Los Angeles

Burning Down the House at Pasadena Museum of California Art

A woman in a long skirt spins dervishly against a mauve background while a wooden sculptural lamp in the shape of an embracing couple dominates the foreground. A man with two faces simultaneously laughs and cries behind a potted houseplant. The scene of a one-night stand is recorded in minute detail in the Polaroids left by a bed. Two clay women battle over a chintzy trophy. This is just the entryway of Burning Down the House at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, a show featuring the work of Ellen Brooks, Jo Ann Callis, and Eileen Cowin—three California artists active since the 1970s whose work combines photography, dramatic staging, and storytelling techniques in order to contemplate or deconstruct traditional narratives involving familial relationships and gender roles.

Jo Ann Callis. Salt, Pepper, Fire, 1980; dye transfer print; 22 ½ x 17 ½ in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jo Ann Callis. Salt, Pepper, Fire, 1980; dye transfer print; 22 ½ x 17 ½ in. Courtesy of the Artist and Rose Gallery.

Jo Ann Callis’ work is both silent and violent. She sets a calm scene in a domestic space and upsets it with dramatic lighting or a blur of motion. In one alarming image, Hands on Ankles (1796–77), a woman stands on a dining-room chair in designer pumps—we can see her only from the knee down—as a man’s hands grab her ankles through the chair back, from behind. This may be the most literal of her photographs, a rare interaction between two figures depicting the power struggle inherent in domestic life and the complicated relationships between men and women. Salt, Pepper, Fire (1980) is an odd table setting with salt, pepper, black coffee, and a flaming plate. The salt and pepper shakers are our protagonists, lit to be the bystanders witnessing this inexplicable fire; the smoke rising from the fire resembles a bird in flight. Callis is a master of manipulating light for dramatic effect; her photographs use light so skillfully and unnaturally that they could be paintings.

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Los Angeles

Saying Yes to Everything at Honor Fraser

Saying Yes to Everything, an exhibition featuring nineteen artists working in collage, recently opened at Honor Fraser Gallery in Los Angeles. On display are a range of works made between 1960 and the present day by both established and emerging artists. The title is a commentary on the essential inclusivity of collage. But understanding the medium’s place in art history can help the viewer appreciate the form. Collage surfaced with modernism in the 20th century, in the wake of the horrors of World War II—the Holocaust, strategic bombings, nuclear warfare—resulting in a fragmentation of consciousness and a loss of sense or meaning.

Anything is permissible in collage, and multiple mediums like paint, paper cutouts, and found objects collide on and with the surface plane. The very selection and composition of incongruous materials reveals an attempt at order and meaning. In Saying Yes to Everything, source materials include glitter dollar signs, gold chain, penciled math problems, a rusted comb, comic-book cutouts, and a vintage stamp booklet cover. The boundaries of the medium are limitless, and therefore democratizing.

Alexis Smith. Kerouac Haiku, 1994; mixed media collage; 27 x 32 x 2 inches. Courtesy of Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles. CA. Photo: Elon Schoenholz Photography.

Alexis Smith. Kerouac Haiku, 1994; mixed-media collage; 27 x 32 x 2 in. Courtesy of Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles. CA. Photo: Elon Schoenholz Photography.

The exhibit opens with a narrative diorama by Alexis Smith titled Kerouac Haiku (1994), in which a chart of constellations is affixed with various childhood objects. Two deputy sheriff badges flank the moon, and with red paint, the artist complements the original title “Beautiful moonlit night” with “marred by family squabbles.” The map’s key notes the magnitude of the stars and brings attention to perhaps the distance of these memories or desires in relation to each other.

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Houston

Deborah Roberts: One and Many at Art Palace

From our friends at Glasstire, today we bring you a review of Deborah Roberts’ current solo show at Art Palace in Houston, Texas. Author Betsy Huete notes, “To make political work without literally telling the viewer how he should think or feel is a tall order, yet Roberts pulls it off masterfully by intertwining the personal with the ideological. She infuses her work with subtle yet powerful empathy that is just as ferocious as it is vulnerable.” This article was originally published on November 29, 2014.

Deborah Roberts. Untitled No. 33, n.d.; Mixed media on paper, 14 x 17 in.

Deborah Roberts. Untitled No. 33, n.d.; mixed media on paper, 14 x 17 in.

With the exception of one misstep, One and Many, Deborah Roberts’ current solo show at Art Palace, is raw, painful, beautiful, grotesque, vulnerable, and vicious. The first line of her handout quotes James A. Baldwin: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” Roberts carries on her shoulders the Post-Black ideologies that she grapples with. Through paint, collage, and sculpture, she is locating herself within three histories she has inherited—of being black, of being a woman, and of being an artist working within the largely white, chauvinistic modernist vocabulary of photocollage and abstract painting.

