Help Desk

From the Archive – Help Desk: A Spark in the Dark

As our intrepid columnist continues to traverse Warsaw, we bring a piece of advice for all those finding their way in through the muddy path we call “art.” If you’re stumbling through the dark or feeling alone in your efforts, keep your chin up! Let this be the light to guide your way. Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here.

I graduated from college about a year ago, and have been pursuing art passionately and persistently ever since. My work is well received, and I’ve participated in shows, but I’m used to being generally unnoticed. When it dawned on me that ardor does not equal opportunity, I came to another blindingly obvious realization—I know virtually nothing about building a career as an artist past this point. How do all of these young, contemporary artists that I admire get to where they are now? My whole life is art. I’ve never had more faith in anything, and can’t see myself doing anything else. My point is that I am unacceptably clueless about how to reach an audience in a way that I would like to. I’m aware that being an artist isn’t a walk in the park, but right now I’m stuck in a rut. What do I need to do to keep moving forward? I don’t want to lose my spark because I’m in the dark.

Rezi van Lankveld.

Rezi van Lankveld. Agua, 2013; oil on canvas, 55 x 48 cm.

I wish I could give you a fun and non-cynical pep talk along the lines of: Just work hard and the magic will happen!, but you’ve already figured out that you can work your fingers to bloody nubs and still no one at Art Basel will know your name. Your question, though, is a good one. It’s the fundamental—perhaps axiological—query of the emerging artist living in the shadow of late-market capitalism: “I am passionate about art; how do I garner acclaim and money for my work?” And you’ll find any number of peppy answers if you poke around in art-career books, but my advice is that you keep these two things as far from each other as you can, because—and this is the really important part—you can only really control one of them.

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From the Archives

From the Archives– Paul Graham: The Present

Today from the archives, we bring you Madeline McLean’s review of Paul Graham’s 2012 exhibition The Present at Pace Gallery. The Present was the last in a trilogy of photographic series made in the United States between 1998 and 2001 that began with shimmer of possibility and American Night. All three series are included in the current survey of Graham’s work at Pier 24, titled The Whiteness of the Whale. This review was originally published on March 29, 2012. 

Paul Graham, 53rd Street & 6th Avenue, 6th May 2011, 2.41.26 pm (2011), pigment print mounted on Dibond, 56″ x 74 1/4″ (diptych), © Paul Graham 2012

Filling the spacious Chelsea Pace Gallery, Paul Graham: The Present displays vignettes that reflect quotidian ritual in New York City. Graham’s large-scale photographs hang at street level and mimic his theme of pedestrian rhythm. Smaller photographs, likewise in an array of diptychs and triptychs, are hung at eye level and also play a role in highlighting the voyeuristic perspective of the viewer, who is both the artist and the gallery audience. Rather than capturing a sea-like crowd of public, each photograph presents a focal character or characters that stands out from the monotony of the masses. Graham contextualizes each vignette by the specific location in which he becomes the ultimate voyeur.  By virtue of his photographs – as they are hung in solitary groupings rather than a vast assembly – Graham elucidates the manner in which a narrative is subject to alteration by the subtlest instances of movement, whether it is light or physical movement of a subject. An anonymous passerby becomes the subject of the frame only then to be replaced by his doppelganger in what seems to be the blink of an eye, for instance in works such as 8th Avenue & 42nd Street, 17th August 2010, 11.23.03 am (2010).

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Los Angeles

Machine Project: Selections from Mr. Akita

Today from our friends at Machine Project in Los Angeles, we bring you a video of selections from Mr. Akita, a play by Asher Hartman starring artist and comedian Cliff Hengst. Mr. Akita was performed at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery as part of Machine Project: The Platinum Collection on September 26 and 27, 2015.


San Francisco

Özlem Altin at Kiria Koula

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a review of Özlem Altin’s current solo show at Kiria Koula in San Francisco. Author Zachary Royer Scholz declares: “Özlem Altin’s exhibition at Kiria Koula is a wonderful rarity. It does not present viewers with clear answers because it is not the finished result of an exploration. It is an exploration in progress, in which viewers participate—a generous though daunting prospect.” This article was originally published on October 20, 2015.

