Best of 2014 – Help Desk: Stop, Thief!

For today’s installment of our Best of 2014 series, we have a selection from regular contributor Adam Rompel, who writes, “What’s better than having an art-existential crisis? Finding the answer to one. I picked this specific ‘Help Desk’ entry because it hits a universal neurotic nerve that all artists have around authorship and originality. It is one that has informed my own work more than any other. The privileged concept of authorship is a Modernist one, fueled by a late-capitalism-obsessed art market. What does it mean to think that an idea or technique has its origin with a single person? What does it mean when that person is you and someone else has nicked your idea?” This article was written by Bean Gilsdorf and originally published on May 27, 2014.

Raymond Pettibon. No Title (That fact of), 2003; ink on paper.

Raymond Pettibon. No Title (That Fact Of), 2003; ink on paper.

Last year I made a sculpture that was technically rather challenging but resulted in something I thought was a successful piece, which I displayed in a small group show. It’s a concept I’ve recently returned to in numerous exhibition proposals, though none have yet been accepted by the galleries I’ve contacted. Today I discovered that an acquaintance of mine is copying this technique in a sculpture for an upcoming exhibition. I know this individual is aware of my own work because this artist “liked” the picture I posted of my sculpture on Facebook over a year ago. Of course it’s entirely possible this artist has forgotten seeing the piece, but the resemblance is unsettling. Normally I would just shrug it off and say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—but it’s not terribly flattering when your imitator has the advantage of a significant solo exhibition wherein to display the work. I don’t know if I have any real right to be upset, but I am. Do I say something? Or do I just carry on making my own (I believe superior, if admittedly little-exhibited) work and let that speak for itself?

The phrase “there’s nothing new under the sun” goes all the way back to the Bible, but somehow when we have an innovative notion, it seems like it is ours and ours alone. Your dilemma gets right to the heart of artistic practices and the mystique that concepts and techniques still hold for artists. Sacred, slippery, jealously guarded…sometimes it feels like our good ideas are all we have. I don’t blame you for feeling upset; you’ve been dealt a swift karate chop straight to the Achilles heel of your current practice—but you must allow the force of emotion to kick you into high gear instead of getting depressed or debilitated. Above all, you should absolutely keep on making your work, because studio time will help you maintain your sanity. Remember that this technique is relatively new to you and will evolve over time and become something different—provided that you keep working.

Try to put this moment into perspective. Even though this artist is going to have a “significant” solo show of the work, remember that it is only one exhibition, probably open for only one month; it will eventually disappear under the cumulative accretion of all the other shows in the world as time marches inexorably onward toward our eventual deaths.

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Best of 2014 – Shotgun Reviews: From Two Arises Three at the Asian Art Museum

As we continue our look back over the year, today’s Best of 2014 selection comes from Kara Q. Smith, who writes, “Shotgun Reviews are one of my favorite ways to hear about exhibitions from near and far. They are a way for those who aren’t regular contributors to Art Practical and Daily Serving to publish with us. Jing’s review lucidly weaves descriptions with analysis, allowing the viewer to gain a good sense of the works at hand and her perspective, all in under 500 words.” This review was originally published on October 12, 2014.

Michael Cherney and Arnold Chang. After Huang Gongwong 4, 2009 (detail); photographic inkjet print and ink on paper. From the collection of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang. Courtesy of the Artist and Asian Art Museum. Photo: Jing Cao.

Michael Cherney and Arnold Chang. After Huang Gongwong 4, 2009 (detail); photographic inkjet print and ink on paper. From the collection of Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang. Courtesy of the Artist and Asian Art Museum. Photo: Jing Cao.

Chinese landscape painting is notoriously inaccessible—the format is foreign, the subject deep in historicity, the materiality unassuming. Photography, on the other hand, is eminently familiar—a daily practice for many in the digital age. Enter From Two Arises Three, an exhibition of painter Arnold Chang and photographer Michael Cherney’s collaborative works at the Asian Art Museum.

