Shotgun Reviews

Tomokazu Matsuyama: Come With Me at Gallery Wendi Norris

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, Forrest McGarvey reviews Tomokazu Matsuyama’s Come with Me at Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco.

Tomokazu Matsuyama. Warm Water, 2015; acrylic and mixed media on canvas; 67 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

Tomokazu Matsuyama. Warm Water, 2015; acrylic and mixed media on canvas; 67 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

In Come With Me, Japanese American artist Tomokazu Matsuyama brings together an array of visual inspirations from his multinational background for his third solo show at Gallery Wendi Norris. Seemingly disparate elements collide in his acrylic paintings to create something new and unique, but they ultimately reveal how some visual resonances are more potent than others.

The bulbous canvas of Warm Water (2015) undulates from rounded corner to rounded corner, like a flag in the wind, or perhaps an unfurling scroll. Four figures stand among a thistle of Japanese maple leaves and orchids, as a bright red string flows throughout the composition, ending in a knotted bow floating above them. The figures’ hair blows wildly in the wind, making fluid shapes that harmonize well among Matsuyama’s bright patches of airbrushed gold and electric hues. They are dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos with details of Western clothes—such as shirt pockets, the lapels of a suit coat, and buttons—sewn into their patterns. As figurative forms give way to intricate patterns, amorphic forms, and precise applications of paint, Matsuyama’s work questions the line between representation and abstraction.
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Los Angeles

Islamic Art Now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Today from our friends at REORIENT, we bring you an excerpt from Nicola Baird’s review of Islamic Art Now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Baird notes that “the dialogue surrounding the validity of the term ‘Islamic’ as a meaningful art-historical classification continues to attract attention. Indeed, what is Islamic art, and is such a term appropriate?” This article was originally published on February 16, 2015.

Abdullah Al Saab. Technology Killed Reality, 2014;  Courtesy of the Artist, Tamara Keleshian, and  Museum Associates/LACMA

Abdullah Al Saab. Technology Killed Reality, 2014. Courtesy of the Artist, Tamara Keleshian, and Museum Associates/LACMA.

Currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is Islamic Art Now, the first major exhibition showcasing the museum’s impressive collection of contemporary Middle Eastern and North African art, and the largest of its kind in the United States. Featuring twenty-five works in a range of differing media, including photography, sculpture, video, and installation art by twenty artists from Iran and the Arab world, such as Wafaa Bilal, Lalla Essaydi, Hassan Hajjaj, Mona Hatoum, and Shirin Neshat, Islamic Art Now can be seen to constitute, in the words of CEO Michael Govan and Director Wallis Annenberg, the “contemporary counterpart to LACMA’s world-renowned historical Islamic art collection,” as well as demonstrate the profound connection between the past and the present.

LACMA houses one of the most significant collections of “Islamic” art in the world, consisting of more than 1,700 works, including (but not limited to) glazed ceramics, enamelled glass, inlaid metalwork, and illustrated and illuminated manuscripts from southern Spain to Central Asia. The museum began to concentrate seriously on the arts of the Islamic (for lack of a better term) world in 1973 with the acquisition of the Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection, during a time of rapid change and growth in the study of Islamic art. By 1972, thirteen professors and seven curators of Islamic art had been appointed at American institutions; less than two decades prior to this, only one full-time teaching position existed, with just four curators in employment across the entire country. Cultural and charitable establishments responded to the sudden escalation of Western interest in the Middle East, and in 1975, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its original suite of galleries for the display of North America’s largest and most important collection of Islamic art. The following year, London hosted the inaugural World of Islam Festival, a program of exhibitions and events designed to introduce Islamic culture in its aesthetic, scientific, technological, musical, and intellectual entirety to the West.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Nando Alvarez-Perez

Photographs have many potential uses. They can serve as objective documents of history, standing in for memory, ideas, and sensory representations, but they also have the capacity to manifest images of fictional narratives that are markedly creative. Nando Alvarez-Perez’s photographs, often produced in a series, mirror the many capacities of the photograph, capturing an array of past and future meanings, motifs, styles, and contexts.

