Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Jwan Yosef

Thank you, Will! Today we celebrate A. Will Brown’s 50th and final Fan Mail column, and wish him farewell as he embarks upon new adventures in his job as the curatorial assistant of contemporary art at the RISD Museum of Art in Providence, Rhode Island! We’ll return in the fall with a new Fan Mail columnist, stay tuned for the announcement.

Look closely, what do you see? A blur, a suggestive motion, an image frozen in time—perhaps all of these are visible. Jwan Yosef’s paintings simultaneously contain movement, latent sexuality, tension, and flat, representational arrangements created by combining painterly techniques and unexpected material forms.

Jwan Yosef. Head, 2013; oil on Perspex; 31 ½ x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Jwan Yosef. Head, 2013; oil on Perspex; 31 ½ x 24 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jwan Yosef’s painting Head (2013) exemplifies the artist’s interest in portraying representationally simple motifs with potent double meanings. Head depicts a man’s head in profile, with gently closed eyelids and his lips protruding just out of the picture frame, and it has a subtle sexual quality (a topic Yosef acknowledges and embraces in his work). Is the man engaging in oral sex, fulfilling some act of pleasure just outside the edge of the painting? The figure—the head—is captured with the qualities of a film still, caught within a frozen and blurry moment, depicted in a reduced palette of colors that are rendered in a series of horizontal bands of paint seemingly pulled across a smooth surface—slick and evocative.

Read More »

Share

Savannah

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s at the Telfair Museums

Finally, here is an exhibition for which an accompanying Spotify playlist seems perfectly natural. Songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and “Vogue” by Madonna are closely connected to the not-so-recent decade that the Telfair Museums represents through works of art in Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s. Curated by Alexandra Schwartz with Kimberly Sino (both of the Montclair Art Museum, where the show originated), the show explores the motivations for much art practice from 1989 to 2001.

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s, 2015; installation view, Jepson Center for the Arts, Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of Telfair Museums. Photo: David J. Kaminsky.

Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s, 2015; installation view, Jepson Center for the Arts, Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia. Courtesy of Telfair Museums. Photo: David J. Kaminsky.

The exhibition breaks the decade into three thematic sections that also represent chronological periods. The first of these is “Identity Politics” (with the date range 1989–1993). After that, the exhibition transitions to “Digital Technologies” (1994–1997), and concludes with “Globalization” (1998–1999). Each of these themes is so complex that a museum may struggle to fully explore a single one within an exhibition. Thus it appears a herculean task to successfully encapsulate them in one show. Ultimately, despite a few awkward moments, Come As You Are integrates these disparate themes.

One of the strong points of the exhibition is its selection of powerful works. The curators of the show reference several pivotal exhibitions of the ’90s, including The Decade Show (1990) at the New Museum, Black Male (1994) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Third Havana Biennial (1989). Many of the works within this show appeared in those exhibitions, which lends Come As You Are considerable authority. In this way, Come As You Are consists of works that helped to define such topics as identity politics rather than works bolstered by a burgeoning art market.

Read More »

Share

San Jose

Walter Robinson: Home Grown at the Palo Alto Art Center

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a review of Walter Robinson: Home Grown at the Palo Alto Art Center. Author Maria Porges notes: “The cumulative effect here is one of nostalgia—sometimes for things that never really existed—mixed with a strange kind of déjà vu. Not only have we been here before, but we will be here again, over and over, as we (collectively, as a species) continue to make the same mistakes.” This article was originally published on July 22, 2015.

Walter Robinson. Spin, 2008; wood, epoxy, steel, and metal flake; 52 x 26 x 22 in. Collection of Donald Kushner. Courtesy of the Palo Alto Art Center.

Walter Robinson. Spin, 2008; wood, epoxy, steel, and metal flake; 52 x 26 x 22 in. Collection of Donald Kushner. Courtesy of the Palo Alto Art Center.

Something about the cheery, bright colors in Walter Robinson’s work evokes the dreamy pleasures of childhood at the same time that it plunges us into adult-size recognition of the eternal recurrence of human fallibility. Some of the most provocative and moving art of our time calls up such a mix of emotions by drawing on the deep—some would say scarring—imprint of early memory. As Claes Oldenburg put it when asked about the source of his inspiration, “I made it up when I was a little kid.”