At first blush, From Two Arises Three resembles a traditional landscape exhibition. Black-and-white hanging scrolls line the gallery walls; paper fans and album leaves fill cases in the center. But look closer and a genuinely contemporary collaboration begins to unfold. Many images are actually composites, with Cherney’s grainy, out-of-focus photographs bleeding into Chang’s traditional landscape painting. In a video interview that accompanies the show, Chang and Cherney describe their process: Cherney travels across China, taking photographs. He mails these to Chang’s studio in New Jersey. Chang pastes Cherney’s photos onto paper and extends the imagery with ink and brush. Like an exquisite corpse, Chang’s paintings grow out of Cherney’s photographs.

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Best of 2014 – Suzanne Opton: Soldier at Sikkema Jenkins

Continuing our Best of 2014 series, Shotgun Review Editor Erica Gomez writes, “I read Lia Wilson’s review of Soldier six months ago, on my birthday. Having recently spent time with my dad—a U.S. Army Afghanistan Veteran—I recognized the thousand-yard stare in one of Suzanne Opton’s photographs all too well. Wilson points to the series’ ‘potential for a reflective encounter between viewer and subject’ and calls for a ‘greater public awareness and consideration of the lives of soldiers.’ The holiday season is particularly difficult for many veterans, and remembering those who have impacted each of our lives might make all the difference.” This review was originally published on July 19, 2014.

Suzanne Opton. Soldier: Doherty- 302 days in Afghanistan, 2004. Archival Pigment Print. 41 x 52 inches. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins

Suzanne Opton. Soldier: Doherty – 302 days in Afghanistan, 2004; archival pigment print; 41 x 52 in. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins.

Soldier, a series of large-scale color portraits by the photographer Suzanne Opton now on view at Sikemma Jenkins, adheres to a simple framework. It features close-ups of the faces of young soldiers who recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan, all of whom assume the same position before the camera: lying prone, one cheek resting on the ground, face turned toward the camera. While this pose certainly carries the morbid suggestion of a soldier who has been struck down, it also conveys the familiar intimacy of staring at the face of someone very close, as though you were in a shared bed.

The studio backdrop, which tightly frames the soldiers’ faces, strips away any contextual clues that might encourage a viewer to “place” the subjects. This ambiguity is at odds with much war photography, which tends to capture soldiers at a medium distance, situating them as mere players within a complex but defined landscape of conflict. Such conventions satisfy journalistic pretenses of objectivity as well as, perhaps, nationalistic desires to portray the army as strong, uniform, and cohesive. Opton’s alternative focus on the unique features of soldiers’ faces brings these conventions into high relief and calls them into question.

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Best of 2014 – Fan Mail: Wendy Given

For today’s installment of our Best of 2014 series, we have a selection from executive director Patricia Maloney, who writes, “Reading A. Will Brown’s twice-monthly ‘Fan Mail’ series over the past year, one gets a distinct sense of how much fun he has in making his selections and thinking about the work. The opening sentences are often the giveaway: an introduction to the artist by way of a jaunty string of adjectives that keep pace with the tempo of his thoughts. Upbeat and enthusiastic, his observations are nevertheless precise and sedulous. There is much close looking and research evident in his commentary on the technical craft, medium, and concept behind individual works. Brown is highly conscientious of his role in creating a faithful interpretation of the body of work and introducing it to our readers, an undertaking all the more laudable when one realizes that he rarely gets to see this work in person. In curating the ‘Fan Mail’ column, Brown has not only created a portfolio of outstanding young artists engaged in critical discourse but also built an aspirational model for how a young curator can speak to and for the work of emerging artists: avidly and with care.” This review was originally published on March 14, 2014.

Wendy Given. Gaest No. 11, To Lucybelle, 2012; C-Print; 20” x 20” inches. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Wendy Given. Gaest No. 11, To Lucybelle, 2012; C-print; 20 x 20 in. Photo courtesy of the Artist.

