From the Archives

From the Archive – Help Desk: Race & Voice

In celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, today we bring you a Help Desk column that answers a question about race and voice. And as part of our ongoing commitment to sharing information and resources, we’d like to point readers to this page, which links to free PDF books on race, gender, sexuality, class, and culture. One of the best ways to honor Dr. King and the many people around the world who continue to fight for justice and equality is to educate yourself.

Kerry James Marshall. Untitled, 2009; Acrylic on PVC, 61 1/8 x 72 7/8 x 3 7/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

Kerry James Marshall. Untitled, 2009; acrylic on PVC; 61 1/8 x 72 7/8 x 3 7/8 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

I am a writer and curator. I’m also a woman of color. While people think this may not be important, it is! We don’t live in a postracial society. What I find particularly infuriating is when I bring up race, gender, and identity—and then I’m questioned about my stance and my research; sometimes my words are edited to the point where it is no longer my writing. In a few instances, MY VOICE is almost eradicated. I’m upset, and the more I write about art, the more I realize how art institutions (universities, galleries, museums, and publications) have a LONG way to go before they actually showcase writers, art critics, curators, and creative professionals that are underrepresented and obscured. Yes, I understand there are shows dedicated to women and people of color to show diversity, etc., but I don’t care, I’m still going to bring up the question. How do I tell an editor that I’m entitled to my opinion—even if it brings up issues of race, gender, and identity—without being pegged as the “angry brown woman”?

In answering this question—which is really a few questions in one—I could write volumes about gender, editorial relations, and the misguided belief that tokenism can correct the problem of institutionalized race-based bias. However, this is a humble advice column and not the Help Desk Unabridged Encyclopedia of Advice, so in the interest of brevity I’ve asked some women who have experience with these matters, and I’ve sprinkled this reply liberally with links to further reading for people of all colors. In the interest of getting straight to the point, let me say: First, you need a mentor. You have to have someone you can rely on for guidance, preferably a woman of color who is in your field. A mentor can help you review various issues around writing and editing, critique your performance, help you define your goals, and bolster your professional community. Here are some tips for finding this person.

Next, I want you to focus on building conflict-resolution skills. This will be helpful for you and everyone else reading this column—no doubt every one of us will encounter myriad clashes in the workplace and beyond, and these skills take a while to master. Remember that conflict resolution is not just about mediating disagreements, it’s also about managing stressful situations. Start practicing now, before the world makes you crazy and bitter.

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Shotgun Reviews

Pierre Huyghe at LACMA

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, Scott Norton reviews Pierre Huyghe’s solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Pierre Huyghe. This is not a Time for Dreaming, 2004 (film still); transferred from 16mm film, 24:00; Courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York. Photo by Michael Vahrenwald.

Pierre Huyghe. This Is Not a Time for Dreaming, 2004 (film still); 16mm film; 24:00. Courtesy of the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris/New York. Photo by Michael Vahrenwald.

Entering the retrospective exhibition Pierre Huyghe at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is like entering a world where the lines of reality blur with that of constructed mythology. The contents of the exhibition—which includes more than two decades of work by the Paris-born Huyghe—seem to be more artifact than art. Arranged freely throughout the somber-lit, maze-like environment of the gallery, Huyghe’s multimedia happenings seem to contain elements of modern-day myth making, and place the viewer in a space where created fictions dictate a new world fashioned by the artist.

A Journey That Wasn’t (2005) is a tale of a voyage to the frozen Antarctic in search for a mythic albino penguin juxtaposed with a musical retelling of the event set in Central Park. Each “terrain”—one real and one imagined—begins to mirror the other, and gives way to a crescendo where each world bleeds into the other. Meanwhile, a cacophony of indistinct, almost organic sounds emanates from an equally murky symphonic score. Akin to a classic epic cycle, a hero’s quest is echoed by a psychological transformation. At journey’s end, the protagonist is forever haunted by the visions encountered while away, like Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey or Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Interview with Johan Grimonprez

Opening today at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, It’s a Poor Sort of Memory That Only Works Backwards is a solo exhibition of four films by Johan Grimonprez. To accompany the beginning of this exhibition, today we bring you an interview with the artist from 2011, when he memorably said, “… every kiss is a political act.” This article was originally published on March 23, 2011.

Johan Grimonprez. Double Take, 2009; installation view at Sean Kelley Gallery, 2009.

