Los Angeles

Arts Matter: The best of the rest from 2012

To wrap up 2012 and bound into 2013 without any baggage, here, in mostly chronological order, are the interesting images I have collected over the year, of art works that I experienced but didn’t end up writing about at the time.

I attended a heartening number of solid shows at artist-run spaces. Among the highlights were Liz Nurenberg‘s wearable sculptures and MUC‘s Carnival of Insecurities. Both these art events grabbed me with their honest embrace of dysfunction and their humorous yet earnest solutions.

THEEVERYMANY (Marc Fornes) Y/Struc/Surf 2010

THEEVERYMANY (Marc Fornes) Y/Struc/Surf 2010

This piece in the Centre Pompiduo represents a growing field of applying computer programming and generative processes to art and design. Flashy design technology probably won’t remain that interesting or cutting edge for long, but Everymany is leading the field in visually impressive directions.
Ahmed Mater, Magnetism. (c) Ahmed Mater and the Trustees of the British Museum

Ahmed Mater, Magnetism.
(c) Ahmed Mater and the Trustees of the British Museum

Part of the British Museum’s Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, an exhibition which explored the history of the pilgrimage to Mecca, Ahmed Mater’s striking sculpture of iron filings surrounding a small magnet, eloquently captured the collective energy and awe of not only the hajj, but of belonging to the Islamic faith.
Exploring Liz Glynn's "Anonymous Needs and Desires," part of her installation at the Hammer Biennial.

Exploring Liz Glynn’s “Anonymous Needs and Desires,” part of her installation at the Hammer Biennial.

Liz Glynn’s installation at the Hammer’s Made in LA biennial, balanced visual pleasure with a science museum’s hands-on exploration. It was smart but approachable, grounded in current events but nuanced and open ended, without the unpleasant aftertaste of a political diatribe.

KrugerBus

The LA public bus emblazoned with Barbara Kruger’s words makes me happy every time I see it; not only is it a splash of visual excitement when stuck in traffic, but it also proclaims loudly the importance of education in eradicating prejudice, encouraging empathy, developing self-confidence and building a healthy society. This is the first bus in the LA Fund’s year-long Arts Matter campaign, hoping to raise $1.5 million for arts education.  Yes, apparently the greater metropolis and our city’s politicians need reminding that the arts matter, as absurd as that may seem to me.

In addition to the success of Arts Matter, I have some other art related wishes for 2013, just in case the universe is listening.

To interview Wangechi Mutu. Her December show at Susan Vielmetter Gallery used collage to powerful effect. One piece very specifically referred to traditional African masks and rituals, and I hesitate to interpret the piece myself–a conversation with the artist is the obvious solution.

To see a really great painting show. One that delights, inspires and moves me, or stirs something that I don’t understand. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

A trip to either Amsterdam or Accra. I’m always itching to travel and see new work, but there are particularly exciting things happening in these cities. On a more achievable scale, while on the east coast this spring I hope to visit Amalia Pica’s show in Boston, this exhibition at Princeton and squeeze in the current Picasso exhibition at the Guggenheim.

A Fantastic Heliotherapy logo. Any graphic designers looking to trade skills?

Some clarity. I started this blog at the beginning of 2012 with the tentative sense that I had some things to say and didn’t want to wait until someone asked my opinion. I am still figuring out if this counts as criticism, what is interesting to readers and where to point my nose. Your feedback is truly appreciated.

With that, into 2013 we go!

 

Los Angeles Studio Visits

Some Say Ice

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

What can one artist do, in one day, to save the planet?

For Dai Toyofuku’s performance piece Glacier, which took place at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center during the height of the summer heat wave, the artist temporarily turned himself and his car into “glaciers”—structures draped with tarps that were then painted white. Over the course of the five hour performance/experiment, Toyofuku stayed inside his “human glacier,” and carefully recorded the temperatures inside the human glacier, the car glacierist, a control car and outside. At the peak of the day it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler inside the human glacier than outside, and 30 degrees cooler in the car glacier than the control car.

