Summer Reading

Summer Reading – The Past Is Present: The Curatorial Act of Exhibiting Exhibitions

Today’s selection for our Summer Reading series comes from our friends at un Magazine. Author Pippa Milne examines curatorial reconstruction, noting that it “emphasi[zes] the relevance of the exhibition as a singular, unified cultural and historical phenomenon; an irreducible embodiment of the relationship between curator, artist, and artwork.” This article was originally published in issue 7.2.

Alighiero Boetti with lo che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969 (Me Sunbathing in Turin, 19 January 1969), 1969, from ‘When Attitudes Become Form’, Kunsthalle Bern, 1969 photograph: Shunk Kender, ©Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

Alighiero Boetti with lo che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969 (Me Sunbathing in Turin, 19 January 1969), 1969, from ‘When Attitudes Become Form’, Kunsthalle Bern, 1969 photograph: Shunk Kender, ©Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

It sounds like an art-world joke: What do you get when you pluck a 1969 exhibition from a German Kunsthalle and reconstruct it in an 18th-century Venetian palazzo, forty-four years later? Add some gallery attendants in Prada suits and an audience fresh from Massimiliano Gioni’s 55th Venice Biennale, and you have an answer that, due to the arcane specificity of its starting point, might only be interesting to in-on-the-joke art academics and curators. But to them, it’s an intriguing, extravagant, and ludicrous experiment.

Bear with me a moment. You’re in Venice. You’ve walked into Ca’ Corner della Regina, entering from a back street near San Stae Vaporetto stop rather than via the private jetty. After being greeted by an immaculately dressed attendant from Fondazione Prada with a neutral expression and a lilting accent, you walk through the classical foyer and up the stairs, past a square of wall that has had the plaster removed from it, past several sacks of coal, grains, and beans, and under some black wires. You’re following the vocal intonations of Josef Beuys as he chants “Ja ja ja ja! Nee nee nee nee!” There is a strange sense that this construction is a diorama of a past environment—as though you are standing in front of a group of antelope, set in their painted wilderness in a wing of the Museum of Natural History. The habitat is recreated as succinctly and loyally as possible; the objects of interest have been placed in their most natural positions, as per the investigative research conducted by curators and historians. But it still doesn’t look real. It’s a bit stuffed. There are small gaps between the fresh, constructed walls and the ornate architraves and frescoed panels. The stage set is obstinately obvious, saving it from fetishism. This is not Madame Tussauds. This is a conflation of two spaces, two temporal instances. It’s convincing, but not trickery.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Juana Berrío on Tacita Dean

Today we continue our Summer Reading series with an essay on Tacita Dean’s film Day for Night. Author Juana Berrío explains, “Day for Night is a term used to describe a cinematographic technique that uses a particular camera lens to turn a scene filmed during daylight into a night-scene. In other words, it’s about capturing an image and re-presenting it under a different ‘light.’ In that same sense, Dean’s film is an act of rereading the life and work of [Giorgio] Morandi.” This article was originally published on SFMOMA’s Open Space on June 1, 2015.

Tacita Dean. Day for Night, 2009; still from video.

Tacita Dean. Day for Night, 2009; video still.

Over the past few years, I have been thinking about Italo Calvino’s short essay “Why Read the Classics?” from the perspective of contemporary art—rather than from its given subject of literature. Instead of providing us with a series of moralizing reasons why we should read the classics, Calvino lists fourteen definitions of what a literary classic might be. What he proposes is that the notion of the classic comes from the very practice of reading and—most importantly—from rereading. For him, the classics are books that resist being framed in a fixed time or intellectual context because they “have never finished saying what they have to say,” and because they “come down to us bearing upon them the traces of readings previous to ours, bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through.”

I like thinking about Calvino’s definitions as a means of understanding the way contemporary visual artworks are often also re-engagements with intellectual and aesthetic concerns from previous times and cultural contexts. In my opinion, what makes an artwork contemporary is not its date of production, or its “up-to-date” look, or its direct response to current issues and events. On the contrary, I believe that what makes an artwork contemporary is the way an artist rereads and re-contextualizes previous forms of cultural knowledge and makes them relevant to his or her own time. In this sense, the content and meaning of a classic—whether a book or an artwork—is an ever-growing series of re-readings of questions and observations that are inherent to our most basic human conditions.

