Providence

Hao Ni: Ghost Hit Wall at Yellow Peril Gallery

To enter Hao Ni’s exhibition Ghost Hit Wall, currently on view at Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, is to step into a space where the familiar becomes strange and the strange becomes eerily, disconcertingly familiar. Bracingly present yet vaguely surreal, the works—ranging from painting and sculpture to video and mixed-media installation—are installed as a cohesive whole. Yet, as this incisive exhibition makes clear, cohesion often masks a deep, disquieting sense of disjunction.

Hao Ni. cig tower, 2015; ash, ashtray, cigarettes, acrylic paint, wood; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Hao Ni. Cig Tower, 2015; ash, ashtray, cigarettes, acrylic paint, wood; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Both across and within Ni’s works, past and present, finitude and immortality collide and collude; material accretions invoke layers of time, and perceptions of physical wholeness and visual cohesion shift and splinter. In the work Cig Tower (2015), one encounters a single, sculpted form that quickly dissolves into constituent parts: cigarettes, ashtrays, acrylic paint, wood. As the viewer visually deconstructs the piece, the original function of any given element—its once-defining feature, its essential raison d’être—is displaced by connotations and associations, and material meaning yields to an ambiguous being-ness.

The title Ghost Hit Wall is derived from a Mandarin Chinese expression for getting lost, and to walk among the works on view is to feel increasingly adrift within the confines of a fragmented, digressive story. One is in the midst of—what? A scene, a site, perhaps, of some happening whose precise nature is unknowable yet vaguely otherworldly and decidedly dark. Thus, in a corner of the first room, we encounter the work Njoy the Patron Saint of E Cigarettes (2015). Faceless, shapeless, and seated on a wooden chair, this foreboding figure is essentially a cascade of black fabric, its “head” wearing a crown of faux electronic cigarettes. To its left are installed two BMW E90 headlights, whose beams illuminate wafting clouds of smoke.

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San Francisco

Portraits and Other Likenesses from SFMOMA at the Museum of the African Diaspora

“…In reimagining traditions of portraiture, the artists featured not only reinsert black subjects into the pictorial frame, they also redefine these creative traditions as inherently mutable and, as such, capable of representing complex subjectivities that exist beyond the boundaries of race, gender, sexuality, and class.” From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Anton Stuebner’s review of Portraits and Other Likenesses from SFMOMA. This article was originally published on June 23, 2015.

Mickalene Thomas. Sista Sista Lady Blue, 2007; chromogenic print; 40 3/8 x 48 1/2 in. Collection of SFMOMA; gift of Campari USA. © Mickalene Thomas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Katherine Du Tiel.

Mickalene Thomas. Sista Sista Lady Blue, 2007; chromogenic print; 40 3/8 x 48 1/2 in. Collection of SFMOMA; gift of Campari USA. © Mickalene Thomas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Katherine Du Tiel.

Now on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), Portraits and Other Likenesses from SFMOMA asks its audience to consider: What is a portrait? This may seem like a straightforward question, an inquiry more related to the particularities of style and form than to complex historical narratives. But as the thirty-six artists whose work is included in the exhibition reveal, portraiture bears its own troubled relationship to genealogies of violence and erasure that excluded nonwhite bodies from representation in Western art. By asking their audience to consider what “makes” a portrait, the show’s curators Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins and Caitlin Haskell provoke far more trenchant questions about race and subjectivity. How do you define your identity when your physical likeness has been culturally othered? And how do you engage with representational traditions that have historically denied people of color?

The forty-eight works featured in Portraits and Other Likenesses fill the top two floors of MoAD’s galleries and represent a wide range of media, from painting and photography to installation and performance-based sculpture. Many of the works are by African American artists and engage volatile histories of racial violence in the United States. Kara Walker’s bi-paneled charcoal and pastel drawing Daylights (After M.B.) (2011), for instance, depicts a man on safari next to a Josephine Baker–like dancer in a torn skirt as part of a dense visual narrative documenting the exoticization of people of African descent in American and European popular culture during the early 1920s. Kenyan-born sculptor Wangechi Mutu’s mezzanine installation High Chair and Strange Fruit (2005), by comparison, uses less readily charged objects (a spilled and upturned bottle of red wine, a child’s wooden high chair) to create potent metaphors about bodily violence that transcend specific nationalized histories.

