From the Archives

From the Archives – The Anti-Spectacle Generation

Today, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we bring you Catherine Wagley’s review of the exhibition After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy. Following the author’s analysis of generational differences in attitudes towards protesting, it’s clear that although the featured artists came of age in a world devoid of Dr. King, the impact of his life’s work nonetheless resounded powerfully. This article was originally published on February 25, 2010.

Leslie Hewitt. Make it Plain (2 of 5), 2006.

L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley

The Pew Research Center caused a stir this week when it released a study portraying the Millennials, those who came of age during the first decade of the 21st Century, as the most even-tempered generation in recent history. Unlike the Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, the Millennials have sidestepped almost all reactionary impulses. “They look at themselves and they say, ‘Our generation is quite different than our parents’ generation.’ But they don’t say it with any rancor,” Pew president Andrew Kohut told NPR’s Robert Siegel. “The only thing they criticize the older generation for is their lack of tolerance.”

This sounds suspiciously rosy, even toothless, as though, by some accident of history, a whole generation of nonjudgmental diplomats emerged at the exact moment the U.S. entered Iraq. But the Pew study has more bite to it than Kohut suggests. Refusing the spectacle of rebellion that your parents’ generation reveled in is another way of breaking history’s patterns.

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Interviews

Body Politic: Jill J. Tan interviews Eiko Otake

Today from our friends at Guernica, we present an interview with performance artist Eiko Otake. Author Jill J. Tan writes, “Eiko embodies experiences in order to cultivate empathy in her audience. Within her, the maggot, the artist, and the political actor all agitate toward truth.” This article was originally published on December 1, 2015.

Photo: William Johnston. Courtesy of the Artist.

Photo: William Johnston. Courtesy of the Artist.

Eiko Otake dances with a stillness at once excruciating and exquisite. Her work is a negotiation of precision and flow, withdrawal and surge, shyness and exposure. For much of her career, she has danced as half of a duo, Eiko & Koma, with her partner in performance and life, Takashi Otake. Her first solo performance, which took place just last year, was titled A Body in Places; it has so far included “A Body in a Station,” put on at Manhattan’s Fulton Center, and “A Body in Fukushima,” a photo series in which Eiko’s movements are documented against a landscape made desolate by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. As Eiko notes in the following interview, “I am using my body as a constant.”

Eiko Otake and Takashi “Koma” Otake met in Tokyo in 1971 as students at an avant-garde theater company run by Tatsumi Hijikata, a choreographer and co-founder of the performance genre Butoh. Eiko and Koma’s partnership, which began as an experiment, has lasted for over forty years. They settled in New York in 1976 and toured often, performing at museums, theaters, and festivals. They also staged free, public outdoor performances to take their work beyond the confines of traditional art spaces. In 1996, they became the first collaborators to jointly receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Read the full article here.

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New York

Marina Rosenfeld and Ben Vida at Fridman Gallery

It is a strange thing to sit in a room for an hour and experience two people producing something unrecognizable. When successful, the relationship between the audience and the performers depends on generosity and trust. We, the audience, trust that we will be entertained, and so we open ourselves to the possibilities of the experience. In exchange for our receptivity, they, the performers, abandon certainty and create. On January 6, 2016, Marina Rosenfeld and Ben Vida did just that. Emanating unselfconscious enthusiasm, Rosenfeld and Vida’s event kicked off Fridman Gallery’s inaugural edition of its New Ear Festival dedicated to sound and performance.

Marina Rosenfeld and Ben Vida. New Ear Festival, 2016 (performance still); sound performance. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery.

Marina Rosenfeld and Ben Vida. New Ear Festival, 2016 (performance still); sound performance. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery.

Forgoing any sensational visual effects, Rosenfeld and Vida stood behind two industrial tables, equipped with a modest array of electronic devices and illuminated by comfortably dim lighting. Despite their similarly minimalist setups, each performer interacted with her or his materials with distinctly different approaches. Rosenfeld, who used a pair of turntables, a mixer, and a stack of vinyl records, danced around like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia. Her movements evoked the cartoon mouse’s theatrical gesturing and delight at realizing he could make the objects and elements do his bidding—though she didn’t meet a disastrous end. Vida, meanwhile, bent with concentration over his mixer and modular synthesizer as he adjusted knobs amid an eruption of wires.

