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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Best of 2014 – #Hashtags: Sweet and Low

Here at Daily Serving we count down the days to the New Year by presenting you with our best writing from the outgoing year. Our first selection, from our 2014 #Hashtags column, comes from Lia Wilson: “Anuradha Vikram’s investigation of Kara Walker’s The Marvelous Sugar Baby is an incredibly deft navigation of the entanglement of race, gender, class, labor, capitol, and representation operating within the work itself and its conditions for being. Vikram acknowledges the controversies that dominated much coverage of Walker’s installation, namely the thousands of lewd Instagrams of visitors posing with the sphinx’s genitals and the fact that the developer of the Domino Sugar site is also the co-chair of Creative Time, but instead orients her analysis by drawing revealing connections between the work and the larger canon of art history: from the sphinx of Giza, to the Odalisque tradition, to Manet’s Olympia, to the Symbolists, to expanded-field artists’ criticisms of the systems that fund and commission works of monumental art. This investigation highlights the unease and ambivalence that has long plagued the relationship between ruling-class patronage and artistic integrity, in which Walker is just the latest example. In Vikram’s words, ‘Walker’s sphinx represents an anti-slavery political statement that is itself shackled, reliant on entities that actively perpetuate the very exploitation and effacement that her narrative is intended to combat.’” This article was originally published on June 30, 2014.

Kara Walker. A Subtlety, 2014. Site-specific installation at Domino Sugar Factory, Brooklyn, NY. Commissioned by Creative Time. Photo by Rajath Vikram.

Kara Walker. A Subtlety, 2014; site-specific installation at Domino Sugar Factory, Brooklyn, NY. Commissioned by Creative Time. Photo by Rajath Vikram.

#race #gender #gentrification #access #development #labor

Kara Walker’s massive sphinx at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, titled At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant has been recognized mostly for Walker’s hotly debated use of African American stereotypes, and for some hurtful behavior by visitors to the exhibition who Instagrammed obscene reactions to the sexually explicit central figure (no link, Google if you must). Some of this is inevitable. Walker’s work, marked by an oppositional aesthetics and meant to impart a strong reaction, reflects and manifests harsh realities present in the larger world. The experience of her work is raw, and some viewers experience her appropriation of racially exploitative imagery as re-traumatization irrespective of its critical intent. Such an emotional response is certainly valid; however, it is scarcely the main criteria by which the work’s artistic merit should be judged. The disrespectful behavior of some audience members is also an indication that the social codes of nudity versus nakedness of women’s bodies remain more or less intact, over 150 years after Manet’s Olympia brought them center stage. Further complicating responses to the work is the reality of contemporary art and museum attendance (and leadership), which is overwhelmingly white; as well as sponsorship of the installation by Domino Sugar, still linked to profit through the exploitation of black labor; and by the high-rise developer that now owns the site, and whose plans are under challenge from local organizers. As such, Walker’s sphinx represents an anti-slavery political statement that is itself shackled, reliant on entities that actively perpetuate the very exploitation and effacement that her narrative is intended to combat.

Walker’s sphinx is in dialogue with Olympia much as she is with the Great Sphinx of Giza and with the myriad (usually female) sphinxes that appear in Symbolist painting. As she demonstrated with After the Deluge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006, Walker is a student of art history. Her decision to dress the otherwise unclothed central figure in a “Mammy” headwrap relegates the sphinx to nakedness, a woman in a state of partial and thereby knowing undress who has historically been viewed as sinful, while her un-self-conscious, still visually available nude counterpart has been viewed as innocent. Whiteness and blackness are very much a part of this history, best illustrated with respect to the Odalisque tradition in art, which Manet both references and modernizes.

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Shotgun Reviews

Moving Walls 22 / Watching You, Watching Me at Open Society Foundations-New York

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, Mary Coyne reviews Watching You, Watching Me at Open Society Foundations in New York City.

Mishka Henner. Dutch Landscapes, 2011; Archival pigment print.

Mishka Henner. Dutch Landscapes, 2011; archival pigment print.

Edward Snowden’s revelatory findings of pervasive surveillance by the NSA fundamentally changed the way we view the assumed privacy of our communications. Even in the face of widespread threats to our freedom, photography as a surveillance technique continues to be lauded as a military defense tactic as well as actively used by individuals for personal and commercial benefit. The artists whose works compose Watching You, Watching Me appropriate these very same techniques of technological surveillance to critique this complex society of cameras.

This exhibition is the 22nd edition of the Moving Walls series at Open Society Foundations. It seeks to highlight documentary photography, and feels exceptionally timely given the climate. Curator Yukiko Yamagata excellently brings to the fore different approaches to the material that articulate the complexities of what surveillance techniques mean and the contexts in which they can be used.

