Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Carlo Speranza

A kayak that goes only in circles, a disappearing art gallery, a film that begins and ends at the credit sequence, and a set of pure gold nails driven into a gallery wall are just some of Northern Italy-based artist Carlo Speranza’s deceptively clever projects. Speranza, as the previous list implies, works across an exceptionally broad range of mediums; his work is made using wood, concrete, gold, neon, prints, photographs, cardboard, film, video, and a host of site-specific materials.

Carlo Speranza. Karlo's Unrealized Works, 2014; 24k gold-leaf on cardboard boxes; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Carlo Speranza. Karlo’s Unrealized Works, 2014; 24k gold leaf on cardboard boxes; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

One ongoing unlimited series, Karlo’s Unrealized Works (2014), is a set of cardboard boxes of varying sizes that have the words “Karlo’s Unrealized Works” applied to all six surfaces in pure 24-karat gold leaf. The boxes—which pay homage, visually and conceptually, to Andy Warhol’s Kellogg’s Corn Flake Boxes (1971)—all contain nothing except the promise of an unrealized future artwork that Speranza vows to make one day. The boxes are aesthetically restrained yet still seductive. By making containers for pure concept (and preconceived concept at that), Speranza offers his viewer a striking, art-historically resonant narrative that reads as a slight-of-hand gesture that is not gimmicky, but goading.

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Who Pays Artists?

From our friends at Bad at Sports, today we bring you a synthesis of recent considerations on the economics of artist compensation. Author Abigail Satinsky asks, “Because if we do agree, yes artists should get paid, what then? Who are our choruses directed at?” This article was originally published on October 24, 2014.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in.

In a recent review in the New Yorker of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition of local art, Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond, Peter Schjeldahl singles out BFAMFAPHD as puncturing the effervescent mood of the exhibition, saying that, “The collective BFAMFAPHD (the initials of academic degrees) spreads a homeopathic wet blanket on the show’s high spirits with statistical documentation of the hard lots of current graduates—the staggering number of artists, debt burdens, iffy prospects. The bonus bummer of a group discussion among veteran local artists, in the show’s catalogue, circles the drain of Topic A in the daily life of art anywhere: real estate.” While I don’t really care too much about the over-celebration of Brooklyn as a creative context, this snarky tidbit has a little bit of truth—the hard lots of current graduates is indeed a quite epic bummer and not just in the over-capitalized art scenes of New York.

But besides being concerned about the harshing of Schjeldahl’s mellow on the wonders of Bushwick, and I didn’t see the show, the questions around who can afford to be artist in today’s economy and concurrent debt crisis is a central concern to today’s generation of artists. How can we talk about this situation openly, honestly, with some well-deserved finger-pointing around the exploitation of artists by institutional culture and a little self-reflexivity about why artists do indeed deserve to get paid (all artists? for what kinds of services?) and who should pay them?

With the recent efforts by collectives BFAMFAPHD asking “What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees?”, W.A.G.E. Fee Calculator which aims to set standards for artist compensation based on organizational budgets, and from a slightly different angle Brooklyn Commune, “a report on the state of the performing arts from the perspective of artists” (all New York-based) providing perspective with some hard numbers to back it up, it’s an exciting time to think about artist-driven efforts to research and fundamentally change the systemic exploitation of artists.

Read the full article here.

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Chicago

Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey at Mary and Leigh Block Museum

This year has been unusually promising for the visibility of work by black female artists, even while that prominence has further highlighted racially problematic attitudes within the art world. The last ten months have marked the first in which an African American woman—Carrie Mae Weems—was given a retrospective at the Guggenheim, though her triumphant entry into that pantheon led to rebukes that the museum cut the original size of the show in half. Perhaps the most talked-about work of the year was Kara Walker’s giant sugar sphinx mammy, A Subtlety, which was widely praised, but also led to questions about the representation of stereotypes and the spectacle of black and brown bodies for a primarily white audience.

Wangechi Mutu. Your Story My Curse, 2006; Mixed-media collage on Mylar, overall: 101.5 x 109 inches. Collection of Susan Hancock, New York.

Wangechi Mutu. Your Story My Curse, 2006; mixed-media collage on Mylar; overall: 101.5 x 109 in. Collection of Susan Hancock, New York.

At the Mary and Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University, the year ends with a major exhibition by Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu titled Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey. With works spanning the last twenty years of Mutu’s career, the mini-retrospective includes her iconic collages that feature sexualized composite creatures in fantasy landscapes, as well as several early line drawings with collage elements. The drawings are seeds that exploded into tour-de-force images on Mylar; they demonstrate that the artist’s formal concerns and subject matter—exploring themes of identity, gender, racism, caricature, fable, exploitation, colonialism, and ethnographic history—were established early in her career.

