Gerald Jackson describes life as a black painter in the Bowery, poetry versus hip hop, and the jazz scene of the 1980s.
I am very pleased to present this short introduction into the world of Gerald Jackson. I think you will find him a very rare and extremely creative human being. I have known Gerald now for over 30 years and continue to find our conversations inspiring, funny and poignant. As an artist, his work goes from video to painting and sculpture to fashion to music and to performance.
Feminine desires past and present in an exhibition, a biography, and a book of poems.
Triple ruffled at the wrist, her lace-gloved hand, cocked—index and thumb extended, covers the lower half of her face above which two dark eyes dare. Punctuating their span, the eyes emphasize the scalene triangle of negative space between her two fingers. The hand, a mask itself in covering, holds the face as if it were a mask—the situation of the double mask. All the while, the eyes float behind both. Oh, Dilon read on. Odilon Redon. This geometry of vogue would be enough to make de Honnecourt swoon . . .
These thoughts rushed through my head as I saw Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives. Two of the three women the book explores would probably agree that a good cover is almost everything, this would be one-time fashion editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland, and the much misunderstood socialite Mercedes de Acosta. The third, Esther Murphy, was more active in politics and pontificating than appearances…though, all three women were political in some right by uncompromisingly being who they were; minorities at the center of the culture of their time. Their lives do intersect, and where not directly, their circles do. By bringing these three together, Cohen provides a much needed window on the changing expectations and roles of pre- and post-war (lesbian) women, society, and fashion.
Craig Drennen discusses his current body of work, Timon of Athens, the power of abandoned cultural productions, and life in Atlanta.
Craig Drennen spends years on a body of work. Starting in 2008, he has focused on his eponymous series Timon of Athens, based Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Since moving to Atlanta this summer I’ve become acquainted with Drennen, and his dedicated practice, through a mutual friend. Drennen’s studio is housed in an outbuilding of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center as part of their Studio Artist Program. Recently we met to discuss the convergence of theater and painting in his work.
Rachel Reese How were you first introduced to Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and how did you become so invested in this particular piece of literature?
Craig Drennen Well, by late 2007 I had finished up the Supergirl project that I’d been working on for about five and a half years. I’d had Timon of Athens on my mind for some time. I like starting my entire artistic process with something that culture produced but then abandoned—and I’m drawn to things that are both strong and weak simultaneously. Also, I’m curious about acting as it relates to art. Timon of Athens was a perfect subject. It was the worst play by the most idolized writer in the English language. I think I first heard about it in some used bookstore, and from then on it was always on my radar. Timon of Athens is a corrupted text of indeterminate history, with a dubious relationship to the respected canon, and questionable sources. That is to say, it perfectly mirrors my own position within the art world. (laughter)
Multi-media artist Tony Martin talks about his synesthesia-driven take on creating space that draws on human-to-human connection.
In the early 1960s, Tony Martin moved into a loft overlooking the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was there, with the sound of the ferryboats and street floating in through the windows that he may have begun the process of discovering that “the best stuff comes out of the destruction of our intentions.” After studying painting for years, Martin had become frustrated with his output. One day, he took more than the usual amount of paint to canvas, moving it all at once with three paint brushes and some cardboard to reach a point where it was all wet and glistening. It would take months to dry. “There you are,” he declared. This is one of the pivotal moments in Martin’s personal life to which he would hold all of his best work up to; the rest he would leave out for the sanitation department.
It was during that same period that he met artists and composers Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick, and William Maginnis—all devoted to working in the tape music medium. With Tony at the helm visually, they worked on various compositions, establishing a network of friendships and collaboration that continues to this day. Combining overhead and slide projectors, objects, liquid, paint, and light, Martin began performing his live light compositions alongside the compositions of sound pioneers such as Terry Riley (In C) and Pauline Oliveros (Bye Bye Butterfly). When the San Francisco Tape Music Center moved to 321 Divisadero Street in the spring of 1963, co-directors Sender and Subotnick asked Martin to join up as their Visual Director. With alchemical precision, he culled together the enduring ideas or what he called the “ingredients” for a lifelong project, with close attention paid to the palette of light and a painterly approach. Martin’s following grew as the culture of psychedelia spread though the later half of the decade and he began producing light compositions for bands such as the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead at Fillmore Auditorium shows. Because he was a classically trained musician, he was built for the job. Greatly adept at rhythm, he was “painting in time.”
Tony Martin I’m working on a new piece and in the process of putting the piece together I’m allowing a lot of latitude. I incorporated some ideas from earlier work and from last year’s work where I worked with my analogue projection setups, which are really directly related to painting. I use liquids and dry things on overhead projectors. I hand-paint glass slides and those blend in a way that for me is an extension of painting in time. Painting as a moving image. Alongside that is also performing with optical things. Light Pendulum was a piece that began very early on when I was seeing Nam June Paik sometimes and we would talk. He came into my studio at LaGuardia Place and he saw the Light Pendulum in ’71 or ’72 and I was talking about how that was a piece I hoped in 30 years I could work with again. He understood what I meant and sure enough I built a new base for it and used new sensors, but not changing the content of the piece. So for Proximity Switched Installation, 2012 I had these things lying around, the light pendulum, three DVDs from 1970 and three DVDs from last year, and I was just casually trying some things out to find a thread of meaning that would be current for me because I think I’ve become more interested in the way the world is as I’m observing it in the past five years.
