Reviews of the 2014 Armory Show, Independent Fair and satellite fairs

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Why This Year's Whitney Biennial Should Be Seen Through a (Slightly) Rose-Colored Lens

Photograph by Joseph Rynkiewicz/Courtesy Kavi Gupta/Chicago/Berlin
Tony Tasset, Artists Monument (2014)

There’s an anecdote I try to remember every time I get too down on New York and its coddled, flighty art world. One afternoon over lunch, I unburdened myself of months’ worth of negativity to the painter Chuck Close, a brilliant artist who has spent the last quarter of a century partying inside a wheelchair. After sympathetically hearing me out, he picked up his glass of wine with both hands, took a sip, and gave me a patient smile.

“Christian,” he said, “You know how some people say they are folks who see the world as a glass half full and others as a glass half empty?” I nodded.

“Well, even in the worst of times, and despite some very low points, I’ve always been a glass-three-quarters-full person. Sometimes I don’t know if there isn’t something wrong with me.”

Location Info

Whitney Museum Of American Art

945 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10021

Category: Museums

Region: East 80s

 

VILLAGE VOICE

Details

Whitney Biennial 2014
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
212-570-3600, whitney.org
Through May 25

After recovering from my embarrassment, I assured him that there was absolutely nothing wrong. Looking back now, I realize that viewing the glass as three-quarters full has turned into an elusive but important personal goal.

Now, bear with me. After a year in which your correspondent has been especially critical of the global Ponzi scheme involving very expensive art, it has also become necessary, I believe, to identify glimmers of originality and resistance to art world corruption and reasonably support them where they exist. Seen in this light, the Whitney Biennial 2014 appears to be a glass-three-quarters-full–type exhibition. There’s plenty to dislike about this wildly uneven, often frustrating selection of alternative American art. But after a couple of visits, I’m convinced that this version of “the show everyone loves to hate” — it has long presented a feckless parade of in-crowd and market favorites — deserves an extra dose of optimism, or at least the benefit of the doubt.

A last hurrah at the old Marcel Breuer ziggurat before the Whitney goes full bridge-and-tunnel in the Meatpacking District, this year’s model boasts a distinct layer cake structure, with loads of schlag on top of the flakier crumb. A product of the museum’s decision to turn over the biennial to a trio of outside curators, the survey stacks up like three individual displays housed on separate floors of the Whitney’s trademark building. To the degree that these independent shows share similar themes, this is due mostly to a joint foreign bias. Because the exhibition’s organizers live or have recently lived outside of New York — Stuart Comer in London, Anthony Elms in Philadelphia, and Michelle Grabner in Chicago — the Whitney Biennial 2014 reflects an essential parallel-universe view of American art as seen from outside Manhattan’s grossly blinged-up, tin-eared echo chamber.

That two of the curators, Elms and Grabner, are also artists adds further quirks to the show’s salutary strangeness. Other general traits worth noting: Most of the exhibition’s 103 artists hail from outside of the five boroughs (New York has 50 artists in the exhibition, L.A. 19, and Chicago’s much livelier scene 17), and there are only a few examples of anything that could pass for trophy art (namely, Sterling Ruby’s oversize ceramic ashtrays and Jacqueline Humphries‘s reflective metallic paintings). Also of interest: The single show that the catalog describes as “three biennials under one roof” skews much older than previous iterations. Consider that as many as 40 percent of the participating artists are dead or over 50, the latter being far more career-killing. This seems appropriate at a time when there is nothing more conservative than youth culture. Given art’s current magnet-like pull on image-conscious hip-hop artists, social network wunderkinds, and Rip van With-Its, this potential virtue will probably still upset certain folks who obsessively cling to puerile countercultures, photogenic undergrounds, and new bohemias.

Provided maturity, intelligence, and complex artistic vision is what you’re after, you’re in luck, so long as you take the elevator directly to the fourth floor and Grabner’s exhibition. By far the most sophisticated and complete of the “three biennials,” this pedagogue’s installation (she teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago) not only contains about half the show’s artists, it also encompasses a working curriculum for what she has elegantly termed “the waywardness of contemporary art.” Among the escape-cum-vacations featured on Grabner’s floor are Ken Lum‘s Vietnam War–inspired commercial-sign sculpture, Dan Walsh‘s optically dazzling geometric abstractions, Jennifer Bornstein‘s muscular video of naked women wrestling, and David Diao‘s painting-as-critique of auction-house shenanigans. Realistic politics flow subtly but insistently throughout Grabner’s cussedly ecumenical view of art in America. The proof: The first and last thing you see on the fourth floor is Dawoud Bey’s 2008 confident candidate portrait of Barack Obama.

It’s a steep drop from the fourth to the third floor, and an even scarier one from the third to the second, yet there are rewards to be found in each of the show’s strata. Stuart Comer’s third floor, for instance, contains Bjarne Melgaard‘s romper room of televisionary ecological disaster and violence, Triple Canopy‘s enlightening installation about the shifting meanings of deaccessioned art, and Keith Mayerson‘s salon-style hang of earnestly realistic paintings. Does Comer, MOMA‘s new curator of media and performance art, get carried away by a professional attachment to the written word? He most certainly does, as the presence of dryly démodé French theory publishers Semiotext(e) proves. But this is still a show about basic premises. The takeaway: Not all ideas are created equal, especially in an exhibition trying vintage and newfangled notions on for size.

Similar problems trickle down to Anthony Elms’s second-floor encounter with old and new approaches to organizing this clusterfreak of an exhibition. Like on the other floors, the viral curatorial tic of presenting piles of archival contents as content makes an unimpressive appearance in an area devoted to artist Joseph Grigely‘s display of critic Gregory Battcock‘s ephemera, but then, remarkably, sparks fire in a second pack-rat installation by Chicago’s Public Collectors (aka artist Marc Fischer). A room full of recordings, photos, artifacts, and a briefcase that once belonged to Midwest antiwar protester Malachi Ritscher, its items are wholly transformed by wall text that identifies Ritscher as the martyr who publicly immolated himself in opposition to the Iraq war in 2006.

As Grabner put it, this is not a show (or shows) about “talent hunting,” but about the hard work of making art in an impoverished creative ecology that rewards surface over depth, the easy over the hard-won, the affectless over the affecting, and the facile over the dedicated. An exhibition that tries to change the subject from branded art lifestyles to lives lived for and through art, it finds its most perfect expression in Tony Tasset‘s multicolored 80-foot shipping container memorial (located offsite at Hudson River Park). Titled simply Artists Monument, it lists the names, as culled from the web, of the world’s known 392,486 modern and contemporary artists. That’s a powerful community to reflect on — and more than enough reason to keep the glass, mine or anyone else’s, at a steady three-quarters full.

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Exhibitions

The Most Spectacular Artworks in the Whitney Biennial

By Andrew M. Goldstein

March 14, 2014

The Most Spectacular Artworks in the Whitney Biennial

Artist Zoe Leonard’s camera obscura in the 2014 Whitney Biennial

Art-world insiders pored over (almost) every nook and cranny of the Whitney Biennial last week, sharply dissecting the historic three-curator show’s organizational themes and trying to divine what its still-wet artistic entrails portend about the state of contemporary art. Now the public has been welcomed into the last biennial before the museum relocates to the Meatpacking District, and as they explore the show they’ll be importing a completely different set of concerns—for one thing, they’ll be far more interested in the art itself than analyzing the curatorial structure. And luckily, some of the work on view is pretty out-there, guaranteed to give viewers the provocative jolt we all love to encounter in contemporary art.

So what should visitors look out for, if only to have something to scandalize their coworkers/friends/parents/children with in the retelling? Here are glosses on a few of the most spectacular works on view, with “spectacular” meaning “something that attracts attention because it is very unusual or very shocking.” (Of these, the most actually shocking to some visitors might be Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst‘s celebration of transgender love, but since we already covered it here, and since the New York Times already made them the cover stars of their article on “The Growing Transgender Presence in Pop Culture,” it’s safe to assume they’re already known quantities.)

