New York

Malick Sidibe at Jack Shainman Gallery

The photographs of Malick Sidibé remind us how the political content of an image can shift and evolve under the unpredictable influences of time and the arrival of new contexts. Currently on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, Sidibé’s work is a mix of black-and-white portraits and candid shots of local people from his native Bamako, Mali. The artist first began his work in photography by assisting a French colonial photographer and then later opened his own studio, Studio Malick, in 1962 in Bamako. Mali gained liberation from France in 1960, and Sidibé’s photographs taken throughout the ’60s and ’70s document a community of young Bamakois during this postcolonial transition and the subsequent socialist and military regimes.

Malick Sidibe. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Malick Sidibé. Untitled, 1969/2004; silver gelatin print, hand-painted wooden frame. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

In a brief documentary directed by Douglas Sloan, Sidibé stated he was most interested in letting people enjoy themselves and in making his subjects happy.[1]  At the time, he didn’t consider his portraiture as art, but rather as a service: providing people with striking, beautiful pictures of themselves. Some of the portraits shown in Jack Shainman are hung in hand-painted, colorful frames made by Checkna Toure, an artisan who had a studio around the corner from Studio Malick. This framing grants its photograph a status of distinct object rather than an endlessly reproducible image, and serves as a reminder that the initial prints were meant as keepsakes and items of proud display by the subjects themselves.

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Michael Craig-Martin: Objects of our Time at Alan Cristea Gallery

Is a glass of water just a glass of water? Consider it for a fraction of a second and suddenly the glass of water carries a lot of Kosuthian baggage—the mind attaches a label to it, compares it to an ideal, then judges its function, and its value changes. Deconstruct the contextual outcome of that mental layering, and the glass of water not only offers multiple meanings but could become something else entirely. If you’re the seminal artist Michael Craig-Martin, that glass of water is an oak tree.

(from left to right) Michael Craig-Martin. Art & Design (Magritte / Saarinen), 2012; Art & Design (LeWitt / Mies van der Rohe), 2012; Art & Design (Koons / Le Corbusier), 2012; each work, series of 10 screenprints, edition of 50; 100.0 x 45.3 cm. Courtesy the Artist and Alan Cristea Gallery. NPC.

(from left to right) Michael Craig-Martin. Art & Design (Magritte/Saarinen), 2012; Art & Design (LeWitt/Mies van der Rohe), 2012; Art & Design (Koons/Le Corbusier), 2012; each work, series of 10 screenprints, edition of 50; 100.0 x 45.3 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Alan Cristea Gallery. NPC.

Dublin-born Craig-Martin earned his BA and MFA at Yale (while it was still under Albers’ influence) and then left for England in 1968, where he has lived and worked ever since. Like Baldessari at CalArts in the late 1970s, he is credited with mentoring a generation of superartists to come out of Goldsmiths in the 1980s. Predisposed to American systems of minimalism and conceptual art, his early autonomous sculptures are stripped-down, idea-laden gestures. Of this early work, he is best known for An Oak Tree (1973), where he transubstantiates a glass of water using a conceptual text. By the late 1970s, he felt limited with the closed-ended nature of his work and started experimenting in “drawings that had no style.” The resulting line drawings depicting universally familiar objects in three-fourths perspective became his signature style. Once Craig-Martin draws an object, the image becomes the archetype for all future uses of that object. There are no alternative perspectives, versions, or updates to the drawing. Take his headphones image, for example. Sony may have updated them since the release of the original Walkman, but the Craig-Martin image stays the same. When used, the image is merely scaled up and/or layered over other drawn objects. Originally executed in tape applied directly to the wall, these images have also been done in neon, aluminum, painted steel, household paint, as well as the more traditional practice of acrylic on canvas.

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Los Angeles

Allen Ruppersberg: Drawing and Writing 1972-1989 at Marc Selwyn Fine Art

For the first solo exhibition in his new Beverly Hills space, Marc Selwyn Fine Art has mounted a significant show of drawings by conceptual-art pioneer Allen Ruppersberg. Spanning almost two decades, from 1972 to 1989, these deceptively simple works on paper show Ruppersberg dealing with themes similar to those of his contemporaries—appropriation, language, identity, authenticity—but with a wry, nostalgic sensibility all his own.

