Summer Reading

Summer Reading – Nothing That Meets the Eye: Notes on Clones

Today we kick off our annual Summer Reading series, in which our writers and editors select their favorite recent articles on contemporary art from around the web. First up is an excerpt from Matt Sussman’s “Nothing That Meets the Eye: Notes on Clones,” originally published on SFMOMA’s Open Space on June 3, 2015. In this essay, Sussman considers the culture of reproduction and copies within the context of Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics photography project.

Hal Fischer. Street Fashion Basic Gay from the series Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014; Carbon pigment print, 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3.

Hal Fischer. Street Fashion Basic Gay from the series Gay Semiotics, 1977/2014; carbon pigment print; 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3.

“Taste has no system and no proofs,” writes Susan Sontag at the outset of “Notes on Camp” (1964). “Any sensibility which can be crammed into the mold of a system, or handled with the rough tools of proof, is no longer a sensibility at all. It has hardened into an idea…”

Part of what I am interested in tracing across this series is what happens after sensibilities harden into ideas, or into something else. What Sontag warns against is essentially a process of replication: The “mold of a system” is there to transform one kind of matter into the likeness of something else entirely. When ideas (or, say, a particular work of art) are repeated across different forms and mediums, those repetitions, in turn, produce their own kinds of effects, both spectacular and lackluster. The extent to which what has been re-presented is recognizable as iterative, or recognizable at all (“this looks like a/an X”), also arouses mixed feelings. As many after Freud have observed, things that come back or reappear can be unsettling precisely because they are familiar, close to home.

The man in the photograph appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His mustache is bushy enough to make it hard to pinpoint his age, but not so overgrown as to obscure a sweet smile. His Levis, like the rolled-up sleeves of his flannel shirt and his unzipped hoodie, are relaxed; fitted but not too revealing. He leans against a wall, the sharply angled sidewalk beneath his black Converse forcing the rest of him into a kind of lazy contrapposto that is simultaneously sexy and goofy.

He is—as the white, all-caps text in the lower bottom left of the photograph states—an exemplar of “BASIC GAY” street style circa 1977. That’s the year when San Francisco artist Hal Fischer created the image as part of his Gay Semiotics photography project, currently on view again in San Francisco, at Ratio 3, after nearly forty years. The man’s clothing and grooming, as the composite of image and text dictates, make him an identifiable type among other types and in regard to other men who look like him. He could be called, using the parlance of the time, a clone.

Read the full article here.

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Shotgun Reviews

Vic at Insitu Berlin

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, Carla Fernández reviews the group show Vic at Insitu Berlin.

Aurora Sander. Trust no one, 2015; Mixed media, variable dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and insitu Berlin. Photo: Markus Georg

Aurora Sander. Trust no one, 2015; Mixed media, variable dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and insitu Berlin. Photo: Markus Georg

The group show Vic at Insitu Berlin presents a fictional persona whose effect on viewers oscillates between seduction and repulsion—a hedonist, narcissistic character of internet culture. Artists Britta Thie, Christian Falsnaes, and the collective Aurora Sander construct Vic’s ego out of metadata and self-referential information, asserting a ritualized self united through the repetition of data and virtual, not actual, relations with the world.

The first room contains motivational YouTube videos, books, and films focused on self-enhancement and manipulation. Stammtisch (2015), an installation by the collective duo Aurora Sander (Bror Sander Berg Størseth and Ellinor Aurora Aasgaard), contains anthropomorphized sculptures and props: traces of toast and a beer glass posed over a table with traces of blue and pink paint. The effect is an absurd situation of absence. In Christian Falsnaes’ video work Influence (2012), the artist performs the seduction of a group and the group’s subsequent compulsive dementia.

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New Orleans

Three Katrinas

“Memorials are the way people make promises to the future about the past.” Alice Greenwald, director of the National 9/11 Memorial Museum, reminds us that a memorial is as much how we describe who we are now as it is about a prior event. The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina provides an opportunity to look back at a particular moment of disaster, injustice, upheaval, and loss—but also at the breaking down of old social structures and the opening of new possibilities. This cycle of renewal and reinvention is the focus of the exhibitions that address this anniversary: The New Orleans Museum of Art presents Ten Years Gone; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art offers The Rising; and the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans joins in with Reverb. Three exhibitions look at where we are now as a culture and as a citizenry who have seen firsthand injustice and incompetence from local, federal, and corporate leaders. But ten years later, can these exhibits provide a clear measurement of the positive and negative affects of the disaster?

