San Francisco

Trevor Paglen at Altman Siegel Gallery

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a review of Trevor Paglen’s current exhibition at Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco. Author John Zarobell writes, “[The work] represents both a bit of art-historical posturing and an active response to government surveillance that allows viewers to imagine an alternative to our current condition. Perhaps a gallery is as good a place as any to begin planning the revolution.” This article was originally published on April 2, 2015.

Trevor Paglen. Circles, 2015 (video still); video; 12:00. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

Trevor Paglen. Circles, 2015 (video still); video; 12:00. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

Trevor Paglen’s career has taken off like a spy satellite. He has become a key political artist of our time, despite the fact that his larger project is to represent something quite difficult to depict visually—namely, government secrecy. His work draws our attention to (if it does not always actually reveal) the network of sites, operations, and practices on which our government spends our tax dollars in the name of protecting us. The arrival of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden in the popular consciousness, and all of the related revelations that subsequently emerged, have only made Paglen’s work seem more prescient and relevant. His fascinations are now our fascinations. And so Paglen, whose contributions to the 2014 Snowden documentary Citizenfour recently won him the right to share an Oscar, finds himself a standard-bearer for committed political art.

Paglen is interested in the landscape and the things our government likes to hide there. As artworks, his photographs and videos are usually without incident and gesture toward conceptual aesthetics—aren’t we all Duchampians now? In his latest show at Altman Siegel Gallery, Autonomy Cube (2014), a computer server encased in a Plexiglas cube, is poised on a pedestal in the middle of the gallery. The piece toys formally with Marcel Duchamp’s famous Fountain (1917) and the minimalist cubes of Robert Morris and so many others. Like many previous works by Paglen, for instance his pictures of secret government sites that can barely be perceived because they are so incredibly distant, or of satellites so tiny and far away that all we apprehend is the beautiful night sky, Autonomy Cube manifests the gap between the desire to expose something sinister and the desire to produce something visually cool and oblique. The distance between the work and its meaning is odd, even uncomfortable. That is the point.

Read the full article here.

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New Orleans

Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Jim Roche’s life is such a good yarn, there is a danger of it overshadowing his work. Before Roche was out of graduate school at the University of Dallas, he was one of the first artists ever to exhibit ceramics at the Whitney; in 1987 he was the record holder for the La Carrera Mexican 1,000cc Motorcycle Road Race; he won an NEA fellowship in 1982; his work was shown at Dave Hickey’s infamous gallery A Clean Well Lighted Space; and he made a brief appearance as a televangelist in the movie The Silence of the Lambs. Yet these anecdotes don’t reflect the prolific meditations included in Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic, curated by Bradley Sumrall at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Roche is an artist who has been majorly overlooked in the last decadeshis work Two hundred years keeping animals down, done brought Da Snake crawlin back around, Flashin Symbols for One and All; Don’t Tread on Me No More Y’all: Piece was last shown at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976yet his work is more prescient than ever.

Installation view, Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic, 2015. Courtesy of The Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Photo: Richard McCabe.

Jim Roche. Cultural Mechanic, 2015; installation view. Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Photo: Richard McCabe.

The Loch Ness Mama is the mythical character that dominates many of Roche’s drawings—forty-four of the 150 works in the exhibition depict her. Part snake, part amphibian, and with a three-breasted head, this cartoon creature is deceptively simple, yet she’s the protagonist in a dense, hallucinatory, Dada-esque world. Roche said, “The Lochness was something I had thought about for a long time. I guess I saw myself as this creature that no one new about. But I knew I existed.” Other characters in this play include another creature called a Penniemama, happy birds, transparent boxes, and flowers. In Loch Ness Mama Getting It in Open Water (1969), Roche opens the story with the title character frolicking in the water. This drawing is clean, precise, and annoyingly upbeat. However, twenty-five drawings later in the series, Loch Ness Mama Reduced for Quick Sale (1972) shows a composition covered in obsessive and baroque marks. There is a clear subtext that nature is fundamental to our existence and humankind is doing a terrible job of existing symbiotically within it.

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Shotgun Reviews

Tomokazu Matsuyama: Come With Me at Gallery Wendi Norris

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, Forrest McGarvey reviews Tomokazu Matsuyama’s Come with Me at Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco.