Johan Grimonprez’s film Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is listed in the IMDB under “documentary,” which is like calling a triple-shot hazelnut soy latte a cup of coffee. Yes, there is archived footage of actual plane hijackings, but there is also a deer on a bed, buildings collapsing, and a voiceover that explains, “All plots tend to move deathward.” His film Double Take (inspired by a Borges short story) is about echoes and mirroring, originals and copies: Alfred Hitchcock and his body doubles, the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War. Neither film “makes sense” in a linear, straightforward way, but they evoke another kind of comprehension: an understanding more emotional and intuitive than coldly logical. I talked with Grimonprez recently about these projects.

Bean Gilsdorf: Let’s start with an easy question: What is history?

Johan Grimonprez: The first thing I would answer with is history in the plural, histories. Very often power gets condensed in how history is being written. Walter Benjamin said, “History is written by the victors,” yeah? It’s how a nation legitimizes itself, a way of holding people together. Political structures condense themselves, and power is a big part of that. So like in Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y when Leila Khaled hijacks a plane, she sort of rewrites herself back into history, into the history of Israel and what’s been told about the Palestinians. And since she doesn’t have a country, she renames the plane “Independent State of Palestine,” and this is, in a sense, rewriting history. So history is not a history, but it’s many histories. Of course, we all have our own histories, and it’s where histories intersect that we get into politics.

BG: How did you decide on the subjects and themes that are in Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y and in Double Take, as histories that you wanted to share?

JG: Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y started as research in how we say goodbye. If you take a plane there’s this whole architecture of paranoia…we’re all reduced to terrorists and criminals. For me the research was in how saying goodbye has been affected by the culture of fear, to analyze where that comes from, how our most intimate things are contextualized by fear. And in the ’60s you had interviews with individuals like Leila Khaled or Rima Tannous Eissa, but by the mid-’70s they have totally disappeared from the screen. For Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y  I went back in time, because I had a feeling that the individual was there. I wanted to go back to see the information that was there about the individual, and look at other histories.

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New Orleans

Totems Not Taboo at Newcomb Gallery

January 6 was the official start of the Carnival season in New Orleans. Totems Not Taboo, an exhibit at Newcomb Art Gallery as part of Prospect.3: Notes for Now, is an ode to Jermayne MacAgy’s 1959 exhibit of the same name at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. MacAgy assembled one of the largest exhibitions of primitive art and displayed them as objects of fine art, or “as participant in the working out of ideas and expressions of contemporary life.”[1] Totems Not Taboo features work by Monir Farmanfarmaian, Andrea Fraser, Hew Locke, and Ebony G. Patterson, and curator Franklin Sirmans echoes MacAgy’s show by placing Carnival within a contemporary art context.

Hew Locke. Installation View of The Nameless, 2010-2014; at Newcomb Art Gallery for Prospect.3: Notes for Now, a Project of Prospect New Orleans, October 25, 2014 - January 25, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Hales Gallery, London, Photo © Scott McCrossen/ FIVE65 Design

Hew Locke. The Nameless, 2010-2014; installation view, Newcomb Art Gallery for Prospect.3: Notes for Now, a Project of Prospect New Orleans, October 25, 2014 – January 25, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist and Hales Gallery, London. Photo © Scott McCrossen/ FIVE65 Design.

Claire Tancons, associate curator of Prospect.1 and curator of the recent Up Hill Down Hall: An Indoor Carnival at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, has written extensively about the relationship between Carnival and the canon of art history: “By and large, Carnival has been marginalized at best, left out at worst in contemporary Caribbean art exhibitions in the United States and the United Kingdom, where most such exhibitions are organized.”[2] Sirmans addresses this predominant oversight by including Andrea Fraser’s installation Um Monumento as Fantasias Descartadas (A Monument to Discarded Fantasies) (2003). The installation, made of discarded Brazilian Carnival costumes, is piled chaotically into a tower of brightly colored sequins, feathers, shoes, and outfits. The glittery pandemonium recalls the alternate identities adopted during Carnival—a time to shift and expand the representation of our selves, as well as the abandonment of those temporary identities. In fact, the concept of Carnival itself is one that can shift precariously in and out of a fine-art context.

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San Francisco

Alien She at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of Alien She, an exhibition that regards the impact of Riot Grrrl culture on contemporary art. Author Melissa Miller writes, “[The exhibition] presents Riot Grrrls with one voice, with a ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude. In reality, the movement was troubled by the same internal debates that other generations of feminists have experienced… In the end, however, an exhibition about the Riot Grrrl movement and its legacy remains a timely and important undertaking.” This article was originally published on January 13, 2015.

