Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. Today we bring you two reviews written by our summer interns: First, Deidre Foley considers A Pattern Language: Michelle Grabner, Angie Wilson, and Lena Wolff at CULT; next, Audrey Weber assesses the exhibition Green Circle Black Diamond at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. We thank these two young writers for their contributions! If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information.
As someone who is relatively new to visiting art galleries, my familiarity with quilting immediately ignited memories of home and family, creating a sense of ease while viewing CULT’s current exhibition, A Pattern Language: Michelle Grabner, Angie Wilson, and Lena Wolff. The use of traditional patterns and motifs found in quilting, such as mandalas and stars, combined with the use of unconventional materials, such as paper and undergarments, constructs conversations around themes of gender, home, labor, and community in the exhibition.
Lena Wolff’s O San Francisco (2014) is a symmetrical paper quilt crafted from hand-cut pieces of paper squares, each painted with a red cross. Clean and uniform, the red crosses are precise, while the squares themselves are attached, slightly unevenly, to the quilt’s base. Individual crosses contain the handwritten names of artists or cultural organizations that have played a role in shaping the city’s unique character. United by a common crisis, the organizations listed are spaces that have been absent from the city for many years, recently disappeared, or are currently struggling to stay open. The red crosses are a reminder of what is at risk of being lost because of Silicon Valley’s expansion into San Francisco.
Angie Wilson utilizes the familiar double-wedding-ring pattern in Traditional Queer Double Wedding Ring Quilt (2009), but rather than quilting with traditional fabrics, she uses a spectrum of white to red women’s undergarments in lace, silk, and cotton. Using non-uniform stitching to piece together the fabric, Wilson employs a technique reminiscent of what is called “crazy quilting,” which means the quilt does not follow a pattern—the stitching can be done freely, and fabric can be of different sizes, colors, textures, and prints. Just as characteristics of crazy quilting are integrated seamlessly into a more traditional technique, the title also gestures toward the integration of marriage equality into society.
Neither inviting nor comforting, the pristine white walls and concrete floors of most galleries induce feelings of anxiety for me. However, the artworks exhibited in A Pattern Language create an instant connection with memories of my quilter mother mapping out patterns and fabrics for her next project at her sewing desk. Quilts are for warmth and comfort, but they also communicate a story. Although quilt making has taken on a new meaning in A Pattern Language, the same care and love my mother exacts in the making of her quilts is stitched into the familiar motifs present in those created by the artists, and in each stitch, a piece of a story waits to be told.
Deidre Foley, a San Francisco writer, was an EHSS Summer 2014 Intern for Art Practical and Daily Serving. She will attend the University of San Francisco in the fall.
Unconventionally shaped paintings protruding from the walls greet me as I walk into the exhibition Green Circle Black Diamond at Ratio 3. The use of a dark and predominantly gray color scheme by artists including Michael Rey, Laeh Glenn, and Ron Gorchov, coupled with an exploration of the canvas’s shape and depth, becomes a consistent and unifying element among these works in the main gallery. Walking into the second, smaller room, a noticeable change occurs: The artworks become increasingly abstract, and color collides with space. On the left wall hangs a large-scale painting by Al Held from the late ’80s that investigates color and illusionistic space. On the opposite wall is Bay Area artist Barry McGee’s untitled painting from 2014. While the exhibition visibly demonstrates the influence of older painters on emerging artists, McGee’s use of sculptural forms and color in his untitled work bridges the two groups of artists in the exhibition.
McGee’s untitled piece (2014) is a large, red panel consisting of eighty-eight variously sized rectangles with a multicolored and multi-patterned shape reminiscent of a coiling snake in the center. Though I’m immediately drawn to it because of its vibrant colors, it is initially unclear to me how this work fits in with others in the exhibition. Though familiar with McGee’s work from BAM/PFA’s exhibition Barry McGee in 2012, I was initially unable to draw connections to the distinct street-style vibe for which he has become known. The gallerist informed me that McGee’s work was mailed in completely disassembled, and it took them nearly a full night to arrange it as instructed. I soon began to realize that although the style differed from that of his earlier show, the same vibrant colors and patterns present in his untitled work are practically identical to his earlier works.
