From the Archives

From the Archives – Curating Activism: An Interview with Julio César Morales

Today from our archives we bring you an interview with Julio César Morales, curator of the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe. Morales says, “I am working to develop the largest Latin American video archive in the U.S., housed in the city most threatening to Latinos in the U.S. This juxtaposition reflects the ongoing struggles between the U.S. and Mexico and their parasitic need for each other.” This interview was originally published on April 8, 2013.

Julio César Morales. Undocumented Interventions #1, 2011; watercolor and ink on paper; 32.5 x 24.5 in.

Julio César Morales is an artist, curator, and educator who recently left the San Francisco Bay Area to become curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe. Morales was an adjunct curator at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from 2008–12, where he created PAUSE: Practice and Exchange, a series of solo exhibitions by artists including Allan de Souza, Euan Macdonald, and Gina Osterloh. He is a co-founder of San Francisco’s Queen’s Nails Projects.

Anuradha Vikram: Do you think that art can influence public opinion and public policy? Is this a legitimate goal for artists to have?

Julio César Morales: Yes, I do! At the risk of sounding too utopian, there are and have been some amazing projects that have had an impact at various levels of civic engagement. Look at an artist such as Suzanne Lacy, who for the last 30 years has created a wide range of projects that, at their core, are about social change and changing public policy. Her 1977 project, Three Weeks in May,  had a forceful political imperative—to bring hidden experiences of rape to public attention—and her 1999 Oakland-based project, Code 33, was a three-year project to reduce police hostility toward youth, provide youth with a set of skills to participate in their communities, and generate a more profound understanding of youth needs. This project led to the development of youth training for the police department. Now anyone entering the police has to take the training created by Lacy and her collaborators, including myself.

Another example is the Tijuana-based Torolab, led by Raúl Cárdenas, which serves as a collective workshop and laboratory, identifying situations or phenomena of interest for research, with a focus on lifestyles and “quality of life.” One recent project, COMA, traced the physiological changes of a Mexican person in their everyday relation to food. The project culminated in creating a type of bread containing all the nutrients absent in a typical Mexican diet, according to the Mexican national health census. This new food product was launched in Puebla, with the support of the city, and is now helping to combat diabetes and malnutrition.

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The Artist as Player in “Girls” & “The Golden Girls”

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you an excerpt from an essay on artistic personae by Jim Gaylord. This article was commissioned by guest editor Jonn Herschend as part of Issue 5.5, Slapstick and the Sublime, and originally published on July 10, 2014.

Jesse Peretz. "Bad Friend," Girls, 2013 (film still); 00:30:00. Courtesy of HBO.

Jesse Peretz. “Bad Friend,” Girls, 2013 (film still); 00:30:00. Courtesy of HBO.

[...] Helping to keep the artist/heartbreaker stereotype alive today is the character of Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone) from the HBO series Girls (2013). The creation of writer/actor/director Lena Dunham (daughter of artists Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons), it’s fair to assume—given the show’s exaggerated yet realistic tone—that he is based on people Ms. Dunham has actually known in the New York art world. Booth is the kind of cocky, womanizing hipster who sleeps with his dealer and hates the High Line.

His persona is nothing new, bringing to mind Adam Coleman Howard’s “Stash” in Slaves of New York or Steve Buscemi’s role as Gregory Stark in New York Stories, both coincidentally from 1989. These bad-boy art stars exploit their successes to get what they want from others, usually with little consequence. Indeed, in Girls, Booth’s allure is often proportional to his misogynistic behavior. Even after locking the starstruck Marnie (Allison Williams) inside one of his video sculptures against her will, she later praises him for his talent and then has creepy sex with him. “I’m a man,” he tells her, “and I know how to do things.”

It isn’t long before Marnie believes Booth is her boyfriend, but she is actually falling in love with what he represents to her. Having been fired from her gallery job and turned down for another, she is struggling with her own identity. Booth’s “aura” as an artist is clearly attractive to Marnie; perhaps she sees him as a window back into that world, and a way to enter its higher echelons.

Like actors, artists have public personas, which their audiences can mistake for the genuine, private self. Many have intentionally exaggerated their eccentricities to attract attention, such as the outwardly flamboyant Salvador Dalí. In the case of Girls, the Booth who Marnie sees (as opposed to whom we see) is largely a projection from her own imagination. When it later becomes clear that he was just using her, Booth evades any responsibility by throwing a tantrum about how “no one even knows me” and “everyone just uses me for what I represent to them.” These protests elicit little sympathy since, no doubt, there’s likely another admirer willing to be the next victim of his abuse in line behind Marnie.

Read the full article here.

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New York

Roger Hiorns at Luhring Augustine

Roger Hiorns’ current solo exhibition at Luhring Augustine—the British artist’s first in New York City—presents viewers with two inscrutable situations: In one, a quantity of gray powder has been deposited, apparently by hand, over a large, rectangular area occupying the better part of the main gallery; in another, a nude male model loiters about a massive, faceted stone object and a low table, the surface of which is a flat-screen TV monitor displaying video content by the Wall Street Journal. The model occasionally uses each for a bench, making use of a panel on the table’s frame that seems to be intended as a seat.

Roger Hiorns; Untitled (Security Object), 2013; cast stone; and Untitled (Surface 2), 2014; Steel, flat screen and youth; © Roger Hiorns; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Roger Hiorns; Untitled (Security Object), 2013; cast stone; and Untitled (Surface 2), 2014; steel, flat screen, and youth; © Roger Hiorns; Courtesy of the Artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

I consciously use the term “situation” because, in the first gallery, the dematerialization of the object is, as we will see, the crux of the work, and in the second gallery, the presence of the live model activates a highly theatrical mise en scène, in which it would be awkward to contemplate the “props” as art objects in their own right. This is in contrast to the third gallery in the exhibition, which presents a group of works, all “Untitled” (as the others in the exhibition are), that look something like the plastic bowels of a moped. Strung from the ceiling and rigged up to a compressor, they slowly extrude foam in scatological coils. This surreal aggregation, grotesquely anthropomorphic yet somehow serene, makes itself available for perceptual exploration in a way that the other installations do not.

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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.

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Sydney

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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