New York

Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art

At the press preview for Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, more than one member of the Whitney Museum’s curatorial staff urged visitors to dispense with “preconceived notions” about Koons and embrace the exhibition as an opportunity to view the artist’s perhaps too-well-known oeuvre with fresh eyes. One of the largest retrospectives the Whitney has ever mounted, Jeff Koons sprawls across three floors in ascending chronological order, lucidly mapping the artist’s career as he progressed from wunderkind art-school grad, to cultural provocateur, to the Mylar man we have known and either loved or hated for past twenty-odd years.

Jeff Koons. One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985. Glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball; 64 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 13 1/4 in. (164.5 x 78.1 x 33.7 cm). Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. ©Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons. One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985; glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball; 64 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 13 1/4 in. (164.5 x 78.1 x 33.7 cm.). Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. © Jeff Koons.

Those who revile Koons often do so on the basis of his later works, like Balloon Dog (or, more recently, Balloon Venus of Willendorf), the production and sale values of which have soared while their meaning has seemingly become ever more surface-deep. Admirers, meanwhile, employ a modernist-inflected rhetoric of materiality and monumentality to elevate this work on much of the same bases. Wall text at the Whitney describes how Cat in a Cradle required Koons to push the limits of a worldwide network of specialist plastic fabricators, suggesting that the work owes the “sense of wonder” it supposedly inspires to this insistence on medium and scale. On similar grounds, New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith hails Play-Doh (1994–2014), a towering mound of brightly colored globs that uncannily resemble the matte tackiness of the titular children’s putty, as an “almost certain masterpiece.” Those who agree with such a statement will be delighted by the playground of huge, shiny, pneumatic-looking things that is the Whitney’s top floor. Those inclined to see Play-Doh as little more than a colossal waste of time and money may find a surprising protagonist two floors down: Koons circa 1985. Believe it or not, Koons’ artistic practice was once pointedly critical and anything but insular. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is most interesting (and encouraging) when it reminds us of this.

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London

Phyllida Barlow: Fifty Years of Drawing at Hauser & Wirth

Phyllida Barlow has upped her game in the last five years with a string of international blockbuster shows and commissions. Omnipresent as she currently is, one would think that Barlow has always enjoyed this kind of success, but that isn’t the case; the work hadn’t received the kind of attention that anoints an artist as “successful” until her Baltic show in 2004. As she is in the habit of permanently dismantling her sculptures and installations to be used as raw material for new projects, there isn’t a lot of work (or even documentation) to trace her evolution. So that it is a rare treat that it is possible to have Fifty Years of Drawing as a historical view of the concerns within Barlow’s practice.

Phyllida Barlow. untitled, circa 1998; acrylic and pastel on colored paper; 59.4 x 84 cm (23 3/8 x 33 1/8 in); Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne.

Phyllida Barlow. Untitled, circa 1998; acrylic and pastel on colored paper; 59.4 x 84 cm. (23 3/8 x 33 1/8 in.). Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne.

Barlow is known mainly as a sculptor, with work rooted in the anti-monument stance of modernist formalism. Her concern is for the consequences of the physical object in relation to the surrounding environment, and the resulting impact of that relationship on the viewer. Barlow’s acute understanding of the psychological effect of sculpture developed when she was a young artist, in opposition to the orderly and proper English art of the 1960s, when precedent dictated a “correct” way to make a piece of sculpture. Her focus was to reject the seriousness of pure or idealized form and its inherent misogyny by creating work that was the result of the experience of making. Using non-traditional art materials, her art is constructed to look quick, clunky, and precarious. Embracing absurdity, her pieces are physically menacing while simultaneously embodying a sense of lightness and humor. Constructed by layering materials such as cardboard, cement, fabric, plaster, polystyrene, tape, timber, and household paint, the work demonstrates the experience of intuitive making and asks the viewer to engage likewise.

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: The Politics of Rehearsal

#institutions #revision #making #access #nostalgia

The second Made in L.A. biennial at the UCLA Hammer Museum indicates both the scope and diversity of the city’s many emerging and early-mid-career artists, and the pull that the art academy continues to exert on artists long after the completion of their degrees. The biennial’s emergence in 2012 marked a milestone in the evolution of Los Angeles as an art capital, no longer content to wait for New York to eventually anoint its hottest up-and-comers. Working from, and against, the example of the Whitney Biennial, which launches many international careers each year (but really should be subtitled “Made (Mostly) in NYC”), Made in L.A. 2014 further develops its predecessor’s approach of surveying Los Angeles artists with an eye to the broad ethnic, gender, and medium diversity that is apparent throughout the city’s artistic landscape. Even so, there is a conceptual through line to much of the work on view, which seems to be in rapture to an absent past or an unknown future.

On initial viewing, it would appear that being present in the moment is difficult to achieve in Los Angeles, as artists’ works fluctuate between unarticulated malaise and utopian ambition. At times the v0ice of an influential senior artist comes across more strongly than that of the exhibiting artist. I perceived the euphoria of youth, but also the collective malaise of young people who have been disempowered to make change by being inundated with the revolutionary nostalgia of previous generations.

Emily Mast. B!RDBRA!N (Epilogue), 2012. Exhibition and performance as part of Public Fiction’s  Theatricality and Sets series. Photographer: Anitra Haendel.

Emily Mast. B!RDBRA!N (Epilogue), 2012; exhibition and performance as part of Public Fiction’s
Theatricality and Sets series. Photographer: Anitra Haendel.

