Today from the DS archives, we bring you Allegra Kirkland’s review of Chronicling Catastrophe. Originally published on February 26, 2013, this article is a consideration of Enrique Metinides’ fifty-year-long career in chronicling disasters that are, in Kirkland’s words, “anonymous crime [scenes] and hauntingly specific [tragedies].” Unfortunately, these images, and ones like them, are ever-relevant in our violent, modern world.
The journalistic expression “If it bleeds, it leads” is particularly resonant in Mexico, where an entire subgenre of daily tabloids, devoted to crime and disaster, cover train wrecks and murders in lurid detail. Enrique Metinides made a career as a crime photographer for these nota roja (“bloody news”), earning the sobriquet the “Mexican Weegee” for his obsessive chronicling of accidents and crime scenes throughout Mexico City from the early 1940s through the 1990s.
In 101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides, currently on view at Chelsea’s Aperture Gallery, Metinides selects his favorite images from his fifty-year career, drawn from an eponymous book made in collaboration with filmmaker Tricia Ziff. The photographs are gruesome and disturbing, but also beautifully composed and compelling in their narrative complexity. In the introduction, Metinides remarks, “I would try to capture the whole scene in a single frame—not just the corpse or the weapon, but the entire story.” His self-contained photos, which resemble film stills, make the case that the horrors of daily life are both stranger and darker than fiction.
The majority of Metinides’ works feature accidents (plane, train, and car crashes, gas explosions, earthquakes), but he also captures more personal disasters such as suicides, crimes of passion, and bar brawls that spiraled out of control. The contrast between these images of mass calamity and individual loss is striking. While the shots of flipped buses are grizzly, they don’t carry the same emotional intimacy as the image of a woman weeping over the body of her murdered husband or the grainy photo of a drowned teenager floating face-down in a public swimming pool. In January 1971, Metinides photographed an engineer named Jesus Bazaldúsa Barber, who had been torn apart by 60,000 volts of electricity while installing a telephone line. Even as his harness keeps him suspended from the top of the pole, his torso is flung back at an oddly elegant angle, like an image of Jesus in a Deposition scene, asking for some final grace.
Though Metinides claims in the book’s introduction to always remember the exact circumstances of each scene, the caption of one harrowing photo of a man who had jumped to his death from the Torre Latinoamericana suggests otherwise: “I don’t remember any more about him; there were suicides every day.” This tension between voyeurism and empathy—the desire to honor individual death amid a sea of gore—features prominently in the crowds who populate Metinides’ photographs. While some onlookers gape with horror, others chatter and laugh. Ice-cream vendors, he notes, were fixtures at major accidents, providing refreshments to the rubbernecking crowds.
A 1960 image of a lifeguard swimming out to a corpse found in Lake Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, captures the ambivalence at the heart of Metinides’ photography. At first glance, the scene appears oddly serene; gentle ripples move across the water as the lifeguard swims toward the body of this man whose story lies buried among the reeds. But on a closer look, the reflection in the lake shows the omnipresent onlookers gathered along the shore, watching the scene unfold but with their faces obscured, no names provided. As ever in Metinides’ world, it is both an anonymous crime scene and a hauntingly specific tragedy.
Contained within two rooms at the Getty Center is a lifetime’s work by conceptual art, dance, and film pioneer Yvonne Rainer. Dances and Films showcases the Getty’s complete archive of Rainer’s work—with journals, photographs, sketches, choreographic notation, films of performances, and a complete retrospective of her avant-garde films. In our contemporary world, where performance art (and art in general) is dominated by celebrity and personality, it is a welcome change to see that there are other ways of making art that do not rely so heavily on self-consciously contrived personae or the artist as celebrity. If anything, Rainer’s works strive to erase individual personality and her own charisma in favor of communication about a humanity that lies deeper than ego.
