Friday, February 24, 2006

Site, Cults and Curators?

The lobs have already started against the not yet opened Whitney Biennial and the cult of the . I (and From the Floor) am more interested in the recent announcement of the artist's for the Sixth Site Santa Fe.

I have always found this to be compelling for its focus primarily on installation and site specific work. Curated by Klaus Ottmann, and titled "Still Points of the Turning World" this years show promises to focus on the artworks instead of forcing them into a curatorial theme. He has chosen (I can't find the full list) to include Patty Chang, Peter Doig, Wolfgang Laib, Jonathan Meese, Wangechi Mutu and Catherine Opie. There are only 13 artists to be included in this show, and of those listed each is quite different in their style and approach from the others.

Patty Chang creates works that are performance based and self-referential (in the mode of Chris Burden and Carolee Schneeman). Peter Doig, a painter, works with contemporary landscape imagery to create works that are dreamlike. Wolfgang Laib (the only artist whose name I recognized in the list) is known for his meditative and spiritual installations. Jonathon Meese creates installations and performances which examine cultural references and identity. I will let James Wagner speak for the brilliant and surprising collages and works on paper of Wangechi Mutu, who was moved into the realm of video and sculptural installations as she explores the female form in international modern culture. Catherine Opie has covered a wide variety of cross sections of humanity with her startling and honest photographic eye.

So it will be interesting to see how these diverse and independent artists come together in a single. I will also be on the lookout for the full list (if you know where it is, let me know).

As for the 'cult of the curator' I have referenced this topic in a couple of other posts, with Olu Oguibe urging artists to regain the power in the art community hierarchy, and an examination of the 'cult of the artist' which exists in the UK. So it is interesting to turn the looking glass on ourselves (the artists) to try to figure out why the US celebrates the curators, collectors and dealers more than the artists. I don't have an answer to why this exists - will need to get rid of the headache and maybe read some more recent art history to try to understand it better, but here are some initial thoughts. There was a time when artists were self reliant (for financial reasons) and created works not for the mass public or collectors, but for themselves and each other. As soon as money starts to flow into the art world, the shift changes and the power slides over to those who have the money. The success of the YBA, was largely due to their own self determination. They hosted their own shows and promoted themselves outside of the structure of the art world (until they were of course subsumed by it). So, I call again to all artists to take back the power - curate your own shows, create alternative venues, promote yourself in new and different ways.

In light of that. I am currently creating two curatorial proposals, the first is going to be a show of artists from various regions of the world who deal with identity, the second the show of synthetic naturalists that I have long wanted to do. I will post the thematic statements when I get through them. If you know of any great artists which might fit in either of these themes let me know. Also still hoping to bring the wonderful Budget Gallery to NYC (which reminds me I need to get back in touch with Steve Lambert - one of the cleverest people I know).

Anyone else working on something to promote their work or their friends? Would love to hear about it. Oh - one project like that is the Bushwick Art Project (or BAP as we prefer).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

distractions and Distractions...

I haven't been really good about writing blog posts, and even when I do lately, I tend to forget to include the stuff I want to say. This is in large part due to the fact that I am looking for A) a new place to live (anyone know of a nice brownstone for rent?) and B) a part time job (something in the arts?) Hopefully one or the other of those will be sorted soon and I can devote more energy to blogging and, more importantly, making art!

I forgot to mention in my 'discussion' of art v. activism the work of Simon Starling, see the comments to get my thoughts on his work. I also totally forgot to mention my support of the recent discussions by Modern Art Notes and From the Floor regarding the use of the MoMA lobby for a program similar to the Unilever program for the Tate Modern Turbine Hall. I meant to put that at the end of the recent post.

Despite my lack of attention though, some people out there are keeping me on my toes, both with my artwork - is this a backhanded compliment? And then there are the comments that occassionally come in on the blog that activate 'the little grey cells' in my brain. Glad to get feedback though, whatever the flavor. I am certainly not above criticism, and give fair and due consideration to all that comes my way.

Lots of interesting shows up right now, and I hope to get out really soon (right now we have sold our freetime souls to the househunt devil), because I could just kick myself for not seeing the Amy Rathbone show at Priska C. Juschka! Here's a shortlist of some of the interesting looking stuff out there (thanks as always to the diligence of the guys at

There are quite a lot of others, including a lot of really great drawing shows out there which I can't wait to see. If there is anything anyone out there could recommend that I add to my list please do! I will have to get out soon too since many of these shows end this week!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On the other side of the pond

Besides chocolates, oatcakes, marmite, and a cold, I brought back a bunch of pictures of Rachael Whiteread's installation, 'Embankment' at the Tate Modern. The latest in the hugely successful Unilever series in the Turbine hall . I wanted to see the work since I usually enjoy Whiteread's work, but I wasn't expecting much because of the pictures I had seen of the work, but like most installation works, the pictures can never do it justice.

I was quite pleasantly wowed with the work. As I say, pictures cannot do it justice (but I am including a lot in here anyway). It is the act of walking through the work that is powerful. With all of these white boxes and their detail (you can see the corrugating) stacked and piled, I had a sense of incredible emptiness...

Also got a kick out of the sign at the entrance to the installation, instead of 'do not touch" we go with the threat of bodily harm...

I will also try to post more when the cold in my head lets me think a little more clearly.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

You wanna piece of me? ...bring it on... in the Garden

Most people who know me, know I like a challenge. Whether its a killer physical workout with mental challenges, a good debate on a political topic, or an impossible artistic task. I enjoy learning about different sides of a story, I enjoy having my preconceptions challenged.

