From the Archives

Printed Matters – Jonathan Griffin: On Fire

Our struggle to take in the losses of the Ghost Ship fire, to hold up those who lost their lives, and to meet the needs and rights of those who remain foregrounds connection and community. KQED’s series of visual and textual remembrances shines a light on each person who died. It is with this focus on the people who make up our art world that we think back to Leila Easa’s review last spring, on our sister publication Art Practical, of Jonathan Griffin’s On Fire, his exploration of artists’ studios and fire. In her review, Easa wrote, “It may also be worth recognizing that there is danger in seeing disaster as merely allegorical.” Easa highlighted the importance of people over practice; it is people whom we mourn and as people that we do so, together in community.

Jonathan Griffin. On Fire, 2016. Courtesy of Paper Monument.

Jonathan Griffin. On Fire, 2016. Courtesy of Paper Monument.

Jonathan Griffin wants to make us all voyeurs. Or, at the very least, rubberneckers. Though he narrates his text with taste and sensitivity, it’s difficult to fully avoid a degree of morbid fascination with the stories On Fire tells, a fascination perhaps inherent in the subject. The book recounts the evolution of the artistic practice of ten artists who’ve experienced arguably the most devastating event an artist can face: the destruction, by fire, of their studio and the art housed within.

Read the full review here.

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San Francisco

Bruce Conner: It’s All True

Among the works at the threshold of Bruce Conner: It’s All True, a massive retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), PRINTS (1974) is atypical even for the protean artist.[1] Consisting of a steel lockbox containing photographs, documents, and fingerprints, PRINTS records a protracted dispute between Conner and San Jose State University, which had invited him to teach in its art department. The fingerprints, Conner insisted, were works of art, and thus his intellectual property, for he’d been incorporating fingerprints into his art for a decade. The dispute began with his objection to having to be fingerprinted as an employment procedure, and the compromise was the creation of the PRINTS edition, whereby the university allowed Conner to document the process and receive copies of the fingerprint file to incorporate into the work, in exchange for his submission to the process. Conner’s deadpan touch is seen in a photo of the Xerox machine used in the process, as if exacting revenge on the copier by copying it.

Bruce Conner. PRINTS, 1974; mixed media (steel lockbox with documents, photographs, fingerprints); dimensions variable. Courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Bruce Conner. PRINTS, 1974; mixed media (steel lockbox with documents, photographs, fingerprints); dimensions variable. Courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

If PRINTS is anomalous, however, it is very much in keeping with Conner’s obsessive questioning of artistic identity, in both the value created by the artist’s signature and the imperative to develop and market a signature visual style. Conner’s reluctance to sign the front of his works led to a shrinking, sometimes hidden autograph that in turn gave way to a thumbprint, epitomized by a 1965 lithograph that reproduces his thumbprint twice, as both the subject of the work and the signature of the artist. Late in life, he would resort to pseudonymous and anonymous works. But Conner’s stubborn resistance to a recognizable style or even medium is ultimately the dominant note of It’s All True, as the viewer is confronted with room after room of almost bewildering variety.

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New York

Tales of Our Time at the Guggenheim Museum

Let’s talk about the apocalypse. It looms over Tales of Our Time, an exhibition of newly commissioned works by contemporary Chinese artists at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, from a video installation literally called In The End Is The Word to the 10-foot robotic arm that violently moves blood-red ink in Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Can’t Help Myself. Curators Xiaoyu Weng and Hou Hanru invited participating artists to imagine fresh narratives for the 21st century. The exhibition’s most successful works tackle our collective fears about the numerous ways—political, ecological, technological—that we humans could destroy the world.

Sun Xun. Mythological Time, 2016; Installation view, two-channel color HD animated video projection with sound and powdered pigments in gum arabic and casein paint on mulberry bark paper. Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Collection © Sun Xun, Photo: David Heald.

Sun Xun. Mythological Time, 2016 (installation view); Two-channel color HD animated video projection with sound and powdered pigments in gum arabic and casein paint on mulberry bark paper. Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Collection © Sun Xun, Photo: David Heald.