For example, it is not uncommon to find contemporary artworks that reread other artworks or are in dialogue with other artists, either recent or ancient. We see this in works that are made after so-and-so, or that use appropriation as a means of aesthetic and intellectual creation, or that are made with the purpose of reinterpretation, opposition, distortion, tribute, or satire. The work I want to talk about is Day for Night (2009), a film by British artist Tacita Dean, which is in dialogue with Italian artist Giorgio Morandi and his lifelong painting practice. In this case, the conversation spans a century, as Morandi was born in 1890 and died in 1964, while Dean was born one year later, in 1965.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Up in the AIR: How Will Tech Residencies Reshape Bay Area art?

Continuing our Summer Reading series, today we bring you an article on residencies offered by tech companies. Authored by Ceci Moss and originally published on Rhizome on January 20, 2015, the article asks, “If tech is the Bay Area’s main industry and export, with its emphasis on making, creating, and, above all, innovative design, then how can (or should) that translate into the art infrastructure here, and elsewhere?”

Image from Art+Tech: Virtual Reality, November 2014. (Photo: Codame).

Image from Art+Tech: Virtual Reality, November 2014. Photo: CODAME.

Over the past year, San Francisco and the Bay Area have come to be defined in the national sphere by the thinkpiece. In the constant stream of articles about gentrification, the Ellis Act evictions, artist displacement, and arts nonprofits closing left and right in response to the city’s rising population and booming tech industry, it might be surprising to note that a number of tech companies are investing increasingly in artist residency programs. In fact, two of the biggest tech companies in the region—Facebook and Autodesk—maintain active residency programs. For companies without the infrastructure for such endeavors, local art and technology nonprofit CODAME offers to pair tech companies with artists for individual projects through their “Adopt An Artist” program. While there is a lot of conversation (and concern) in the Bay Area regarding the tech industry’s lack of support and philanthropy for the arts, the questions seem skewed towards trying to figure out how to cater to tech wealth, rather than thinking through art’s role in the tech industry itself. This text surveys corporate residency programs in the Bay Area which exemplify how artists engage with this industry, and begins to sketch out possible implications—or potential—for the art infrastructure and its relationship with tech creativity.

Autodesk’s Pier 9 Artist-in-Residence program is housed in the corporation’s immense facility in Pier 9 along the waterfront in downtown San Francisco. Artists apply for four-month residencies at the space, which provides access to their workshop, a stipend, and the ability to work directly with the company’s engineers on their projects. The program maintains a diverse pool of applicants who range from fashion designers to chefs, architects, and technologists as well as fine artists, who have access to Autodesk’s high-end equipment, materials, and software, plus training and skillshare programs. Although it is not an explicit part of the program, the focus on “makers” over “fine artists” benefits Autodesk as well. The company launched Autodesk 123D in 2009 as free 3D modeling software designed for the general consumer, and they acquired the DIY info sharing website Instructables in 2011. The AIR program began at Instructables before their purchase by Autodesk, who developed it into a much larger initiative. All AIR residents are required to post their projects to the website, so there is a direct tie into the site’s content. Envisioning how people create with their tools, or their competitor’s tools, in a variety of scenarios is clearly a valuable asset to the company, especially as the mainstream culture moves into a maker culture.

Read the full article here.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Burn the Maps

Today’s article for our Summer Reading series comes from our friends at Mn ArtistsMatthew Fluharty, founder and executive director of Art of the Rural, discusses “the dividing lines between country and city spheres… [and] makes a case for rejecting calcified notions of ‘rural art.’” This article was originally published on July 23, 2015.

Emmet Byrne. Illustration for Mn Artists and Walker Art Center, n.d.

Emmet Byrne. Illustration for Mn Artists and Walker Art Center, n.d.