Nando Alvarez-Perez. Primary Document 022415, 2015; archival pigment print; 40 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Nando Alvarez-Perez. Primary Document 022415, 2015; archival pigment print; 40 x 60 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

At the core of Perez’s work is a specific interest in photographs as “translations from the material world into the perceptual—as I play within the memory of photography and imagine what its future could be.”[1] In his ongoing series History Pictures, Perez explores what he calls a “symbolic ecosystem of shared signs” by creating the many possibilities of the image all at once. In Primary Document 013015 (2015), Perez creates a digital photograph of what reads as a traditional still life that is a staged set of interrelated visual, aesthetic, and structural similarities that include photographs within the display.

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New York

Hayv Kahraman: How Iraqi Are You? at Jack Shainman

Hayv Kahraman’s current solo exhibition at Jack Shainman, How Iraqi Are You?, is captivating. A suite of large paintings, produced in 2014 and 2015, show pairs and groups of women in patterned garments interacting with each other in minimal settings. Context is provided by simple architectural forms, and by Arabic script that appears under or alongside the figures. Text from the gallery explains that the works depict “memories from Kahraman’s childhood in Baghdad and as a refugee in Sweden.”

Hayv Kahraman. Barboog, 2014; oil on linen; 108 x 72 in.©Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hayv Kahraman. Barboog, 2014; oil on linen; 108 x 72 in. © Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Formally and technically, the work is incredibly satisfying. The scale of the paintings gives the women ample room to inhabit a universe of their own, and the rich colors of the oil paint work beautifully against the dull tan of the unprimed linen. Kahraman’s use of negative space in the patterning of the women’s garments is attractive in the original sense of the word; I found myself moving closer and closer to each painting in order to experience the play between flatness and dimensionality. The brushwork, too, is masterful—though it is applied to slubbed raw linen, each stroke’s edge is surprisingly crisp and sure, even in the delicate lines that form the Arabic script. The artist’s marks are at their most confident at the perimeter of the women’s hair, where the paint is dry-brushed into airy swoops that give the figures a self-assured grace. It’s clear that Kahraman knows her materials and techniques, and she employs them both to marvelous effect.

The figures of the women are suggestive, and point to references as diverse as Persian miniatures, ukiyo-e prints from Japan, and John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. With their bare, rounded shoulders and graceful hands, they seem poised to seduce, and yet they are completely engaged in their own affairs and thus devoid of affectation and coyness. Most don’t acknowledge the viewer—or when they do, the gaze is direct and the expression is indifferent. Arguably, these figures are interchangeable (the artist photographed herself as a reference for each woman, so they all have the same lithe bodies, thick eyebrows, and lambent eyes), but rather than clones, they are like sisters; because their expressions and postures are subtly different, they display an array of distinct personalities, from playful and wily to demure, serious, and fierce. Additionally, their intricately patterned clothing implies that the women are merely ornamental, but this is belied by their total absorption in each other and in the social space that they have created.

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Stockholm

Ewa Stackelberg: Fotogram at Fotografiska

In October 1997, Ewa Stackelberg’s husband died in a plane accident in Costa Rica. Among the belongings sent to her after the tragedy was her husband’s camera, which had been smashed to pieces in the crash—almost like a foreshadowing of the turn that Stackelberg’s life and practice would take in the years to come. In the search for a new artistic language to express her grief, photography—or rather, the production of photograms—eventually became Stackelberg’s chosen medium. Nearly two decades later, the tragedy continues to inform her oeuvre, in which metaphors of life and death, in their gloriously distilled forms, have found permanent imprints on light-sensitive paper. It is this aesthetic sensibility that underpins Fotogram (2015), a retrospective of Stackelberg’s work—taken over a period of fifteen years—at Fotografiska.

Ewa Stackelberg. Divan Grottan, 2011; photogram; Divan series. Courtesy of Ewa Stackelberg and Fotografiska.

Ewa Stackelberg. Divan Grottan, 2011; photogram; Divan series. Courtesy of Ewa Stackelberg and Fotografiska.

