Ragnar Kjartansson: The End at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) presents Ragnar Kjartansson’s gorgeous and shrewd video installation The End (2009). On five rear projection screens, Kjartansson and his collaborator, Icelandic musician Davíð Þór Jónsson, play all of the parts of an unidentified country-music song on piano, banjo, drums, and acoustic and electric guitars. Shot in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, both men are bearded and dressed in raccoon-fur hats, shearling coats, and jeans. Kjartansson’s smartly staged romantic concert of two musicians tests the limits of “naturalness” while also invoking the awe of a pristine and secluded landscape.

Ragnar Kjartansson. The End, 2009; Video. Courtesy of MOCAD, the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

Ragnar Kjartansson. The End, 2009; video. Courtesy of MOCAD, the Artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

Like Edmund Burke’s sublime landscape,[1] which informed 18th- and 19th-century romantic landscape painting and writing,[2] Kjartansson positions human beings as solitary and commanding against the vast and sometimes chaotic natural world. Devoid of the architectural markings of human development, Kjartansson’s landscape is a field of white snow, mountains, and pine trees. Each of the five videos in the installation begins with shots of a landscape that includes the musicians’ equipment and instruments. Kjartansson and Þór Jónsson walk into the frame to play their song for thirty minutes and then walk off camera and into the landscape. This suggests that the landscape is the stable entity, with the duo intervening only for a brief time. Without a visible audience, the duo plays for themselves and the camera. However, at one moment, Kjartansson turns and plays toward the canyon below, pauses, and then listens as the music echoes off the ravine and disappears. While sited in the mountains, the musicians also play to it, suggesting landscape as a dynamic thing in itself.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Cristina Burns

Cristina Burns’ work offers a poised and humorous vision of a world measured more by twisted fantasy than by the so-called sanity we are all so accustomed to assuming. Working primarily in photography, the artist creates works reminiscent of seventeenth-century European cabinets of curiosity, museums of medical and anthropological oddities, and children’s books, cartoons, and playthings—her photographs ooze a cloyingly saccharine Rococo sensibility that is distinctly infused with a touch of the macabre.

Cristina Burns. Magical Ingredients, 2014; photograph; 20 x 27 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Cristina Burns. Magical Ingredients, 2014; photograph; 20 x 27 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

In Magical Ingredients (2014), Burns’ stages a scene after a traditional Dutch or Flemish still life—traditional in composition and lighting—but replaces the food, dinnerware, candles, and other common objects depicted in sixteenth-century Northern European paintings with bright pink and blue toys, pieces of candy molded into human brains and eyes, a toy mermaid trapped in an upside down bell jar like a long-dead and preserved specimen, and an oversized black plastic ant lurking harmlessly in the bottom—left waiting to dig into the sugar-coated objects.

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New York

Anicka Yi: You Can Call Me F at The Kitchen

At the entrance to the black box of the Kitchen’s upstairs gallery, a long vitrine houses an illuminated culture of bacteria on agar jelly. The cracked slab teems with biological entities colored like bruises on sallow skin. Imprinted with capital letters, it reads: YOU CAN CALL ME F. Anicka Yi’s current solo show stages part breeding ground, part containment camp for “F”—the feminine, the woman as concept. A series of thick plastic tents are illuminated from within by work lights and white neon. They house sculptural environments clandestinely alive with the biological samples of a hundred women, hand-collected by the artist.

Anicka Yi. Grabbing At Newer Vegetables, 2015; Plexiglas, agar, female bacteria, fungus; 84.5 x 24.5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal

Anicka Yi. Grabbing At Newer Vegetables, 2015; Plexiglas, agar, female bacteria, fungus; 84.5 x 24.5 in.
Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal. Photo: Jason Mandella

In Yi’s dark alternative laboratory, colorful symbols on the quarantined hubs suggest futuristic biohazard indicators. Viewers peek into the tents through slits in the soiled flaps; the dense, clear sheets are covered in grimy fingerprints and other smeared markers of human presence. The methodology of the lab is such that the boundary between Yi’s samples and those who care for them is nonexistent, both subjects’ traces unhygienically everywhere.

Yi’s sculptures are often fields designed to trigger emotional response. The artist has produced a series of elegant meditations on such fundamental affective conditions as death and divorce, deftly aestheticizing fraught feelings through the conflation of signifiers. Yi’s poetic sense of allusion carries through in You Can Call Me F, but it is messier here, more sprawling, as elusive as the concept of female itself.

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San Francisco

Jenni Olson: The Royal Road

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Sean Uyehara’s review of The Royal Road by Jenni Olson. Uyehara notes that the film echoes “…dreams, those deferred and distorted forms of wish fulfillment, where the destination is never reached and that inevitably lead back to the thorny, tangled territory of the unconscious.” This article was originally published on March 12, 2015.

Jenni Olson. The Royal Road; 2015 (still). 16mm/HD; 65:00 min. Courtesy of Jenni Olson Productions.

Jenni Olson. The Royal Road; 2015 (film still); 16mm/HD; 65:00. Courtesy of Jenni Olson Productions.

Jenni Olson’s second feature-length narrative film, The Royal Road (2015), which I saw as part of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibition, solidifies her standing as a major voice in the use of film as personal essay. The film is primarily composed of two elements—Olson’s self-consciously butch voiceover narration paired with long takes of beautifully composed empty urban landscapes. However, this spare approach belies a sly complexity, as the film burrows into the endlessly mineable terrains of history, memory, and culture.

