Monthly Archives: July 2012

New York

Woman! Painting! Woman!

The Tearing, 2012 by Ella Kruglayanskaya

I spent much of the six hour bus ride (a Sunday evening in the summer is the worst time to drive into New York) from Boston to Manhattan scanning Time Out, creating my plan of attack for art viewing. At a friend’s suggestion I had already booked tickets to see Rineke Dijkstra and Paul Graham in conversation, so I knew I was going to dedicate an afternoon to Dijkstra’s show at the Guggenheim beforehand.  To balance this out, I decided to explore a solo show by a young, emerging artist–a painter with a bright and playful palette.

The paintings in Ella Kruglayankaya’s show at Gavin Brown Enterprise are not great, but they are richly painted and savvy to our particular moment. The show is made up of, as the title suggests, paintings of women painting women (and the occasional man), playing with the old artistic archetype of the creation who comes to life and confront’s her creator–often aggressively or with disdain. In an amusing but unnerving reversal of Magritte’s Rape, many of the women have faces painted onto their voluptuous bodies, further disorienting the question of subject and drawing attention to their “lovely lady lumps”. These body-faces often express emotions, while the women themselves are painted with blank patterns where their faces should be: ego, body and image joust for attention and power.

A similar series to these was shown in the windows of Barney’s New York last year. As Kruglayanskaya noted in an interview for Barney’s website, she “didn’t have to change much” for them to function as window displays: the paintings are fairly graphic, commercial and eye-catching. Put into the department store environment they are ever so slightly subversive because of the curvaceousness of the women, and because they place themselves into the tepid and not particularly eye-opening form of feminist critique that suggests that women participate in our own objectification. But for the most part, like any painting put into that environment, they become props for consumption.

In the calm reverence of the gallery setting, the pieces gain gravitas, and their confusion and distrust of the painting medium and it’s historical depiction of women makes perfect sense. These pieces aren’t moving the conversation forward, but they are an entertaining and colorful reminder of just where we are.

Los Angeles

Money, MOCA and LA’s art world street cred

Like the rest of the Los Angeles art community, much of my news consumption of the last two weeks has been dedicated to the current MOCA debacle. I suspect that we are all getting a certain degree of pleasure out of bemoaning the state of the art world and feeling like what happens in LA is world news. A number of professors, critics and arts professionals that I respect have weighed in on the issue with a variety of seemingly sensible suggestions and it didn’t seem necessary for me to add my voice into the mix. But then yesterday I read a piece in Art Info which discussed some of the details of museum finance and I decided that there is something missing from the discussion.

According to the Art Info article, Deitch earns $650,000 annually. This surpasses unreasonable. The mean annual salary of a curator in Los Angeles County is $72,000, a pleasantly livable, but not exorbitant sum which seems more than fair given the amount of education and training a person undergoes to reach that position. Taking into account that the museum director must make high stress financial and strategic decisions, it would be legitimate to earn a little more, but not ten times more. Is the job really so unpleasant that they couldn’t find someone willing to do it for, say $250,000?  I doubt it.

Much of the conversation about the MOCA situation comes back to trying to figure out what is good for Los Angeles’ artistic community: “How are we going to survive without an institution giving critical validation to our contemporary artists? How will we keep our heads held high in relationship to New York and Berlin if we have a celebrity driven circus in our midst?” But MOCA is not the beating heart of the Los Angeles art community. Like the city itself, the art world sprawls, collecting itself around a number of different physical and philosophical focal points.

So here is my suggestion: get a head curator, be it Schimmel or someone new, and then cut Deitch’s salary to $250,000 annually and put the money saved back into the arts community in the form of MOCA Art Grants. Support artists, alternative spaces and critical writing to ensure that during this financial crisis artists can continue to make exciting, rigorous work and not feel the need to chase what little market they can find. Artists are what is going to keep Los Angeles relevant as an art center, not museums chasing attendance numbers.

And if Deitch doesn’t want to stay for only $250,000, find someone qualified who will.

New York

Maybe she’s lonely because no one can see her…

The Krazyhouse (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee), Liverpool, UK, 2009
Four-channel HD video projection, with sound, 32 min., looped
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

To create the video installation The Krazyhouse, Rineke Dijkstra built a white wooden studio within a club in Liverpool (The Krazyhouse) and filmed a selection of club patrons dancing alone to music of their choice. The resulting piece includes footage of five different individuals, projected on four different walls of a single room. It may not sound that exciting to watch an amateur clubber dance alone in front of a white wall, but Dijkstra cannily tunes into the energy of her subject and carefully reveals something thrilling in the human.

The most compelling of the clubbers was Dee. For the first couple of minutes of music she moved slowly and awkwardly, like a teenage girl with stage fright or someone who is playing out possible dance moves in her head but can’t quite let them out into her body.  But then, almost imperceptibly, Dee’s energy shifted and I found myself watching a young woman confidently shaking, shimmying and lip syncing, reveling in the moment.

This video installation was one of the most recent pieces in Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim and it brought together many of the themes that emerged through the 30 years of work—raw vulnerability, the experience of looking and being seen, the performance of identity—but most specifically pinpointed the unlikely relationship between shy discomfort and confident self-assertion. Rather than being opposites, Dijkstra’s work suggests that they are interconnected aspects of an honest projection of self; in these dancers, confidence is tinged around the edges with the shy desire to be seen. The moment of Dee’s transformation was a moment I have experienced a hundred times over on dance floors, at social gatherings, in the work place–the moment of crossing a threshold from internal to external, of learning to relax into performing myself.

Rineke Dijkstra
I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman), 2009
Three-channel HD video projection, with sound, 12 min., looped
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

In another of Dijkstra’s video projects, I see a Woman Crying, a group of Liverpudlian school children respond to Picasso’s Woman Weeping. The camera rests on the children, never turning to look at the painting in question, focusing our attention on the interactions among the children. Unlike Dijkstra’s portraits, where the subjects directly confront us, here the painting acts as the mediator.

The children begin reticent, cautiously describing what they see in the image—“I can see a woman crying” — and gradually gain momentum in speculating upon the precise emotions and the narrative that created them. Their insights range from “maybe she is crying because no one looks like her” and “other people are scared of her” (this is after all a cubist piece of Picasso’s) to “maybe she is a ghost” and “she’s lonely because no one can see her.” There is an interesting interplay between the suggestibility of the students as they roll with each other’s ideas, and the revelation of individual emotional landscapes through the specific comments they make.

During the artist talk last Tuesday, Dijkstra said that she is looking for an exchange to happen between her and her subject,and that in a successful piece there is “a recognition of something truthful in that person.” In that hunt for truthfulness Dijkstra both reveals the isolation of our interiors and the longing to have that interior be honestly seen.