Robinson’s artistic forebears are an interesting group. His strategies often include the manipulation of scale, which can be traced to René Magritte, Oldenburg, and Robert Gober, and a Pop-inflected appropriation of bits of consumer culture, invoking the (sometimes) ambivalent relationship to the religion of capitalism/consumption that lies at the heart of American life and art. The importance of facture in Robinson’s work—of the manner in which it is made, with consummate skill and careful consideration of material and method to convey the intended ideas—demonstrates the artist’s relationship to “maker-uncles” such as Richard Artschwager and Allan McCollum. Additionally, Robinson’s affinity for words suggests alliances with text/image “cousins” Jenny Holzer and Barbara Bloom, or the Bay Area conceptualist branch of the family: William T. Wiley, Richard Shaw, Bruce Conner.

Read the full article here.

Share

Venice

The Failure of Painting at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia

Context grounds contemporary art, and placing a work into a different framework allows for new layers of understanding to be revealed. This year’s Venice Biennale illustrates this point perfectly with one of the most cohesive curatorial efforts in its 120-year history. Thanks to curator Okwui Enwezor‘s creation of three overlapping “filters” that he calls the Garden of Disorder, Liveness: On Epic Duration, and Reading Capital, viewers are offered perspectives in which to consider not only the work presented in this Biennale, but the entire trajectory of the Biennale series. The result is nothing short of inspiring, and there are certainly works that benefit from a reassessment through the curatorial filters—but also ones that fall flat.

Bruce Nauman. Eat/Death, 1972; neon tubing with clear glass tubing suspension frame; 7 3/8 x 25¼ x 2 1/8 in (18.7 x 64.1 x 5.3 cm). Courtesy of the Artist and la Biennale di Venezia. Photo taken by the author.

Bruce Nauman. Eat/Death, 1972; neon tubing with clear glass tubing suspension frame; 7 3/8 x 25¼ x 2 1/8 in (18.7 x 64.1 x 5.3 cm). Courtesy of the Artist and la Biennale di Venezia. Photo taken by the author.

The biggest shock in this Biennale is that painting looks out of sorts. It’s not obvious at first, but it becomes evident after combing through the vast offerings. In part, this is due to painting’s long and continuing history of being the poster child for the powerful, a precedent that feels at odds with the show’s filters; but this goes deeper than that. The brutal truth is simply that painting is always first about being a painting. A painting about class struggle isn’t just about class struggle, it’s a painting about class struggle—a bit like listening to someone letting you know how smart they are while explaining the subtleties of Marx’s Various Formulæ for the Rate of Surplus-Value—by design, painting is selfish that way. The content of a painting is always subordinate to the medium, otherwise a different material would have been chosen. But what this surprisingly suggests is that there isn’t much room for painting in thematically curated shows, that is, unless those shows are about painting.

The Romanian Pavilion triggered this sweeping observation. Its installation of paintings by Adrian Ghenie called Darwin’s Room (2015) is sorely out of place in this pavilion, in stark contrast from its critically received previous offering of An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale (2013), where Manuel Pelmuș and Alexandra Pirici offered performances that encapsulated the entire history of the Biennale within a single day. Ghenie’s are not bad paintings, but there is no way that they can be properly considered. They immediately feel too self-absorbed in being painterly, too alien for the larger topic at hand. Technically, parts of the installation probably tie into the Garden of Disorder filter, but the work with Ghenie’s reoccurring theme of self-portraiture as historical figures withers in the dominate shadow of painterliness.

Read More »

Share

From the Archives

From the Archive – Help Desk: Group Crit

Today’s Help Desk column is a refresher for students who are anxious about returning to school at the end of this month. In the words of artist Whitney Lynn, “[…] Your time in the program is incredibly short. Blink and it’s over. So make lots of new work, meet as many people as you can, and take advantage of everything the program offers.” This article was originally published on July 21. 2014.

I’ve been accepted to an MFA program that begins this September. As the month approaches, I find myself getting increasingly nervous and anxious (as I always do on the first day of school). It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in group critiques, and while I’m excited about this program, I also feel very vulnerable right now. Can you offer any advice to new MFA students? I wonder what former students “wish they’d known” before going into a program.

Beatriz Milhazes. Sinfonia Nordestina, 2008; Acrylic on canvas, 96 7/8 X 144 7/8 inches

Beatriz Milhazes. Sinfonia Nordestina, 2008; acrylic on canvas; 96 7/8 x 144 7/8 in.

