Selections from In Search of the Truth: The Truth Booth by artists and members of Cause Collective: Hank Willis Thomas, Jim Ricks and Ryan Alexiev.
Photographer Andy Freeberg on capturing the comical ironies of art fairs, the fashion choices of the female guards in Russian museums, and the heads of white cube receptionists in Chelsea.
The images came first and there was something uncanny about what I was seeing: female Russian museum guards, who looked oddly like the work they were protecting. Was it a set up? Was it some kind of ironic play on art and life? No, better yet—it began accidentally as artist Andy Freeberg wandered the Hermitage, lamenting a loftier photographic project that didn’t work out. Freeberg printed the first set of images from what became known as Guardians and took them to Houston’s FotoFest where Evgeny Berezner of the Russian Federation’s State Center for Museums saw the images and invited Freeberg back to Moscow, this time with official access. He returned to Russia, noticing that while, “summer has better light, winter has better outfits.”
There is a richness to Freeberg’s prints, a kind of simple beauty—they are artful and resonant without seeming contrived—and they have the freshness of the accidental, the thing happened upon. He sees us as we are, catching us off guard, delivering us back to ourselves with unexpected irony and a sense of exposure. I called Freeberg in San Francisco where he lives because I wanted to know more.
A.M. Homes: Who is Andy Freeberg? And where did he come from?
Andy Freeberg Well, I was born in New York and grew up in New Rochelle. I had started doing photography in high school, and when I went to the University of Michigan I decided to join the student-run daily newspaper there. I had photographed a lot of jazz musicians and another student photographer talked our way into being the official photographers at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. So at age 20 we’re over there and we got to photograph some great musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, and B.B. King. I also got to photograph authors and scientists, all of which was so much more interesting than sitting in a classroom and reading about it.
David Antonio Cruz talks about his journey from performance to painting and his new opera, TAKEABITE.
I met Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist David Antonio Cruz a couple of years ago when he presented a series of candy-colored paintings exploring myth, magic, and possibility called flybabyboyfly. His ability to fuse video, costume construction, performance, and painting to explore and redefine queerness, diasporic, psychological and ever-shifting unnamed spaces is impressive. This month, he will take his practice to a new level by participating in Performa 13, the performance art biennial held in New York. Cruz and I met recently over coffee to talk about transforming the multi-media work TAKEABITE, elduendealwaystravelslight into a grand opera.
Lee Ann Norman How long have you been in the city?
David Antonio Cruz I grew up in Philadelphia. I moved to New York almost 20 years ago to attend Pratt—I knew I wanted to stay in New York. After I finished, I started to teach because I knew I needed to survive. (laughter)
LAN Yeah, that’s the way it works out sometimes . . .
Colm Tóibín and Miquel Barceló on Walt Disney, looking like animals and when painting is better than real life.
Miquel Barceló was in New York in October for the opening of an exhibition of new paintings at the Acquavella Galleries. One of the upstairs rooms contained portraits he had done using bleach, including a portrait he had done of me in his studio in Mallorca in the summer of 2011. The other galleries contained new work using the color white. On the day after the opening I met him downtown to talk about his work.
Colm Tóibín In The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Hans Castorp sees an X-ray of himself for the first time, and it’s almost erotic, he sees what really his soul or his body, what the x-ray has done. There’s something about your recent paintings that have that element of looking at X-Rays. Could you tell me technically how the paintings are made?
Miquel Barceló It’s bleached canvas. In the beginning, I used black paper or board and bleach and a little bit with white chalk.
Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman on liberation through collaboration, the needs of a picture, and the pros and cons of paint.
Far past midnight, hurried through the shuttered airport, I dipped from an off-ramp into a starlit residential block and then onto a property where an assortment of tin-roofed shacks, trailer homes, and tree-stump chairs faced one another. There was a Calagarian outhouse built on a deep skew like the prow of a ship and a stocked refrigerator en plein air. I was in Texas, at the Monofonus Compound—a multipurpose arts grotto in the loamy neighborhood of east Austin. I came to watch artists Mike Ricioppo and Drew Liverman paint collaboratively, trading turns with every mark as if they were one person with two syncopated right hands. Their pictures are direct, boisterous, and often randy.
Here at the compound grounds, the action always takes place at night and with a half dozen owlish spectators attending as an audience in the dark. The large canvases are lit up dramatically, like movie screens or theatre backdrops, and Ricioppo and Liverman occupy what feels like the studio’s proscenium. They cavort in equal measure with concentrated work—alternating between flourishes and pratfalls, between first and second fiddle. Too early in the morning after a long night of painting, I had the pleasure of forcing them to wake up and speak with me.