Mythos: fantasy, fiction, legend, saga, parable, fable, narrative, invention, fabrication, yarn. The conceptual distance between myth and the concrete manifestations of mythology is a potentially endless—yet meaningfully orderable—list of synonyms. But with each word the gap shrinks, as mental images of processes and then objects emerge, even if just as puns. Wendy Given is bridging the gaps between the abstract idea of a mythos and its textural and visual components—the story.

Given’s work includes photography, sculpture, and installation, often combining all three to create imagery for mythologies and stories. These stories simultaneously capture and unite the literal and abstract components of the processes of mythmaking. She pays particular attention to the natural world and provides placeholders for the components of stories—characters, settings, objects, rituals—and in so doing constructs nearly identifiable narratives. It’s important to note that Given is neither illustrating existing stories nor inventing new ones—her practice does something in between. Her works are not quite archetypal, but they hold just enough familiarity to stimulate the imagination.

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Best of 2014 – Ann Hamilton: The Common S E N S E at Henry Art Gallery

For our Best of 2014 series, Fan Mail columnist A. Will Brown selected Sarah Margolis-Pineo’s review of Ann Hamilton’s recent solo show in Seattle. Says Brown, “Sarah‘s review of The Common S E N S E at the Henry Art Gallery provides key insights into Hamilton’s ability to engage an audience across senses—touching, seeing and hearing—through multifaceted artwork that is grounded in a sense of urgency. The exhibition also brings to light the importance of collecting objects and experiences through conscious participatory and shared methods.” This review was originally published on December 5, 2014.

Ann Hamilton, the common S E N S E, 2014, courtesy of Henry Art Gallery, Seattle. Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit.

Ann Hamilton. The Common S E N S E, 2014. Courtesy of Henry Art Gallery, Seattle. Photo: Jonathan Vanderweit.

I was instantly drawn to the Siberian Rubythroat. It must have been the vibrant red flash of exposed underbelly that first caught my eye, but it was the bird’s placement that focused my attention, a diminutive creature adrift in a mauve fog. The Rubythroat is just one of 200 animal specimens that have been scanned, printed in multiple, and hung in a mosaic of thick newsprint pads covering the Henry Art Gallery’s walls. Amid the mashed fur pelts and abstracted hoofs, claws, and beaks of the unruly ecosystem on view, something about the Rubythroat’s smallness—a ghostly thing to be cradled in hand—compelled me to reach up, take tentative hold, and slowly tear the bird’s portrait down from the wall.

This exhibition by Ann Hamilton, The Common S E N S E, is a constellation of objects, images, textures, and sounds—a multisensory splendor that invites visitors to look, touch, and listen as they wind circuitously through the museum’s galleries and halls. The menagerie is just a single component to Hamilton’s multifaceted production. The exhibition weaves text and textile, fur and fashion, in a way that facilitates new encounters with common things. The installation plays with the conventions of museum display, going beyond simply upending expected narratives to address the audience and promote tactile participation as a generative aspect of the work. Hamilton explores the intimacy achieved through collectivity, provoking viewers to reexamine the familiar and question how it feels—how we feel—to exist in the world.

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Best of 2014 – Self-Taught Genius at the American Folk Art Museum

As we continue our look back over the year, today’s Best of 2014 selection comes from Kara Q. Smith, the managing editor of our partner site Art Practical. Kara writes, “Lia Wilson’s review of Self Taught Genius gives attention to an oft-overlooked, or mis-represented, area of contemporary art (not to mention venue). Lia engages directly with the larger contexts surrounding not only the art, but the exhibition itself, providing the perfect mixture of informed, encouraging, and critical writing.” This review was originally published on July 24, 2014.

Marino Auriti. Encyclopedic Palace/Palazzo Enciclopedico/Palacio Enciclopedico/Palais Encyclopédique or Monumento Nazionale. Progetto Enciclopedico Palazzo (U.S. patent no. 179,277), 1950s. Wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and model kit parts; 11 x 7 x 7’. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of Colette Auriti Firmani.