Nicky Mao This book was quite the undertaking, since it’s the first of its kind for you. We neglected to explain this one in the book interview. [Pointing to the image of Phase Shift Brush, 1977.]
Stephen Ratcliffe on the Michael Gregory’s “real” wide open spaces.
If, for instance, you were ordered to paint a particular shade of blue called “Prussian Blue”, you might have to use a table to lead you from the word “Prussian Blue” to a sample of the colour, which would serve you as your copy.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book
The titles of the paintings in Michael Gregory’s Western Construct — Lander, Red Slate, Deep Springs, Saddle Butte, Bitterroot, South Pass, Medicine Ridge, Grangeville, Clearwater, Bodie —are the names of actual (real) places in the world, places Michael Gregory has himself seen (in person) when he travels from his home in Bolinas (on the coast of California, just north of San Francisco) to take photographs of things he finds in Idaho, Eastern Washington, the Palouse–pictures of places such as these, which he will use in the paintings he will make when he returns to his studio.
Sculptor Judith Shea curates an archive of self-portraits by women members at the National Academy Museum.
Entering Her Own Style: An Artists Eye with Judith Shea, at the National Academy Museum last fall, one was greeted by an unusual crowd: a selection of self-portrait paintings by the rare 19th-century female members of the Academy. It was like a parallel universe of pioneering artists, poignant in their struggle to strike poses balanced between unabashed confidence and traditional femininity, between “I’m part of the club” and “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me.” Upstairs galleries of 20th and 21st-century members’ self-portraits surrounded Shea’s three incandescent life-size portrait sculptures.
There was tremendous energy in this gathering. Shea’s work embodies the elegance of restraint: each sculpture feels paired down to its essential form—confident, solid, precise. The figures staring out of the paintings and sculptures seemed to send out shivers of delight at being released from the storage rooms where most had languished for so long. I wanted to ask Shea about this act of wildly inclusive generosity: her choice to mingle barely known, hopeful fore-bearers amongst the famous few. I seized on this opportunity to draw her out about the ideas of solidarity and femininity in this exhibition, and about the trajectory her work has taken over the years, from the ethereal early clothing deconstructions to these imposing portraits.
Jane Dickson How did the idea for this exhibition evolve?
Judith Shea The Academy made an overture about curating something from their collection, which I didn’t know very well. I did not have an agenda. I began by looking at photographs before I began to look at real work; there’s a book that covers the collection up to 1920s. What stood out right away was this extraordinary collection of self-portraits by the member artists. Submitting a self-portrait used to be a requirement of membership.
Artists don’t often get into the back rooms, the storage rooms of museums. It’s this incredible thing. Like any comprehensive collection from this period (the 1820s to the present), for the first century it’s pretty much men—great men, men with names—and then there are women who are usually nude and nameless, or called The Muse, or Liberty, or Naptime.
Painting fast and slow: Chuck Webster gives us a peek inside his studio.
I met with Chuck Webster in his studio last week to talk about painting, and his process of painting. We covered content, context, object, and material, and the unique transformation that happens between material and painting.
Samuel Jablon Are you taking risks with these paintings?
Chuck Webster I am working both fast and slow. I am trying to combine what I was doing in paintings five years ago with what I was doing in the spring. I want to make things that have a long history, and then have marks that are instant and spontaneous. It is as though something has been polished and given a patina of history, and then renewed—worked and worked, and then finished quickly—as though I am making a long, long preparation for a few moments of free, innocent play. (A small debt to Philip Guston’s words acknowledged here.)
SJ When does one of your paintings have an authentic quality, when do you know it’s your work?
CW I put about four or five things in each painting, and two or three of them do not live to see the end. The work becomes authentic when those irrelevant things cancel themselves out and the work has only what it really needs. It sheds off a false skin to become what it really is.
Julian Hoeber on film, intertextuality, and his latest piece, Demon Hill, a disorienting optical illusion come to life.
Following a phone conversation with LA-based artist Julian Hoeber, my almost illegible notes read: Luc Sante, obscure film that does cinema as sculpture, Kelly Nipper, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, history of Shaker furniture, Mike Kelley, The Tin Drum, recipe for brandade, What is Cinema?, watch Safe again. These ciphers were evidence of a long friendship maintained across distance. In a way, they illuminated Hoeber’s sensbility as an artist—his intense self-reflexivity, his subversive take on art history, even his attention to the representation of violence.
In Hoeber’s September exhibition at Harris Lieberman Gallery in New York, I encounter these concerns in a visceral way. Standing inside the vertiginous architecture of Demon Hill, his optical drawings have a dizzying velocity. Hoeber’s work unsettles. He offers us clues without resolution. For his exhibition with Alix Lambert at Blum & Poe this past summer he borrowed the title No Person May Carry a Fish into a Bar from an archaic LA law. The exhibition asked: what is a crime? Offering up exquisite forgeries, contemporary relics, sculptures, traces from and documents of crime scenes as so many seductive objects requiring our forensic attention, Hoeber cast the viewer in the position of witness or detective.