A selection from husband and wife team Hillerbrand+Magsamen’s House/Hold series (2011-12), plus a video excerpt of Family Portrait (2012).
Martha Rosler on the Garage Sale, plights of modern workers, and her college days in California.
Martha Rosler is known for her incisive social critique—her writing, mixed-media work, and photography have been widely esteemed since the 1970s. Rosler and I met at her alumni reception at the University of California at San Diego, where she gave an artists’ talk as part of curator Michelle Hyun’s discussion-based project We’d Love Your Company.
Martha Rosler Population flows constitute one of the most significant issues of our time. For many years I have explored the seeming paradox of movement and migration—those in society’s upper echelons travel the globe in freely accessible movements made universally visible through advertisement. Conversely, travel by the poor is demonized yet is structurally necessary, and is both regulated and, often, legally prohibited. The global economic system relies on migrants but this work force is prohibited more and more from safe transit.
James Eischen How does this dichotomy play out in your current work?
Maier and Day Jackson reflect on their most recent large-scale projects and on their shared interest in territory and space exploration.
Matthew Day Jackson We are having a conversation about our recent exhibitions. Yours:
Ati Maier The Map is Not the Territory at both Pierogi gallery and The Boiler in Williamsburg.
MDJ My show is called Something Ancient. Something New. Something Stolen. Something Blue. At Hauser & Wirth on 18th Street. There are a lot of recurring themes in our exhibitions, right?
AM Yes. We want to talk about those themes. The title of your exhibition, does it have something to do with marriage?
Pablo Helguera on his love of used books, dying languages and his use of poetic license.
Themes of language, translation, and polyphonic voice are prevalent in the conceptual and socially engaged art practice of Pablo Helguera, particularly his projects The School of Panamerican Unrest and Librería Donceles, which is on view at Kent Fine Art through November 8, 2013.
Kathleen MacQueen Can you tell me about the Librería Donceles and how it came about?
Pablo Helguera Librería Donceles has autobiographical origins. I grew up surrounded by books; there is a certain comfort in being surrounded by walls of books that I cannot fully describe. There is a Borgesian fascination with the labyrinth of books and the imaginary conversations that one has with different tomes—a dialogue through the ages—but to me, books are inextricably linked to those who have owned them.
A selection of photographs and videos from June Kim’s Wolf series, 2009-2012.
A.K. Burns on the queer body, slipping between forms, American fetishes, and becoming a cyborg.
A.K. Burns is a New York-based, multidisciplinary artist employing a vivid combination of sculpture, video and more in an exploration of the gendered body as rooted in queer and feminist politics. With Burns’s prolific practice, the work produced therein is best spoken for in the voice of the artist. That said, on the occasion of Burns’s most recent solo show—a powerful exhibition on view at Callicoon Fine Arts, aptly dubbed Ending with a Fugue—we sat down to discuss creative beginnings, the culture of American fetish, and the new media currency of the cyborg-as-geopolitic.
Andrea Ray speaks to Matthew Buckingham about 19th century sexual freedom, the caring economy and her recent exhibition, Utopians Dance.
I met Andrea Ray in the autumn of 1996 when we were both students at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. Over the years we’ve remained close friends, sharing studios, reading groups, and teaching venues. I was always intrigued by how A.Ray invited viewers to investigate her installation works in ways a scientist or a doctor might. At the end of that year together at the ISP A.Ray showed her installation Architecture of Resistance in which visitors used stethoscopes to listen to murmuring and breathing translucent walls. This was the beginning of a series of projects in which A.Ray dealt with environmental illness, both metaphoric and literal. These works were structured so that the process of investigating them led viewers to discover and identify with human subjects who were unwilling or unable to assimilate to their environments. A.Ray used these characters, caught between their own psychology and physiology, to spin narratives that question our whole relation to the built environment and the economies that support them—monetary or otherwise. Subsequent works have continued to use sound as a hinge between narrative fiction and real bodies in real space while expanding into questions of social and political self-discovery. Her exhibition, Utopians Dance at Open Source in South Slope, Brooklyn, this past spring comprised an ensemble of works that employed light, video, sound, hand-bound books, photographs and other objects. We got together during the last week of the show to talk about the work.
