Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscape(s) at Galerie Loevenbruck

Owing to the success of her figurative work as well as her 2012 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow is widely recognized for her uncanny mixed-media sculptures that incorporate cast body parts with everyday objects. Often overlooked, however, are her drawings of abstracted figures—erotic, restless, and vulnerable—though they are a central part of her practice. Human Landscape(s) at Loevenbruck in Paris presents a small but welcome corrective.

Alina Szapocznikow. Untitled, 1970-1971; Ink on laid paper; 24 13/16 x 18 7/8 in. Courtesy The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow / Piotr Stanislawski / Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Alina Szapocznikow. Untitled, 1970-1971; ink on laid paper; 24 13/16 x 18 7/8 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Alina Szapocznikow/Piotr Stanislawski/Galerie Loevenbruck, Paris. © ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Fabrice Gousset.

Fifteen drawings in ink, felt-tip pen, and watercolor on paper are arranged in five groups of three, with each group emphasizing a subtly different aspect of her style. Viewers first encounter a set of drawings in fine black ink. Body parts such as a finger or a breast are discernible, but on the whole, the aggregated contours of each drawing are predominantly suggestive rather than pictorial. Szapocznikow’s early life was shaped by the trauma of her imprisonment in two Jewish ghettoes and three Nazi concentration camps. Yet nearly thirty years after the war, her depictions are delicate, almost tender; the line work is more like a lover’s light touch than a mark of agitation, and the verticality of these images creates an upward, lifting movement.

In contrast, the figures in the second set of drawings are oriented horizontally, and definable imagery is less elusive. The pen lines of Paysage Humain [Human Landscape] (1971) stretch across the page, giving the impression of being pulled from both left and right. In the central foreground, in front of rolling hills, a shapely mound suggests a pregnant woman; curved lines and shading indicate the roundness of her swollen belly. But where a face might be, there is only a skull. Szapocznikow’s marks are energetic, established in melancholic black and dark purple. Birth and death are proximal to one another, and imminent.

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Alec Soth: Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree at Colby College Museum of Art

Alec Soth’s video, Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree, concludes with an excerpt from the Allen Ginsberg poem “A Supermarket in California.”

   What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

   In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! [1]

Alec Soth. Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree, 2012 (video still); single-channel video; 6:23. Courtesy of the Artist.

Alec Soth. Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree, 2012 (video still); single-channel video; 6:23. Courtesy of the Artist.

Ginsberg’s verse is an unsurprising endnote to Soth’s video, a nearly seven-minute-long work composed of dozens of fixed camera shots, lingering on sites throughout Minneapolis in the fading light of a summer evening. The locations documented are so mundane they could be from any middle-American town: a freeway overpass, a gas station, a commercial parking lot, a strip mall, the pavement outside a fast-food restaurant. A moonlit “neon fruit supermarket” is very much at home amid this imagery. But beyond the similarities in the settings conjured, Ginsberg’s quote captures a dynamic at the heart of Soth’s project: acknowledging the profound influence of an artistic predecessor (Whitman) while making art very much about one’s time, art that describes a uniquely contemporary experience. Summer Nights at the Dollar Tree was created as an homage to one of Soth’s greatest influences, the photographer Robert Adams and his 1985 publication, Summer Nights. Adams’ revered photo book documented his late-night walks in Colorado, focusing on spaces where artificial illumination bled into darkness. Summer Nights first motivated a young Soth to shoot in the evening.

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New Orleans

Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans

Curated by Dr. Andrea Andersson, Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible is the most extensive museum presentation of the artist’s work to date—a significant triumph for a cultural institution located in New Orleans, one of the most racially and politically fraught cities in the southern United States. While the exhibition’s rich display resonates with the variety of material and conceptual strategies at work in Pendleton’s oeuvre, it is the artist’s subversive modes of intervention into historical discourses of vanguard art and politics that lend weight to the complexities of his practice.

Adam Pendleton. Installation Shot of Yes, But. 2008. Acrylic paint on wall. Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

Adam Pendleton. Yes, But, 2008; acrylic paint on wall; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

The immediate impact of Pendleton’s engagement with the architectural space of the institution invites visitors to understand his engagement with site as a form of occupation. The vertical space of each gallery is dramatically papered with the artist’s stark black-and-white materials—collages, posters, paintings, silkscreens, and acrylic texts swarm the walls, covering the visual field with appropriated and fragmented photographic materials that shout and stutter across three dimensions.[1] Viewers are continuously met with a cacophony of printed matter and textual fragments that tautologically enact Pendleton’s desire for hierarchies of aesthetic representation, production, and historical origins to cross-reference, and subsequently, re-signify.