For five hours, Dai Toyofuku successfully contributed to the cooling of the earth. It was an absurd yet earnest act.

The absurdity was inspired by the very real claim of Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu that painting roofs white and manufacturing “cooler” colored cars could dramatically reduce global warming. Within this context, Toyofuku’s gesture becomes a way to raise awareness, make scientific theory approachable and render the specter of climate change less abstract and overwhelming.

The execution of the glaciers was quick and dirty, more a child’s sketch of a glacier (a big white triangle) than something scientifically or visually accurate. Placing these homemade glaciers in the Southern California landscape, Dai drew attention to their foreignness. Though they hold a strong role in our cultural story, glaciers remain unreal, almost mythological, to most people–especially on a hot summer day. However, we have to be able to hold multiple landscapes in our minds simultaneously, imagining the totality of our planet and the long term consequences of seemingly harmless choices, if we are going to start really digesting what climate change does and could mean.

This cognitive collapse of space and experience also happens in the Parts (un)known collage works of Sara Schnadt. She created these collages for an installation and performance work that tracked her personal travel history through found images, but now Schnadt is beginning to explore the collages as works in their own right.

One that caught my eye, and acts as a nice visual accompaniment to Dai’s performance, is a juxtaposition of a glacial landscape with what looks to be a piece of farm equipment, obscured by a tarp, sitting in a hot dry landscape.  My focus is magnetically drawn to the single tentative point of contact—the impossible space which connects hot with cold, the untouchable arctic and some obscure, unreachable past.

This flattening of the world is not a new concept, but Schnadt’s personal approach creates compelling fictive spaces from the fragments of experience.  I am a fellow nomad–someone who’s friends and family are regularly stretched over the globe and who’s working life happens in the intangible data-space between L.A. and Cameroon–so this bittersweet work hits home.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

A particularly haunting collage in the series connects together Berlin, Inverness, Afghanistan and Jerusalem. The way the spaces transition into each other is artfully done–the experience of viewing recedes into mist just as memory allows places and experiences to blend and soften. There are very specific and painful histories lying just below the surface, but these snapshots and postcards see the world through a tourist’s idealized and apolitical lens, speaking not to specific places but to the melding of longing and familiarity that permeates the experience of ex-pats and wanderers.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Though with very different agendas, these two artists are addressing the ways we conceptualize and understand our relationship to the globe in its entirety. I want to be optimistic and claim that as we become more familiar with far away lands and people, we become more empathetic and have a larger sense of responsibility. But on the converse, the more information we have, the more overwhelming and hopeless things seem to feel. It is at the nexus of global responsibility, frustrated activism and instant gratification that Toyofuku’s performance makes sense.

So, just what can one person do, in one day, to have a positive impact on the planet?

Los Angeles

We Were Here

The first time I remember imbuing a rock with personal meaning, I was twelve or thirteen. The stone was grey-pink and diamond shaped and came from beside a stile in the Lake District. It was picked up and handed unceremoniously to me by the boy I was hiking with. Though an almost invisible gesture–and one that thoroughly confused me at the time–six months later we built up the courage to hold hands. As often happens, life got in the way of that romance, but I think I still have the rock somewhere.

Behind the adverts commanding heterosexual men to formalize their feelings with sparkly stones that are really labor intensive (and probably morally problematic) to procure, I think there is a long held instinct to give another person a little piece of the Earth. That rock is a reminder that we were here, together, for one tiny chip out of eternity.

***

Carmine Iannoccone's GravitySurfer Number 1. Found rock, paper and paint.

Carmine Iannoccone’s GravitySurfer Number 1. Found rock, paper and paint.

