Antonia Wright: You Make Me Sick: I Love You at Spinello Projects

If Antonia Wright ever tires of being an artist and desires a career change, she might find success as a stuntwoman. In a number of videos in her show You Make Me Sick: I Love You at Spinello Projects in Miami, she has transformed her body into a projectile, hurling herself through glass, piles of books, and into oncoming cars. The feelings of danger and vulnerability are common themes in the exhibition, but Wright also craftily weaves elements of humor and whimsy into a show that negotiates the boundary between performance and video art.

Antonia Wright. Suddenly We Jumped (2),2014 (video still); single channel video, 00:14. Courtesy the artist and Spinello Projects, Miami.

Antonia Wright. Suddenly We Jumped (2), 2014 (video still); single-channel video, 00:14. Courtesy of the Artist and Spinello Projects, Miami.

In one of the standout works in the show, Wright documents herself being catapulted through a sheet of glass. Suddenly We Jumped (2014) consists of a two-channel video installation documenting the same performance with the use of super-slow motion. In the first video, Wright’s naked body appears gradually out of a black abyss; lying flat and baroquely lit, her body continues in flight toward the camera, and she suddenly—and effortlessly—crashes through a sheet of glass. Shards of glass splinter away, reminding the viewer of the danger involved in this act. Wright soon reaches the apex of her voyage, falling prostrate back from where she came. The slow motion of the video dramatizes the performance, heightening the tension before the impact and revealing every single crack in the glass on the exact moment she hits it. The second video in the installation focuses solely on her face rupturing the glass from a side angle—reiterating the violent nature of the act.

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Everyday Problems: Ketut Teja Astawa’s Contemporary Balinese Paintings

Ketut Teja Astawa’s bright, bold acrylic-on-canvas paintings are complex and humorous. Using traditional Balinese style, iconography, and language, Astawa reinvents the ancient wayang (or shadow puppet) tradition within a modern context. He imbues his painted narratives with references to everyday problems, such as fruit shortages, aggressive village birds, and even the 2002 Bali bombings.

While Astawa’s exaggerated figurative paintings and humorous narrative style are unique to him, the way in which he fuses the traditional with the contemporary is markedly Balinese.  In his book Balinese Art, cultural historian Adrian Vickers notes that in Bali, “tradition… does not mean an absence of change, and individual expression comes from the manipulation of pre-set forms.”[1]  It is in Astawa’s very manipulation of such pre-set, established styles and iconography that his artistic gift and interest lies. I was lucky to meet with Ketut Teja Astawa (and receive translation assistance from Sudipa Yasa) at the Tonyraka Art Gallery in Mas, Ubud.

Ketut Teja Astawa, Boomerang, 2013; acrylic on canvas; 150 x 150 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Tonyraka Art Gallery. Photograph: Ellen C. Caldwell.

Ketut Teja Astawa. Boomerang, 2013; acrylic on canvas; 150 x 150 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Tonyraka Art Gallery. Photograph: Ellen C. Caldwell.

Ellen Caldwell: How did you start painting, and what got you started with your art?

Ketut Teja Astawa: I started painting ten years ago [at the] Denpasar School for Art.

EC: Had you painted before that or just started in school?

KTA: I started from childhood, when I was seven years old, maybe.

EC: Did anyone in your family also paint or teach you?

KTA: No, just me. The others make buildings and they are carpenters, Bali-style.  My father is a farmer and my mother has a small arts shop.

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#Hashtags: Institutionalized Critique

#museums #historicity #institutional critique #detournement #appropriation

The exhibition Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology at UCLA’s Hammer Museum is an effort to comprehensively document the artistic modes of appropriation and institutional critique that emerged in American contemporary art of the 1970s–1990s. While related, these are two distinct forms—appropriation being the art of repurposing images and forms from an established, original context to a new, transformative one, while institutional critique is generally defined by installation-based art practices that appropriate and détourne forms and images from within institutional contexts such as museums and academia. Artists associated with institutional critique include Andrea Fraser, Fred Wilson, Renée Green, Martha Rosler, and Adrian Piper, all of whose work is included at the Hammer. Within the period of the exhibition’s scope, these artists had practices that were boundary-pushing and provocative. Nonetheless, that era is more than twenty years in the past, and the edginess and discomfort associated with these artists has largely given way to sanctification. As the critique generation enters the canon, it’s appropriate to ask whether the form of institutional critique can evolve to remain relevant and keep pressure on institutions that remain problematic and change-averse.

