San Francisco

Artist Project: Jack + Leigh Ruby’s Car Wash Incident

Today from our friends at Art Practical, we bring you an essay by Simon Lee and Eve Sussman about “the intersection of and differences between entertainment and art.” This article was originally published on July 9, 2014.

Jack + Leigh Ruby. Matt's Convenience Store Robbery, evidentiary photo 21; 1975. Courtesy of the Artists. Photo: Leigh Ruby.

Jack + Leigh Ruby. Matt’s Convenience Store Robbery, Evidentiary Photo 21; 1975. Courtesy of the Artists. Photo: Leigh Ruby.

I’ve been a fan of Eve Sussman’s work from the first moment I watched her film Rape of the Sabine Women (2007) during a screening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I loved its cinematic texture—the way in which plot was secondary to the visual elements—and how Jonathan Bepler’s original score kept insisting on being present as a diegetic element. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of viewing several of her collaborations with the Rufus Corporation and with Simon Lee. The thing that I love about her work, and the work of her collaborators, is how they use the vernacular of classic Hollywood and foreign film to propose poetic responses to the central and deceptively simple question, “What makes a movie?”

I think almost immediately of her 2011 video installation whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, which offers a full reveal of the structure of entertainment. Shot primarily in Central Asia, the video feels like the fevered dream collaboration of Jean-Luc Godard and Franz Kafka. An algorithm generates the sequence of shots on a moment-by-moment basis, with the upcoming selections queued on a monitor at the side of the room. Each viewing presents an entirely new film. While the editing structure is an essential element of whiteonwhite, the settings, production design, camera work, and acting are all clearly in dialogue with the conventions of American film noir, which makes the piece feel only more like an endless labyrinth to get lost in.

Read the full article here.



From the Archives – #Hashtags: Mimics and Minstrels

Since July 2013, Daily Serving’s #Hashtags column has been written by Anuradha Vikram, Director of the Residency Programs at the 18th Street Arts Center in Los Angeles. For the past year, Vikram has eloquently and intelligently voiced arguments about—among other topics—institutionalized racism, representations of marginalized identities, and economic inequality, all the while offering nuanced critiques of the artworks that take up these subjects. (For example, see her incisive review of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photographs at the Brooklyn Museum, in which Vikram underscores the artist’s capacity to meld “oppression and self-investigation.”)

In September, we’ll introduce new #Hashtags contributors who will bring their priorities and perspectives to the column. But this week, we’d like to highlight Vikram’s tenure by republishing one of her many standout entries. In the article below, she astutely pairs reflections on Sturtevant’s practice of appropriation with the highly contested inclusion of Joe Scalan’s “Donelle Woolford” project in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. As she does so often, Vikram goes to the heart of the matter by observing that the works potential to critique “the interchangeability of minority faces in an exclusionary environment” is negated by the Whitney’s maintenance of just such an environment. We are deeply grateful to Vikram for her resolute voice, and for solidly laying a foundation by which Daily Serving might continue these urgent conversations.—Patricia Maloney, Publisher

Sturtevant. Warhol Black Marilyn. 2004. Synthetic polymer silkscreen and acrylic on canvas. 15 ¾ x 13 ¾ in. (40 x 35 cm). Ringier Collection, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.  © Sturtevant.

Sturtevant. Warhol Black Marilyn, 2004; synthetic polymer silkscreen and acrylic on canvas; 15 ¾ x 13 ¾ in. (40 x 35 cm). Ringier Collection. Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London. © Sturtevant.

#access #discrimination #appropriation #institutions #representation #re-performance

Two important events transpired in the art world last week that have brought the complications of diversity and hierarchy into sharp focus. The first is the passing of artist Elaine Sturtevant, an artist who sublimated a critique of gendered inequity among artist peers into works that appropriated and re-created works deemed significant to the canon of contemporary art. The other is the withdrawal of the artist group Yams Collective from the Whitney Biennial following their unsuccessful resolution of objections to a racially problematic project by Joe Scanlan. These two stories illustrate the challenges that appropriation-based institutional critique continues to represent for art-world institutions that are resistant to change.