L.J. Roberts. We Couldn’t Get In. We Couldn’t Get Out., 2006–07; installation view, Alien She, 2014. Courtesy of Phocasso and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

L.J. Roberts. We Couldn’t Get In. We Couldn’t Get Out., 2006–07; installation view, Alien She, 2014. Courtesy of Phocasso and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Currently on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Alien She is a touring exhibition that examines the lasting impact of the Riot Grrrl punk-feminist movement on contemporary artists. The show’s title refers to that of a Bikini Kill song, with lyrics sung by Kathleen Hannah that begin, “She is me; I am her.”

This declaration of solidarity despite division could also be taken as a statement of intent as Alien She divides its focus across two temporally overlapping sections: an archival display of the cultural output of Riot Grrrls from around the world and a survey of seven artists—some contemporaneous with the movement—whose work is influenced by its politics, aesthetics, and representational and organizational strategies.

Read the full article here.


Los Angeles

Larry Sultan: Here and Home at LACMA

“Isn’t imagination really the final measure of intelligence?” — Larry Sultan

Picture it: golf courses, lawn furniture, sprinklers, empty pools, groceries, plush carpets you can almost feel under your feet, sunglasses, bulky watches, a Dodger’s game droning on TV, frosted glass, floor-to-ceiling curtains, a pink terry-cloth tracksuit, patterned linoleum, and green—the pervasive chartreuse of freshly cut grass or new growth is evident in almost every single image in Larry Sultan’s series Pictures from Home (1983–1992). This body of work is a personal reflection on the aftermath of the postwar American dream in suburbia. In it, Sultan documented his own parents in their home in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles, and this is the central body of work in Here and Home, the vast and stunning retrospective of Sultan’s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is also the first retrospective of the artist’s work since his death in 2009 at the age of 63.

Larry Sultan. Discussion, Kitchen Table, from the series “Pictures from Home,” 1985; chromogenic print; 30 x 40 in. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Larry Sultan.

Larry Sultan. Discussion, Kitchen Table, from the series Pictures from Home, 1985; chromogenic print; 30 x 40 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Larry Sultan.

“In 1972, my own escape from the suburbs of my youth was fresh enough to count, in my mind, as an act of rebellion.” — Larry Sultan

Sultan was an influential teacher and artist in the San Francisco Bay area for forty years. Beginning in 1973, he collaborated with fellow artist Mike Mandel on a series of absurd billboards placed in various locations around California. Featuring images of oranges burning in a man’s hands (Oranges on Fire, 1975), or a handful of ties being tossed at the viewer (Ties, 1978), these images were meant to subvert the medium and disrupt the subliminal messages inherent to advertising. In the introduction of the exhibition catalogue, Philip Gefter calls Sultan and Mandel “the Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray of the Pictures Generation.” Their playful ideas about recontextualization led to their collaborative masterpiece, Evidence (1975–77), in which they culled and curated images from the archives of government agencies, public utilities, university laboratories, and private corporations. The images were removed from context and printed in a book without captions, thus heightening their already surreal nature.

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Art & Language: Nobody Spoke at Lisson Gallery

Retrospectives are tricky things—despite the often incomplete, reductive, and forced nature of the form, it is the curatorial genre put into action the most, and the one that most easily conforms to the logic of the museum and the market through its presentation of the individual artist’s career as linear and progressive. Audiences love them, art historians and critics love to complain about them, and the commercial interests of modern and contemporary art demand them. But what happens when a group like Art & Language—the resident challengers to modernism’s emphasis on mastery, individuality, continuity, and inherent meaning—takes on the retrospective form? Can domestication be sidestepped under such constrained museological restrictions?

Art & Language. Installation shot of Drawings From the Winter. 2012-2013. Ink on paper. 41.2 x 29.7 cm each.

Art & Language. Drawings From the Winter, 2012-2013; installation view; ink on paper; 41.2 x 29.7 cm each.

Marketed as a celebration of “forty years since this contingent art group first showed at Lisson Gallery,” the exhibition is not a career retrospective of Art & Language (now consisting of Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden) in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a critical response to what a retrospective demands (a sense of “development” and progression often attached to technical competencies and notions of artistic maturity) and how “late style” is often assessed and understood (namely, that work at the end of an artist’s life is somehow nostalgic, reflective, and diluted in relation to the artist’s earlier, more potent style).[1] Insightful meditations on the nature of an artist’s oeuvre can be spotted in the various reminders and remainders of past works incorporated into more recent pieces, suggesting that this is an exhibition that wants to take stock of the collaborative practices and archival tendencies that have motivated Art & Language across the years. However, Nobody Spoke is no ordinary contemplative pause; it is a destabilizing, hermetic account of a career that refuses to assimilate into historiographical obedience.

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