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.

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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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London

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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Hashtags

#Hashtags: The Politics of Rehearsal

#institutions #revision #making #access #nostalgia

The second Made in L.A. biennial at the UCLA Hammer Museum indicates both the scope and diversity of the city’s many emerging and early-mid-career artists, and the pull that the art academy continues to exert on artists long after the completion of their degrees. The biennial’s emergence in 2012 marked a milestone in the evolution of Los Angeles as an art capital, no longer content to wait for New York to eventually anoint its hottest up-and-comers. Working from, and against, the example of the Whitney Biennial, which launches many international careers each year (but really should be subtitled “Made (Mostly) in NYC”), Made in L.A. 2014 further develops its predecessor’s approach of surveying Los Angeles artists with an eye to the broad ethnic, gender, and medium diversity that is apparent throughout the city’s artistic landscape. Even so, there is a conceptual through line to much of the work on view, which seems to be in rapture to an absent past or an unknown future.

On initial viewing, it would appear that being present in the moment is difficult to achieve in Los Angeles, as artists’ works fluctuate between unarticulated malaise and utopian ambition. At times the v0ice of an influential senior artist comes across more strongly than that of the exhibiting artist. I perceived the euphoria of youth, but also the collective malaise of young people who have been disempowered to make change by being inundated with the revolutionary nostalgia of previous generations.

Emily Mast. B!RDBRA!N (Epilogue), 2012. Exhibition and performance as part of Public Fiction’s  Theatricality and Sets series. Photographer: Anitra Haendel.

Emily Mast. B!RDBRA!N (Epilogue), 2012; exhibition and performance as part of Public Fiction’s
Theatricality and Sets series. Photographer: Anitra Haendel.

From the start, I was struck with a sense of perpetual rehearsal for a performance that never comes. Installations by KCHUNG and Public Fiction were the first I encountered, and both were primed for potential action that had either already passed or not yet begun. KCHUNG, an indie radio station run by an artist collective, had set up a broadcast booth, but no information about programming was made available. Public Fiction had locked their space and labeled the outside, leading visitors to fumble in surprise when the normally accessible gallery space refused them entry. While such hiccups may be characteristic of large institutions’ difficulties in interpreting performative practices for audiences, this initial experience set an antagonistic tone.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Enrique Metinides: Chronicling Catastrophe

Today from the DS archives, we bring you Allegra Kirkland’s review of Chronicling Catastrophe. Originally published on February 26, 2013, this article is a consideration of Enrique Metinides‘ fifty-year-long career in chronicling disasters that are, in Kirkland’s words, “anonymous crime [scenes] and hauntingly specific [tragedies].” Unfortunately, these images, and ones like them, are ever-relevant in our violent, modern world.

Enrique Metinides. Mexico City, September 19, 1985; photograph. Courtesy 212berlin

The journalistic expression “If it bleeds, it leads” is particularly resonant in Mexico, where an entire subgenre of daily tabloids, devoted to crime and disaster, cover train wrecks and murders in lurid detail. Enrique Metinides made a career as a crime photographer for these nota roja (“bloody news”), earning the sobriquet the “Mexican Weegee” for his obsessive chronicling of accidents and crime scenes throughout Mexico City from the early 1940s through the 1990s.

In 101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides, currently on view at Chelsea’s Aperture Gallery, Metinides selects his favorite images from his fifty-year career, drawn from an eponymous book made in collaboration with filmmaker Tricia Ziff. The photographs are gruesome and disturbing, but also beautifully composed and compelling in their narrative complexity. In the introduction, Metinides remarks, “I would try to capture the whole scene in a single frame—not just the corpse or the weapon, but the entire story.” His self-contained photos, which resemble film stills, make the case that the horrors of daily life are both stranger and darker than fiction.

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