Jenn Joy I have a flickering after-image from your artist’s talk at RISD a few weeks ago that I want to return to. I love the way you spoke of the ambivalence of the photograph—the multiple histories present in the faces of the Boers staring at the camera—and how this document calls out our assumptions around the heroics of the rebel and the romanticism of the worker. I’m curious to hear more about how photography, specifically the fiction of the document, animates your practice. As an index, documentary photography seems to act as an unconscious side of, or subtext to, your work and your art-making process.
Julian Hoeber Photography is the art that I grew up with. My mother is a photographer and I was her subject for many years. I always have been friends with and surrounded by photographers, but I never have been any good at it myself. Like anyone else, I’ve made a few good photographs, but that’s not being a photographer. It’s been a source of frustration, in part because of having been photographed so often, that photographs are so untrustworthy. None of my mother’s pictures ever gave me much information about who I was. The way photographs confront you with something that looks like a fact, but that turns out to be much sloppier, is central to how I think about my own work.
The Boer picture you mention is filled with contradictions. It’s a wonderful image for contemporary liberals. To our eyes, it looks like Tom Joad and his compatriots after the end of The Grapes of Wrath. The Boers were an army of farmers, but their historical significance is more complex than we can see in the picture. They were put in concentration camps by the British; they altered the course of British colonial rule throughout the world, but they were also a source of inspiration to the Nazis. The photograph can’t reveal that. The conflicts of meaning inherent in photography fascinate me. However, I want the conflicts in my work to be less shrouded. I’ve been better at making videos and movies because they allow more room to open up the discussion of what’s happening in a picture.
In a lot of my sculpture and painting there is a sense that what you know and what you perceive are in conflict. I suppose the odd, nauseating feeling that came with recognizing the conflict between what I knew of myself and what I saw in hundreds of pictures my mother shot of me, has been very productive.
The artist collective Ogun was founded in the early 1990s, the name taken from the Yoruba orisha, the god of metal. The artists located rusty, abandoned automobiles on the streets and in the fields of Detroit, and turned them into “Urban Monumentz,” painted and embellished with found objects in a way that calls to mind African funerary ware and dedicated to fallen musicians, poets, activists or artists. The dedication ceremonies were performances by a collaboration of six to ten musicians, two dancers and several poets. Such rituals have taken place at grounds of several museums, including Cranbrook Art Museum and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History as well as in Boston, MA, and Kingston, Jamaica.
The core of the collective is African Master of Arts (AMA) Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, a seminal member of the Detroit arts community; printmaker, videographer, filmmaker and community activist M. Saffell, AMA; painter, printmaker, videographer Lester Lashley, AMA; musician, sculptor Howard Mallory, AMA; found object and assemblage artist Dyenetta Dye, AMA from Wayne State University; and printmaker, painter and collage artist Zola Adjuma, AMA.
Potts, the founding member of the collective suffered a debilitating stroke a few years ago, making it difficult for him to speak. Joining our discussion on his behalf, are two other founding members, M. Saffell Gardner and Dyenetta Dye. Saffell and Dye spoke with me about Ogun, the Detroit art scene and their recent collaboration with Apetechnology for the exhibition Vision in a Cornfield on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit through December 30th 2012.
Cary Loren I’d like to talk about how you both became active in the Ogun art collective.
M. Saffell Gardner I’ve known Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts since the late ’70s or early ’80s, but we got together at one point during the late ’80s to do a two-person show. He had a print shop in Detroit on Hamilton, so we said, “Well, let’s make a poster.” The poster turned into a print, and that started our collaboration. At one point, Ibn started to enter a bunch of marathons. He ran extensively. He trained at Rouge Park in Detroit, and he started to notice cars that had been abandoned. He’d see them—well, everyone used to see them—on the streets. He found one in Rouge Park and he contacted Dye and I, and said, “Okay, well, we’re going to start working together.” Then he got in touch with Lester Lashley, founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago and that started the collaboration. One of the things we did was to recycle abandoned cars and turning them into urban monuments.
CL Once you found these cars, Ibn started to perform a ritual around them.
MSG Yes, we would start working on the car, and then Lester would come in and perform a sort of a ceremony around the car—circling around with one of the shakers he had made. He used to make shakers out of old film canisters that he would decorate. He would give everybody a shaker and we would walk around the car. . .
Samuel Jablon speaks with artist Heather Morgan about scandalous women, female identity, and the “peculiar kind of intensity” that informs her work.
I met Heather Morgan three years ago while I was looking for a studio, and was lucky enough to share a space with her for two years. I was drawn to her paintings of glamorous, charismatic women, though they sometimes left me feeling uneasy. Curious to learn more about her work, and why she does what she does, I asked her to do an interview. Our conversation touches on paint, performance, getting obliterated, and switching identity at will.
Samuel Jablon Why scandalously-dressed women up to no good?
Heather Morgan Why so many women? The question answers itself: women are interesting! The performance of the female gender is fascinating. It’s a performance I myself engage in, and consequently have a lot to say about. The characters I depict tend to be iconic, fringe sorts: their flaws and eccentricities are more readily on display. Their decadence and salaciousness belies their struggle—their acute self-awareness and their individual longings. As the old song goes, if that’s all there is, let’s start dancing.
A poignant vision of our country from the great American photographer Edward Weston is on view now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
I am finding things out about America. I am reading old books about it and looking at old photographs and remembering the memories of my grandparents.