Tomokazu Matsuyama. Warm Water, 2015; acrylic and mixed media on canvas; 67 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

Tomokazu Matsuyama. Warm Water, 2015; acrylic and mixed media on canvas; 67 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

In Come With Me, Japanese American artist Tomokazu Matsuyama brings together an array of visual inspirations from his multinational background for his third solo show at Gallery Wendi Norris. Seemingly disparate elements collide in his acrylic paintings to create something new and unique, but they ultimately reveal how some visual resonances are more potent than others.

The bulbous canvas of Warm Water (2015) undulates from rounded corner to rounded corner, like a flag in the wind, or perhaps an unfurling scroll. Four figures stand among a thistle of Japanese maple leaves and orchids, as a bright red string flows throughout the composition, ending in a knotted bow floating above them. The figures’ hair blows wildly in the wind, making fluid shapes that harmonize well among Matsuyama’s bright patches of airbrushed gold and electric hues. They are dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos with details of Western clothes—such as shirt pockets, the lapels of a suit coat, and buttons—sewn into their patterns. As figurative forms give way to intricate patterns, amorphic forms, and precise applications of paint, Matsuyama’s work questions the line between representation and abstraction.
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Los Angeles

Islamic Art Now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Today from our friends at REORIENT, we bring you an excerpt from Nicola Baird’s review of Islamic Art Now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Baird notes that “the dialogue surrounding the validity of the term ‘Islamic’ as a meaningful art-historical classification continues to attract attention. Indeed, what is Islamic art, and is such a term appropriate?” This article was originally published on February 16, 2015.

Abdullah Al Saab. Technology Killed Reality, 2014;  Courtesy of the Artist, Tamara Keleshian, and  Museum Associates/LACMA

Abdullah Al Saab. Technology Killed Reality, 2014. Courtesy of the Artist, Tamara Keleshian, and Museum Associates/LACMA.

Currently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is Islamic Art Now, the first major exhibition showcasing the museum’s impressive collection of contemporary Middle Eastern and North African art, and the largest of its kind in the United States. Featuring twenty-five works in a range of differing media, including photography, sculpture, video, and installation art by twenty artists from Iran and the Arab world, such as Wafaa Bilal, Lalla Essaydi, Hassan Hajjaj, Mona Hatoum, and Shirin Neshat, Islamic Art Now can be seen to constitute, in the words of CEO Michael Govan and Director Wallis Annenberg, the “contemporary counterpart to LACMA’s world-renowned historical Islamic art collection,” as well as demonstrate the profound connection between the past and the present.

LACMA houses one of the most significant collections of “Islamic” art in the world, consisting of more than 1,700 works, including (but not limited to) glazed ceramics, enamelled glass, inlaid metalwork, and illustrated and illuminated manuscripts from southern Spain to Central Asia. The museum began to concentrate seriously on the arts of the Islamic (for lack of a better term) world in 1973 with the acquisition of the Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection, during a time of rapid change and growth in the study of Islamic art. By 1972, thirteen professors and seven curators of Islamic art had been appointed at American institutions; less than two decades prior to this, only one full-time teaching position existed, with just four curators in employment across the entire country. Cultural and charitable establishments responded to the sudden escalation of Western interest in the Middle East, and in 1975, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its original suite of galleries for the display of North America’s largest and most important collection of Islamic art. The following year, London hosted the inaugural World of Islam Festival, a program of exhibitions and events designed to introduce Islamic culture in its aesthetic, scientific, technological, musical, and intellectual entirety to the West.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Nando Alvarez-Perez

Photographs have many potential uses. They can serve as objective documents of history, standing in for memory, ideas, and sensory representations, but they also have the capacity to manifest images of fictional narratives that are markedly creative. Nando Alvarez-Perez’s photographs, often produced in a series, mirror the many capacities of the photograph, capturing an array of past and future meanings, motifs, styles, and contexts.

Nando Alvarez-Perez. Primary Document 022415, 2015; archival pigment print; 40 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Nando Alvarez-Perez. Primary Document 022415, 2015; archival pigment print; 40 x 60 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

At the core of Perez’s work is a specific interest in photographs as “translations from the material world into the perceptual—as I play within the memory of photography and imagine what its future could be.”[1] In his ongoing series History Pictures, Perez explores what he calls a “symbolic ecosystem of shared signs” by creating the many possibilities of the image all at once. In Primary Document 013015 (2015), Perez creates a digital photograph of what reads as a traditional still life that is a staged set of interrelated visual, aesthetic, and structural similarities that include photographs within the display.

