Subverting the Sublime: Wondermountain at Penrith Regional Gallery

It seemed entirely appropriate that my journey to see Wondermountain at the Penrith Regional Gallery and Lewers Bequest was through rain, a concrete landscape of freeways and overpasses obscured by my windscreen wipers. I arrived beside the swollen Nepean River, the Blue Mountains shrouded in mist, reflecting on the continuing importance of shanshui (mountain/water) painting. A poetic approach to representing landscape evolving from the Tang Dynasty, the genre has continuing currency in the work of contemporary artists responding to dramatic changes in the natural environment, in China and elsewhere. Subtitled Landscapes of Artifice and the Imagination, the exhibition brings together works by thirteen Chinese and Australian artists, exploring curator Joanna Bayndrian’s interest in the endurance of some of shanshui’s core principles and  “the transient spaces of supermodernity.” Bayndrian wanted to explore the relationship between humans and the natural environment, the artistic appropriation of signs and symbols that have come before, and the visualization of imagined landscapes. These things, so central to traditions of Chinese art, are all relevant to young artists working today.

Hua Tunan, Fluorescent impression shanshui, 2013, spray paint, 300 x 500, image courtesy the artist

Hua Tunan. Fluorescent Impression Shanshui, 2013; spray paint; 300 x 500 cm. Image courtesy of the Artist.

A number of works depict dystopian landscapes, rather than the sublime vistas imagined by the literati painters in their gardens, or wandering scholars traveling in misty mountains. Yang Yongliang’s animated Phantom Landscape, at first sight a Song Dynasty scroll painting, is a melancholy vision of the fate of Chinese mega-cities. The mountains are actually stacked skyscrapers surmounted by cranes and pylons, while a torrential waterfall becomes a river of cars. Philjames appropriates a picturesque landscape into an image of the Three Gorges Dam in a comment on development and “progress.” Hua Tunan uses the language of street art and spray-can graffiti to reimagine shanshui in vivid fluorescent color far from the restraint and serenity associated with the conventions.

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#Hashtags: The Squeezing of the Middle Class Gallery

#commerce #place-making #policy #class #gentrification

With their leases recently terminated, the mid-sized galleries at 77 Geary Street in San Francisco are the latest casualties of the massive wealth divide that plagues contemporary American society. Gallerists George Krevsky, Rena Bransten, and Mark Jawgiel were notified that their month-to-month leases would be discontinued to make space for technology company MuleSoft to expand into the building’s second floor. Patricia Sweetow Gallery, located on the mezzanine floor, has not yet received a lease termination but is in the process of looking for a new gallery space. Within the past year, other gallery tenants Togonon and Marx & Zavattero have departed 77 Geary in advance of the anticipated loss of space. Some of the galleries being displaced have been at 77 Geary for decades.

Tracey Snelling. "Mystery Hour," Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA, December 19, 2013 - February 1, 2014. Photo credit: John Janca. Courtesy of the artist and Rena Bransten Gallery.

Tracey Snelling. “Mystery Hour,” Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA, December 19, 2013 – February 1, 2014. Photo credit: John Janca. Courtesy of the Artist and Rena Bransten Gallery.

These circumstances, while particularly dramatic, are very much within the scope of experience for many mid-sized American galleries in multiple cities. Chelsea recently saw the departure of Postmasters for lower Manhattan, while Billy Shire Fine Arts is among the mid-sized spaces that have closed after years in L.A.’s Culver City. Meanwhile, the New Yorker recently reported that mega-galleries David Zwirner and Gagosian are doing record business. If the very top of the contemporary art market is thriving, one might ask why it matters that smaller galleries are closing and gallery districts relocating across the country. There are two main reasons why this news should warrant concern. First, mid-sized galleries represent the bulk of artists with gallery representation, for whom record auction prices are out of reach. For these artists, mid-sized galleries make the difference between maintaining a sustainable art career and abandoning creative work for more lucrative pursuits. Without them, artists must take second and third jobs, detracting from the time and energy they need to make their art. Alternative spaces, many of which are also closing, provide regional artists with visibility and community but can offer only minimal financial support. Casting aside the enormous community-building value offered by support for the arts, even the most dry-eyed capitalist ought to appreciate that mid-sized commercial galleries are the link between a community’s individual artists and artisans and a broader market for their goods.