Olson’s previous narrative feature, The Joy of Life (2005), both elucidates the social-psychological conditions that position the Golden Gate Bridge as a suicide monument and relates Olson’s deep personal connection to it as a site of loss. A devastating work of art, the film also played a pivotal role in renewing public debate about the need for a suicide barrier on the bridge. In The Royal Road, Olson again performs the double move of disentangling and recombining her personal identity from and within the larger cultural landscape that has shaped it, this time focusing on another California landmark rich with metaphoric resonance: El Camino Real.

Read the full article here.



Doris Salcedo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

The fourth floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is typically an airy space with high ceilings and ample skylights, but currently it is crowded with an overabundance of furniture. Visitors are greeted with the pleasant mineral smell of dirt and a dense maze of wooden tables. The lighting is diffuse, almost grayed, and the galleries take on the look of a luminous dusk, a visual quiet that complements the solemn installations of Doris Salcedo’s retrospective exhibition. The labyrinth, titled Plegaria Muda (2008–10)—or “silent prayer”—consists of pairs of stacked tables with mirrored geometries, their tops separated by a layer of dark brown earth. In the troughs of the upturned table, blades of grass (a bit too neatly arranged to look accidental) poke through the wooden surfaces. The winding path through Salcedo’s prayer is effectively meditative.

Doris Salcedo, Atrabiliarios (detail), 1992-2004. Installation view, Doris Salcedo, MCA Chicago. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase:gift of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein, Patricia and Raoul Kennedy, Elaine McKeon, Lisa and John Miller, Chara Schreyer and Gordon Freund, and Robin Wright. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Doris Salcedo. Plegaria Muda (detail), 2008-10; mixed media. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

After weaving through this opening work, one encounters a series of room-scale installations. As one moves through this archipelago of galleries, the somber stillness of Plegaria Muda continues. In one room, a waxy cloth the color of dried blood extends out from the back wall, its waves and wrinkles creating something of a topographic plane. In another, delicate garments made of thread and needles hang—empty and ethereal—on the wall. In yet another, the visitor finds coffin-like compartments embedded directly into the white gallery walls. Covered with semi-translucent skins, these grotesque shadow boxes contain single or mismatched shoes resting claustrophobically within.

Much has been written about Salcedo’s motivation for making her works and the raison d’etre for the artist’s many objects. Political violence in Salcedo’s homeland, Colombia; gun-related deaths in the cities in which she has worked; grief in response to inexplicable loss of human life; racism and other schisms that divide us violently, one from another—these are the subjects that captivate the artist’s interest. Working in response to these devastations, Salcedo has been creating sculptural and installation-based works for decades. As she remarks in the exhibition catalog: “The only possible response I can give in the face of irreparable absence is to produce images capable of conveying incompleteness, lack, and emptiness.” Both with and without this contextual admission, Salcedo’s works are often interpreted as evocative of human bodies.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: Put the Artist First

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

In the role of writer and curator, I find myself playing bureaucratic middle man between artists and the public, or artists and institutions. But, where it comes to performing the role well, which comes procedurally first—the artist or machine? When I get an idea for an exhibition or written feature, the appropriate order of things often gets confusing for me. I’m not sure if I should first approach the artist with the idea (to make sure they are willing and able to participate) or should first approach the institution/publication (to be sure the project gets green-lit). I’d hate to pitch something to my colleagues that I can’t ultimately deliver, just as I’d also hate to get an artist’s hopes up about something I can’t get the “production powers that be” interested in. An etiquette lesson would be great.

Rachel Reupke. Still from Letter of Complaint, 2015; color video, 10 min.

Rachel Reupke. Letter of Complaint, 2015 (video still); color video; 10:00.

A few years ago, a friend bounded up to me at an opening and announced, “Good news! My curatorial proposal to Institution X was accepted and you’re in the show!” Needless to say, I was pretty stoked, but I was also extremely surprised, since that was the first I’d heard of it. This curator was an old friend and a trusted professional, so the situation was a bit different, but it left me wondering: What if I didn’t want to be in the show, or work with that curator or space, or if the work wasn’t available? This would have left us all in a sticky position.

For the first time, I must admit that I don’t really care how other arts professionals handle this situation. Your question provides me with the opportunity to stand near, if not actually climb onto, one of my favorite soapboxes—a rather large one that is labeled Put the Artist First. As a curator, your primary loyalty should be to the artists, and therefore you must pitch your plans to them at the outset. Don’t worry so much about not being able to deliver if your proposal is not accepted; the way around that is to tell the artists that your project is in the initial stages and you’ll keep them informed if things move forward. That way, you haven’t promised anything other than an interest in working with them.

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Shotgun Reviews

Shaping Abstraction at the de Young Museum in San Francisco

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, Emily Swaim reviews Shaping Abstraction at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, California.

Oskar Fischinger. Rhythmic Tapestry, 1952; oil on canvas; 17 1/4 x 22 1/8 in. Courtesy of the Harriet and Maurice Gregg Collection of American Abstract Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Oskar Fischinger. Rhythmic Tapestry, 1952; oil on canvas; 17 1/4 x 22 1/8 in. Courtesy of the Harriet and Maurice Gregg Collection of American Abstract Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Full disclosure—I have embarrassingly little education in abstract art. In fact, I chose to review Shaping Abstraction in order to remedy this ignorance. However, when I stepped inside the exhibition room, I panicked. I was surrounded by a glut of squiggly lines and shapes, and I had no clue what they meant, let alone how to write about them.

Then I saw my savior in the center of the room: a drip painting by Rolph Scarlett. The colors were mostly unassuming grays and browns, and the design visually pleasing yet utterly chaotic. There were no symbols to parse or patterns to analyze. There wasn’t even a title. Strangely enough, this inscrutability drew me in. It gave me permission to approach this work and others in the exhibition from an aesthetic standpoint.

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