During the summer, a giant rock rolled into LA and took up its post at LACMA. Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass is intended to last for 30,000 years, standing to remind the post-apocalyptic residents of Southern California (which could one day be an island–just read the zine) of the larger forces, the expanse of art history, human mortality, and Michael Heizer’s genius.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, a much smaller rock arrived at a bookstore in LA’s Atwater village, in a gallery about twice the size of a shoe box.

Showbox LA exhibitions are small in scale, and last only a matter of hours. The organizers, artists Sophia Allison and Paul W. Evans, have created a venue which provides an alternative space and unique audience, but demands that artists address scale–not by making a miniature of what they would normally do, but thinking specifically about what they can accomplish in a table top setting. As no one can be inside the gallery itself, the crowd clusters around the edges and is forced into close proximity with each other and the artist. The exhibitions are almost performance pieces the artist is so much a part of the experience.

carmine_1

For I am the Gravity Surfer artist Carmine Iannaccone exhibited a rock and a portrait of that rock, separated by an abstract undulation of paper and paint. The  first person stance of the title lets you know right away that this show is intimate in its intentions. The objects in the exhibition used the microscope of Carmine’s process–scale shifts, layer building and careful observation–to draw the viewer’s attention to the forces of physics and geology.

carmine_5

I am The Gravity Surfer, a one day installation organized by Shoebox LA

Carmine’s portrait of the rock does what any good portrait does—renders that individual unique and reminds us to look more carefully at the real thing when we see it. Carmine clearly spent hours observing the original and lovingly paint-sculpting a representation—a fresh view of something so ubiquitous that I normally forget to notice it. Like a shell picked off the beach, it is transformed into a particular and given momentary meaning.

The accompanying Accordion Fold zine meticulously renders the data and design of the universe personal and intriguing; the earth moves, experience accumulates and trees tell tales. What does that mean? I encourage you to email Carmine at iannacco@usc.edu with your mailing address for a free copy, and all will become clear.

img007

Heizer’s big rock struck me as out of sync with the contemporary moment: though aesthetically appealing and thrilling for little kids (I watched a four-year-old girl run back and forth exclaiming “it’s just so big!”), the moment for machismo monuments came and went long before 2008’s financial collapse or 2012’s record high temperatures. I don’t think that I am alone in appreciating small scale art which gets me into conversation with my neighbors and asks me to think of myself as a surfer–someone momentarily riding the larger forces, completely present and listening, for just one small swell out of eternity.

The next Shoebox LA installation takes place on Saturday, December 15, from 4-7pm at Half Off Clothing Store in Los Feliz. I hope to see you there.

Los Angeles Short & Sweet

Forms & Flavors of Love

It is time for the obligatory post of thankfulness. So who better to talk about than Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin? These two artists may not be the first who come to mind when you gather around the table and think about your blessings—hopefully some combination of love, good health and family—but if I move deeper, towards the central theme of those blessings, I think that an open eyed appreciation of the physical body, the pleasures and pains it can bring and the connection it affords us, are actually the perfect themes for a thanksgiving. Today, I am thankful for daring artists, for troublemakers, for people who refused shame or false piety and intertwined visual and physical pleasure. This is art that makes me thankful to be alive, in all my flawed and messy glory.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Rose, NYC (Y Portfolio), 1977, Gelatin Silver Print. (c) The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Rose, NYC (Y Portfolio), 1977, Gelatin Silver Print. (c) The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Currently on display at LACMA are Mapplehorpe’s X,Y and Z Portfolios, hung staggered above one another, like lines of free verse. Augmenting the literary sense of the work, the photographs are displayed with their portfolio cases and the original writings that were published with them: poems by Patti Smith and Paul Schmidt, and an essay by Edmund White. In this installation, beyond marveling at his formal skills, I understood the depth of Mapplethorpe’s classicism and the continuity between his darkly sexual still lives, the fragility of the body engaged in S&M rituals and the well-loved surface and forms of the black male nudes. Each portfolio tells a compelling story of it’s own, but together they are a  revelation.