ZOE LEONARD
leonard 1

It’s something of a tradition for artists to have their Biennial contributions duet site-specifically with Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist architecture—you may remember, for instance, R.H. Quaytman’s bravura painting series in the 2010 Biennial that riffed on its irregular windows—and so it’s fitting that the final edition in the building would do so in a memorable way. And, boy, did Zoe Leonard come up with something special. In a fourth-floor room that curator Anthony Elms borrowed from Michelle Grabner, the artist carried out the most minimal intervention imaginable: she covered the window, except for a single aperture, and turned out the lights. The result is a camera obscura that projects an upside-down view of the street outside on the gallery’s walls, growing incredibly distinct and then dimming as the sun arcs through the sky.

leonard hole

So why a camera obscura, an ancient optical device around since the time of Alexander the Great, in the 2014 biennial? For one thing, the effect it creates here is completely beautiful, rhyming the square coffering of the ceiling with the windows of the high-rise across Madison Avenue, and it neatly pulls off the Duchampian marriage of art and life by bringing the street inside the museum; for another (perhaps unintentional) thing, the upside-downing serves as a reminder that Renzo Piano’s downtown Whitney museum looks suspiciously like the Breuer building flipped on its head. Also, camera obscuras have been all the rage lately in contemporary art—Allyson Vieira, for instance, used one to striking effect in her recent Swiss Institute show—perhaps because of the theory, put forth by David Hockney and the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” that such old masters as Jan van Eyck and Vermeer used the simple technology to make their paintings.

BJARNE MELGAARD
bjarne

Did you ever play the game “penis” growing up, where someone says the word quietly and then someone says it louder and you go on and on until your crazy friend shouts it at the top of their lungs and wins. Well, Bjarne Melgaard just won “penis” forever, game over. Entering his display on curator Stuart Comer‘s second floor, one first passes through a slit of diaphanous pinkish fabric (wink, wink) to enter a room that might just be a perfect cross of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” (there’s even a vaguely Chairy-looking sofas sitting around) and what may have been going through Paul Reubens’s head the night he got busted doing something un-kid-friendly in a porn theater.

bjarne 2

Looking around, the first thing you may notice are the naked or semi-clad anatomically correct mannequins of bouffant-haired blond models sitting around the room as if in some post-bacchanalian daze. (Melgaard fans may recognize these as caucasian cognates of the black S&M mannequin that caused a stir recently when a certain Russian art patron used it as a chair.) Then you might spot the videos playing on screens in the corner, one showing people fornicating and the other showing monkeys doing the same. But the imagery you are guaranteed to leave with are the penises. They’re everywhere, made of novelty pillows that merge pornographic members with psychedelically playful toys and Internet memes, and they achieve their most triumphant expression in the bristlingly virile archway directly inside the door. See it, tell your buddies, and don’t think about the art part too hard.

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE
foster wallace

In a show replete with poets, publishers, journalists, and writers of all stripes, the megawatt star is unquestionably the late David Foster Wallace, who is represented on Michelle Grabner’s floor with a quartet of notebooks that relate to his unfinished novel The Pale King and two scribbled-on pages from a legal pad of “interview notes” for his magisterial 2006 profile of tennis player Roger Federer in the New York Times Magazine. Some explanation: The Pale King, which he was working on when he committed suicide in 2009 (and which was posthumously published in 2011), is a footnote-festooned multicharacter saga that in typical Wallacian style delves into the arcana of an IRS office in Peoria, Illinois; the manuscripts were a “vital inclusion” in the show, a piece of wall text notes, “not only for [Wallace’s] Midwestern roots, shared by many artists in curator Michelle Grabner’s section, but also for the ethical nature of his creative output.”

Wallace names

So, what are we actually dealing with here, visually speaking? On the inside cover of one spiral notebook is a list of “Good Names” (which one viewer excitedly misread as “God Names,” much to his later disappointment) including “R.L. Keek,” “Elisabeth Bottomky,” “Reed Reed,” “Elipidia Carter,” and, number 32, “Female Nickname: The Finger;” an adjoining page in that notebook contains some minimal doodles that could tendentiously be called Twomblyesque (what, in a notebook, couldn’t?). Another journal, displayed closed, bears a pink cover of a blue-eyed kitten cuddling with flower blossoms under the title “Cuddly Cuties™,” with a triangle-ish piece of white paper taped over it labeled “Scenes.”

wallace obama

The most interesting notebook, however, is one that features a pasted-in strip from “The Phenomenon,” Michael Tomasky’s 2006 essay on Barack Obama in The New York Review of Books, with the description that the future president was at heart “a civic republican—a believer in civic virtue and in the possibility of good outcomes negotiated in good faith” underlined. A line with an arrow points away from that quote to the name “Steyck,” and on the opposite page, Wallace writes: “Mild-Mannered Administrator: Non-confrontational. Suffers fools quietly. He’ll listen to them until they talk themselves out—won’t interrupt. (Lives by “Desiderate.”)” In The Pale King, Leonard Steyck is a “pathologically nice” IRS administrator who is continually humiliated by less-principled rivals. Wallace did not live to see Obama’s inauguration.

LAURA OWENS
owens

Behold, the biggest painting in this painting-happy show: Laura Owens’s pharaonically scaled and decidedly unsentimental homage to a cheesy motivational poster. This thing is huge—maybe 15 feet tall?—and chockablock with painterly brilliance. Owens, a Los Angeles-based artist who specializes in using both digital and old-fashioned analogue means to paint canvases of Joycean painterly complexity, has used around two dozen different techniques to make it. That latticework giving the painting a digital vibe, for instance, is sculptural and sits on top of the surface; the aquamarine streak at the top left and purple circle at the top right are fat clumps of paint affixed on the canvas.

owens 2

The intricacy doesn’t stop there. In his review of the Biennial, ace art critic Andrew Russeth praised the “superb” painting and wished there were “two or three more (at least), [so] you could get a sense of her range.” He might be happy to learn that there are actually four more Owens paintings in the show—each of them secretly nested, Babushka-style, behind this whopper of a canvas. There’s also, apparently, a book back there. What can you do when faced with an onslaught like this, other than to just drop your jaw.

 DIEGO LECLERY
diego last

In a show full of hard-to-find artworks secreted throughout the building, from Yve Laris Cohen‘s chunk of wall that is removed every day and replaced to Darren Bader’s unobtrusive money-collecting bins in the basement, the most satisfying Easter egg may come courtesy of the 35-year-old French artist Diego Leclery. Located in the downstairs outdoor sculpture garden near Radamés “Juni” Figueroa’s shed, his piece is more or less completely hidden from view: it consists of the artist sitting at a desk behind a concrete column, playing the video game “Civilization” on a desktop computer… for the entire run of the Biennial, throughout all museum hours, in all weather conditions.

diego 2

Leclery, who knows Michelle Grabner and does a performance every holiday season at her Suburban art space in which he dresses up as a polar bear, presents his durational undertaking as a post-studio gambit: he hopes to transmute his love of the interminable strategy game, which he says is the only part of his life that he hasn’t incorporated in his work, into a piece of art through sheer dogged willpower, changing the game from something that exists physically outside the museum into something that lives conceptually within the boundaries of the museum context.

diego

“The game is a real zero, artistically speaking,” Leclery said. “I want to see if the museum can turn that zero into a one, and I can make some ducats. Because, really, the collapse of art into life is about the ability to make money.” The artist, who has played “Civilization” for years, now has it set on its hardest difficulty level, “Deity.” He’s never beaten it at that difficulty, and it may, in fact, be impossible. When you go to the Biennial, head downstairs and say hello—he’ll be happy to talk about his work, the show, anything at all really. It’s a pretty dull game.

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Whitney 2014 Biennial: Five Hot Artists to Watch

5:21 PM PST 3/7/2014 by John DeFore
Whitney Museum Exterior Small - P 2014
Courtesy of Jerry L. Thompson

The museum presents the final survey of contemporary art to be held in historic Marcel Breuer building.

Its downtown digs may be nearing completion (the target for opening is spring 2015), but the Whitney Museum of American Art has one last installment of its closely watched Biennial to offer in its iconic Marcel Breuer-designed uptown home. However flexible the event has been since its 1932 beginning (at some points it was held annually instead of every other year), the Biennial has always aimed to present an informed, persuasive survey of what matters in contemporary American art. This year that job fell to three curators: Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner — each of whom was responsible for filling one floor of the building.

