Los Angeles

John Altoon at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Today from our friends at Artillery Magazine, we bring you ’s review of John Altoons retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. O’Brien notes, “…Altoon’s art lives up to any expectations a viewer might have for it.” This article was originally published on September 2, 2014.

John Alton, "Untitled (F-46)," 1966, Ink and airbrushing on illustration board, 30x40inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, anonymous gift, 1997 | © 2014 Estate of John Altoon

John Altoon. Untitled (F-46), 1966; ink and airbrushing on illustration board; 30 x 40 in. © 2014 Estate of John Altoon.

John Altoon couples his relaxed, entirely convincing painterly hand with a flippant disregard for norms, whether social, societal, or artistic. His retrospective at LACMA cavorts, galumphs, and saunters through a wide variety of styles, approaches, and modes of image-making that astound for their vibrancy and their prescient lack of concern for modernist confines of working in a signature style.

Ranging from abstraction to figuration, Altoon seems equally at ease with either. This large but not overwhelming selection of painted and drawn works is taken from his fine-art practice, as well as some of his modified advertising boards, and delves into numerous of his outrageous sketches. This allows the viewer to circulate liberally through the ideas and images knitting together Altoon’s complex, variegated, and whimsical world. Adroitly arranged by curator Carol Eliel in a primarily chronological order, the different rooms concentrate on distinct portions of Altoon’s output and offer an implicit interpretative key to his participation in the artistic, historical, and societal chapters of his time.

Links between the quirky, erotic, and downright odd forms he colors and conjugates underscore his freshness and his singular interpretative axis. Occasionally seeming to echo other artists—biomorphic abstraction in the vein of Arshile Gorky or muscular, gestural slathering along the lines of Willem de Kooning—Altoon retains a strain of poetic reverie that keeps his works operating along their own lines. The color gamut runs from bold tertiary colors to unusual combinations of dark and light, often with the negative space etching forcefully into the composition. He dabbled with airbrush, mixed drawn-line and painted line, scrambled and splattered with abandon and a paradoxically deft sense of control.

Read the full article here.



COMMUNE at White Rabbit Gallery of Contemporary Chinese Art

The word commune, whether used as a noun or a verb, has complex connotations. From earnest Utopianism to grim, state-enforced collectivism; from familial relationships and networks to our connection with the natural world—all of these possible associations are present in the new show at Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery of Contemporary Chinese Art. From Judith Neilson’s impressive collection, curator Bonnie Hudson has selected works by twenty-three artists. They include representatives of the older generation that emerged in the 1980s and ’90s, characterized by transgressive experimentation and a merging of the local and global in their practice, through to young (in some cases, very young) artists whose work reflects their experiences growing up in the “new China.” Theirs is a world of chaotic energy, the newly globalised world into which Chinese people were catapulted by Deng Xiaoping’s socio-economic reforms, the transformative effects of which continue to convulse every aspect of Chinese life. As you might expect, an exhibition that explores this world has moments of both darkness and light. The artists examine the complex, shifting realities of contemporary China, including changing structures of family life, relationships between old and young, and the conflict between self-actualization and the collective past.

Xia XIng, '2010', 2010 - 2011, oil on canvas, 35 x 50cm (x60) image courtesy White Rabbit Gallery

Xia Xing. 2010, 2010-2011; oil on canvas; 35 x 50 cm (x 60). Courtesy of White Rabbit Gallery.

A series of paintings by Xia Xing embodies these paradoxes. The artist collects press photographs from the Beijing News, a mass daily with a circulation of 450,000. In 2007 he was working as a reporter at the paper and became fascinated with how it shaped public opinion and represented only selected aspects of daily life in a time of flux and change. Trained as an oil painter, Xia had found his subject. He began to paint the images he saw on the front page of the newspaper. For 2010, he reproduced one photograph for every day of the year, emulating the commercial printing process in a painstaking application of layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow. There is no caption, no headline; from the sixty closely cropped paintings shown here, we must guess what the images represent. Each alludes to a private joy, tragedy, or conflict that has been made—all too fleetingly—public. By preserving these ephemeral images, Xia Xing documents a particular time in China’s history, structured as a series of apparently unconnected fragments. We encounter the man whose hands were amputated by a criminal against whom he had given evidence, the parents of missing children, the forced demolitions and removal of people from their homes, the polluted rivers and lakes. We sense the artist’s horror at a never-ending catalog of disaster and anguish. The artist as witness—a continuing theme in China’s contemporary art.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: The Ethics of Application Fees, part 1

