Help Desk

Help Desk: Quid Pro Quo

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.

I wear many hats in the art world, one of them as an art critic. Until recently, I have only accepted offers to attend press previews and other pre-public opening events at large-scale institutions when I knew I was actually going to write about a show. Increasingly, I realize I cannot predict whether I will want to write (or should write) about a show until I see it. Also, as someone who covers a huge metropolitan region, I need to stay abreast of the local art scene, but also schedule my own writing time with care. I want to keep track of shows, but I can’t cover it all. Is it okay—ethically, journalistically—to accept these invitations, attend press previews, and NOT write about the exhibition? I’m not trying to run a scam, but I do feel slightly dishonest. Should I even be worried about this? Thanks for your continued sagacity.

John Baldessari. Pictures & Scripts: Honey - what words come to mind?, 2015; Diptych: varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint;108 x 67 1/2 x 1 1/2 in.

John Baldessari. Pictures & Scripts: Honey – What Words Come to Mind?, 2015; diptych: varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint; 108 x 67 1/2 x 1 1/2 in.

In brief: Yes, you can and should go to press previews; no, you shouldn’t worry that you’re violating some ethical or journalistic code. Instead of wrapping it up with the short answer, perhaps we should talk about why you might feel uncomfortable, and what you can do about it in the future.

A press preview is an industry event that critics attend in order to determine whether they’ll be able and willing to invest their time in a conversation about the artworks. It can be very difficult to predict if you’ll want to write about a show before you’ve seen it, even if you’re already familiar with the artist’s oeuvre—and woe betide the critic who has already sent a pitch to her editor and then makes everyone’s life difficult by backing out a few days before the deadline. No critic can cover every show, even in a small city, so she must determine which of the exhibitions on offer will be the beneficiary of her attentions. In order to do this, she must possess a modicum of facts about the work, and attending press previews and seeing a lot of artwork as it is best seen (in person, without needing to elbow through a crowd of selfie-taking nitwits) is a great way to get the facts.

Some of the anxiety you feel might be attributable to the press officers who organize such events. Having eaten my share of mini-quiches at preview breakfasts, I can attest to the subsequent pressure that press officers sometimes bring to bear on the situation. I’ve had my hand pumped, been flirted with, had exhibition catalogs pressed into my arms, fielded aggressive appeals to interview artists and curators, and indeed been asked outright, “Are you going to write about this show?” before even being led into the galleries.

Read More »


Shotgun Reviews

Art of Prehistoric Times: Rock Paintings from the Frobenius Collection at the Martin-Gropius-Bau

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, Robert J. Kett reviews Art of Prehistoric Times: Rock Paintings from the Frobenius Collection at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.

Albert Hahn. Hand Silhouettes, Fish and Moon, 1937; watercolor; 26 x 37 in. Courtesy of Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. © Frobenius-Institut Frankfurt am Main.

Albert Hahn. Hand Silhouettes, Fish and Moon, 1937; watercolor; 26 x 37 in. Courtesy of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. © Frobenius-Institut Frankfurt am Main.

In a 1955 lecture on the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux, Georges Bataille worried, “But what if the present-day world follows us in our exploration? […] Do we not risk remaining in our present-day world? And only rather indirectly glimpsing from afar the reflection of a world that has vanished, a world which I said had become inaccessible.”[1]

On display at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is a singular collection where present and lost worlds meet: a group of painted facsimiles of prehistoric rock art from the archive of German ethnologist and archaeologist Leo Frobenius. The result of a maniacal effort of scientific archive-building in the early 20th century, the collection was subsequently recruited as a resource for the elaboration of a new modern art in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (1937), ICA London (1948), and elsewhere.

