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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Hashtags

#Hashtags: Learn Where the Meat Comes From

#museums #access #collections #markets #historicity #gentrification

With the arrival of the new Whitney Museum on Gansevoort Street, New York’s once notorious Meatpacking District completes lower Manhattan’s transition from a no-man’s-land populated by artists and outcasts to a stomping ground for fashionable elites. Befitting of an institution that represents the American art world—which has long positioned itself within both these groups, often simultaneously—the Whitney would seem to want to have it both ways. With the museum’s inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See, audiences are presented with a chronological reworking of the history of American art as collected by the Whitney. The works installed on five floors of the gleaming Renzo Piano building tell a story that is complex, and at times contradictory, while demonstrating the limitations of official art-historical narratives in articulating the various trajectories of art and culture in the United States and in the 20th century.

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Whitney Museum of American Art, view from Gansevoort Street, 2015. Photo: Ed Lederman.

The good news is that Whitney curators, led by Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs Donna De Salvo, have systematically sought out gaps in the museum’s permanent collection and attempted to fill in missing contributors to American art history since the late 19th century, with particular attention paid to works by women and people of color. Less encouraging is the limited impact that these new introductions have had on the curatorial framing of American art’s influences and objectives. On the eighth floor, covering the years 1910 to 1940, unfamiliar names like Nancy Elizabeth Prophet and Richmond Barthé join a familiar roster that includes Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, Lyonel Feininger, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Isamu Noguchi. The historical narrative is expanded a bit to include African and Asian influences as well as European modernism. Yet, non-Western influences are cited only in discussions of the works by artists of color, while the overarching themes of industrialization and geometric abstraction as American art’s primary interests in that period are preserved from earlier presentations of the collection. An opportunity to connect American modernism writ large to the United States’ emergence as a global power is thereby wholly missed.

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Shotgun Reviews

Scott Greene: Deep State at Catharine Clark Gallery

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, Erica Truong reviews Scott Greene: Deep State at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco.

Scott Greene. Trinitas, 2015; oil on canvas on panel, 50 x 40 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

Scott Greene. Trinitas, 2015; oil on canvas on panel, 50 x 40 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

In his fourth solo exhibition with Catharine Clark Gallery, Scott Greene presents a series of beautiful, large-scale but tainted paintings. Deep State surrounds viewers with realistic yet distorted and illogical depictions of the natural world. Whether on land, at sea, or in the sky, nothing is ordinary. From the pristine simplicity of nature, Greene imagines an alluring reality tarnished by human tendencies.

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Oakland

Tapping the Mirror at Royal NoneSuch Gallery

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Sarah Burke’s review of Tapping the Mirror at Royal NoneSuch Gallery in Oakland, California. The author notes, “As the fragments [of the video] continuously flicker into each other, [it] becomes less about the worlds imagined, and more about the modes by which we collectively imagine them.” This article was originally published on August 6, 2015.

Brynda Glazier and Courtney Johnson. Tapping the Mirror, 2015. Installation view. Courtesy of the artists and Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Oakland. Photo Courtney Johnson

Brynda Glazier and Courtney Johnson. Tapping the Mirror, 2015. Installation view. Courtesy of the Artists and Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Oakland. Photo: Courtney Johnson.

The curatorial statement for Tapping the Mirror, featuring works by sculptor Brynda Glazier and painter Courtney Johnson, is prefaced with a fitting quote from the late French theorist Jean Baudrillard: “There is nothing more mysterious than a TV set left on in an empty room … it is as if another planet is communicating with you.” Tapping the Mirror, which is currently on view at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, is indeed reminiscent of a portal to another planet of sorts—an alternate world at once foreign and familiar.

The show centers around Negative Joy, a two-channel video installation projected onto one of the gallery’s walls. The projection is a 20-minute collage of footage culled from television shows, movies, music videos, and other visual pop-culture artifacts, most of which look to be from the ’70s and ’80s. Each clip is short, only about ten to twenty seconds long, but when recontextualized and edited together by Glazier and Johnson, they produce a cohesive flow. By virtue of being presented together, the clips—whether of a woman lighting a cigarette with a gun-shaped lighter, horror-movie mutants, or dancing space women—are dislodged from their original narratives. These aesthetic fragments take on new meanings and present a skewed but recognizable reflection of popular culture.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Jwan Yosef

Thank you, Will! Today we celebrate A. Will Brown’s 50th and final Fan Mail column, and wish him farewell as he embarks upon new adventures in his job as the curatorial assistant of contemporary art at the RISD Museum of Art in Providence, Rhode Island! We’ll return in the fall with a new Fan Mail columnist, stay tuned for the announcement.

Look closely, what do you see? A blur, a suggestive motion, an image frozen in time—perhaps all of these are visible. Jwan Yosef’s paintings simultaneously contain movement, latent sexuality, tension, and flat, representational arrangements created by combining painterly techniques and unexpected material forms.

Jwan Yosef. Head, 2013; oil on Perspex; 31 ½ x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Jwan Yosef. Head, 2013; oil on Perspex; 31 ½ x 24 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jwan Yosef’s painting Head (2013) exemplifies the artist’s interest in portraying representationally simple motifs with potent double meanings. Head depicts a man’s head in profile, with gently closed eyelids and his lips protruding just out of the picture frame, and it has a subtle sexual quality (a topic Yosef acknowledges and embraces in his work). Is the man engaging in oral sex, fulfilling some act of pleasure just outside the edge of the painting? The figure—the head—is captured with the qualities of a film still, caught within a frozen and blurry moment, depicted in a reduced palette of colors that are rendered in a series of horizontal bands of paint seemingly pulled across a smooth surface—slick and evocative.

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Savannah

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s at the Telfair Museums

Finally, here is an exhibition for which an accompanying Spotify playlist seems perfectly natural. Songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and “Vogue” by Madonna are closely connected to the not-so-recent decade that the Telfair Museums represents through works of art in Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s. Curated by Alexandra Schwartz with Kimberly Sino (both of the Montclair Art Museum, where the show originated), the show explores the motivations for much art practice from 1989 to 2001.

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s, 2015; installation view, Jepson Center for the Arts, Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of Telfair Museums. Photo: David J. Kaminsky.

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s, 2015; installation view, Jepson Center for the Arts, Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of Telfair Museums. Photo: David J. Kaminsky.

The exhibition breaks the decade into three thematic sections that also represent chronological periods. The first of these is “Identity Politics” (with the date range 1989–1993). After that, the exhibition transitions to “Digital Technologies” (1994–1997), and concludes with “Globalization” (1998–1999). Each of these themes is so complex that a museum may struggle to fully explore a single one within an exhibition. Thus it appears a herculean task to successfully encapsulate them in one show. Ultimately, despite a few awkward moments, Come As You Are integrates these disparate themes.

One of the strong points of the exhibition is its selection of powerful works. The curators of the show reference several pivotal exhibitions of the ’90s, including The Decade Show (1990) at the New Museum, Black Male (1994) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Third Havana Biennial (1989). Many of the works within this show appeared in those exhibitions, which lends Come As You Are considerable authority. In this way, Come As You Are consists of works that helped to define such topics as identity politics rather than works bolstered by a burgeoning art market.

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