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

Recently I submitted work in response to a thematic juried call by a large, reputable, nationally known and respected arts organization [in my city]. It’s my habit to first inspect a jury as well as examine any theme, to ensure my work is a good potential match before shelling out submission fees. The sole juror was the director of the organization. My work fit the theme. None of my submissions were accepted, but over the years I’ve been regularly both accepted and rejected by various juries, and don’t take either outcome too personally. My rejection letter had said they’d received many hundreds of submissions.

But because I support this organization’s mission, have taken a class there, and have visited curated exhibitions there in the past, I went back later to see the accepted artists. I was stunned to see only eight; curious, I checked out the website of each and was even more stunned. Half were alums of the juror’s alma mater. Two of the eight had previously been artists-in-residence at this same organization, and exhibited there. All were artists [from my city]. Clearly, this juror could easily have curated such an exhibition. And seemingly already had. I feel duped. What they did appears fraudulent. I’m tempted to complain to their board and request they refund all submitting artists’ fees, but I suspect either the board already knew of or has since observed the facts I did, and is either powerless or is complicit. And the art world is so small. I’m torn between reluctance to stand by silently, and reluctance to have “making a stink” be the way my name becomes known in the professional art community. What are your thoughts?

Eberhard Havekost. In Control, 2009; Oil on canvas; 27.5 x 15.75 in.

Eberhard Havekost. In Control, 2009; oil on canvas; 27.5 x 15.75 in.

I’m sorry you feel swindled, and I’m even sorrier to tell you that your righteous indignation, while perfectly understandable, is likely misdirected. Without a grasp of the finer points of this situation—including being able to talk to the curator or see the submissions—I’m left with guesswork, but experience and instinct lead me to believe that you should let this go.

Let’s look at your situation from the logical viewpoint: Bearing even that there were hundreds of submissions, no doubt at least half were eliminated for not adhering to the submission guidelines or not actually fitting the theme. (Artists often like to stretch the definition of a theme to include their own work, no matter the reality.) Probably half of what was left was not very good or interesting. Already, the vagaries of visual-arts jurying have narrowed the pool of submissions from hundreds to tens.

Following this, the juror put together a small selection of works from people he or she likely already knew. Is this fraudulent? No. Is it unimaginative and lazy? Certainly, but a label of fraud must by definition include deceit. I have a hard time imagining a juror who is also the director of a “reputed” arts organization setting out to swindle artists, especially at twenty-five or thirty dollars a pop.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Eugene Isabey: Fishing Village at the Legion of Honor

This week, the opening bustle of the fall art season has us thinking about exhibitions and art criticism, and since we often publish Shotgun Reviews on Sundays, it seems especially relevant to share a previous submission from our archives. Although all the Shotgun Reviews we have published are written with sensitivity and care, this one always stands out in our minds as exceptional—not just for the quality of the writing, but also because the author was just thirteen years old at the time of publication. Folks, it’s never too early—or too late—to write about art.

Caption: Eugene Isabey. Fishing Village, 1854–55; oil on canvas; 53.7 x 35.43 in. Collection of the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky. Courtesy of the Athenaeum.

Eugene Isabey. Fishing Village, 1854–55; oil on canvas; 53.7 x 35.43 in. Collection of the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky. Courtesy of the Athenaeum

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. This week’s Shotgun Review was written by Irene Gerenrot, who participated in Art Practical’s March 2012 Art Smarts writing workshop for middle-school students, produced in conjunction with 826 Valencia and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. You can read her review Skull of Santo Guerro (III) on Art Practical.