Andrea Fraser. Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989. Single-channel video (Betacam SP NTSC), color, sound. 30:00 min. Courtesy of the artist.

Andrea Fraser. Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989; single-channel video (Betacam SP NTSC), color, sound; 30:00. Courtesy of the Artist.

The first work I saw at the Hammer was Andrea Fraser’s Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk (1989), a performative lecture and collection tour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s a fitting introduction to the exhibition’s larger issues. In this work, Fraser, in the guise of a docent, articulates the unspoken class privilege that underpins American art museums that are invested in a Neo-Classical ideology imported from Europe. Fraser’s casual noblesse oblige is jarring, her distinction between the haves and have-nots blunt, but her tone differs dramatically from that of today’s tycoons who tend to favor more inclusive and populist rhetoric while disinvesting in culture as a public benefit. By comparison, one might even feel a kind of nostalgia for the targets of Fraser’s critique. Fraser’s own ascent to the highest levels of the art world has paralleled that of institutional critique as a discipline. As her profile has risen, the forms of her critique have shifted, from models rooted in her body and in specific sites to works that engage the global networks of back-room deals and questionable funding sources that underpin contemporary art markets worldwide. Like the medium of institutional critique itself, Fraser is embedded in and supported by the very institutions she critiques. As such, her often stark analyses are themselves circumscribed by the targets of her criticism, softening her impact. This is a challenging condition shared by many of the artists in the Hammer show because they must be inside the institutions in order to critique them from within, but their criticisms are also instrumentalized and dampened by the institutional context.

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Shotgun Reviews

Yee I-Lann: Picturing Power at Tyler Rollins Fine Art

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, Bansie Vasvani reviews Picturing Power at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York CityYee I-Lann. Picturing Power: Wherein one nods with political sympathy and says I understand you better than you understand yourself, I’m just here to help you help yourself, 2013; Giclée print on Hahnemüle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth Fine Art, 310 gsm 100% cotton rag paper, 25 x 25 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Yee I-Lann’s solo exhibition Picturing Power at Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York, is an emphatic act of subversion. Her black-and-white photomontages, made from two centuries of archival images of the Dutch and British colonization of Malaysia, present a reengagement with reality through a new language of alterity. For Yee, the exposure and visibility of the past create a vocabulary that focuses on emancipation and justice.

In Picturing Power: Wherein one surreptitiously performs reconnaissance to collect views and freeze points of view to be reflective of one’s own kind (2013), shrouded black figures posed as 19th-century photographers are juxtaposed with a comic scene of colonizers standing below large, overturned tables. Set against a stark white background, these incongruous figures symbolize colonial suppression. In Yee’s work, recurring images of tables represent transactions, power, and control. The inversion of these objects becomes a strong metaphor for the reversion of power from centuries of repression. More importantly, the dark, haunting, ghost-like figures appear to be voyeurs looking into the past and upending memories of hard times and the subjugation of the colonized. Here the artist’s language demands a heightened level of representation that is both humorous and a clearly articulated negative critique.

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Mel Chin: Rematch at The New Orleans Museum of Art

Mel Chin’s Rematch, now on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, is the artist’s first retrospective, long overdue and particularly prescient this week as a new U.N. report highlights the dire conditions of the Earth created by pollution, energy, and population, among other factors. Chin, while making visually stunning work, strives to create environmental reactions, rather than objects. However, reactions can have effects outside of the artist’s control. For example, Operation Paydirt (2006–ongoing) has the ambitious and specific goal for “New Orleans to become a place where no child will ever be threatened by lead in soil, and a city capable of rescuing other cities by setting an example.”[1] The outcomes that Chin creates, intended or unintended, are the actual artistic output of this precocious artist, rather than the traditional objects one finds in the museum.

Mel Chin, Safehouse, 2008-2001, Saint Roch neighborhood, New Orleans. Photo by Mel Chin.

Mel Chin. Safehouse, 2008-2001; Saint Roch neighborhood, New Orleans. Photo by Mel Chin.