Read the full article here.

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Seattle

Leo Saul Berk: Structure and Ornament at Frye Art Museum

Can architecture transform lives? Can it transform us? These questions lay the foundation for Structure and Ornament, a solo exhibition of work by Seattle-based artist Leo Saul Berk, on view at Frye Art Museum. Presented in a meandering array of multimedia sculpture, site-specific installation, and video with sound, Berk’s ongoing series is a reflection on his childhood home in Aurora, Illinois—a site formative to his personal and artistic growth.

Leo Saul Berk. <i>Structure and Ornament</i>, 2014; plywood and acrylic; 120 x 213 x 59 in. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Mark Woods.

Leo Saul Berk. Structure and Ornament, 2014; plywood and acrylic; 120 x 213 x 59 in. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Mark Woods.

In the winter of 1980, seven-year-old Berk and his family moved into the Ford House, created by visionary midwestern architect Bruce Goff. Designed in 1947, the house is characterized by its massive central dome, flanked by two semicircular bedroom wings. Today, it stands as an unapologetic icon of midcentury modernist design influenced by organic architecture and neo-futurist promise. Steel Quonset ribs, painted a Golden Gate orange, conjoin a curved coal and glass wall to define the exterior of the home. Inside, Navy surplus ropes, herringbone wood inlay, and glass domes from World War II fighter jets come together in a resplendent array of material texture. Like many of his contemporaries, Goff’s architectural style celebrates the traditions of handcraft alongside the ideals of technology and industry. The Ford House is the product of its age—a tangible expression of imagination and architectural experiment. The structure ignited Berk throughout his childhood, and thirty-five years later, it continues to confound and inspire.

Like a beacon, the Ford House drew Berk home. In 2011, the artist returned to Aurora and was brought to tears when its current owner led him through the familiar sights and smells of the rooms he was once so intimately attached to. Drawing upon his personal memory as well as the architectural history of the house, Berk was led to develop a body of work that would become Structure and Ornament. A selection of sculptures in the exhibition are Berk’s realizations of decorative ambitions for the Ford that never came to be. Specular Reflections (2015), a set of large floating marbles in the museum’s reflecting pool, and Wind Jangle (2015), a suspended ornamental screen of aluminum chimes, are both site-specific installations that hearken to the embellishments of a midcentury corporate campus, rather than a domestic home (think of Eero Saarinen’s GM Tech Center with decorative metalwork by Harry Bertoia). Perfectly situated in the entrance of the Frye Art Museum, these works establish a distinctly retro spirit—the disintegration of past into present—that dissipates throughout the show.

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New York

Tseng Kwong Chi at Grey Art Gallery

Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera is the first major retrospective on the artist, co-organized by the Chrysler Gallery and NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. Bringing Tseng’s body of work to the fore is an important and overdue project; his career was regularly eclipsed by his friends, whose trajectories characterized the 1980s New York City art market boom, most notably Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Performing for the Camera not only reveals Tseng’s mastery in deploying humor and farce to explore intersections of global politics and personal identity, it also reminds us that the most revealing critiques of American culture often do not come from within.

Tseng Kwong Chi. New York, New York (World Trade Center), 1979, from the East Meets West series; Gelatin silver print, printed 2014; 36 x 36 in. Courtesy of Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New York

Tseng Kwong Chi. New York, New York (World Trade Center), 1979, from the East Meets West series; gelatin silver print, printed 2014; 36 x 36 in. Courtesy of Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New York

Tseng was born in Hong Kong in 1950. His father had served in the Nationalist army in the war against China’s Communist revolutionaries and later fled to escape the new regime. When Tseng was a teenager, his family immigrated to Canada. He went on to complete his art education in Paris and then moved to New York City in 1978.[1] This international upbringing no doubt informed the project for which the artist is probably best known, East Meets West (1979–1984), later called the Expeditionary Series. In all of the self-portraits that compose this series, Tseng photographs himself standing in front of major landmarks in the Western world, including Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, Disneyland, and the World Trade Towers.