Allen Ruppersberg. Self-Portrait Making a Face Like Barney Bear, 1975; pencil on paper; 23 x 29 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art.

Allen Ruppersberg. Self-Portrait Making a Face Like Barney Bear, 1975; pencil on paper; 23 x 29 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

In these works, Ruppersberg depicts both images and words to produce what he describes as a “‘comparison’ of reading and looking and the ‘confusion of the two.’”[1] As Leslie Jones, Curator of Prints and Drawings at LACMA, notes in her insightful catalogue essay: “Choosing to draw it [the book] points to the graphic affinity between writing and drawing as well as the experiential distinctions between reading a book and drawing it, between interpreting its linguistic contents and rendering visually it as an object.”[2] Drawing and writing are constantly at play as drawings of books, drawings of words, and drawings of illustrations all compete to be recognized for their veracity. Reading Time (The Elements of Style), a drawing from 1973–74, captures this playful questioning of truth as Ruppersberg depicts a simple line drawing of the Strunk and White classic above a reading time of two hours and fifty-eight minutes written (drawn?) in expressive cursive. Following from Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965), Ruppersberg questions which is the more accurate representation: a basic drawing of a book or his subjective temporal experience of reading it.

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San Francisco

Notes on Visual Activism

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you four different views on the recent Visual Activism conference, hosted by SFMOMA at the Brava Theater, March 14–15, 2014. Artists, curators, and scholars presented their thoughts on institutional domains, art, and activism. Four visual critics, Danielle Jackson, Natalie Catasús, Colin Partch, and Omar Mismar, were situated at points radiating out from the auditorium of the Brava Theater to respond to the conference.  

Conference attendees participating in Carmen Papalia's Blind Field Shuffle (2014).

Conference attendees participating in Carmen Papalia’s Blind Field Shuffle (2014).

Danielle Jackson:

What role does visual activism play in confronting such deep-seated social hegemonies as racism and heteronormativity? What strategies can be deployed to encourage silenced voices to emerge and become catalysts for change and transformation? These questions, two of many addressed through the Visual Activism conference, had particular resonance for me. As artist and visual activist Zanele Muholi put it in her keynote address, “Visual activism is about being and identities. It is an alternative way of agitating using visuals and digital media to convey messages.”

Muholi’s photographic portraits of black lesbian women portray her subjects as beautiful and intimate beings, rather than broken victims of the corrective rape that these individuals face far too often as a consequence of being out in these societies. By depicting them as community leaders and advocates for social change, Muholi’s portraits empower who they represent while undermining dominant stereotypes.

Read the full article here.


From the Archives

From the Archives – An Interview with Anne Lindberg

Today from the archives we bring you an interview with artist Anne Lindberg, who often works with drawing, photography, sculpture, and installation, “always seeking to push the boundaries of what is considered a drawing.” Lindberg has a solo show opening soon at Haw Contemporary in Kansas City. This article was written by  and originally published on September 18, 2012. 

Anne Lindberg. Parallel 34, 2012; graphite and colored pencil on cotton mat board; 104 x 58 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago.

On a visit to the Nevada Museum of Art this summer, I first encountered the work of Kansas City-based Anne Lindberg. Tucked in a small, irregularly shaped gallery, Lindberg’s luminous installation immediately caught the eye, where individual threads created volume and marked space in a way that belied its virtually imperceptible constituent parts. Her large-scale graphite drawings also on view in the gallery invited close inspection, the subtle shift in hand-drawn lines creating a palpable sense of movement within the confines of two dimensions. I had the opportunity to speak with Lindberg on the occasion of her exhibition, sustaining pedal, at Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago.

Allie Haeusslein: I understand that after receiving your B.F.A., you served as a curatorial assistant at the Smithsonian Institute in the Department of Ethnology. How did your close work with textiles influence your approach to materials, pattern, and color?

