London

Glenn Ligon: Call and Response at Camden Art Centre

The designation Call and Response describes the antiphony effect, a device in speech in which a speaker elicits cadenced responses from the audience at systematic intervals. It’s a method that actively engages an audience, and although this universal device is as old as human speech in every corner of the world, in the American psyche it is particularly tied to black churches and the gospel tradition. Glenn Ligon, who has dedicated his career to deconstructing racial and sexual politics, applies the framework of call-and-response to specific events around the outward interpretation and resulting experience of being black in America.

Glenn Ligon. Live (detail), 2014; video installation; size variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Camden Art Centre, London. Photo: Valerie Bennett

Glenn Ligon. Live (detail), 2014; video installation; size variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Camden Art Centre, London. Photo: Valerie Bennett.

Ligon’s Camden Art Centre show is a stellar example of his recent mid-career work. This is an artist who has refined his conceptual craft and knows how to illustrate ideas in large museum-sized pieces. Three bodies of work make up this show, each presented in a dedicated gallery. Come Out (2014) and Untitled (Bruise/Blues) (2014) both take their origin in the testimony of Daniel Hamm, one of six black youths arrested for murder during the 1964 Harlem race riot. For both of these works, Ligon extracts a poignant phrase that offers an unsettling critique of America’s omnipresent race issue, and then pushes the emotionally charged text to the point of abstraction. This abstracting offers a message that has been distilled, as if Ligon were attempting to represent fifty years of multifaceted responses to the call by consuming the same set of words over and over.

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San Francisco

#Hashtags – Locating Techonology: Therapeutic Bodies

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Genevieve Quick’s consideration of performances by Mika Rottenberg and Shana Moulton. The author notes: “As early media artists and feminists have done, Rottenberg and Moulton construct imaginative narratives that probe the unsettling relationship between the body, screens, technology, and contemporary life.” This article was originally published on October 15, 2014.

Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett, featuring Daisy Press. Whispering Pines 10, 2012; performance at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of the Artist and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett, featuring Daisy Press. Whispering Pines 10, 2012; performance at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of the Artist and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Mika Rottenberg’s and Shana Moulton’s absurdist and surreal bubble worlds grapple with embodiment through mechanization and mediated imagery. For SEVEN (2011), Rottenberg collaborated with Jon Kessler to create a chakra “milking” laboratory in New York that coordinated with a sub-Saharan African cohort. In Whispering Pines 10 (2011), a collaboration between Moulton and Nick Hallett, the ill and homebound character Cynthia uses technology as a platform for imagination and healing. In these two projects, both teams of artists mix performance, video, and technology to probe the body as therapeutic or ailed. Moreover, both works lightheartedly approach collective and individual healing through narratives and multimedia representations.

Commissioned for Performa 11 (2011), Rottenberg and Kessler produced SEVEN at Nicole Klagsbrun Project Space. The artists mix references to spas, factories, and laboratories as places that attend to, are dependent upon, and investigate the body. The performance begins with seven actors dressed in white terrycloth robes waiting in a room, as if at the spa. With the regimented timing of a factory or laboratory, the actors punch a time clock and have a specific chakra extracted from them eight times a day, four days a week, for three weeks. In another portion of the gallery, the charismatic scientist “Empress Asia” attends to an elaborate laboratory with beakers, test tubes, and mysterious machines and fluids. At the heart of the performance is a bicycle-like contraption that, when pedaled, powers the “chakra juicer,” a glass-enclosed sauna where a sweating actor sits in lotus position. The subjects are panned across by a scientific-looking unit housing a camera with a vertical series of lights in the seven chakra colors (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red). The device somehow culls the chakra from the actors while the video camera records the process. As some actors’ bodies exert energy to power the mechanism, others sweat to create a circular process of physical labor and production. This physicality adds to the project’s intensity and duration, which pushes the actors’ physical and, possibly, psychic endurance.

Read the full article here.

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Shotgun Reviews

Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution at the China Institute

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, Adam Monohon reviews Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution at the China Institute in New York City.