Isabelle Hayeur. Etang 04, 2013; Archival pigment print; 36 x 36 in. Image courtesy of the Artist.

Isabelle Hayeur. Etang 04, 2013; Archival pigment print; 36 x 36 in. Image courtesy of the Artist.

Hurricane Katrina rolled in August 29, 2005, devastating 80 percent of New Orleans and ninety thousand square miles of the Gulf South, which were declared a disaster zone. While the storm pinpointed New Orleans, there were many factors that led to the near-total destruction of this entire region. Ten years later, one of those factors—that still goes largely unaddressed—is the loss of the once-vibrant wetlands due to a crisscrossed system of oil pipelines and levee systems. These canals allow salt water from the gulf into the freshwater marshes, killing the trees and plants that hold the wetlands together. In Losing Ground, a project by ProPublica and The Lens, Bob Marshall wrote: “At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees—most of Southeast Louisiana—would be underwater.”[1] The wetlands are essential to providing vital storm protection.

At the New Orleans Museum of Art, work by Isabelle Hayeur addresses the alarming effects of mankind on waterways by photographing the liminal space between the water and the air. In Etang (2013), she creates a bifurcated view of land and water that exemplifies the process of building wetlands. Dense, rotting detritus gathers on the wetland floor, creating new soil that slowly creates the delicate system of growth and dispersal of land in the gulf. Hayeur’s photographs line the Great Hall in NOMA, and each acts as a metaphor for how water can serve and protect a place if left to its natural ways.

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San Francisco

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at Fraenkel Gallery

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Petra Bibeau’s review of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. The author notes, “[the exhibition]succeeds due to the selected artists’ compulsive desire to create their own narration from a point of obsession with being rather than from a literal rendition of living.” This article was originally published on August 12, 2015.

Bryson Rand, Mario & Danny (Los Angeles), 2015; Pigment print, edition of 5, 42 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist and Fraenkel Gallery.

Bryson Rand. Mario & Danny (Los Angeles), 2015; pigment print; 42 x 30 in.; edition of 5. Courtesy of the Artist and Fraenkel Gallery.

In Carson McCullers’s 1940 debut novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the twenty-three-year-old author delved deep into the psyches of a cast of forlorn characters struggling to express the human condition through individual experiences. Taking a cue from McCullers’s work, Katy Grannan’s curatorial effort at Fraenkel Gallery features eighteen artists who address similar themes through photography, painting, video, works on paper, and sculpture.

Like the novel, the expansive exhibition explores the deeper matters of interiority. Some of the more figurative work attempts to recontextualize a previous condition by way of revision. For example, Alice Wong bends reality by painting on found materials such as photographs and postcards, transforming the natural world into an alternate universe. David M. Stein modifies existing books in his Unlikely Library series (2008), creating purely imagined new titles—from the absurd to the mundane—that uncannily disappear into a normative context upon first glance.

Read the full article here.

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Portland

The Great Debate About Art at Upfor

“Art” is a contentious word. Endless positing over any succinct, defining properties has spawned countless op-eds, theses, and textbooks. The topic is comparable to that of discussing religion in mixed company—differences of opinion have more than once drawn blood. The Great Debate About Art, currently on view at Upfor in Portland, Oregon, is a small group exhibition contextually centered on Roy Harris’ 2010 book of the same name. Co-curated by Upfor and Envoy Enterprises (NY), seven artists—Ben Buswell, Srijon Chowdhury, Max Cleary, Anne Doran, Zack Dougherty, Erika Keck, and Rodrigo Valenzuela—present ten works that (like Harris’ writing) philosophically wax and wane in their proposals.

Harris insists that the purpose of his research is not to further instigate a battle between mediums, schools. or –isms. Instead, his aims are epistemological. Is the trouble with the term “art” a linguistic issue? Should we suppose a standard of technical skill? Or is it content that wins the day? Who decides, and more importantly, what gives them the authority? Upfor and Envoy Enterprises optimistically postulate, “the artist.”

Ben Buswell. ABRACADABRA (Perish Like the Word), 2015; graphite and non-photo blue; 38 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Upfor. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Ben Buswell. ABRACADABRA (Perish Like the Word), 2015; graphite and non-photo blue; 38 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Upfor. Photo: Mario Gallucci.

