Help Desk

Help Desk: Conceptual Conundrum

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 just finished the first semester of my MFA at [a well-regarded East Coast school]. At the end of last term, I had a disappointing review and my professors said that I wasn’t working hard enough to produce an integrated body of work (I showed them a series of things that were conceptually connected but materially diverse). I get the feeling that what they want me to do is work like most of the other artists in the department, who essentially just make the same painting over and over again. I don’t know what direction to take. Do I stand my ground, or give in?

Andy Warhol. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963; silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 82 x 69 in.

Andy Warhol. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963; silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen; 82 x 69 in.

I’m sorry you’re in a glump about your review, and I sympathize. The hothouse environment of MFA programs tends to produce a myopia that can make a discouraging review feel truly crushing. But now it’s time to dust yourself off and get moving again, and—if you let it—your position could be more nuanced than either a fight to the death or complete capitulation.

Without knowing the specifics of your situation (such as your current oeuvre, the stated goals of the program, or the methods for assessing first-semester work), I’m going to throw out a few very general statements: In many MFA programs, the expectation for the first year is that students will push their work in new directions. If you came to the program with materially diverse work, it might have been assumed that you’d use your initial months to explore a different kind of production. Additionally, your professors may be hoping to see your ideas brought to conclusions that are thoroughly considered and explored in high definition; cohesion in a body of work can teach you to self-analyze and develop your intentions. Finally, it could be that the conceptual connection between the works is not at clear as you think. But in any case, don’t just make inferences or “get the feeling”—find out! Inquire directly, and talk to more than just a couple of people. Over the next few weeks, schedule a handful of studio visits from different faculty members, fellow students, and curators outside your institution. Prepare questions for them and listen to what they say as they observe your work.

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Shotgun Reviews

Lewd at JOY Gallery

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, Ariel Zaccheo reviews Lewd at JOY Gallery in San Francisco.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.

Like the best hedonistic pleasure palaces, JOY Gallery is a bit off the beaten path. Located in San Francisco’s Bayview District, the space is inconspicuous except for glowing red lights and a small hand-painted sign in the window that reads “LEWD! an Art Show.” Comprising sixteen artists, half of them women, Lewd celebrates the illicit and lascivious. The exhibition’s success owes to the varied interpretations of its theme; some pieces are overtly sexual, with big visual puns packing shock value, while others elicit a more modest eroticism. Many works in the exhibition have a vintage aesthetic, as if nostalgic for a bygone era of pinups and burlesque.

Jenee Larson uses a pinup-esque poodle as both analogue and parody of human sexuality, dominance, and desire. Something between a Barbie and a porcelain knickknack, Nude Pood (2016) is a toylike ceramic sculpture of a pink poodle replete with accessories, coifed hair, and a come-hither stare. Larson’s work wrestles with domesticated eroticism—a mix of teenage naivety and the self-aware, assertive midcentury pinup ideal.

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Interviews

Michael Barron Interviews Camille Henrot

From our friends at BOMB Magazine, today we bring you a conversation between Michael Barron and artist Camille Henrot. Discussing her recent solo show at Metro Pictures, Henrot says, “Bad Dad & Beyond is an investigation into a figure who uses his authority in violent ways. I was also interested in assembling the rules and values of various authority figures, not just for fathers.” This article was originally published on January 15, 2016.

Camille Henrot. Bad Dad & Beyond, 2015; three dimensional resin print with video and telephone components; 44 x 20 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Camille Henrot. Bad Dad & Beyond, 2015; three-dimensional resin print with video and telephone components; 44 x 20 x 9 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

At the recent opening of Camille Henrot’s solo show at Metro Pictures, I stood in a line, waiting to use a telephone. There were eight of them, all occupied by people with receivers cupped to their ears. But one in particular, stylized and colored like a Nickelodeon TV show prop, had caught my attention. Its occupant, a young woman whose bunned hair threatened to topple from her head, widened her eyes and furled her brow as she listened to the voice on the other end. Finally, she hung up and shot me a nonplussed look. “So weird…” she said. Then, as if proffering advice, she suggested, “I just pressed ‘0’ for every question. Maybe you can keep hitting ‘1’ then come find me to compare answers.” I picked up and heard a male voice who, friendly enough and definitely assertive, had me run a gamut of bizarre questions, such as, “If your dad has fathered more than nine children, press ‘0’/If your father has eaten any of his children, press ‘1’.” For a non-native English speaker like Henrot, who expatriated from Paris to New York in 2011, hotlines are a demonstration of how easily language can bewilder and command.

