Help Desk

Help Desk: Group Crit

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’ve been accepted to an MFA program that begins this September. As the month approaches, I find myself getting increasingly nervous and anxious (as I always do on the first day of school). It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in group critiques, and while I’m excited about this program, I also feel very vulnerable right now. Can you offer any advice to new MFA students? I wonder what former students “wish they’d known” before going into a program.

Beatriz Milhazes. Sinfonia Nordestina, 2008; Acrylic on canvas, 96 7/8 X 144 7/8 inches

Beatriz Milhazes. Sinfonia Nordestina, 2008; acrylic on canvas; 96 7/8 x 144 7/8 in.

There are so many things I wish I’d known before I started my graduate program that I could answer your question with a book. Work hard, show up for everything, and say thank you are timeless tips, of course, but you’re looking for other suggestions calibrated to the specifics of the MFA. First, make friends with the Graduate Program Manager (or whatever they call the initial line of defense in your grad office). This individual will be your conduit to advisor selection, the assignment of teaching assistantships, and much more; woe betide the student who cops an attitude and treats the manager rudely. Second (and this is related to the above), the most bureaucratic rules only apply to students who don’t apply themselves. I’m not suggesting that you engage in risky behavior, but all fences have gates. If you are kind and polite and work diligently, someone may show you where they are. Also, if you are moving to attend school, consider staying in that city for a few years after graduation. You will make a lot of friends and contacts in two years, but if you move away immediately, you will lose them. (This last piece of advice was given to me by a colleague who still regrets that he moved away a week after receiving his degree.) Finally, stay away from drama queens, bastards, and bullies, even the ones who are powerful and who seem to hold the potential for your future professional advancement. If I were dying right now and had to give counsel with my last breath, it would be this: Assholes only ever help themselves.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Interview with Mario Zoots

Today from our archives we bring you an interview with artist Mario Zoots, conducted by Daily Serving‘s founder, Seth Curcio. This article was originally published on February 15, 2010.

The mysterious and psychologically challenging images created by Denver-based artist Mario Zoots are produced by applying a visual barrier between the viewer and the appropriated image. Each work carefully alters an existing picture and challenges our perception of and relationship to everyday mundane imagery.  Zoots opened his first public show this month, offering viewers the unique opportunity to engage his images in person. I Miss Mystery is the title of the artist’s new exhibition, which is currently on view at Illiterate Gallery in Denver. Daily Serving founder Seth Curcio recently spoke to the artist about how he interrupts his found images, the advantages of working online and in print, and his sound project Modern Witch.

Seth Curcio: When did you first begin to create collages and prints? What was the initial idea that got these series going?

Mario Zoots: I began making collage because I didn’t have enough space in my apartment to paint anymore. Brian Bamps was living in an attic apartment in Denver for a short time. I visited his house and saw his small American school desk that was attached to a chair where he made all of his drawings. He had a box that he’d place the finished drawings in. I knew I must work smaller because I was at risk of losing my living space. So I began to make collage and pen illustrations. We’re not artists with studios, we’re artists with homes. I consider myself an appropriation artist and a network artist. I am interested in making pictures reflect contemporary feelings by subtracting and distorting them. I’ve been preparing for my first solo show, I Miss Mystery, which opened in Denver at Illiterate Gallery on February 5th. I printed large giclee reproductions of my collages for the show. In addition to original and printed collage, I’m showing an experimental video and creating an installation out of hundreds of pages of porn, all slightly altered. It feels cinematic. My ideas for the work come from movies, long internet conversations with my contemporary girlfriend, and my own studies of archives.

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San Francisco

Slapstick and the Sublime: Michelle Grabner with David Robbins

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a conversation between artist/curator Michelle Grabner and artist/writer/concrete comedian David Robbins. This interview was commissioned by guest editor Jonn Herschend as part of Issue 5.5, Slapstick and the Sublime, and originally published on July 10, 2014.

