Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Willie Stewart

Willie Stewart incorporates a broad range of complex, mundane, strange, and dark subject matter and cultural references into his work. His interests and references include extraterrestrials, biker gangs and punk rock groups, German artist Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau (1931–33), Mike Kelley’s book The Uncanny, and cult films such as Lloyd Kaufman’s Toxic Avenger (1984).

Willie Stewart. The Love You Withhold is the Pain that You Carry, 2014. Installation view kijidome, Boston, MA. Courtesy of kijidome and the Artist.

Willie Stewart. The Love You Withhold is the Pain that You Carry, 2014. Installation view, kijidome, Boston. Courtesy  kijidome and the Artist.

Stewart’s sculptures, installations, videos, photographs, and photocollages are all individual works, but each piece is often part of a complex and whimsical, yet bizarre, constructed environment that spans multiple rooms and gallery spaces. Each installation feels like a film or theater set.

Stewart’s 2014 exhibition The Love You Withhold is the Pain that You Carry at kijidome (a gallery and project space in Boston) began with the image of a family posing for a portrait, the kind used for a greeting card. In the picture, an infant girl, a boy around five, and a girl of about ten are shown with their father and mother. The father has a thin beard and is wearing a ragged baseball cap over his long straight hair; the mother has a hint of a smile below the frames of her large circular glasses. As a group, they seem to be sincere in their emotions and behaviors; they appear to enact a true image of themselves as individuals and as a family.

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New York

Tomi Ungerer: All in One at the Drawing Center

Tomi Ungerer: All in One, now on view at the Drawing Center, is a joyful retrospective of the artist’s career as children’s-book author, satirical cartoonist, political illustrator, and erotic artist. Sadly it’s also incredibly timely. Because though Ungerer was a beloved illustrator, he was also rejected for the explicit imagery in his political and erotic work. As we engage in a global conversation about shock and humor following the attacks on the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, Ungerer’s work stands out for its visual wit. But beyond his mastery as an image maker, Ungerer’s work has something to say about power—to poke fun, to take pleasure, to harm.

1.Tomi Ungerer. Eat, 1967; self‐published poster; 21 x 26-1/2 in. Courtesy of the collection of Jack Rennert, New York.

Tomi Ungerer. Eat, 1967; self‐published poster; 21 x 26-1/2 in. Courtesy of the collection of Jack Rennert, New York.

Among the most potent works on view is EAT, a 1967 poster commissioned as part of a series by Columbia University in protest of the Vietnam War. Ungerer eventually self-published the poster after it was rejected by the university for its provocative imagery, which may be no surprise: the poster depicts a caricature of an Asian man—with slanted eyes, porcine nose, and fluorescent yellow skin—force-fed by a disembodied white hand. The hand shoves a hollow-eyed Statue of Liberty into the man’s gaping mouth. Another poster, GIVE, depicts a military jet releasing bombs along with presents garnished with flamboyant pink bows. EAT is certainly the more haunting of the pair, but both hinge on the violent twist of a peacenik slogan. As is the case in many of Ungerer’s works, pleasure and pain run a parallel track.

As a visual argument, EAT is chillingly effective. Is it also racist? Or is it a critique of racism, of American colonialism in the guise of democracy? I lean toward the latter reading, but if nothing else, the work is a concise illustration of what Art Spiegelman, of Maus fame, describes as the cartoon’s unique power to, “put things in a high relief…functioning as Rorschach tests for what actually we [are] living through right now.”[1]

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Room Full of Mirrors: The Dazzling Life And Legacy Of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Today from our friends at REORIENT, we bring you an excerpt from Nicola Baird‘s feature on the life and work of artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Baird explains, “Monir’s works present a world wherein everything is moving to transformative effect.” This article was originally published on January 5, 2015; an exhibition of Monir’s works will open in New York at the Guggenheim on March 13, 2015.

Monir. Lightning for Neda, 2009; Courtesy the Artist and The Third Line

Monir. Lightning for Neda, 2009; Courtesy the Artist and The Third Line

The artist who signs her work simply as “Monir” is a prolific and interdisciplinary figure whose 70-year-plus career is currently being celebrated in a retrospective exhibition curated by Suzanne Cotter at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal. Infinite Possibility–Mirror Works and Drawings is the first museum survey of work produced by the nonagenarian between 1974 and 2014, which will also travel to other venues across the world, beginning with the Guggenheim in New York. Undoubtedly a pioneer, Monir is not only the most renowned, but perhaps also the only practitioner working today in the sphere of mirror mosaics.