Being misunderstood has given Henrot an appreciation for the exotic. In her first work completed in New York, Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Still Like Flowers (2012), Henrot created a series of installations inspired by Ikebana—the Japanese art of floral arrangement notorious for its opaque techniques—to explore a grand metaphor for translation and the limits of cultural understanding. Henrot’s most famous work to date,Grosse Fatigue, is a thirteen-minute multimedia narration of Google images, YouTube videos, and a spoken word voice-over that explores the diversity of creation myths and underlines one of humanity’s greatest gifts: its ability to tell stories.

Read the full article here.

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Oakland

UNEARTHED: Found + Made at Oakland Museum of California

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Vivian Sming’s review of UNEARTHED: Found + Made at Oakland Museum of California. The author notes, “[The] democratic approach of placing contemporary art and local clubs side by side compresses and erases hierarchies, providing a slice of history, place, and time.” This article was originally published on January 26, 2016.

Installation view, UNEARTHED: Found + Made, 2015-2016. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Johnna Arnold.

Installation view, UNEARTHED: Found + Made, 2015-2016. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Johnna Arnold.

In the late 19th century, anthropologist Franz Boas rejected the methods of museological display that grouped objects by their typology. Boas dismissed the practice of creating an evolutionary progression between disparate cultural artifacts—an approach susceptible to scientific racism—and instead favored a contextual approach that placed objects together by their location, history, and culture. The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is a rare instance of a museum that takes such an approach toward art. The works in the museum’s collection are not displayed through a linear understanding of art history, but rather are arranged by their cultural concepts. Here, contemporary works are treated as a sliver of Californian history, positioned next to landscape paintings from the days of the Gold Rush. By using this methodology, OMCA reveals the timeless fixations that continue to preoccupy the region’s inhabitants and artists, highlighting the Californian landscape in particular, which has ceaselessly captured the public’s imagination.

Currently on view at OMCA, UNEARTHED: Found + Made looks toward the ground as a source of meditation. It’s the first in a series of future exhibitions that pair contemporary artists with niche cultural organizations around the Bay Area, furthering the museum’s anthropological approach. Curated by Christina Linden, UNEARTHED features works by Oakland-born, Los Angeles-based artist Jedediah Caesar as well as artists from two local clubs, the California Suiseki Society and the San Francisco Suiseki Kai. Largely comprising found materials from the Californian landscape, the exhibited works transport viewers to far and distant lands that simultaneously lie on the earth’s surface and exist within the imagination.

Read the full article here.

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Sydney

Chen Qiulin: One Hundred Names at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney

What’s in a name? In ancient China, surnames represented clans and ancestral lineage, a highly significant aspect of identity and filial obligation. In contemporary parlance, the Chinese phrase “Lao Bai Xing” (literally, “the old hundred names”) translates as “the ordinary people” or “the common folk.” It often refers to the voiceless, those who are most powerless in the face of social forces. For many years, Chen Qiulin has been documenting how the dramatic transformations of China’s physical, cultural, and social landscapes have impacted the lives of these ordinary people. Her hometown of Wanzhou was affected by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, in which whole villages and towns along the Yangtze River were submerged, and more than a million people were relocated. In recent years, her One Hundred Names project has been representing that concern in an unexpected medium, as she carves the most common Chinese surnames into blocks of firm tofu and then documents their decay and disintegration over time. For her first solo exhibition in Australia, at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, these earlier works, together with a commissioned project, explore themes of ancestry, diaspora, and displacement in a broader historical and geographic context.

Chen Qiulin, A Hundred Surnames in Tofu, still, 2010, video installation. Courtesy the artist and A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu (1)

Chen Qiulin. A Hundred Surnames in Tofu, 2010; still from video installation. Courtesy of the Artist and A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu.