Jim

Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim, Sausilito. X Portfolio, 1977. Gelatin Silver Print. (c) The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

I am in Seattle for Thanksgiving, and have had the chance to visit the Seattle Art Museum’s survey show Elles:Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris which is accompanied by Elles:SAM, a major reinstallation of the museum’s own collections of modern and contemporary art that highlights the work of women artists. I’m going to save the feminist polemic for another day, but LA take note: your REI wearing sister to the north is ahead of you on this one.

Still from Heartbeat, 2000-2001 by Nan Goldin. Projection of 245 color slides in sequences of 4 plates accompanied by soundtrack of “Prayer of the Heart” by John Tavener, played by Björk and the Brodsky Quartet; duration 15’08″. Image courtesy of Seattle Art Museum and Centre Georges Pompidou.

Still from Heartbeat, 2000-2001 by Nan Goldin. Projection of 245 color slides in sequences of 4 plates accompanied by soundtrack of “Prayer of the Heart” by John Tavener, played by Björk and the Brodsky Quartet; duration 15’08″. Image courtesy of Seattle Art Museum and Centre Georges Pompidou.

Nan Goldin’s Heartbeat installation took me by surprise, not so much because it contains daringly explicit images of sex and nudity, but because I was so enraptured by a subject that, in the hands of a less sensitive photographer, could easily have been sleazy or dull. Bjork’s soundtrack seduced me into sitting down, but the unfolding stories of different couples kept me engaged. Without idealizing, air-brushing or simplifying, she shows the viewer the casual choreography of intimacy and the way people’s bodies and lives interlock. Yes, there is an aspect of voyeurism, but Goldin’s photos are a lesson in the forms and flavors of love–a lesson at least as old as Plato’s Symposium and still a relevant one. Especially at Thanksgiving.

Art Books Los Angeles

Join The Art Nerds, We Have Cookies

Hello Victims: Ad Reinhardt by Brian Kennon, 2005, edition of 100

Hello Victims: Ad Reinhardt by Brian Kennon, 2005, edition of 100

My ideal Saturday afternoon might involve unending cups of tea, a rotating selection of simple but gourmet cookies, interesting art, beautiful books and stimulating conversation. This weekend, For Your Art, the hole in the wall art gallery/project space that sits across the street from LACMA supplied all of these except the tea—though coffee and tequila were reasonable substitutes.

From 11am until 8pm the space hosted a series of presentations by artists, designers and curators on the topic of art books. For the three hours that I was present, the vibe was relaxed, with presentations lasting between 15 and 45 minutes. The arrival of a new type of cookie every hour—a premise which could have been overly twee or cloying–conjured the indulgence and intimacy of artists books while conveniently keeping the audience engaged through the constant injection of sugar.

Though a cousin of the zine movement, the artist book tends to be a labored, almost fetish level product and FYA’s event highlighted the attentiveness and commitment (dare I say obsession?) that fuels this particular brand of art practice. Having collaborated on a limited edition book last year, I was just as interested to learn more about the nuts and bolts of collaborative efforts, book design and distribution as I was to explore the content of the pieces presented.

Brian Kennon, the artist behind 2nd Cannons Publications, talked about a number of his own works as well as the books by others that he has produced. I appreciated his hijacking of the catalog format to make a case for Ad Reinhardt as a herald of the zombie apocalypse, and was intrigued by the mixture of scrapbooked history and art world memoir that he created with New York based curator Bob Nickas. The pages of Bob’s anecdotes range from an artist’s advice that “people in the art world are basically sociopaths” to his own description of a Robert Smithson collage: “the earthwork as sci-fi monster movie.”

Spread from Heliogabalus by William E. Jones. Published by 2nd Cannons in 2009, edition of 500.

Spread from Heliogabalus by William E. Jones. Published by 2nd Cannons in 2009, edition of 500.