More than usual, this year’s event (running from March 7 through May 25) stretches notions of what constitutes an artwork, incorporating everything from the notebooks and marginalia of author David Foster Wallace and a series of trade paperbacks published by Semiotext(e) to two films made not for galleries but for the cinema. Both Andrew Bujalski‘s 2013 Computer Chess and Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel‘s experimental doc Leviathan are playing in full on continuous loops for the exhibition’s duration. One hundred and three participants (some of whom are collectives with multiple members) are represented, making the show impossible to summarize. But that doesn’t mean some don’t stand out:

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An abstract backdrop of The Great Train Robbery sequence descriptions exhibited in a L.A storage unit.

Los Angeles-based Dashiell Manley, one of the youngest artists there, got his MFA a mere three years ago from UCLA. His ambitious The Great Train Robbery, expected to take ten years or so to finish, will be a scene-by-scene remake of Edwin S. Porter‘s landmark silent film, albeit not your ordinary remake: Each scene is shot against an abstract backdrop covered with shorthand-like descriptions of the film’s action, sequences that may only obliquely refer to the original. The installation at the Whitney, a recreation of the film’s third scene, was previously exhibited in a L.A. storage unit.

Why focus on this film, one wonders? “I had been wanting to remake a film for a while,” Manley says, “and there were two specific criteria that I was looking for. I wanted the film to be a first in as many ways as possible: first action film, first jump cut, etc. Second, I wanted the film to have been remade already.” Michael Crichton‘s 1978 version starred Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland.

“More than the idea of simply remaking a film,” he continues, “I am interested in telling the same story over and over again and the core reasons why we do this.” Other scenes in the project will be produced in different styles; the one he’s making now will be “traditional hand drawn animation, no physical sets or props,” he says.

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Sample of Auerbach’s knittings on mannequins

Lisa Anne Auerbach, also based in L.A., has multiple works in the survey: A giganto-sized publication titled American Megazine (two gallery assistants are required to help browse through its massive pages), and an assortment of knitted wool garments and hangings inscribed with personal and/or political themes. “Knitting was just another way to get ideas into the world,” she says, noting that she arrived at it in the midst of making things like zines, flyers and photographs. Though a knitted cap and a Goliath magazine might seem strange bedfellows, she says matter-of-factly that “it’s all self-publishing.”

Three mannequins in Auerbach’s gallery wear many of her colorful creations, including such topical works as No On 8 (Ghost), which seemingly refers to both California’s Proposition 8 and the Octomom media phenomenon, and We Are All Pussy Riot, We Are All Pussy Galore, which name-checks women who’ve bedeviled both James Bond and Vladimir Putin. If the figures suggest an edgily adult version of playing dress-up, maybe it’s appropriate that one of the collectors of Auerbach’s work, Jane Holzer, started public life as one of Andy Warhol‘s Superstars under the name Baby Jane.

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Acoustic-style poems by Susan Howe.

Poet and academic Susan Howe, who at 76 is one of the Biennial’s elders (Etel Adnan, born in 1925, is the oldest), is also one of its most unusual selectees: “I feel somewhat of an oddity,” she admits, as someone whose work is generally found in editions from the venerable New Directions press as opposed to on gallery walls.

But the poems in Tom Tit Tot look more like slice-and-dice collage than something from a literary journal. The exquisite, minimalist black-and-white letterpress prints combine typographical fragments representing varied source texts into abstractions that are only partly legible. Though her influences include artists Kurt Schwitters and Agnes Martin alongside the expected Dickinson and Yeats, Howe insists the compositions “are meant to be read.”

“I believe that every mark on paper is acoustic,” she says. “So the sound and sight of a letter, or even a piece of one, a cross out, a misspelling etc. has an acoustic and visual effect that is part of meaning. In fact I have a very definite way of reading them aloud but obviously a reader might read them differently.” These particular poems are so new that Howe hasn’t recorded her own readings, but she’s working with composer David Grubbs on live performances.

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Mayerson’s stylized painting of Spiderman

Installed like the jam-packed, floor-to-ceiling offerings of an old-fashioned artists’ salon, the dozens of paintings making up Keith Mayerson‘s My American Dream are meant to work as comic-book panels to tell a non-linear narrative. From stylized images of super-heroes and the cover of Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On to paintings based on snapshots of Mayerson with his husband Andrew Madrid, they suggest a life that began in fantasy and continues to draw strength from larger-than-life figures.

Comparing his own collection of inspirational images to that of Anne Frank, who pasted images of high and low culture on her wall, Mayerson matches Elvis and Kermit the Frog with historic heroes including Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln. “All together,” he says, “it is hopefully a sublime, ultimately positive and optimistic vision of family … of how personal agency and power can help and inspire to make America and the world a better place.”

Given Mayerson’s fondness for subjects like Superman and Spiderman, it may be appropriate that X-Men star Famke Janssen owns a picture he made of sculptor Louise Bourgeois.

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Rainbow-colored fibers by Sheila Hicks

The Whitney itself: Perhaps inevitably, artists in each curator’s group find ways to turn the once-controversial, now-cherished Breuer building into part of the show. Sheila Hicks creates a column of rainbow-hued fibers to draw the viewer’s eye up into the open coffering of the ceiling. Zoe Leonard turns one of Breuer’s skewed windows into a camera obscura, projecting a dim image of the building’s across-the-street neighbors on the wall of a darkened room.

Sound artist Charlemagne Palestine installed speakers throughout the stairwell, giving that already-somewhat-eerie space an even creepier vibe. And in the middle of a third-floor gallery, Morgan Fisher‘s Ro(Ro(Room)om)om plays with the design of the Whitney’s future building to make a sheetrock puzzle-space whose walls have yet to be adorned with any kind of art. Here’s hoping the rooms of that building prove to be as good a home for American art’s cutting edge as Breuer’s have been since the building’s opening in 1966.

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Whitney Biennial and the Armory Show: New York’s busiest art week

For the first time since 2004, the commercial and non-commercial art platforms share the same week. Are curators being forced to rethink their roles?

Armory Show
Crowds at this year’s Armory Show. Photograph: The Armory Show

New York is saturated with contemporary art in usual times, but this week it is full to bursting.

The Armory Show opened on Wednesday, on the piers of the Hudson River. A large crowd of collectors, curators, advisers and groupies charged through a notably strong edition of the city’s largest art fair. Many, though, had already had a full helping of contemporary art across town, at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Whitney Biennial, the city’s leading museum show of contemporary art, opened the day before – opening-night crowds for the perplexing, all-over-the-shop exhibition waited for half an hour or more to get inside.

This is the first year since 2004 that New York’s most prominent commercial and non-commercial platforms for contemporary art have fallen in the same week, However, while the Armory and the Whitney Biennial would pack an art-lover’s schedule on their own, there is even more to choose from. The Armory Show is only the biggest of 10 fairs, including the blue-chip ADAA Art Show and the young, scruffy Independent.

The Whitney Biennial has a spinoff in the form of the Brucennial, a rammed exhibition featuring around 600 female artists. (Women’s representation had been getting better in recent Whitney Biennials, but they account for less than a third of the artists at the museum this year.)

Trailer for the Brucennial, which ends this year.

It keeps going. The week’s openings have also included a Gauguin exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; a vital show on art and civil rights in the 1960s at the Brooklyn Museum; three large solo presentations at PS1, MoMA’s hipper kid sister in Queens; and untold numbers of openings at commercial galleries. Then there are auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, for collectors who still have money to burn.

The 2014 Whitney Biennial, the museum’s 77th edition, is a relatively large one. It includes work by 103 participants, splashed across three floors plus the lobby, basement, stairwell and elevators, and sites around town. Diverse to the point of incoherence, it does gel around a few themes.

There’s a good amount of abstract painting, such as from the Brooklyn-based artist Amy Sillman, as well as sculptures made of ceramic or fabric, such as a tumbling multi-colored tower of yarn from the 80-year-old Sheila Hicks. Numerous works involve archival research or presentations of historical material, such as a project by Joseph Grigley showcasing ephemera from a murdered art critic.

