San Francisco

Doug Hall: The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described at SFAI

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of Doug Hall’s The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described, currently on view at the Walter and McBean Galleries of the San Francisco Art Institute. Author Maria Porges notes: “Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Hall’s seminal work is its quality of timelessness.” This article was originally published on May 21, 2015.

Doug Hall. The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described, 1987; video still, San Francisco Art Institute, Walter and McBean Galleries. Collection of SFMOMA, purchased through a gift of the Modern Art Council and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. © Doug Hall. Photo: Gregory Goode.

Doug Hall. The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described, 1987; video still, San Francisco Art Institute, Walter and McBean Galleries. Collection of SFMOMA, purchased through a gift of the Modern Art Council and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. © Doug Hall. Photo: Gregory Goode.

In 1989, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) acquired The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described (1987), a large-scale installation work by Bay Area artist Doug Hall, known internationally for his work in a range of media. Combining multiple video images and projections with sculptural objects—a massive, tilted barrier of steel mesh and two oversize steel chairs periodically enlivened with spectacular arcs of electricity, courtesy of a real Tesla coil—the piece was shown at the museum’s old home in the Veteran’s Memorial Building that year.

Since the opening of the SFMOMA’s Mario Botta–designed building in 1995, however, the piece has been unseen here in the Bay Area. Rumors suggested that the high voltage generated by the coil could not be accommodated by the complicated electrical/HVAC systems of the new building. Whatever the reason, SFMOMA’s closure for expansion in 2013 has allowed for programming at other institutions around town (“SFMOMA on the Go”), creating an opportunity for the current co-presentation of Hall’s piece at the San Francisco Art Institute’s McBean Gallery.

It is worth an extended visit. Until eyes become accustomed to the gloom of the darkened gallery, the most visible element is the six monitors perched on 8-foot-tall stands along the left wall, each hosting a continual program of video, which can also be seen in a large projection on the adjoining wall, above the entrance. Consisting of three channels, the twenty-minute-long loop spreads across these seven screens. Sometimes the same scene plays on two or three monitors, sometimes not, as the piece progresses through a sequence of sections that suggest the movements of a musical composition. Dawn on a farm’s fields, the sky filled with black-and-white static, segues into multiple tornadoes. Surging masses of ocean waves and massive waterfalls fade into wildfire, then boiling clouds of smoke. The clouds shift and reveal a blast furnace or maybe a foundry, where glowing ingots slide by in slow motion and giant machines move on gantries in showers of sparks.

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London

Tutti Frutti at Turps Gallery

Painting is to art as royalty is to democracy; it defensively justifies its own significance while continuing to hold court. There are many reasons why painting continues in this coveted pretense, but perhaps it can be mainly attributed to the limitations of its purpose. Any painter knows that the enchantment of painting lies in its classification. No matter how far the medium is pushed, as long as it can be called a painting it will never not be art. It cannot be mistaken for something utilitarian, like a urinal. In an age where context changes intent, painting remains singular in function—and the result is a lot of group shows on painting.

Carla Busuttil. It Ended in Houghton, 2015; oil on canvas; 40 x 30 cm (15.75 x 11.81 in). Courtesy of the Artist and Turps Gallery, London. Photo: Adam Rompel

Carla Busuttil. It Ended in Houghton, 2015; oil on canvas; 40 x 30 cm. (15.75 x 11.81 in). Courtesy of the Artist and Turps Gallery, London. Photo: Adam Rompel.

Painting’s supposed crisis of relevance does not come from the medium itself, but emanates from its practitioners. Painters assume the right to make a piece that can be nothing but an artwork, and the resulting privileged angst could be defined as Painter’s Guilt. The easy way forward is to be unapologetic about it, and this is what Turps Gallery in South East London has done. Birthed from the defunct The Lion and The Lamb Gallery and with the help of the painting magazine Turps Banana, the gallery is the next incarnation of a space devoted exclusively to painting. Tutti Frutti is its inaugural show and brings together a collection of work from fourteen artists. Former Lion & Lamb directors Katrina Blannin, Juan Bolivar, and Caterina Lewis selected the artists and asked each to choose a work to be shown; the only restriction was that it be a painting. In a conversation at the gallery, Ms. Lewis stressed that the show is not curated but organized. As the artists were chosen for what they are stylistically doing in the field, the directors were left to hash out the hang until they were satisfied with the results.