This mode is powerfully introduced at the start of the exhibition with Yes, But (2008), a wall painting of quotes appropriated from the legendary French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard in the 2002 film The Future(s) of Film. Oscillating somewhere between portraiture, poetry, and fragmented non sequitur, Pendleton covers the wall with appropriated text—a gesture that nods to the French auteur’s critique of style and his embrace of the productive possibilities inherent in the accumulation of found content. Pendleton’s destabilization of authorship is a strategy that follows the structures and dynamic history of the avant-garde in the 20th century, and forms the conceptual foundation for a practice that expands from a dissolution between material and process.

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Los Angeles

Flavr Savr* at the Pit

The Pit, a small artist-run gallery, sits semi-hidden in a commercial and industrial neighborhood north of Los Angeles. Artists Devon Oder and Adam Miller founded the gallery in 2014, exhibiting emerging artists in tightly curated group shows alongside at least one well-established artist. The Pit, located in a converted car mechanic’s garage, has the same anonymously beige exterior as the neighboring businesses. But its out-of-the-way location and undistinguishable architecture belie the impact the space has had during its short lifetime. On clear days, when approaching the gallery’s entrance, the combination of the Southern California sun mixed with the Pit’s hard fluorescent lights will make your eyes water, as if you’ve been staring at a mirage for too long.

Lynn Hershman Leeson. GMO Animals, Crops, Labs (The Infinity Engine), 2014; wallpaper; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the Pit.

Lynn Hershman Leeson. GMO Animals, Crops, Labs (The Infinity Engine), 2014; wallpaper; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the Pit.

Visual deception and optical illusions permeate the Pit’s current show, Flavr Savr*, curated by Alexandra Gaty. The exhibition title refers to the first genetically modified food approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Engineered and developed in the early 1990s, Flavr Savr was a tomato of middling quality designed to ripen slower, thereby extending its shelf life. The FDA decided that the tomato needed no special labeling to delineate its genetic modification because its health risks and nutritional composition were no different from other tomatoes on the market.

Flavr Savr* has, as its background noise, the fear of unforeseen consequences that result from explicit human interference with the invisible, microscopic interventions into the systems we take for granted, like the food or healthcare system. Lynn Hershman Leeson’s wallpaper, GMO Animals, Crops, Labs (The Infinity Engine) (2014), most explicitly tackles the dilemma of genetic modification and acts as a backdrop for the other video and sculpture pieces throughout the space. The wallpaper bears images, locations, and brief descriptions of research in genetically modified organisms, including glow-in-the-dark cats, 3D-printed human limbs, and cloned pit bulls and Afghan hounds. Many of the descriptions refer to experiments that either had an eventual practical application (developing pesticide-resistant crops or furthering AIDS research with glow-in-the-dark cats) or an idiosyncratic one (cloning pit bulls in order “to memorialize Bernann McKinney’s deceased pet Booger”).

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San Francisco

Take This Hammer: Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Today from our sister publication Art Practical we bring you editor Emily Holmes’ review of Take This Hammer at YBCA in San Francisco. Holmes notes, “Although there is crossover between works, particularly in regard to the social issues they address, violence is perhaps the single thread running through all of Take This Hammer. […] It takes many forms, but the exhibition particularly exposes systemic inequities and state-sanctioned uses of lethal force, in the global (military) uses as well as the local (police).” This article was originally published on April 19, 2016.

Take This Hammer: Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area, installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Left: Oree Originol. Justice for Our Lives, 2014-ongoing. Right: Cat Brooks with Black Lives Matter. Anti Police-Terror Project, ‘Tasha,’ 2015. Courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Photo: Charlie Villyard.

Take This Hammer: Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area, installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Left: Oree Originol. Justice for Our Lives, 2014-ongoing. Right: Cat Brooks with Black Lives Matter. Anti Police-Terror Project, ‘Tasha,’ 2015. Courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Photo: Charlie Villyard.

The command within the exhibition title Take This Hammer: Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area, on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) through August 14, 2016, is an incendiary offering. It is a suggestion filled with implicit actions that could go in any direction, or perhaps multiple directions at the same time: smash, build, repair. Curated by Christian L. Frock, the exhibition itself evokes a similarly complicated empowerment—a sort of optimism fueled by grief, anger, and the fear that change will not occur fast enough. Derived from the title of a documentary (on view in the lobby) featuring James Baldwin on the topic of Black life in San Francisco in the 1960s, Take This Hammer as a phrase and exhibition directs viewers to implicate themselves in contemporary social issues.