There’s also lots – really, lots – of sex and nudity, much of it homoerotic, most impressively in a nightmarish installation from the workaholic Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard (subject of a recent uproar involving Dasha Zhukova and racial insensitivity). There are a few oddball inclusions, such as the late author David Foster Wallace, whose notebooks for his novel The Pale King are displayed like relics.

Amy Sillman
Mother, by Amy Sillman. John Beren/Whitney Museum of American Art

Early reviews have not been kind. Unlike in previous iterations, the biennial’s three curators did not collaborate on a single presentation but worked on discrete sections individually. That independence may have contributed to the wildly divergent quality of work on display, according to Joshua Decter, a curator and the author of a new book, Art is a Problem.

“It probably would have been more productive for the three curators to have actually collaborated closely on one show, rather than each doing their own quasi-autonomous shows,” said Decter, who has attended every biennial since 1977. “The result may have actually been similar, but a more rigorous collaborative process might have led to a refining of each curator’s selections, and demanded of each to make useful edits and compromises.”

The Armory Show, by contrast, beat expectations. Hunted these past two years by the new Frieze New York fair, Armory has made a substantial push under its young director, Noah Horowitz, to refresh itself with a more rigorous selection process and a more international scope. The result is a fair finding its footing again after years of its future being in doubt.

Several dealers have booths with just a single artist, often showing not evidently commercial work. The booth of Marianne Boesky Gallery, for example, is overtaken by a riotous construction of interconnected black wood planks by Serge Alain Nitegeka, an artist born in Burundi and based in South Africa. Alison Jacques, a London dealer, has given her booth over to the Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes, whose art consists of minimal, almost offhand interventions in the gallery: a twig, a glass of water, a ping-pong ball.

This year’s Armory also includes a section devoted to Chinese art that features 17 galleries, nine of which have never shown outside of Asia. There’s a commissioned artwork from the Shanghai-born provocateur Xu Zhen, consisting of a white cube with performers locked inside, chucking sculptures into the air. It works as a parody of the typical art fair experience, with the art glimpsed only for a second before disappearing again.

Art of Change
Xu Zhen’s Art of Change installation. Photograph: The Armory Show

The China programming has been organized by Philip Tinari, the director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. It also includes an educational symposium on Chinese contemporary art. As recently as a few years ago, a museum director organizing part of an art fair would have felt bizarre. Today, with the market in perpetual boom, it feels almost conventional.

“I think we all have to learn how to make peace with the art fairs,” Tinari says. “It’s not that you ally with them infinitely, but this felt to me like a productive insertion at this time. And what institutions are really going to show these artists in New York now?

“That’s one of the great things about the fair in New York. It’s unlike Dubai, or even Miami. It’s not just the black-card holders. It’s the rank and file of the profession, it’s all these students. You have an audience that feels real.”

The overlapping of commercial and non-commercial, the market and the museum, has been the dominant theme of this art-saturated week. The Whitney Biennial’s curators have positioned their show in opposition to the booming art market, with many works from artist collectives and almost nothing from the large galleries of Chelsea. Yet the simultaneous opening of Armory, and all the other shows and sales, has highlighted the ongoing convergence of the two sectors.

Sterling Ruby
Basin Theology/Butterfly Wreck, by Sterling Ruby. Photograph: Robert Wedemeyer/Whitney Museum of American Art

The biennial, after all, is sponsored in part by Sotheby’s, and many of the auction house’s clients packed the Tuesday night opening while hundreds of others (including at least one former Whitney Biennial curator) queued in the cold outside. Works by several biennial artists, including Sterling Ruby and Channa Horwitz, could be bought at Armory or Independent; the biennial catalogue’s acknowledgements section thanks dozens of galleries. Michelle Grabner, one of the three biennial curators, is herself a painter – her work is on sale at the Armory Show.

The seemingly unstoppable proliferation of the art market, and the continued push of commercial enterprises into terrain that was once just for museums, has forced curators of biennials and other non-commercial shows to rethink their roles. But by the fifth day of New York’s stuffed contemporary art week, it was unclear just what role the Whitney Biennial still played in defining American art in a global, money-soaked ecosystem.

“The Armory Show now deploys intellectual window-dressing to give it some cosmopolitan street cred,” Decter observed. “And the Whitney Biennial is still in search of itself.”

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THE ART BLOG

Whitney Biennial 2014 – Tough sledding through a hodgepodge with some gems

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March 12, 2014   ·   2 Comments

Like walking through a yard sale or grandma’s attic, the hodgepodge that is the Whitney Biennial 2014 is a a little sad. All that stuff made by 103 participants, collected and sitting there, clogs the space and makes the journey through the show like walking through the Armory Show, only without the aisles and missing the weirdly high art-fair energy.  Advice:  Start at the top and work your way down.

 Fourth Floor – Curator Michelle Grabner

Ken Lum, Midway Shopping Plaza, 2014, powder-coated aluminum and plexiglas

Libby, calling a phone number on Ken Lum's Midway Shopping Center board.  They called her back!

It’s shocking, we know, but like everyone, we come to the Whitney Biennial looking for our favorites and hoping to be introduced to great new artists.  Happily, our favorites, Dona Nelson, Terry Adkins, Joshua Mosley and Ken Lum are standouts, and our new loves include David Robbins and Carol Jackson. Jacolby Satterwhite is formidable as well. It would be easy to dwell on the weird curating, and others have (read Jerry Saltz).  For us it’s all about the work, and there are things here definitely worthy of a return trip.

Joshua Mosley, Jeu de Paume, 2014, mixed media animation

We began on a high note, with exclamations of “Ken Lum!  Looks great!” then quickly got bogged down in the small galleries crowded with art. “We’ve seen things like this before,” we said, and “Why is this here, how does it relate?” (e.g., David Foster Wallace’s notebooks).

 

When we hit Zoe Leonard’s camera obscura, in a blissfully darkened space with only one thing in it that doesn’t take up any physical space, we were happy for the respite.

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Pam Lins and Amy Sillman, I placed a Jar in Tennessee, 2014

Sheila Hicks (hanging, rear), Sterling Ruby in the room beyond the camera obscura.

On the other side of the camera obscura, like falling into Oz from Kansas, we found a raucous, colorful, crowded space with a group of works that made a coherent thought about art as a lusty, risky profession not for the faint-hearted.  Notable practitioners in this space include:  Dona Nelson, whose excellent double-sided and stitched paintings are placed beautifully opposite Amy Sillman and Pam Lins (ceramics); Sterling Ruby, who just about steals the show with his death- and viscera-evoking ceramic “ashtrays;” David Robbins, whose outdoor writing desk and videos of performances tickled us; and Sheila Hicks with her color-filled fiber “un-rainbow” that cascades like a waterfall from the ceiling.

 

Third Floor – Curator Stuart Comer

Etel Adnan, selection of paintings, 2013, oil on canvas

The fourth floor seems to take hours to get through. But the third floor, which is also a jumble, is less packed.

We liked:

  • Etel Adnan – her woven, oil-barrel critique is both modernist design and smartly political.
  • Miljohn Ruperto – his bunny/birdie animation “Janus,” 2014, kept us at attention.  Is the animal dying?  Or sleeping?
  • Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft’s Voynich Botanical Studies, which start out as animations and wind up as gelatin silver prints are a lot of process with a point.  Victorian and lovely and completely faux.
  • Jacolby Satterwhite – Trippy, HD digital 3D animation video, “Reifying Desire 6 – Island of Desire,” 2014.

Miljohn Ruperto, Janus, digital video, color, sound

Second Floor – Curator Anthony Elms

Terry Adkins, Aviarium, 2014, polyurethene and enamel

This is not a “war year” show with politics in evidence (there is some gender politics), but many of the works feel tight and depressed.  On the second floor, notable for a relatively spare aesthetic, Terry Adkins‘ “Aviarium,” 2014, is a big “gun” that lends some needed chutzpah to the show. The artist, who died recently and unexpectedly at age 60, made this piece in 2014, perhaps the last work he made. Such a loss.

