Shotgun Reviews

Moving Walls 22 / Watching You, Watching Me at Open Society Foundations-New York

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, Mary Coyne reviews Watching You, Watching Me at Open Society Foundations in New York City.

Mishka Henner. Dutch Landscapes, 2011; Archival pigment print.

Mishka Henner. Dutch Landscapes, 2011; Archival pigment print.

Edward Snowden’s revelatory findings of pervasive surveillance by the NSA fundamentally changed the way we view the assumed privacy of our communications. Even in the face of widespread threat to our freedom, photography as a surveillance technique continues to be lauded as a military defense tactic as well as actively used by individuals for personal and commercial benefit. The artists whose works compose Watching You, Watching Me appropriate these very same techniques of technological surveillance to critique this complex society of cameras.

This exhibition is the twenty-second edition of the Moving Walls series at Open Society Foundations; it seeks to highlight documentary photography, and feels exceptionally timely given the climate. Curator Yukiko Yamagata excellently brings to the fore different approaches to the material that articulate the complexities of what surveillance techniques mean and the contexts in which they can be used.

Tomas van Houtryve’s hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photographs are shot from a camera mounted on an unmanned predator drone that flies at close range over the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved drone fly zones. These zones include the U.S / Mexican border, oil fields, and typical urban areas such as parks and beaches that poetically parallel the civilian villages that are attacked in drone warfare. Similarly, Mishka Henner appropriates aerial imagery from Google Earth. His Dutch Landscapes show pixelated areas of Holland—locations deemed too secret to be revealed for public viewing—as they appear from the Google satellite. Made conspicuous by their disguise, the pixelated regions seem to spotlight otherwise unbroken countryside.

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San Francisco

On Collecting: Breaking the Borderlands of Function

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Djinnaya Stroud‘s recent profile of three collectors whose acquisitions include functional works. Stroud explains, “The need to understand an object through its use drives many people who would never have been art collectors to amass functional work.” This essay was originally published on December 10, 2014.

Hans Coper. Vase without and with flowers; ceramic, 8 x 6 x 4 inches. Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery.

Hans Coper. Vase without and with flowers; ceramic, 8 x 6 x 4 inches. Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery.

The term “non-functional art” isn’t satisfying as an antonym for functional art. All art serves a function, even if that function is solely aesthetic. In 1790, Immanuel Kant declared in Critique of Judgment that opinions of taste are disinterested, in that they have no bearing on actual human needs. From that statement, a whole category of objects was relegated to the realm of functional art, or, even worse, not art. Public opinion has developed quite a bit since then, but the divide between functional art and disinterested art remains.

One way to understand an object is to understand its place in the world. So what happens when those objects enter a collection? Art collecting is driven by investment and/or preservation. Some people collect art for financial reasons, hoping that it will appreciate in value, and others collect art to ensure that it remains in good care for the future. Most collectors are a mix of both. Functional artworks, if in use, do not adhere to either of those missions because, in their use, they risk devaluation or destruction. The collector of functional art makes a decision about whether to use a piece or to keep it merely as an aesthetic object.

Read the full article here.

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Interviews

Interview with Anthony Huberman

Anthony Huberman was appointed the director of the CCA Wattis Institute in August of 2013, but only really started reshaping the institution this fall with an intriguing—and fairly democratic—strategy for presenting and thinking about contemporary art. As the founding director of the Artist’s Institute in New York, Huberman has worked with artists such as Robert Filliou, Rosemarie Trockel, Haim Steinbach, and Thomas Bayrle, and will be publishing a book about them in 2015; he will also curate his fifth installment of Hello Goodbye Thank You, a biennial exhibition, at castillo/corrales in Paris. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation about the Wattis’ potential within the current cultural climate of San Francisco and beyond.

Joan Jonas. Still from  Volcano Saga, 1985/2011; 28 min, color, sound.

Joan Jonas. Volcano Saga, 1985/2011; video still; color, sound; 28:00.

Bean Gilsdorf: You’re done with the projects that you inherited [from former curator Jens Hoffmann], and now you get to start the new programming. What’s first?

Anthony Huberman: We gave ourselves an entire year before launching a new program because I wanted to spend time really thinking through some questions: What is the point of this kind of nonprofit art institute? What should our goal and purpose be in the context of contemporary art infrastructure? How can we contribute in ways that a gallery or museum can’t? And so we have a new proposition towards answering those questions, a type of art organization that works with artists in specific ways, and that is equally about showing work as it is about thinking about art and artists.

BG: And how will this work in the context of being a part of the California College of the Arts?

AH: Because we’re operating in an academic context, we really want to underline the fact that this is an exhibition space and a research institute, so we developed a program to answer three different questions. The first question is the most obvious: What are artists making today? This can be addressed through a commission-based exhibition program. But we are more than just display-based, and an artist is not just someone who makes things, but also someone who looks at things and engages with other people. So we also want to answer the question: What is an artist thinking about today? For this, an artist is invited to spend several months here in our San Francisco apartment, and is given a budget to do curatorial programming based on his or her current research interests. Finally, there is the question: How do artists inform or potentially disrupt the way we think about art today? To answer this, we dedicate an entire year to an artist’s practice as a topic of reflection. It’s not going to have an exhibition connected to it; instead, every month there will be a lecture, screening, or other event that is in some way connected to an ongoing process of thinking through the artist’s work. The way these components get phrased on our new website is: “so-and-so is in the gallery,” “so-and-so is in the apartment,” and “so-and-so is on our mind.”