Rainer studied under Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham before creating her own choreography, and was a founding member of the experimental and influential Judson Dance Theater in New York in the early 1960s. The show begins with a 1966 article on Rainer from the New York Post titled “Rebellion in the Arts,” published after her Parts of Some Sextets (1965), a performance that involved ten dancers and mattresses and a lot of “pedestrian” movements, or movements that come very naturally to a human being: running, jumping, falling, and walking. The Getty presents photographs of rehearsals and the performance, as well as Rainer’s own writings on the piece that include complicated lists and movement diagrams. The dancers did not have music to guide their rhythms, and learning the dance was incredibly difficult—Rainer wrote that some dancers “ended up memorizing [the steps] by rote, like multiplication tables or dates in history.” Of the piece, she said she “wanted it to remain undynamic movement, no rhythm, no emphasis, no tension, no relaxation. You just do it, with the coordination of a pro and the non-definition of an amateur.” She was trying to remove all personal affectation or theatricality from the work and let the human body move on its own. The next year she created her most famous work, Trio A (The Mind Is a Muscle, Part II) (1966), of which there is a looped video of Rainer performing the entire piece, one steady flow of movements.
Also in this room is a display case full of journals and sketchpads from the late 1940s through the 1980s. For each journal, there is a pair of headphones with which to listen to a contemporary Rainer; she reads a selection of her old thoughts and then reflects on them at the end. I was so engrossed with these auditory pieces that I spent a full hour listening to them all the way through. It is fascinating to hear the artist’s thoughts shift and change; to learn her processes, depressions, and struggles; and even to see her handwriting go from a tight and perfect script at age 15 to a loose scrawl in her 50s. The physical properties of her handwriting mirror the looseness with which she tied concepts together as she aged, or perhaps belied her confidence in the “radical juxtapositions” of ideas she was using in her work. One entry, from her 1951–1952 journal, reads: “I was a plagiarist. Yvonne Rainer is a fake. I long ago lost what self I was born with—I can only steal from others. I try to make the motley assortment me through appropriation.”
In the next room, there are more photographs and paper ephemera from her time with the Judson Dance Theater and the experimental dance group Grand Union. At this time, Rainer was beginning more narrative work, such as This Is a Story of a Woman Who… (1973). Eventually she quit dance altogether to become an experimental filmmaker, but in 2000 she returned to choreography. A collection of excerpts from her performance works from 1961 to 2012 plays on an hour-and-a-half loop.
The piece that brought Rainer back to dance is After Many a Summer Dies a Swan (2000), in which Mikhail Baryshnikov reprises “Valda’s Solo” from Lives of Performers, originally produced in 1972. In the first iteration, which is loosely based on Nazimova’s Dance of the Seven Veils, Valda dances sensually with a ball and eventually holds it—mesmerizingly—in the crook of her neck. In After Many a Summer, Baryshnikov wears a costume similar to Valda’s: Her strapless evening gown is harnessed to the front half of his body, with khaki pants underneath, to provide an examination of gender politics. It seems that Rainer came back to choreography with a much stronger sense of humor.
Another piece worth mentioning is AG Indexical with a Little Help from H.M. (2006), in which Rainer reimagines George Balanchine’s famous pas de deux, but replaces the male dancer in the couple with three female modern dancers; the piece clearly reveals the mechanics involved in such difficult choreography, as well as the inherent sexualizing of the female dancer. Spiraling Down (2008) is her most recent work, and it is full of quotes from sources as varied as Steve Martin, soccer legend Pelé, Fred Astaire, and Facebook, and physical juxtapositions of face and body, as the four dancers eventually wind down to Ravel’s incessant and haunting Bolero. The performance videos are so hypnotic, I watched them fully twice through. Realizing that the four hours I had to spend in the gallery were nearly up, I barely had time to look into the video gallery where Rainer’s avant-garde films are on a constant rotation. This is a vast retrospective contained in a very little space, but with the proper amount of time, it is an incredibly fulfilling experience.
In a contemporary art world where one-liners, memes, and easily digestible ideas are granted more resonance than they deserve—due to the technology with which we view art and the amount of time we are able to invest—Rainer’s works are slow and defiant. She trades ego for emotional resonance, and because of that, her works are ultimately more rewarding. Fifty years later, her works feel just as rebellious.