Matthew Buckingham The thing that struck me, walking up to your show Utopians Dance, and seeing the quote-unquote “empty” space, a very brightly-lit room that opens directly out onto the street, was that I had to put back together, in my imagination, what it once was—a parking garage—and then seeing how you had transformed it, or what had happened, and what was part of the project versus the original space. The atmosphere of the opening and people socializing there, which was seamless with the work, told me something about how to look at the work. And I felt like that carried through everything, a kind of deliberate absent center, that wasn’t melancholic, but instead was a way of both putting the viewers onstage and making the viewers see themselves on that stage.
Yisrael K. Feldsott on the river in all of us, spiritual medicine and living with Hell’s Angels.
Yisrael K. Feldsott has been painting and making art for almost five decades. In his early twenties, he exhibited his work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, just part of of his notable, mythological journey. When Peter Selz, the well-known art historian and former curator of SFMOMA, viewed Feldsott’s work for the first time, he said the work simply stunned him with “its vitality, the spontaneous sense of ordered chaos, and the artistic quality.” He contacted Robert C. Morgan, an esteemed art critic and art historian, to view Feldsott’s work and write the introduction for the exhibit Cries, Chants, Shouts & Whispers: Songs of the Forgotten. Morgan interviewed Feldsott again recently, as preparations were underway for a second opening of his show in New York City.
–Bonnie Lou Feld
Robert C. Morgan We have talked about conflict and bloodshed several times during our conversations, and as you’ve said, there has always been a war during your lifetime somewhere. What kind of appeal are you trying to make to the audience in your paintings that deals with war subjects, or subjects of people being humiliated, tortured, and so forth?
Yisrael K. Feldsott It is interesting that you ask that, because somebody at my last art opening asked if I was a political artist, and the question stopped me for a moment. I really paused and thought about it. My response is that I don’t feel that I’m a political artist. I sense that I’m painting from some mysterious level of my own humanity and the outrage that I feel in relationship to violence, disagreement, or conflicts in the world is juxtaposed with the quality of cruelty, vengeance, and the need to destroy another people, another tradition, and another culture. These are really the issues that have galvanized me.
Painter Scott Olson on stumbling upon materials, the Ohio art scene, and the importance of frames.
The density and intricacy of Scott Olson’s work can be attributed to his meticulous attention to material as well as his overall commitment to the debris of abstraction lingering in contemporary art today. Olson’s skills find congruity between hand-crafted and sleek aesthetics, exemplified by the work’s surface polish. Olson meticulously fluctuates between the permanence in frame construction and the levity of pigment mineralization, building up the surface of his works through the mixture of marble dust and rabbit glue. His work incorporates the legacy of such artists as Kupka and Chagall, allowing him to create an abstract lyricism between color and form.
Veronika Vogler You used to live in Brooklyn and have recently moved to a more intimate location in Ohio. Do you feel that you have to be in certain environment to create your work?
Scott Olson I wouldn’t say that I have to be in a specific environment. My environment affects me a lot, of course. I loved the camaraderie of having my studio in Brooklyn, but also love watching the sun cast shadows across the enormous white barrels of the grain elevator we have in Kent along the river and the railroad track. I feel very adaptable to any environment. Technically, painting isn’t very portable unless you are looking at the tradition of plein air, and my movements are like those of a landscape painter. I’ve pared down my studio so it fits in two small boxes, including my complete set of paints. I use very little paint so some of my colors have been travelling with me for several years- they seem almost endless. I move my studio every summer to the coast of Maine, very far north. I cannot help but be affected by the changing light at any time of day. The tidal estuaries make it feel like the landscape is dramatically shifting in constant intervals, almost heaving up and down.
VV There has definitely been a shift toward sleekness within the parameters of art and design that seems to want to eliminate “clutter” while at the same time relying on locally sourced materials. Your frames are often sourced using local wood and your pigments are mixed with local soil. It appears your work is impacted by your surroundings in a very direct way.
Ian Cheng on moral codes, the prescience of George Lucas and making an art world version of Angry Birds.
I first met Ian through our work at Badlands Unlimited, Paul Chan’s art/ebook/whatever publishing company. There, we bonded over our shared love for Kanye West, sardines, and over-the-top summer blockbusters. I suppose it makes sense, then, that his latest works Abax Siluria and Entropy Wrangler seem to take place as action scenes in metaphorical fish tanks. Imbued with his wit and a particular brand of Californian irreverence, these pieces are comical and deeply uncomfortable, often at the same time. His background in cognitive science serves to activate his objects, both physical and digital, with an energy as visceral as it is conceptual. Ian and I recently met at Whole Foods to talk about his recent projects, the importance of what he calls “social realities,” and Angry Birds: Rio.