Ben Buswell’s Your Value Is My Law (2015) plays with notions of anti-art in its refusal to reveal an overt image. Beginning with a photograph of a purposefully unknown subject, Buswell alters the surface emulsion with a needle to create an arrestingly texturized white verso. The effect is historically reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawing. The photograph, framed backward, leaves only questions for the image that was. “Art,” for one thing, is about its ideas. Buswell embodies this presupposition not only in his layered choice of media, but also through the work’s title. The artist dually contributes ABRACADABRA (Perish Like a Word) (2015) to further consider “value.” Buswell acknowledges the nuances of technical dexterity and its effects on both the perception of skill and an artwork’s place in the commercial market. The drawing is composed of graphite and non-photo blue—a graphic-design material used to create marks visible to the eye, but not to the camera. In the presence of the original, each meticulously drawn striation is visible. The digitalized and printed counterpart, however, becomes something else entirely. It’s clean. It’s a cheat and thus holds considerably different value to a viewer with other (likely commercialized) aims.

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Philadelphia

Barbara Kasten: Stages at ICA Philadelphia

At the entrance to Barbara Kasten: Stages at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, there is a corner-placed grouping of five photographs. Four early Polaroids made in 1982 and 1983 are on the right; with their geometric shapes and pastel colors, they would fit easily into the reigning design aesthetic of the 1980s. On the left is the 2007 silver-dye bleach print Studio Construct 17, a much larger, sparer version of the earlier works. This opening gambit is an excellent introduction to a retrospective that sets viewers to the task of recognizing subtle parallels and echoes in the artist’s practice across time, medium, and approach.

Barbara Kasten. Stages, 2015; installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Barbara Kasten. Stages, 2015; installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Kasten has spent thirty years circumnavigating a fundamental inquiry into form and color that holds stagecraft and the theater at its center. Unlike more traditional retrospectives that travel along a timeline from early works to recent offerings, the layout of the show discourages a chronological understanding. Instead, temporary walls divide the space to guide visitors through a number of possible viewings; the net effect is a meditation on Kasten’s mode of working, reflecting both the forward motion of her practice and the eddying returns to earlier thoughts and motivations. Within this curatorial device, the viewer can see quite plainly that the subdued black-and-white Studio Construct 125 (2011) and the brightly colored Studio Construct 32 (1986) are intimately related by formal concerns and structure despite the twenty-five years that separate them.

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Seattle

Disguise: Masks & Global African Art at Seattle Art Museum

Museums are constantly devising new platforms to present their permanent collections. Interventions and mining-the-museum have become commonplace curatorial strategies, and institutions frequently turn to contemporary artists to animate, recontextualize, and bring visibility to canonized cultural objects. Disguise: Masks and Global African Art is Seattle Art Museum’s latest attempt to draw connections across temporal, geographic, and cultural lines. Leveraging the museum’s collection of African masks, the exhibition features over twenty international artists from Africa or of African descent whose work explores the ways we disguise—how we use adornment to conceal, exemplify, and masquerade.

Edison Chagas. OIKONOMOS, 2011; digital print; 41 3/4 x 41 3/4 in. Courtesy of the artist and A Palazzo Gallery.

Edison Chagas. OIKONOMOS, 2011; digital print; 41 3/4 x 41 3/4 in. Courtesy of the Artist and A Palazzo Gallery.

Daringly raucous, Disguise is a multisensory splendor of new media, performance, installation, and sound. It represents a curatorial intent to breathe new life into stagnant collections by cultivating dialogues between carved wood and digital image, colonial empire and postcolonial diaspora. The exhibition further signifies an institutional vision to highlight and, more importantly, to commission new work by underrepresented artists. Though admirable, these intentions prove to be an inadequate mask for the unsettling issues that pervade the show’s conceptual core.

Sondra Perry’s mirrored videos Double Quadruple Etcetera Etcetera I and II (2013) open the exhibition, featuring dancers whose movements have been accelerated to a maniacal speed. Employing the “content aware” tool frame-by-frame, Perry has erased the dancers’ bodies, resulting in two frenzied forms covered by the white walls that surround them. Only their hair remains exposed—a blatant racial signifier that cannot be disguised. For the curators, Perry’s piece introduces a theme that is crucial to the exhibition as a whole, alluding to Frantz Fanon’s notion in “The Lived Experience of the Black Man.” In this chapter from Black Skin, White Masks (1952), Fanon describes living in a world that does not see him, but only sees his body. For a black man in a postcolonial society, subjectivity is produced out of institutionalized racism. Fanon remains “always a Negro, never a man”—a madness-inducing, inescapable reality that confines him within his own appearance. For Perry, however, the piece was about creating “paraspaces,” a term that comes from science fiction to describe realms parallel to our own. While compelling, the idea of a “paraspace” connects only tenuously to the curatorial framework of disguise.

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