Yvonne Rainer: Dances and Films is on view at the Research Institute Galleries at the Getty Center through October 12, 2014.
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A few months ago I tried to collaborate with a good friend, but we didn’t complete any work. It’s not that we spent the time just hanging out—we worked, but it just didn’t go anywhere. It seemed like neither of us could make the final decisions that would push the work in a real direction. Instead, we just fumbled around until we both lost the energy for it. But I really like my friend’s work and think that we could make something great together. Should we try again? If we do, how can we make something happen?
Ah, collaboration. There’s the oft-touted idea that two minds are better than one, but that largely depends on the minds and what they are doing collectively. Like flint and steel, they have to rub together in precisely the right way to make a spark. Without the proper friction, there’s just a bit of metal and a lump of rock instead of a Gilbert and George, or an Abramovic and Ulay.
The question is, can you force an electric arc? Is there a pat formula for success in collaboration? Not really, but by being mindful of a few basic principles of working with others, you’ll have a better chance of not watching your initial flicker of light dwindle into darkness.
To start, I want you to read “How To Collaborate Without Killing Someone” by J. Maureen Henderson. Her very first point, clarify your expectations, is crucial to achieving your aims. It’s possible that your project didn’t work out because you and your pal weren’t upfront with your intentions. If, for example, you say, “I want to complete the project by October 31 and have at least ten pieces,” that would give you a starting place from which to negotiate; your friend might counter, “I think we can do five pieces, and have them done by Thanksgiving.” In turn, this could open a conversation about media, process, and the assigning of specific duties. Remember that even though you are already friends, a collaboration is a working relationship; you should map out the responsibilities and tasks as clearly as you can from the outset.
However, assuming you already did that and still lost your energy, what else could have gone wrong? Take the time to read “How Smart People Collaborate for Success” by Kevin Daum. Perhaps your two-person ship ran aground on the shoals of what he calls quiet politeness: “What good is working with a bunch of smart people if they won’t be honest and sharing? People need to be willing to open themselves and be challenged. Creative conflict is powerful and productive. Find innovative, fun ways to stimulate passionate debate. Reward openness and authenticity with admiration. Real groundbreaking ideas only surface when people go all-in and get vulnerable.” If neither of you felt comfortable making decisions, it might have seemed pushy to voice an opinion. But remember that by bringing your assessments and points of view to the table—provided that you do it in a respectful manner—you create space for your collaborator to do the same. Don’t be afraid to say what you think.
Should you try to collaborate again with this particular friend? The answer depends mainly on your personalities. If both of you are relatively passive, and neither one of you is prepared to take the reins, then perhaps you should look for a new, more assertive partner. However, if you can both communicate clearly, develop an idea and a plan, and work through changes and pitfalls with mutual respect, then by all means, give it another go. For more information specific to collaborating in the arts, check out the bibliography and links on this site. Good luck!
Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Susannah Magers reviews Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
The first question a show about documentary work made more than forty years ago should ask is, “Why now?” Ripe with current significance, if lacking in self-awareness, Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay misses such an opportunity to address its own contemporary relevance while trying to establish the work’s historical significance.
The Gay Essay was conceived between 1969 and 1973, when a then-19-year-old Friedkin was building his career as a photographer. Through friends, he gained access to gay communities in San Francisco and his native Los Angeles that he wasn’t a part of, but identified with as someone who felt unfairly marginalized by mainstream society. Friedkin noted at the press preview that he chose his subjects based on their willingness to celebrate an “obvious” gay identity—those who were out and proud. His photos advocate for as much, as they capture the idea of power through visibility, something underscored by the reflective title he gave the series from which the exhibition takes its name.
The portraits of Jim, a young Latino from East L.A., for example, are where Friedkin’s personal connection to his subjects is most palpably conveyed. Jim’s gentle, androgynous face reflects Friedkin’s desired intimacy with his subjects that is otherwise too literal in some of the other photographs (like that of a naked lesbian couple kissing). Other portraits—of hustlers waiting on a street corner, couples posing together, or drag queens putting on makeup—are technically strong but less compelling. Their lack of candidness underscores Friedkin’s position as an outsider to his subjects, which in turn makes the photos look that much more generic. Friedkin’s intent may have been sincere, but, four decades on, the photographs reveal the inborn limits of his project.