One Hundred Names for Kwong Wah Chong continues Chen Qiulin’s use of tofu as an artistic medium. She examined the history of early Chinese migration to the Haymarket/Chinatown precinct of Sydney, where the gallery is situated in a historic building. Research revealed the names and stories of the earliest diasporic Chinese presence in the city—mostly Cantonese-speaking migrants who arrived in Australia between 1840 and 1920 from southern China, becoming market gardeners, restaurateurs, and business owners. The titular Kwong Wah Chong was, in fact, Sydney’s first Chinese-owned and operated business, a center of support and information for recent arrivals. The artist, together with curator Toby Chapman and the 4A team, found and interviewed current Sydney residents with those same surnames, whose stories revealed that how people remember “home,” often tinged with loss and nostalgia, is a common experience across diverse cultures and languages. Each of these surnames was carved from tofu and their consequent disintegration documented. Back in Chengdu, Chen Qiulin sought out families who shared those same surnames. She asked them for their favorite tofu recipes and videotaped the encounters, which took place in their kitchens while they cooked the recipes and recounted the stories behind them. Thus a connection was forged across continents and divergent histories. Chen Qiulin’s practice poetically captures the beauty of these unlikely connections, as well as the tragedy of displacement.

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Beijing

He Yunchang: Water Forming Stone at Ink Studio

A clear and joyful light floods the inner gallery of Ink Studio in Beijing, where He Yunchang performed a series of three grueling new works in his exhibition Water Forming Stone. Light dances through candy-colored drinking glasses that are suspended in midair over a pedestal of simulated crystals and jade. It radiates off of the warm white walls cleverly composed of cardboard shipping boxes and onto a tree made of rubber tires, which sits on a polished black floor. In this enchanting environment, everyday objects evoke nature and beauty, stillness and movement, growth and peace.

He Yunchang. The Expanse of Tranquility, 2015; documentation of performance work. Courtesy of Ink Studio.

In contrast to his beautiful installation, He’s new performances are tedious, taxing his own endurance and the audience’s in equal measure. In The Expanse of Tranquility (2015), the first of the three pieces, He punctures a sack of ink that is suspended over a glass pane. For several hours, drops of ink fall onto the glass, and He uses sheets of calligraphy paper to wipe the drips off. In Cloud Shadows at the Heart of the Mirror (2015), He sets in motion a crystal cube that swings like a pendulum over a glass pane. After waiting over two hours for the swinging to stop, He cuts the rope, sending the crystal cube shattering onto the glass pane. In The Embrace of Wind and Dew (2015), He uses a calligraphy brush to dot water droplets onto a glass pane, only to wait for hours for the water to evaporate. In each of these performances, He is naked except for a thin white shroud, and is flanked by a row of similarly dressed women.

Water Forming Stone is part performance series, part career retrospective. The rest of the gallery is filled with documentation of the somber, body-breaking performances which He built his career on. These include Wrestling: One and One Hundred (2001), in which He consecutively wrestled 100 migrant workers; Keeping Promises (2003), in which He kept his hand in a block of hardening cement for twenty-four hours; and The Rock Tours Around Great Britain (2006–2007), in which He carried a rock around the perimeter of England on foot.

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: In Defense of the Middle-Class Artist

#art #class #wealth #access #innovation #middleclass

Writing for Artnet in January, Ben Davis’s “Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist?” raised an important question about the relationship between privilege and access to a life in the arts. Examining the upbringings of a number of artists currently or recently on view at museums in New York, Davis drew the conclusion that if not middle class, the majority of artists were more likely to come from wealth than from working/poor backgrounds. Can anyone without access to wealth afford to work the long and frequently unpaid hours demanded by the arts?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1876. Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876. Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

Art history suggests that the well-off have always had an inside line to the halls of culture, acting as artists or producers of major commissions. The middle-class artist is a more recent invention of the 19th century, occupying a social position that emerged with the Industrial Revolution and development in cities from Paris to New Delhi to Brasilia. In the Modernist cultural paradigm that emerges from this circumstance, the middle-class artist has an important role to play. His or her wealth is sufficient to ensure a liberal-arts education, but not so abundant as to be an insulator against the poetry of the street. The middle class ensures that vernacular subjects and art forms infiltrate the spaces of high art and culture. This is now something we take for granted, so much so that even the one-percenter artists that Davis lists work in common, everyday materials.

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