Thats why I recently applied for an 'assistant curatorship' at Exit Art. . The hours were perfect (part time, with additional time for specific projects), and the requirements seemed like a good fit for me: works well under pressure, dynamic fast paced environment and a need for multi-tasking capabilities of the highest order. Believe me, that all describes my work style to a T.

Here's where the challenge comes in. A lot of the programming is not something I would have chosen to do. Don't get me wrong, they have also hosted some of my absolute favorite shows ever (see below), but a lot of the shows are, well, challenging. And I like that. I don't want to go out to galleries and just see stuff I already know I like - what fun is that?

I go to lots of galleries and see lots of shows to be able to give my brain a little excercise. Thats why I thought this would be a great job. It would allow me to see more of the process involved behind the scenes in putting together a show like that and I could be an integral part of staking its claim. I think it is really important to present a varied palette of works (Exit Art does that probably better than any other NYC institution), and to also present well thought out reasons for presenting said works. Well, so thats why I wanted the job. If anyone knows anyone who knows anyone...

So the shows I liked:
The Garden of Sculptural Delights: This show in 1994 happened during my grad school time (first time around, and, um, yeh, that dates me). One of my professors, Gillian Jagger was participating, but there was also work by Ming Fay, Petah Coyne, Judy Pfaff and Roxy Paine among others. It was really fascinating. I think it had a great and lasting affect on me, even though I may not have realised it directly at the time. I remember having gone back a couple of times and wandering through the fascinating (and huge) installations of gorged, morphed and multi-colored organic mutations. These artists are still favorites, and the show was incredibly unique for its time.

Sweat!: This was a fascinating show because a lot of people I was in school with were in this show: Lynda Abraham, Jeff (Jeph) Gurecka, Heather Stephens and Jeff Wyckoff. It was a disgustingly hot summer and the show explored the idea of escape. This manifested itself in a variety of ways, including fantastical, ritualistic, and tribalistic. There were always lots of people just hanging out too, it was like an urban sweaty Caliguan party...

The Studio Visit: This just ran for the month of January. The show explored the artistic environment through the medium of video and onsite studio spaces. I thought this was a fascinating idea and interestingly presented. I have always enjoyed open studios because it lets you get a look at the inner mind of the artist. You can get a glimpse of the things that the artist collects as interesting visual objects, it is like seeing inside the womb from which the baby was born (but not gross). It makes me think of the seminal photographs of artists in their studios. I find that having some non-text background to the work is really important to understanding the work.

So maybe they are just slow in getting back to me, and I will be working for Exit Art before too long. Let's hope, because everyone needs a good challenge.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Random notes on a lot of things and some pretty pictures too

So mostly this posting is about catching up on things I have been wanting to comment on. (And I am waiting for the Friday to populate itself with the listings for the weekend).

First up, Activism v. Art v. Stunts. I have for some time now been curious about the blurry lines between art that is political in nature and politics that are artistic in nature. This may seem a curious statement, but here's what I mean. Many artists want to address political issues in their work, creating 'artwork' that come off more as 'stunts,' the work is more interesting in its political content than in its artistic content.

Let me say right now that this is an issue that I contemplate quite a lot. I do think it is important to make some kind of impact with your artwork (otherwise why bother to put it in public view). This impact could be purely emotional or have a more cognitive impact.

So here are some of the artists I am thinking about (pulled from this on Green Futures): turned on a tap at a gallery to demonstrate water waste, and pushed a peanut around with his nose to protest student loan debt; 's destruction of all of his belongings: in London, the giant sculpture made of technological refuse; and , who's clever street art is stunningly well executed.

I like all of these works and artists, but I have some questions and comments regarding the works. I am struck by Landy and Banksy's work on an artistic level. McGowan and WEEE man strike me as terribly clever stunts that bring awareness to issues, but not necessarily art. Of course as soon as I say that I start to waiver. So here are the questions:
What makes political art successful as Art (yeh with a capital a)?
What makes political art successful as activist project? (Do any of these works *really* make people rethink their habits?)

So here are some answers I have formulated. I definitely believe that for political art to be successful it has to have more than the "moment effect." I am making up this new term to describe the kind of artwork that you look at and immediately 'get it' and then there is no more to the work. It is work that is really easy to understand what it is addressing. Its the kind of thing that in '' describes as a lack of translation. Artists taking information readily available in the news and recontextualizing it as art without translating it using their own creative voice.

In response to the second question, I don't think these works have any long term affect. Yeh people got mad about McGowan running water in the gallery, and the Water company threatened to shut off water to the gallery. But I doubt the people involved in getting it shut down really than changed their habits (taking less and/or shorter showers, conserving water while washing dishes).

So how then can artwork achieve both of these issues? I think it is important to do one of two things, either create artwork that involves the public in its process, thereby teaching them something *in the process* of creating the work. Or (and this is far more difficult) create works that are so powerful emotionally that they affect the viewers on a very very deep level.

So now you want to know, okay who has done this? Well I don't have a lot of contemporary artists, but as the Green Future Article points out, there's Joseph Beuys' project. Much of Beuys' work was political or social commentary that was presented in an emotionally powerful way, the Oaks project was a very direct hands on project which involved the community. Another work which I constantly rely on (I should try to find some others) is Picasso's Guernica. It is an extremely powerful work which emotionally affects the viewers. (And that's reinforced by the need of the US Govt to request the painting be covered).

Bottom line, I don't have it all figured out yet, but that's part of the process of art making right? I am still , so I am working on environmental action projects, some which involve the public, and some which I hope will have an emotional impact, so we will just have to see what comes of it all.
(Okay this post was longer than I had hoped, so the posts on remembering 's Garden of Sculptural Delights, and what is , will just have to wait)