Carol Jackson, 2013, wood, acrylic, papier mache, inket print

Other favorites on this floor include:

  • Carol Jackson‘s four, modest-scale sculpto-photographs, whose visceral twists and turns remind us slightly of Vincent Fecteau’s ceramic “energy bombs” at the 2012 Whitney Biennial.
  • Charline von Heyl – grid of 36 black and white mixed media print and collage pieces seemed tribal and mask-like.
  • Steve Reinke and Jessie Mott – We love the animals and the child-like animation in the Bible-esque video,“Rib Gets in the Way…” although at 53 minutes long we missed a good portion of it and can’t really say what the point is.

Appearing elsewhere in the museum but curated in by Elms, we like:

Charlemagne Palestine, "Stairway Song," 2013, 12-channel sound installation on stairwell landings.

  • Charlemagne Palestine – Mike-Kelly-like piece with small gangs of stuffed animals sitting high on the walls in the stairwell. Ominous music surrounds them and reminds us how seductive and repulsive stuffed animals are.
  • taisha paggett – We saw her drawing performance at Vox Populi a few years back in a Vox juried group show.
  • Zoe Leonard camera obscura we mentioned above.

 Catalog

Michelle Grabner's chart about artists on her floor.  Image courtesy of Whitney Museum

As usual, the catalog is worth having.  There’s lots of Q&A material, with artists interviewing or talking with each other,  such as: Louise Fishman talks with Dona Nelson; Ken Lum speaks with Alexander Alberro; Joshua Mosley talks with Paul Chan and Robert Fahey.

The preponderance of the written word and archiving in glass vitrines and in works on the walls is a persistent theme in the show–too dusty and depressing. After a while it beat us down.  This is a show that needs editing. Look for the gems.

Whitney Biennial 2014, to May 25, 2014.  Whitney Museum of Art, 945 Madison Ave at 75th St., New York 10021.

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by Kevin McGarry

March 7, 2014

Whitney Biennial 2014

The most streamlined mythology of the past two decades of the Whitney Biennial goes something like this: 1993 represented the Big Bang of art and identity politics, and since then, the curve has bobbed up and down like a sine wave, going above and below the axis of overthought mediocrity towards an ever more platitudinous parody of itself. It is, after all, the biennial that everyone… loves to hate. Shoot me now. Framing it this way can be as mind numbing as discussing the weather, and yet, it is nearly as inescapable.

Perhaps drawing from its upper Manhattan terroir, the Whitney Biennial is an inimitable, enduringly anachronistic, and extremely self-referential institution. Each edition rehashes the questions “What is contemporary?” and “What is American?”—often to post-rational ends. Convoluted curatorial conceit is the most dangerous pitfall threatening state-of-the-art-world survey shows today. The best biennial I’ve seen in the past couple of years was Luiz Pérez-Oramas, André Severo, and Tobi Maier’s 2012 30th São Paulo Biennial about, simply, “poetics”—a theme so loose and extensible that the exhibition wore it as a heartening halo rather than a pretentious noose. In this respect, the 2014 Whitney Biennial does not fail. Well, actually, it does, but only in execution; the conception of its structure and thematics do not doom or significantly distract from the works contained therein. Assembled by three outside curators—Stuart Comer of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Anthony Elms of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and Michelle Grabner of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—it is not rhetorically proposed as three discrete shows; it is actually (actuality is always refreshing!) three discrete shows spread across three levels of the Whitney Museum’s 945 Madison Avenue building.

The second floor, curated by Elms, is exhaustingly under-stimulating. On first glance, Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan’s Image of Limited Good (2014), a sculptural tableau of suitcases filled with a resin-like substance and purple tracings of retro airline logos pinned to the wall, looks promising, but—pardon the pun—unpacking the piece is a joyless pursuit. It would work better at an art fair, as would Charline von Heyl’s Folk Tales (2013), a grid of black-and-white collages, which is not awkward like some of the other works on this floor, but by no means as absorbing as her work usually is. Transgressive hero Gary Indiana’s untitled contribution seems dated and confused. It’s comprised of a diptych pairing a collection of headshots and nude candid photographs of incarcerated men of color with a large, inelegantly installed, semi-circular LED curtain looping footage of jellyfish, which, according to the text, are anatomically symbolic of… the panopticon. The effect of the piece is incomprehensible (in this room it might not actually be possible to get far enough away from the curtain to view its moving images as such, instead of as a crumpled field of large diodes); it superficially juxtaposes cultural issues from the 1980s with presentation technologies that are modern, but look terrible. Rebecca Morris’s paintings, Untitled (#14-13) (2013) and Untitled (#15-13) (2013), given the company, stand out, and respite can also be found in the two cinemas made to house films by Michel Auder, Steve Reinke with Jessie Mott, and the Los Angeles-based collective My Barbarian, but in terms of this chapter of the Biennial having a compelling story or discernable position, there is none.

Moving up one level and several notches in quality, Comer’s third floor contains the highest concentration of expected names. This is by no means a dig: why not represent the most consistent and influential American artists in the Whitney Biennial, particularly if they haven’t been invited before? At the pinnacle of buzzy and undeniably good is the singular and prolific force that is Bjarne Melgaard. His room recalls the Korova Milk Bar (from A Clockwork Orange), populated by silicon sex mannequins with blond weaves and raccoon eyes, posed alternately on haute, club kid furniture you might find in a fancy, edgy French person’s apartment and on the wholesome braided carpets you might find in a Maine farmhouse. The Gesamkunstwerk,entitled Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby (2014), includes projections of found clips depicting interchangeable violence between animals and people respectively, and a monitor with a staged, raunchy confessional dialogue between two gay lovers who seem to hate one another. The wall text identifies the dissolution of humanity into a circus of cruelty as its subject, but this declaration is, frankly, not even necessary, because the work is writ so large, scary, and engrossing.

Shaped like the islands of Manhattan, Hawaii, and Kauai, Ei Arakawa’s hats for two and three people, are, by contrast, totally benign, but much crazier. Arakawa’s mutable and often inscrutable practice has been hitting for a while now—another New York-based artist, like Melgaard, whose industrious imagination has flourished during the past years in a corporatized city that has been sapped of its creative life force. It’s not immediately clear if Ken Okiishi’s vertical, wall-mounted flatscreens, each titled gesture/data (2013), partially painted over with impressionistic brushstrokes are important, but they look fresh; and the floor-to-ceiling salon hanging of Keith Mayerson paintings, casting autobiographical moments alongside renditions of iconic American people and symbols, gives the underappreciated painter his due. On a different register, a room near the back of floor three—Afterlife: a constellation (2014), organized as a work of art, at Comer’s invitation, by Group Material cofounder Julie Ault—interweaves intergenerational referents and inspirations into a tautology unbound by the unities of time and place. To name but a few, filmmaker Matt Wolf’s slideshow, which includes a narration that touches on his adolescent discovery of the late David Wojnarowicz, is placed next to Wojnarowicz’s own Calendar (1989). To its left is Closed (1984–85), a painting by late Lower East Side artist Martin Wong, who is an ongoing subject of inquiry for Danh Vo. And in turn, Vo’s piece, snowfall/northern Sierras 1847 (2013), which echoes Alfred A. Hart’s photograph Stumps cut by Donner Party (c. 1868), is placed on the other side of the room near a text by Ault about Wong and Wojnarowicz. But the most transcendent inclusion on this floor has got to be Lebanese-born Etel Adnan, the eighty-nine-year-old writer, poet, and here, painter, whose canvases depict emotional landscapes told in simple compositions of four or five hard-edged hues, and whose two epic poems outstretched in accordion books go from earth to space to death to life and back in an unbroken, linear circle.