“Double Happiness” tray with design of mango, 1969; industrial enamel; 31 cm in diameter. Courtesy of the Artist and the China Institute.

“Double Happiness” tray with design of mango, 1969; industrial enamel; 31 cm in diameter. Courtesy of the Artist and the China Institute.

Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution, the title of the current exhibition at the China Institute, is catchier than any lead I could invent. The show focuses on a fleeting trend in Maoist visual culture that arose from a gift of mangoes presented to Mao by the Pakistani government. Mao regifted the fruit to workers, who, having experienced famine just years before, saw the offering as a sacrifice on Mao’s behalf and proof that Mao put his people before himself. As a result, the fruit of exceptional rarity in China was quickly spun as a symbol of Mao’s benevolence toward workers. With mango-themed ephemera abounding, the exhibition illustrates the various ways in which images of the gift were worked into every branch of visual art.
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Protect Me From What You Want

Today from our friends at Glasstire, we bring you Christina Rees’ essay on the “making [of] museums into happy-clappy community centers,” written in response to the controversial article “Everybody’s an Art Curator” in the Wall Street Journal. As Rees points out: “No other serious profession seems to open itself up to this ‘the public knows best’ mentality as much as that of art. I cannot imagine the NFL—a very public entertainment—asking me to recruit players and rewrite the rules to my liking… It’s incredibly insulting to the professionals and artists who have dedicated their entire careers to the study and making and understanding of art.” This article was originally published on October 27, 2014.

Logo of the sports drink "Brawndo," from the 2006 movie "Idiocracy," directed by Mike Judge.

Logo of the sports drink “Brawndo,” from the 2006 movie Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge.

The dumbing down of the art world continues apace.

At first glance, the headline “Everybody’s an Art Curator” of this article had me thinking the Wall St. Journal was merely delving back into the ongoing use of the word “curate” for non-art things, as in, nowadays people “curate” their own bookshelves, etc. Anything that can be grouped or categorized along someone’s tastes or idea or theme is considered “curated.” I don’t care. Language goes through these changes.

But as I read the subheading and first paragraph, it was clear that the story was about the general public being invited into the traditional halls of real art and then making the decisions about what goes on there, beyond the kids’ hands-on sections (or outdoor billboards): We’re talking “curating” an art museum. This is for the sake of repopularizing the museum experience. Keeping the doors open, really.

This isn’t that new or surprising. For years now, museums have been trying out all kinds of novel ways to get the public back through their doors in this world of neverending entertainment options. Encouraging non-art people to feel validated and involved in what has been, in our increasingly dumbed-down world, categorized as “elitist” is one way to solve the problem. Museum directors are pressured into tapping new crowds. Some of the “crowdsourced”  or interactive shows mentioned in the WSJ piece seem, in isolation, mostly harmless. It’s the slippery slope that worries me.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Carlo Speranza

A kayak that goes only in circles, a disappearing art gallery, a film that begins and ends at the credit sequence, and a set of pure gold nails driven into a gallery wall are just some of Northern Italy-based artist Carlo Speranza’s deceptively clever projects. Speranza, as the previous list implies, works across an exceptionally broad range of mediums; his work is made using wood, concrete, gold, neon, prints, photographs, cardboard, film, video, and a host of site-specific materials.

Carlo Speranza. Karlo's Unrealized Works, 2014; 24k gold-leaf on cardboard boxes; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Carlo Speranza. Karlo’s Unrealized Works, 2014; 24k gold leaf on cardboard boxes; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

One ongoing unlimited series, Karlo’s Unrealized Works (2014), is a set of cardboard boxes of varying sizes that have the words “Karlo’s Unrealized Works” applied to all six surfaces in pure 24-karat gold leaf. The boxes—which pay homage, visually and conceptually, to Andy Warhol’s Kellogg’s Corn Flake Boxes (1971)—all contain nothing except the promise of an unrealized future artwork that Speranza vows to make one day. The boxes are aesthetically restrained yet still seductive. By making containers for pure concept (and preconceived concept at that), Speranza offers his viewer a striking, art-historically resonant narrative that reads as a slight-of-hand gesture that is not gimmicky, but goading.