Looking at emerging artist Jim Lee’s untitled piece (2014), the canvas is notably manipulated. A bend on its right side reveals the canvas’s innards, while the face of the piece is filled with a muddy-gray, lopsided rectangle. On the surface, it appears that the only connection to McGee’s untitled work is the shared title (or lack thereof) and the sculptural appearance of the canvas. However, what becomes clear after spending some time with the show is the decisiveness in which the artists call into question the materiality of their chosen media, unwilling to be bound to tradition or self-imposed styles.
Audrey Weber is a San Francisco writer, and was a summer 2014 intern for Art Practical and Daily Serving.
From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Danica Willard Sachs’ assessment of Sara VanDerBeek’s solo show Ancient Objects, Still Lives at Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco. Willard Sachs notes that the work “…suggest[s] that the past and present are not so easily partitioned when placed under VanDerBeek’s careful aesthetic watch.” This article was originally published on July 21, 2014.
Sara VanDerBeek’s photographs in her latest exhibition Ancient Objects, Still Lives counter any notion that the still life is a staid mode of image making. Rather, her dreamy rose and violet digital chromogenic prints and minimalist sculptures both compress and expand time, revealing formal lineages between ancient and modern forms.
Although many of VanDerBeek’s images focus on details of the Pre-Columbian artifacts she photographed during her participation in the 12th Cuenca Bienal in Ecuador, the exhibition is thematically anchored by the more abstract diptych Incidence (all work is from 2014). Hung on the gallery’s central wall, each of Incidence’s panels depicts a white triangular prism hovering in flat, periwinkle-hued space. In the image on the right the polyhedron appears stationary, one of its stark white faces parallel to the picture plane. The image on the left, however, is doubly exposed, showing the same angle as the right panel with the polyhedron also pivoted several degrees around its front vertex. With this simple juxtaposition of perspectives, VanDerBeek “animates” the image, fleshing out the volume of the form and revealing the still life as both a static moment and as an index of the time it took make the image.
Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe-based art collective, explores the persistence of collective memory in their deeply introspective exhibit, Moving Still, at the Front in New Orleans. A twelve-person-core collective of artists, Meow Wolf has developed a following around their sensorial and immersive installations that have previously taken the form of a 75-foot ship from the future, The Due Return (2011), built in the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, and a misshapen world of glittery cities, Glitteropolis (2011–12), at NMSU in Las Cruces. Moving Still, Meow Wolf’s first exhibit in New Orleans, was created by collective members Golda Blaise, Corvas K. Brinkerhoff II, Vince Kadlubek, Leo Brown, Mat Crimmins, Justin Crowe, and Jake Snyder. It is a reflection on the group’s mutual history and how the memories of their time together can persist.
In a collective, there is an essential dissolving of the individual in order to be part of the shared experience. One of the benefits of this dissolution is the creation of a group culture—and a group memory. Meow Wolf explores their history in the first two rooms of the Front. A timeline reveals important moments in the collective’s past, and short texts are interconnected by dark gray lines. For example, there is the creation story of Meow Wolf: “Birthed from previous social and creative incarnation (Meg’s house, Warehouse 21, The Quadraplex) Meow Wolf comes into being on the night of February 1st, 2008. 10 people attended the first meeting, discussed splitting the cost of the space on 2nd Street, and chose the name ‘Meow Wolf’ by pulling it randomly out of a hat.” While these texts are interesting—especially when Meow Wolf explores the fractures and failures of working in a group context—at times the two rooms become overly nostalgic and didactic. Videos projected onto the wall show past installations, and mementos from different members are placed throughout the room. The timeline ends with a short text stating that Nucleotide (2013) was the last group installation with David Loughridge, a member who died tragically in 2013.
Moving into the back half of this exhibit, one passes into a different world, a spiritual, delirious space that memorializes the death and births of members of the group. In the middle of the room, smoke plumes up from a machine inside of a shrine, surrounded by flowers, candles, and personal artifacts. Atmospheric sounds denote a change into a more ethereal space. Mirrors reflect a strong light that emanates from below the smoke; the light forms rectangular shapes on the wall that hold memorials to David Loughridge and commemorations of the birth of Golda Blaise’s new child in 2014. Like a dark, gothic church filled with chants, this shrine to birth and death creates deep-welling emotions in the visitor.
The final room at the Front is a continuation of the previous dream, as boards of old wood are stapled together in lattice-like form with neon-colored lights projected through random areas. Artworks from some of the members not present for this installation are placed here, but they seem an afterthought to the immersive, sensorial framework of the space.