The de Young does try to make a case for Friedkin, beyond the exhibition’s timeliness. (Its run coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.) But contextualizing Friedkin’s photographs via the influence of Lewis Hine (whose documentary photos catalyzed the passage of child-labor laws at the turn of the 20th century) doesn’t make them any more legible as documentation of a social-justice movement. After completing The Gay Essay, Friedkin shopped it around to various galleries, but ended up running excerpts of it in gay publications such as The Ladder and The Lesbian Tide, issues of which are included in three small vitrines in the exhibition. Those magazines, along with other ephemera from the time (on loan from the GLBT Historical Society), tell of the lives and struggles behind Friedkin’s now-familiar images. Outside the museum walls, those struggles continue, including for LGBT individuals to preserve their history: The GLBT Historical Society just announced that due to a 30 percent rent increase, it will have to relocate its archives in the coming months to an as-yet undetermined location.
Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay is on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco through January 11, 2015.
Susannnah Magers is a writer and curator. Currently, she is a co-director of The Royal NoneSuch Gallery, a North Oakland project space, and contributes to SF Arts Monthly.
In celebration of American Independence Day, today we bring you a video from our friends at Machine Project in Los Angeles. In 2012, Machine Project teamed up with Southern Exposure—another great independent art space—to program a series of performances and events throughout the city. Artist Josh Greene made this museum-style audio tour for the home of Maria Mortati & Mark Glusker, allowing visitors intimate access to “everything from the quotidian and mundane to the most intense and precious.”
Geoffry Smalley’s work is rooted in early-19th-century American painting, deriving specific scenes and techniques from historical canvases and the Hudson River School. In 1836, painter Thomas Cole completed his five-part series The Course of Empire. The series documents Cole’s vision for the birth, life, and death of western civilization, from the pastoral to the desolate. Cole had a calculated optimism for life and renewal, but also a deep pessimism that civilized humanity would cyclically repeat its errors. The final painting in the series, The Course of Empire: Desolation, depicts the ruins of a once-great Greco-Roman city, complete with overgrown and decaying pillars, and a landscape returning to its initially wild state.
With his painting The Course of Empire: Rebuild (2012), Smalley incorporates a printed image of Cole’s Desolation and augments the composition to include a contemporary sports stadium in the process of construction—a surprisingly fitting juxtaposition that dovetails with the grandeur of Cole’s landscape. Smalley also continues Cole’s implicit critique of civilization, but with a particularly contemporary spirit and an adept sense of humor that focuses his painterly skill on America’s obsession with spectator sports and the trappings that go along with professional sports culture.
Smalley explains his interest in American team-sports culture and stadiums in terms of the architectural features of the urban landscape: “The games that professionals play are staged in architectural wonders only found in urban centers. The modern sports stadia are ‘homes,’ cathedrals to their sport, icons of urban planning, and big-time money makers. […] The stadia are visible signs of bustling urban development and activity, in spite of the fact that they sit idle for half a year, every year. After the crowds disperse and fireworks fade, we are left with grand sporting vistas, quiet pilgrimage sites for dedicated and decorated masses.” In Dome at the Old Mill (2014), also an appropriated and altered image, Smalley breaks time apart by incorporating a past and a present into a bizarre science-fictive potential future; the addition of an enormous sports arena, like an alien craft, into the background of this idyllic natural scene is obvious but not intrusive. Smalley’s gentle use of matching colors and atmospheric tones lends the composition a blended and synchronistic completeness.
In Early Morning at Cold Spring, Across Home Run Cove (2014), a solitary figure stands in awe of the early-morning glow that seems to emanate from a stadium. Smalley captures the wondrousness of the great American landscape that inspired the Hudson River School, and projects the equally fascinating admiration Americans languish upon competitive sports. There is something eerie in Smalley’s paintings, though. The placement of the spectacular, space-craft-like architectures makes a critical comment on the current and growing distance between contemporary culture and nature.