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New York

Hayv Kahraman: How Iraqi Are You? at Jack Shainman

Hayv Kahraman’s current solo exhibition at Jack Shainman, How Iraqi Are You?, is captivating. A suite of large paintings, produced in 2014 and 2015, show pairs and groups of women in patterned garments interacting with each other in minimal settings. Context is provided by simple architectural forms, and by Arabic script that appears under or alongside the figures. Text from the gallery explains that the works depict “memories from Kahraman’s childhood in Baghdad and as a refugee in Sweden.”

Hayv Kahraman. Barboog, 2014; oil on linen; 108 x 72 in.©Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hayv Kahraman. Barboog, 2014; oil on linen; 108 x 72 in. © Hayv Kahraman. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Formally and technically, the work is incredibly satisfying. The scale of the paintings gives the women ample room to inhabit a universe of their own, and the rich colors of the oil paint work beautifully against the dull tan of the unprimed linen. Kahraman’s use of negative space in the patterning of the women’s garments is attractive in the original sense of the word; I found myself moving closer and closer to each painting in order to experience the play between flatness and dimensionality. The brushwork, too, is masterful—though it is applied to slubbed raw linen, each stroke’s edge is surprisingly crisp and sure, even in the delicate lines that form the Arabic script. The artist’s marks are at their most confident at the perimeter of the women’s hair, where the paint is dry-brushed into airy swoops that give the figures a self-assured grace. It’s clear that Kahraman knows her materials and techniques, and she employs them both to marvelous effect.

The figures of the women are suggestive, and point to references as diverse as Persian miniatures, ukiyo-e prints from Japan, and John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. With their bare, rounded shoulders and graceful hands, they seem poised to seduce, and yet they are completely engaged in their own affairs and thus devoid of affectation and coyness. Most don’t acknowledge the viewer—or when they do, the gaze is direct and the expression is indifferent. Arguably, these figures are interchangeable (the artist photographed herself as a reference for each woman, so they all have the same lithe bodies, thick eyebrows, and lambent eyes), but rather than clones, they are like sisters; because their expressions and postures are subtly different, they display an array of distinct personalities, from playful and wily to demure, serious, and fierce. Additionally, their intricately patterned clothing implies that the women are merely ornamental, but this is belied by their total absorption in each other and in the social space that they have created.

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Stockholm

Ewa Stackelberg: Fotogram at Fotografiska

In October 1997, Ewa Stackelberg’s husband died in a plane accident in Costa Rica. Among the belongings sent to her after the tragedy was her husband’s camera, which had been smashed to pieces in the crash—almost like a foreshadowing of the turn that Stackelberg’s life and practice would take in the years to come. In the search for a new artistic language to express her grief, photography—or rather, the production of photograms—eventually became Stackelberg’s chosen medium. Nearly two decades later, the tragedy continues to inform her oeuvre, in which metaphors of life and death, in their gloriously distilled forms, have found permanent imprints on light-sensitive paper. It is this aesthetic sensibility that underpins Fotogram (2015), a retrospective of Stackelberg’s work—taken over a period of fifteen years—at Fotografiska.

Ewa Stackelberg. Divan Grottan, 2011; photogram; Divan series. Courtesy of Ewa Stackelberg and Fotografiska.

Ewa Stackelberg. Divan Grottan, 2011; photogram; Divan series. Courtesy of Ewa Stackelberg and Fotografiska.

In technical terms, the photogram is a photographic image made without a camera, an old method that was, in the 19th century, employed by pioneers László Moholy-Nagy and Anna Atkins to create photographic illustrations with the cyanotype process. To create a photogram, objects are placed between light-sensitive paper and a light source; when exposed, the areas of the paper that receive light appear dark, and the parts that do not receive any light appear lighter. The silhouette that gradually emerges is a negative shadow image that shows variations in tone, depending on the degree of opacity and transparency of the objects used. As with the photographic pioneers, Stackelberg’s process in the darkroom is one of conscious experimentation with the image-production process. A usable print or a favorable outcome is never assured—Stackelberg readily admits that there are more bad prints than good ones—but it is precisely this aesthetic uncertainty that’s so alluring, especially when the creation of a photogram is akin to engaging in “a dialogue between the unconscious and the artistic material” each time light, chemicals, and objects interact.

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