San Francisco

Alec Soth: Songbook at Fraenkel Gallery

Today we bring you a review of Alec Soth: Songbook at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. Writing for Art Practical, author Danica Willard Sachs notes that “The project marks a departure from [Soth’s] usual reliance on narrative annotations to explain his images; it’s a more free-flowing, less didactic viewing experience.” This article was originally published on March 26, 2015.

Alec Soth. Bree, Liberty Cheer All-Stars, Corsicana, Texas, 2012; pigment print; 39 x 52 in. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. © Alec Soth.

Alec Soth. Bree, Liberty Cheer All-Stars, Corsicana, Texas, 2012; pigment print; 39 x 52 in. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. © Alec Soth.

In twenty-one black-and-white pigment prints from the larger photobook Songbook, Alec Soth presents at Fraenkel Gallery a vision of contemporary American community life tinged with melancholy and wry humor. Between 2012 and 2014, Soth played the role of a minor newspaper photographer, traveling the United States to document community meetings, dances, pageants, and festivals for his self-published newspaper The LBM Dispatch(distributed through the website of his independent publishing house, the Little Brown Mushroom) and also while on occasional assignment for the New York Times. Like Robert Frank’s effort The Americans, first published in 1958, Soth’s depiction of American life revels in the space between sincerity and satire. The artist offers little more than a location in each image title, and yet the cumulative result is a feeling of Americanness in photographs that were taken anywhere and everywhere from Kissimmee, Florida, to Redwood City, California.

Read the full article here.

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Singapore

Gilbert & George: Utopian Pictures at Arndt Gallery

In the 21st-century lexicon of urban development, the term utopia has all but vanished from the descriptors of a contemporary city. It’s more comfortably consigned to the archaic vocabulary of 18th-century academia. Yet it remains a silent ideological underpinning of economic policies, an elusive goal that governments strive toward but leave unacknowledged—seen, for instance, in laws forbidding “transgressive” behavior, constant political entanglements, or even in perpetual urban developments intended to enhance civic life.

Gilbert & George. They Shot Them!, 2014; 254cm × 453 cm. Photo: Courtesy of Arndt gallery and the artists.

Gilbert & George. They Shot Them!, 2014; photomontage; 254 × 453 cm. Courtesy of Arndt gallery and the Artists.

The twenty-six photomontages of Utopian Pictures at Arndt Gallery in Singapore, by the British artistic team Gilbert Prousch & George Passmore, gleefully parody that lofty ideal. Each photomontage presents utopia’s flip side and depicts a fiercely hostile, turbulent environment of dire warnings, threats, and nonsensical graffiti in a provocative mishmash of garish colors, as though cataloguing the battle scars of a city splintered into factions. Defiant voices (“Anti-fascist zone,” “No racists in working class areas,” “Toffs out”) clamor to be heard and clash with the heavy hand of authority amid sinister undercurrents of racial, class, and sexual exclusions.

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San Francisco

Nate Boyce: Polyscroll at YBCA

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of Nate Boyce’s solo show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Author Monica Westin notes: “The overall effect is akin to walking around a sculpture in a completely unanchored plane in space that occasionally drifts into and out of alignment with other planes and other worlds.” This article was originally published on March 24, 2015.

Nate Boyce. Polyscroll II, 2015 (still); HD video. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

Nate Boyce. Polyscroll II, 2015 (video still); HD video. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco.

At a recent screening accompanying Nate Boyce’s Polyscroll exhibition at YBCA, the artist presented a group of abstract films and video/media art that have been influential to his work, particularly as examples of how film can approach being painterly.

While the films Boyce showed—Robert Breer’s menacing but playful frame-by-frame animations, Paul Sharits’ violent, physically distressing flashes in Ray Gun Virus—address many of the themes central to Polyscroll, it’s Boyce’s own supercut of a Willem de Kooning documentary with clips and sounds from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) that is the most critical for uncovering some of the exhibition’s deeper impulses. Boyce’s mash-up combines shots of the hyper-canonical abstract expressionist creating larger-than-life painterly gestures against what Boyce calls the “visceral, biomorphic” aggressive presence of the alien’s uncanny movements and breathing. The resulting effect is grotesque but formally fascinating: How is the creation of a creature like the alien as a sculptural, kinetic, and cinematic object akin to a brushstroke? The question is a timely one, especially now that we are in the age of digital rendering and modeling; Boyce cited the zbrush tool as an analogue to oil painting. How have the some of the most basic art-historical relationships like painting and sculpture changed, and what are the new potentialities for crossbreeding?

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London

Barbara Kruger: Early Works at Skarstedt Gallery

It’s a funny thing to be able to go back and reconsider an artist’s early works after thirty years, partly because the time capsule of memory remembers the work in the context in which it was made. Viewing the work again in the present reflects the context of that prior time as it’s understood now. The aggressively fast-paced 1980s are faster in memory than they actually were. The once-fleeting Warholian milestone of fifteen minutes can now be measured in terms of nearly 8 millions tweets. So it would seem that no body of work could epitomize the brashness of the 1980s better, or be better suited to the speed of the digital present, than the work of Barbara Kruger. Now at Skarstedt’s London gallery, Barbara Kruger: Early Works is an opportunity to see if memory serves history.

Barbara Kruger. Untitled (Business as usual), 1987; gelatin silver print in artist’s frame; artist’s proof  from an edition of one, plus one artist’s proof. 49 x 60 3/8 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Skarstedt.

Barbara Kruger. Untitled (Business as Usual), 1987; gelatin silver print in artist’s frame; 49 x 60 3/18 in.; artist’s proof from an edition of one, plus one artist’s proof. Courtesy of the Artist and Skarstedt.