Dylan Kerr I loved your swamp at PS1. Does it have a title?
Ian Cheng Abax Siluria.
DK Do you mind if I ask what that means?
IC Abax is a sand table, which in ancient times was a format for simulating the topography of the battleground in miniature and using proxy objects to model complex military scenarios. Siluria refers to the Silurian era in Earth’s history right before biological organisms got onto land, when they’re all kind of stewing in the water. It’s also the name of a petro-tech company catalyzing the mutation of actual shit, trash and decay into useful chemical products.
A selection of images from painter Erik Benson’s newest series, Sleep Walking, as well as stop-motion video showing a painting in progress.
Polish artist Karczmarczyk on desire in a post-Communist country, why the Catholic church needs modern art and being mistaken for Lady Gaga.
After seeing Ada Karczmarczyk’s work on the website of the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, I was enticed (if not seduced) to know more about the colorful imagery that illustrates her spiritual journey. At the heart of this quest, as she so adamantly discusses in this interview, is the search for deeper meaning in a world dominated by superficial desires. Much of her work is a reinvention of centuries-old Christian motifs, ones that are now canonical in the history of art, which she uses to attract the attention of viewers who may otherwise be idling away on their smartphones. She is not prostelytizing, but rather creating “attractive bait” that conveys the “important messages connected to the Gospels.” In a long email exchange over the course of two months, Karczmarczyk explained her work in the recent exhibition Testimony (at CCA), the road to conversion, the role of religion in today’s society, and how others have interpreted (and often misinterpreted) her message.
Harry Weil In a brief explanatory text for Testimony, the curator Monika Szewczyk asked if the Catholic Church needs modern art, and if so, for what purpose? What do you think the church would do with modern art?
Ada Karczmarczyk Modern art would be much more appealing to a wider audience and not evoke such negative feelings. It is the mission of the Church to sustain and disseminate the Christian faith, but the problem is that the manner in which it wishes to reach the potential contemporary recipient is not a very effective one. The mentality of our times has changed so much that, in order to encourage someone who is young to believe and deepen his or her faith, it is not sufficient to use traditional methods.
In order to understand the most important notions in this religion, one ought to, first and foremost, activate their faculty of abstract thinking. The first associations that young people have with Catholicism are often statues of saints with funny halos, nails in hands, and a woman in a blue shawl. In order to understand certain transcendent matters, one ought to be able to imagine them. Illustrating motifs from the Bible are important, but what is needed is a new way to visually convey them, a way that is closer to the minds of young people. Think of the films on YouTube, where, when you hear or see suffering or pain, you can automatically escape by turning off your computer. For that very reason, my proposal of accessible and colorful aesthetics for sacred art in Testimony is a model of “attractive bait,” which is to make young people interested in faith, while simultaneously conveying the most important messages connected with the Gospel and the ethics disseminated by the Church.
Sound artist Christine Sun Kim and multidisciplinary artist Thomas Benno Mader collaborate on Recording Contract, documenting the audio signals as a digital recorder travelled from Berlin to New York. After the file arrived in New York, Kim—who is deaf—edited the piece. See their contract and listen to excerpts from the project as well as the full 24 hour version exclusively on BOMB.
Alex Zafiris meets with Ian Szydlowski of Chilean art collective Instituto Divoriciado to discuss their new multimedia work, Love and Other Hallucinations.
Instituto Divorciado creates work based on exchange and transformation, with ideas that observe group thinking rather than the individual. Love & Other Hallucinations, a piece that examines art and life as one and the same, began as a single word, “mother,” and was leveraged into the atmosphere via performance (both in New York and in Mexico), live and pre-recorded radio, vintage and new film footage, food, stories of the supernatural, silk screens, plastic sculptures, indigenous holy rituals, peyote, an unpublished novel, and dreams. The work unfolded, and continues, through a series of exhibits and events. Sound, colors and taste act as directives, and experience is the story. Feeling replaces narrative, and this expands through the artists, the audience, friends, families, and now, you the reader. In their hands, art is community. The three members of the collective are Diego Fernandez, Iván Navarro and Ian Szydlowski. Fernandez and Navarro were born and raised in Santiago, Chile, while Szydlowski was born in New York to Chilean parents, moving back to his hometown capital in 1989. They became friends while attending the city’s Pontificia Universidad Católica art school in the 1990s, when the country was still blinking in the light after years of suppression, fear and violence under Pinochet’s dictatorship. By 2000, all three had moved to New York to pursue lives as artists, encountering varying and fluctuating levels of success. In response to these tides, they founded the collective to produce work unconnected to the art system.