Following Kennon, came a conversation between artist William E Jones and LACMA curator Rita Gonzalez. This was my first in-depth introduction to Jones who’s conceptual and experimental work explores marginalization, often specifically in reference to American gay subculture. He discussed his Tearoom project–a film and accompanying book that re-purposes footage of men having sex in a public toilet, that was shot surreptitiously by Ohio police in 1962—as well as his book of censored WPA negatives, his tribute to decadent Roman Emperor Heliogabalus which intersperses official portraits with adverts from 70s magazine After Dark, and his footnoted parody of academic writing. I plan to consume them all.

Among others, I missed Lisa Anne Auerbach’s talk, but I was happy to discover that her project Bookshelf–a meander of a book, dedicated to the personal relationships that book lovers build with their collections–is available for download on her website.

An excerpt (K after the description refers to her decision to keep the book):

City of Quartz by Mike Davis
This seminal book about Los Angeles came out just before I moved here. Dan gave me this hardcover copy on my birthday in 1991. The inscription reads, “Happy Birthday and thank you for coming with me.” This is the first book I’d ever read about Los Angeles, and a great introduction to the area. I’ve re-read various chapters since I’ve been here, and always find something new and amazing out about the city. K

The Cyclist’s Manifesto by Robert Hurst
My father got me this book, which is really sweet. I haven’t read it. The book is subtitled “The Case for Riding on Two Wheels instead of Four” and I’m not sure I need to read that case. I’m pretty much convinced already. K

The Business of Charity: The Woman’s Exchange Movement 1832-1900 by Kathleen Waters Sander
I had never heard about this chapter of women’s labor history until I found this book. I bought it somewhere east, either Baltimore or Philadelphia, I don’t remember which. Women’s exchanges were a venue for selling hand-crafted goods on consignment. K

I found myself reading through almost all 21 pages of book descriptions and ephemera collected from within their pages, compelled by curiosity and voyeurism to hear her thoughts, see what she has read, and compare my own mental notes. I don’t know Lisa Anne well, but I admire her work and I adopted my cat from her, so I am probably at just the right distance to devour her bite-size reviews. I don’t know if a complete stranger would be interested.

This event at FYA was a town hall meeting of the local art world nerds: people who slave away on books that will have tiny audiences and make negligible profits, at best.  So what is the appeal? As Lisa Anne’s book demonstrates, one strength of the artist’s book is that a limited edition or cheaply produced object only needs to appeal to an enthusiastic niche audience. I am drawn to the medium because art books are handheld art objects that get multiple private viewings. Making a book can enable an artist to write their own version of history or to engage in a form of institutional critique. To create and distribute a book doesn’t need approval from any higher power so the work can be irreverent, playful, pornographic, confusing, extremely personal–anything goes. The artist can have complete control.

I hope we see more events like this and that more artists explore the medium; it is fertile ground and there is plenty of room for newcomers.  Join the art nerds! We have cookies.

Los Angeles

Are you in the loop?

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Googy (Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery), 2012. Photo by Kohl King.

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Googy (Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery), 2012. Photo by Kohl King.

I’m not usually one for superlatives, but the first incarnation of The Loop Show, which took place at the Beacon Arts Building last fall, was one of the most exciting group shows I saw in 2011. Carefully thought out, the show not only had a strong conceptual through line, but also addressed the particularities of the space—women dressed in curator China Adams’ Trash Garments guided viewers up and down the stairs; a large collage of cigarette packets by Robert Larson reflected the stained concrete of the warehouse space; an undulating installation by Anne Heironymous flowed seamlessly into the warehouse architecture —and brought together a group of artists with unique and divergent aesthetics.

Having been rejuvenated and inspired by the first installment, I was truly excited to hear that the show was being re-staged, on a smaller scale, in Chinatown. The Small Loop Show features works by a selection of the same artists, but where the last show highlighted excess and had a freewheeling sense of possibility—the art pieces seemed as if they could actively climb the walls, consume the furniture and possess the whole space—this show addresses material waste in a more personal and introspective manner.