Anne Lindberg: As a curatorial assistant, I had the rare opportunity to help unpack and notate objects from the Lamb Collection of West African Textiles that was being given to the museum. I was charged with making a drawing of a section of the objects, counting threads, identify if the threads were Z or S spun (which determined the likely gender of the spinner), make notes on provenance, and repack the item for storage. That work at the Smithsonian, first of all, helped me to decide that I wanted to be an artist rather than an anthropologist or museum professional. I feel that this work honed my tendency to work with very fine delicate elements in accumulation and as a method to build intensity and meaning. I entered a graduate program at Cranbrook Academy of Art immediately after leaving the Smithsonian, and began an investigation of concepts to visualize and materialize space, spatial qualities of architecture and light.

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San Francisco

Value/Labor/Arts: A Primer

“When is it okay to work for free? Is it acceptable as long as you’re working with—or for—another artist? What is an artistic service?” These are some of the questions raised by Shannon Jackson, director of UC Berkeley’s Arts Research Center, in her introduction to Art Practical‘s latest issue, Valuing Labor. She notes, “These are just a few of the hundreds of questions circulating for artists working in the 21st-century economy, a scene in which the very old question of art’s financial contingency arguably has a different kind of urgency and opacity.” Today we bring you just one of the many features in this issue, a primer put together by Jackson and co-organizer Helena Keeffe that serves as an overview of the topics that will be presented at the Arts Research Center’s day-long Practicum titled Valuing Labor in the Arts, to be held on April 19, 2014. 

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists.

1. Occupational Realism, by Julia Bryan-Wilson

“Performance as occupation” participates in the rising tide of discourse regarding the interconnection of contingent labor, artistic value, and precarity. Precarity is one name given to the effect of neoliberal economic conditions emergent in the wake of global financial upheaval, recession, and the reorganization of employment to accommodate the spread of service, information, and knowledge work. It designates a pervasively unpredictable terrain of employment within these conditions—work that is without health-care benefits or other safety nets, underpaid, part-time, unprotected, short-term, unsustainable, risky.

2. Five Things I Learned, by Alexis Clements

Reimagining the world seems like everyone’s favorite marketing slogan and pastime these days. And starting from scratch is great in some instances. But the reality is that most of the time it’s not only impossible to start from scratch, it’s undesirable, as you can end up walking down well-trod paths. Beyond finding that a lot of writing about arts and labor focused on the visual arts marketplace, I also found that few writers mention the past at all in their writing on the topic, save to throw in mini-lessons or interpretations of historical theories, particularly those of Karl Marx (I often prefer Arendt on labor, if we’re going for historical theory).

Read the full article here.



Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Anna Valdez

The words “yo no soy Romantica,” or “I am not romantic,” are written in large orange cursive letters on a flat blue background; the text is partially hidden by the green cactus planted in a bright pink pot in the foreground of Anna Valdez’s illustration Yo No Soy Romantica (2013). Whether or not the artist intended to indicate the cactus as the speaker of these words is unclear. Perhaps it’s entirely purposeful and the cactus needs to assert that it is not romantic, seeming to say, “and would you please stop making me out to be?” Or maybe it’s the image, with its eye-straining colors, that isn’t romantic, or perhaps the way the words are written.

Anna Valdez. Yo No Soy Romantica, 2013; digital drawing, animated GIF file. Courtesy of the artist.

Anna Valdez. Yo No Soy Romantica, 2013; digital drawing, animated GIF file. Courtesy of the Artist.

No matter what (or who) the words reference, the artist is pointing to a code as old as painting itself: the use of objects as symbols for ideas, emotions, and people. In the case of Yo No Soy Romantica, the cactus portrays its accrued cultural associations and meanings—western desert spiritualism, American cool, tangible exoticism, and so on. Anna Valdez cleverly uses subject and object to point critically and humorously to the overuse of cacti as a romantic symbol of cool—one among many signs—on Instagram and Facebook, and in fashion and lifestyle magazines. Valdez continues the tradition of Dutch still-life painters from the 16th century to engage objects as symbols and to point to specific motifs that contemporary consumer and lifestyle culture have adapted to signify individual style and measure of success.

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