Another image, Cowboys Caravan, humorously unites two Western frontier cowboys and the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys by adorning these two once-rugged figures with the Cowboys’ brand logos, gear, and an odd star-logo-shaped hat. Where are these two men off to? The pregame cookout, or to find land for a new homestead? Of note, too, is the small slice of stadium Smalley has painted into the left-most section of the painting. Smalley’s work makes pertinent critiques and observations on the spectacle-based culture surrounding American sports.
Geoffry Smalley’s work ranges from paintings on various appropriated sources—books, magazines, printouts, catalogs—to sketches of contemporary athletes with hybridized equipment that combines medieval armor and modern sports gear. He also makes sculptures and installations. In his oeuvre, there is always an elegance that lends gravitas to even the most comical work. The fine details in his work are a great strength—the sophisticated and seamless blending of past and present with great fluidity, which in turn reveals slowly, with time and careful looking.
Geoffry Smalley is an artist living and working in Chicago, IL. Smalley has an MFA degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, IL. His work has been shown in solo and group presentations throughout Illinois and the Great Lakes region.
“Fragmentism searches for the integration of a part into a whole, transformed by its multiple readings, into an unfinished and unlimited object.” So declares Argentinian artist Marie Orensanz’s Manifesto Fragmentismo, which appears on a 1978 print in her current exhibition at Alejandra von Hartz Gallery in Miami. The print exists both as a work itself and as a framework in which to view the various artworks on display. The context is one of incompleteness, a word the artist has reiterated throughout her career, and the idea of fragmentism stands as a focal point for the pieces that loosely refer to some larger—but unknowable—truth. Installed in a modest-sized room within the gallery, Marie Orensanz: Works from the ‘70s features drawings—on paper and on broken remnants of marble—as well as photography, prints, and video.
The drawings and prints are conceptually and aesthetically related. Each drawing is sparse and diagrammatic, consisting of minimalistic compositions that include scattered arrays of perpendicular lines, electric schematic symbols, neatly scripted words, and blocks of shaded color. They possess contextually ambiguous names such as Transmitir la Energía Pensamiento [To Transmit the Power of Thoughts] and La Acción es la Consecuencia del Pensamiento [The Action Is the Result of the Thought] (both 1974). Likewise, two drawings on marble fragments feature mysterious combinations of mechanical symbols and scattered words.
Bearing the idea of fragmentism in mind, the indecipherable schematic diagrams in these drawings point to an overarching, connective idea, and the other works within the exhibition continue this process. Notably, a print titled Eros Marie Orensanz (1974/2007/2008) reads as an exhibition flyer—in fact, it states that visitors can take one home, despite its for-sale status here—and features a list of twelve aphorisms that all appear to be titles of drawings, three of which are included in this current show. By creating an exhibition poster with only the titles of her works, Orensanz effectively reduces the exhibition to a list of its parts. Using titles that are all similarly ambiguous maxims, the artist once again points to her desire to search for an unattainable, overarching truth by looking at aggregated fragments.
The works in the show carry on this unachievable quest in a gallery that focuses on abstraction. While Orensanz’s works do not immediately resonate as typical abstract works, they investigate conceptual concerns pertaining to abstraction. Writing about contemporary nonfigurative work, Sven Lütticken characterizes abstraction as a move “away from objects and to information.” More opaquely, abstraction also signifies the transformation of the specific to the generalized—an attempt to force definitive ideas into a more ambiguous structure that can perhaps speak for the totality.
In Orensanz’s work, she points to a larger abstraction without trying to elaborate what it really is. Her incomplete works consistently and knowingly allude to overarching ideas about epistemology and ontology without asserting any conclusions. By shunning such generalizations and instead reveling in their own skepticism, her works are paradoxically abstract without being formless. Lütticken continues his provocative discussion of abstraction by examining diagrammatic art, arguing that such work “reverses the [abstract] machine in order to decode […] cryptic structures.” Orensanz’s works in this exhibition translate constructions of knowledge and being into diagrammatic schemata and symbols. Thriving on their incompleteness, her works demand that viewers see them as multiple—even incongruous—parts of an overarching whole, an absoluteness that is secondary in terms of understanding essential questions posed by art. In doing so, Orensanz stresses that in order to find any semblances of such a whole, one must begin with parts and fragments of it.