One of the benefits of working in an arts collective is that each member of the group contributes to a shared history, one that lasts longer than an individual’s imperfect recollection. While I never had the pleasure to meet Loughridge, the Meow Wolf memorial has allowed his work and life to persist—and to commingle with the birth of new lives—in a sort of reincarnation. If we accept this shared history as a form of immortality, one that can pass down through generations, then Meow Wolf has given itself a great gift in Moving Still.
The portrait is arguably the clearest illustration of the roles of status and patronage in the arts. Historically, portraits were reserved for the great men (and a few women) who shaped society, religion, and culture—or who had the money to pay for it. They proclaim of their subjects: “I exist and I am important.” In an era when many feel that art should remain above and separate from commerce—it should be available to all—the portrait, with its connotations of class and wealth, and its singular focus, often seems archaic and outdated.
The exhibition Joan Quinn Captured at the Brand Library Art Center aims to challenge this viewpoint by presenting dozens of portraits of one woman, Joan Agajanian Quinn, from “what is perhaps the largest portrait collection by contemporary artists in the world,” according to the organizers. For over forty years Quinn has been a passionate supporter of the arts in Southern California and beyond. A Los Angeles native, she was introduced to the Ferus Gallery group in the 1950s through artist Billy Al Bengston, who would race his motorcycle at a track owned by her father. This began her decades-long role as patron, promoter, and chronicler of contemporary art, fashion, and culture. In 1978 Quinn was chosen by Andy Warhol to be the West Coast editor of his Interview magazine, and she held positions at numerous other publications, including as L.A. editor of Germany-based Manipulator magazine and senior editor of Stuff. Since 1993, she has hosted “The Joan Quinn Profiles,” a show on cable television that features interviews with artists, designers, actors, and musicians—two per episode, for 400 episodes and counting. She has served on numerous arts, film, and architecture organizations, including a stint as the longest-sitting member of the California Arts Council. The exhibition is not only a composite portrait of Quinn; it also offers a personal and subjective lens focused on various artists and movements. Through one face, viewers see many stories.
It would be trite and wrong to say that the work in the exhibition is a “who’s who” of L.A. art of the past four decades. The Ferus artists—Bengston, Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses, Joe Goode, Larry Bell—are well represented to be sure, as are other heavyweights like Allen Ruppersberg and Frank Gehry. But the exhibition zigzags around the globe from swinging London (David Hockney, Duggie Fields, and Kevin Whitney) to downtown New York (Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Robert Mapplethorpe). What makes this collection interesting is that it’s not limited to major, well-known artists in the same way that the Broad or the Fisher collections are. Emerging or forgotten artists are given equal billing with established ones (and for that matter, memorable works are hung alongside a few forgettable ones). High art sits next to fashion photography (Helmut Newton) and design (Zandra Rhodes), blurring these taxonomic distinctions and presenting an expansive vision of culture that includes all of the arts.
The portraits range from traditional to evocative. The representational ones all share certain characteristics: Quinn’s large, bright eyes; her elegant, aquiline nose; her mane of dark (now graying) hair. Her fingers are covered with jewelry, her wrists with multiple watches and bracelets, and around her neck, a large cross. (Basquiat’s portrait depicts only her bejeweled arms, alongside images of monkeys and the written amount “$65,000.”) She is often portrayed as a queen or princess—portraiture is, after all, not for the meek—though one gets the impression that this is less because of her personal hubris than the artists’ reverence for her influential support. Within these parameters, however, great variations are evident. Don Bachardy’s 1977 full-body, graphite-on-paper portrait, Joan Agajanian Quinn, lends her face a sense of tenderness and fragility. Rupert Jasen Smith’s Portrait of Joan Agajanian Quinn from a Warhol Polaroid (1988) renders her face in profile: head tilted slightly back and hair cascading behind, lending her a regal, monumental quality. By contrast, in a 2009 canvas, Joan Agajanian Quinn, young artist Lucie Abdalian paints her as a tortured apparition in thin washes of fleshy peach, jet black, and crimson, with wide, lizard-like eyes.
