gallerists for not culling and presenting the hidden gems of today. In playing the Blame Game, however, critics seem to imagine themselves on the periphery of the art world, that crazy system of artists and curators and collectors that illuminate tomorrow’s masterpieces. Chayka does not explicitly state this in his post, but I think what he’s getting at is that critics are just as responsible for identifying the Future of Art (or, perhaps, Understanding That Good Art is Actually Being Made). The art world is a system, after all. Art does not exist in a vacuum; artists rely on a diverse network, from auction houses to academics, to get their work noticed and legitimized. 

*Ahh, the ornery, age-old complaint that things were always better back in the day. “When I was a kid, we had to walk to the Biennale barefoot in the snow, uphill, both ways!”

Photo: Lifelike pigeons by Maurizio Cattelan at the Venice Biennale; photograph by Ruth Fremson (source)

comparative imagery: type art.

Carl Andre, Essay on Sculpture, 1965 (source)

Tw1tt3r Art (source) (follow)

maira kalman, fred sandback, strunk & white, and my boundless love.

Illustrator Maira Kalman first published this image in her picture essay on Abe Lincoln. The original gouache and ink on paper drawing is on view at the Jewish Museum until July 31 in her wonderful little retrospective, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World). I love that she describes contemporary sculptor Fred Sandback* as a “philosopher of string and space.” Rather than using hefty materials to build a monolithic object, Fredback delineates space using one of geometry’s most basic forms: the line. Fragile one dimensional structures of yarn stretch strategically between walls and floor to yield inhabitable, three dimensional spaces. 

This same image appears in Kalman’s illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s cult writing guide Elements of Style. Below the drawing, a caption—extracted straight from the original text—reads: “A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing.” 

I love this comparison of Fredback and the process of writing even more than I love that he is a philosopher of string and space. I like to think that I could map my blog posts with strings of yarn; the words and images are just like human beings occupying the space between Fredback’s structures. 

Humans in a Fredback installation (source)

Even more love: that Kalman can use one illustration for two very different but equally poignant contexts. She used her existing repertoire of drawings and made very astute connections to words scrawled in Elements of Style.

My love for Maira and Fredback is a boundless love. (My love for Strunk and White is, however, bounded. More on that later.)

*At first I typed his name as “Fredback,” and I rather like this nickname. Henceforth he is Fredback.

Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.