The photographs come from a series by Edward Weston used to illustrate an edition of Leaves of Grass. Today they fill a single gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where they will be on display through the end of the year. These photographs show an America that is, like Whitman’s, not haunted by its past but given form by it in surprising and unsettling ways.
What can the superhuman tell us about humanity? Jorge Rojas on curating superHUMAN at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art.
Dulce Pinzon’s photographs endow domestic workers and laborers with superhuman capabilities. Her subjects don the uniforms of superheroes like Spiderman or Superman, all while cleaning windows or babysitting children. A new group exhibition at Aljira Gallery in Newark, New Jersey called superHUMAN brings together work in the vein of Pinzon’s, that draws on fantasy or science fiction “speculative genres” to say something about the human condition. The show asks, how can superhero-type qualities cast light on desires and concerns that are genuinely human.
The artists, borrow from myths, comics, Hindu and Buddhist folklore, graphic novels, and popular TV shows like Lost or Star Trek, not to indulge in romanticized notions of the past or future, but to provide a new and original perspective on political and social life of today. Artist Jorge Rojas sat down with me at Aljira Gallery on a rainy Saturday afternoon to discuss the show he co-curated with David Hawkins.
Margaux Williamson on her performance piece How to Act in Real Life, her film Teenager Hamlet, and being a character in Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?
Polymath only begins to describe Margaux Williamson, a Toronto-based painter, screenwriter, director, playwright, movie critic, and book character. When I imagine her, she seems to alight on genres as a butterfly might on flowers, pollinating each next one with the dust of the previous one.
Williamson first came to my attention as a character in Sheila Heti’s novel-play-biography How Should a Person Be. Through the snapshots of Williamson that instigate many parts of the plot, I was continually astonished that this woman was not a novelistic invention but an actual person. I was compelled to know more about her, and it turned out there was quite a lot to know.
Her paintings first impressed me with their radiant, opulent strokes that create spaces of indeterminate reality. They suggest a set of eyes capable of finding dream notes in the living environment, and to assemble scenes or still lifes in which to place the components of a dream; a skill also relevant to Williamson’s work as a filmmaker. I suppose technically her film Teenager Hamlet is a documentary (with full-on explanatory voiceover), but it seems an ill-fitting label for a work that has real-life friends and people become archetypal “Ophelias” or “Hamlets,” while e.g., Williamson interrogates a working actor on what it feels like to be in the mode of acting.
Recently, during her residency at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Williamson presented a piece How to Act in Real Life, a construction somewhere between an organic Happening, and a play that relies strictly on Method acting. Engaged in an episode of Williamson instructing Sheila (Heti, the author above), on the art of simply being—existing in life that happens to be in front of an audience—much of what the viewer experiences during its presentation is circumscribed in the written manifesto/pamphlet distributed beforehand.
As someone who so fluently shifts between the written word and the image, I wanted to interview Williamson about her bilingual gifts and her reasons for so often incorporating both into her works. Over the course of a few weeks, we emailed each other, and I had the pleasure of understanding more about this charming Renaissance woman through her (predictably) articulate words.
Megan McDonald Walsh In all your work, you seem to flexibly adopt the role of either artist/creator/viewer or subject/creation/viewed. Do you have a preference for one position over the other?
Margaux Williamson Artist. But true, I’m flexible.
In terms of being a subject—when I started making art, I worked very quietly and alone. I made paintings that, on the surface, weren’t about me at all, but came entirely from my inner world. Later on, I got a bit sicker of myself and more curious about things outside of my studio. The more curious I got, the more I just became a useful character to use in my own work alongside all the other things in the world that I can use, like my neighbor or a tree.
In any case, it always seems polite and honest to wave to the audience so they know where you’re standing—which you can do if you’re one of the subjects they’re looking at.
Barbara T. Smith takes us on a journey through her life—from 1950s housewife to 1970s radical feminist, and on to her current work at age 81.
I’ve known the work of Barbara T. Smith for decades. In 1978, she performed in my downtown LA loft as part of an evening of performance sponsored by the feminist organization Double X. Recently, she’s come back on the scene with a substantial show at Maccarone in NYC in 2008, an installation of videos included in the recent WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution show at PS1, and, as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time, a provocative show at UC Irvine called The Radicalization of a 50’s Housewife. The Getty show emphasized how inseparable Barbara’s work is from her life, and included family photos, taped interviews, reconstructed artworks, and documentation of previous pieces. The exhibition was incredibly moving, a wrenching portrait of the courage and evolution of a determined woman artist coming of age in the Los Angeles art scene of the 1960s.
The beauty of the young woman in the photographs at the Getty was startling. This was Barbara T. Smith, a self-described isolated Pasadena housewife with three children. Eager for adult conversation during the day, she had begun to volunteer at the local art museum in Pasadena, which just happened to be one of the world’s most avant-garde venues. Walter Hopps was at the helm, mounting a retrospective of Duchamp, and the first large-scale American pop art exhibition. Smith found herself flooded with ideas, and then began to realize them. These ideas were the genesis of ambitious, intellectual pieces that redefined the art of the time. Barbara trusted her instincts, her friends, and the resonance of a spiritual awakening that struck her suddenly and vibrantly in 1960.
None of this was easy; there were enormous and painful consequences to the changes Smith was making in her life. Her marriage ended in a scarring divorce, a nightmare scenario in which just the fact that she was a female performance artist was enough to malign her character and capacity for motherhood. Barbara lost custody and didn’t see her daughters again for 17 years. Still she moved forward, more deeply into her work.
