London

Walead Beshty: A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future at Barbican Center

In 1979 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, American avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton gave a lecture devoted to the origins of film and the utility of defunct technologies. Toward the end, Frampton paused to vaguely describe a work of art composed of the accumulating detritus, by-products, and disparate actions piling up in his studio, which he called A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future: Helter-Skelter and Random Notes in Which the Pulleys and Cogwheels Are Lying at Random All Over the Workbench. Despite Frampton’s decision to name and then publically announce his piece, it is a work that was nonetheless never made and never begun—a work that hangs in the air of the filmmaker’s oeuvre: absurd, poetic, unrealized. That is, until Walead Beshty (a self-confessed fan of Frampton’s work) decided to breathe new life into the filmmaker’s project for his recent commission for the Barbican Center’s Curve Gallery by appropriating the title and promise of the unfulfilled piece.

1.Walead Beshty. A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future: Helter-Skelter and Random Notes in Which the Pulleys and Cogwheels Are Lying Around at Random All Over the Workbench. 2013-2014. The Curve Gallery, Barbican Centre, London, UK. Photo: Alexei Tylevich.

Walead Beshty. A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future: Helter-Skelter and Random Notes in Which the Pulleys and Cogwheels Are Lying Around at Random All Over the Workbench; 2013-2014. The Curve Gallery, Barbican Centre, London, UK. Photo: Alexei Tylevich.

Made of over 12,000 cyanotype prints and photograms carefully placed and pinned to the undulating curve of the gallery wall, the work documents fourteen months in the material and relational life of Beshty’s Los Angeles studio.[1] Thus, every item used, broken, or exhausted in the process of the work’s creation found its way into the work, either as the material matter of the installation itself or as the object photographed. As a representation of an artist’s practice, the work finds a way to acknowledge and render visible the aesthetic compost that is often kept out of sight when objects are placed within the clean white walls of an exhibition space. For Beshty, it is this waste that signals the work of the “work of art”—the constellation of decisions, actions, labor, institutional interventions, and mistakes that inform how objects and projects manifest themselves in dialogue with the world around them.

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Shotgun Reviews

Living with Endangered Languages in the Technological Age at Root Division 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, Nancy Garcia reviews Living with Endangered Languages in the Technological Age at Root Division in San Francisco.

Tessie Barrera Scharaga. Nahua-Pipil, the Forbidden Language of El Salvador, 2014; Mixed media installation,  10 x 7 x 11 ft.

Tessie Barrera-Scharaga. Nahua-Pipil, the Forbidden Language of El Salvador, 2014; mixed-media installation;
10 x 7 x 11 ft.

In Living with Endangered Languages in the Technological Age, curated by Hanna Regev at Root Division Gallery, thirty artists respond to a global crisis: One language becomes extinct every two weeks when its last speaker dies.

The works in the exhibition cover six continents and consider languages such as old Macedonian, Tati (Iran), Mayan (Mexico), Nahuat Pipil (El Salvador), Sindhi (India), and even notes used in Gregorian chant. Regev, who is developing a reputation for uniting cutting-edge technology and art, also encouraged artists to examine less-commonplace categories such as artificial and computer languages. This elevates what could be a UNESCO cliché into an innovative, dense show that is also interactive—works have a QR code under the wall texts so the viewer can hear the language on their mobile devices.

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San Francisco

Keith Haring: The Political Line at the de Young Museum

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Kara Q. Smith’s review of Keith Haring: The Political Line at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Smith notes that the exhibition “…offers the chance not only to appreciate the artist’s work and iconic imagery from multiple perspectives (albeit sometimes dizzying at this scale), but most importantly the chance to bring new context to the work.” This article was originally published on January 20, 2015.

Keith Haring. A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988; acrylic on canvas; 120 x 120 x 120 in. Courtesy of de Young Museum San Francisco. Collection of the Keith Haring Foundation. © 2014, Keith Haring Foundation.

Keith Haring. A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988; acrylic on canvas; 120 x 120 x 120 in. Courtesy of de Young Museum San Francisco. Collection of the Keith Haring Foundation. © 2014, Keith Haring Foundation.