The most compelling of several fourteen- by eleven-inch collages is Untitled No. 33. A black woman’s face appears halfway down the paper, a face that has been crudely sliced off at the neck and forehead. Roberts cracks open the woman’s skull, exposing the private thoughts residing in her head without her permission, and it shows. The woman stares at us head-on, her eyes emanating a complex mixture of defiance, sadness, and disgust. Three lab monkeys with red-tipped party hats pop out of her head, screaming. Roberts has replaced the woman’s body with a blind contour drawing in pencil. With disproportionate shoulders and fumbling cleavage, the body Roberts has given her is drawn in a way that is curiously investigative and abject. The pencil drawing may at first seem hurried and dismissive, but it is as important as the monkeys, which are visually more pronounced. The woman’s face and screaming monkeys blare anger at full volume, but the quiet body replenishes the work with a kind of self-deprecation and uncertainty. It’s the anchor that keeps it multi-dimensional, and prevents it from becoming overly didactic.

Read the full article here.

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Shotgun Reviews

Amber Cowan: Second-Life Glass at the Museum of Craft and Design

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, Sienna Freeman reviews Amber Cowan: Second-Life Glass at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.

Amber Cowan. Gray 80, 2014; flame-worked glass; 64 x 28 x 4 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Museum of Craft and Design. Photo: Amber Cowan.

Amber Cowan. Gray 80, 2014; flame-worked glass; 64 x 28 x 4 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Museum of Craft and Design. Photo: Amber Cowan.

Upon entering the Museum of Craft and Design’s current exhibition, Amber Cowan: Second-Life Glass, I was immediately struck by a sense of growth or gestation. Cowan’s complex sculptures seemed to bloom before me in a rapid, viral expansion of objects. It was as if each intricate blown, sculpted, or flameworked element had sprung from an internal living source, linked together beneath the surface by a hidden rhizome-like mass.

Cowan’s source material is heavy with past narratives of American cultural consumption and factory production. Made of American pressed glass from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s and industrial cullet (scrap glass intended for recycling) acquired at thrift shops, flea markets, or collected from cullet dumps, each of her works are repurposed.[i] Prior to the 1960s, American glass pieces were typically produced in an industrial factory, until the invention of a portable and inexpensive furnace allowed artists to melt and blow glass in independent studios.[ii] Produced by some of the best-known (but now closed) American glass factories, the glass and cullet Cowan uses literally and figuratively represents the remains of this industrial history. Her works can be viewed as reincarnated objects born from colors and chemical compositions of glass likely never to be produced again.

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San Francisco

Ai Weiwei: @ Large at Alcatraz

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Heidi Rabben’s assessment of @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. Rabben writes, “…certainly, awareness and exposure counts for something, but whether or not these quantitative measurements will effectively impact or change any thinking about human rights is uncertain, and is therefore also a missed opportunity.” This article was originally published on November 24, 2014.

Ai Wei Wei. With Wind, 2014; installation detail, New Industries Building, Alcatraz. Courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation. Photo: Jan Stürmann.

Ai Weiwei. With Wind, 2014; installation detail, New Industries Building, Alcatraz. Courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation. Photo: Jan Stürmann.

This text is likely neither the first nor the last thing you will read about @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. Substantial coverage began far in advance of the insurgent artist’s opening in late September, and the hype has continued steadily since. So it is not without reservation that I contribute another drop in the bucket. But for a project that professes to be predicated entirely on freedom—of thought and of speech in particular—the vast majority of the @Large analysis is, at best, cautiously complimentary, and, at worst, reductive and descriptive. A number of factors may be contributing to this reserved reception, including the scale and budget of the project, the number of volunteers and assistants who assembled and help maintain it, the exhibition’s lengthy duration, and the nuance of its touristic setting. A section of the project website is even dedicated to these statistics, stressing the impressiveness of the undertaking. While surely significant, these elements overwhelmingly eclipse criticism about the artworks themselves. And beyond the stats looms an implicit hesitation about evaluating such socially conscious intentions, or perhaps further, of critiquing an artist–activist–celebrity like Ai Weiwei—a figure who, ironically, professes to invite and value serious critique. So in the spirit of one of the exhibition’s taglines, “Liberty is about our rights to question everything—Ai Weiwei” (which literally appears on the commemorative luggage tag), this review will question some of the core works and motivations in @Large.

Read the full article here.

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Los Angeles

LA Department of Cultural Affairs Arts Development Fee Temporary Intervention!

Today we bring you Machine Project’s video documentation of LA Department of Cultural Affairs Arts Development Fee Temporary Intervention!, a day-long series of performances conducted on or near the sidewalk in front of 11750 W. Olympic Boulevard in West Los Angeles. Machine Project describes the lineup as including, “synchronized group walking, improvised music, turkey blessings, professional sign twirlers, dance, experimental burden carrying, and non-traditional use of projectors.” The events documented here took place on November 23, 2013.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we raise a glass to our excellent writers, who send us reports from around the world on the most thought-provoking exhibitions; to our editors and copy editor, who make us look clean and sharp; and to our 2014 sponsors, who keep the lights on at Daily Serving.

Of course, we’d be nothing without our readers. Thank you for joining us here every day for the best in contemporary art and criticism! Happy Thanksgiving!

Gianni Colombo. Installation view of Ambienti, n.d. Photo: Greene Naftali Gallery.

Gianni Colombo. Ambienti, n.d.; installation view. Photo: Greene Naftali, New York.

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