The Small Loop Show, Installation View. Photo by Kohl King

The Small Loop Show, Installation View. Photo by Kohl King

Before visiting the show I had dinner with a friend who is a recent transplant to LA. She summarized her initial impression of Angelino art as “rigorous decorative,” and I can’t think of a better starting place to describe this show. Like last time, the pieces were carefully chosen and create a satisfying flow of material, form, texture and color, allowing the eye to easily move between pieces and make immediate visual comparisons. Though all the pieces use recycled materials (hence the loop of the title) their approaches and internal logic vary widely. From the simple gesture of William Ransom’s wooden sculptures, to Nuttaphol Ma‘s subtly politicized spool, and the large friendly creature created by Elizabeth Higgins O’Connor, the show weaves effortlessly between playful and serious, elegant and goofy.

Neither my eye, nor my mind could settle for too long on any specific piece, but this is the nature of a group show; it is not about the individual pieces, but about building a conversation and, in this case, making critical and cultural space for hand crafted, carefully conceptualized, small foot-print work. Unlike the work from the New Museum’s influential Unmonumental Show, the work does not look like piles of junk, even on first glance, and transcends its “recycled materials” premise. These are beautiful  objects that just happen to be “ sustainable.”

Stephen McCabe, Long Horn Beetle, 2012 and Soft Wing Flower Beetle, 2012. Photo by Kohl King

Stephen McCabe, Long Horn Beetle, 2012 and Soft Wing Flower Beetle, 2012. Photo by Kohl King

The Loop Show does not for a second feel like a lecture or even a call to action—unless you count joyfully pondering as an action–but it surreptitiously criticizes the art world’s excesses. Adams has been working with found materials and confronting our culture’s materialism head on for a number of years. Was it a coincidence that this show opened the same weekend as the Art Platform Los Angeles art fair? Whether purposeful or not, viewing the two events on the same day certainly created a juxtaposition between the mostly slick and commercially viable work of the fair, and the pieces in this exhibition.  It is an irony of the art world that though many artists make do with less in the way of material goods, we actively create more stuff for other people to consume and may admire artwork that adds toxins to the air and junk to the landfills. I choose my toothbrush, shampoo, milk, and t-shirts based on how and where they are made–so why not ask that my art be eco-friendly also?

The artists that are in The Loop, casually capture this contemporary trend, and knowingly suggest that, far from being a limiting responsibility, using recycled materials is a creative opportunity and a possible pathway towards rigorously decorative work that is also socially relevant.

The Small Loop Show
The Fellows of Contemporary Arts
970 North Broadway Suite 208 . Los Angeles CA 90012
29 Sep 2012 – 24 Nov 2012.
Call (213) 808 1008 to inquire for gallery hours.

On Making Studio Visits

Scheherazade is Leaving the Building

Alex C Moore, Scheherazade, 2012

Alex C Moore, Scheherazade, 2012

I have been working on the same painting for all of 2012.

For some artists a slow birthing period is standard, but I usually move rapidly through canvases. The large amount of empty space in my paintings, though it had a concrete reason to begin with, is probably a symptom of my devolving attention span nuzzling up against my desires for silence and speed.

I named the painting Scheherazade before it was complete, which should have alerted me to the fact that it would drag on for a thousand and one painful days. Considered in a certain light, this unfinished/finished painting might be my most successful piece to date: it feels unresolved, yet it somehow holds together; I have only a tentative idea of why I made it but it continues to intrigue me. Like Scheherazade herself, it tantalizingly keeps my attention, without letting me kill it and move on.

In another light it is just plain confused.

But I can’t completely blame Scheherazade. During the 9 months that I have spent not painting this painting, life has gotten in the way and painting has felt less important. A couple of days into the piece, I received an email that my grandfather was sick. A week later he died and I headed to England for his funeral. That was February.

