Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Your Everyday Art World: Glasgow to Los Angeles

As the editors of Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you an excerpt of Lane Relyea’s essay on “networked culture” and nascent art scenes. This article was originally published on August 13, 2014, in East of Borneo, and we thank their editors for making this series possible. Enjoy!

Installation view of “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s.“ Photo by Paula Goldman. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Installation view of Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo: Paula Goldman.

In the catalogue for the 1996 show Life/Live, a survey of ’90s art in the U.K., curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist wrote that “artists’ initiatives” were one of the main “reasons for the extraordinary dynamism of the British art scene.” Two years later, Obrist found himself similarly weak in the knees when confronted by the scene in Los Angeles. While interviewing recent CalArts alumnus Dave Muller about his ongoing project Three Day Weekend, Obrist confided, “When I made studio visits in L.A. earlier this year I found that the dialogue between artists is stronger than in New York. It actually reminded me of the Glaswegian situation where spaces like Transmission go hand in hand with lots of other artist-run initiatives.”

Muller generally agreed. “The issues that Three Day Weekend might bring up through its sheer existence—the nomadic, DIY, temporality, situational/context, non-monumentality—I see as being topics pertinent to my immediate generation.” In many respects, Los Angeles and Glasgow couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Rusting Glasgow on the one hand, trying desperately to deflect tourist money its way by selling nostalgia for its ye-olde maritime industry, versus L.A. on the other, global behemoth of such virtual industries as media and finance, with its aerospace futurism and showbiz culture and seeming lack of any past. In terms of their art scenes, though, both cities had long experienced marginalization. Los Angeles suffered under New York’s shadow, much as Glasgow felt eclipsed by London’s, both deemed provinces, quirky at best, otherwise just sparse and irrelevant.

Also like Glasgow, in the mid-’80s L.A. began to invest heavily in the arts as a way to shore up its global reputation. In 1986 the Museum of Contemporary Art opened (its name changed from the originally planned Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art, thus “signifying that it would present art from an international rather than regional perspective”), and a year later the city hosted a sprawling, big-ticket international arts festival. As with the “Capital of Culture” campaign in Glasgow, in L.A. the response was admiration from afar and disillusionment locally. “Potemkin Village,” scoffed Linda Frye Burnham in the L.A. Weekly. The city, she lamented, “touts itself as the next capital of art, but treats its artists like illegal aliens… We adulate state-supported geniuses like Pina Bausch and Maguy Marin, whose spectacles are the product of healthy arts environments elsewhere… [while] L.A. artists are in a desperate state, fighting over scraps, without career opportunities, funds, or housing.” But of course local artists weren’t the ones the festival’s sales pitch was aimed at.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading: Picturing the Self in the Age of Data

As the editors of Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you an excerpt of Dan Weiskopf’s essay on data and representation: “In the digital age, the truest portraits are drawn in data.” This article was originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of Art Papers, and we thank their editors for making this series possible. Enjoy!

Zach Blas. Facial Weaponization Suite: Militancy, Vulnerability, Obfuscation, tableau vivant, June 7, 2013, San Diego, CA. Image courtesy of the artist; photo: Tanner Cook.

Zach Blas. Facial Weaponization Suite: Militancy, Vulnerability, Obfuscation, tableau vivant, June 7, 2013, San Diego, CA. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Tanner Cook.

Traditionally, portraits were guided by the ideal of likeness to their subject—by the notion that “the human body,” in Wittgenstein’s words, “is the best picture of the human soul.” An apt portrait would capture the appearance of a person in a way that produces recognition; having seen the picture, you would know its subject, and vice versa. Portraiture’s representational tool kit is an expansive one. Good likenesses include more than bodily appearances, and good portraits differ from mere pictures of persons: They attempt to visibly capture an individual’s distinctive and essential character. Invisible mental and moral qualities shine forth in natural signs manifest in the person’s bodily traits. Posture, intensity of gaze, and other expressive details convey aspects of character, just as occupation, marital status, and economic class can identify a person’s place in a matrix of relations through visual codes, icons, and symbols.