Barbara is now 81. I interviewed her in her home in Venice, CA, which she has just sold. The place was full of positive vibes, bright colors, and young roommates who clearly look out for the artist.
Sculptor Alexej Meschtschanow doctors furniture and everyday objects. In this interview he talks about the Bauhaus, the Balkans, and life as an expat in Berlin.
Alexej Meschtschanow studies the moment when everyday objects, no matter how functional or beautiful, lose their purpose and appeal. The young Ukrainian expat, now living and working in Berlin, is best known for sculptural interventions where he custom fits found furniture—chairs, dressers, buffets, doors—into metal fixtures. Steel piping may render these items useless, but it opens them to new signification that may not have been thought possible. Meschtschanow’s work is made with careful observation of the furniture’s forms and social functions: a crossbreed of dusty relics and prosthetic elements, as he reveals in this interview, allows viewers more “time and rigor” to handle history. After coming across his work, I was curious to know more about his process, his influences, and the city he calls home.
Harry Weil Your last name looks crazy for an English speaker to even attempt to pronounce.
Alexej Meschtschanow A single Cyrillic letter ‘щ’ is transliterated in German with ‘schtsch’. The Germans are very precise. So instead of a simple name I’ve got a password of ten consonants and three vowels. In the age of permanent research for digital information, it may be practical for the perfect attribution.
Belgian-American artist Cécile B. Evans delights and enchants with her provocative media installations.
I recently encountered the work of artist Cécile B. Evans in London at an open studio night at GasWorks—where Evans recently wrapped up a residency—which houses a gallery, studios, and an international residency program. I was drawn to her video work because it made use of a sort of Apple-computer-screen-saver infused visuality, existing somewhere in the realm between the seamless flash of an MTV music video and the fog of a digitized dream. These new media works in particular were a siren song; sampling selections of popular music that one might hear at the local laundromat, Evans is frequently weightless in the foreground, floating in the fabrics of a genre of celestial glitch that just might have made Steve Jobs proud. The work is flirtatious, nostalgic, and—odd as it may be to say—struck me as incredibly feminine, perhaps because the path through contemporary digital practice is often made craggy by the ticking testosterone of male art makers and their histories. Which is to say that Evans and the pronounced presence of a gendered aesthetic—soft, blurred, gentle—contrast sharply with, say, Fatima Al Quadiri’s hip-hop-laced and neon saturated geometries. Evans enters the digital via a different tear in the curtain, a white female body grappling with the limits of objects, language, expression, and, ultimately, intimacy. Her work is imbued with a presence of lady—is this poise? Or politic? Curious to learn more, I sat down with her to discuss, amongst other things, the weight of emotion, the role of the artist, and the impact of bodily fluids on contemporary popular culture.
Legacy Russell Tell me a bit about your recent project for Frieze, which won the Emdash Award.
Cécile Evans The piece was an audio guide to a selection of works in the fair—like what you would pick up in a museum—only the hard facts were replaced by subjective, emotionally-driven content, contributions from twelve non-art professionals and a host, the art historian Simon Schama. Simon also appeared throughout the fair as a 3D holographic projection, giving short monologues that further broke down ideas of subjectivity and authority within the fair.
In hindsight, the great joy in making this piece was the opportunity that Frieze gave me to insert an alternative value—emotion—alongside established values in the fair like material, theory, and money. It was amazing to work with [Frieze curator] Sarah McCrory, who from the beginning really understood that this wasn’t a critical piece, this wasn’t going against the other values. Ultimately, this was very productive in an environment with such a high volume of people (70,000 or so) that perhaps didn’t have access to the other factors[—material, theory, money—]or (let’s be fair) even an initial interest in them. That was the most exciting/surprising part, to see so many visitors coming with different levels of access to art all able to access an entry point through the guide.
In her new work, Laura Letinsky unites photography and sculpture to raise broad questions about how we see, how we live, and how time passes.
Since the late 1990’s, Laura Letinsky has created photographic still-lifes that address themes of materialism, domestic life, and melancholia. Her recent exhibition Ill Form and Void Full at Yancey Richardson in New York presented sculptural constructions that combine images cut from magazines with miscellaneous household objects. While Letinsky continues to investigate quotidian life, and how we view our world, these photographs clearly evolved from past work that dealt with loss and grief. Letinsky has a mid-career retrospective opening at the Denver Art Museum on October 28th.
Ashley McNelis The works in your new exhibition at Yancey Richardson, Ill Form and Void Full, are magazine cutouts and photographed objects made into constructions that are then rephotographed. They have a muted color palette, and carefully curated subject matter. However, they still exude the quiet power found in your earlier work. Why these color choices? Why this quieter mood?
Laura Letinsky The color palette is slightly muted but still within the range of what I have worked with over the past several years, dare I say, decades. I guess it’s less “natural” than the earlier still lifes, partly because I am picturing pictures, and in my studio. It’s a bit funny though as for years my color choices have been commented on, yet to me they simply feel natural. Isn’t this the way everyone sees?
Artist George Negroponte reflects on the under-appreciated work of Abstract Expressionist William Baziotes.