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New York

William Larson: Fireflies at Gitterman Gallery

The constant stream of digital information traveling around us over wires and airways is an increasingly recognized phenomenon. Over the past two decades, many artists have begun exploring the seemingly limitless possibilities of digital communication. However, long before the integration of once-mysterious electronic media into the art world in the 1990s, William Larson used a Graphic Sciences DEX 1 Teleprinter to produce some of the earliest digitally generated artworks, in his series Fireflies (1969–78). The DEX 1—a sophisticated predecessor to the fax machine of the 1970s and the computer technology developed in the 1980s—allowed Larson to translate sound (music and voice), text, and photographic elements into electronic signals that were then transmitted over a telephone line and burned into carbon paper by the device’s stylus, rendering what he calls a high-definition “electronic drawing.” Each unique, grayscale print combines graphic marks and photo collage to produce a visual stutter of image, text, and line; like a cross-section of a hurricane, Larson’s work highlights possible instants in the continuum of images electronically whirling around us everyday.

William Larson. Untitled, c. 1969–78; electro-carbon print; 11 x 8 ½ in. © William Larson. Courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

William Larson. Untitled, c. 1969–78; electro-carbon print; 11 x 8 ½ in. © William Larson. Courtesy of Gitterman Gallery.

Strongly influenced by László Moholy-Nagy and Constructivist collages from the early 20th century, Larson treats both image and text as decontextualized signs. While their original denotations cannot be ignored—body parts, plants, clouds, and lettering remain recognizable—the combination of these references in the untitled compositions become a garbled visual language that speaks as if in tongues to our cultural understanding of what images signify. In one print, negatives of faces become floating black masks while the majority of a nude male torso and legs hang from the top edge, and a man with a black bar over his eyes is positioned at the bottom edge next to a corner of clouds. Scraps of words form uneven horizons; the legible sections read, “documented medical evidence indicates that’s exactly what,” “Noo,” “see,” and “does.” A viewer’s natural impulse to decode these fractured messages echoes the sensation of trying to recall a disintegrating memory; it feels like there must be a relationship between the elements, but the points are too far apart to make any real connection.

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San Francisco

Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975–2015 at Fraenkel Gallery

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Brian Karl’s review of Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975–2015 at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. Karl notes: “Misrach’s technical and compositional treatments produce a distancing effect that imbues the human figures with a kind of impotence.” This article was originally published on May 19, 2015.

Richard Misrach. Kodak, Donna, Debra, Jake, Oregon Coast, 1984; pigment print; 61 1/2 x 76 1/2 in. © Richard Misrach. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Richard Misrach. Kodak, Donna, Debra, Jake, Oregon Coast, 1984; pigment print; 61 1/2 x 76 1/2 in. © Richard Misrach. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

This Fraenkel Gallery survey of more than thirty years of Richard Misrach’s photography primarily features small, isolated human figures in larger land- or seascapes. In much of the artist’s most famous work (not included here), for example Cancer Alley (1998) and Desert Cantos (1981–2001), human presence is indicated through occasional signs of intervention: tire tracks, contrails, an abandoned-looking building. By contrast, in Being(s) 1975–2015, the presence of humanity is marked by actual human bodies. Ultimately, however, the vastness of the natural expanses (large bodies of water, parklands, deserts) and the conditions of weather (wind, tide, clouds) relentlessly prevail, overwhelming the tiny, tenuously balanced figures.

The prints are mostly large-scale, and some, such as the nearly twelve-foot-long Playas de Tijuana #1 (Crowded Beach), San Diego, California (2013), are vast. A couple, including IPS #0134 (2011) and Untitled (Silver Reverse) (2002), are more modest in dimension, barely more than twelve inches high or wide. Many of the works were shot years ago and only recently printed for this show. Misrach has left visible frame-number marks from the decades-old film in some prints to highlight the shift in photographic tools and techniques from analog to (increasingly) digital.

Read the full article here.

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New Orleans

Amer Kobaslija at Arthur Roger Gallery

In his 1971 essay “The Function of the Studio,” conceptual artist Daniel Buren defined the artist’s studio as a metadiscourse of “frames, envelopes, and limits” imposed upon the working artist in the age of advanced capitalism.[1] Claiming that this privileged space had become nothing more than an “ossified custom”—a “commercial depot” for curators and dealers to ship works out into the world (and thus detach the artwork from the conditions of production and site of creation)—Buren stated that artists could only resist the domestication of their work by preserving it within their studios forever (like Constantin Brancusi) or abandoning the four walls of the studio altogether for a life of art making away from institutional repression and commodification.

Amer Kobaslija. Sputnik Sweetheart of New Orleans and the End of the World. 2007. Oil on two panels. 85 x 124 ¼ in.

Amer Kobaslija. Sputnik Sweetheart of New Orleans and the End of the World, 2007; oil on two panels; 85 x 124 ¼ in.