Mutu’s collages have strong graphic features that come through in reproduction, yet they still can’t match the experience of seeing them in person. The textures and qualities of her materials reward close viewing; bits of glitter, collections of beads, and rough textures are all part of the lusciousness of the visual experience. And because the collages are packed with surface details, more information reveals itself to the patient viewer.

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North Adams

Anselm Kiefer at Mass MoCA

Imagine a corrugated metal shed in which two facing walls tower twenty-five feet high and extend fifty-eight feet in length. Each interior wall is paneled with fifteen six-foot by nine-foot Anselm Kiefer paintings that rise three feet high. Layering seems an apt metaphor not only for this work, Velimir Chlebnikov (2004)—whose shed stands inside the gallery building, inside the museum, inside the grounds of a former factory campus now occupied by MASS MoCA—but also for the two other Kiefer works that share the Hall Art Foundation building.

Left and Right: The two walls of painting of Anselm Kiefer’s Velimir Chlebnikov. Velimir Chlebnikov, 2004 (detail); steel pavilion, 300 x 330 x 689 in.; 30 paintings, oil, emulsion, acrylic, lead, and mixed media on canvas; 18 paintings, 75 x 130 in.; 12 paintings, 75 x 110 in. Courtesy of MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, and Hall Art Foundation, New York. Photo: Saul Rosenfield.

Left and Right: The two walls of painting of Anselm Kiefer’s Velimir Chlebnikov. Velimir Chlebnikov, 2004 (detail); steel pavilion, 300 x 330 x 689 in.; 30 paintings, oil, emulsion, acrylic, lead, and mixed media on canvas; 18 paintings, 75 x 130 in.; 12 paintings, 75 x 110 in. Courtesy of MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, and Hall Art Foundation, New York. Photo: Saul Rosenfield.

The mass and material of each of the three installations bury the visitor in strata, not only in painting above painting above painting, or Kiefer’s signature accumulation of paint and other media, but also in the layers of undulating, rusted-rebar-spiked concrete snaking eighty-two feet in Étroit Sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow Are the Vessels) (2002), and twenty lead beds arrayed in The Women of the Revolution (Les Femmes de la Révolution) (1992/2013). In Velimir Chlebnikov—based on the eponymous 18th-century Russian poet and futurist’s mathematical proposition that great naval battles occur at 317-year intervals—visitors find themselves deep in a pictorial representation of this history, and under an unsettled ocean, black, gray, white, and ochre, studded with three-dimensional replicas of naval vessels. In The Women of the Revolution, the gray beds are draped with lead sheets and arranged in two rows, facing each other. They evoke the inescapability of hospital wards, psychiatric institutions, Dickensian orphanages, and cemetery graves, alluding as well as to the shrouding of women in history. The surface of the lead is stained with the colors of mineral deposits, tracing strata even here.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: The Ethics of Application Fees, part 2

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

What are your thoughts on application fees for residencies, fellowships, and exhibitions? Typically the odds of being selected are very long, and the vast majority of artists who apply for opportunities aren’t swimming in cash they earn (for making and selling work). I understand that institutions, organizations, and other entities offering opportunities are on tight budgets, and the massive inflows of applications are insane to deal with, but shouldn’t they have to incorporate the expense into their costs of doing business? I know using services like Slide Room costs money, but sticking a fee on an artist with a less than 10 percent chance doesn’t seem quite right.

Jean-Luc Moulene. Tronche / Avatar (Paris, April 2014), 2014; Polished concrete, blue blanket 15 x 10 5/8 x 11 in.

Jean-Luc Moulene. Tronche/Avatar (Paris, April 2014), 2014; polished concrete, blue blanket;
15 x 10 5/8 x 11 in.

Like many artists, my thoughts on application fees are mixed. I’ll happily pay about $25—my personal threshold—for what is essentially an art lottery ticket, but much more than that and I get queasy. Like you, I’m aware that no matter how good my targeting skills are, it’s still a crapshoot. As artist Christine Wong Yap’s blog shows us, the odds are often quite low: a 10 percent chance of securing a 2015 residency at Djerassi; a 3.7 percent acceptance rate for a visual-arts residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts; and a one-in-fifty-six probability—that’s 0.3 percent, so maybe better to call it an improbability—of becoming one of three Emerging Artist Fellows at the Queens Museum in New York City. But the odds are long on almost everything in life, and as a pal of mine used to remind me, “You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.”