These massive canvases have the power to envelop, offering a phenomenological approximation of what it might be like to sit in a remote cave looking at some of the oldest “art” in the world. (Indeed, the galleries provide a near global tour.) However, the impression of being in the cave quickly yields to observing pencil marks, the distinct wash of watercolor on paper, and painstakingly constructed stone surfaces. The vibrant red of hand silhouettes was not blown onto stone in prehistory but minutely applied much more recently—a reproduction of ancient effect far removed from the performative inscriptions so admired in prehistoric art. The works index an exacting attempt to recapture prehistoric art’s “feeling of unlimited richness,” the loss of which Bataille so lamented in reflecting on our contemporary distance from prehistory.[2]

Read More »



Deana Lawson & Henry Lawson

Today from our friends at BOMB Magazine, we bring you a conversation between artists Deana Lawson and Henry Lawson. They speak about the commonalities of their practices, their travels, and the importance of color in their work. Lawson says of her photographs, “I often think of Carrie Mae Weems’s titles in the Colored People series, in which she names the nuances of black and brown bodies and undertones, titles like Blue Black Boy, Golden Yella Girl, and Magenta Colored Girl. I try to glorify brown skin within the print and bend toward specificity of skin tones.” This article was originally published in BOMB 133, Fall 2015.

Henry Taylor. 
Where Thoughts Provoke, Getting Deep In Shallow Water, 2015; acrylic on canvas; 36 × 36 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Henry Taylor. 
Where Thoughts Provoke, Getting Deep in Shallow Water, 2015; acrylic on canvas; 36 × 36 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Henry Taylor and I were introduced by our mutual friend and collector, AC Hudgins, at a MoMA PS1 function in 2012. When we met I was about to depart on my first trip to Haiti to do my photographic work. The following year I asked Henry to accompany me to Port-au-Prince. That trip was a key moment in our friendship as well as in our artistic practices—the influence of Haiti can be seen in both of our bodies of work. It also gave us insight into each other’s process and the methods that aren’t necessarily visible in the final paintings or photographs.

I’ve sat for portraits for Henry in various locations, including the Hudgins’s homes in Harlem and Sag Harbor; Henry’s studio in Los Angeles; and my apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Henry no longer needs to ask me to sit for him; I now ask him to paint (document) me, because, as a photographer, it is fascinating to experience up close an artist’s process that is quite different 
than mine.

Our dialogues have been mutually inspiring and have informed my focus and my photographs in subtle ways. What comes out of Henry’s mouth in conversation is completely unpredictable, and it is our meandering exchanges that keep the friendship alive and fresh.

Read the full article here.



Amir H. Fallah: All Experience Is an Arch at Hap Gallery

Students of metaphysics commonly debate about time and space as an arc—curving and perhaps boomeranging, to ends that are difficult to articulate. Los Angeles–based artist Amir H. Fallah, however, postulates the experience of time and space as something more solid and tangible, akin to a structure engineered for indiscriminate movement back and forth. All Experience Is an Arch at Hap Gallery is an experiential recounting of a familial legacy as it can only be regarded posthumously—as it can be summarized from a sparingly objective distance. In the immersive installation, Fallah repurposes years’ worth of trinkets found at an estate sale in Los Angeles: purchased and treasured, but curiously not precious enough to pass down.

Amir H. Fallah. All Experience is Arch, installation view; Hap Gallery, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Hap Gallery. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Amir H. Fallah. All Experience Is Arch; installation view; Hap Gallery, 2016. Courtesy of the Artist and Hap Gallery. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Fallah undertakes the exhibition in the same spirit as someone who has been charged with crafting a loved one’s eulogy. He delivers a few humanizing jabs to remind us of their fallibility and eccentricities, but by and large, communicates the family’s many memorable and exceptional traits. First Person Shooter Games, the exhibition’s standout painting, dominates the gallery’s main hall. A shrouded female figure is athletically poised to deliver a chest-pass in the direction of her voyeur. She is surrounded by reminders of her youth: golden bells, an impressive quantity of hard-won basketball trophies, and the style of monogrammed initials typically found on the possessions of those aspiring toward sophistication. Two hands, in mid-knit or purl, foreground the scene, indicating that the cloaked subject was as domestically talented as she was at sport. Though her likeness is well hidden, her identity is based on clues gathered about the family’s matriarch.