Less literal depictions are just as varied. A 2003 assemblage piece by George Herms, Portrait of Joan Agajanian Quinn, is composed of a rusted ocean buoy atop ballet slippers and Zandra Rhodes’ textiles—perhaps alluding to Quinn’s role in determining cultural currents. Laddie John Dill’s funky glass and plywood sculpture, Joan Quinn (1984–85), looks like a cross between a Cubist figure and a piece of Memphis Milano furniture with no discernible purpose. An old, yellowed copy of Interview resting on the work reveals its function as a magazine rack, portraying Quinn as cultural arbiter in her role as editor and writer.
The portraits in the exhibition have been exhibited previously, but this is the first time they have been shown next to representative works by many of the artists. They are also augmented here by various ephemera, from copies of the magazines Quinn worked on, to episodes of The Joan Quinn Profiles playing on TVs, to a slideshow of her society snapshots (which were unfortunately washed out by the harsh Southern California sun). There is also an ambitious series of talks and film screenings focusing on themes related to the exhibition. This context is a welcome addition to the artworks on view, which are given additional layers of meaning through inclusion in this larger narrative. The show, after all, is not a greatest-hits survey of the last half-century, but is instead a subjective tour of a series of movements, moments, and artists through the eyes—and images—of one woman.
Joan Quinn Captured is on view at The Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale through August 1, 2014.
From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Mediated Morandi, a project by Will Brown—the moniker of the San Francisco-based collective of Lindsey White, Jordan Stein, and David Kasprzak. This essay was commissioned by guest editor Jonn Herschend as part of Issue 5.5, Slapstick and the Sublime, and originally published on July 10, 2014.
Will Brown is a collective that experiments with various modes of exhibition making while researching and manipulating histories as a part of their practice. After mounting an exhibition of Giorgio Morandi reproductions, Will Brown became acutely aware of how often facsimiles of these paintings appear in various outlets of popular culture—particularly film. Mediated Morandi is an ongoing search for Morandi paintings inserted into film backgrounds, and it investigates how the context of an artwork evolves through various levels of mediation at the hands of multiple authors.
Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1890, Morandi is often considered the greatest master of Natura Morta (still life) in the 20th century. His distinctly subtle paintings depict the modest arrangement of bottles, vases, boxes, and pitchers stripped of all detail except light and color. As the painter’s popularity grew toward the end of his career, his work became synonymous with class, wealth, and refined sensibility.
Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
I’ve been accepted to an MFA program that begins this September. As the month approaches, I find myself getting increasingly nervous and anxious (as I always do on the first day of school). It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in group critiques, and while I’m excited about this program, I also feel very vulnerable right now. Can you offer any advice to new MFA students? I wonder what former students “wish they’d known” before going into a program.
There are so many things I wish I’d known before I started my graduate program that I could answer your question with a book. Work hard, show up for everything, and say thank you are timeless tips, of course, but you’re looking for other suggestions calibrated to the specifics of the MFA. First, make friends with the Graduate Program Manager (or whatever they call the initial line of defense in your grad office). This individual will be your conduit to advisor selection, the assignment of teaching assistantships, and much more; woe betide the student who cops an attitude and treats the manager rudely. Second (and this is related to the above), the most bureaucratic rules only apply to students who don’t apply themselves. I’m not suggesting that you engage in risky behavior, but all fences have gates. If you are kind and polite and work diligently, someone may show you where they are. Also, if you are moving to attend school, consider staying in that city for a few years after graduation. You will make a lot of friends and contacts in two years, but if you move away immediately, you will lose them. (This last piece of advice was given to me by a colleague who still regrets that he moved away a week after receiving his degree.) Finally, stay away from drama queens, bastards, and bullies, even the ones who are powerful and who seem to hold the potential for your future professional advancement. If I were dying right now and had to give counsel with my last breath, it would be this: Assholes only ever help themselves.
Now that we’ve gotten the more cheerful part of this Q&A wrapped up, let’s move on to studio critiques in specific. I reached out to artist and instructor Whitney Lynn, and she said, “My advice to new MFA students is always to recognize that your time in the program is incredibly short. Blink and it’s over. So make lots of new work, meet as many people as you can, and take advantage of everything the program offers.”
