Ewa Stackelberg: Fotogram at Fotografiska

In October 1997, Ewa Stackelberg’s husband died in a plane accident in Costa Rica. Among the belongings sent to her after the tragedy was her husband’s camera, which had been smashed to pieces in the crash—almost like a foreshadowing of the turn that Stackelberg’s life and practice would take in the years to come. In the search for a new artistic language to express her grief, photography—or rather, the production of photograms—eventually became Stackelberg’s chosen medium. Nearly two decades later, the horrific tragedy continues to inform her oeuvre, where metaphors of life and death, in their gloriously distilled forms, have found permanent imprints on light-sensitive paper. Fotogram (2015) is a retrospective of Stackelberg’s work at Fotografiska, taken over a period of fifteen years; each image is an exercise in capturing the amalgamation of “color, patterns and stories.”

Ewa Stackelberg. Divan Grottan, 2011; photogram; Divan series. Courtesy of Ewa Stackelberg and Fotografiska.

Ewa Stackelberg. Divan Grottan, 2011; photogram; Divan series. Courtesy of Ewa Stackelberg and Fotografiska.

In technical terms, the photogram is a photographic image made without a camera, an old method that was, in the nineteenth century, employed by pioneers László Moholy-Nagy and Anna Atkins to create photographic illustrations with the cyanotype process. To create a photogram, objects are placed between light sensitive paper and a light source; when exposed, the areas of the paper that receive light appear dark, and the parts that do not receive any light appear lighter. The silhouette that gradually emerges is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone, depending upon the degree of opacity and transparency of the objects used. Much like the photographic pioneers, Stackelberg’s process in the darkroom is one of conscious experimentation with the image-production process. A usable print or a favourable outcome is never assured—Stackelberg readily admits that there are more bad prints than good ones—but it is precisely this aesthetic uncertainty that’s so alluring, especially when creating a photogram is akin to engaging in “a dialogue between the unconscious and the artistic material” each time light, chemicals, and objects interact.

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New York

2015 Triennial: Surround Audience at the New Museum

Surround Audience, the latest triennial exhibition at the New Museum, surveys fifty-one emerging artists, from twenty-five countries, whose practices are informed by their lived experience immersed in the digital landscape. The triennial has always billed itself as a predictive rather than reflective survey, and this iteration is no exception, with a focus on the culture of the immediate present and where it’s hurtling. Though the show’s description never uses the word digital, all of the works are made by a generation of artists whose lives have been marked by the unprecedented proliferation of digital technology over the past three decades. The exhibition claims to address such lines of inquiry as: “What are the new visual metaphors for the self and subjecthood when our ability to see and be seen is expanding, as is our desire to manage our self-image and privacy? Is it possible to opt out of, bypass, or retool commercial interests that potentially collude with national and international policy? How are artists striving to embed their works in the world around them through incursions into media and activism?”[1]

Josh Kline. Freedom, 2015; installation view, 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience, 2015, New Museum, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal, New York.

Josh Kline. Freedom, 2015; installation view, 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience, New Museum, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal, New York.

The triennial is co-curated by Ryan Trecartin, an artist whose own practice wrangles with these questions. What no longer exists for Trecartin, the artists in Surround Audience, and those who choose to categorize their work as post-internet art is the idea of an online/offline boundary; offline existence is impossible, as is privacy. Whereas earlier internet artists often made work that could be seen solely online and explored the implications of the new, widespread accessibility and audience, post-internet artists mine the state of mind they grew up with, a consciousness built to utilize the systems of online networks that define and organize daily life. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study found that the average person in the United States between 18 and 44 years of age checks their Facebook status fourteen times per day; 62 percent of these 18-to-44-year-olds check their smartphones immediately upon waking up.[2] What does being constantly plugged in, visible, interactive, and trackable do to one’s sense of self? Questioning the effects of a rapidly evolving culture on “our sense of self and identity as well as on art’s form and larger social role”—as the exhibition claims to do—has been a concern of varying degree within the arts since the early modern period and will likely continue to have new permutations every generation. What Surround Audience frames successfully is the shift in focus from understanding the internet as a tool to instead understanding it as an exponentially developing biosphere that we exist in and are helping to shape.