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Who Pays Artists?

From our friends at Bad at Sports, today we bring you a synthesis of recent considerations on the economics of artist compensation. Author Abigail Satinsky asks, “Because if we do agree, yes artists should get paid, what then? Who are our choruses directed at?” This article was originally published on October 24, 2014.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in.

In a recent review in the New Yorker of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition of local art, Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond, Peter Schjeldahl singles out BFAMFAPHD as puncturing the effervescent mood of the exhibition, saying that, “The collective BFAMFAPHD (the initials of academic degrees) spreads a homeopathic wet blanket on the show’s high spirits with statistical documentation of the hard lots of current graduates—the staggering number of artists, debt burdens, iffy prospects. The bonus bummer of a group discussion among veteran local artists, in the show’s catalogue, circles the drain of Topic A in the daily life of art anywhere: real estate.” While I don’t really care too much about the over-celebration of Brooklyn as a creative context, this snarky tidbit has a little bit of truth—the hard lots of current graduates is indeed a quite epic bummer and not just in the over-capitalized art scenes of New York.

But besides being concerned about the harshing of Schjeldahl’s mellow on the wonders of Bushwick, and I didn’t see the show, the questions around who can afford to be artist in today’s economy and concurrent debt crisis is a central concern to today’s generation of artists. How can we talk about this situation openly, honestly, with some well-deserved finger-pointing around the exploitation of artists by institutional culture and a little self-reflexivity about why artists do indeed deserve to get paid (all artists? for what kinds of services?) and who should pay them?

With the recent efforts by collectives BFAMFAPHD asking “What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees?”, W.A.G.E. Fee Calculator which aims to set standards for artist compensation based on organizational budgets, and from a slightly different angle Brooklyn Commune, “a report on the state of the performing arts from the perspective of artists” (all New York-based) providing perspective with some hard numbers to back it up, it’s an exciting time to think about artist-driven efforts to research and fundamentally change the systemic exploitation of artists.

Read the full article here.

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Chicago

Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey at Mary and Leigh Block Museum

This year has been unusually promising for the visibility of work by black female artists, even while that prominence has further highlighted racially problematic attitudes within the art world. The last ten months have marked the first in which an African American woman—Carrie Mae Weems—was given a retrospective at the Guggenheim, though her triumphant entry into that pantheon led to rebukes that the museum cut the original size of the show in half. Perhaps the most talked-about work of the year was Kara Walker’s giant sugar sphinx mammy, A Subtlety, which was widely praised, but also led to questions about the representation of stereotypes and the spectacle of black and brown bodies for a primarily white audience.

Wangechi Mutu. Your Story My Curse, 2006; Mixed-media collage on Mylar, overall: 101.5 x 109 inches. Collection of Susan Hancock, New York.

Wangechi Mutu. Your Story My Curse, 2006; mixed-media collage on Mylar; overall: 101.5 x 109 in. Collection of Susan Hancock, New York.

At the Mary and Leigh Block Museum at Northwestern University, the year ends with a major exhibition by Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu titled Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey. With works spanning the last twenty years of Mutu’s career, the mini-retrospective includes her iconic collages that feature sexualized composite creatures in fantasy landscapes, as well as several early line drawings with collage elements. The drawings are seeds that exploded into tour-de-force images on Mylar; they demonstrate that the artist’s formal concerns and subject matter—exploring themes of identity, gender, racism, caricature, fable, exploitation, colonialism, and ethnographic history—were established early in her career.

Mutu’s collages have strong graphic features that come through in reproduction, yet they still can’t match the experience of seeing them in person. The textures and qualities of her materials reward close viewing; bits of glitter, collections of beads, and rough textures are all part of the lusciousness of the visual experience. And because the collages are packed with surface details, more information reveals itself to the patient viewer.

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