The stereotype of the portrait may be grounded in the figure, but throughout the last century, the genre has drifted deeper into abstraction. Francis Picabia’s series of machine portraits dispensed with human forms entirely in favor of symbolic, mechanical proxies. In Here, This is Stieglitz Here (1915), the photographer’s apparatus—that is, Alfred Stieglitz’s camera—stands in as the best representative for the subject himself. Later, bioscientific works such as Gary Schneider’s Genetic Self-Portraits (1997–1998) or Marc Quinn’s A Genomic Portrait: Sir John Sulston (2001)—in which a sample of the sitter’s DNA in agar jelly is mounted in stainless steel—took the bearers of identity to be images of chromosomes, enlargements of microscopic hair samples, retinal images, and even mounted DNA itself.

The notion of a “portrait” is thus sufficiently labile to admit potentially any abstract substitute that can convey identity—including those grounded in scientific theorizing about the nature of identity. Changes in our self-conceptions are driven not just by social, political, physical, or economic factors, but also by technology. As Picabia’s portrait of Stieglitz suggests, the machines we operate shape our conception of who we are. Contemporary selfhood has inevitably been shaped by the emergence of that most ubiquitous technology: the networked computer.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading: The Artist’s Tag Sale

As the editors of Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you an excerpt of Julia Sherman’s writing on her project Artist Tag Sale. This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of X-TRA, and we thank their editors for making this series possible. Enjoy!

Julia Sherman. Artist Tag Sale Los Angeles, Center For The Arts, Eagle Rock.

Julia Sherman. Artist Tag Sale Los Angeles, Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock.

The first Artist’s Tag Sale took place in January of 2014 in the cafeteria of a senior center in the heart of Chelsea. The Tag Sale was inspired by a shipment that had recently arrived at my door, quite unexpectedly: My parents returned every single work of art of mine that had accrued at their house and in their storage over the last thirty years. Every test print, every failed idea, every school project, and of course, those seminal pieces that were so crucial to my development as an artist.

As I went through unmarked parcels of bubble wrap and packing tape, I asked myself, “What was I saving this for?” I rarely hang my work in my home, and I certainly wouldn’t want to show the outdated and slightly embarrassing pieces in any upcoming exhibition. My mother (also an artist) was simultaneously clearing out her studio of twenty-five years, and asking herself the same questions; a sobering glimpse of my future self.

In an ideal world, the practice of making art is an evolutionary one. We want to believe that progress is made, that our work is better today than it was yesterday. Whether you remain partial to an older piece or not, an artwork is a physical record of the care that went into its making (and material costs). The decision to throw away one’s own work is not made lightly. But storing that work ad infinitum firmly positions the artist in a lifelong practice of accumulation. Most artists I know skirt the issue in an unproductive way—they keep their old work, but allow it to slowly deteriorate, incur damage, and collect dust, until they are finally forced to throw it out.

The Artist’s Tag Sale offers another way to grapple with this common dilemma. The contributing artists dig deep through their archives and participate in a collective purge of the permanent storage. In the spirit of a traditional Tag Sale (“Yard Sale” in West Coast dialect), works are priced to sell: $50 or less. Some works are framed, mounted, stretched, others are scrawled on scraps of paper, marked with the artist’s notes or torn from the pages of a sketchbook. Artists act as dealers, haggling with customers in an effort to sell every last piece. The list of participating artists is published in advance, but at the Tag Sale, each artist takes a pseudonym. The “collectors” are forced to buy according to taste, not according to speculative value.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading: Phyllida Barlow & Vincent Fecteau

As the editors at Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to present an excerpt of Vincent Fecteau’s interview with Phyllida Barlow, originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of BOMB Magazine. Many thanks to the editors at BOMB for their help in making this series possible. Enjoy!

Vincent Fecteau. Untitled, 2008; Papier-mâché, acrylic paint; 25 3/4 x 32 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches. Copyright Vincent Fecteau. Image courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery.

Vincent Fecteau. Untitled, 2008; papier-mâché, acrylic paint; 25 3/4 x 32 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Copyright Vincent Fecteau. Courtesy of the Artist and Matthew Marks Gallery.