Özlem Altin. Sleeping statue, 2013; print on litho paper; 27 ½ x 22 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Kiria Koula, San Francisco. Photo: John White.

Özlem Altin. Sleeping statue, 2013; print on litho paper; 27 ½ x 22 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Kiria Koula, San Francisco. Photo: John White.

The work of German artist Özlem Altin requires patience. Though the individual pieces in her Kiria Koula exhibition each possess their own internal import, their more significant impact lies in the constellation of relationships that emerges between them and the context they occupy. These relationships, like threads, produce a net that entangles viewers in an open and ongoing production of meaning in which their own memories and subjective navigation are active participants.

The five photo-based works and the two small oil paintings that constitute the show initially seem divergent.  The black-and-white prints combine images Altin has culled from various sources with photos she has taken herself. Some images are carefully staged; others are captured off the cuff with her cell phone. These various photographs are sometimes presented as-is, and sometimes printed one over another to produce layered amalgams. All of these pieces contain depictions of hands, though these hands are fragmented, approximated, alienated, or obscured.

Read the full article here.


New York

Enrique Martínez Celaya – Empires: Land and Sea at Jack Shainman Gallery

“It’s not a key,” Enrique Martínez Celaya warns of the text Empires: The Writing, which accompanies his first solo exhibition at Jack Shainman, now on view at the gallery’s two venues in Chelsea under the titles Empires: Land and Empires: Sea.[1] I meet Celaya in early September, when we walk through the shows on the eve of the artist’s departure for his home in Los Angeles.

3.Enrique Martinez Celaya. Empires: Land, 2015; installation view, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Enrique Martínez Celaya. Empires: Land, 2015; installation view, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Empires primarily includes paintings, many monumental in scale, along with a handful of sculptures and works on paper. Some paintings tenderly build shifting surfaces, and others only thinly delineate tentative forms and spaces. A persistent horizon line runs through nearly every image. Celaya’s slim companion volume spans the three months preceding his show; the text originally appeared in the “Journal” section of his website. Though not a key, the text may be a hinge, opening a door toward a mode of reading time through Celaya’s recent body of work. Fittingly, the best of these works leave the door ajar.

“What it seems to be undermines itself,” Celaya begins as we circle the gallery. He is quick to redirect readings of his work that rely on metaphor and allegory. It’s perhaps no surprise; the abundance of boats, sand castles, children, and the occasional unicorn put a simplistic reading within arm’s reach. Familiar with rigid interpretations of these images, Celaya is thoughtful about the conversation he crafts around his work. He places skepticism of the image at the heart of his practice, pointing to the drips and scratches that mar the canvas’s surface as evidence of this acute awareness. “I would never describe my work as figurative work,” he says. It might be more accurate to say that Celaya’s interest in rendering the figure points to the act of rendering, an operation we perform daily as we assemble chaotic experiences into history, memory, and identity. “The images are a point of entry,” he says, “which I hope then disappear.”

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Natasha Nicholson: The Artist in Her Museum at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

If the test for the quality of an exhibition is the richness of associations it generates in a viewer, then Natasha Nicholson: The Artist in Her Museum at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is a goldmine. The show is installed in the museum as a series of rooms, facsimiles of the artist’s studio: the Thinking Room, Strata (the studio and gallery), the Studiolo (library and Cabinet of Curiosities), and the Bead Room (workshop for jewelry making). I had previously visited the artist’s studio and was interested to see how the intensity of the small spaces might translate into the cool formality of a public institution. It has worked well, although the serpentine journey through Nicholson’s home studio cannot be duplicated by a series of ramps and paths. The exoticism and strangeness is diminished somewhat in a museum setting, where art lovers often encounter the strange, the challenging, and the beautiful. What shines at MMoCA is Nicholson’s exquisite craft, her symbolic vision, and the unerring and jarring conjunctions of her objects.