The exhibition opens with Sun Xun’s Mythological Time, a site-specific installation that weaves visual motifs—a dragon, an opera dancer, a one-winged chunk of coal—into a modern day cave painting. The magnificently drawn mural paintings and animated film use visual techniques taken from the caves of Lascaux and traditional Chinese landscape scrolls to tell a story of the life and death of a coal town.

The symbolism could not be clearer—in one scene, a towering statue of Mao Zedong rises above the coal town. In the next scene, the Mao statue shrinks in the shadow of an exponentially larger monument to Uncle Sam. Here, global capital proves more powerful and unstoppable than even the Communist state. But though Sun’s story is ominous, the storytelling itself suggests a sly playfulness. Sun’s swift lines morph from a phrase of calligraphy into a sinuous dragon and then into a lithe opera dancer in the span of a few seconds, too quick for the slow-moving institutions to apprehend.

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Roanoke

Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark at the Taubman Museum of Art

Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark at the Taubman Museum of Art highlights the historically rich and embodied power of Black hair, demonstrating that hair is a medium as well as a message.[1] For Clark, whose work holds a significant place in the burgeoning discourse of American contemporary craft, Black hair is an aesthetic language on par with the legacies of quilting and textile work, exposing a shared system of enunciations articulated throughout time. Shaped and styled by the hands of hairdressers in barbershops, salons, and living rooms across the world, these works of art grant prestige and craftsmanship to those who use hair as a vehicle for virtuosity and expression, while simultaneously giving beauty and power to those who sit before them. Working across a range of material media and genres, from photography and sculpture to poetry and participatory practices, Clark teases out the collaborative, communal, and political nature of hairdressing by inviting viewers to understand hair as a marker of cultural, racial, and gendered identity.

Sonya Clark. The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013; silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on canvas; 29 x 29 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA.

Sonya Clark. The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013; silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on canvas; 29 x 29 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA.

The exhibition is structured around a series of nine collaborative pairings, which mark the shared personal and artistic bonds between Clark and her hairdressers. In The Hair Craft Project, photographs of hairstylists and their intricate creation with Clark’s hair sit above a painstakingly sewn pattern on a blank canvas below. Oscillating equally and productively between the applied practice of hairdressing and its appropriation into a fine art object, these dual images encourage the viewer to make linkages between the traditional techniques of fiber arts, such as weaving and embroidery, and the complicated patterns and improvisational designs that elegantly swarm the head of the wearer. The modest smiles that each hairdresser displays in the photographs belie the crisp accuracy and intense manipulations their materials succumb to under their discerning eyes, and reaffirm a historical continuum between the artist and her collaborators. Each braid and twist is a sacred act, bound up with rituals, traditions, and ancestral worship that structure the traumatic history of Black aesthetics. As Clark has stated, slaves removed from Africa “may have arrived empty-handed, but in fact their hands held memories of particular ways of working, making, and moving materials” that they took with them to the “New World.”[2] Thus, these images remind us of the historical continuum that undulates within these embodied material processes.

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Odd Jobs

Odd Jobs: Charles Gaines

For the past forty years, Charles Gaines has employed system-based methodologies to his artmaking in order to critique subjective expression within art. Influenced by Tantric Buddhist diagrams in the late 1960s, his photographs, drawings, and works on paper investigate how rule-based procedures construct order and meaning. Gaines is also a highly regarded educator at the California Institute of the Arts. He received his MFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1967. In 2012, Gaines exhibited his work in a mid-career survey at the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer College Art Galleries in Claremont. In 2014, his work was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, which traveled to the Hammer Museum in 2015. Recent group exhibitions include the 2015 Venice Biennale and the 2015 Whitney Biennial. Gaines lives in Los Angeles.

Charles Gaines. Falling Leaves #10, 1978; color photograph, ink on paper. Three parts: 20 × 16 each. Courtesy of The Hammer Museum. Photo: Randy Vaughn-Dotta.

Charles Gaines. Falling Leaves #10, 1978; color photograph, ink on paper. Three parts: 20 × 16 inches each. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum. Photo: Randy Vaughn-Dotta.

Calder Yates: What did you do after graduating from RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology]?

Charles Gaines: I started teaching right away at Mississippi Valley State College.

CY: What was your experience teaching there?