None of the three shows are sparse, but Grabner’s fourth floor jams the most works in of all. Even more so than in Comer’s exhibition, the two most captivating works are made by popular, market-anointed artists. Sterling Ruby, working in his best medium—ceramics— puts forth three Vulcan maws from his “Basin Theology” series (2013–14), full of glossy, broken archaeologies. Behind those is one big painting, As-yet-untitled (2014) by Laura Owens, which both eschews verbal description and has a lot of fun with words; the text “When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot, and hang on” accompanies a 1980s children’s illustration of a boy and his dog swinging by rope across a teal void, within and beneath a meticulously layered vortex of painting posing as digital effects, posing as painting. Many other big, colorful, abstract paintings by women fill this main room: Jacqueline Humphries, Louise Fishman, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Dona Nelson, and Amy Sillman. The largest canvas, Gaylen Gerber’s undated Backdrop/Untitled, is flat grey and inconspicuously stretched around the entire wall outside the elevator. It is itself a surface for other works to be hung on; presently it’s Trevor Shimizu’s untitled ritualistic figurative compositions but on April 15, as the wall label tells us, it will be replaced by Sherrie Levine’s Thin Stripe: 10 (1986) and David Hammons’s Untitled (2010). Placed at the end of the most natural path through the fourth floor, Zoe Leonard’s 945 Madison Avenue (2014) is all about depriving the viewer of light. It’s a huge camera obscura refracting the quotidian windows of Madison Avenue onto its walls. As an elegy to the building on the occasion of its last biennial, it’s a much too obvious, precious note to end on—something that could have been devised by a PR assistant as readily as by a great photographer like Leonard. Overall, there is a bit too much going on here for Grabner’s show to coalesce a striking identity, but there’s a harmonious enough fluidity to how it all intermingles, probably owing to the personal and pedagogical connections among the artists and to the curator, who is an artist herself.

Something about that lends itself to the overarching Biennial’s greatest success, whose most contemporary experiment deals with framing a curator as a locus of collaborations and conversations, rather than the steward of conceptual frameworks that enslave art. Grabner’s show is not about the Midwest, but there is a preponderance of artists from Chicago and the surrounding region (even a Dawoud Bey photographic portrait of the Chicagoan American president, Barack Obama (2008), is hung above her curatorial statement). Comer’s exhibition doesn’t stake itself as a queer show, and by no means exclusively contains queer artists, but he and most of the ones that I was struck by and mentioned above publicly identify as queer (as do I). Perhaps Elms’s show suffers because it lacks an expansive, lived impetus. But ultimately, at the risk of being boring, I must conclude the same as usual… the Biennial essentially falls flat. Though multifaceted, it’s hard to imagine a truly textured object with only three sides. That the three exhibitions fully commit to their autonomy is a good thing, but unfortunately, the aggregate effect that arises from their congress feels jumbled and piecemeal. The experiment as a whole fails, and while it shouldn’t go in the vault as our recollection of 2014, it is a step forward because, suspended in the loftiest, Sisyphean heights of democratized irreality, testing its own form is exactly what the Whitney Biennial should always endeavor to do.

Kevin McGarry is a writer and curator based in Los Angeles and New York.

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Bjarne Melgaard, Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby, 2014.

1Bjarne Melgaard, Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby, 2014.

Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, Image of Limited Good, 2014.

2Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, Image of Limited Good, 2014.

Charline von Heyl, Folk Tales, 2013.

3Charline von Heyl, Folk Tales, 2013.

Gary Indiana, Untitled (detail), 2014.

4Gary Indiana, Untitled (detail), 2014.

My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013.

5My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

6View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

Ken Okiishi, gesture/data, 2013.

7Ken Okiishi, gesture/data, 2013.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014 with works by Keith Mayerson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

8View of the Whitney Biennial 2014 with works by Keith Mayerson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

View of Julie Ault, Afterlife: a constellation at the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

9View of Julie Ault, Afterlife: a constellation at the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969.

10Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

11View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

12View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue, 2014.

13Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue, 2014.

  • 1Bjarne Melgaard, Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby, 2014. Mixed media with video and holographic projections, dimensions variable. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 2Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, Image of Limited Good, 2014. Campaign tables, hectograph duplicators, carbon ink, suitcases and briefcase, depression glass, gold-plated swizzle sticks, disassembled greeting card rack, hectograph prints on interleaving tissue, hinges, and blueprint rack. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 3Charline von Heyl, Folk Tales, 2013. Acrylic, ink, wax, charcoal, and collage on paper, 36 parts, 24 x 19 inches each. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 4Gary Indiana, Untitled (detail), 2014. Video projection, four text panels, grid of 25 digital C-prints on archival hot press matte paper, and LED curtain, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo by Bill Orcutt.
  • 5My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013. Still from video, color, sound, 30:00 minutes. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles. © My Barbarian.
  • 6View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 7Ken Okiishi, gesture/data, 2013. Oil on flatscreen, VHS transferred to .mp4, color, sound, 35 1/3 x 21 x 3 7/10 inches. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York. © Ken Okiishi.
  • 8View of the Whitney Biennial 2014 with works by Keith Mayerson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 9View of Julie Ault, Afterlife: a constellation at the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.
  • 10Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969. Ink and watercolor on paper, 11 x 255 inches. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York. Photo by Chris Austen.
  • 11View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 12View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
  • 13Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue, 2014. Lens and darkened room, 210 x 300 x 632 inches. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Murray Guy, New York; and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.

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TIMEOUT NEW YORK

Review: 2014 Whitney Biennial

The Biennial tries something new, but winds up being the same old thing

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Right off the bat, the 2014 Whitney Biennial raises a question: Is it an exercise in out-of-the box thinking? Or does it represent a tacit admission that the Whitney is no longer institutionally capable of mounting its signature show? The answer is probably both. Read on for our full review of this year’s museum-wide exhibition with our own slideshow gallery of highlights, then scroll down for a sneak peak of the gallery itself.

Photograph: om Powel Imaging

 

Keith Mayerson, My Family, 2013

 

Instead of the usual buildingwide bacchanalia of zeitgeisty goodness we’ve come to know and love (or love to hate), the proceedings are broken into three more or less discrete exhibitions. Each is mostly confined to its own floor, and organized by a different outside curator. Handling the duties are Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance art at MoMA; Anthony Elms, associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, who is an artist and professor in the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. Asking why they got the job as opposed to other people is a bit like wondering why certain Ping-Pong balls pop up during Lotto drawings.In some cases, one curator’s selection winds up on the floor of another (or in a Whitney common area, such as its lobby or moat), but each floor remains distinctly the expression of a single point of view.Somehow it works, or at least it does so enough of the time to make this Biennial seem better than most. I know: faint praise! Still, this edition should be remembered for its inclusion of paintings in pretty decent numbers, as well as its emphasis on semiforgotten careers and artists from outside New York.This separate-floor arrangement, of course, makes it easier to heap praise or to assign blame, depending on your tastes. For me, the Westminster trophy for Best in Show indubitably goes to fourth floor, helmed by Grabner. Apparently the first practicing artist involved in shaping a Biennial, she brings an artistic eye to installing art, a talent that curators were routinely expected to apply before the practice became professionalized. In her own work, she’s something of a formalist—a dirty word in certain quarters—but the attention she pays to the relationships between forms turns out to be a virtue.Many of her selections are worth a shout-out, but those off the top of my head includes Gretchen Bender’s black crumpled cenotaph, listing backlighted movie titles form the ’80s; Joel Otterson’s psychedelic harem tent; Amy Sillman’s prismatic abstractions; and Joshua Mosley’s charming Claymation video of an early-20th-century tennis match. The last is hung within a stretch of rooms putting an emphasis on quietude, both visually and conceptually. It starts with one of Anthony Elms’s picks: Zoe Leonard’s spooky and sublime camera obscura installation. Set within a spacious portion of the floor, the piece consists of a large lens board covering one of the Whitney’s “eyebrow” windows overlooking Madison Avenue. On the opposite wall, the lens throws an upside-down projection of the buildings across the street, with the dimmed, blurry image being pretty much the same scale as its subject. From there you proceed into the gallery containing the aforementioned video, along with Stephen Berens’s layered photos of Rome, and a long shelf filled with Shio Kusaka’s exquisite pottery. This part of the exhibit is best summed up by the title of Ben Kinmont’s text-driven tableau in the next room: Shh. Down the corridor you’ll also find Jennifer Bornstein’s video of naked women performing modern dance routines, and Peter Schuyff’s case full of corkscrewing pencils.

“Nobody calls the Biennial the Oscars of the art world anymore, but in some ways, the comparison is more apt than ever.”