William Baziotes made quiet, idiosyncratic, glowing paintings and drawings of intense formal vitality and deep historical ambition. His tonal color was exquisitely pitched and turned material substance into enchantment. The paintings are scumbled, preconscious and blurred by fantasy; like living dreams. Very often the natural world is mentioned as the principle subject of this work: albeit an allusive and fictionalized one of shapes, color and line. The best work of Baziotes is delicate, almost hesitant, and evokes an otherworldliness captured, set apart and isolated.
William Baziotes was without question one of the most gifted artists of the New York School. He was 32 years old when his first exhibit opened at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in October of 1944. His close friend Robert Motherwell helped him install the show; Jimmy Ernst designed the invitation. The show generated substantial attention, sales and very good reviews: no less an authority on Abstract Expressionism than Clement Greenberg declared in The Nation that Baziotes was “an unadulterated talent, a natural painter and all painter. He issues with a single jet, deflected by nothing extraneous to painting. Two or three of his larger oils may become masterpieces in several years, once they stop disturbing us by their nervousness.”
The Guggenheim invites artists, philosophers, musicians, and curators to spend an evening contemplating the sound and silence of the city at stillspotting ( ) nyc: finale
Last Tuesday, October 9, was one of those impossible days on the subway: train after train screeched to a momentary standstill, doors opening to reveal cars crammed with people, faces flushed, bags clutched to their chests. After the third packed 6 train pulled away from the platform, I gave up and climbed the stairs to the street to hail a cab uptown.
When I entered the Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, I was greeted not with the silence and stillness I expected, but with a cacophony. Rhythmic drones, whirs, clucks, and shrieks swelled in the space, increasing in pitch, volume, and tempo. As guests trickled in to fill every seat in the living room-like theater, I closed my eyes and tried to distinguish each layer of the riot, to peel the organic from the mechanical sounds, until I felt dizzy from the sonic overload. The sound—the work of Brooklyn-based composer Sergei Tcherepnin—eventually receded, leaving the audience to their own quiet murmuring.
Curators Chelsea Haines and Eriola Pira, and artist Christopher K. Ho on what makes an art world real or imagined.
This conversation originated between curators Chelsea Haines and Eriola Pira and artist Christopher K. Ho in Ho’s Brooklyn studio this past July. Initial questions about Ho’s practice (i.e. Why did you move to the mountains in Colorado? Who is Hirsch E.P. Rothko? What is the relationship between painting, regionalism and fiction? Can storytelling build a more critical understanding of art history and the art world?) led to a broader conversation on regionalism, critical identities, and imagined art worlds.
In Beyonsense, Eurasian artist collective Slavs and Tatars channels its inner Zaum in a celebration of the twists of language across cultures, histories, and geographies.
“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird?”
In Victory over the Sun, men from the future appear from out of nowhere and drag the bourgeois sun kicking and screaming from the sky, stuff it into a box, and replace it with a new energy source more appropriate for the times. A character called The Traveler Through Time declares that the future will be masculine and that all people will look happy, although happiness itself will no longer exist. Finally, an airplane crashes into the stage.
In 1913, the debut performance of this first Russian Futurist opera in St. Petersburg didn’t go over so well. Maybe it was Alexei Kruchenykh’s “nonsensical” libretto or Mikhail Matiushin’s chaotic music or the outlandish costumes and stage sets designed by Kazimir Malevich—or maybe the audience just didn’t expect a plane to crash into the stage. Whatever the case, they reacted violently. To be fair, Kruchenykh wrote much of the libretto in Zaum, an experimental, non-referential language he developed with fellow poet Velimir Khlebnikov, in which Russian was broken down into its fundamental sounds, the words stripped of meaning to expose the primal Slavic essence of the sounds themselves.
Kruchenykh himself described the new language as “wild paradise, fiery languages, blazing coal.” Khlebnikov, who contributed a prologue to the opera, called it the “language of the birds.” It’s no wonder members of the audience reacted as they did. Robbed of familiar contextual cues and cozy linguistic references, it was as though they too had been stuck in a box and pronounced dead alongside the bourgeois sun.
One hundred years later, audiences are still trying to make sense of Zaum, but if it continues to evade understanding, it is because by its nature Zaum resists translation. There are no word-to-word correlations. It doesn’t make sense, it is trans sense, beyond sense. Not caged by culture and geography, meaning surfaces from within the depths of a primordial forest of sounds, briefly flits about, then returns to the cacophony of its murky woods. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Why not try to understand the song of a bird?”
From Bruce Nauman and Peter Halley to the blogosphere, Joshua Abelow discusses his influences and his unique approach to painting in the age of the Internet.
Joshua Abelow’s geometric abstractions can disorient the eye when they are placed together. Their alternating color theories have the habit of skipping along the meridian line of their fixed tablet size, creating hemispheres of white throughout a room. Some of the paintings make faces, smiling for the ensuing lens of cameras. They know quite well, in this digital age, that they’ll end up disregarding their physical bodies to reside somewhere online.
So they glow, even here, like runners’ neon, to attract attention. Upon closer inspection though, the rough burlap peaks through in bleeding texture as reminders of a material origin. Abelow equips painting for two realities—a human toiling with his displacing gadgets. The artist reflects here about being an apprentice during the dawn of the Internet and his current days as a self-deprecating “Famous Artist.”
Frank Expósito Do you remember a time when you weren’t using a computer?