Monir melds in her hypnotic hybrid creations the legacy of traditional Iranian architectural adornment with an awareness of the aesthetics of abstraction and minimalism made popular by her friends and contemporaries in New York in the 60s, such as Frank Stella and Robert Morris. The majority of the works selected have been drawn from the artist’s own collection, and have not been exhibited in public since the 70s. Included are early mirror reliefs on plaster and wood – spontaneous, energetic compositions accented with glimpses of nightingales nestling amid florid bouquets of flowers and fragments of broken Qajar paintings behind glass—and a series of large-scale geometric mirror works that formed part of a solo show organised by Denise René at her gallery in Paris in 1977. The exhibition also features previously unseen abstract arrangements on paper—many of which were made in exile in New York in the absence of a proper studio in the years following the 79 Iranian Revolution—a series of heptagonal works, four mirror balls (one of which famously lay atop Andy Warhol’s desk until his death in 1987), and a graduated ziggurat-shaped sculpture of particular architectural beauty.

Read the full article here.

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Los Angeles

William Binnie: Flame as Flag at Paul Loya Gallery

William Binnie’s exhibition at Paul Loya Gallery in Culver City emerged from a residency granted to the Dallas-based artist by the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida, this past summer. While there, the artist made a series of paintings in bleach on denim drawn from photographs of fires set by political radicals. Binnie’s paintings merge Rauschenberg’s photo-transfer aesthetic with Andy Warhol’s fascination with media spectacle—the grimmer, the better. Like Warhol did with his car crashes, Binnie represents destruction and death from an arm’s-length perspective. The intense fires that consume cars and buildings in his works take on a cool, ghostly affect.

William Binnie. Flame as Flag. installation view, Paul Loya Gallery.

William Binnie. Flame as Flag. installation view, Paul Loya Gallery.

Binnie draws his subject matter from documentary images of riots from around the world. His selections suggest equivalences between a car set alight by Islamists in Pakistan and a church burned by black metal enthusiasts from Sweden. If his interest is in “locating the social embedded in his chosen materials,” he seems to be identifying a global trend of disaffected subjects of all political stripes finding solidarity in acts of property destruction, rejecting both a culture of accumulation and the rule of law. The bleached cotton ranges from cool to warm tones, producing a surprisingly effective representation of the flames’ intense warmth. The materialistic architectures of the city dissolve in the glow. The best works, such as Untitled (Church) (2014), allow these structures to all but disappear. The weakest, such as A Flag (The Flag) (2012), suggest a teenage rebel’s denim jacket, long outgrown.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: Interviews & Expectations

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. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I have an interview with a critic who sent me his questions in advance, and I found them to be leading and directive. How can I approach this type of conversation in a way where I can communicate what I feel is interesting about my work? For many artists, dealing with writers and art reviewers is an inevitable part of showing work. What are some tactics in general for making these conversations go well, for both interviewer and interviewee?

Julia Wachtel. Bleep, 2014; 60 x 73" 152.4cm x 185.4cm oil, flashe, acrylic ink on canvas

Julia Wachtel. Bleep, 2014; oil, flashe, acrylic ink on canvas; 60 x 73 in. Photo: David Brichford

Interviews can be tough even when the interviewer is sympathetic and savvy. Beyond the questions, so many other considerations are at play—including various hierarchies and a hunger to please your audience—that it can be difficult to think clearly enough to describe your own process. On top of that, if you feel the interviewer has an agenda that doesn’t match your own, the experience is potentially quite uncomfortable. But take heart, there are some strategies that you can use to boost your confidence and make the conversation more pleasant.