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Shotgun Reviews

Ryan Wallace: LD50 at Romer Young Gallery

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, Forrest McGarvey reviews Ryan Wallace: LD50 at Romer Young Gallery in San Francisco. 

Ryan Wallace. LD50, 2015; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco.

Ryan Wallace. LD50, 2015; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco.

In his first solo show at Romer Young Gallery, New York artist Ryan Wallace has filled the space with junk. Wallace has accumulated a hoard of construction materials­—Hydrocal, plaster, Plexiglas, lead, enamel, tape, and more—into his new sculptures, paintings, and a site-specific installation for LD50. Swinging freely yet comfortably between the poles of chaos and order, composed and unintentional, Wallace’s process seems intuitive. Yet the repetition of the materials betrays their grungy disposition to present a tight body of work that forfeits the chaotic in favor of a more structured approach.

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San Francisco

28 Chinese at the Asian Art Museum

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a review of 28 Chinese at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Author Jing Cao notes: “The best works in 28 Chinese take as their subject [a] tension between material conditions and ideological constructs—between things and meanings—to offer new ways of observing the contemporary condition.” This article was originally published on June 25, 2015.

Zhang Huan. To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond, 1997; chromogenic print on Fuji archival paper; 40 ¾ in x 60 ½ in. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Zhang Huan.

Zhang Huan. To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond, 1997; chromogenic print on Fuji archival paper; 40 ¾ in x 60 ½ in. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Zhang Huan.

28 Chinese at the Asian Art Museum features works by three generations of contemporary Chinese artists, produced between 1994 and 2014, on loan from the Rubell Family Collection. Anchoring the exhibition are pieces from the contemporary canon, for instance Ai Weiwei’s A Ton of Tea (2007), a cubic sculpture of compressed tea leaves, and Zhang Huan’s To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond (1997), a photograph of an attempt to use human bodies to raise a body of water by one meter. These works, displayed on the second floor amid traditional ink landscapes and blue and white porcelain, represent iconic experiments by Chinese artists engaging with modernist sculpture and performance art.

The exhibition’s newer works, which dominate the first-floor galleries, vary somewhat in quality and lack a clear, unifying theme. Organized by medium, with oil paintings in one gallery, video art in another, this portion of the show mirrors the fractured state of China’s current art landscape and asks viewers to draw their own connections. Several works within this group explore materials in new and interesting ways.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Carla Jay Harris

There is a profound stillness in Carla Jay Harris’ photographs—her framing and shooting style emits a pervasive calm that quiets the anxiety of her subject matter. Harris’ ability to create silence amid moments of emotional upheaval is eerie, tense, and evocative. Two bodies of work portray people and places in the midst of economic and cultural change; Dirt, Dust, Sand, Concrete (2012–2015) shows Smithfield, Virginia, amid a corporate buyout, and Culture of Desperation (2012) portrays a struggling record company during lean times.

Carla Jay Harris. Teresa Cooper 1947, 2012; archival pigment print. 20 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Carla Jay Harris. Teresa Cooper 1947, 2012; archival pigment print; 20 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Carolyn (2012) is part of the Dirt, Dust, Sand, Concrete series that creates a photographic essay of Smithfield, Virginia, and its residents. (The artist was born and raised in Smithfield, and much of her family still lives there.) The town’s only industrial engine, Smithfield Foods, was bought out by a Chinese conglomerate. The subject of Carolyn, a woman well into the later stages of her middle age, presumably named Carolyn, glances sidelong, not into but at the camera, from a slightly elevated position while sitting on her elegant wood-framed and needlework patterned couch. With the smallest hint of a knowing smile, mixed with the benevolent skepticism of an old friend or family member, she rests with neatly cut and straightened hair and her sturdy arms folded.

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