Disobedient Objects at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Sitting just inside the Great Hall and squeezed between two major retrospective exhibitions of wedding dresses and fashion photographs at the Victoria & Albert in London sits Disobedient Objects, a small but powerful show examining the materials, methods, and inventions of political dissent across the world since the late 1970s. Rich and diverse in its choice of objects, the one-room gallery places a strong emphasis on forms of artistic production and labor that continue or reimagine artistic traditions of craft and handiwork—genres typically associated with times of war, political oppression, and belief in forms of transformative utopian politics. Chilean arpilleras (three-dimensional textile murals) depicting scenes of violence and repression committed under Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1979 sit alongside finger puppets made in 2011 by the Syrian artist group Masasit Mati to lampoon President Bashar al-Assad. Gas masks worn by protesters in Gezi Park in 2012 are juxtaposed with chrome jewelry crafted by a group of Black Panther Party members serving extraordinary periods of solitary confinement in Angola Prison in southern Louisiana. Each object harnesses forms of tactile materiality to make timely political statements.

Herman Wallace. Fuck the LAW. 2008. Chrome-plated steel pendant. Dimensions Unknown. Private Collection. Photo: Jordan Amirkhani.

Herman Wallace. Fuck the LAW. 2008; chrome-plated steel pendant; dimensions unknown. Private Collection. Photo: Jordan Amirkhani.

But while the exhibition encourages viewers to think productively about the ways in which the aesthetic and the political do and can coexist, it also forces consideration of what is lost or compromised when these objects are removed from the streets, favelas, public spaces, and prison cells, and then domesticated within one of the most important collections of art and design in the Western world. At a moment when protest and civil disobedience seem to be intensifying around the globe, are these objects flattened and defanged by the museum’s invitation to sit among the golden riches of empires past, or is there something hopeful in the gesture—something truly disobedient?

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Shotgun Reviews

All That Glitters Is Not Gold at the Phoenix Art Museum

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, Christina Nafziger reviews All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Platinum Photography from the Center for Creative Photography at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

Alfred A. Cohn. Untitled, c. 1920; platinum print. Courtesy of the Artist and the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

Alfred A. Cohn. Untitled, c. 1920; platinum print. Courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

In a world where modern technology has made many traditional artistic processes obsolete, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson and the Phoenix Art Museum have launched a historical investigation of the platinum print. Referencing the artistic and fiscal value of this photographic method, All That Glitters Is Not Gold is an intimate, chronologically curated exhibition that begins with the invention of the platinum print in 1873, and follows its use and development in portraiture up through its revival in the 1970s and into contemporary culture.

Walking through this photo-historical time lapse, visitors see not only a shift in subject matter, but also a noticeable change in photographic quality. In a progression of dark gray to white, the colors of the walls become lighter to visually separate the time periods. Displayed on a dark gray wall is a small, untitled, dream-like portrait by Alice Boughton (c. 1900). Platinum prints are appreciated for their vast range of values and soft renderings, but even in this early moment of photographic portraiture, the indirect light and figure placement within the composition demonstrate a desire for experimentation. Through works of photographic experimentation, the exhibition unexpectedly addresses the status of photography as fine art.

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San Francisco

Context Is Everything: Visiting di Rosa

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you an excerpt from author Maria Porges’ essay on the di Rosa in Napa, California. Porges explains: “Other museums may bear the name of a founder, but as far as I know, there really is no place quite like this one—historic home museum, contemporary white-walled space, and sculpture park rolled into one.” This article was originally published on December 4, 2014.

Viola Frey. Studio View— One Man Splitting, 1983; alkyd oil on canvas; 72 x 96 in. Courtesy of di Rosa collection, Napa.

Viola Frey. Studio View—One Man Splitting, 1983; alkyd oil on canvas; 72 x 96 in. Courtesy of di Rosa collection, Napa.

On my most recent trip to di Rosa, I had questions about the future of the collection on my mind. How will this collection be displayed, conserved, promoted, and carried forward into the uncertain future that institutions face today? When I arrived, curator Amy Owen was looking at one of the works damaged in the recent Napa earthquake with a group of conservators from the Oakland Museum of California. While they conferred, I studied the two exhibitions in the Gatehouse Gallery: a selection from the di Rosa collection of two-dimensional works by the noted sculptor Viola Frey, and a group show of three younger Bay Area painters titled The Presence of the Present. Frey’s works on paper and canvas, featuring figures and objects set up in her studio, reveal her command of these media as well as her interest in exploring the same themes addressed in the monumental ceramic sculpture for which she is known—most notably, gender roles and ideas about power. In Studio ViewOne Man Splitting, a large canvas (72 x 96 inches) from 1983, Frey paints the three male figures with assurance, outlining their blocky, suit-clad forms with strong, dark lines. In a short essay, Owen describes the scene as possibly referring to the artist’s frustrations with the art world—collectors coming and going from her studio, ostensibly interrupting the flow of her work. But it also suggests the sculptor’s eye refusing the limitations of two dimensions by capturing the figure from three points of view at the same moment. In two nearby drawings, Frey focuses instead on monumental female figures, powerful rather than enticing, evoking her unflinching position regarding the status of women in a sexist profession.

Read the full article here.


Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Marc Newton

The waning glow of the warm desert sun hangs in the air around a lone female figure. She sits nestled atop a rock formation amid yellow grasses and low, twisted trees. As she gazes lovingly toward the fading sun with trim arms folded over her legs, a sense of hard-earned and well-deserved calm settles in, as though this communication with the landscape has rejuvenated her weary body and mind.

Marc Newton. Constructed Paradise: Untitled 4, 2013; archival inkjet print; 17 x 21 inches.  Courtesy the artist.

Marc Newton. Constructed Paradise: Untitled 4, 2013; archival inkjet print; 17 x 21 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

This characterization, derived from Marc Newton’s Constructed Paradise: Untitled 4 (2013), conjures a familiar and easy romanticized image. An idealized woman—trim, tall, natural, athletic, soft, gentle, and somehow at leisure—communing with a powerful and idealized landscape that is at once navigable, forgiving, epic, unspoiled, verdant, endless, and promising. Marc Newton’s series of photographs Constructed Paradise critically navigates the juxtaposition between the idealized, aspirational human figure of men and women, and the natural landscape as it becomes increasingly fetishized while paradoxically disappearing due to human influence.

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William Kentridge’s Poetic Cinema

Today from our friends at Glasstire, we bring you a review of William Kentridge’s five films that are part of the exhibition Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence at the Menil in Houston. Author Terry Mahaffey notes, “Kentridge’s use of celluloid film projection and traditional drawing methods feels unconventional, even avant-garde, lending the work a cinematic quality that intensifies the evocative response to the politically charged subject matter.” This article was originally published on December 6, 2014.

William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Other Faces, (Crowds in city streets), 2011; Charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 27.5 x 48 in.

William Kentridge. Drawing for the film Other Faces (Crowds in City Streets), 2011;
charcoal and colored pencil on paper; 27.5 x 48 in.

As part of the meticulously curated Menil exhibition Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence, five animated short films from William Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection series are on display. Four of the five were made between 1989 and 2003, and the fifth is a more recent work from 2011. All feature the post-apartheid South African industrialist and land developer—Soho Eckstein—as protagonist.

Born in Johannesburg in 1955, Kentridge is perhaps South Africa’s best-known artist. His early education was in politics and African studies, and he later studied at the Jacques Lecoq International School of Theatre in Paris. As an artist, his background in theater is obvious, performing Shostakovich’s operatic transposition of Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose to wide acclaim in New York and Lyon, France. But his continued interest in politics is evident as well, not only in that production, but certainly also in his film works.

Read the full article here.



But What You Want Is Far Away at the Oakland Museum of California

Today from our partners at Art Practicalwe bring you a review of But What You Want Is Far Away, a series of readings and performances that coincide with the exhibition Fertile Ground: Art and Community in CaliforniaAuthor Melissa Miller notes that the performance God Sees Everything “unfolded into an intuitive, poetic, and humorous portrait of contemporary California.” This article was originally published on December 2, 2014.

Phoebe Osborne. God Sees Everything, November 7, 2014 (performance still); Courtesy of the Artist and the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Charlie Villyard.

Phoebe Osborne. God Sees Everything, November 7, 2014 (performance still). Courtesy of the Artist and the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Charlie Villyard.

In God Sees Everything, directed and choreographed by Phoebe Osborne, a complex weave of everything Californian coalesces. It is, in certain moments, “so L.A.” as dancers wearing the same blonde, bobbed wig move robotically across the stage. With glitter and glow sticks, God Sees Everything references the music-festivals scene, and with synchronized yoga postures and carrot eating it reaches toward new age. It also emerges from the numerous engagements with extraterrestrial life chronicled by individuals and cults within the state. God Sees Everything is all over the (western) map in terms of references, but each one of them is spot-on in terms of what epitomizes California. Osborne’s careful and sometimes absurd juxtapositions are both humorous and insightful; they point to a contemporary Californian identity that has been informed by a lengthy history of utopian projects.

Read the full article here.


New Orleans

José Antonio Vega Macotela at Prospect.3

“My eternity has died and I am waking it.” –Violence of the Hours, Cesar Vallejo

It sounds like a riddle: No one can buy more of it, and few have enough of it; it wears on the rich and poor equally; loss of it produces deep fear. Time’s ability to be transferred and manipulated is at the heart of José Antonio Vega Macotela’s mixed-media series Time Divisa, part of which is on view at Longue View House and Gardens for Prospect.3. Throughout history, humanity has meted out punishment by taking away an individual’s time. Imprisonment is the physical demonstration of divided time. Macotela’s work provides an alternate source of time, a jailbreak of sorts.

Jose Antonio Vega Macotela. Time Exchange 331 (From Time Divisa), 2010; human hair and paper; 22 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Prospect.3

Jose Antonio Vega Macotela. Time Exchange 331 (from Time Divisa), 2010; human hair and paper; 22 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Prospect.3.

Macotela trades his time with convicts held in Mexico City’s Santa Marta Acatitla Prison. On a specific day, a task requested by a prisoner is performed by the artist concurrently with the prisoner creating a work of art. “What they usually want me to do is to literally take their place in the outside world. I’ve visited the tombs of their brothers and said a few words. I’ve asked their fathers for forgiveness. I’ve gone dancing with their mothers. I’ve met their sons and acted as their father for a day. I’ve read a letter out loud to a dying relative in the hospital. One prisoner even asked me to go to his girlfriend’s house and watch her masturbate so that I could describe the scene for him, bit by bit.”[1]

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