Fishing Village (1854–55), by Eugene Isabey, stands out from the rest of the paintings in the Legion of Honor’s Impressionists on the Water exhibition, on view through October 13, 2013.  Most of the paintings depict water in a very neat fashion and as being calm, as though all rivers are ideal for kayaking and God-created lakes only for races, fanfares, and general fun. Fishing Village illustrates the down-to-earth life of an average 19th-century fishing village: poor, difficult, busy, dirty, alive, and boisterous.

My eye first lit upon a bright spray of sea foam, then traveled down with the dirty brown water to the boats, docked and rocking. It continued on to the people working, the shoddy houses, a brown hill painted with thinner brushstrokes for the grass, and the murky sky.

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San Francisco

Finding Photography “Secondhand” at Pier 24

From our friends at KQED, today we bring you Matthew Harrison Tedford’s review of Secondhand, the new exhibition at Pier 24 Photography. Tedford notes, “[...] these works possess the power to convey a corporeal and emotional truth [...]” This article was originally published on August 14, 2014.

Maurizio Anzeri. Pierre, 2013; Courtesy of the artist.

Maurizio Anzeri. Pierre, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist.

Secondhand, the first new exhibition to open at Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco since July 2013, presents the work of over a dozen artists whose practice relies on the appropriation of preexisting photographs. Paired with vernacular photos from the Pilara Foundation collection (the folks behind Pier 24), Secondhand is more than a survey of a particular artistic technique; it offers a glimpse at the varied relationships between people and photographs.

The found photography collections of Amsterdam-based publisher Erik Kessels, which are given several large installations, set an important tone for the exhibition. The gallery devoted to Kessels’ ongoing series of books, in almost every picture, is particularly salient in light of critiques that younger generations’ relationship with photography is self-absorbed and obsessive.

Read the full article here.


Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Joe Penrod

Typically, the studio is where artists make their work, but Joe Penrod’s space for creative development exists anywhere a shadow falls. Armed with only a roll of cerulean painter’s tape, Penrod transforms once-mundane shadows (and the objects that cast them) into fecund sculptural compositions.

Joe Penrod. Tacoma Weed, 2010; painters tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

Joe Penrod. Tacoma Weed, 2010; painter’s tape; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

There are a few stages in Penrod’s process. First he finds an object that casts a particularly beautiful or striking shadow. Next, he makes a replica of that shadow with painter’s tape—essentially affixing it to the surface it darkens—to create a lasting but impermanent impression. It is difficult to explain precisely why an artist is attracted to a visual motif, and with Joe Penrod’s work this difficulty is heightened—almost everything could be turned into one of his blue shadows.

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New York

Mel Bochner: Strong Language at the Jewish Museum

Strong Language, currently on view at the Jewish Museum, chronicles Mel Bochner’s longstanding dedication to the critique of language. The exhibition features over seventy text pieces the artist made between 1966 and 2013. While linguistic examination remains the common thread throughout the forty-plus years of work on display, the exhibition also evidences a recent turn by Bochner toward creating more conventional and easily commercialized fine-art objects. Though the artist continues to mine his subject matter with great acuity, this shift necessarily provokes a strong ambivalence.


Mel Bochner. Voiceover, 2006-2012; oil on canvas; 36 x 28 in. Pergamont Collection. Artwork © Mel Bochner.

Many of the exhibition’s earlier works remind us of Bochner’s role as a formative player in the development of Conceptualism in New York City. Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography) (1967–1970) consists of prints of nine note cards handwritten by the artist, each recording a statement about photography. Some of the statements are attributed to renowned figures like Marcel Duchamp or Emile Zola, another is a quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica, and three are revealed to be made by Bochner himself. This work epitomizes the artist’s preoccupation with language’s slippery hold on authenticity and its limitations in describing experience. Also from the ’60s is a series of verbal portraits of Bochner’s artist friends that center more on language’s representational abilities than its shortcomings. The 1966 Portrait of Eva Hesse features hand-drawn words in block lettering, laid out in concentric circles on a circular piece of paper, that effectively evoke Hesse’s art practice: “CLOAK,” “OBSCURE,” “ENSCONSE,” “SECRETE,” and “BURY.”

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