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Shotgun Reviews

Multiple Perspectives: New Works by Xie Xiaoze at Chambers Fine Art

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, Adam Monohon reviews Multiple Perspectives: New Works by Xie Xiaoze at Chambers Fine Art in New York City.

Xie Xiaoze. October 19, 2007; Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 72 in; March 16-17, 2013, I.H.T., 2013; Oil and Acrylic on Canvas; 80 x 93 in. Photo: Adam Monohon.

Xie Xiaoze. October 19, 2007; oil and acrylic on canvas; 60 x 72 in; March 16-17, 2013, I.H.T., 2013; oil and acrylic on canvas; 80 x 93 in. Photo: Adam Monohon.

Mass media plays an inescapable role in everyday life. The printing press, photography, the internet, and most recently the rapid growth of smartphone usage have all dramatically altered the way information is distributed and consumed. Xie Xiaoze’s paintings—currently on view at Chambers Fine Art—reflect on the various forms of communication that shape our lives. The exhibition includes three distinct groups of paintings that, assembled together, describe the progression of mass media.

The first of these three groups is composed of softly rendered, warm-toned depictions of stacks of books; the second, sharp-edged and tightly cropped paintings of newspapers; the last, near facsimiles of images taken from Weibo, a rough equivalent to Twitter. Xie’s book paintings are the most abstract of all; the brushwork is broad and irregular, though highly controlled. The palette of these paintings is warm, considerably warmer than that of the others, while the scale is large yet intimate. These paintings convey a deep nostalgia for the book, one that is heightened by Xie’s choice of old and beautifully bound volumes.

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Green Dream at kijidome

From our partners at Big Red & Shiny, today we bring you a review of Green Dream at kijidome in Boston. Author Edmond Caldwell notes, “Individually and collectively, the digital videos that comprise kijidome’s Green Dream come to no easy conclusions and issue no final statements. Instead, they leave the audience to continue the collaboration in their thoughts and discussions.” This article was originally published on February 19, 2014.

Tara Merenda Nelson (with Madge of Honor). Beautiful Secrets, episode 2, 2014; video still.

Tara Merenda Nelson (with Madge of Honor). Beautiful Secrets, Episode 2, 2014; video still.

For five weeks early in this year, half of a modestly sized art space in Boston’s South End became a field of infinite possibility, courtesy of chroma-key green and the kijidome group. Susan Metrican, Lucy Kim, Carlos Jiménez Cahua, and Sean Downey don’t consider it a gallery but a space for collaboration, and this project, Green Dream, was all about collaboration. The group created a green-screen room—which allows digital projections to be layered into video along with live actors—and put a call out to artists they knew or wanted to work with to come and play. The resulting anthology of sixteen videos screened on February 8 before an appreciative audience in a larger studio upstairs.

All the videos were recorded in the presence of Dushko Petrovich’s Green Screed, a ceiling-to-floor text on the space’s fourth wall. By turns funny and anguished, the screed exposes the fatuousness of “green” discourse in contemporary culture and its almost comically feeble consumerist-based “solutions” to the impending ecological tsunami. Nothing is spared, from bumper-sticker slogans and organic veggies to technofuturist idylls of unlimited sustainability. But what the text dwells on most are the mental feints and blinds we use to put off the day of reckoning. The densely packed lines of shiny green vinyl and rounded, nonthreatening font almost appear to abet these equivocations, inviting the eye to slide away. Thus green ultimately figures as “the very plane of fantasy” on which we project our doomed—but artisanally crafted—dreams.

Read the full article here.



Sculpture after Sculpture at the Art Center College of Design

Last Saturday, curator and Artforum editor-at-large Jack Bankowsky moderated a roundtable on “Sculpture after Sculpture” (more on the title in a moment) at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, in anticipation of his forthcoming three-artist survey of the same name at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm this October. The three artists, Katharina Fritsch, Jeff Koons, and Charles Ray, are united by work that is, in Bankowsky’s words, “pointedly figural, quotidian in reference, and resolutely sculptural”; work that, when it emerged in the 1970s, was “all but unimaginable as the shape of serious art to come.” Thus the organizing question for the roundtable: How did we get to the point that figural sculpture seems viable and significant again?

