Barbara Kruger: Early Works at Skarstedt Gallery

It’s a funny thing to be able to go back and reconsider an artist’s early works after thirty years, partly because the time capsule of memory remembers the work in the context in which it was made. Viewing the work again in the present reflects the context of that prior time as it’s understood now. The aggressively fast-paced 1980s are faster in memory than they actually were. The once-fleeting Warholian milestone of fifteen minutes can now be measured in terms of nearly 8 millions tweets. So it would seem that no body of work could epitomize the brashness of the 1980s better, or be better suited to the speed of the digital present, than the work of Barbara Kruger. Now at Skarstedt’s London gallery, Barbara Kruger: Early Works is an opportunity to see if memory serves history.

Barbara Kruger. Untitled (Business as usual), 1987; gelatin silver print in artist’s frame; artist’s proof  from an edition of one, plus one artist’s proof. 49 x 60 3/8 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Skarstedt.

Barbara Kruger. Untitled (Business as Usual), 1987; gelatin silver print in artist’s frame; 49 x 60 3/18 in.; artist’s proof from an edition of one, plus one artist’s proof. Courtesy of the Artist and Skarstedt.

More of a very brief sample than a true survey, the exhibition is not particularly cohesive—but then it’s not supposed to be. It’s an opportunity to see the early works of Barbara Kruger that can still be purchased. Getting past the secondary-market effect, these pieces collectively offer insight into Kruger’s conceptual framework. Polar stances are formed by the norm and the artist’s critique. This is the traditional quick read of Kruger’s work as a feminist deconstruction utilizing truth-to-power statements paired with imagery that underscores the text. What becomes apparent when surrounded by the seven-piece show is how much the viewer is implicated in each of her assertions. Kruger incriminates the viewer through the brilliant use of the pronoun you; you–the viewer–manifest this problem. This is a shocking (re)revelation. For those that see themselves as being on the “correct side” of the critique, Kruger’s work was about the other—a kind of ideological enemy against whom one might take a polemical stance. It’s not. It’s about the viewer’s predicament within the space that is created between the critique and the projected other’s position.

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#Hashtags: The Business End of Art

#artmarket #creativeeconomy #collectors #entrepreneur #philanthropy #support

As in nearly every field of commerce, it seems that the tension between old and new models of the business of art is coming to a head. Traditional galleries see that their established methods of selling selectively and covertly to buyers of high social standing are under threat. Museums, which once were beneficiaries of philanthropic largesse from those same well-heeled collectors, now often find that their leading patrons are competitors; rather than donate their holdings, they establish private institutions instead—like LA’s new Broad Museum—that rival the scale and scope of the Moderns and Contemporaries, which are left empty-handed. Even major gifts to museums, such as the unrivaled Fisher Collection now entrusted to SFMOMA, come with strict and costly requirements, such as new buildings and capital campaigns. Meanwhile, the most visible and valuable contemporary artists are no longer those who have been vetted by scholars and curators, but those whose works can be most readily flipped on the secondary and auction markets. Under these circumstances, the art object is purely a marker of exchange value upon which certain complicit thinkers heap vague claims of cultural use value that seem to apply only to the acquisitive culture of the 1%.

The Broad under construction, view from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Photo © Iwan Baan. Courtesy The Broad.

The Broad under construction, view from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Broad. Photo © Iwan Baan.

The anxiety of the old guard toward the new manifests most clearly in the recent New York Times and New York Observer profiles of art impresario Stefan Simchowitz. Simchowitz has a venture-capital background, a Los Angeles aesthetic, and a start-up approach to artists, dumping money into new and unproven talent so as to play the odds that some of the artists he supports will reach the upper echelons of the market and bear out his investments as a group. Both profiles describe a man who sees himself as an underdog and, as belies his tech-funding background, a “disrupter” of established systems. His critics, who include several prominent dealers, call him a “flipper” who takes advantage of emerging artists while devaluing their output for personal profit. His champions see him as a person willing to take a risk on an unproven artist in an era when few collectors seem to value that kind of patronage.

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Shotgun Reviews

James Cordas: a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me at Et al. Gallery

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, Alex Rojas reviews James Cordas: a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me at Et al. Gallery in San Francisco. 

James Cordas. Installation view of

James Cordas. a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me; installation view.

James Cordas’ exhibition a, dog I’m holding undermy arm with Its head pointed behind me transforms Et al. Gallery into an extrasensory space. With the use of poetry, lighting installation, and performance, Cordas addresses the apprehensions of daily existence and volatile occurrences within our culture.

Entering the space, the viewer is physically immersed in Cordas’ poetry through his work 8 poems (2015). Through a custom analog circuit, the show is illuminated in a synthesized language of poetry. The circuit creates a blockade from the flow of electiricty to the fluorescent lights until sound amplitude is present. Cordas describes it as “light coming from a mouth every time someone wants to make a sound.” The light is abrupt and repetitive, so much so that the gallery issued a photosensitive epilepsy warning as part of the press release. Part comical, part serious, this warning and the poetic light installation set the tone for what the viewer will experience.

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Ragnar Kjartansson: The End at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) presents Ragnar Kjartansson’s gorgeous and shrewd video installation The End (2009). On five rear projection screens, Kjartansson and his collaborator, Icelandic musician Davíð Þór Jónsson, play all of the parts of an unidentified country-music song on piano, banjo, drums, and acoustic and electric guitars. Shot in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, both men are bearded and dressed in raccoon-fur hats, shearling coats, and jeans. Kjartansson’s smartly staged romantic concert of two musicians tests the limits of “naturalness” while also invoking the awe of a pristine and secluded landscape.