Lynn continued: “In terms of being nervous about critiques, you should recognize that most people (myself included) feel anxiety when thrown into new situations where there is pressure to perform. The graduate critique seminar is a place where a whole room is going to focus on, analyze, and debate your work’s intentions and execution. It’s also a place where you will sharpen your ability to talk about—and sometimes defend—your work. This is a precious opportunity and it will never happen again, so don’t waste it. Come to critiques prepared, not only with new work, but also questions about your work and points of conversation you want to raise. Take control of your critiques and you’ll feel less nervous.”
“And if there’s a jerk in the seminar? Think of it as training for the rest of your career as an artist. There’s always going to be jerks, or just people who don’t like and/or understand your work. The task of the person leading the seminar is to keep things relatively objective, and your job is to take everyone’s comments—negative or positive—with a grain of salt. Begin the process of defining your own measures of success, your audience, and the appropriate context for your work. Everything is not for everyone—and that’s okay. With that said, it’s equally important to understand the difference between defending your work, when necessary, and being defensive. You’re in school because you wanted to challenge yourself and your work; if you already have it all figured out, don’t waste your time and money. You’re going to have to learn how to balance being open to criticism and not being overly persuaded/affected by others’ opinions.”
Lynn concluded her advice with, “It’s also important to keep in mind that once you go through [the MFA], you don’t need it anymore. It’s expected that you might enter feeling nervous, vulnerable, and unsure about the direction of your work. It’s also expected that by the time you graduate you feel more confident, secure, and ready to make that next step into your career as an artist. Last but not least, I highly recommend watching Howard Fried’s Burghers of Fort Worth before your first critique.”
I also asked artist Rhonda Holberton to weigh in, and she said, “Be generous in critique. Listen to your peers and take notes, even if you don’t agree with the opinions offered at the time. Recognize that whatever the contribution, it is a generous thing for someone to expend energy really looking and thinking and speaking about your work. Learn how to answer questions about the work without defensiveness and how to say ‘I don’t know’ with confidence. You are expected to experiment, to be unsure. Allow yourself that. As much as you can, detach your ego from the work and learn how to ask questions that give you the answers you need. I took part in more than one critique where insights were buried by ego and defensiveness, and conversations were derailed by minutiae. There will always be politics and gossip, but ultimately the whole thing is for you and your work. Don’t lose sight of that.”
Let’s wrap up with some fast-and-dirty tips:
– You must record your critiques, because in the moment of the meeting, you will be full of adrenaline and trying to track four different comment threads at once. Playing back a critique a day or two later when you are calmer will help you really hear what was said.
– Don’t be afraid to ask commenters to explain or rephrase; not everyone is a great communicator. I once had a peer tell me simply, “This work is boring”—and yet once I asked her to flesh it out a bit, her criticism was very constructive.
– On crit days, make sure you have a bar/jogging/karaoke buddy lined up for after. Whether it’s a great session or a terrible one, you’ll need to blow off steam with a pal.
– Whether you are first in the day’s lineup or last, serve snacks, because no one in the history of art school ever got a useful critique from a group with low blood sugar. Good luck!
Today from our archives we bring you an interview with artist Mario Zoots, conducted by Daily Serving‘s founder, Seth Curcio. This article was originally published on February 15, 2010.
The mysterious and psychologically challenging images created by Denver-based artist Mario Zoots are produced by applying a visual barrier between the viewer and the appropriated image. Each work carefully alters an existing picture and challenges our perception of and relationship to everyday mundane imagery. Zoots opened his first public show this month, offering viewers the unique opportunity to engage his images in person. I Miss Mystery is the title of the artist’s new exhibition, which is currently on view at Illiterate Gallery in Denver. Daily Serving founder Seth Curcio recently spoke to the artist about how he interrupts his found images, the advantages of working online and in print, and his sound project Modern Witch.
Seth Curcio: When did you first begin to create collages and prints? What was the initial idea that got these series going?
Mario Zoots: I began making collage because I didn’t have enough space in my apartment to paint anymore. Brian Bamps was living in an attic apartment in Denver for a short time. I visited his house and saw his small American school desk that was attached to a chair where he made all of his drawings. He had a box that he’d place the finished drawings in. I knew I must work smaller because I was at risk of losing my living space. So I began to make collage and pen illustrations. We’re not artists with studios, we’re artists with homes. I consider myself an appropriation artist and a network artist. I am interested in making pictures reflect contemporary feelings by subtracting and distorting them. I’ve been preparing for my first solo show, I Miss Mystery, which opened in Denver at Illiterate Gallery on February 5th. I printed large giclee reproductions of my collages for the show. In addition to original and printed collage, I’m showing an experimental video and creating an installation out of hundreds of pages of porn, all slightly altered. It feels cinematic. My ideas for the work come from movies, long internet conversations with my contemporary girlfriend, and my own studies of archives.