In technical terms, the photogram is a photographic image made without a camera, an old method that was, in the 19th century, employed by pioneers László Moholy-Nagy and Anna Atkins to create photographic illustrations with the cyanotype process. To create a photogram, objects are placed between light-sensitive paper and a light source; when exposed, the areas of the paper that receive light appear dark, and the parts that do not receive any light appear lighter. The silhouette that gradually emerges is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone, depending on the degree of opacity and transparency of the objects used. As with the photographic pioneers, Stackelberg’s process in the darkroom is one of conscious experimentation with the image-production process. A usable print or a favorable outcome is never assured—Stackelberg readily admits that there are more bad prints than good ones—but it is precisely this aesthetic uncertainty that’s so alluring, especially when the creation of a photogram is akin to engaging in “a dialogue between the unconscious and the artistic material” each time light, chemicals, and objects interact.

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New York

2015 Triennial: Surround Audience at the New Museum

Surround Audience, the latest triennial exhibition at the New Museum, surveys fifty-one emerging artists, from twenty-five countries, whose practices are informed by their lived experience immersed in the digital landscape. The triennial has always billed itself as a predictive rather than reflective survey, and this iteration is no exception, with a focus on the culture of the immediate present and where it’s hurtling. Though the show’s description never uses the word digital, all of the works are made by a generation of artists whose lives have been marked by the unprecedented proliferation of digital technology over the past three decades. The exhibition claims to address such lines of inquiry as: “What are the new visual metaphors for the self and subjecthood when our ability to see and be seen is expanding, as is our desire to manage our self-image and privacy? Is it possible to opt out of, bypass, or retool commercial interests that potentially collude with national and international policy? How are artists striving to embed their works in the world around them through incursions into media and activism?”[1]

Josh Kline. Freedom, 2015; installation view, 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience, 2015, New Museum, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal, New York.

Josh Kline. Freedom, 2015; installation view, 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience, New Museum, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal, New York.

The triennial is co-curated by Ryan Trecartin, an artist whose own practice wrangles with these questions. What no longer exists for Trecartin, the artists in Surround Audience, and those who choose to categorize their work as post-internet art is the idea of an online/offline boundary; offline existence is impossible, as is privacy. Whereas earlier internet artists often made work that could be seen solely online and explored the implications of the new, widespread accessibility and audience, post-internet artists mine the state of mind they grew up with, a consciousness built to utilize the systems of online networks that define and organize daily life. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study found that the average person in the United States between 18 and 44 years of age checks their Facebook status fourteen times per day; 62 percent of these 18-to-44-year-olds check their smartphones immediately upon waking up.[2] What does being constantly plugged in, visible, interactive, and trackable do to one’s sense of self? Questioning the effects of a rapidly evolving culture on “our sense of self and identity as well as on art’s form and larger social role”—as the exhibition claims to do—has been a concern of varying degree within the arts since the early modern period and will likely continue to have new permutations every generation. What Surround Audience frames successfully is the shift in focus from understanding the internet as a tool to instead understanding it as an exponentially developing biosphere that we exist in and are helping to shape.

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Savannah

Linear Abstraction at the SCAD Museum of Art

Abstraction is dead! Long live abstraction! In Linear Abstraction, the SCAD Museum of Art negotiates the status of nonrepresentational work as it exists in the 21st century and includes work in various media, including painting, sculpture, photography, and digital formats. While the exhibition seeks to trace commonalities between contemporary practices by engaging somewhat diverse uses or ideas of lines, the resulting effect points succinctly to the broader condition of 21st-century abstraction.

Phillip Stearns. Linear Abstraction, 2015; installation view. Gutstein Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Photo: Marc Newton.

Phillip Stearns. Linear Abstraction, 2015; installation view, Gutstein Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Photo: Marc Newton.

As its title so aptly demonstrates, the show uses the concept of the line—or more specifically, the hard-edged line—as a starting point in exploring how contemporary artists approach abstraction. Obviously, lines are omnipresent in art—in fact, it would be hard to preclude artists from being in the show if the engagement of lines were the only criteria. Visitors to this exhibition may also remember the Museum of Modern Art’s On Line, presented in late 2010 in New York. This exhibition attempted to explore the use of the line throughout modern art; in the end, predictably, artworks filled every wall of every gallery, showing the ubiquity of this most fundamental of formal devices.

Avoiding a survey-like mentality, Linear Abstraction uses the line as a lens in which to view specific works, and in turn the curators have created a show that comments not so much on the deliberate use of line, but instead on trends within contemporary abstraction. By using the word linear in the title, viewers are forced to reconcile each work with the idea of the line. Thus the curators have created an environment in which the works are meant to be read in a specific way.

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