David Robbins. Open-Air Writing Desk (Italian Version), 2012; Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Raucci/Santamaria, Naples

David Robbins. Open-Air Writing Desk (Italian Version), 2012. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Raucci/Santamaria, Naples.

Michelle Grabner: As you know, I am frequently visiting university art departments and art schools. In the past two years, it has become routine for me to find a copy of your book, Concrete Comedy: An Alternative History of Twentieth-Century Comedy, in the miscellany of resource material that compose many students’ studio libraries. Why do you think that developing artists gravitate to this history?

David Robbins: [I speculate it’s because] they’re in the material-culture business, and likely they welcome another way to think about material culture. Some want to better understand their comedic instincts, and it’s a happy affirmation to learn there’s a tradition to those instincts. Others suspect that thinking in the terms laid out by the visual-art context may not be, for them, the right path. All would be seeking [the invigoration] that any secret or invisible history provides. At this point, both the art and the comedy systems are awfully [predetermined] and careerist, whereas my book charts a course of inventive behavior for which no career path has been identified. Concrete Comedy suggests that wiggle room is still available. Wiggle room is always attractive.

Read the full article here.


Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Holger Kilumets

Holger Kilumets is keenly aware of—and keen to explore—the conceptual and physical mechanisms of photographic representation. In a new body of work, Maps & Territories (2014), Kilumets uses visually witty vagaries to link a series of seventeen photographs that borrow tropes across subjects and structures—including art history, advertising, still life, television, theater, and film staging.

Holger Kilumets. Trichromatic Vision Model, 2014; C-Type Print; 61 x 76 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Holger Kilumets. Trichromatic Vision Model, 2014; C-type print; 61 x 76 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.

Trichromatic Vision Model (2014), the second image in the series of seventeen, depicts three whitewashed gallon paint buckets, each with a solid-colored sheet of paper or plastic hanging above it—blue, green, red—implying the color contained within. Trichromatic Vision Model is followed, in numerical sequence, by Kodak Anniversary (2014), a yellow-and-red commemorative beach ball balanced on a conventional white exhibition plinth, imprinted with the words “1880 Kodak 1980: American Storyteller.” While these works are next to one another in the series, they can be placed into different orders.

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New York

The Hidden Passengers at apexart

Before the Enlightenment elevated empiricism and introduced the notion of “pseudoscience” as its foil, religion, magic, and science coexisted on a relatively level plane. Today, art remains one of few arenas that have been able to sidestep Enlightenment mandates; here, the exploration of ideas is not confined to the reproducibility of empirical data, allowing for a more unconstrained examination of the nature of things. The seven artists included in The Hidden Passengers, now at apexart, take a paradoxical approach that applies the visual and linguistic vocabularies of scientific research to the unverifiable worlds of their imaginations.

Tomer Sapir. Research for the Full Crypto-Taxidermical Index, 2010-14; Cement, salt, wax, fibers of Ceiba insignis, latex, plastic, pigment, vitrine; dimensions variable (detail). Courtesy of apexart

Tomer Sapir. Research for the Full Crypto-Taxidermical Index, 2010-14; cement, salt, wax, fibers of Ceiba insignis, latex, plastic, pigment, vitrine; dimensions variable (detail). Courtesy of apexart.

Curator Avi Lubin presents The Hidden Passengers much like an exhibition of scientific artifacts, albeit with something a little off. The more time a viewer spends with the works, the more evident their strange incongruities become. In Tomer Sapir’s Research for the Full Crypto-Taxidermical Index (2010–2014), a glowing surface illuminates what appear to be pods, bits of fungal fluff, parts of creatures, and other bio-matter, all of which on closer inspection reveal themselves to be made of materials such as wax, salt, latex, cement, and plant fibers. Sapir’s untitled piece (2012), a more menacing sculpture hanging on the back wall, resembles either a giant pair of blackened lungs—the sort seen in an anti-smoking ad—or something from the movie Alien, while Roxy Paine’s Cloud Specimen (Cloud/Fungus) (2009), a globular, gray object of epoxy, thermoset polymer, oil, and lacquer suspended in a bell jar, offers a more whimsical take on collecting.