Vincent Fecteau: The way you pull apart the idea of sculpture from the idea of making is interesting. I wonder if the distinction could be expressed in terms of representation. So much art (abstract, representational, conceptual, etc.) simply represents something else—sometimes it’s even an idea of art. The alternative, which may be what you are proposing, is to try and make something that is, that exists in the world irreducibly and uncontainably. Could this be what you mean by a sculptural language or an invented form? It seems like we dove headfirst into the murkiest waters! I find these things very difficult to articulate, but if there is a reason to continue to make things I suspect it can be found within these ideas somewhere.

Phyllida Barlow: Yes, I am fascinated by the ongoing evolution of art that remakes art and whose aim is to re-present a particular art movement in the context of the present. It’s like remaking classic films, as if there were nothing left to say. It does indicate different attitudes toward making: making as demonstration and making as revealing, the latter being unhinged from telling but having more to do with showing.

Aren’t actors frequently requested to show and not tell? Actors and performers use body language to reveal the content of the text. There is an understanding that the text is only one part of the narrative. The performer’s bodily behavior and gestures are a nonverbal language as powerful and as subtle as the text. Can a tiny action be as loud as what is being spoken? Or vice versa—can a huge bodily gesture make its point known without the need for verbal language? Similarly, the formal qualities of sculpture show: Is it horizontal, vertical, suspended, leaning, small, large, high up, low down, plinthed, loose, contained, open, hidden, outside, or inside? And what do its other attributes say? Its materials? Is it designed, studio-built, factory-built, handmade, manufactured, figurative, appropriated, nonrepresentational, familiar, unfamiliar, readymade, new, or old? On the other hand, telling is, for me, embedded in such things as the title, and relates to the necessity to explore the work through a deconstructive trail that leads to an answer. Perhaps here I am referring to works that are subject-led, whose ideologies—political, autobiographical, social commentary—tell you what they’re about rather than allowing that to be discovered. Of course, both showing and telling can exist together!

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading: Give Us CPR

As the editors of Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you an excerpt of Gerald FitzGerald’s essay on the art market and provenance. This article was originally published in the May/June 2014 issue of Art Papers, and we thank their editors for making this series possible. Enjoy!

Street view of Knoedler & Co.

Street view of M. Knoedler & Co. Image from the blog of Masterworks Fine Art.

Provenance is the origin and history of ownership of a painting or object, and it is essential to determining the object’s authenticity, monetary value, and secure title. Although reveling in sales boosted both by new market interest and freshly minted dot-com billionaires, the international art and antiquities market will soon stumble badly unless it embraces new technologies to centralize and to radically increase the scope, quality, and authority of provenance research.

The art market currently generates about $60 billion annually. It does so without meaningful regulation and is myopic in the intelligent use of contemporary tools. It functions almost precisely as it did in the early 19th century. Trust still governs in an increasingly untrustworthy environment. As a result this market is rife with forgery, fakery, looting, and sales of stolen objects, all accompanied by a morass of litigation. The way out of this quagmire lies not with increased legal action but in sewing shut the gaping holes in provenance research that permit such chicanery. The creation of a nonprofit Center for Provenance Research (CPR), funded by a small levy on market sales, is sorely needed to vet the legitimacy of what is traded. The greatest deterrent to fraud on the market is a decreasing ability to get away with it.

The 2011 closing of the highly respected M. Knoedler & Co., then the oldest gallery in New York, reportedly resulted from its sale—quite possibly unknowingly—of fake modernist paintings. In China, the Jibaozhai Museum cost approximately 6.4 million GBP to build in 2010, but it was shut down in 2013 after the discovery that nearly all its 40,000 artifacts were knockoffs. Not long ago, a small group of Germans was convicted of selling forged modern “masterpieces” to sophisticated collectors, including several works “authenticated” by experts. The group was charged with creating fourteen forgeries; its leader, however, who pled guilty and received a short sentence (much of it served at his home), claims to have forged and sold more than 200 paintings. Police recovered about eighty.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading: The Education of a Collector, or Jeff Dauber Explains Why Tech Bros Don’t Buy Art

As the editors of Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to bring you Glen Helfand’s essay on collector Jeff Dauber and the importance of art education. Dauber notes, “I know someone who has three massive homes, a private jet, multiple cars, about a hundred horses—and not one single piece of art. And he could go out and buy any damn thing he wants—with the change he finds in his dryer. He didn’t grow up around art. He wasn’t exposed.” This article was originally published on August 18, 2014, on our sister site Art Practical. Enjoy!