Joshua Abelow I remember growing up in the ’80s with the first computer Apple put out. That was really exciting at the time. But, actually, I didn’t have one in college. I felt technologically unaware because I was so determined to be a good painter. I just didn’t have room for it in my head. I didn’t buy one for myself until I moved to New York in ’99 and started working for Ross Bleckner.
BOMB is pleased to present an exclusive clip from Mickalene Thomas’s new film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman.
November 14 sees the opening of Mickalene Thomas’ new show, How To Organize A Room Around A Striking Piece of Art at Lehmann Maupin in New York. Split into two locations—Chelsea and the Lower East Side—the exhibition contains large-scale paintings, short films, and a tableau environment. The Chelsea location will screen her new documentary, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, about her mother and muse, Sandra Bush.
Artist Tomashi Jackson explores the rhythms of labor and the poetic vernacular of popular culture and visuality in America.
After the 2008 crash the so-called new normal is an economy of producing more work for less pay. A question that follows the most urgent concern of survival and subsistence living is how artists can address labor without getting bogged down by discourse. One answer is to exert the body. Another is to look to the changing topos of popular culture at how we produce cultural narratives about work in daily life, in all its shifting forms. Tomashi Jackson is an artist who does both, a hybridist who grounds questions of labor and civic space in an amorphous terrain of American “vernacular.” Her composite language consists of an omnivorous diet of sources and outputs: raw building materials that stand in for civic infrastructure and public space; popular imagery, from iconic photos of black poets to celebrities sourced from the Internet; R&B songs from the early 1990s; a digital screen space layered with Skype conversations, music, and cut-out images, then translated into video. Jackson metabolizes these materials and sources into, most often, an installation environment of sound, sculpture, projection and performance. The end result is neither interior nor exterior, but decidedly mixed. And it is palpably worked over with the artist’s labor, hand, and her affections. Her most recent works, made in her studio at MIT, while in the ACT (Art, Culture, and Technology) program, are, in multiple senses of the term, labor-intensive..
Cora Fisher In your recent work you have taken to singing while performing repetitive tasks like cleaning, mopping, and trowelling. What are some connections here between music and work—in the double sense of artwork and labor?
Tomashi Jackson Music, especially music that is lyrical, is often generative, inspiring repetitive mimicry. One night in 2011 I listened to “History Repeats Itself” by A.O.S. while cleaning the paint splattered floor of my studio. The song became intertwined with my labor as I sang it to myself over and over again until the floor was clean. I recognized a productive link between music, repetition, and my hands. I thought about how this sort of maintenance labor is meant to be unseen. I remembered that my Great Aunts worked informally as domestics in Texas and California from around 1920 until retirement.
Artist Harrell Fletcher reflects on a recent project at Tate and demonstrates the value of participatory engagement and social practice.
OK—so a couple of curators, Catherine Wood and Kathy Noble, from the Tate Modern in London sent me an email asking if I’d like to take part in a new online performance series that they are organizing. I said, “Sure.” The idea: they select five artists a year for four years to do performances that happen in a small gallery in the museum with just one camera to record what happens. The performances are live and unedited; the audience watches on the web.
As it happened, I only had a few days in London before the performance. Generally, I like to collaborate with local people in wherever I’m showing: I make the structure and organize the project, but local participants fill in the content. I recalled seeing some amazing buskers (musicians playing for money in public) in the Tube stations the last time I had been in London; there was even a small classical orchestra playing down there one time. So I told the Tate folks that I would wander around in the Tube for a few days and select several buskers to perform at the Tate if they were willing. I kind of had it worked out that there would be one performer in front of each wall of the gallery and that I’d turn the camera towards the middle of the room after each one completed a song—sort of a live mix tape curated from the subway.
Haleem “Stringz” Rasul talks about the constantly evolving form of street dancing in Detroit—from the jit to b-boy swag.
This fall at the Shanghai Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will curate the Detroit Pavilion. The pavilion will feature live performances by dancer Haleem “Stringz” Rasul and the Hinterlands, an experimental theater company. Two members of the Hinterlands, Richard Newman and Liza Bielby, recently sat down with Stringz to learn more about “jit,” a style of dance specific to Detroit that he will be performing in China.
Richard Newman So Haleem, tell me what is jit?
Haleem Rasul Well, “jit” is a very popular dance style from Detroit that has roots in the ’70s from a group called the Jitterbugs. The dance progressed over the years adding other elements like tap and various contemporary styles. It is a heavily footwork-oriented dance . . . a combination of a bunch of different kind of dances, actually. Yeah—so that’s the jit. The Jitterbugs were the pioneering group. The dance form today is usually done to a more techno-electro sound—very up-tempo dance. You can do it to any tempo, to any music, but it’s known to be done to techno music.
RN Once techno happened in Detroit, did the dance change or adapt?
HR Yeah, there were a couple different turning points in the evolution of the dance. In the ’70s, the Jitterbugs was dancing, doing the dance-form, to funk, more of a George Clinton-type of sound. And then, as it got into the ’80s, it changed; for some reason in Detroit dance was always faster tempo, and we gravitated to footwork. So, I would say that music definitely played an important role as far as how the dance changed over the years, the subtle changes or the additions.
RN Would you call yourself a Jitter?
HR Yes, I would call myself a Jitter.
Liza Bielby of The Hinterlands Would other people call you a Jitter?