Early last year, Karin Schneider of Cage invited them to produce a project. The second-level Chinatown space is a hub for discussion and alternative art practice, rejecting art market codes as we know them, thereby producing work and events free from the stressful restrictions that accompany such an unpredictable and emotional career. Beginning in November last year, and still continuing, Love & Other Hallucinations has held sessions both at Cage and in their Williamsburg studio; in Mexico with the Huichol (an indigenous Mexican tribe who still live by a mystical logic that pervades their every thought and action, deeply in tune with the earth and the elements, unchanged for centuries); and discussion with artists, critics, curators who have entered their sphere through curiosity, friendship and instinct. The work developed with the intent to examine how meaning and connection arise collectively, how it grows into public consciousness, and evolves into the cultures and systems of modern life.
Alex Zafiris For me, the most important part of this piece is your belief in primal thinking.
Ian Szydlowski Yes. It wasn’t absolutely clear when we set out. Then we realized that this primacy was around storytelling. It became a part of our belief in redemptive values of art practice, and also a central rite to the role of the artist in human societies throughout the centuries.
AZ What was your original intent?
IS We were working in collaboration with Cage, looking for ways to explore new formats. The idea of the mother was central, as was building a discussion-based working language that might help bridge a long-term social and cultural engagement with the Wirrarika (Huichol) tribe in Mexico. Cage’s focus is on future formats, with a clear guiding principle to eradicate, or at the very least, to skirt existing dominant ideologies and power in art presentation. We wanted to learn about alternative models, and bring these ideas into our community.
BURNAWAY Magazine’s Rachel Reese visits Steven L. Anderson’s studio to discuss the Deleuzian escape nature offers, and the ethical guidelines to channeling power through art.
Steven L. Anderson wants to both fight against and harness power. He recently relocated to Atlanta from LA, and brings his West Coast “woo-woo” and ideologies into a new Southern context. Anderson’s first institutional solo exhibition, Energy Strategies, opens at the Atlanta Contemporary Center next month. We met in his studio to talk about leftist leanings, the line between art and activism, starting new religions, working with or against the establishment, and Anderson’s spirit plant, the Agave americana.
Rachel Reese You recently moved here to Atlanta from LA, and before that you were in Chicago?
Steven L. Anderson We were in LA for 11 years and Chicago before that. . .
RR So what brought you to LA from Chicago?
SLA In Chicago, I was a part of a magazine called Cakewalk with my wife Liz Anderson and our friends from that whole scene. That’s the thing about Chicago, people just get up and move and they go to the coasts. Two of the founders moved to LA—Mari Eastman, and then Karl Erickson went go to Cal Arts, and Gretchen Larsen came with him. So we eventually followed.
We did three [Cakewalk] issues in Chicago and three issues in LA.
RR And it is an arts publication, with reviews, interviews and the like?
Video artist Michelle Handelman talks about her newest works: Irma Vep, The Last Breath and Dorian, A Cinematic Perfume.
Artist Tia-Simone Gardner and Dr. Jeffreen Hayes of the Birmingham Museum of Art discuss the museum’s contribution to the 50 Years Forward campaign, marking the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
It is difficult to talk about “The ‘60s” without thinking both globally and locally. Every continent, every space, rippled with social, political, and economic waves of discord. In the United States, sites of political struggle emerged in every habitable space the country had to offer. Although Birmingham, Alabama was only one such space that seeded this struggle, it became, and remains “imprisoned in the luminous glare” of black and white images, nostalgic of violence and trauma. September 15, 2013 marks fifty years since the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and to commemorate it, the city of Birmingham has launched the 50 Years Forward campaign, a citywide collaboration between cultural institutions to dedicate time and space to reflecting on Civil Rights history. I spoke with Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow of African American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA), about what the museum has planned for this year. In our interview we talked about the role of cultural institutions in places like Birmingham and how they facilitate, or mediate, the public’s engagement with collective histories.
Tia-Simone Gardner Could you tell me a bit about the 50 Years Forward campaign? And did you know you’d be working on it when you came into the museum as a Mellon fellow?
