Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Karen Ostrom

Holiday in Hope is the name of the fictional fishing village created by Brooklyn-based, Canadian-born artist Karen Ostrom. Conceived in 2001 in the form of photographic tableaus, the village primarily exists through the depiction of various characters that inhabit it. Holiday in Hope is manifested in threads and series; it’s an implied space that harbors references to communities transformed by industrialization, the erosion of traditional craft-based roles, and historical images of violence.

Karen Ostrom. Glovemaker, 2005; chromogenic print; 40 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Karen Ostrom. Glovemaker, 2005; chromogenic print; 40 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

This ongoing project echoes Ostrom’s biography without becoming a strict interpretation of her life. Hailing from a family of Swedish immigrants who flocked to the northwest coast in the early 20th century, Ostrom imagined Holiday in Hope as a reference to the utopian dream many of the Scandinavian immigrants held in their quest for a new home. These immigrants, in search of idyllic landscapes in which to build new and experimental communities, are in some ways the forefathers of the residents of Holiday in Hope.

Read More »

Share

New York

Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet at the American Folk Art Museum

Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet, currently on view at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, focuses on two events seminal to the introduction of art brut to an American audience. The first was a 1951 speech given by the French artist Jean Dubuffet to the Arts Club of Chicago entitled “Anticultural Positions.” Displayed in full at the museum, the speech is a kind of manifesto for the creative field Dubuffet had been constructing since 1945, arguing the superior authenticity and raw creativity of works made by children, psychiatric patients, so-called primitive artists, and other anonymous individuals who were “uncontaminated by artistic culture.” The second event was the loan of some 1,200 art brut works from Dubuffet’s collection to his friend Alfonso Ossorio in 1952, who displayed them in his East Hampton mansion, The Creeks, for the next decade. Ossorio was a wealthy artist and collector in his own right, and The Creeks was a New York art-world hotspot in the 1950s and ’60s, frequented by influential figures such as Clement Greenberg, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Marcel Duchamp, Barnett Newman, Harold Rosenberg, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, to name just a few. In addition to the nearly 200 works of art, most of which were part of the original loan, Dubuffet’s letters to Ossorio and photographs of the art brut works hung in Ossorio’s home are also on view in the exhibition.

Adolf Wolfli. Untitled (Saint Adolph Bitten in the Leg by the Snake), 1921; colored pencil and pencil on paper;
 26-3/4 x 20-1/8 in.; Waldau Clinic, Bern, Switzerland. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo: Marie Humair.

Adolf Wolfli. Untitled (Saint Adolph Bitten in the Leg by the Snake), 1921; colored pencil and pencil on paper;
 26-3/4 x 20-1/8 in.; Waldau Clinic, Bern, Switzerland. Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo: Marie Humair.

The importance of this documentation is hard to overestimate. In addition to providing insight into Dubuffet’s early process and philosophy in formulating art brut as a new aesthetic paradigm, it also chronicles the moment when the seeds for what would later become outsider art were first planted in the United States. Many of the artists included in Art Brut in America, like Aloise Corbaz, Augustin Lesage, and Adolf Wolfli, are now well known to American audiences through the robust and active network of outsider-art galleries, fairs, and publications. Through revisiting and partially re-creating art brut’s American debut, the exhibition also inevitably tells outsider art’s genesis story. While it is undeniable that the outsider-art genre was built from art brut’s blueprints, and inherited the slippery criteria for inclusion and false dichotomies that plagued its predecessor, it is crucial to remember the differences between the two fields, in particular the historical context that informed Dubuffet’s motives for collecting in the first place.

Read More »

Share

Los Angeles

Mike Kelley: Single Channel Videos at REDCAT

Nearing the fourth anniversary of Mike Kelley’s death, REDCAT presented a theatrical screening of six of his video works, curated by Steve Anker and Bérénice Reynaud as part of the Jack H. Skirball Series. The selection of works in Mike Kelley: Single Channel Videos included a one-act melodrama based on a black-and-white yearbook photograph, a hammy and melancholic Superman reciting Sylvia Plath, an invocation of power through juvenile imagination, and collaborations with Paul McCarthy and BDSM dyad Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan.

Mike Kelley. Superman Recites Selections from 'The Bell Jar' and Other Works by Sylvia Plath, 1999 (film still); 7:19 min. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Mike Kelley. Superman Recites Selections from ‘The Bell Jar’ and Other Works by Sylvia Plath, 1999 (film still); 7:19. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

A little over a year ago, MOCA curator Bennett Simpson arranged the Los Angeles iteration of Kelley’s posthumous retrospective, Mike Kelley, at the Geffen Contemporary. First organized by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and curated by Ann Goldstein, the exhibition included a number of Kelley’s major installations. There, his video works were part and parcel of a larger whole, submerged into hilarious, exploded altars to the American ritual. In its entirety, the exhibition was loud, stimulating, and messy—and rightly so. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Mike Kelley was a chaotic assemblage whose sensitive eloquence gained psychic strength from the dissolution of the singular, rather than a distillation toward the sublime. There is no way to neatly separate and isolate light and sound within the box of a building that is the Geffen, and there is no reason to pursue that kind of purity with Kelley’s artworks, which are so much about the uncanny—how near-familiar images and objects can push their fingers into our psyche, beyond the clean boundaries of conscious control.

Nonetheless, at REDCAT’s presentation on December 14, 2015, curator Bérénice Reynaud framed the screening as arising out of Kelley’s MOCA retrospective, her idea being that the video works necessitated a theatrical screening so that they could be experienced in a facility specifically built for viewing films. As promised, REDCAT provided a space that enhanced the innate qualities of the medium, which in effect changed the experience of the six presented video works in varying ways. In the organized darkness of the theater, I could see the moving image projected in front of me, but I couldn’t see my hands. The sweet boozy scent of my neighbors became all the more palpable. The theatrical seating and its positioning of bodies created a sort of nonconfrontational, gentle sense of community—one unified by a common focus and consolidated by sharing a point of reception and reaction in space and time.