Keith Haring: The Political Line is a packed survey of work by the late artist—Haring passed away in 1990 from AIDS-related complications—organized by guest curator Dieter Buchhart and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s founding curator of photography and chief administrative curator, Julian Cox. The over 100 works in the exhibitions are grouped around political issues such as “Mass Media and Technology” and “Capitalism and Consumption,” pulling the viewer through the exhibition and broadly situating each packed room of works. Included, too, are various ephemera, Polaroid photographs, and drawings extracted from New York subway stations that historicize and contextualize Haring’s practice and motives, adding to the monumentality of the exhibition and demonstrating just how prolific and seemingly indefatigable Haring was in his thirty-one years of life.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Celeste Fichter

A close-up shot of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s face, Prince Charles atop his horse playing polo, and Dom DeLuise in drag pouring wine: What do these three things have in common? Nothing really, except that images of them, as well as many other well-known people, places, products, and tropes, appear in the uniquely humorous and witty compositions of artist Celeste Fichter.

Celeste Fichter. Spanglish Series: Dom DeLuise (where’s Louise?), 2011; inkjet print; 8 x 10 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Celeste Fichter. Spanglish Series: Dom DeLuise (Where’s Louise?), 2011; inkjet print; 8 x 10 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

In her three serial projects Sign Language (2010–present), Spanglish (2011), and Significant Others (2009–2010), Fichter incorporates a wide range of materials and subjects to “investigate the relationship between verbal and visual language, and explore the distance between meaning and representation.” While each series has a different focus, Fichter’s methods and approach are similar, as she incorporates drawing, collage, photography, video, sculpture, and installation into all three.

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New York

Amanda Turner Pohan: The Signals Are Caressing Us at A.I.R. Gallery

In the back room of A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, a scent dispenser exhales once an hour. A meandering plastic tube connects the dispenser to a six-and-a-half-gallon jug on the floor near the center of the room. The jug contains the concentrated form of a custom-formulated perfume derived from sensors that measured the carbon dioxide exhaled by the artist Amanda Turner Pohan during thirteen unique orgasms. Presenting a nearly empty room, Pohan’s exhibition The Signals Are Caressing Us is saturated with the unexpected. Laced with intimacy, the space enveloped me with its concentrations and abstractions of human desire.

2.Amanda Turner Pohan. The Signals Are Caressing Us, 2015; installation view, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn. Courtesy of A.I.R. Gallery.

Amanda Turner Pohan. The Signals Are Caressing Us, 2015; installation view, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn. Courtesy of A.I.R. Gallery.

The room smelled only faintly fragrant when I entered, so I guided my nose as far into the jug of eau d’orgasme as possible without my lips touching the bottle’s mouth—an act that felt as indecent as it did satisfying. Each inhalation offered a different bouquet: citrusy, then acerbic, then sweetly floral. With the work Orgasmic Exhalation Device for Body Spray #11 (2014), Pohan captures her private expressions of sexual pleasure, condenses them, and reintroduces them into a public space, taking aim at the age-old repression of women’s sexuality. Though more people speak out against this condition today, women are still expected to possess sexual desire only to please men and to preen themselves for this purpose (for example, with odorless or perfumed, hairless bodies). Pohan asserts ownership of her body and its interactions with others, a kind of ownership that few women enjoy.

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Los Angeles

Pierre Huyghe at LACMA

There is a scene in Pierre Huyghe’s shadowy, dreamlike film The Host and the Cloud (2010) in which a woman produces a black rabbit from an unmarked box. No magician, she handles the unexpected animal with a mixture of bewilderment and acute apprehension. Later in the film, she confronts the event during hypnotherapy; then, in a key conversion, she watches her own analysis session performed by shadow puppets in a theater. This sublimation of trauma into spectacle is no doubt the real magic trick—one lurking around every corner in the artist’s impressive retrospective of sleek films, technologically sophisticated objects, and living creatures, currently installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Unbridled by chronology and injected with several unpredictable elements, the exhibition, like Huyghe’s more recent work, is an ambitious update to surrealism, and it is spellbinding. There is, however, a question that critical viewers will be bound to raise: whether Huyghe’s work is perhaps too at home in the 21st century to achieve the uncanny—the lynchpin of surrealism as we have traditionally understood it.