Two months later, I became a U.S. citizen. Rather than joining my fellow Americans in joyful plastic flag waving, I not-so-quietly sobbed through the ceremony. Most people looked somewhere between thrilled and bored.  I probably looked like I did at Grandpa’s funeral. After the ceremony, my fellow Americans swarmed out into the sun, to be greeted by proud family members with flowers in their arms. Feeling ungrateful and alone, I biked home.

In June I managed to come into the studio and worked on this piece for a number of hours. But what happened in July, August and September? In July I visited New York and talked a lot about both portraiture and painting, but returned to L.A. and didn’t do much of either. In August a lovely muse of mine posed patiently for photographs meant to inform a new piece, but I can’t quite get excited about editing them. In September….nothing much.

Pinned to my studio wall during my long absence was a piece of paper with two typed quotes:

Dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom.–Lorrie Moore, Dance in America

Art is a method of opening up areas of feeling…A picture should be a recreation of an event rather than an illustration of an object.–Francis Bacon

At a time when some people would have found refuge in the studio, I am avoiding it. I am aware that if art making is my “job”, I should just be showing up every day and making it happen. But as much as artists like to emphasize that our job is very serious and real, I am going to publicly admit that it isn’t the same as showing up at the office. Art practices come in all shapes and sizes, varying from the traditional solitary figure in the messy attic  to the “post-studio” network of collaborators, with an array of hybrids in between. My focus has tended towards painting alone, with occasional forays into collaboration. Most of my paintings are personal and they are at their best when they are honest.

Maybe I’ve just had enough of honest alone time.

Scheharazade is a confused painting. If one thing is certain, it is that I am confused. So the painting that looks like a nice young lady doing yoga got stuck in a tumble drier and then hung from the ceiling, is probably the most honest painting I could make right now.

Perhaps I will stride my way back into an active relationship with my paint brushes, but I’m also ok if I don’t–if it turns out that other methods and mediums are a better way to get at the world beyond my own boundaries and feed my curiosity. Either way, this painting needs to get out of my studio, so i’m sending her off into cyberspace.

Hopefully  that will open up the space I need for something new to happen.

Art Books On Viewing

A Beautiful Thought Machine: Some Notes on Art Viewing

Cézanne,_Paul_-_Still_Life_with_a_Curtain

Written in 1936, A life of One’s Own by Joanna Fields is a lovely, introspective piece of nonfiction, in which the author tries to observe the workings of her own mind so as to better understand herself and what will make her happy. In one passage she reflects upon the effects of passive thought processes, noting that it is when she stops trying to have meaningful, important or useful thoughts that her mind becomes open to aesthetic experiences. She cites an instance in an art museum, coming upon a Cezanne still-life.

Being tired, restless, and distracted by the stream of bored Sunday afternoon sightseers drifting through the galleries, I simply sat and looked, too inert to remember whether I ought to like it or not. Slowly then I became aware that something was pulling me out of my vacant stare and the colors were coming alive. Gradually a great delight filled me…

Rather than checking the Cezanne off the list of things one should have seen, or focusing so intently on it that she starts to doubt her own opinions, her mind let’s go. Her sentiments reminded me of my jetlagged stroll through the Centre Pompidou, or my state of relaxed engagement drifting through Hockney’s A Bigger Picture. Though many philosophers have tackled the question of aesthetic experience, rarely have I read a clearer—or more honest–description of a viewer’s struggle to appreciate a work of art. The idea that there is something specific in a particular piece that one “ought” to like, sometimes gets in the way of actually experiencing it.