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Interviews

Interview with Tercerunquinto

Today from our friends at Kadist Art Foundation, we bring you curator Michele Fiedler’s interview with Tercerunquinto. The group, comprising artists Julio César Castro Carreón, Gabriel Cázares Salas, and Rolando Flores Tovar, discusses collaboration, power, architectural intervention, and “social and urban development.” 

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Los Angeles

Howard Fried: The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe at The Box

Paris is often referred to as the City of Light, but at the end of the 19th century, it was also the entertainment capital of the world. The city offered boulevard culture, museum exhibitions, Lumiere Brothers film screenings, and over-the-top panorama displays, yet amid all the multi-sensory and crowd-pleasing attractions, one popular fin-de-siècle spectacle remains shockingly unique: public visits to the city morgue.

Howard Fried. The Decomposition of My Mother's Wardrobe, 2014-2015. Courtesy of the Artist and The Box Gallery. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio.

Howard Fried. The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe, 2014-2015. Courtesy of the Artist and The Box Gallery. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio.

Better than a wax museum, the Paris Morgue displayed “real” dead bodies, made safe for viewing consumption by the anonymity of the corpses on display, along with the physical mediation of a large glass window. It presented curious viewers with a direct yet staged representation of death, and streams of eager spectators—up to 40,000 in a single day—lined up to pass before its windows.

Currently on display at The Box in Los Angeles (the new entertainment capital of the world), Howard Fried’s new work, The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe (2014–2015), also bestows a peculiar kind of mediated confrontation with death. To be clear, those suffering from an acute morbid curiosity would be better served rubbernecking the next freeway accident, but while any gruesome aspects of death are thankfully absent, the presence of death, manifested through absence, is laid bare.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties at the Brooklyn Museum

Today from our archives, we bring you Lia Wilson’s review of a recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Wilson explains the importance of this exhibition: “Witness does the essential and painful work of revealing how an inadequate visual cultural record can come to mirror inadequate social reform. There can be no greater demonstration of the need for a more diverse and inclusive art-historical canon and for the elevation of art history and media literacy as tools of social justice.” This review was originally published on May 22, 2014.

As someone born two decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I received visual access to the civil-rights era predominantly through photographic documentation. Black-and-white photos in history books, documentary films, and microfilm of front-page newspaper stories shaped my understanding of the period, suggesting a more or less linear sequence of events.

David Hammons. The Door, 1969; wood, acrylic sheet, and pigment construction, 79 x 48 x 15 in. Courtesy of Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum, Los Angeles.

David Hammons. The Door, 1969; wood, acrylic sheet, and pigment construction, 79 x 48 x 15 in. Courtesy of Collection of Friends, the Foundation of the California African American Museum, Los Angeles.

Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, now at the Brooklyn Museum, expands and complicates any such sense of linear history or progress. Featuring painting, photography, sculpture, and assemblage from the period, the exhibition provides an inclusive yet focused look at how artists addressed the racial injustice and societal upheaval of the decade. Some works are directly political, like David Hammons’ The Door, a door to an admissions office bearing the black ink imprint of a body pressed up against the glassa literalization of the barriers that African Americans faced in entering higher-education institutions. But there are also Minimalist, Pop Art, and Abstract Expressionist works present, delivering a more multifaceted view of how aesthetic strategy can speak to politics and communicate political emotion. Sam Gilliam’s Red April, a large, abstract painting swelling with aggressive pattern and fierce red paint splatter, was created in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The piece bubbles with emotion and violence, its aesthetic ambiguity a perfect match for an event so incomprehensible and disorienting.

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London

Disobedient Objects at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Sitting just inside the Great Hall and squeezed between two major retrospective exhibitions of wedding dresses and fashion photographs at the Victoria & Albert in London sits Disobedient Objects, a small but powerful show examining the materials, methods, and inventions of political dissent across the world since the late 1970s. Rich and diverse in its choice of objects, the one-room gallery places a strong emphasis on forms of artistic production and labor that continue or reimagine artistic traditions of craft and handiwork—genres typically associated with times of war, political oppression, and belief in forms of transformative utopian politics. Chilean arpilleras (three-dimensional textile murals) depicting scenes of violence and repression committed under Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1979 sit alongside finger puppets made in 2011 by the Syrian artist group Masasit Mati to lampoon President Bashar al-Assad. Gas masks worn by protesters in Gezi Park in 2012 are juxtaposed with chrome jewelry crafted by a group of Black Panther Party members serving extraordinary periods of solitary confinement in Angola Prison in southern Louisiana. Each object harnesses forms of tactile materiality to make timely political statements.

Herman Wallace. Fuck the LAW. 2008. Chrome-plated steel pendant. Dimensions Unknown. Private Collection. Photo: Jordan Amirkhani.

Herman Wallace. Fuck the LAW. 2008; chrome-plated steel pendant; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Photo: Jordan Amirkhani.

But while the exhibition encourages viewers to think productively about the ways in which the aesthetic and the political do and can coexist, it also forces consideration of what is lost or compromised when these objects are removed from the streets, favelas, public spaces, and prison cells, and then domesticated within one of the most important collections of art and design in the Western world. At a moment when protest and civil disobedience seem to be intensifying around the globe, are these objects flattened and defanged by the museum’s invitation to sit among the golden riches of empires past, or is there something hopeful in the gesture—something truly disobedient?

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