Jeffreen Hayes 50 Years Forward is the City of Birmingham’s theme and the museum’s tagline is “Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward.” With the conversation about the commemoration, the museum wanted art at the center in its space. The city is dealing with Civil Rights history; we (BMA) are dealing with issues of race, racism, and segregation, too. The challenge was, How does the institution contribute to the dialogue about these issues of the 1950s and 1960s, and incorporate it into what it already does? The museum is not the Civil Rights Institute and certainly not trying to infringe on the Institute. Art is our focus. The kind of art that will be presented will spark conversation; this is why “Art Speaks” is the overarching theme for the series of exhibitions and performances. It also links to the museum’s mission of wanting its audience to personally connect to art but also fostering dialogue.
During my interview for the position, I was told about the commemoration. The museum wanted to do something major, perhaps an exhibition. One idea was an exhibition using the permanent collection because, one of the Collection’s concentrations is Civil Rights history. I knew organizing a show would be part of my responsibility. With the position, I had a lot of freedom in what kinds of shows and African American art program I could develop.
TG Thelma Golden, in a TED talk, spoke about Harlem being a place that is a real place, but is often thought of as a space. That it is often thought of as the past or the future—what it was, or what it could be. And I think something similar happens with Birmingham. I wonder about your joining the museum at such a critical moment—could you talk about how you have come to see Birmingham as real place, or idea, or a history?
A selection of images, some shown here for the first time, from photographer Mike Brodie’s series A Period of Juvenile Prosperity (2006-2009). A former teenage runaway himself, Brodie captures the adventurous spirit and difficult existence of his fellow freight train hoppers.
Strachan discusses his installation, Polar Eclipse, which represented the Bahamas in its first participation at the 55th International Venice Biennale.
Tavares Strachan’s affecting, sublime work at the Bahamas pavilion proved to be a formidable success at this year’s 55th International Venice Biennale. Polar Eclipse prompts the viewer’s immediate visceral reactions to the artist’s subtle treatment of a reenactment of a historic narrative: the 1909 polar expedition of Robert Peary and Matthew Alexander Henson. The latter was an African-American explorer, said to be the first to reach North Pole. Strachan explores displacement and narrative shifts in both geographical travels and historical stories, gently leading viewers to simultaneously feel belonging and alienation. For the piece, Strachan installed fictional documentation of his chosen story, including two large blocks of ice from the North Pole in display cases, spacesuits, a neon sign which reads “You are Here,” and “We Belong Here,” and forty Bahamian schoolchildren singing an Inuit song. Through engaging his own native Nassau community, an American historical event and an Inuit song on an Italian—yet international—cultural platform, Strachan drew attention to a particular transcultural code and globalized culture to which we indeed all belong.
Jovana Stokić How happy are you with your Venetian experience?
Tavares Strachan My team and I were there for six weeks, and we tried our best to become a part of the community. It was entertaining, to say the least.
JS Entertaining? Before we began today, you mentioned altruism.
TS Yeah. I guess my altruism has more to do with rigor than it has to do with a sense of generosity. People should think about things a little more. People like to generalize, and there’s a lot of miscommunication when they do. I like that. Your own agenda sometimes can be confused: Whether you’re doing something for reasons that you think are. When you become rigorous, you maybe think about those things, and perhaps you don’t do those things for the reasons you thought you were doing them. This is why it is more about rigor than it is a sense of exchange, or generosity, or giving. I mean, maybe those things come down the line, but first you have to ask yourself those difficult questions.
Painter (and Psychedelic Furs frontman) Richard Butler on Warhol, passing ‘the bedroom test” and why his daughter is his muse.
For music fans of a certain age, the band the Psychedelic Furs conjures up images of a poetic insouciance backed up by an acerbic edge. A lot of its personality came from the front man, singer and lyricist Richard Butler. With a voice by turns raspy and romantic and a penchant for the telling line, Butler shaped an identity for the band that persists today, as the group continues to perform after more than thirty years. But like many famous rockers, from Keith Richards and Roger Waters to Tupac Shakur and Lady Gaga, Butler began making music in art school, and art was a passion that never went away. He studied art in the 1970s at the Epsom School of Art and Design in Surrey, England and, influenced by Andy Warhol’s work, concentrated on printmaking. Initial success with the band demanded that his interest in art take a back seat for more than a decade, but he resumed painting in the 1990s and intensified his work after his daughter, Maggie Mozart Butler, was born in 1997. She has become his primary subject. In two recent exhibitions in New York at the Chelsea gallery Freight and Volume (2011 and 2013), Butler has demonstrated a fascination for the portrait, an almost classical restraint in rendering, and a willingness to bend expectations with unsettling motifs, from false noses to rubber Mickey Mouse ears. Butler is that very rare individual who has managed to excel in music and in art. During the run of his most recent exhibition, ahatfulofrain, I asked him about his unusual career and its connections.