More of a very brief sample than a true survey, the exhibition is not particularly cohesive—but then it’s not supposed to be. It’s an opportunity to see the early works of Barbara Kruger that can still be purchased. Getting past the secondary-market effect, these pieces collectively offer insight into Kruger’s conceptual framework. Polar stances are formed by the norm and the artist’s critique. This is the traditional quick read of Kruger’s work as a feminist deconstruction utilizing truth-to-power statements paired with imagery that underscores the text. What becomes apparent when surrounded by the seven-piece show is how much the viewer is implicated in each of her assertions. Kruger incriminates the viewer through the brilliant use of the pronoun you; you–the viewer–manifest this problem. This is a shocking (re)revelation. For those that see themselves as being on the “correct side” of the critique, Kruger’s work was about the other—a kind of ideological enemy against whom one might take a polemical stance. It’s not. It’s about the viewer’s predicament within the space that is created between the critique and the projected other’s position.

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: The Business End of Art

#artmarket #creativeeconomy #collectors #entrepreneur #philanthropy #support

As in nearly every field of commerce, it seems that the tension between old and new models of the business of art is coming to a head. Traditional galleries see that their established methods of selling selectively and covertly to buyers of high social standing are under threat. Museums, which once were beneficiaries of philanthropic largesse from those same well-heeled collectors, now often find that their leading patrons are competitors; rather than donate their holdings, they establish private institutions instead—like LA’s new Broad Museum—that rival the scale and scope of the Moderns and Contemporaries, which are left empty-handed. Even major gifts to museums, such as the unrivaled Fisher Collection now entrusted to SFMOMA, come with strict and costly requirements, such as new buildings and capital campaigns. Meanwhile, the most visible and valuable contemporary artists are no longer those who have been vetted by scholars and curators, but those whose works can be most readily flipped on the secondary and auction markets. Under these circumstances, the art object is purely a marker of exchange value upon which certain complicit thinkers heap vague claims of cultural use value that seem to apply only to the acquisitive culture of the 1%.

The Broad under construction, view from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Photo © Iwan Baan. Courtesy The Broad.

The Broad under construction, view from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Broad. Photo © Iwan Baan.

The anxiety of the old guard toward the new manifests most clearly in the recent New York Times and New York Observer profiles of art impresario Stefan Simchowitz. Simchowitz has a venture-capital background, a Los Angeles aesthetic, and a start-up approach to artists, dumping money into new and unproven talent so as to play the odds that some of the artists he supports will reach the upper echelons of the market and bear out his investments as a group. Both profiles describe a man who sees himself as an underdog and, as belies his tech-funding background, a “disrupter” of established systems. His critics, who include several prominent dealers, call him a “flipper” who takes advantage of emerging artists while devaluing their output for personal profit. His champions see him as a person willing to take a risk on an unproven artist in an era when few collectors seem to value that kind of patronage.

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Shotgun Reviews

James Cordas: a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me at Et al. 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, Alex Rojas reviews James Cordas: a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me at Et al. Gallery in San Francisco. 

James Cordas. Installation view of

James Cordas. a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me; installation view.

James Cordas’ exhibition a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me transforms Et al. Gallery into an extrasensory space. With the use of poetry, lighting installation, and performance, Cordas addresses the apprehensions of daily existence and volatile occurrences within our culture.

Entering the space, the viewer is physically immersed in Cordas’ poetry through his work 8 poems (2015). Through a custom analog circuit, the show is illuminated in a synthesized language of poetry. The circuit creates a blockade from the flow of electiricty to the fluorescent lights until sound amplitude is present. Cordas describes it as “light coming from a mouth every time someone wants to make a sound.” The light is abrupt and repetitive, so much so that the gallery issued a photosensitive epilepsy warning as part of the press release. Part comical, part serious, this warning and the poetic light installation set the tone for what the viewer will experience.

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Detroit

Ragnar Kjartansson: The End at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) presents Ragnar Kjartansson’s gorgeous and shrewd video installation The End (2009). On five rear projection screens, Kjartansson and his collaborator, Icelandic musician Davíð Þór Jónsson, play all of the parts of an unidentified country-music song on piano, banjo, drums, and acoustic and electric guitars. Shot in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, both men are bearded and dressed in raccoon-fur hats, shearling coats, and jeans. Kjartansson’s smartly staged romantic concert of two musicians tests the limits of “naturalness” while also invoking the awe of a pristine and secluded landscape.

Ragnar Kjartansson. The End, 2009; Video. Courtesy of MOCAD, the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

Ragnar Kjartansson. The End, 2009; video. Courtesy of MOCAD, the Artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

Like Edmund Burke’s sublime landscape,[1] which informed 18th- and 19th-century romantic landscape painting and writing,[2] Kjartansson positions human beings as solitary and commanding against the vast and sometimes chaotic natural world. Devoid of the architectural markings of human development, Kjartansson’s landscape is a field of white snow, mountains, and pine trees. Each of the five videos in the installation begins with shots of a landscape that includes the musicians’ equipment and instruments. Kjartansson and Þór Jónsson walk into the frame to play their song for thirty minutes and then walk off camera and into the landscape. This suggests that the landscape is the stable entity, with the duo intervening only for a brief time. Without a visible audience, the duo plays for themselves and the camera. However, at one moment, Kjartansson turns and plays toward the canyon below, pauses, and then listens as the music echoes off the ravine and disappears. While sited in the mountains, the musicians also play to it, suggesting landscape as a dynamic thing in itself.

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