Natasha Nicholson, Studiolo, installation view, Nicholson studio, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Mike Rebholz.

Natasha Nicholson. Studiolo, 2015; installation view, Nicholson studio. Courtesy of the Artist and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Mike Rebholz.

The imagery and its explication are grounded in Nicholson’s biography, and unsavory events from a remote childhood are given form again and again. The desire to control the past—a child’s frustrated desire to control anything in the world of adults—is reshaped in fantasy. Nicholson’s world is best entered as a dream in toto, with its walls and shelves studded with treasures. In deference to museum protocol, Nicholson created wall labels, with dates and titles for each assemblage. Viewers might search these texts for clues to meaning, but in doing so they would also lose the mystery present when the objects are first seen de novo in the artist’s storefront.

The Studiolo is the most densely packed of the rooms, with the artist’s library, walls of devotional objects, the Cabinet of Curiosities, and two antique clocks that bring audible time (and a heartbeat) to the exhibition space. One wall features a plaster board with an antique three-dimensional instructional model of human organs, ostensibly intended for medical education. It is accompanied on nearby shelves by spinal columns, skulls, and hands. The skeleton is “disarticulated”; each piece is viewed in its separateness, or juxtaposed with an unexpected partner—a painting, a ribbon, a photo. Crucifixes and votive objects, which Nicholson has crafted, heighten the sense of memento mori. Nicholson created the Cabinet of Curiosities for a previous show in 2000 [1], and one might think of it as her own “corpus,” a stand-in for the body in her body of work. Closed, it is an armoire of modest proportions, but with its “arms” open, it reveals astonishing vignettes on every shelf.

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Book of Scores at Disjecta

Cinematic moments are often remembered because of the dramatic musical accompaniment. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is forever memorable in part for its menacing theme composed by Bernard Herrmann. Likewise, Star Wars is instantly recognized due to John Williams’ heroic use of trumpets. Book of Scores, on view at Disjecta, is an exhibition that is equally as pointed in its intention. Occupying many forms of sculpture, sound, spatial intervention, and print, the scores in Book of Scores aim for an expanded definition of noise and a freethinking consideration of its many uses.

(From left to right) Ellen Lesperance, Alison O’Daniel, and Helga Fassonaki. Book of Scores, 2015; installation view, Disjecta, Portland, OR. Courtesy of Disjecta. Photo: Worksighted.

The exhibition is the first in a series from Curator-in-Residence (and champion of sound matter) Chiara Giovando. Five artists—Helga Fassonaki, T.R. Kirstein, Ellen Lesperance, Johannes Lund, and Alison O’Daniel—responded with new works inspired by everything from Lawrence Halprin’s RSVP Cycles to Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. Halprin defines scores as “symbolizations of processes that extend over time,” encompassing all things from grocery lists to calendars. Perec’s writing illustrates what it is to score place, space, and the mundane with little to no concern for tedium. Bearing this in mind, Book of Scores is a number of interactive meditations and performances that speak to ephemera as concept as much as consequence.

Johannes Lund’s score, Circles (2015), is the byproduct of organized chaos. The work is accessible in three iterations: a fixed sound installation, a transcribed and printed multiple, and an improvisational performance. The print—free for taking—is visually similar to a cartographic sketch or the inner rings of a tree. A bird’s-eye view of irregular circles quickly reveals itself to be an inlaid series of bar staffs and notes. An inscription reads, in part, “To be played as written disregarding tuning of instrument.” On the exhibition’s opening night, Lund and his Portland collaborators, Allan Wilson and Evan Spacht, performed Circles, embodying a fury of live percussion and horns at varying tempos. Broken drumsticks and improvised breath work enhanced the uncertainty of when—or how—the work would conclude. There was no confirmed bandleader, or an obvious band, for that matter. There were simply three makers united over a collective ideal: that “noise” made with intention is not noise at all. A more tightly composed and recorded version of Circles plays full time from speakers in Lund’s installation.

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