From the Archives

From the Archives – #Hashtags: The Squeezing of the Middle Class Gallery

Today from our archives, we bring you an essay that’s ripe for reconsideration. Though San Francisco—like many other cities—has seen the closing of several mid-level galleries in the last few years, recent events have been more hopeful. There are at least two new art spaces in the city, and this weekend more than 3,500 artists and patrons successfully turned their cooperative efforts toward funding The Lab during a live 24-hour telethon. Of course, questions remain: Is the tide changing, or are we simply moving toward new models? Will collectivity save us? At this point there are no clear answers, but we hope this buoyant moment will propel us toward exploring other modes and strategies that can ensure strong support for the arts at a regional level. This article by Anuradha Vikram was originally published on March 10, 2014.

Tracey Snelling. "Mystery Hour," Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA, December 19, 2013 - February 1, 2014. Photo credit: John Janca. Courtesy of the artist and Rena Bransten Gallery.

Tracey Snelling. Mystery Hour, December 19, 2013-February 1, 2014; installation view, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA Courtesy of the Artist and Rena Bransten Gallery. Photo: John Janca.

#commerce #place-making #policy #class #gentrification

With their leases recently terminated, the mid-sized galleries at 77 Geary Street in San Francisco are the latest casualties of the massive wealth divide that plagues contemporary American society. Gallerists George Krevsky, Rena Bransten, and Mark Jawgiel were notified that their month-to-month leases would be discontinued to make space for technology company MuleSoft to expand into the building’s second floor. Patricia Sweetow Gallery, located on the mezzanine floor, has not yet received a lease termination but is in the process of looking for a new gallery space. Within the past year, other gallery tenants Togonon and Marx & Zavattero have departed 77 Geary in advance of the anticipated loss of space. Some of the galleries being displaced have been at 77 Geary for decades.

These circumstances, while particularly dramatic, are very much within the scope of experience for many mid-sized American galleries in multiple cities. Chelsea recently saw the departure of Postmasters for lower Manhattan, while Billy Shire Fine Arts is among the mid-sized spaces that have closed after years in L.A.’s Culver City. Meanwhile, the New Yorker recently reported that mega-galleries David Zwirner and Gagosian are doing record business. If the very top of the contemporary art market is thriving, one might ask why it matters that smaller galleries are closing and gallery districts relocating across the country. There are two main reasons why this news should warrant concern. First, mid-sized galleries represent the bulk of artists with gallery representation, for whom record auction prices are out of reach. For these artists, mid-sized galleries make the difference between maintaining a sustainable art career and abandoning creative work for more lucrative pursuits. Without them, artists must take second and third jobs, detracting from the time and energy they need to make their art. Alternative spaces, many of which are also closing, provide regional artists with visibility and community but can offer only minimal financial support. Casting aside the enormous community-building value offered by support for the arts, even the most dry-eyed capitalist ought to appreciate that mid-sized commercial galleries are the link between a community’s individual artists and artisans and a broader market for their goods.

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Shotgun Reviews

Landscape: The Virtual, The Actual, The Possible? at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

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, Scott Norton reviews Landscape: The Virtual, The Actual, The Possible? at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Changi, Singapore

Robert Zhao Renhui. Changi, Singapore, Possibly 1970s (from the series As We Walked on Water), 2010–2012; digital photograph. Courtesy of Robert Zhao Renhui and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

For much of art history, seventeenth-century notions of a hierarchy of genres within painting classified landscapes as inferior to history paintings, which were often filled with religious iconography and scenes from mythology. Several centuries later, some contemporary audiences continue to perceive landscapes as prosaic, formulaic, or downright boring. The curators and featured artists of the exhibition Landscape: The Virtual, The Actual, The Possible? suggest that we as a civilization have moved beyond the bounds of this ancient genre, and quite possibly beyond the point of no return as a planet facing a global climate crisis.

The configuration of the gallery is unique. It opens and unfolds like a Chinese scholar’s garden. Liang Shuo’s Fit #9 (2010), a playful assemblage of found toys, tools, and tree branches, seems to crawl down the entrance wall like a garden vine. Like the curated space it inhabits, Liang’s piece is a collection of objects without any seemingly rational relationship existing in forced harmony, inorganic posing as organic. Through our rationalization of its existence, perhaps as commentary on the ubiquity of human-made ephemera now found in nature, Fit #9 becomes a part of the created scenery. Next to the piece, a slender window gives the visitor only a peek of what’s to come ahead. The curved path of the gallery’s hall forms the side of a square encompassing a circle, which is coincidentally a Chinese visual metaphor for heaven and earth, and a motif often present in Chinese gardens.