SC: There is a mix of vintage and contemporary imagery used in your work. Where do you find your source material, and what qualities do you look for when selecting an image?
MZ: I find my source material in libraries, in thrift shops, and on the internet. I’m constantly working and constantly picking things up. The mix of vintage and contemporary material is not significant. I don’t feel that using baseball cards from 1971 makes them more meaningful or valuable. Thousands of the same cards were printed and are lying around in hundreds of basements. I use popular materials because I’m attracted to them. I like the idea that there are multiples of the images in existence, that others have seen them in print too. The Pop Era has existed for so long, it’s inescapable, and it’s married to reproduction, duplication, and multiples. I feel by putting my art online and working with print that I am also participating in this type of reproduction culture, albeit digitally.
SC: In many of your works, the composition seems to be deconstructed, and sometimes even aggressively interrupted. When constructing your imagery, do you intentionally obscure your subject to heighten the mystery or psychology of the image? How is the viewer’s relationship to the original source image altered by your manipulation?
MZ: There is an inherent psychology in popular media. Magazine pages are rich with meaning that’s been devised by advertising agencies or publishing groups. I believe the meaning in popular data is always heightened by audience. I can’t say that my collage or illustration heightens the psychology because I believe it’s already there. Change causes mystery. When I change images, I believe the psychology of the image is still intact for the most part, but then I find the disruptions and interruptions in my art to be haunting and mysterious. Perhaps the change, the deconstruction, the mystery is what my audience feels the most.
SC: Many of your works embody dark and disturbing qualities while utilizing a playful and irreverent humor. This seems to work as a tool to lure your viewers into the often absurd images, while causing them to confront their expectations of commercial imagery. How do you want this visual jarring to affect the viewer?
MZ: I find humor in what I create but don’t necessarily feel like I need an audience to share that sensibility. I borrowed a family portrait from the internet and disrupted the faces. While sitting at my desk one day, I received an email from a man who said he really liked my art and that he was writing to tell me that one of the family portraits I’d used was his own. It made the collage feel so different. It felt like a lifting of the curtain, synchronicity. Someone from this hyper-multiple meme on the web spoke out. There are real people behind those faces!
SC: Most of your artwork is displayed digitally through the internet. It is rare to experience the work in person in a gallery setting, however you do create a series of zines that feature the works. I am curious about both the production of your zines and how you feel the work is best displayed, over the internet, in person, or as a publication?
MZ: Most of my art is viewable online. Some of the digital collage only exists on the internet and nowhere else. I make zines with Kristy Foom and Keenan Marshall Kellar under the publishing name Drippy Bone Books. Zine publishing gives me an opportunity to curate and work collaboratively. I just finished printing a new zine called Rescreened that features the work of Natalie Rodgers, Daniel Hipolito, and myself. It’s a book of photographs taken of televisions screens and screenshots on personal computers of YouTube. I printed thirty copies. Kristy is tabling for Drippy Bone Books at the Lancashire Zine and Multiples Fair. We’re releasing Rescreened there at the end of this month. I like working in both the online, print, and gallery realms. They’re all very different. When I need a break from one, I move to the other.
SC: What are the main sources of inspiration that you constantly return to?
I’m inspired by the internet, and the many blogs I follow on a regular basis, my internet footprints. I watch a lot of B films, just last night I watched Virgin Witch, a film from 1972 about two sisters, Christine and Betty, who have dreams of becoming fashion models. They sign with an agency and go to a castle for a photo shoot, but it’s not just any photo shoot—the real reason they are there is to serve as virgins in an induction ceremony for a coven of witches! I am inspired by music, too, a record I can’t stop listening to is Songs by John Maus, it’s insanely epic.
MZ: Do you have any new projects lingering around the corner. Anything that we should look out for?