Marie Orensanz: Works from the ’70s is on view at Alejandra von Hartz Gallery, Miami, through August 16, 2014.
Boldly and optimistically, a viewer might enter Isabel Nolan’s exhibition The Weakened Eye of Day with bright, wondering eyes. In Room 1, just on the right, is Dreams of No Thing, No Time (2014), a small green-and-orange watercolor painting of a subject that likely looks familiar: the sun on the horizon. Broad brushstrokes swept in half circles across the canvas render the composition abstract and simple. The motif is recognizable without knowing or trying, and this innateness is at the heart of the exhibition. Nearby is Heliotropic Obstruction: And here its influence starts to dominate (2013), a glossy metal sculpture that protrudes from a corner wall. The lattice-like structure makes a window through which something new might be seen, or through which the sun may come through and cast shadows, creating different patterns in the room.
Housed in the castle-like campus of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Nolan’s exhibition is in a corner wing, comprising four rooms. Each room, and the alcoves in between, contains sculptural and two-dimensional works of many materials. Able to orbit around the space in a loop, viewers might find themselves grasping the leaflet to guide them around the objects, digesting each of Nolan’s mysterious prose-like titles for her pieces, trying to make connections between the individual objects. It is clear that something much larger is at work here.
Room 2 contains a magnificent, hand-tufted wool rug that stretches from the ceiling, descends down, and folds onto the floor. The Sky Is Not Bound by a Fixed Edge!: An Illuminated Rug Arranged to Accommodate a Medieval Mind (2014) consists of geometric patterns in bold colors; its placement imitates both a stained-glass window and its cast shadow. It beckons the viewer to stand right in the middle, in its aura—though that is not allowed, of course—and be transported to another dimension. Nothing New Under the Sun (2014), the most curious piece in the exhibition, is also here: Nine lacquered ceramic bowls, painted bright colors similar to the rug, sit in an arrangement on a worn wooden farm table. In title and form, there is an obvious correlation to the nine planets, connecting the everyday to the ethereal.
Thirty-three smooth, chalky, pastel-colored spherical sculptures of various sizes litter the floor of Room 3. They are randomly placed, as if they had fallen from somewhere up above, and entering the space feels like stepping onto an alien land. In the center, a white plaster sculpture perches on a pedestal. Titled Here (Beneath the Endless Night) (2014), the snowy, amoeba-like form almost disappears against the contrast of the similarly colored walls, fading in and out of sight as the viewer moves in the space. A different version of Here can be found in each of the four rooms, varying in size, placement, and parenthetical labeling. However, the manifestation of Here in Room 3 is the most prominent and demanding, though the vulnerable fragility of the materials—how easy chalk breaks—creates an intimacy that flickers between foreign and innate. Even the small framed drawings in the room, representing motifs of the exploding sun, seem to echo this with their colored-pencil strokes. The sense of existence is rendered delicate and elusive.
In Room 4, the entire back wall is covered with a black-and-white digitally printed large-format image of two donkeys in a graveyard. One of the animals stares directly out over the viewer’s head, as if looking beyond human existence. Another plastered version of Here is low to the ground. The only other sculpture in the room, The weakening eye of day (2014), is a large, dark spiral form. The viewer has traveled to a colorless space, the end of light—for without the sun, does color exist? However, to exit the exhibition one must follow the donkey’s gaze, back through the other three rooms, through the door in Room 1, right by Dreams of No Thing, No Time. Viewers must go full circle around Nolan’s investigation of the sun’s existence, returning to the familiar image with ever-wondrous eyes.
Isabel Nolan: The Weakened Eye of Day is on view at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Ireland, through September 21, 2014.