I wish I could say the rest of Biennial was as strong as the fourth floor, but it isn’t. I liked Ken Okiishi’s painted flatscreens on floor three, along with Bjarne Melgaard’s crazy, hypersexualized whorehouse of horrors off to the left of Okiishi’s wall. Melgaard is precisely the sort of art star who’s benefited from the market’s premium on sensationalism, but give the man his due: He’s good at what he does.

Ultimately, the 2014 Biennial is somewhat square, even provincial, and that may be okay for now. Because truthfully, the formula is impervious to change. You could scour the planet and probably find enough artists to mount a truly mind-blowing survey every other year. But that supposes the Biennial is just a show when it’s really not. It’s a brand, and like any brand, genuine risk makes its shareholders nervous. The Whitney’s forthcoming MePa home will only raise the stakes in this sense, making a ground-up rethink less likely.

Nobody calls the Biennial the Oscars of the art world anymore, but in some ways, the comparison is more apt than ever. Like the Oscars, the Biennial is an exercise in self-love, demanding attention it doesn’t quite deserve, but you pay it heed anyway. On that score, 2014 is the Ellen DeGeneres edition: safe, genial, with just enough jokes that land to distract you from the ones that fall flat.

Explore the Biennial layout for yourself

Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

Installation view of the 2014 Whitney Biennial


See the exhibition

2014 Whitney Biennial

This year’s edition of the exhibition once known as the show everybody loves to hate represents a departure for a couple of reasons. For one, it will be the last Biennial mounted in the Whitney’s current home; in 2015, the museum moves into its brand-new Renzo Piano–designed building in the Meatpacking District. But it also signals a departure from form, because it’s basically organized as three separate shows on as many floors by three outside curators. If nothing else, the Whitney is thinking outside the box as the Biennial says goodbye to Madison Avenue.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Photo

Richard Nonas’s sculptures from the 1980s rearranged on the floor at McCaffrey at the Independent art fair. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

In its fifth year, the Independent continues to assert its maverick identity. It’s an art fair that pretends not to be an art fair. And because it takes place in Dia Art Foundation’s former exhibition space, you’re almost convinced. If fairs are part of the new necessary evil for small galleries to stay afloat, this one offers a good concentrated roundup of artists and exhibitors: nonprofit institutions, alternative spaces along with a few commercial galleries that might be barely paying their bills.

The conversation running throughout the fair this year has to do with history. Contemporary art is often accused of recycling and repurposing, and among the more than 50 participating galleries and nonprofits from 14 countries, there is plenty of work that looks old but is actually new, and vice versa.

Among the new work that nods to older models are paintings by Jessica Warboys at Gaudel de Stampa from the series “Sea Painting, Dunwich, 2014,” on unstretched canvas flowing onto the floor made by soaking the canvas in seawater. The works look like a cross between Abstract Expressionism and the mechanically produced “machine” abstractions of Pinot Gallizio.

At Labor, a Mexico City gallery, Etienne Chambaud has retooled a trope made famous by Andy Warhol in his “Oxidation Paintings”: urine applied to pulverized copper to create dazzling metallic effects. In Mr. Chambaud’s case, the urine is from animals and refers to the Anthropocene or urbanizing human impact on the planet. (The gallery also points out that in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 film “Teorema,” a character urinates on a painting, which may have provided Warhol with the idea.)

At Gavin Brown, Jennifer Bornstein’s rubbings made with wax and oil pastels are strongly reminiscent of the frottage technique employed by Max Ernst and the Surrealists. Most of Ms. Bornstein’s were made on site and include objects like Joseph Beuys’s “7000 Oaks,” squat basalt columns that line 22nd Street (also a Dia-sponsored legacy).

A tabletop display by the Czech artist Eva Kotatkova at Meyer Riegger recalls Hannah Hoch’s photomontages except that Ms. Kotatkova’s images, cut from Communist-era books, have been fashioned into an accordion-pleated book. At Untitled, Brad Troemel’s panels with objects vacuum sealed into them hark back to ’80s bedroom bulletin-board collages, although these won’t be on view for long. Mr. Troemel sells his work on the website Etsy, where people “around the world connect to buy and sell unique goods” (just like art fairs).

Nostalgia is also a boon for older (or dead) artists whose work look remarkably fresh. Rosemarie Castoro is a painter from the first generation of minimalists. Broadway 1602 has two of her paintings from 1965 that use methods derived from modern dance in their composition. They feel perfectly relevant now.

Robert Mallary, who was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1961 exhibition “Art of Assemblage,” is featured at The Box. His dark and existential works, are reminiscent of European painters like Alberto Burri and Antonio Tàpies. Julian Beck, a co-founder of the Living Theater, is represented by paintings and works on paper from the ’40s at Supportico Lopez, while an exhibition of Richard Nonas’s drawings from the ’70s and small, steel sculptures from the ’80s, rearranged on the floor here to respond to the immediate spatial environment, are at McCaffrey.

The Austrian artist Gerwald Rockenschaub’s colored dots displayed throughout the stairwell, courtesy of Mehdi Chouakri, have a ’60s feel. Martos is showing works on paper by Dan Asher from the ’80s. Another artist who became known in ’80s is Julia Wachtel, who exhibits at the gallery of the Independent co-founder Elizabeth Dee. Given the art world’s current interest in the ’80s, Ms. Wachtel’s paintings, which juxtapose found images with goofy cartoons, look contemporary again.

Another prevalent strain here is so-called outsider art (which also includes people simply unacknowledged by the institutional art world). Suzanne Zander rounds up William Crawford, an avid draftsman of erotic scenes and photographs taken by an unknown man named Gunther K. of his red-haired secretary, with whom he had an affair.

Alice Mackler is a ceramic artist whose brightly glazed sculptures of female figures, with their exaggerated eyes and breasts, look vaguely “outsider.” (She is also represented by Kerry Schuss, who deals in outsider art.) And yet, Ms. Mackler, famous now in her early 80s, doesn’t identify as an outsider artist; her aesthetic shows the blurring of boundaries, which often seems merely a matter of institutional recognition.

There is a lot of painting in this year’s Independent. Painting sells at art fairs, but it’s also popular right now. The young Brooklyn gallery Real Fine Arts has an extravaganza, with Nicolas Ceccaldi’s portraits of the writer Michel Houellebecq and Morag Keil’s funny text paintings, as well as a larger abstract canvas by Jon Pestoni.

Beyond the painting-centered nature of the fair, Art: Concept offers a thoughtful roundup of Roman Signer’s videos, as well as a work that involves a grand piano, Ping-Pong balls, and fans that blow the balls along the strings. And Mendes Wood from São Paulo is showing Adriano Costa’s playful, topical sculptures that address Brazilian politics and culture.

Given the season, there are overlaps with the just-opened Whitney Biennial: Michel Auder and David Diao, both at Office Baroque, are in this year’s edition, as is Paul P., shown here by Broadway 1602. The other hopeful aspects of the season are daylight saving time beginning on Sunday and the forecast for warmer weather, since a selection of books from Artists Space is for sale on the roof. It is a poignant reminder of the time when the building was occupied by the Dia Art Foundation, conceptual commissions appeared on the roof, and March in New York wasn’t dominated by art fairs.

The Independent continues through Sunday at 548 West 22nd Street, Chelsea; independentnewyork.com.

A version of this review appears in print on March 7, 2014, on page C32 of the New York edition with the headline: An Art Fair That Tries to Be Something Else.

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HYPERALLERGIC

Photo Essays

Armory Show 2014: Getting Better After Lackluster Years Past

Cajsa von Zeipel, "HOLES IN THE WALL - flat shoe portal" (2014), styrofoam, aqua resin, fiberglass, plaster, at Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

This year’s Armory Show may have stopped the bleeding for an art fair that has suffered from years of lackluster energy and a major blow delivered by the Frieze New York art fair, which began two years ago on a bucolic urban island and in the far warmer month of May. But no one should count out the passion New York’s art world has for art souks, a place where collectors, art tourists, and dealers easily mingle and make deals.