David Hevel. Jay Z Killed the Pussycat, 2006; mixed media. Courtesy of Jeffrey Dauber.

David Hevel. Jay Z Killed the Pussycat, 2006; mixed media. Courtesy of Jeffrey Dauber.

Jeff Dauber is a brash, outspoken, and abundantly tattooed collector who also happens to work in tech. He’s been deeply engaged in both sectors for over twenty years and immersed in art since childhood. By trade, he is an electrical engineer who has long worked in Silicon Valley. He manages large production teams, a well-paying position in a flush field. During his career, he’s worked for more than one major company in the South Bay, as he does currently, though when I interviewed him about his collecting practice, his one stipulation was that his current employer remain unstated. It’s corporate policy, he says, and we’re here to talk about his private collection, not one that represents his industry. Collecting art, however, is difficult to separate from the factors that make it possible. More on that later.

I had seen Dauber’s collection before, back in 2006 when I wrote about the renovation of his Potrero Hill home by architect Thom Faulders, who created a stylized, futuristic ceiling because Dauber put a premium on wall space for his art. I recall paintings by Travis Somerville and Chester Arnold, and outlandish, grotesquely oversized fake flower and taxidermy arrangements by David Hevel. In the ensuing eight years, Dauber’s collection has matured and expanded, and he’s moved into a second home around the corner (also spiffed up by Faulders) where he lives with his art. He keeps the original house to display and store his collection; it’s cheaper, he admits, than keeping it in a professional storage facility.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading: All Mother Tongues Are Difficult

As the editors at Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are excited to present an excerpt of Nada Zanhour’s review of Mounira Al Solhs work at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut. This article was originally published on June 30, 2014, in REORIENT, and we thank the editors for their help in making this series possible. Enjoy!

Mounira Al Solh. Eat My Script, 2014; still from video, 24 min 50 sec.

Mounira Al Solh. Eat My Script, 2014; still from video; 24:50.

Lebanese artist Mounira Al Solh’s latest solo exhibition, All Mother Tongues are Difficult, tells a story of exodus and the continual movement of individuals from their country of origin to new realms. Such journeys are seldom straightforward and unidirectional; humans are communicative beings, and language presents itself as a tool for survival. Naturalisation and migration demand substantial personal changes, as old ways and habits must be “shed” in order for one to adapt to their new environment. Accordingly, in her exhibition, Al Solh uses the current influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon as a starting point.

As one enters the premises of the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut, they step into a space filled with Damascene clogs–iconic objects safely stowed away in the region’s collective memory–comprising the installation Clogged. Extensively featured in older, popular films, these clogs are typically worn in hammams (bath houses). Audiences in the gallery are encouraged to try on a pair from among the dozens arranged there, and roam about in the space whilst “taking in” the rest of the exhibition. The installation, inspired by the phrase walk a mile in a man’s shoes before you judge him, invokes the notion of travel as well as the continuous wandering of refugees.

Lying adjacent to the scores of clogs, I Strongly Believe in Our Right to be Frivolous presents a series of mixed-media portraits. These works constitute a growing body of pieces that will eventually encompass 1,000 portraits. The series is based on illustrations inspired by the artist’s interviews with Palestinian–Syrian refugees who were again exiled, this time to Lebanon. The conversations are depicted through fragmented scribbles that highlight dramatic changes forced upon individuals in times of political turmoil. Al Solh’s practice reflects her intrigue with regard to the human dimensions of political issues; that is, the force politics has on an individual level. The artist takes on the role of a witness here to document human experiences in times of political havoc, using geopolitical forces as backdrops to her subjects’ stories.

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