Rather than address gender inequity directly in her work, Sturtevant critiqued the negotiation between economics and art history that drives the valuation of art objects. Feminism was not her stated objective; in fact she disavowed gender’s relevance to her practice. Still, it is hardly a coincidence that the artists whose works she re-created were mostly white, heterosexual men, as these were the majority of works being shown and cited among her peers. She reenacted performances and re-created objects by Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Frank Stella, among others. By her acts of remaking, she thought through the processes and experiences of the artists who made these works before her, demystifying “genius” into a collection of styles and techniques; a catalog of contemporary practices that mirrored the distance and intellect of her own. Her work as an archivist and a re-producer prefigures important trends in contemporary art of the 1980s and 1990s by two decades.

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Shotgun Reviews

Art Is Therapy at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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, Christina Conklin reviews Art Is Therapy at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Post-it note discussing two paintings; installation view, Art Is Therapy, 2014. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Olivier Middendorp.

Post-it note discussing two paintings; installation view, Art Is Therapy, 2014. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Olivier Middendorp.

Viewers are supposed to marvel at Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642), but do they really? Many of us have unsatisfying responses to the works of the Masters, yet we still troop through the museums by the millions. This disconnect has led Alain de Botton and John Armstrong to guest-curate a selection of 150 works at the Rijksmuseum from their pragmatic point of view.

De Botton and Armstrong assert that art’s purpose is to heal some of the pain and malaise felt in life. It would be easy to dismiss this as didactic and anodyne. But reclaiming this broad, utilitarian view of art and reconnecting with the public in an approachable way is not simplistic. It is an important critical challenge to the reductive and self-referential intellectualism that dominates much contemporary discourse.

Tagging each work with large, yellow Post-it-style notes, the curators chat with the audience about the psychological dynamics of viewing art in a large museum. The notes aim to demystify the thoughts and feelings of viewers. Some notes describe the purpose of museums (“cathedrals of art”), while others name the alienation we feel in a room crowded with strangers. Democratizing the viewing experience in this way touches the soft underbelly of art, where contemporary critique has rejected notions of social purpose, beauty, and meaning and thus alienated much of the public.

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The Times Are Not a-Changin, They Have Already a-Changed

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Chris Cobb’s essay on counterculture, money, and the annual Burning Man festival. Cobb wonders: “…what if successful tech companies—the ones whose leaders have bought into the Burning Man/Black Rock value of art that ‘connect[s] community members in creation, curiosity, and wonderment’—decided to allocate one or two percent of their investment income to cultivating the arts in the Bay?” This article was originally published on July 9, 2014.

Sean Orlando, Nathaniel Taylor, and David Shulman. Raygun Gothic Rocketship, 2010; installation at Pier 14, San Francisco. Courtesy of Black Rock Arts Foundation. Photo: David Yu.

Sean Orlando, Nathaniel Taylor, and David Shulman. Raygun Gothic Rocketship, 2010; installation at Pier 14, San Francisco. Courtesy of Black Rock Arts Foundation. Photo: David Yu.

1. The Decline of Bohemia

It’s hard to say something new about how the Bay Area art establishment is falling apart. Everybody already knows that rents are skyrocketing, artists and musicians are fleeing, and a four-year art degree now costs a quarter of a million dollars. Even prominent curators are being forced to relocate because of evictions and real-estate speculation. It’s enough to make any sane person wonder if the struggle is worth it. So, retreading acknowledged, it still might benefit artists to take a fresh look at what has brought the city’s cultural life to this moment, and where we can go from here.

Can I quote Bob Dylan?

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I cant get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth

The harsh truth is that things are changing rapidly, which has resulted in a collective sense of confusion and helplessness. It reminds me of a scene in the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz, where an imprisoned artist finds out he won’t be allowed to paint ever again and so he uses an axe to chop off his own fingers. This profound act of self-destruction dramatizes the collective plight of the prisoners, making them realize that if they don’t get off the island, they too will have whatever makes them unique taken away or crushed. Each inmate is left to consider his own disheartening future.

Read the full article here.



Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors at ICA Boston

The entry point to Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors (2012)—if you’re lucky enough to see the beginning of the looping one-hour, nine-channel video—is like awakening each day in a house full of people who were up all night while you slept. Slightly disorienting, the sound, light, and being start streaming into the gallery as each of the screens lights up. The camera is impartial: The shots are static, uncomplicated, and filmed with natural light. Individual facts, like who and where these people are, aren’t apparent, but searching for facts misses the point.


Ragnar Kjartansson. The Visitors, 2012; still from video of a 64-minute performance.

The Visitors is a recording of a group of musicians—all friends of Kjartansson—playing on Rokeby Farm in New York. At the time of filming, the artist was going through a divorce and was blindsided by reading his wife’s poetry. He started writing music to fit one of the poems; maybe it was a way to deal with his own defeat, maybe to just have a last moment with his wife by adopting her work. He saw the opportunity to bring together his friends and created a family-reunion-like atmosphere on the farm. Kjartansson selected people, but not the instruments they would play. The group played music in the house for a week, trying out different things for the song “Feminine Ways,” and scheduled the cameras, headphones, and everything else around filming (including a cannon fired twice) in one take at sunset.

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New York

Recurrence at Fridman Gallery

Recurrence, a five-artist exhibition curated by Luisa Aguilar Solis and Georgia Horn now at Fridman Gallery, takes its name from Italo Calvino’s 1968 novel, Daughters of the Moon. Calvino imagines a world in which capitalist society’s obsession with consumption and novelty, and the cycle of obsolescence that inevitably follows, reaches a fever pitch: People decide that the moon, cratered as it is, is past its prime, and set out to demolish and replace it. The curators of Recurrence propose that the included artists’ work resonates with many of the book’s concerns—if not with the phases of the moon itself, then with the waxing and waning of art-historical reference points. In doing so, they perhaps unwittingly reveal just how short contemporary art’s cycle of recurrence seems to be, which merits discussion.


Lauren Fensterstock. Claude Glass Cube 1 (detail), 2014; mixed media. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery.

Lauren Fensterstock’s and Edgar Arcenaux’s works depict, or at least suggest, moonlight. Fensterstock’s Claude Glass Cube 1 & 2 consists of two glass-topped black cubes, the interior sides of which are overgrown with vegetation—leaves, flowers, vines—made from thick, dark gray cardboard and black felt, giving the effect of a moonlit, modernist terrarium. Arcenaux presents Detroit Steel, a series of nine paintings depicting massive geometric slabs, apparently arranged with purpose from various angles in the manner of a topographical study, in what seems a nighttime desert expanse (though it could be lunar).

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Los Angeles

Pia Camil: The Little Dog Laughed at Blum & Poe

Pia Camil’s hand-dyed and stitched canvases offer a fresh approach to the well-worn field of geometric abstraction. For her first solo show in Los Angeles, this Mexico City-based artist has created four large, square wall works whose surfaces are divided into loose grids of colored stripes. Each work has a dominant color theme—cream, tan, blue, and purple—with brighter accents of yellow, red, and peach. Within this framework, fragments of letters and numbers peek out but are illegible, unable to convey coherent linguistic meaning.

Pia Camil, Los Angeles, 2014, Hand dyed and stitched canvas, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles

Pia Camil. Los Angeles, 2014; hand-dyed and stitched canvas, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

These works are based on abandoned billboards found in and around Mexico City. Unlike recent projects that utilize actual billboards, which adapt their original promotional function for the dissemination of art, Camil’s works look at the failure of this commercial system to deliver comprehensible messages. On the original billboards, pieces of earlier advertisements are visible alongside the owner’s phone numbers, presenting a mosaic of piecemeal and incomplete information. In Camil’s handmade works, she captures the entropic aesthetic quality of her sources, while subverting the mass-market consumer culture they once espoused. Public enticements to the marketplace are transformed into personal explorations of craft.

It is telling that the word for billboard in Spanish is espectacular, alluding to its function as a spectacle. Billboards demand attention as two-dimensional visual stimuli, but Camil’s works call attention to their own objecthood. Although her works are visually composed of flat planes of color, they are physically constructed through a labor-intensive process of dying and sewing. Although they are made of stretched canvas and assembled by hand from smaller elements, they are not quite paintings and not quite sculptures.

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