CG: Well, it was pretty terrible. It was Mississippi for Christ’s sake. It was a Black college then and it was run by the state so its Board was all white. During the time I was there, Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. Jim Crow laws were still in effect. The administration didn’t want students to participate in demonstrations or express their concerns over Martin Luther King. At various times when the students marched, the state [of Mississippi] sent state troopers who began shooting at my students. Fortunately, in that particular situation, nobody was killed. But the school tried to restrict students from demonstrating in the future. So I quit.

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Breaking Point: Accessibility and the Cummer Museum

Today we bring you Calder Yates’s essay from our sister publication, Art Practical; originally published in Issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship. Yates retraces the history of the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, and its journey towards accessibility and inclusivity under former museum director Hope McMath. Calder states “In Jacksonville, with all of the residual bigotry that comes with its legacy as a city in the South, the creation of a museum that was accessible and relevant to communities of color was risky from a fundraising perspective.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016.

A 2004 meeting of Women of Vision. The group of low-vision and blind women meet monthly at the Cummer Museum to make art, go on touch-tours of the museum, and write their memoirs. Photo courtesy of Hope McMath.

A 2004 meeting of Women of Vision. The group of low-vision and blind women meet monthly at the Cummer Museum to make art, go on touch-tours of the museum, and write their memoirs. Photo courtesy of Hope McMath.

As Hope McMath, director of the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, packed up her office a couple of weeks ago—her last day—she came across her old performance evaluations buried in a closet. The evaluations, dating back to 1994, described her first project at the museum: the Very Special Arts (VSA) Festival, an annual event that would increase access to art for individuals with disabilities. Jean Hall Dodd, the director of education at the time, had assigned McMath the task of making the small museum’s staid collection of paintings and sculptures relevant to people with disabilities.

“She said, ‘Here’s a cool project. Figure it out,’” McMath recalled.

McMath was twenty-three at the time, working two days a week as a museum educator. Now forty-five and cleaning out her spacious corner office at the museum, she reread her evaluations. They described her efforts to answer a question that would follow her for the twenty-two years that she worked at the museum, ascending to director of education, then to deputy director of the museum, and finally to director. McMath, with cropped gray hair and a faint Southern accent, said: “We were trying to figure out what it would mean for a museum to be fully accessible, as one of its core values. What would that mean?”

Read the full article here.

 

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Shotgun Reviews

John Buck at Robischon 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, Kate Nicholson reviews John Buck at Robischon Gallery in Denver.

John Buck. The Immigration, 2016; jelutong wood, acrylic paint, leather, motors; 114 x 268 x 168 in. Courtesy of Robischon Gallery.

John Buck. The Immigration, 2016; jelutong wood, acrylic paint, leather, motors; 114 x 268 x 168 in. Courtesy of Robischon Gallery.

John Buck’s colossal kinetic sculptures draw passersby into Robischon Gallery, including families who might be otherwise unlikely to enter an art exhibition. One Saturday, I watched the wonder on a child’s face when he powered the switch to animate a resting sculpture—Buck’s largest sculpture, The Immigration (2016). As the hand-carved jelutong wood sculpture came to life, the sounds of the gears squeaking and wood clanking echoed through the gallery. Carved busts of political figures, from Donald Trump to Barack Obama, and Chairman Mao to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., bobbed across a bridge flanked by Blind Justice and Lady Liberty, both encaged. Buck harnesses the power of spectacle that can equally delight a child and seduce a voter, inviting a serious critique of American politics.

Buck’s work, which includes kinetic and still figurative sculptures, wall reliefs, and woodblock prints, involves a dizzying pageantry of iconic and allegorical figures that reflects the daily news cycle and mass media, but he does so without pomp and circumstance. His materials are as simple and unvarnished as his vision is dystopian. Today’s political consumer may simultaneously be entertained and disempowered, like a child playing with wooden blocks in view of the big show, but Buck demands more of his audience. By audibly and visibly revealing the inner workings of his sculptures, Buck invokes curiosity. By layering references from different historical periods throughout his work, he provides needed context. By interposing despots and heroes with artists whose vision challenged the sinister trends of their times, Buck elevates the conversation.

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