It is significant that the common image of the country is now an image of the past, and the common image of the city an image of the future. That leaves, if we isolate them, an undefined present. — Raymond Williams, The Country and The City

I think about Theocritus a lot these days. Working from the Library of Alexandria in the third century BCE, this Sicilian-born poet was part of a collective effort to build the largest storehouse of knowledge his civilization had yet known. In the midst of this pre-modern, pre-internet project of information aggregation, Theocritus harnessed those texts towards the creation of an enduring kind of cultural and political ars poetica.

Theocritus sat in the halls of the Library and wrote poems—intricately metrical, densely referential—that utilized everyday dialogue to express a complex, national mythos. The presence of this body of work, alternately referred to as the Bucolics or Idylls, can be felt throughout our contemporary experience. In the arts, we might refer to Theocritus as the father of the pastoral genre; in political and cultural spheres, we could point to him as one of the first to put into critical terms a kind of spatial pathology that has continued to persist for two millennia: the notion of center and periphery.

These Idylls operate as a series of dialogues between paired speakers (goatherds, shepherds, nymphs, Pan, etc.), all of which are set against the backdrop of an idealized rural landscape, Arcadia. The brooks echo with the eloquent speech of these men (always men), and an orderly and peaceful flock organizes around their song. Well-turned verse is likened to sound husbandry, which in turn parallels the ideal and orderly organization of the nation. Pastoral scholar Paul Alpers coined this relationship the “representative anecdote”: how the shepherd stands in for the Greek citizen, how the cultivated landscape spreads out in abundance like a well-ordered nation. The Idylls offered a lush political matrix of anxiety and aspiration, achieved, as William Empson famously wrote, by “putting the complex into the simple.” That received tradition continues even now through a thousand avenues, from national parks to new country, from Marfa to farm-to-table to pancake breakfasts along the campaign trail in Iowa.

 

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Entire First-Year MFA Class Drops Out in Protest at the University of Southern California

Today’s selection for our Summer Reading series comes from DS West Coast regional editor Vivian Sming, who notes: “It’s back-to-school season, and Matt Stromberg’s coverage of USC’s en masse MFA drop out remains a topical discussion, as academic institutions increasingly restructure their focus toward administration.” This article was originally published on Hyperallergic on May 15, 2015.Formal_Roski_CardOnWhite-1280

Citing “the University’s unethical treatment of its students,” the entire class of first year MFA students at USC’s Roski School of Art has decided to leave the school, according to a statement they released today. The seven students list a number of grievances leading to their decision, beginning with a significant decrease to the generous tuition subsidization that they had expected before their acceptance to the program. They also criticize the school’s administration that “did not value the Program’s faculty structure, pedagogy, or standing in the arts community.” As a result, they say, the Program Director left in December 2014, followed by the resignation of tenured professor Frances Stark.

After numerous meeting with the administration, they write:

[W]e have no idea what MFA faculty we’d be working with for the coming year; we have no idea what the curriculum would be, other than that it will be different from what it was when we enrolled and is currently being implemented by administrators outside of our field of study; and finally, we have no idea whether we’d graduate with twice the amount of debt we thought we would graduate with.

In the midst of this upheaval, the university was eagerly celebrating the arrival of the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy, which came with a $70 million gift from the music industry giants. Focused on art, technology, and entrepreneurship, the undergraduate program is also headed by Erica Muhl, the newly appointed Dean of Roski. The Academy’s tagline, “The Degree is in Disruption,” employs a favorite techie term, which the student statement addresses:

[F]aculty voices are silenced and adjunct faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate for students. We seven students lost time, money, and trust in a classic bait-­and-­switch, and the larger community lost an exemplary funding model that attempted to rectify at least some of these economic disparities. What we experienced is the true ‘disruption’ of this accelerating trend.

Read the full article here.

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From the Archives

From the Archives: Pierre Huyghe at LACMA

This month marks the opening of the first major Australian solo exhibition oPierre Huyghe’s work at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, so today we revisit this review by Alex Bigman, who assesses the humor and mythology of Huyghe’s retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This article was originally published on January 21, 2015.