First, the basics: Research the journalist’s prior interviews and find out where yours will be published. Be aware that it will almost certainly be tailored for a specific audience (think Artforum versus a local newspaper), and even if you don’t wish to modify your answers for a particular readership, bear in mind that the conversation will be edited before publication. If you’re meeting in person, bring your laptop or iThing pre-loaded to your website—you might answer a question by discussing a piece that the interviewer hasn’t seen before, and images will aid you. Remember to take a slow, deep breath before you reply—and don’t worry how that might appear in the moment, because it’s the final publication that counts and in print no one hears you pause. Keep your answers concise and to the point.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Sarah Lucas: SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble at Whitechapel Gallery

Here at Daily Serving, we’re excited that Sarah Lucas will represent the UK at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Gregor Muir, a member of the selection panel, was quoted in a recent article, saying, “Having consistently pushed the limits of her practice, there’s a sense that Lucas—seemingly more active than ever—is coming into her own.” We couldn’t agree more, and so today from our archives we’re sharing a review of her work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. This article was written by Adam Rompel and originally published on December 10, 2013.

Sarah Lucas. Installation view, 2013 Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery, London, Photo: Stephen White

Sarah Lucas. Installation view of SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble, 2013; Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery, London. Photo: Stephen White.

When you think 1990s YBA, what artworks come to mind? A pickled shark, a bawdy story tent, a head made of frozen blood…and a photo of Sarah Lucas looking defiant with a limp cigarette in her mouth. Or better yet, her bent, worn mattress with anthropomorphically inserted fruit and veg with metal bucket. Mostly, her pieces distill the human body down to a sexualized and/or consumed object. The key to Lucas’s work is that it’s beautifully uncomplicated in concept and execution. Nothing is superfluous. Regardless of whether you like the work or not, it’s impossible to not get it. That simplicity is what makes each work powerfully memorable as an image.

SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble at Whitechapel Gallery is a fully considered three-room installation that weaves the entire oeuvre onto itself to create a full-on, brilliantly funny, and in-your-face kind of endeavour. Photos and collages are blown up and made into Warholian wallpaper onto which other works are hung. Sculptures are combined or positioned in near-overlapping proximity or supported by stuff that might or might not be new sculpture. The interesting restraint to this new amalgamation is that individual works retain their identity courtesy of the museum wall tag. One example of this layering effect in the first gallery is the back wall, which is covered with an enlarged and repeating pattern from Soup (1989). Originally a photo collage measuring at 152.5 x 122 cm. (60 x 48 in.), it’s an image of an unidentifiable creamed soup adorned with about three dozen penis glans. Size matters in this show, and so the image is scaled up so that the glans are around the size of a human head. Framed and hung right of center over Soup is the iconic Eating a Banana (1990). Just off to the right, the sculpture Mechanical Wanker (1999) rests on a slick-looking table made of breeze (cinder) block and MDF. And this is just the back wall of the first gallery.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Paul Thek: If you don’t like this book you don’t like me

In consideration of the second day of the Los Angeles Art Book Fair, today we bring you a look back at a 2012 exhibition of Paul Thek’s books. Author Magdalen Chua describes the artist’s notebooks as filled with, “illustrations, drawings, and watercolor works [that] suggest a mind filled with both doubt and idealism.” This article was originally published on May 16, 2012.

Paul Thek. Notebook #63, 1974; Courtesy the Watermill Center Collection and Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photo: Jörg Lohse.

As part of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, approaches to translating the subjective experience into artistic practice were explored in the exhibitions In the Shadow of the Hand and Back to the Things Themselves. Questions were raised on the nuances and distinctions between notions of the subjective, the personal, and the self-indulgent. These borders disintegrate in the exhibition Paul Thek: If you don’t like this book you don’t like me, on view at the Modern Institute through June 2, 2012. Fragments of an artist’s life, as narrated through pages of notebooks, become a part of the works on display.

In the past two decades, there has been an explosion of exhibitions and publications on Paul Thek, perhaps as part of an effort to re-insert him into the history of art. Though well received in Europe during the 1970s, he died in relative obscurity in 1988 after his return to the United States. Thek’s name is often cited in relation to the Technological Reliquaries, or “meat pieces,” a series of works made in the 1960s where body parts appearing as chunks of flesh were presented in geometric vitrines, a revelry of one’s fleshly mortality within the confines of the composed exterior of Minimalism. While these sculptures were solid and dense, he also made works from ephemeral materials, creating immersive environments that lasted for the duration of the exhibition. While little documentation remains of these installations, about eighty of Thek’s notebooks were retrieved and carefully preserved after his passing.

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