Jack Bankowsky at the Sculpture after Sculpture Panel Discussion, Art Center College of Design. Photo: Chris Hatcher

Jack Bankowsky presenting at the Sculpture after Sculpture Panel Discussion, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena. Photo: Chris Hatcher.

The “what’s changed” as suggested by Bankowsky includes minimalism, industrial production, and the legacy of the readymade; but the speakers, who each gave a ten minute talk devoted to an “epiphany, quandary, or suspicion” that these three artists raised, focused as much on economic, political, and technological changes as on art history. The roundtable might have been better named “Production after Production.”

The panelists themselves formed a forceful and not unpolemical group: sculptor Charles Ray himself; Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf, (who is currently working on the first American museum restrospective on Koons’ art); Isabelle Graw, critic and founder of Texte Zur Kunst; Michelle Kuo, Editor-in-chief of Artforum (who previous collaborated with Rothkopf on a special issue devoted to artistic production); and critic and art historian Michael Fried. What follows is a summary of each of their ten-minute talks.

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Nobuo Kubota: Sonic Scores at YYZ Artists Outlet

Schwoop. Bap. Tschk-tschk. Dom. Dung.

No, the start to this review isn’t full of typos; it’s my attempt at onomatopoeia to capture the sounds that greet viewers at Nobuo Kubota’s YYZ exhibit Sonic Scores. Kubota is a Canadian multimedia artist who often uses sound in his work. His practice is inspired by an interest in jazz and Zen Buddhism, and Sonic Scores presents elements attributed to both of these traditions.

Nobuo Kubota. Sonic Scores, 2014; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and YYZ Artists Outlet. Photo: Allan Kosmajac.

Nobuo Kubota. Sonic Scores, 2014; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and YYZ Artists Outlet. Photo: Allan Kosmajac.

Kubota’s rich audio recordings—the inspiration for his drawings—play on headphones located at the center of the gallery. His calligraphic renderings of the sounds swirl around visitors as they listen, creating a fully immersive experience. Image and sound compete for attention as viewers attempt to locate where the peaks of sound on the audio pair up with Kubota’s drawings.

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Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take at the Walker Art Center

I love sculpture. Fundamentally, though, I am a ‘drawer.’ But I love spatial relationships and dimensionality. I’m interested in theatrical moments and choreographing experiences in space. I think as a drawer and make as a sculptor.” —Jim Hodges [1]

With butterflies, silk flowers, spiderwebs, mirrors, camouflage, and gold, Jim Hodges draws in space. Constantly assembling and disassembling natural imagery and everyday items, he creates objects and installations that invite viewers to consider mortality and memory. Co-organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center, Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take is the first comprehensive survey in the United States on the work of the New York–based artist. With nearly 75 pieces made from 1987 through the present, the exhibition brings together photographs, drawings, objects, and several room-size installations, showcasing Hodges’ commitment to probing yet poignant investigations of space and materiality.

Jim Hodges. Deformed, 1989; altered shopping bag; 30 1/2 × 34 in. Photo by Ronald Amstutz ©Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges. Deformed, 1989; altered shopping bag; 30 1/2 × 34 in. Photo by Ronald Amstutz. © Jim Hodges.

Hodges began his career making objects from the dirt and waste around him, often destroying the finished result. This fascination with creation through destruction emerges early in the exhibition. In Deformed (1989), the artist deconstructs a purple pansy-printed paper shopping bag, splitting it along its seams. Installed flat and pinned to the wall, the resulting cruciform is an enigmatic totem. Likewise, in A Line to You (1994), Changing Things (1997), and You (1997), Hodges disassembles vibrant silk flowers, reassembling them variously into a vertical garland, an abstract wall drawing, and a vibrant tapestry. Hodges carefully transforms these everyday materials into poetic, ethereal objects that are like three-dimensional paintings.

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