Tomas van Houtryve’s hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photographs are shot from a camera mounted on an unmanned predator drone that flies at close range over the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved drone flying zones. These zones include the U.S./Mexico border, oil fields, and typical urban areas such as parks and beaches that poetically parallel the civilian villages that are attacked in drone warfare. Similarly, Mishka Henner appropriates aerial imagery from Google Earth. His Dutch Landscapes show pixelated areas of Holland—locations deemed too secret to be revealed for public viewing—as they appear from the Google satellite. Made conspicuous by their disguise, the pixelated regions seem to spotlight otherwise unbroken countryside.

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San Francisco

On Collecting: Breaking the Borderlands of Function

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Djinnaya Stroud‘s recent profile of three collectors whose acquisitions include functional works. Stroud explains, “The need to understand an object through its use drives many people who would never have been art collectors to amass functional work.” This essay was originally published on December 10, 2014.

Hans Coper. Vase without and with flowers; ceramic, 8 x 6 x 4 inches. Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery.

Hans Coper. Vase without and with flowers; ceramic, 8 x 6 x 4 in. Courtesy of Jeffrey Spahn Gallery.

The term “non-functional art” isn’t satisfying as an antonym for functional art. All art serves a function, even if that function is solely aesthetic. In 1790, Immanuel Kant declared in Critique of Judgment that opinions of taste are disinterested, in that they have no bearing on actual human needs. From that statement, a whole category of objects was relegated to the realm of functional art, or, even worse, not art. Public opinion has developed quite a bit since then, but the divide between functional art and disinterested art remains.

One way to understand an object is to understand its place in the world. So what happens when those objects enter a collection? Art collecting is driven by investment and/or preservation. Some people collect art for financial reasons, hoping that it will appreciate in value, and others collect art to ensure that it remains in good care for the future. Most collectors are a mix of both. Functional artworks, if in use, do not adhere to either of those missions because, in their use, they risk devaluation or destruction. The collector of functional art makes a decision about whether to use a piece or to keep it merely as an aesthetic object.

Read the full article here.



Interview with Anthony Huberman

Anthony Huberman was appointed the director of the CCA Wattis Institute in August of 2013, but only really started reshaping the institution this fall with an intriguing—and fairly democratic—strategy for presenting and thinking about contemporary art. As the founding director of the Artist’s Institute in New York, Huberman has worked with artists such as Robert Filliou, Rosemarie Trockel, Haim Steinbach, and Thomas Bayrle, and will be publishing a book about them in 2015; he will also curate his fifth installment of Hello Goodbye Thank You, a biennial exhibition, at castillo/corrales in Paris. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation about the Wattis’ potential within the current cultural climate of San Francisco and beyond.

Joan Jonas. Still from  Volcano Saga, 1985/2011; 28 min, color, sound.

Joan Jonas. Volcano Saga, 1985/2011; video still; color, sound; 28:00.

Bean Gilsdorf: You’re done with the projects that you inherited [from former curator Jens Hoffmann], and now you get to start the new programming. What’s first?

Anthony Huberman: We gave ourselves an entire year before launching a new program because I wanted to spend time really thinking through some questions: What is the point of this kind of nonprofit art institute? What should our goal and purpose be in the context of contemporary art infrastructure? How can we contribute in ways that a gallery or museum can’t? And so we have a new proposition towards answering those questions, a type of art organization that works with artists in specific ways, and that is equally about showing work as it is about thinking about art and artists.

BG: And how will this work in the context of being a part of the California College of the Arts?

AH: Because we’re operating in an academic context, we really want to underline the fact that this is an exhibition space and a research institute, so we developed a program to answer three different questions. The first question is the most obvious: What are artists making today? This can be addressed through a commission-based exhibition program. But we are more than just display-based, and an artist is not just someone who makes things, but also someone who looks at things and engages with other people. So we also want to answer the question: What is an artist thinking about today? For this, an artist is invited to spend several months here in our San Francisco apartment, and is given a budget to do curatorial programming based on his or her current research interests. Finally, there is the question: How do artists inform or potentially disrupt the way we think about art today? To answer this, we dedicate an entire year to an artist’s practice as a topic of reflection. It’s not going to have an exhibition connected to it; instead, every month there will be a lecture, screening, or other event that is in some way connected to an ongoing process of thinking through the artist’s work. The way these components get phrased on our new website is: “so-and-so is in the gallery,” “so-and-so is in the apartment,” and “so-and-so is on our mind.”

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