Ragnar Kjartansson. The End, 2009; Video. Courtesy of MOCAD, the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

Ragnar Kjartansson. The End, 2009; video. Courtesy of MOCAD, the Artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.

Like Edmund Burke’s sublime landscape,[1] which informed 18th- and 19th-century romantic landscape painting and writing,[2] Kjartansson positions human beings as solitary and commanding against the vast and sometimes chaotic natural world. Devoid of the architectural markings of human development, Kjartansson’s landscape is a field of white snow, mountains, and pine trees. Each of the five videos in the installation begins with shots of a landscape that includes the musicians’ equipment and instruments. Kjartansson and Þór Jónsson walk into the frame to play their song for thirty minutes and then walk off camera and into the landscape. This suggests that the landscape is the stable entity, with the duo intervening only for a brief time. Without a visible audience, the duo plays for themselves and the camera. However, at one moment, Kjartansson turns and plays toward the canyon below, pauses, and then listens as the music echoes off the ravine and disappears. While sited in the mountains, the musicians also play to it, suggesting landscape as a dynamic thing in itself.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Cristina Burns

Cristina Burns’ work offers a poised and humorous vision of a world measured more by twisted fantasy than by the so-called sanity we are all so accustomed to assuming. Working primarily in photography, the artist creates works reminiscent of seventeenth-century European cabinets of curiosity, museums of medical and anthropological oddities, and children’s books, cartoons, and playthings—her photographs ooze a cloyingly saccharine Rococo sensibility that is distinctly infused with a touch of the macabre.

Cristina Burns. Magical Ingredients, 2014; photograph; 20 x 27 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Cristina Burns. Magical Ingredients, 2014; photograph; 20 x 27 ½ inches. Courtesy of the artist.

In Magical Ingredients (2014), Burns’ stages a scene after a traditional Dutch or Flemish still life—traditional in composition and lighting—but replaces the food, dinnerware, candles, and other common objects depicted in sixteenth-century Northern European paintings with bright pink and blue toys, pieces of candy molded into human brains and eyes, a toy mermaid trapped in an upside down bell jar like a long-dead and preserved specimen, and an oversized black plastic ant lurking harmlessly in the bottom—left waiting to dig into the sugar-coated objects.

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New York

Anicka Yi: You Can Call Me F at The Kitchen

At the entrance to the black box of the Kitchen’s upstairs gallery, a long vitrine houses an illuminated culture of bacteria on agar jelly. The cracked slab teems with biological entities colored like bruises on sallow skin. Imprinted with capital letters, it reads: YOU CAN CALL ME F. Anicka Yi’s current solo show stages part breeding ground, part containment camp for “F”—the feminine, the woman as concept. A series of thick plastic tents are illuminated from within by work lights and white neon. They house sculptural environments clandestinely alive with the biological samples of a hundred women, hand-collected by the artist.

Anicka Yi. Grabbing At Newer Vegetables, 2015; Plexiglas, agar, female bacteria, fungus; 84.5 x 24.5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal

Anicka Yi. Grabbing At Newer Vegetables, 2015; Plexiglas, agar, female bacteria, fungus; 84.5 x 24.5 in.
Courtesy of the Artist and 47 Canal. Photo: Jason Mandella

In Yi’s dark alternative laboratory, colorful symbols on the quarantined hubs suggest futuristic biohazard indicators. Viewers peek into the tents through slits in the soiled flaps; the dense, clear sheets are covered in grimy fingerprints and other smeared markers of human presence. The methodology of the lab is such that the boundary between Yi’s samples and those who care for them is nonexistent, both subjects’ traces unhygienically everywhere.

Yi’s sculptures are often fields designed to trigger emotional response. The artist has produced a series of elegant meditations on such fundamental affective conditions as death and divorce, deftly aestheticizing fraught feelings through the conflation of signifiers. Yi’s poetic sense of allusion carries through in You Can Call Me F, but it is messier here, more sprawling, as elusive as the concept of female itself.

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San Francisco

Jenni Olson: The Royal Road

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Sean Uyehara’s review of The Royal Road by Jenni Olson. Uyehara notes that the film echoes “…dreams, those deferred and distorted forms of wish fulfillment, where the destination is never reached and that inevitably lead back to the thorny, tangled territory of the unconscious.” This article was originally published on March 12, 2015.

Jenni Olson. The Royal Road; 2015 (still). 16mm/HD; 65:00 min. Courtesy of Jenni Olson Productions.

Jenni Olson. The Royal Road; 2015 (film still); 16mm/HD; 65:00. Courtesy of Jenni Olson Productions.

Jenni Olson’s second feature-length narrative film, The Royal Road (2015), which I saw as part of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibition, solidifies her standing as a major voice in the use of film as personal essay. The film is primarily composed of two elements—Olson’s self-consciously butch voiceover narration paired with long takes of beautifully composed empty urban landscapes. However, this spare approach belies a sly complexity, as the film burrows into the endlessly mineable terrains of history, memory, and culture.

Olson’s previous narrative feature, The Joy of Life (2005), both elucidates the social-psychological conditions that position the Golden Gate Bridge as a suicide monument and relates Olson’s deep personal connection to it as a site of loss. A devastating work of art, the film also played a pivotal role in renewing public debate about the need for a suicide barrier on the bridge. In The Royal Road, Olson again performs the double move of disentangling and recombining her personal identity from and within the larger cultural landscape that has shaped it, this time focusing on another California landmark rich with metaphoric resonance: El Camino Real.

Read the full article here.