Pierre Huyghe. Zoodram 5 (after ‘Sleeping Muse’ by Constantin Brancusi), 2011. Glass tank, filtration system, resin mask, hermit crab, arrow crabs and basalt rock. © Pierre Huyghe, courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

Pierre Huyghe. Zoodram 5 (After ‘Sleeping Muse’ by Constantin Brancusi), 2011; glass tank, filtration system, resin mask, hermit crab, arrow crabs, and basalt rock. © Pierre Huyghe. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris.

There is a scene in Pierre Huyghe’s shadowy, dreamlike film The Host and the Cloud (2010) in which a woman produces a black rabbit from an unmarked box. No magician, she handles the unexpected animal with a mixture of bewilderment and acute apprehension. Later in the film, she confronts the event during hypnotherapy; then, in a key conversion, she watches her own analysis session performed by shadow puppets in a theater. This sublimation of trauma into spectacle is no doubt the real magic trick—one lurking around every corner in the artist’s impressive retrospective of sleek films, technologically sophisticated objects, and living creatures, currently installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Unbridled by chronology and injected with several unpredictable elements, the exhibition, like Huyghe’s more recent work, is an ambitious update to surrealism, and it is spellbinding. There is, however, a question that critical viewers will be bound to raise: whether Huyghe’s work is perhaps too at home in the 21st century to achieve the uncanny—the lynchpin of surrealism as we have traditionally understood it.

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Summer Reading

Summer Reading – No one cares about art criticism: advocating for an embodiment of the avant-garde as an alternative to capitalism

Today we continue our Summer Reading series with an essay on art criticism and poetry from our friends at Temporary Art Review. Author Steven Cottingham throws down a challenge: “How can art criticism be so close to art but fail to reflect any of its spirit? […] Maybe there is a future where art criticism is no longer a supplementary, reactionary activity. Maybe it can become revolutionary.” This article was originally published on March 23, 2015.

Jenny Holzer. You are a victim of the rules you live by, n.d.

Jenny Holzer. You Are a Victim of the Rules You Live By, n.d.

There’s an increasingly old adage, first invoked by Brion Gysin, stating that innovations in writing are fifty years behind innovations in visual art. But surely innovations in art criticism are a further fifty years behind.

In Parkett 84, Charles Bernstein argues that “art criticism, insofar as it succumbs to a paranoiac fear of theatricality that induces frame-lock, lags behind poetry at its peril.” I am going to argue the same: identifying professionalism—and therefore capitalism—as the key catalysts behind art criticism’s undying crisis.

In a 2008 feature for X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, Damon Willick elucidates how art criticism has “seemingly been in crisis for at least the last fifty years.” I could list off a dozen other articles and a couple conferences vaguely articulating the “crisis in criticism,” (I’m sure you’ve seen them lurking out there) but I’d rather offer something else. Willick says that “today’s discontents have idealized [Clement] Greenberg and critics of his era as the antithesis of the noncommittal, jargon-laden art historians/critics they believe have guided art criticism to its current state.” But even the preeminent critic Greenberg himself opined that “contemporary art criticism is absurd not only because of its rhetoric, its language, and its solecisms of logic. It is also absurd because of its repetitiousness.” That was in 1962.

Art criticism, once practiced almost solely by poets, now has very little in common with contemporary poetry. Leaving the flamboyant realms of Guillaume Apollinaire, Frank O’Hara, and other dead white men, art criticism became stolid, academic, and serious. But I was reading about how William S. Burroughs looked to painting to “revive” his writing. Inspired by the likes of Hannah Höch and Nancy Spero, he borrowed techniques of collage, cut-up, and chance, and applied them to the written word. Poet and criminal defence attorney Vanessa Place draws from long-standing traditions in conceptual art when she moves words from courtroom transcripts, unaltered, to her books of poetry. Once, she tweeted, “Poetry is now fifteen minutes ahead of art.” I retweeted her. These conceptual techniques are increasingly interdisciplinary, en route to fully being embraced by a broader mass culture. Yet art criticism lags on, both the subjects and styles of its reviews as isolated and protected as an artwork in a white cube. All of it, ignoring so much.

Read the full article here.

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