Clothing, old photographs, and writings from the estate sale provide access to the family, with which Fallah calculatedly decides to obscure or detail throughout the exhibition. The gallery walls are covered, floor to ceiling, in a dark spotted pattern from fabric found throughout the family home. Fallah reproduces many such patterns on small painted panels, never neglecting the billowing, wrinkles, and folds. The paintings are dispersed throughout the installation, tucked around unassuming corners, or hung at exceedingly strange heights. Titled Between the Folds (2015) in serial progression, these works are keen references of cultural connection and perhaps socioeconomic status. The fabrics, decorated in golden honeycombs, birds, and elaborate paisleys, are unknown in their original material and use.

Read More »



Cezary Poniatowski: No Center No Edges at Piktogram

Cezary Poniatowski’s recent work at Piktogram Gallery compels viewers to navigate a veritable maze of pop-culture references and anthropological allusions. The exhibition is composed of more than twenty black-and-white acrylic paintings completed in 2015 and 2016, each depicting highly abstract, hybrid figures cavorting in confined, flat spaces reminiscent of comic-book panels. The recurrence of specific forms and motifs in the images creates the strong impression of a discontinuous narrative.

Cesary Poniatowski. No Center No Edges, 2016; installation view at Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

Cezary Poniatowski. No Center No Edges, 2016; installation view, Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw. Courtesy of Piktogram Gallery.

In the largest room, five sizable canvases are hung from chains high on the wall, evoking castle-hall portraits of the aristocracy—but their subject matter is not so exalted. On the far right, a horned figure assumes the stance of a champion, athletically mounting an Olympian plinth; in the middle of the grouping, another muscular figure triumphantly raises his own severed head. These victorious figures counter the impression made by the canvas on the far left, which depicts a minotaur-like character hunched, horns drooping. Inside this being’s rough outline, ten miniature black paintings are portrayed in a salon-style grouping.

The repetition of this bullish hybrid across many of the canvases might tempt viewers to believe that the minotaur is Poniatowski’s proxy, and that the character’s oscillation between elation and misery depicts the state of the artist himself, who must waver between engagement and withdrawal. There’s also a sense that the figure’s machismo is a comedic feint, as in Warner Brothers’ classic cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” in which the silhouette of a gargantuan horned monstrosity turns out to be the shadow cast by a diminutive Elmer Fudd in an oversize Viking helmet.

Read More »



Edgardo Aragón: Mesoamerica – The Hurricane Effect at Jeu de Paume

In 1527, Olas Magnus drew the Carta Marina, the first detailed account of Nordic geography and the perils plaguing it by land and sea. In the image, life seems threatened mainly by ongoing human conflict and a perpetual battle with weather, but what haunted imaginations for centuries was its depiction of the monsters inhabiting the northern seas. Their presence was a documentary mix of fact and fiction—they represented real animals as sighted and interpreted by fishermen, as well as bad omens relating to the political turbulences of their times.

Edgardo Aragón. Mesoamerica: The Hurricane Effect, 2015 (detail of map); HD video, color, sound; 16'20'' and 10 maps. Coproduction: Jeu de Paume, Paris, Fondation des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques and CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain de Bordeaux. Courtesy of the Artist and Jeu de Paume.

Edgardo Aragón. Mesoamerica: The Hurricane Effect, 2015 (detail of map); HD video, color, sound; 16:20, with 10 maps. Coproduction: Jeu de Paume, Paris, Fondation des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques and CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux. Courtesy of the Artist and Jeu de Paume.

Magnus’ monsters take on a new dimension in Mesoamerica: The Hurricane Effect, Edgardo Aragón’s exhibition of maps, a video, and an accompanying publication at Jeu de Paume in Paris. Aragón takes viewers on a journey that starts with an array of ten maps that illustrate the economic and political forces struggling for control of the region comprising Mexico and Central America known as Mesoamerica. Departing from an 1857 map that, as the artist notes in the publication, “interestingly” includes the totality of the region as part of the United States’ territory, we perceive Mesoamerica as a route for the trafficking of people, drugs, and natural resources.