What Fields calls passivity is similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls flow, a state of brain function where one is fully and unselfconsciously engaged in an activity. In his book on the topic,  Csikszentmihaly often uses artistic production as an example of flow because it takes a high level of skill and concentration, but he only lightly touches on how art can produce flow in the viewer. When he does mention it, he goes into more depth discussing the response of specialists. As one arts professional puts it:

[Works of art] that I personally respond to…have behind them a lot of conceptual, political and intellectual activity…the visual representations are really signposts to this beautiful machine that has been constructed, unique on the earth, and is not just a rehashing of visual elements, but is really a new thought machine…”

I love this description of successful art as a thought machine that generates ideas in the viewer. However, for the untrained viewer of visual art, to whom the mixture of historical, technical and theoretical concerns in a contemporary art piece may not be apparent, the thought of “I don’t get it” can shut down the possibility for a receptive enjoyment and for playful thought processes.

I am not advocating for the making of simpler art that will be easily accessible to a broader public–different art appeals to different audiences–but I do think it is worthwhile to consider how people experience visual artworks. The receptive and delighted viewing described by Fields is a state which can be achieved through avenues other than jetlag and exhaustion, and a thought machine can generate ideas in anyone’s head. But those processes need to be discussed and cultivated if we want to build a society which values art viewing for its own sake.

Fields, J. (1936. Reprint published 1981). A Life of One’s Own. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins.

Los Angeles

California Dreamin’

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011 (c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011
(c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

If this blog was started to dispel the myth of the Angelino artist as a bright, breezy, color-driven painter, then LACMA’s The Sun and Other Stars is the perfect show for me to discuss. The unsettling exhibition brings together the work of Katy Grannan and Charlie White, two California based artists who explore the often conflicting desires for individuality, conformity, and celebrity in American identity.

In Katy Grannan’s photographs, the harsh sun and white stucco walls illuminate drifters lurking in back lots and on city sidewalks.  A woman holding a plastic lunchbox snaps a photo on her iphone as her black hoody and skirt (seemingly out of place in this stark light) whip in the wind. A Marilyn Monroe lookalike grimaces with fatigue and regret–a companion image to Richard Avedon’s mesmerizing photograph of the original.

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous San Francisco, 2009/printed 2011 (c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Both images: Katy Grannan, Anonymous San Francisco, 2009/printed 2011
(c) Katy Grinnan, Fraenkel Gallery San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

This is the dark side of Hollywood and west coast pioneering, away from the beach, the billboards and the success stories. But the photographs are classically composed and richly detailed, giving weight and reverence to the figures, and allowing the images to avoid being grotesque. The repeated title of Anonymous, drives home the obscurity of these individuals in relationship to the world of glamour and fame that they shadow, but it also draws attention to their refusal to be easily understood or encapsulated.

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print. LACMA, (c) Charlie White

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print.
LACMA, (c) Charlie White

In contrast to Grinnan’s ragtag group, the adolescent girls in Charlie White’s series of casting call photographs passively fulfill the photographer’s request for white, blonde, and slender blandness. Through these photos, White powerfully critiques America’s tyrannical lust for an empty ideal, and the resulting images are profoundly bleak. I wholeheartedly agree with White’s disgust at “all-American” or “valley girl” culture, but his cold and calculating use of these young women leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Also included in the exhibition is a television showing White’s animated series A Life in BTween. The series satirizes “tween” culture –texting, malls and gossiping—to such an extent that the combination of the animation and the photos feels cruel and reductive. At what point does this go too far? By creating these images is White participating and further trivializing teen girls?

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print. LACMA, (c) Charlie White

Charlie White, Portrait Image from Casting Call, 2010, Pigment Print.
LACMA, (c) Charlie White

This vision of adolescence was particularly striking considering my recent encounter with Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs, and one of Dijkstra’s young bathers, Hel, is currently installed at LACMA just around the corner from White’s “tweens.” Unlike the tweens, Hel is photographed with tender respect and treated as an agent in her own right. It is hard to envision a photographer in Los Angeles making similarly earnest images.

In contrast to the world White captures, Grinnan’s harsh reality seems almost liberating–better to flounder towards the unconventional than to accept life as a cardboard cutout.

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.