Operation Paydirt is an attempt to design and innovate a replicable solution to the problem of lead poisoning, which is prevalent throughout New Orleans, especially in poorer areas. Caused by lead in the soil (from gasoline, paint, and other emissions), there is a growing body of research linking lead exposure in childhood with a host of problems later in life, including juvenile delinquency, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities. Though originally a native of Houston, Texas, Chin first became intimate with New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction and the Federal Levee Failure. “…When I got here I was not even remotely prepared for the level of devastation I encountered. Even months later, I felt a sense of inadequacy. It was like, how do you do something on this scale? I became obsessed, coming back again and again, to try to come up with a project of equivalent magnitude.”[2] Chin, with the help of scientists, posited a procedure dubbed “T.L.C.” or Treat, Lock, and Cover, that could be a possible solution to lead poisoning. Using an organic phosphate mixture made partially of fish bones, this substance binds the lead and renders it harmless.

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Los Angeles

International Women’s Day at Night Gallery

Night Gallery’s current five-artist exhibition, International Women’s Day, celebrates the holiday by focusing on the legacy of one woman artist in particular, Camille Claudel. Although an accomplished sculptor on her own, she was often overshadowed by her mentor and lover Auguste Rodin, and after suffering a breakdown and destroying much of her work, she spent the last thirty years of her life in an asylum. International Women’s Day features contemporary artists “working to continue Claudel’s legacy of sculptural production with an awareness of itself as a narrative object: the narrative being both the material story of the object’s making and its corroboration of the artists’ existence.”

David Armstrong Six. Imposter, 2013; Plaster, steel, wood, ceramic, paint; 87 x 21 x 37 inches. Courtesy of Night Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Lee Thompson.

David Armstrong Six. Imposter, 2013; plaster, steel, wood, ceramic, paint; 87 x 21 x 37 in. Courtesy of Night Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Lee Thompson.

The artist whose work shares the closest aesthetic affinities with the early modern sculpture of Claudel is David Armstrong Six. His multimedia sculptures are composed of rough-hewn pieces of plaster, wood, metal, and paint. They are abstract stand-ins for lone figures, junkyard Giacomettis whose heavily textured surfaces keep us moving around them to apprehend all the elements and discern how they relate to the whole. The insertion of recognizable objects—a maraca and plaster eggplant into one piece (Radio, 2014), or a polished wooden phallus in another (Imposter, 2013)—provides a counterweight to the formalism of the works, proclaiming them as objects in the real world.

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From the Archives – Craft is Not Dead

Today we bring you an article from our archives in celebration of The Brooklyn Rail’s most recent issue, which includes essays by contemporary craft luminaries Namita Wiggers and Glenn Adamson. As  notes in her excellent editorial essay, “If the notion of ‘diversity’ suggests the fostering of a variety of expressions on an equal footing, then in the visual arts our scrutiny would have to be directed toward the situation of craft. Despite a more pervasive adoption of craft techniques and materials into the so-called fine arts in contemporary practice, there is a divide between craft/art that is still stubborn. Sometimes cast as ‘heart’ versus ‘intellect,’ or ‘hand’ versus ‘mind,’ or ‘skill’ versus ‘concept,’ these dichotomous oppositions all serve to segregate the different aspects of physical functioning in the creation of art objects that should be considered together. Given the often loaded nuances of these words, and considering how vocabularies are enlisted by various professions, we also have to read issues of class, and at times ethnic culture and gender, into the dialogue around craft.” The article below, Hayley Plack‘s review of the 40 Under 40: Craft Futures exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, was originally published on December 13, 2012.

Installation view, 40 Under 40: Craft Futures, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery, July 20, 2012–February 3, 2013.

What defines the art of craft? What is the difference between art and craft? 40 Under 40: Craft Futures at Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery blurred the lines for me, while at the same time helping me to appreciate craft in a new light. There is something about the word “craft” that connotes antiquated techniques that don’t necessarily relate to our contemporary world. This exhibition breathes new life into the art of craft and highlights the contemporary relevance of craftsmanship.

In celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Renwick Gallery, the exhibition features the work of forty artists born since 1972—the year the Smithsonian Art Museum established its contemporary craft and decorative-arts program. All of the works were created since September 11, 2011, drawing particular attention to the state of contemporary craft and the way it relates to our society. Although we often associate craft with functionality or pure aesthetics, the pieces in this exhibition have more profound stories to tell in much the same way as contemporary art.  The show explores issues of technology, technique, relevance, and even the current economic climate as it relates to craft. Christy Oates fuses traditional woodworking techniques with CAD software technology to make furniture, while Joshua DeMonte creates jewelry using digital fabrication, both examples of how new technologies are changing the nature of craft. Several artists highlight the importance of sustainability, exemplified by Jeff Garner’s sustainable clothing designs and Uhuru’s furniture made from reclaimed materials.

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