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New York

Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art

At the press preview for Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, more than one member of the Whitney Museum’s curatorial staff urged visitors to dispense with “preconceived notions” about Koons and embrace the exhibition as an opportunity to view the artist’s perhaps too-well-known oeuvre with fresh eyes. One of the largest retrospectives the Whitney has ever mounted, Jeff Koons sprawls across three floors in ascending chronological order, lucidly mapping the artist’s career as he progressed from wunderkind art-school grad, to cultural provocateur, to the Mylar man we have known and either loved or hated for past twenty-odd years.

Jeff Koons. One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985. Glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball; 64 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 13 1/4 in. (164.5 x 78.1 x 33.7 cm). Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. ©Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons. One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985; glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball; 64 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 13 1/4 in. (164.5 x 78.1 x 33.7 cm.). Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. © Jeff Koons.

Those who revile Koons often do so on the basis of his later works, like Balloon Dog (or, more recently, Balloon Venus of Willendorf), the production and sale values of which have soared while their meaning has seemingly become ever more surface-deep. Admirers, meanwhile, employ a modernist-inflected rhetoric of materiality and monumentality to elevate this work on much of the same bases. Wall text at the Whitney describes how Cat in a Cradle required Koons to push the limits of a worldwide network of specialist plastic fabricators, suggesting that the work owes the “sense of wonder” it supposedly inspires to this insistence on medium and scale. On similar grounds, New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith hails Play-Doh (1994–2014), a towering mound of brightly colored globs that uncannily resemble the matte tackiness of the titular children’s putty, as an “almost certain masterpiece.” Those who agree with such a statement will be delighted by the playground of huge, shiny, pneumatic-looking things that is the Whitney’s top floor. Those inclined to see Play-Doh as little more than a colossal waste of time and money may find a surprising protagonist two floors down: Koons circa 1985. Believe it or not, Koons’ artistic practice was once pointedly critical and anything but insular. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is most interesting (and encouraging) when it reminds us of this.

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Phyllida Barlow: Fifty Years of Drawing at Hauser & Wirth

Phyllida Barlow has upped her game in the last five years with a string of international blockbuster shows and commissions. Omnipresent as she currently is, one would think that Barlow has always enjoyed this kind of success, but that isn’t the case; the work hadn’t received the kind of attention that anoints an artist as “successful” until her Baltic show in 2004. As she is in the habit of permanently dismantling her sculptures and installations to be used as raw material for new projects, there isn’t a lot of work (or even documentation) to trace her evolution. So that it is a rare treat that it is possible to have Fifty Years of Drawing as a historical view of the concerns within Barlow’s practice.

Phyllida Barlow. untitled, circa 1998; acrylic and pastel on colored paper; 59.4 x 84 cm (23 3/8 x 33 1/8 in); Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne.

Phyllida Barlow. Untitled, circa 1998; acrylic and pastel on colored paper; 59.4 x 84 cm. (23 3/8 x 33 1/8 in.). Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne.

Barlow is known mainly as a sculptor, with work rooted in the anti-monument stance of modernist formalism. Her concern is for the consequences of the physical object in relation to the surrounding environment, and the resulting impact of that relationship on the viewer. Barlow’s acute understanding of the psychological effect of sculpture developed when she was a young artist, in opposition to the orderly and proper English art of the 1960s, when precedent dictated a “correct” way to make a piece of sculpture. Her focus was to reject the seriousness of pure or idealized form and its inherent misogyny by creating work that was the result of the experience of making. Using non-traditional art materials, her art is constructed to look quick, clunky, and precarious. Embracing absurdity, her pieces are physically menacing while simultaneously embodying a sense of lightness and humor. Constructed by layering materials such as cardboard, cement, fabric, plaster, polystyrene, tape, timber, and household paint, the work demonstrates the experience of intuitive making and asks the viewer to engage likewise.

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