Read More »

Share

Mexico City

An Other Art World in Mexico

Contemporary art in Mexico operates within a very specific social and economic climate. Since 2006, Mexico has experienced ever-escalating levels of criminal and state violence. Suspicion of collusion between organized crime and the government is common. The case of the presumed torture and murder of the forty-three normalistas directly shows the extent of cooperation between criminal groups and local, regional, and federal authorities. Police officers, soldiers, and civic leaders have all been charged in connection with the disappearances. In addition, waves of political repression have swept through most of the country’s towns and cities. In and around Mexico City, where I live, community activists, artists, journalists, and students have faced beating, abduction, torture, rape, and murder.

Poster calling for the return of the disappeared normalistas. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo

Poster calling for the return of the disappeared normalistas. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

According to some critics, neoliberal reforms account for much of this violence. The chapter on Ciudad Juarez in Ed Vulliamy’s book Amexica is a particularly good example; it situates the epidemic of femicides in that city in the context of the structural changes brought about by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, Vulliamy asserts that the particularly brutal character of narco/state violence in Mexico results from the drug war’s neoliberal form.

The question of how art responds to, or ignores, this climate is of utmost importance. Recently, the College of Art and Design of the National Autonomous University of Mexico organized a conference, XI Simposio Internacional del Posgrado en Artes y Diseño, on management and professionalism in design, documentary film, and the visual arts. Peppered throughout the talks given by important and august museum directors, curators, art-investment bankers, copyright lawyers, and gallerists were many dissident voices calling for and describing another, more socially conscious art world. The presentation by curator and artist Carlos-Blas Galindo Mendoza, in conjunction with the roundtable he moderated, revealed the contradiction implicit in staging a conference about professionalism and management in the context of the social, political, and humanitarian crises facing contemporary Mexico.

Read More »

Share

Providence

Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog

Artist Laurie Anderson opens Heart of a Dog by recounting a rather bizarre dream. Illustrated on the screen through sketchy black-and-white drawings and narrated in Anderson’s calm, comely voice, the artist gives birth to her dog, Lolabelle, the spectral rat terrier who becomes in some ways (though in others not) the star of the film. After being presented with her bundle, Anderson’s dream self feels very happy, though she admits to a glimmer of guilt for hatching the whole grotesque plan: to have a struggling Lolabelle sewn into her stomach so that she could give birth to her beloved pet.

Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog, 2015 (still). Courtesy the artist and Abramorama Entertainment.

Laurie Anderson. Heart of a Dog, 2015 (still). Courtesy of the Artist and Abramorama Entertainment.

The 75-minute film moves ethereally through the artist’s dreams, memories, and, perhaps most poignantly, her failures. The soundtrack is lean but emotive, comprising sparse string instrumentation, layers of synthetic beats and scratches, intermittent sound effects, and Anderson’s ever-present narration. Those familiar with Anderson’s work will recognize her distinctive voice: one full of air, released with great intention, one syllable at a time, her esses melting into a sibilant hiss. The accompanying footage maintains a similar airiness, many of the frames blurred by a heavy peripheral vignetting, or filtered through rain or haze. The images appearing onscreen are pulled from a variety of places. Anderson’s drawings, her own footage capturing her New York neighborhood along with West Side Highway, and the modest adventures of Lolabelle provide visual material for some of the film, while other scenes are borrowed from 8mm family movies from the artist’s youth and footage borrowed from Anderson’s other video works. The images remain indeterminate, abstracted—in the very way that memories and dreams are visually recalled.

Read More »

Share

Shotgun Reviews

Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts at the Oakland Museum of California

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, Elena Harvey Collins reviews Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts at the Oakland Museum of California in Oakland.

Willia Ette Graham, Johnnie Alberta Wade, and Arbie Williams. Mamaloo, 1992; denim, cotton flannel; 76 x 68 in. Courtesy of the Eli Leon Collection and the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Terry Lorant.

Willia Ette Graham, Johnnie Alberta Wade, and Arbie Williams. Mamaloo, 1992; denim, cotton flannel; 76 x 68 in. Courtesy of the Eli Leon Collection and the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Terry Lorant.

On view at the Oakland Museum of California, Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts presents a focused selection of quilts from the extensive collection of Bay Area quilter and collector Eli Leon. This exhibition emphasizes the playful and conceptual aspects of the form, centering on the improvisational aesthetics of the African American quilting tradition, and engages the vocabulary of the craft. Understated titles such as Four Patch Half Square Strip (1994), pieced by Rosie Lee Tompkins and quilted by Irene Bankhead, and Double Strip (n.d.), pieced by Mattie Pickett and quilted by Willia Ette Graham, draw on the quilting pattern used, yet the loose geometry and freewheeling combination of techniques listed sits in irreverent contrast to the precision and consistency often valued in conventional quilts. Unusual material choices abound, too. Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys, men’s ties, and lacy doilies are just some of the bits and pieces tethered into rhythmic schemas of pattern, texture, and color.

Read More »

Share

Interviews

Otobong Nkanga in Conversation with Clare Molloy at Kadist Paris

From our friends at Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, today we bring you a video of Clare Molloy in conversation with Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga. They discuss Nkanga’s exhibition Comot Your Eyes Make I Borrow You Mine, which was on view from September 27 through December 20, 2015. Nkanga says, explaining the title, “In a way, traveling and going through all these places, I had only the eyes of others.” 

Share