The sea creatures depicted in the maps of yore are used here to represent the main culprits: drug lords, political parties, and mining companies. Although clearly destructive, the beasts in Olas Magnus’ map remain at bay in the vastness of the cold sea, whereas in Aragón’s interpretation they almost cover entire countries, turning them into vulnerable vessels doomed to sink. Three final maps show us Oaxaca, the small town of Cachimbo in the state of Chiapas, and a route traced in red between the two that hints at the trip developing in the single-channel video projected in an adjacent room.

Read More »



#Hashtags: Convergences and Displacements

#Townhouse #Cairo #gentrification #urban #culture #displacement

This past week has left the venerable nonprofit Townhouse Gallery shaken. Though the attempted demolition of its building at 10 Nabrawy Street in Cairo has been halted, the gallery is faced with months of work ahead to secure its future. Operating since 1998, Townhouse is known for drawing international artists and thinkers to Egypt, and nurturing an emerging network of support for Egyptian artists through its library and archive, cultural salons, theater, and nonprofit incubator programs. Their presentation of cutting-edge, often political art in a space that welcomes and serves Egyptians of every class has invited rancor from reactionaries, and over the past week, Townhouse and its neighbors were nearly displaced permanently when local police forcibly evicted them and then threatened to demolish the property after a section had collapsed. The process of securing protection for the 19th-century building in order to list it as a heritage site and proceed with restoration is underway, a process that was only made possible because of widespread community protests against the demolition. Says William Wells, Townhouse’s co-founder and director, “Given that we are in the center of the city and demonstrations have begun again after a two-year absence, we must act quickly.” The convergence of many different social classes in support of preserving the mixed-use building illustrates how the arts can operate as a site for citizenship where such spaces are hard to come by. The threat against Townhouse is a lesson in how liberal development can function as cover for acts of cultural erasure by conservative political interests—a trend observed in cities across the globe.

Townhouse Gallery, 10 Nabrawy Street, Cairo, Egypt, c. 2011. Image courtesy Townhouse Gallery.

Townhouse Gallery, 10 Nabrawy Street, Cairo, Egypt, c. 2011. Courtesy of Townhouse Gallery.

On Wednesday, April 6, a section of the historic building that houses Townhouse partially collapsed. No one was injured, and staff salvaged what equipment and archives they could from the rubble and resolved to rebuild. At 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 9, police arrived and declared the building condemned, but did not produce any documentation supporting that finding. Townhouse is situated within the Mechanics’ district, and the working-class neighbors (who have long defended the space from government censors) turned out in large numbers to stop the demolition. Mido Sadek, a former Townhouse employee, described the scene at the time: “They were supposed to just clear the rubble from the collapsed part of the Townhouse building, but the army [said] they will demolish the remaining three-fourths of the building that is still stable. Some families will sleep on the street tonight.” Residents were able to initiate a government review process that Sunday to list their building as a protected heritage site; however, the police returned on Monday and began to physically dismantle and destroy architectural elements, removing doors and smashing windows and tile, while forcibly vacating the remaining occupied units. Townhouse media and communication officer Karim Moselhi described how, “It was really shocking to see how the laws regarding heritage were completely being disregarded, and on top of that, it was devastating to see the authorities evicting those families and shop owners without notice.” Sadek asked, “Who made this decision without informing the owner or tenants of the building? How was this decided so quickly, and why would it be implemented on a weekend? There are a lot of unanswered questions.” On Wednesday, April 13, in response to continued public pressure, the demolition order was reversed by a specialized delegation of government representatives and engineers. Quite a bit of work is still required to make the building habitable and to restore the damage created by police and by the original collapse. Townhouse has temporarily relocated to its adjacent Factory and Rawabet spaces, and has set up a co-working space for staff and community organizers to complete the architectural and cultural surveys of 10 Nabrawy Street that must be submitted to secure the building’s protection. Meanwhile, the building’s six resident families remain homeless.

Read More »