There are so many things I wish I’d known before I started my graduate program that I could answer your question with a book. Work hard, show up for everything, and say thank you are timeless tips, of course, but you’re looking for other suggestions calibrated to the specifics of the MFA. First, make friends with the Graduate Program Manager (or whatever they call the initial line of defense in your grad office). This individual will be your conduit to advisor selection, the assignment of teaching assistantships, and much more; woe betide the student who cops an attitude and treats the manager rudely. Second (and this is related to the above), the most bureaucratic rules only apply to students who don’t apply themselves. I’m not suggesting that you engage in risky behavior, but all fences have gates. If you are kind and polite and work diligently, someone may show you where they are. Also, if you are moving to attend school, consider staying in that city for a few years after graduation. You will make a lot of friends and contacts in two years, but if you move away immediately, you will lose them. (This last piece of advice was given to me by a colleague who still regrets that he moved away a week after receiving his degree.) Finally, stay away from drama queens, bastards, and bullies, even the ones who are powerful and who seem to hold the potential for your future professional advancement. If I were dying right now and had to give counsel with my last breath, it would be this: Assholes only ever help themselves.

Read More »

Share

San Francisco

Luka Fineisen: Smoke and Mirrors at Hosfelt 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, Serena Pascual reviews Luka Fineisen: Smoke and Mirrors at Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco.

Luka Fineisen. Possibility, 2015; glitter, resin, Plexiglas shelf; 47 x 73 x 6 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco.

Luka Fineisen. Possibility, 2015; glitter, resin, Plexiglas shelf; 47 x 73 x 6 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco.

Luka Fineisen’s solo show Smoke and Mirrors entertains with a multitude of textures, materials, and forms—ordinarily tactile sensations are turned into visual delights. On view at Hosfelt Gallery, Fineisen’s work here narrows her color palette to black, white, and grays in between. The distinct absence of colors beyond grayscale focuses attention on the works’ other properties, accentuating variations that range from lustrous to flat, pliant to rigid, large to small, and gaseous to solid. Together these elements compose a playful atmosphere.

Possibility (2015) is one of several works that capture matter in transition. A viscid, glittery substance creeps to the edge of its Plexiglas shelf. The shelf gives way and allows the mass to drip onto the floor, collecting in a mound. In spite of the sculpture’s stil­­lness and its suggestion of arrested movement, a sense of fluidity prevails. What is actually solid resembles liquid frozen in place, and these disparate phases occur in amusing coexistence.

Read More »

Share

San Francisco

Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time, and Beauty at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Vanessa Kauffman’s review of Night Begins the Day at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The author notes, “The many pieces in the exhibition […] do not mimic the sublimity of the universe in its raw state—a view that is impossible to achieve in a practical sense. Instead, these are revelations of the Earth and its ethers as they have been marred, imprinted, and manipulated by human hands.” This article was originally published on July 16, 2015.

Katie Paterson. The Dying Star Letters, 2010–present; ink on paper; dimensions variable; installation view, Mead Gallery, University of Warwick, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York / Shanghai.

Katie Paterson. The Dying Star Letters, 2010–present; ink on paper; dimensions variable; installation view, Mead Gallery, University of Warwick, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai.

Night, in most latitudes, is characterized by darkness: a dimming of the sky that is often accompanied by the dimming of the senses, and the mind. But our eyes can and do adjust to this darkness, and as our shadowed surroundings surrender a certain clarity—becoming amorphous in form and color—the world may appear, to us, anew. In Jewish tradition, as noted by Renny Pritikin and Lily Siegel, curators of the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibition Night Begins the Day: Rethinking Space, Time, and Beauty, the sun’s trajectory toward the horizon is a harbinger: Nightfall is the first spark of a new day. The show hinges on this inversion of ingrained timetables and asks us to question our relation to the Earth and its celestial bodies, the murky beauty of our natural (and at times mundane) surroundings, and also our own destruction of those surroundings. The twenty-five contemporary artists, scientists, and others included in the show put forth a remarkable “dusking,” asking viewers to embrace the rich sublimity that is to be discovered in the dark.

Disrupting the notion of any singular moment of creation, the German artist Peter Dreher’s Tag um Tag Guter Tag (Day by Day, Good Day, 1974–ongoing) is a series, to date involving 5,000 artworks, that is continually in the making. Once or twice a week, Dreher paints the same water glass, holding the same amount of water, sitting on the same table beside the same window, in an oil painting of the same dimensions. Time is measured here by an unchanging, quotidian relationship to a single object. Numbered and displayed in a grid, the paintings (and days) are hard to assess individually. And yet each does vary from its neighbor due to the subtle shifts of light Dreher captures in the reflections on the glass. As in nature, sublimity enters and exits this work through the impressive sum of its parts, and microscopically in the infinitesimal gestures that break with what is formulaic and anticipated.

Read the full article here.

Share