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Warsaw

Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980–1993 at Galeria Monopol

Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980–1993 at Monopol provides a rare glimpse into the history of an influential apartment gallery that operated in Warsaw for thirteen years. From the imposition of Martial Law through the collapse of the Berlin Wall and beyond, the Dłużniewskis exhibited artworks by Polish and international post-conceptual artists. The retrospective exhibition at Monopol resonates with an uneasy timeliness: Given the prevailing political conditions in Poland, this sort of clandestine space could become a necessity once again.

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Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980-1993, 2015; installation view, Galeria Monopol, Warsaw. Courtesy of Galeria Monopol.

Last October’s election placed the PiS party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or Law and Justice) into power in the Sejm (lower house) and Senate (upper house) of the Polish parliament. Their 235 seats allow them to bypass a coalition government and form a supermajority that can amend the country’s constitution; with President Andrzej Duda—also from PiS—as the head of state, they are effectively unstoppable. In the last two months alone, the new government has neutered the Constitutional Court (the only authority able to declare laws unconstitutional), and enacted a purge of public media, dismissing the executives of all public radio and televisions stations. The new culture minister attempted to ban the production of a play, and foreign minster Witold Waszczykowski said, “…a new mix of cultures and races […] has nothing to do with traditional Polish values.”

These recent developments sit in the shadow of Martial Law, which banned non-religious meetings, authorized the “preventative detention” of “suspicious persons,” and placed the media under military management from 1981 to 1983—a history that supplies a chilling perspective on Galeria Piwna 20/26 Emilia and Andrzej Dłużniewski 1980–1993.[1] The exhibition at Monopol takes the form of both original works in Piwna’s collection as well as ephemera accumulated over the course of its lifespan. Galeria Piwna 20/26 conducted its operations through a network of friends and word of mouth, though the public was always welcome. Like many apartment galleries, it did not keep regular hours; often shows were up only for a few days, which meant that the openings (which frequently included performances) were the central event, a way to not only show art that might not be otherwise seen, but to bring people together. Most importantly, the gallery created a non-institutional space in which to oppose the circulation of propaganda and the kinds of culture associated with and sanctioned by the Communist authorities.

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San Francisco

Locating Technology: Raiders and Empires

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Genevieve Quick’s most recent “Locating Technology” column, a consideration of artist Stephanie Syjuco’s process and practice: “[Syjuco] prompts viewers to consider more broadly the legality and ethics of museums’ collections, and suggests that museums are institutions of cultural appropriation.” This article was originally published on October 27, 2015.

Stephanie Syjuco. RAIDERS: International Booty, Bountiful Harvest (Selections from the Collection of the A____ A__ M_____) (installation view), 2011; digital archival photo prints mounted onto laser-cut wood, hardware, crates; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark, San Francisco.

Stephanie Syjuco. RAIDERS: International Booty, Bountiful Harvest (Selections from the Collection of the A____ A__ M_____) (installation view), 2011; digital archival photo prints mounted onto laser-cut wood, hardware, crates; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark, San Francisco.

Much of the history of museum collections is related to the concentration of wealth and power of empires, and more recently corporate monopolies. While museums take great care in contextualizing the aesthetic, cultural, and historical significance of their artworks, they often omit most of their object’s acquisition histories. These backgrounds, extending from antiquity to present, would most likely include emperors and profiteers, along with their contemporary counterparts: the business tycoons that museums name as donors. InRAIDERS: International Booty, Bountiful Harvest (Selections from the Collection of the A____ A__ M_____) (2011) and Empire/Other (2013–ongoing), Stephanie Syjuco alludes to the questionable acquisition of museum artifacts. In these projects Syjuco harnesses technologies of distribution and reproduction—the web, photography, and 3D scanning and printing—to create objects that reveal the tangled history of colonization and cultural hybridization. Syjuco’s web-sourced imagery and 3D manipulations create imperfect objects that declare their simulation while entering into the same economic exchange system as the artifacts that they reference.

Read the full article here.