Modern Witch is my sound project. I work with artists Kristy Foom and Kamran Kahn as a band. We use electronics and synthesizers, and most times record straight to tape. We play DIY venues and art galleries. Disaro Records is releasing our CDR! We hope to put out a 7” record later this year. One of my favorite Modern Witch shows was at Show Cave Gallery in Los Angeles. I think there are special things happening in Los Angeles right now, and I’m excited to have the connection to the L.A weirdos. We’re planning a return to Show Cave in March 2010 to perform music and curate a Drippy Bone Books group art show. The name of the show is WE OOZE. I feel like it’s going to be a mysterious year.
From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a conversation between artist/curator Michelle Grabner and artist/writer/concrete comedian David Robbins. This interview was commissioned by guest editor Jonn Herschend as part of Issue 5.5, Slapstick and the Sublime, and originally published on July 10, 2014.
Michelle Grabner: As you know, I am frequently visiting university art departments and art schools. In the past two years, it has become routine for me to find a copy of your book, Concrete Comedy: An Alternative History of Twentieth-Century Comedy, in the miscellany of resource material that compose many students’ studio libraries. Why do you think that developing artists gravitate to this history?
David Robbins: [I speculate it’s because] they’re in the material-culture business, and likely they welcome another way to think about material culture. Some want to better understand their comedic instincts, and it’s a happy affirmation to learn there’s a tradition to those instincts. Others suspect that thinking in the terms laid out by the visual-art context may not be, for them, the right path. All would be seeking [the invigoration] that any secret or invisible history provides. At this point, both the art and the comedy systems are awfully [predetermined] and careerist, whereas my book charts a course of inventive behavior for which no career path has been identified. Concrete Comedy suggests that wiggle room is still available. Wiggle room is always attractive.
Holger Kilumets is keenly aware of—and keen to explore—the conceptual and physical mechanisms of photographic representation. In a new body of work, Maps & Territories (2014), Kilumets uses visually witty vagaries to link a series of seventeen photographs that borrow tropes across subjects and structures—including art history, advertising, still life, television, theater, and film staging.
Trichromatic Vision Model (2014), the second image in the series of seventeen, depicts three whitewashed gallon paint buckets, each with a solid-colored sheet of paper or plastic hanging above it—blue, green, red—implying the color contained within. Trichromatic Vision Model is followed, in numerical sequence, by Kodak Anniversary (2014), a yellow-and-red commemorative beach ball balanced on a conventional white exhibition plinth, imprinted with the words “1880 Kodak 1980: American Storyteller.” While these works are next to one another in the series, they can be placed into different orders.
This variability is seen throughout the Maps & Territories series, and viewers can pair or group the images together in different combinations to create seemingly endless visual and textual narratives. Specifically, though, why a beach ball would be chosen to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Kodak is somewhat confounding, yet humorous—another element that Kilumets uses in his work. Kodak Anniversary and the other works in the series beget many questions, in particular: Are these objects, sculptures, or photographs—representations, documents, or originals—and what are the differences and what might the variations be?
Mimicry (2014) and Palm Trees (2014), when viewed one after the other, appear distinctly related. Mimicry, as the title implies, is a pair of visually mimetic objects resting on two white sculptural plinths. Each plinth holds a pair of plain white vases—in the left vase, a single yellow tulip leans gently to the left, and in the right vase, a single red tulip inclines to the right. The two sets mirror one another nearly identically, causing a series of rapid eye movements from left to right and back to the left again as the eye strains to find the differences between the two. What subtle differences there are—a more open yellow tulip flower, perhaps a day older, and slightly different angles and shades of shadow—appear slowly and lead to an interesting comparison to the subsequent image Palm Trees.
The visual comparison staged in Palm Trees couldn’t be more different than the near-perfect replication in Mimicry. A half-inflated plastic palm tree stands on the left, bent slightly toward a standing photographic image of a grove of palm trees on a tropical beach. While dissimilar visually, these elements are in play as in Mimicry—the imaged representation juxtaposed with sculptural representation captured in a two-dimensional photographic picture plane. Kilumets begs his viewer to see the kinds of minute and humorous distinctions he includes in his photographs and incorporate those into how one sees objects, places, and spaces outside of the picture plane.
The works in Maps & Territories use a strikingly slick formal approach to pose some highly conceptual questions that the artist asks his viewers to wrestle with; they must become comfortable with the sense of not fully understanding these images, all the while reveling in the juxtapositions of comical images and motifs. While Kilumets’ work may leave the viewer with more questions than answers, Maps & Territories opens numerous possible explanations in the form of narratives that engage both visual and intellectual sensibilities.