Pierre Huyghe. Zoodram 5 (after ‘Sleeping Muse’ by Constantin Brancusi), 2011. Glass tank, filtration system, resin mask, hermit crab, arrow crabs and basalt rock. © Pierre Huyghe, courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

Pierre Huyghe. Zoodram 5 (After ‘Sleeping Muse’ by Constantin Brancusi), 2011; glass tank, filtration system, resin mask, hermit crab, arrow crabs, and basalt rock. © Pierre Huyghe. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris.

Three films form the backbone of the exhibition: The Host and the Cloud, mentioned above, captures a group of people’s unscripted responses to “live situations” that unfold in an abandoned ethnographic museum; A Way in Untilled (2012) zooms in to the levels of animal, insect, and bacterial life at a former compost of a city park, modified by Huyghe for Documenta 13; and A Journey That Wasn’t (2005) weaves together footage from a trip to Antarctica and an “orchestral event”/laser show produced by the artist in New York’s Central Park. As art films, each takes the license to eschew conventional narrative and redirect focus on the sensuousness of sounds, images, and ideas. The Host and the Cloud, however, also veers effortlessly into the cinematic. Despite the supposedly unstaged nature of the film’s content, Huyghe’s smart use of editing, lighting, and score sustains gripping drama over a two-hour duration. Indeed, long stretches of the film could be compared to the more adventurous work of director David Lynch. Notably, Huyghe, like the Hollywood director, seems to select only actors who are extraordinarily beautiful.

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Beijing

From Beijing: Beijing Voice and Zhang Xiaotao at Pékin Fine Arts

There has been noise of late about the supposedly derivative nature of contemporary art, about questionable curatorial practices, and about the piratical behavior of the art market. “Zombie Formalism” and “Crapstraction” are glib, voguish—although, it must be said, amusing—terms that have been thrown around. Whatever you may think about this critique of current tendencies in abstract painting, it seems that all is not well in the world of contemporary practice. There is a growing sense that contemporary art has entered a swirling vortex of derivative quotations from the past—a Mannerist phase, perhaps. But is any of this relevant to contemporary art practices in China? After a disappointing exhibition across three major Beijing galleries, Zhang Xiaotao’s solo show at Pékin Fine Arts makes me believe that art still matters.

Zhang Xiaotao, Sakya, Still Image, 80 x 144 cm, 2010 - 2011, image courtesy Pekin Fine Arts

Zhang Xiaotao. Sakya, 2010-2011; still image; 80 x 144 cm. Courtesy of Pékin Fine Arts Beijing.

For the last few years, in regular visits to Beijing, I have been delighted to encounter work that seems to have escaped the dead hand of suffocating theory. Certainly Beijing has seen its share of the “art as spectacle” phenomenon, with artists tempted by the accessibility of large spaces, cheap labor, and cheaper fabrication costs to make works that are bigger and shinier than they need to be. But that’s the world we are living in now—a world of giant rubber ducks everywhere and butt-plug sculptures in the center of Paris. Art as entertainment. An evaluation of 2014 exhibitions in a Sydney newspaper pointed out that these days “you can’t just put stuff on the wall and expect that lots of people will come see.”[1] People expect something momentous, something extraordinary; they want their perceptions altered. In short, they want art to be magic.

And, sometimes, just sometimes, it is. My most enduring memories of the all-too-rare transcendent art experience include Cai Guo-Qiang in Brisbane, Xu Bing’s magnificent Phoenix in New York, and Huang Yong Ping at Beijing’s Red Brick Art Museum. Which is not to say that I haven’t also seen some wonderful painting, most particularly in Beijing and Shanghai. No “Zombie Formalism” there. To my list of the extraordinary I can now add Zhang Xiaotao’s digital 3D animations at Pékin Fine Arts, in his solo exhibition In the Realm of Microcosmic. Two works, Sakya (2010–2011) and The Adventures of Liang Liang (2012–2013), were exhibited in the 55th Venice Biennale, in the China National Pavilion’s Transfiguration curated by Wang Chunchen.

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