Lyle Rexer In the mid-1970s you were just leaving art school. I had spent a year at Oxford at about that time, and I well remember my visits to London, how much they clashed with my wild expectations of “Mods and Rockers.” In reality, England—and London especially—was still a post-war world, with coins for the gas and war widows with their candles in Westminster Abbey. And it was so drab. What was England like for you at that time, when you were just beginning to make music and make art?
Richard Butler It was changing dramatically. Art school was typically hippies when I started. Then the New York Dolls came along, and David Bowie and Roxy Music, and it was a sea change into Glam Rock. I cut my hair and shaved my eyebrows. . .
Two excerpts from performance artist Amber Hawk Swanson’s work surrounding Amber Doll, a life-like sex doll commissioned in her likeness. Amber and Doll enjoyed a six-year long romantic relationship and artistic collaboration. They disrupted wedding receptions, roller-skating rinks, football tailgating parties, theme parks, and adult industry conventions. In the resulting series, Amber Doll Project (2006-11) ideas surrounding agency and objectification are questioned, as are ideas about the success or failure of negotiating power through one’s own participation in a cultural narrative that declares women as objects.
In 2011, Hawk Swanson transformed Amber Doll’s body into a replica of the bull orca Tilikum, who lives in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando and has been involved in the deaths of three people. Now that Amber Doll has been transformed from female to whale, Amber Hawk Swanson is commissioning five more Amber Dolls in her current likeness. By studying the Google analytics from her website, as well as the IP addresses of people who have emailed her over the years, Hawk Swanson will determine the countries where the most “interesting interest” has come from. She’ll then take applications from people in the five countries that she determines should receive dolls and choose five “winners” who will own Amber Doll for a year.
Daria Irincheeva, the former director of Family Business in Chelsea, on post-Soviet disillusionment and why New York isn’t the best place for experimentation.
Throughout 2012, Daria Irincheeva was the director of Family Business, Maurizio Cattelan and Massimiliano Gioni’s ephemeral storefront art space that was wedged into a crevice smack in the middle of Chelsea. She was 25 and had only recently moved from Russia, via France, to attend The School of Visual Arts. Having cut straight into the heart of the New York gallery scene at a pretty remarkable pace, she’s continued to engage with communities outside of the art world’s ostensible center.
Irincheeva’s current exhibition, Almost Aqua, recently opened at Wilson Project Space in Sassari, Italy. The act of moving—as reflected in this conscious step away from an art mecca to a relatively remote Italian island—is integral to her work. She takes reflections on her socioeconomically dysfunctional post-Soviet childhood as a point of departure. For Almost Aqua, she’s installed an arrangement of precarious, roughly constructed structures that mix a touch of good-natured bathos with a dose genuine poignancy, as a method of thinking through failure.
Wilson Project Space is small enough that the opening for Almost Aqua, like those of Family Business, happened mostly outside. The atmosphere on the street was similar, too, super relaxed and invigorated at once—with the nice addition of a hot, lingering Mediterranean sun. That evening, Daria and I sat down for a quick espresso around the corner from the gallery.
Kyra Kordoski In the press release, Almost Aqua is introduced as a project that evolved from re-thinking your life in post-Soviet Russia—essentially, your childhood. Could you talk a bit about that, and the impact of your early experiences on your work?
Daria Irincheeva I was born in ’87 in Leningrad, and at that time things were falling apart. My family was very damaged by the political situation and the country was a total mess. But as a child you don’t really understand political issues, you just take it as, “Okay, this is how things are.” I come from a regular family that didn’t enjoy any special privileges so I didn’t have the chance to travel before the age of 19, and it was only then that I realized that things were completely different elsewhere.
This bubble in which I was living was full of failures, disappointments, and disasters. They were the everyday—it was normal and nobody expected anything different. Moving to New York showed me very brightly the contrast between American mentality and Russian mentality. For Americans, failure is worse than death. America has a history as a very happy, dreamy country, always looking for the future, for victories. There’s no room for failure.
For me, failure—these topics of crash and collapse—are extremely beautiful concepts. It’s a source for creation, for getting experience, and for understanding and learning many things.
I take these childhood feelings and that kind of mentality as just a starting point, though. I don’t want to make projects just about failure. My work takes these broader feelings of every day life that people have, in America, Brazil, Russia, it doesn’t matter, and puts them in an aesthetic perspective.
Rubens Ghenov and Dona Nelson discuss the Philadelphia art scene, Portuguese vowels, and Fellini versus Cocteau.