Marino Auriti. Encyclopedic Palace/Palazzo Enciclopedico/Palacio Enciclopedico/Palais Encyclopédique or Monumento Nazionale. Progetto Enciclopedico Palazzo (U.S. patent no. 179,277), 1950s; wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and model kit parts; 11 x 7 x 7 ft. Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of Colette Auriti Firmani.

Self-Taught Genius seeks to frame the collection of the American Folk Art Museum as an archive of the culture of self-education in the United States. The exhibition’s organizers draw their interpretation of the word “genius” from roots in the Enlightenment and Romanticism, embracing a definition that underscores the potential in all human beings for exceptional creativity, intuition, and insight. The use of the term “self-taught” embeds the works in a continuum of self-actualization outside of formal educational structures, calling up the resistance to hierarchical institutions and indoctrination that is foundational to the spirit of the American narrative. This premise is satisfyingly inclusionary and long overdue.

For artists whose work has been ghettoized within fraught categories like Outsider Art, Vernacular Art, Psychotic Art, and Intuitive Art by patronizingly simplistic or exploitative analyses and mythologies, the American Folk Art Museum’s framework is incredibly validating without being over-compensatory. Those who have followed the historicization of Folk Art and its many overlapping fields and terminologies will find it deeply refreshing to see these artists rightfully recast as key players in the shaping of American visual culture. To experience the use of the word “genius” in an art context without its application solely to white men is also a gratifying bonus, to say the least.

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Best of 2014 – Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Today we continue our countdown to the New Year with a selection by regular contributor Matt Stromberg, who explains, “The Whitney’s Koons Retrospective was one of the most talked-about shows of the year. Few write-ups, however, went beyond lauding him as a populist Pop perfectionist, or lambasting him as the personification of a bloated, speculative art market. Alex Bigmans review offers a more nuanced appraisal, thoughtfully reexamining Koons early work to get beyond its iconic status. Instead of simply dismissing Koons, Bigman shows us how disappointing his recent overblown spectacles are given the critical nature of what came before.” This review was originally published on July 16, 2014.

Jeff Koons. One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985. Glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball; 64 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 13 1/4 in. (164.5 x 78.1 x 33.7 cm). Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. ©Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons. One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985; glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, basketball; 64 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 13 1/4 in. (164.5 x 78.1 x 33.7 cm.). Collection of B. Z. and Michael Schwartz. © Jeff Koons.

At the press preview for Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, more than one member of the Whitney Museum’s curatorial staff urged visitors to dispense with “preconceived notions” about Koons and embrace the exhibition as an opportunity to view the artist’s perhaps too-well-known oeuvre with fresh eyes. One of the largest retrospectives the Whitney has ever mounted, Jeff Koons sprawls across three floors in ascending chronological order, lucidly mapping the artist’s career as he progressed from wunderkind art-school grad, to cultural provocateur, to the Mylar man we have known and either loved or hated for past twenty-odd years.

Those who revile Koons often do so on the basis of his later works, like Balloon Dog (or, more recently, Balloon Venus of Willendorf), the production and sale values of which have soared while their meaning has seemingly become ever more surface-deep. Admirers, meanwhile, employ a modernist-inflected rhetoric of materiality and monumentality to elevate this work on much of the same bases. Wall text at the Whitney describes how Cat in a Cradle required Koons to push the limits of a worldwide network of specialist plastic fabricators, suggesting that the work owes the “sense of wonder” it supposedly inspires to this insistence on medium and scale. On similar grounds, New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith hails Play-Doh (1994–2014), a towering mound of brightly colored globs that uncannily resemble the matte tackiness of the titular children’s putty, as an “almost certain masterpiece.” Those who agree with such a statement will be delighted by the playground of huge, shiny, pneumatic-looking things that is the Whitney’s top floor. Those inclined to see Play-Doh as little more than a colossal waste of time and money may find a surprising protagonist two floors down: Koons circa 1985. Believe it or not, Koons’ artistic practice was once pointedly critical and anything but insular. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is most interesting (and encouraging) when it reminds us of this.

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