HR Yeah, definitely.
Mary Carlson takes inspiration from religious iconography, demons, and snakes in her latest exhibition, Beautiful Beast.
Mary Carlson is a stealth artist. The power of her unassuming works and her deadpan humor sneak up on you. Her sculptures often take the form of familiar, homey objects—furniture, knick-knacks, flowers, ice cubes, the American flag. But on second take the familiar grows strange and nothing is quite what it seems. The chairs resist sitting, the flowers are porcelain, the ice is glass, and the flag has grown pale. Carlson places us in a realm of uncanny surrogates and slyly disrupts the security of casual assumptions.
I have been enjoying the evolution of Carlson’s work, visiting her studios and exhibitions for almost 20 years. When I stopped into Carlson’s upstate studio this summer for a quick visit I found myself entering an Alice In Wonderland world where the tiny demons from her last show had spawned enormous progeny towering over helpless embryonic ceramic saints. This shift and amplification of previously implicit narratives demanded exegesis, so I asked the usually reticent artist to sit for an interview. Her exhibition “Beautiful Beast” is on view until October 28, 2012 at Studio 10 in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Jane Dickson Let’s talk about your current show, Beautiful Beast at Studio 10 Gallery in Bushwick.
Mary Carlson I’ve been working with imagery of saints and demons, with the idea of the demonic also being beautiful.
JD This ceramic serpent in front of me is called Big Blue and it is 12 feet long.
JD Gigantic! It swallowed something?
Artists Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson make art a family matter.
Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen, along with their two-year-old son Calder, are a family art team who create works with a cool analytic aesthetic in a multitude of media, including photo-based indexes, textual mixed tapes, associative lectures, and mass mailings. Their work hinges on the linguistics of text and image, and contains a healthy dose of humor. Their latest exhibition, Maybe It Takes a Loud Noise at PDX Contemporary Art, considered themes nested in the rhetoric of belief and protest. We connected online while they traveled away from their home in Portland, Oregon soon after the close of their exhibition.
Mack McFarland You cite the texts you read as major influences for your work, in the way that French Impressionists found inspiration in the landscape. You also mention the structure of the book and I have heard, or maybe read, that you feel like your works translate well to the book form, which is lovely and kind of old-fashioned. Do you think your projects work well for tablet computers or smart phones?
Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen Maybe some of our work does. Some doesn’t. (We have been working slowly on making a collection of GIFs, but that is probably not exactly what you’re talking about.) We do think about how our works play out on screen, but still involuntarily find ourselves thinking about the final form of what we make as a book or publication.
We often make things in large series that are meant to function like swarms. Conceived as, and intended to be viewed as, one cumulative body, they are also designed to break apart and still hold meaning. (This comes less from thinking about the actual representational platforms i.e. tablet, phone and more from the way images and texts are viewed and aggregated on the Internet.) We accept the conditions of having an online presence, we want our work to be subsumed and re-articulated. We might even go so far as to say that people who want to forbid that kind of movement and transmission need to grow up.
Photographer Todd Hido redefines landscape and toys with perception, engaging viewers in a geography mysterious and misty.
Todd Hido is best known for his photographs of suburban houses at night, his Hopper-esque portraits of women in murky hotel rooms, and, more recently, cold, desolate landscapes framed by fogged windshields.
My first interaction with Todd was in Philadelphia in early 2012 at a small photography conference where he gave the keynote address. He’d flown in from California with a book dummy filled with photos for his yet-to-be-titled new book. Seeing him shuffle photographs in and out of pages intrigued me. It was much like watching a squirrel bury nuts and dig them back up: his process was deliberate, yet it was hard to glean what could be going through his mind when he meticulously sequenced his photos. Todd would place two photos beside one another on a spread, then flip to what he had placed on the preceding and succeeding pages, all to get a sense of what worked together, to determine what pairings evoked the story he looked to tell.
In a subsequent meeting at a dinner party, Todd had with him stacks of little 2×2 inch color photographs of models he had photographed. They were snapshots of women who could have been from anyone’s past. They could be pictures of your mother from before you were born, or a shared moment between your sister and her boyfriend you were never supposed to see. These were the latest addition to his book, now carrying the title Excerpts From Silver Meadows (after the Ohio development where he grew up) and the glue that would hold together Hido’s eerie landscapes and desolate interiors.
Mesmerized by the unfurling of Todd’s creative process, by his constant reworking of materials, order, and presentation, I decided to call the artist to see what direction his book had taken since I’d last seen it.
Photographer Berenice Abbott brought motion into the still frame, and brings the visuality of movement to a new show at MIT.
Bodies fall at the same speed. The angle at which a ball hits a surface will be the same as the angle at which it rebounds. Nature is full of orderly progressions and predictable outcomes. Nature is never at rest. These are some of the things I learned from my visit to the Berenice Abbott show Photography and Science: An Essential Unity.
Abbott’s photographic work with the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) in the 1960s and ’70s, on display through December at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, MA, demonstrates her successful attempt to express what she called “the poetry of [science’s] own vast implications,” implications for all of us immersed in the minutiae of our lives. While Abbott is best known for her black and white architectural photographs of New York City, at the heart of this show are her later photographs of waves: periodic straight waves, reflected water waves, water waves changing direction, water waves producing shadows. Everything, it turns out, moves as a wave.