Buren’s provocation turns on the idealized notion of the modern atelier, described famously by Honoré de Balzac in his 1831 Romantic tale of artistic failure, “The Unknown Masterpiece.”[2] Setting the story in a cramped, skylit room cluttered with the detritus of an artist’s struggles—the idealized working environment for the solitary male genius of 19th-century literature and art—Balzac dramatized the central dilemma of the studio as both a mental and physical space that encloses the corporeal and psychic “energy essential to art’s existence.”[3] Thus, Buren’s desire to reconnect the studio with social life seems to fall in line with our current era of “post-internet artistry,” where nomadic career paths, collaborative practices, work-from-home jobs, and overnight internet art stars are the norm, and notions of passive aesthetic contemplation and private retreat are interpreted as oppressive and old-fashioned.

A quick trip to any café exposes the ominous cloud that hangs over Buren’s call for a “post-studio” age, as Starbucks and pay-as-you-go office space evolves into the new office for artists, students, and creative professionals clicking away on their laptops. Yet the mythology of the sacred atelier persists in our contemporary culture, as Amer Kobaslija’s current series of paintings at Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans indicates. Taking up the weighty legacy of the artist’s studio, Kobaslija’s work explores the studio as a concept, a locus of artistic identity, a space of sociability or private retreat, an alchemical universe of transformation, as well as a psychological construct.

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: The Political Biennale

#nationalism #institutions #power #access #globalization #protest #labor #capital

The 56th Venice Biennale, “All the World’s Futures,” has been hailed as the “political” Biennale both by its curator Okwui Enwezor and by the international art press. That designation has come in for significant criticism from some who feel that contemporary art either can not or should not address political concerns, given the commodity status of art objects within a capitalist framework. The Biennale is supported by a consortium of state, corporate, and individual interests, none of which can be assumed to represent progressive values or the rights of the disenfranchised. Rather, it functions as a bazaar in which established and emerging national interests jockey for influence, applying “soft” cultural power as well as “hard” economic power. How, then, to reconcile the Biennale’s nature with the “deeply reflective, deeply political”[1] objectives that Enwezor has laid out?

Padiglione Centrale  Giardini, Venezia  2015. 56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures. Photo: Alessandra Chemollo. Courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia.

56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures, Padiglione Centrale, Giardini, Venezia, 2015. Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia. Photo: Alessandra Chemollo.

Enwezor declares that his exhibition, the centerpiece of an international festival presenting pavilions from eighty-seven nations,[2] addresses “the ruptures that surround and abound around every corner of the global landscape today.” He draws legitimacy for the geopolitical framework of his project from history, describing how “One hundred years after the first shots of the First World War were fired in 1914, and seventy-five years after the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the global landscape again lies shattered and in disarray, scarred by violent turmoil, panicked by specters of economic crisis and viral pandemonium, secessionist politics, and a humanitarian catastrophe on the high seas, deserts, and borderlands, as immigrants, refugees, and desperate peoples seek refuge in seemingly calmer and prosperous lands.”[3]

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Shotgun Reviews

FOCUS: Mario García Torres at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. For the next five Sundays, our Shotgun Reviews will come from the finalists for the Daily Serving/Kadist Art Foundation Writing Fellowship in Mexico City. In today’s edition, author Leslie Moody Castro reviews the work of Mexico City–based artist Mario García Torres at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas.

Mario García Torres. The Schlieren Plot,n.d.; HD video and sound, 29 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist and Proyectos Monclova, Mexico.

Mario García Torres. The Schlieren Plot,n.d.; HD video and sound, 29 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist and Proyectos Monclova, Mexico.

There is an effect in simple physics that explains how invisible atmospheric gases become visible to the eye when they are confronted with similar mediums of differing densities. This effect is called the Schlieren Effect, and in his solo exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Mario García Torres metaphorically appropriates this theory to suspend histories, mythologies, and realities.

The Schlieren Plot (n.d.) is the central work around which the exhibition revolves. García Torres weaves together a narrative exploring artist Robert Smithson’s trajectory in the state of Texas, and of artistic mythologizing of the state itself. García Torres plays with possible histories and mythologies that were on the cusp of becoming realities; he suspends time to provoke a feeling of nostalgia for events that never actually occurred.

The video follows the story of a fictional gardener and expert on Robert Smithson‘s land work in Texas. Initially, the audience watches the gardner go about his day, but somewhere along a Texas highway the camera angle shifts and the audience is no longer watching the garner but has joined in on his pilgrimage to view the sites of Smithson’s would-have-been projects in Dallas/Fort Worth; and to view Amarillo Ramp (1974), Smithson’s only completed project in Texas, finished posthumously. The ephemerality of Amarillo Ramp is obvious in its erosion from the harsh Texas landscape. As a finished work it really lives in the plans and drawings made by Smithson, which are also part of the exhibition.

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