The exhibition provides a wide sampling of work by eighteen Bay Area–based artists and activists who work individually or collectively. Like the region itself, it’s a diverse grouping—both in terms of points of view and strategies of political intervention. Seeing some of the pieces or documents in a museum context raises questions about whether they would be better served being wheat-pasted onto walls or held up high while marching through the streets. Other works more clearly feel as though they “belong” in a gallery site, like the video pieces and paintings. Others initially or continuously exist online, their inclusion here a remove from that already-expansive viewing context of the internet. Regardless of the context each piece apparently belongs to, Take This Hammer uses its institutional and educational frame to create a comprehensive experience of political work being produced today. Indeed, YBCA—with its current marketing campaign that includes phrases like “the center for the art of doing something about it,” as proudly asserted by banners outside the building—lays claim to the idea that museums should foster political awareness in the community.

Read the full article here.


From the Archives

From the Archives – Time After Time: The Clock at SFMOMA

In June 2013, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art closed its doors to begin a massive expansion project. This weekend is the first public reopening of the museum, which now holds the status of the largest museum (by square footage) dedicated to modern art. Today we bring you a flashback to those last few hours at SFMOMA three years ago, when Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010) kept time on our minds as the hands counted down. This article was originally published on May 29, 2013.  

Christian Marclay. The Clock, 2010 (video still); single-channel video with stereo sound; 24 hours. Courtesy of the Artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. All photos from Christian Marclay: The Clock; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Everyone I know who saw Christian Marclay’s The Clock raved about it. The twenty-four-hour sequence of film clips, most with a view of a clock face, is more action-packed than I’d imagined it would be. The focus is as much on the events surrounding the passage of time as on the instruments we use to measure that passage. In this way, The Clock isn’t about clocks at all, and often is only circumstantially related to temporality. What it’s really about is film technology, the nature of storytelling, nostalgia, and the absurdity of life.

First things first: You don’t need to watch all 24 hours. I say this with the arrogance of someone who saw only two hours, and I say it even though I am constitutionally drawn to finishing things I begin, even though I believe there is a qualitative difference between doing something for a little time and doing that same thing for a long time. I recognize the irrationality of my confidence in grasping Marclay’s epic after experiencing only eight percent of it. It is also true that some people insist that one period of Clock watching—10:00 am to noon, for instance—is qualitatively different from another—4:00 to 5:30 pm; or 1:00 to 2:00 am. Such natural enthusiasms are proof of Marclay’s achievement, even if they are tinged, perhaps, with nostalgia; that is, influenced by the memories and narratives we fabricate as a fortress against the passage of time. But there is a way in which every period—whether period equals segment formed from connected scenes, hour, or length of time I sat in the theater—is always the same.

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Be the Kill-Joy: Interview with DarkMatter

Today, from our friends at Guernica, we bring you an interview with queer South Asian performance-art duo DarkMatter. Author Kevin St. John says of their performance at Mercury Lounge, “The evening’s performance at times resembled a political rally, a downtown drag act, an agit-prop polemic, a stand-up routine, and a traditional poetry reading. The duo performed much of the text together, talking over one another, jumping in to complete the other’s punch line: ‘I hear white men have huge—’ ‘—empires.’” This article was originally published May 2, 2016.


Kevin St. John: So much of your work satirizes the white male cis patriarchy. But here I am, a white cis man, interviewing you. I don’t know what that means, but I want to start by acknowledging that.

Alok Vaid-Menon: Hopefully, by the end of this interview, we will help you recognize that you’re not cis.

KSJ: Please do.

AVM: I don’t believe in men. I’ve never met a man in my life.

KSJ: Okay. Please help me understand that.

AVM: I think one of the biggest betrayals that a lot of people don’t understand is that the term “gay” was never about signifying sexuality. When the gay liberation movement started, it was actually about political confrontation of gender as a system, and some of the foundational divides in the gay movement were between gay men who wanted to assimilate into masculinity and gay men who were challenging the very idea of masculinity.

What happened in the gay movement was that trans became the space for gender nonconformity, whereas gay became nice, palatable, assimilate-able. For me, that feels like something imposed on us by heterosexual society—that you have to be men in order to validate your sexual desires, that your queerness is so ominous and threatening that it has to be in a man’s body in order to be understood.

Read the full article here.