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Linear Abstraction at the SCAD Museum of Art

Abstraction is dead! Long live abstraction! In Linear Abstraction, the SCAD Museum of Art negotiates the status of nonrepresentational work as it exists in the 21st century and includes work in various media, including painting, sculpture, photography, and digital formats. While the exhibition seeks to trace commonalities between contemporary practices by engaging somewhat diverse uses or ideas of lines, the resulting effect points succinctly to the broader condition of 21st-century abstraction.

Phillip Stearns. Linear Abstraction, 2015; installation view. Gutstein Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Photo: Marc Newton.

Phillip Stearns. Linear Abstraction, 2015; installation view, Gutstein Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Photo: Marc Newton.

As its title so aptly demonstrates, the show uses the concept of the line—or more specifically, the hard-edged line—as a starting point in exploring how contemporary artists approach abstraction. Obviously, lines are omnipresent in art—in fact, it would be hard to preclude artists from being in the show if the engagement of lines were the only criteria. Visitors to this exhibition may also remember the Museum of Modern Art’s On Line, presented in late 2010 in New York. This exhibition attempted to explore the use of the line throughout modern art; in the end, predictably, artworks filled every wall of every gallery, showing the ubiquity of this most fundamental of formal devices.

Avoiding a survey-like mentality, Linear Abstraction uses the line as a lens in which to view specific works, and in turn the curators have created a show that comments not so much on the deliberate use of line, but instead on trends within contemporary abstraction. By using the word linear in the title, viewers are forced to reconcile each work with the idea of the line. Thus the curators have created an environment in which the works are meant to be read in a specific way.

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Shotgun Reviews

Jake Longstreth: Free Range at Gregory Lind 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, Miguel Arzabe reviews Jake Longstreth: Free Range at Gregory Lind Gallery in San Francisco.

Jake Longstreth. Free Range, 2014; Oil on canvas in artist frame, 60 x 40 in.

Jake Longstreth. Free Range, 2014; oil on canvas in artist frame; 60 x 40 in.

For urban dwellers with the means and motivation to leave the city in search of open space, there is a crucial moment when the last big-box store fades in the rear-view mirror and the mountains loom ahead. LA-based artist Jake Longstreth’s humble paintings featured in Free Range at Gregory Lind Gallery present the viewer with a likewise ambivalent moment when the promise of freedom becomes tinged with a nagging, indefinite apprehension.

Longstreth’s landscape paintings depict distant mountain ranges under vast skies, but they deal not so much with nature as with the concept of the sublime. A low-grade, unspoken dread is present in all nine of his paintings, which range in scale from intimate to body-sized. It is crucial to understand that the artist elected to paint from memory, which gives his imagination free rein—yet the works are restrained in composition, facture, and palette. It is precisely the use of an understated palette, especially in the skies where greenish grays and hazy pinks blend to dead blues in seamless gradations, that gives viewers the creeping sense that we are not experiencing the respite from the city that was promised. Rather, we experience nature’s inability to reveal anything to us other than what we project onto it.

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From the Archives

From the Archive – Fan Mail: Joe Webb

Almost a year ago today we published an article featuring the work of Joe Webb. Fan Mail columnist Will Brown selected Webb’s work from hundreds of reader submissions, noting that “humor comes to the fore in all of [the artist’s] images.” Currently, Webb’s work is on view in the Prints & Originals Gallery at the Saatchi Gallery in London through April 7, 2015. This article was originally published on March 28, 2014.

Joe Webb. Stirring Up A Storm, 2014; collage; 12 ¾” x 8” inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Joe Webb. Stirring Up a Storm, 2014; collage; 12 ¾ x 8 in. Image courtesy of the Artist.

In Joe Webb’s Stirring Up A Storm (2014), the nearly full moon peers resolutely down like a removed voyeur, while a continent-sized Sunbeam Mixmaster Junior (an electric mixer from the 1950s) stirs Earth’s atmosphere with its twin silver beaters to create massive, hurricane-like weather patterns. From the description alone, issues of global warming and energy crises come to mind; however, the well-crafted humor, imaginative aesthetic, and a subtly wry irreverence in Webb’s collages ensure that his message is successfully communicated.

Webb makes his collages by combining and removing imagery from vintage magazines and printed ephemera. While he describes his working methods as “analogue” and “luddite reaction(s) to working as a graphic artist on computers for many years,” the works strike particularly contemporary notes, both formally and conceptually.

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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.



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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