Holger Kilumets is an artist living and working in London, UK. Kilumets holds a BA in Photography and Video Art from the University of Bedfordshire in Luton, UK. His work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United Kingdom, including the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, UK; and the University of Bedfordshire, Luton, UK. Additionally, his work is in the collection of the University of Bedfordshire, Luton, UK.
Phyllida Barlow has upped her game in the last five years with a string of international blockbuster shows and commissions. Omnipresent as she currently is, one would think that Barlow has always enjoyed this kind of success, but that isn’t the case; the work hadn’t received the kind of attention that anoints an artist as “successful” until her Baltic show in 2004. As she is in the habit of permanently dismantling her sculptures and installations to be used as raw material for new projects, there isn’t a lot of work (or even documentation) to trace her evolution. So that it is a rare treat that it is possible to have Fifty Years of Drawing as a historical view of the concerns within Barlow’s practice.
Barlow is known mainly as a sculptor, with work rooted in the anti-monument stance of modernist formalism. Her concern is for the consequences of the physical object in relation to the surrounding environment, and the resulting impact of that relationship on the viewer. Barlow’s acute understanding of the psychological effect of sculpture developed when she was a young artist, in opposition to the orderly and proper English art of the 1960s, when precedent dictated a “correct” way to make a piece of sculpture. Her focus was to reject the seriousness of pure or idealized form and its inherent misogyny by creating work that was the result of the experience of making. Using non-traditional art materials, her art is constructed to look quick, clunky, and precarious. Embracing absurdity, her pieces are physically menacing while simultaneously embodying a sense of lightness and humor. Constructed by layering materials such as cardboard, cement, fabric, plaster, polystyrene, tape, timber, and household paint, the work demonstrates the experience of intuitive making and asks the viewer to engage likewise.
Fifty Years of Drawing is a smartly hung show that avoids a chronological survey and instead offers groups of works to highlight common threads among drawings that are stylistically similar. The framed drawings are either stacked or hung side by side, and although there are many really strong individual pieces, to consider any one in isolation is to miss the point. They function as discrete components in service of a larger process that lays out Barlow’s history of development with all of the experiments, shifts, and styles. More than just sketches for larger projects, the drawings function similarly to the sculptural work: Though each piece is distinct, it builds off of previous work while simultaneously laying the foundation for the next piece.
What becomes evident throughout is Barlow’s urgency; her gestures are the most consistent part of the show and are characteristic of her art production. The early work encapsulates that time when a young artist is experimenting with a belief that the results are forever going to change the world of art. Pushing boundaries and searching for answers—along with looking terribly like everything else—is what makes these drawings powerful and honest. They reflect hunger, desire, ambition, and most importantly a search for meaning.
The early influences are recognizable as what was fashionable at the time, digested through Barlow’s filter of understanding and gesture. The wildcards in the show are the works from the mid-to-late 1970s, which can only be called hard-edged. One set of four drawings—labeled untitled, circa 1975—utilizes compressed charcoal to depict abstracted interiors and exteriors of buildings in beautiful black lines. It’s as if Patrick Caulfield made a drawing while restricted to Frank Stella’s black stripes. Viewers can see Barlow sifting through all that modernity has to offer, trying to make sense of it. Only in the drawings from the 1990s can one see a more confident artist with a developed, cohesive style that becomes recognizably Barlow. With a nod to Philip Guston’s palette and gesture, the later works—heavy-handed, loose drawings of places, objects, and of her own installations—are more pictorially grounded. These are consistently solid works from an artist who has hit her stride.
This exhibition wouldn’t be nearly as successful if it was limited to work from a specific period. Witnessing Barlow’s lifelong investment in her practice and her process makes this show engaging. She is the type of artist who works from the gut. She captures moments of failure as a means to embrace the absurdity that is often the outcome of the process of discovery. Fifty Years of Drawing succeeds because it doesn’t try to hide the fact that Barlow, like most artists, had grappled with continuing to make something that is meaningful; by avoiding a clean, reverse-engineered view of Barlow’s oeuvre, it celebrates every artist’s attempt to make sense of the world.
Phyllida Barlow: Fifty Years of Drawing is on view at Hauser & Wirth, London, through July 26, 2014.