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San Francisco

Sarah Oppenheimer at Mills College Art Museum

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Lea Feinstein’s review of Sarah Oppenheimer’s current solo show at Mills College Art Museum. Feinstein notes: “[Oppenheimer] creates immersive experiences for participants, in which literal reflections inspire personal reflection and wondering is a product of wandering. […] But without hours of serious research before seeing the exhibition, it is difficult to parse the scope or significance of her installations from the cryptic fragments on display.” This article was originally published on October 28, 2014.

Sarah Oppenheimer, 2014; installation view, Mills College Art Museum. Courtesy of the Artist and Mills College Art Museum.

Sarah Oppenheimer, 2014; installation view, Mills College Art Museum. Courtesy of the Artist and Mills College Art Museum.

Do your homework before you see this show. Sarah Oppenheimer is a much-heralded artist whose scrupulous work crosses the borders between architecture and sculpture and is grounded in theories of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences, particularly perception. To create her mind-bending work, she has pierced and reconfigured walls, corners, floors, and entryways in galleries, universities, and art museums. Like periscopes and kaleidoscopes, her interventions probe the bodies of buildings and employ transparent and mirrored surfaces to create new and disorienting ways of experiencing familiar spaces.

But none of these aspects are in the current exhibition at the Mills College Art Museum. What is there are Oppenheimer’s sketches, studies, ideas for interventions, and maquettes: carefully milled, drilled, and fabricated samples of glass and aluminum that play a part in recent commissions in New York, Switzerland, and in other locations in the United States and Europe—studio shots, so to speak.

The assembled array of white-painted steel tables with sketches and drawings under glass is tantalizing but not revealing. It offers the initiate only hints of Oppenheimer’s process, her extreme concern with perfection; pieces are milled to within 1/32 inch of her requirements. The titles of her works (33-D, D-33, OE-15) provide few clues except the inclusion of her fabricators’ names and their locations, suggesting she considers them artistic collaborators in this work.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Laura Moore

From the height of a pedestrian bridge over a railroad track in Toronto, artist Laura Moore saw the remains of a computer monitor gazing screen- or face-up at her from the tracks. The happenstance experience provoked a number of questions about contemporary society’s rapidly changing relationship and progressive entanglement with technology. Mainly the artist wondered: Why was this monitor marched up a steep set of stairs only to be hurled onto the steel rail lines below?

Laura Moore.  One Man's Junk, (ongoing series) 2014; hand carved Indiana Limestone; dimensions variable. Courtesy of Paul Cimoroni.

Laura Moore. One Man’s Junk (ongoing series), 2014; hand-carved Indiana limestone; dimensions variable. Courtesy of Paul Cimoroni.

This question traces the intriguing juxtaposition between the old but still-used technology of the railroad and the swift obsolescence of the computer, that ever-new technological engine of commerce and information. These intertwined concerns reside at the heart of Laura Moore’s stone and wood sculptures, drawings, and photographs. Moore uses largely enduring materials, most often stone, to explore the relationships between technology and landscape, scale and permanence, and monumentality and disposability.

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New York

The Heart Is Not a Metaphor: Robert Gober at MoMA

The Heart Is Not a Metaphor, the first large-scale survey of Robert Gober’s career to take place in the United States, is a testament to the breadth of the artist’s provocative articulation of those moments of cultural past that linger in the corners of peripheral vision—a lingering that keeps one unsettled. Queered, uncanny objects of the everyday radiate the trauma of the half-remembered event. In Gober’s untitled piece from 1997, an open leather suitcase on the floor reveals a storm grate in its base that looks down into an underground chamber: a riverbed of flowing water. Kelp and stones brush against a man’s feet, submerged; a child’s legs dangle in front of the adult body. At every angle at which one peers down past the grate, a full image is precluded; any meaning is merely triggered by the mystery of the unseen.

Robert Gober. Two Partially Buried Sinks, 1986-87.  Cast iron and enamel paint. Right: 39 x 25 ½ x 2 ½” (99.1 x 64.8 x 6.4 cm); left: 39 x 24 ½ x 2 3/4 “ (99.1 x 62.2 x 7 cm). Photo: Andrew Moore. Courtesy the artist.

Robert Gober. Two Partially Buried Sinks, 1986-87; cast iron and enamel paint; right: 39 x 25 ½ x 2 ½ in. (99.1 x 64.8 x 6.4 cm.); left: 39 x 24 ½ x 2 3/4 in. (99.1 x 62.2 x 7 cm). Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Andrew Moore.