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Los Angeles

New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–33, at LACMA

Following World War I and the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Constitution was ratified, establishing Germany’s first democracy. It ushered in a thriving cultural climate: Expressionism came to an end, the Dadaists engaged in anti-art activities, the Bauhaus school was established, and in particular, Neue Sachlichkeit, or “New Objectivity,” emerged. The movement was an alternative realism, endemic to post–WWI Germany, and is the subject in LACMA’s latest exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–33. The exhibition contains five haunting sections that explore democratic life in the aftermath of war through the tensions between urban and rural environments, industrial modernization, commodities and everyday objects, portraiture, and identity.

August Sander. Painter’s Wife [Helene Abelen], 1926; gelatin silver print; 10 3/16 x 7 3/8 in. Courtesy of LACMA.

August Sander. Painter’s Wife [Helene Abelen], 1926; gelatin silver print; 10 3/16 x 7 3/8 in. Courtesy of LACMA.

Rabble-rousing comparisons between present-day America and post–World War I Germany have recently shown up in many prominent news outlets, perhaps because the comparisons feel so easy. We have our own gaudy, racist buffoon who has recently entered politics by describing an enemy from within. Economic crises and inflation left the German economy in shambles; our own financial calamity nearly left ours in disrepair.

Just as in Germany at the time, new understandings of sexual difference and gender ambiguity currently reverberate in popular culture, like in the TV series Transparent, which even includes a prominent subplot that takes place in Germany’s Weimar Republic. A renewed awareness and aversion to the human cost of war characterizes both Otto Dix’s The War prints from 1924 as well as the controversial scenes of torture in Zero Dark Thirty, 24, and Homeland. The movie Her is analogous to Fritz Lang’s masterwork Metropolis, in which fascination with the future of technological progress is tinged with skepticism and fear. The depiction by painters such as Rudolph Schlichter of lustmord (or “sex murder”) and other violence toward women permeated German art in the 1910s and early 1920s, just as it does now in Jessica Jones, Game of Thrones, The Fall, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. We even have our own version of August Sander à la Humans of New York.

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Interviews

From the Archives: Interview with Judith Bernstein

Today from our archives we bring you Elspeth Walker’s refreshingly blunt interview with painter Judith Bernstein. As we begin the new year and consider our plans for the next twelve months, it’s important to recall Bernstein’s philosophy: “[I]t’s important to be true to what you want to say and how you want to handle that. You have to keep moving forward. You can’t just stay where you are. You really have to constantly keep moving in terms of what you want to say, how you are saying it, and reevaluating it. It’s a very tough road.” This interview was originally published on June 4, 2015.

Judith Bernstein. Voyeur, 2015; installation view, Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: John Reynolds. 

Judith Bernstein. Voyeur, 2015; installation view, Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: John Reynolds.

Since 1967, Judith Bernstein has provided a swift undercurrent to painting in New York. Until recently, despite her storied history in the scene, the grit, tenacity, and technically precise rebel yell of Bernstein’s work has largely gone under-recognized. On the occasion of her current show at Mary Boone Gallery, I sat down with the artist to discuss her newest work, the fantastic threat of the looming vagina, feminist recourse to power, and perseverance.

Elspeth Walker: When I first saw your actual paintings, I realized that I hope they upset men.

Judith Bernstein: Well, I do the work that I have to do. If the men are upset, if they’re not upset, if they love it, if they don’t love it—whatever. I don’t think about the reactions of other people. I am on my own trajectory. There are a lot of very angry women, but my work is about the continually changing dialogue between men and women and about women being much stronger, now.

EW: I feel the abrasiveness of your work is welcome and necessary.

JB: I think one has to be very direct, in all kinds of ways—in my case, genitalia and everything right in your face. I’ve found that directness is a metaphor for my life. My background was quite dysfunctional; I had to scream and yell to be heard. And for a long time I was not heard; I was not given a show in the New York gallery system for many years. I’m thrilled that now I can talk about what I want to say. In the past, the rawness was not accepted within an art context, but now it is. I sense the zeitgeist at this time, and it’s extraordinary. I was in a lot of women’s groups, like A.I.R. (the first feminist gallery), Guerrilla Girls, and Fight Censorship. I saw how enraged women were. They were angry because they didn’t get what they wanted.  My mother didn’t know what she wanted, but she didn’t like the life she had. I saw all that rage and anger. Many artists have used female genitalia in a very romanticized way. That’s fine for them but not for me. I have anger, too.

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