I’m familiar with artists’ gripes about entry fees, but I wanted to hear the institutional side of the story, so I wrote to a handful of organizations. Surprisingly, only one wrote back.[1] Jason Franz, executive director of the ten-year-old Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, was eager to engage in a lively email conversation on the subject. He started off by putting the idea of financial risk into context: “The odds of making a masterful work of art that will sell for thousands of dollars with the materials purchased to do so are probably even slimmer than success in submitting to competitive juried exhibitions. Does this mean the art-supply store should give away the materials or in some other way negotiate your risk? For one to say, ‘Shouldn’t [institutions] have to incorporate the expense into their costs of doing business’ shows a severe naiveté. Shouldn’t artists have to incorporate the expense into their costs of doing business? I know I do as a working artist.”

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From the Archives

From the Archives: The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History at Worth Ryder Art Gallery

Today from our archives we look back to exactly one year ago, to M. Rebekah Otto’s review of The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History at the Worth Ryder Art Gallery in Berkeley, California. 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.

Adam Harms. Performing the Torture Playlist, 2012; found digital video; 59-minute loop. Courtesy of the Artist.

Adam Harms. Performing the Torture Playlist, 2012; found digital video; 59-minute loop. Courtesy of the Artist.

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History posits that the eponymous detention facility on the U.S. military base in Cuba closed permanently in 2012, and a museum subsequently opened on its premises. The fictive museum, conceived and created by Ian Alan Paul, intends to “remember the human-rights abuses that occurred while the prison was in operation.”[1] The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History Satellite Exhibition, curated by Paul and recently on view at the Worth Ryder Art Gallery of the University of California, Berkeley, included works that evoked the awe, indignity, and sorrow of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility (Gitmo). For example, in Adam Harms’ Performing the Torture Playlist (2012), amateur performers sing karaoke-style renditions of the American pop songs used to torture Guantanamo prisoners.[2] While such constituent works of the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History are compelling, they are not predicated on and don’t directly address the supposed closure. Instead, they feel more relevant to a prison that’s still active than to its remembrance.

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San Francisco

Matt Borruso: Wax House of Wax at Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of Matt Borruso’s recent solo show Wax House of Wax, which closes today at Steven Wolf Fine Arts in San Francisco. Author Danica Willard Sachs notes, “Like a Surrealist, Borruso manipulates the banal, challenging viewers to see the horror underlying the everyday.” This review was originally published on October 23, 2014.

Matt Borruso. Forming, 2012–14; installation view, Wax House of Wax, 2014; plastic, Plexiglas, glass, mirrors, cut paper, ceramic, unfired clay, silicone, wax, talc, lenticular photographs, holograms, wood, tape, rubber bands, linen, concrete, steel, elastic, books, magazines, airbrush paint, inkjet prints, transparencies, posters, wallpaper; 120 x 42 x 61 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco.

Matt Borruso. Forming, 2012–14; installation view, Wax House of Wax, 2014; plastic, Plexiglas, glass, mirrors, cut paper, ceramic, unfired clay, silicone, wax, talc, lenticular photographs, holograms, wood, tape, rubber bands, linen, concrete, steel, elastic, books, magazines, airbrush paint, inkjet prints, transparencies, posters, wallpaper; 120 x 42 x 61 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco.

In Wax House of Wax, on view at Steven Wolf Fine Arts until October 25, Matt Borruso invites viewers into his carefully constructed house of horrors. Borruso transforms everyday objects into sinister forms in his sculptures and collages. He has equated his painting practice with the making of Frankenstein’s monster, cobbling together disparate parts to create an ambiguous portrait, and he extends this approach to his new body of work, making banal objects uncanny.

Two surreal collages greet viewers upon entry to the exhibition. On the left, Macramé Pot Hangers (2012) is composed of four copies of the same magazine page overlaid with a duplicate image of a brick-and-tile fireplace and mantel. As a whole, the arrangement of the pages in the collage works kaleidoscopically, moving the viewer’s focus toward the center of the frame. A mess of intersecting and repeating geometric patterns makes it hard to distinguish the borders between the pages. Hanging to the right is Borruso’s Dark Energy (2014), which depicts a B-horror-movie character, Maniac Cop, wallpapered over magazine clippings showing opulent interior spaces with transparent furniture and mirrors. Seen individually, the two collages do not immediately have any relationship to each other. Borruso’s clever pairing, however, lays the foundation for the rest of the show. By creating equivalence between the two works through their placement next to each other, Borruso suggests a kind of terror underlying the simplicity of a macramé plant holder.

Read the full article here.

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