From the start, I was struck with a sense of perpetual rehearsal for a performance that never comes. Installations by KCHUNG and Public Fiction were the first I encountered, and both were primed for potential action that had either already passed or not yet begun. KCHUNG, an indie radio station run by an artist collective, had set up a broadcast booth, but no information about programming was made available. Public Fiction had locked their space and labeled the outside, leading visitors to fumble in surprise when the normally accessible gallery space refused them entry. While such hiccups may be characteristic of large institutions’ difficulties in interpreting performative practices for audiences, this initial experience set an antagonistic tone.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Enrique Metinides: Chronicling Catastrophe

Today from the DS archives, we bring you Allegra Kirkland’s review of Chronicling Catastrophe. Originally published on February 26, 2013, this article is a consideration of Enrique Metinides‘ fifty-year-long career in chronicling disasters that are, in Kirkland’s words, “anonymous crime [scenes] and hauntingly specific [tragedies].” Unfortunately, these images, and ones like them, are ever-relevant in our violent, modern world.

Enrique Metinides. Mexico City, September 19, 1985; photograph. Courtesy 212berlin

The journalistic expression “If it bleeds, it leads” is particularly resonant in Mexico, where an entire subgenre of daily tabloids, devoted to crime and disaster, cover train wrecks and murders in lurid detail. Enrique Metinides made a career as a crime photographer for these nota roja (“bloody news”), earning the sobriquet the “Mexican Weegee” for his obsessive chronicling of accidents and crime scenes throughout Mexico City from the early 1940s through the 1990s.

In 101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides, currently on view at Chelsea’s Aperture Gallery, Metinides selects his favorite images from his fifty-year career, drawn from an eponymous book made in collaboration with filmmaker Tricia Ziff. The photographs are gruesome and disturbing, but also beautifully composed and compelling in their narrative complexity. In the introduction, Metinides remarks, “I would try to capture the whole scene in a single frame—not just the corpse or the weapon, but the entire story.” His self-contained photos, which resemble film stills, make the case that the horrors of daily life are both stranger and darker than fiction.

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Los Angeles

Odyssey Odyssey

Today we bring you Machine Project’s video documentation of Odyssey Odyssey, a play by artist and writer Johanna KozmaOdyssey Odyssey is a contemporary take on Homer’s Odyssey, performed for an audience of two in a Honda Odyssey. This work was included in The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture, as part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., and originally performed from July 10–22, 2013.

 

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San Francisco

Artist Project: Live Radio Auction

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Live Radio Auction, a project by Wonderment Consortium—the artist team of Packard Jennings, Steuart Pittman, and Scott Vermeire. This essay was commissioned by guest editor Jonn Herschend as part of Issue 5.5, Slapstick and the Sublime, and originally published on July 10, 2014.

Live Radio Auction appropriates a format from rural American radio stations in which the DJ auctions items over the airwaves and the public calls in to bid on the objects as a way of raising funds for the radio station. In rural America, the items auctioned are usually intended to be desirable and are donated by local businesses. Live Radio Auction bends that idea by harvesting the auction items from a local thrift store, the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, with a keen eye set to the ordinary, the obsolete, and the nearly valueless objects one might find, like used shoes, damaged cookware, or a fire extinguisher in need of a refill—the detritus of our long-forgotten yesterday. All proceeds from the auction go to the thrift store.

The auction is a slow burn. Sitting in a booth, the DJs look at a pile of objects and slowly, endlessly describe them over the airwaves to their audience. Sometimes people call and bid; sometimes they don’t. Either way, the DJs are left to describe a rug as best as they can: its feel, its color, its shape, its size, its application. They might discuss suitable placements or purposes for the object, or times and experiences in their lives in which a similar object might have been an accessory to a memory, just filling time with words, seemingly endless words, describing something the audience can see only in their mind’s eye, much like a very boring baseball game heard over the air. Except that instead of a game, it’s a desk lamp, lightly used, with a starting bid of two dollars.

Read the full article and listen to Live Radio Auction here.

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Toronto

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore are known for producing curvilinear compositions and contorted human forms that often double back upon and swoop around themselves. In contrast, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s dual retrospective of the artists, titled Terror and Beauty, takes a distinctly linear approach. Passing over divergent biographical information about the artists (such as that Henry Moore was the son of a coal miner from northern England, while Francis Bacon was born to prosperous English parents living in Ireland), the exhibition aims above all to illuminate how a shared historical and cultural context, which included the World Wars and the milieu of economic austerity that followed, proved formative to the development of the artists’ signature styles. In doing so, the show highlights similarities in Moore’s and Bacon’s works that are often overlooked by accounts that dwell on the fact that Moore worked in sculpture and Bacon in painting.

Francis Bacon. Lying Figure in a Mirror, 1971; 
oil on canvas; 
198.5 x 147.5 cm
. Museo de Bellas Artes Bilbao 
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Francis Bacon. Lying Figure in a Mirror, 1971; 
oil on canvas; 
198.5 x 147.5 cm
. Museo de Bellas Artes Bilbao 
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013).

Many of the works in Terror and Beauty were on view earlier this year at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford as part of an exhibition titled Francis Bacon/Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone. While the collaboration between the British institution and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) indicates a shared interest in underscoring the links between these two artists, the two museums seem to project slightly different narratives. Whereas the Ashmolean exhibition begins with the characterization “…these two great figurative artists whose careers have rarely been linked until now,” positioning the exhibition as a novel curatorial statement, the AGO forthrightly undercuts such an assertion with a large-scale timeline on the wall of the first gallery that maps when and where the artists were born, trained, exhibited, and died. At a glance, this timeline may seem to chart more divergence than overlap between the artists. Yet, as a viewer wades through the copious information on display, points of convergence and interlock emerge—some in the form of major global events like the Blitz in London, which both artists endured, and others more intimate, like group exhibitions that happened to include works by both artists. Indeed, the number of times that Bacon’s and Moore’s works have been exhibited together reinforces the notion that the two were in fact involved in a longstanding artistic conversation, of which this exhibition is only the latest and most explicit chapter.

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