In Gober’s insistence on painstakingly replicating by hand quotidian manufactured objects, he literally reproduces talismans of trauma. A meticulous, empty Seagrams bottle (untitled, 2000–01) sits upright on the floor by the wall, sinisterly close to a fireplace in which beeswax children’s legs in Mary Jane shoes burn like logs (also untitled, 1994–95). Another untitled work, from 1986, is a sparse, simple, wood-framed bed with white sheets and a blue woolen blanket. Gober is a rarity in that he presents a poeticism on white male subjectivity that does not glorify it; his objects instead graze against the fear and dark sadness associated with the father, the grandfather. One of Gober’s wallpapered rooms features the repeated illustration of a black figure hanging by a noose from a tree. Gober’s is the sad and sick history of a particular working-class masculinity and a trauma that taints everything it touches. Sculptures like the neatly made bed neither vilify nor glorify, instead tucked into the confused tenderness of a mahogany-tinged, 1950s masculine Catholic ethos.

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Savannah

The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists at the SCAD Museum of Art

The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, is an ambitious show, but originally I pondered the reason for viewing the work of African artists through a lens of an archetype of Western literature, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. While such an endeavor may not seem particularly edifying at the outset, curator Simon Njami’s selection of extraordinary works and adroit sequencing makes for a fascinating and important exhibition.

The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, installation view, SCAD Museum of Art. Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny, Another Day without You, 2013; five c-prints mounted on disec; 39 ½ x 70 ¾ inches each. Ghada Amer, The Blue Bra Girls, 2012; stainless steel; 72 x 62 ¼ x 54 inches. Lamia Naji, Immaculé, 2011; six c-prints mounted on Dibond; 45 ¼ x 61 inches each. Courtesy of SCAD Museum of Art, photo by Marc Newton.

The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists, installation view, SCAD Museum of Art. Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny, Another Day without You, 2013; five c-prints mounted on disec; 39 ½ x 70 ¾ inches each. Ghada Amer, The Blue Bra Girls, 2012; stainless steel; 72 x 62 ¼ x 54 inches. Lamia Naji, Immaculé, 2011; six c-prints mounted on Dibond; 45 ¼ x 61 inches each. Courtesy of SCAD Museum of Art, photo by Marc Newton.

The exhibition itself exists as three thematic sections: Paradise, Purgatory, and Hell. In contravention to Dante’s own progression, the exhibition begins with Paradise, and the museum has denoted each with white, red, and black wall colors or accents, respectively. By presenting this exhibition through the lens of The Divine Comedy, a number of the works certainly do appear overtly religious. In some works, a connection to religion is obvious, such as Dimitri Fagbohoun’s Refigerium (2013), a confessional featuring video installations, and Andrew Tshabangu’s photographic series On Sacred Ground (2008). But several other works share this affinity in more subtle ways: Bili Bidjocka’s large painting Purgatorio Le Vestibule de L’Enfer E’criture Infinie (2014) and Guy Tillim’s photographs of breathtaking landscapes provide a mystical Romantic sensibility within the Paradise section. Along with these, Cheikh Niass’s installation La Série Arc en Ciel (2012) consists of twelve vibrant banners hanging in a row from the ceiling of the galleries as an architectural allusion to medieval cathedrals.

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New Orleans

Prospect.3 New Orleans

Honoré de Balzac wrote: “Ideas are a complete system within us, resembling a natural kingdom, a sort of flora, of which the iconography will one day be outlined by some man who will perhaps be accounted a madman.” This passage was included in Camille Henrot’s writings about her video Grosse Fatigue (2014), now on view in Prospect.3, a sprawling biennial in both geographic and thematic terms. The “madman” in this quote might be Franklin Sirmans, the artistic director of Prospect.3; Sirmans attempts to create a cohesive exhibition in a city that is perpetually unhappy with easy definitions and straightforward thought. However, Prospect.3 has some stunning and kindhearted works that try very hard to carve clear connections to a place that is a constantly shifting landscape of one part earth and two parts water.

Camille Henrot. Grosse Fatigue, 2013 (film still). Video installation (color, sound) Courtesy of the artist, Silex Films and kamel mennour, Paris.

Camille Henrot. Grosse Fatigue, 2013 (video still); video installation (color, sound). Courtesy of the Artist, Silex Films, and kamel mennour, Paris.

Prospect New Orleans has had an awkward childhood. Prospect.1, founded by Dan Cameron, opened in October 2008 with eighty-one artists from thirty-four countries in about thirty locations. Artistically, the biennial was a smashing success, drawing comments such as, “Prospect.1 takes the reprobate scallywag nihilists of the contemporary avant-garde and converts them … into goody-two-shoes bleeding-heart believers in the nobility of humankind.”[1] Unfortunately, Prospect.1 ended over a million dollars in debt, defaulting on the public’s trust. Then, unable to meet funding expectations, Prospect returned in 2010 with something called Prospect1.5, a mostly local affair that was as awkward as the first iteration was ballsy. Prospect.2 opened the next year in 2011, with a graceful mix of international and local artists, but was still significantly less exciting that the first iteration. Prospect.3 now has grown into early adulthood and has regained some of the energy that made Prospect.1 so great. This year’s iteration opened on October 25 with fifty-eight artists spread around eighteen locations.

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