After living in the Philadelphia area for sixteen years, I must finally be a native, because I get annoyed when I hear people compare Philadelphia to New York City in the 1970s. The artists who live in Philadelphia, a city defined by many different neighborhoods, know that it is a unique city. If an artist is independent and self-motivated, it’s a good place to make art. In a tiny teashop in Northern Liberties, near Fishtown, where many young artists live, I met with Rubens Ghenov. Rubens is a lively painter, teacher and friend, and the juror/curator, with me, of the Woodmere Museum’s 72nd Philadelphia Invitational Exhibition, In Front of Strangers, I Sing. Rubens, who is originally from Brazil, has an appetite for talk that is erudite, exuberant, and patient. Talking with Rubens makes me want to paint.
Dona Nelson In the recent review in the Philadelphia Inquirer, they called you an Argentine transplant. Where did they come up with that?
Rubens Ghenov I’m not quite sure. Brazil is a close neighbor to Argentina, but I recently did a lecture at Moore College of Art on a story with a character I invented based on Borges’ Sect of the Phoenix. She could’ve mixed up his Argentine with my Brazilian. I had a big laugh about that.
DN It’s hilarious. How many years was it before you came to Tyler [School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia] for undergrad?
RG We came in ’89, and I started Tyler in ’94. It had not been very long, about five years.
DN What was the culture shock like?
RG At first, I didn’t want to come here. Brazil was in dire straits at the time due to inflation. My dad was an educator. He had degrees in philosophy, psychology and pedagogy. They owned a school that they ultimately ended up having to sell, which is one of the reasons why we immigrated to America. My grandmother, who was from Romania, moved to Brazil at a very young age, and at one point in her life moved to America. She became a citizen, which enabled us to emigrate from Brazil legally. We first came to New York, which I think helped ease the culture shock a bit. New York is a lot like Sao Paolo, the city I came from.
A selection of new images from Utah-based artist Levi Jackson’s Cadastral series, 2013. Cadastral is a surveying term that refers to the recording of boundaries and property. Jackson’s sculpture and photography engages the rich religious, governmental and military history of Utah as well as the overwhelming presence of the Western landscape.
Zoe Pettijohn Schade on small-scale infinities, revitalizing the textile tradition and avoiding lengthy wall texts.
Zoe Pettijohn Schade is a bit of a rebel. Her paintings don’t yell or scream. They don’t shock, disgust, give you a quick snicker or make you sniffle. There are no amped up day-glo hues or splashy gestures festooned about her supports. No libidinal outbursts or pornographic imagery. Keep looking! See images appear and disappear, shimmering across her surfaces like a distant mirage. Find yourself asking, Is that a set of teeth, a barracuda, a snake? No it’s a shark, jaw open ready to bite, but wait—it’s gone! It faded behind the web-thin lace and a flock of lightning bolts.
The first time I viewed her work, I was mesmerized. It hinted at gender (the seemingly fragile feather versus the solid cube), religion (at gravestones and crosses), and science (cellular structures and classical botany). Disparate sources—textile-pattern imagery paired with icons of 20th-century modernism and elements clearly rendered from life—merged effortlessly into composited wholes.
When I heard that Zoe had been awarded a Fulbright Research Scholars Grant to Paris and concurrent solo exhibition at the Mona Bismarck Center for American Art and Culture in Paris to research a rare collection of 18th-century gouache pattern paintings at the Bibliothèque Forney, I reached out for an interview. Our exchange unfolded by email between New Jersey and Paris over the course of many weeks, through a collaging of many layers of information, which seems a fitting approach to a discussion of Pettijohn Schade’s work and practice.
Alyssa E. Fanning Your work is very different from a lot of contemporary art on display in New York. How did you arrive at your interest in the textile tradition and how is this study currently informing your work?
Zoe Pettijohn Schade My curiosity in the textile tradition began twenty years ago when I was a student at Cooper Union. I became interested in how my associations with different images were connected to one another and I began to see patterns as a visual representation of those relationships. I researched the scientific, art historical, and philosophical aspects of pattern, including cellular structures, the physics that compel patterns to form, the mathematical structure of information, and the history of feminism. As my work developed, I realized that there is a very old and complex language of repetition that can be found in textile designs. My research led me to spend a lot of time at the Antonio Ratti Textile Center of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with their lace collection, and to volunteer at the De Young Museum’s conservation department in San Francisco in order to gain access to their immense collection in storage, specifically their ecclesiastic embroidery.