A woman in the middle of mirror works by Michelangelo Pistoletto at Galleria Repetto in the Armory Modern section of the Armory Show. (click to enlarge)

I’ve already discussed the welcome China focus for this year’s Armory, but the fair itself might be the most interesting in years for contemporary art fans. That’s not to say there aren’t a number of problems, including the Armory Modern section, which felt subdued and predictable, and the associated Venus Drawn Out exhibition of female artists, which resembled the visual equivalent of salon-style wallpaper for a sitting area.

Armory uses the same ratio that most art fairs stick to, with a preponderance of painting (collectors love painting), flashy sculptures, and witty juxtapositions that grab your attention from across the room.

A display of works by at Athr Gallery of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (photo by Tiernan Morgan for Hyperallergic)

There was a healthy selection of global galleries from every continent, and for the first time a gallery from Saudi Arabia, Athr Gallery from Jeddah, joined the fair, with a display by artists Ahmed Mater and Nasser Al Salem. I asked longtime Hyperallergic friend and Athr gallery representative Adnan Manjal why the gallery, which has also been exhibiting in Berlin and other European fairs, chose to come to Armory. “The Armory is one of the most important art fairs in the world,” he explained. “We believe our artists’ work and concepts will bring a new and fresh perspective to the audience in the US and those who attend the fair regularly. The art scene in Saudi Arabia is quite interesting, regionally and globally, whether the artists tackle social and political issues such as Ahmed Mater or spiritual matters such as contemporary calligrapher Nasser Al Salem.”

Manjal’s point is worth noting, because even in a city like New York, where there is art around every corner, you still encounter good surprises in a number of booths by artists you’ve never heard of at a place like the Armory — it’s a nice treat when it happens, though I wish it would happen more.

If there was one work that captured the spirit of the art fair better than others, it would have to be Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s “The Wedding Cake” (2008), at London’s Blain Southern gallery. Busting open Renato Bertelli’s 1933 Futurist masterpiece “Head of Mussolini (Continuous Profile),” Noble and Webster have filled the bust of the Italian dictator with a bouquet of penises. Mussolini is a dickhead, which seems obvious, but what’s more fascinating is that at an art fair there’s always going to be someone who wants to buy something like this and put it in their home (or at least in storage) — that really is more spellbinding than the object itself.

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Sculpture by Rael Yassin at Kalfayan Galleries in Athens

Detail of Dawn Clements's "2 Tables in My Kitchen" (2014), ballpoint pen ink on paper, at Pierogi gallery

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Andrew Ohanesian's "" (2014) with Jim Torok's paintings of Chuck Close and Fred Tomaselli (both 2014) in the background, at Pierogi Gallery

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The 2014 Armory Art Fair (Twelfth Avenue at 55th Street, Westside, Manhattan) continues through March 9, 12–7pm.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Photo

The Armory Show Works by Romuald Hazoumè at the October Gallery exhibition on Pier 94, including a fanciful enhancement of a vehicle used by poor entrepreneurs to transport gasoline in the Republic of Benin. Credit Philip Greenberg for The New York Times

After nearly four hours of scanning thousands of artworks displayed by the Armory Show’s international roster of 205 exhibitors, I had an epiphany. A hypothesis about the nature of art making in the industrialized world took shape in my exhausted, overstimulated brain. I call it the “cut-and-paste” theory, which has to do not with actual scissors, paper and glue but with the actions people perform on Windows-equipped computers.

The idea was triggered by thinking about the differences between the two parts of the show: the “Modern” on Pier 92, where 59 dealers display “historically significant Modern art,” and on Pier 94, the considerably more expansive “Contemporary,” where 146 dealers are showing all kinds of shiny, newfangled products.

The Modern section is loaded with old favorites. Meredith Ward Fine Art has a selection of small works by American Modernists, including choice pieces by Arthur Dove, Elie Nadelman and Alfred Jensen. Mazzoleni Galleria d’Arte presents works by Italian avant-gardists like Lucio Fontana, Alighiero Boetti and Michelangelo Pistoletto. Allan Stone Projects offers an excellent solo show of paintings and drawings by the Pop-realist Wayne Thiebaud, including an electric, full-length portrait of a woman in a striped blouse and bell-bottom trousers from 1973-4.

Here and there, single works stand out. Andrew Edlin Gallery has a big, powerful painted relief by the self-taught artist Thornton Dial, featuring a fierce eagle with a bouquet of fake flowers in its talons. At Carl Hammer Gallery, Roger Brown’s darkly comical painting of a horse hovering over a woman on her back under a sky of puffy clouds commemorates the apocryphal demise of Catherine the Great. At Ricco/Maresca, there’s a large, mysterious drawing of empty courtyards and trains going through tunnels by another self-taught master, Martín Ramírez.

Styles may vary in the Modern section, but an idea of what making art involves is shared by most: It should be the expression of one person’s singular vision.

In the Contemporary section, the typical artist is something else: a canny juggler of ready-made signifiers. Everywhere you look, you see artists mixing and matching generic styles, images and devices in the forms of photographs, paintings, high-tech simulations and myriad nontraditional materials, sometimes using all these at once. Almost always, they do so to cerebrally sophisticated ends, as often as not in order to riff on art itself.

An unusually appealing example of this type of work, at James Cohan Gallery, is an assemblage by Michelle Grabner, one of the Whitney Biennial’s three curators this year. The basic structure is an eight-foot-wide disc made by patching together flattened pieces cut from shiny metal garbage cans. Hanging by a cable from the ceiling, it turns freely this way and that. Attached to the disc are small paintings of gingham patterns and of radiating lines. Also affixed are an oblong, round-ended slab of natural wood and a framed photograph of the artist’s own backyard, in which a blurry rainbow arcs over unkempt grass in the foreground.

For all the impressive physicality of Ms. Grabner’s piece, it’s the puzzling interplay of disparate signs that matters most. The garbage cans, the gingham patterns, the natural wood plank and the backyard photograph variously evoke suburban nostalgia. Ms. Grabner is not pining for a lost way of life, however. Rather, she presents a mind-teasing, rebus-like constellation of sociologically suggestive icons for viewers to sort out and make sense of for themselves.

At the heart of this is a process of executive decision making. It’s what you do on a computer when, by pointing and clicking and cutting and pasting, you move images out of different windows and bring them into relationships with one another in one window. My theory proposes that Microsoft Windows — in combination with the World Wide Web — has been the single greatest influence on artistic creativity of the past two decades.

If I’m right, this would account for the strange feeling of no context that prevails in contemporary art. A special section of the Contemporary wing is devoted to up-and-coming Chinese galleries. With the possible exception of a big, beautiful, expressionistic painting on paper of giant caterpillars on broad leaves by Chen Haiyan at Ink Studio, there’s hardly anything in these booths that couldn’t be mistaken for the work of a young Brooklynite. The world of today’s artist is a virtual world; it’s everywhere and nowhere.

In this context of no context, some things stand out. At Moniquemeloche, a Chicago gallery, there’s a series of photographs in muted color by Carrie Schneider, each of which pictures a young woman sitting in a comfortable chair or reclining on a sofa in her home and reading a visibly much-used book. These vaguely religious images of quiet absorption are a blessed relief from the fair’s prevailing spirit of overeager, attention-seeking novelty.

Works by Romuald Hazoumè at October Gallery inventively address a set of urgently real problems in a particular part of the world. The centerpiece is a battered, rusty three-wheeled motor scooter equipped with a pair of outriggers, each carrying five large, round green glass bottles. This is a fanciful enhancement of a kind of vehicle used by poor entrepreneurs to transport gasoline in the Republic of Benin, where Mr. Hazoumè lives and works. The appalling back story has to do with how big oil companies extract and export petroleum from fields in neighboring Nigeria: They leave it to small, black-market operations to refine and sell dirty gasoline to the locals, who, while endangering themselves, transport and sell it in king-size wine bottles.

Not everyone needs to make art from such a deeply embedded position in real life. But wouldn’t it be nice if more artists could choose to resist the sneakily hypnotic hegemony of Windows consciousness?

The Armory Show runs through Sunday at Piers 92 and 94, 12th Avenue at 55th Street, Manhattan; thearmoryshow.com. 212-645-6440.

A version of this review appears in print on March 7, 2014, on page C31 of the New York edition with the headline: On the Piers, Armory Show Evokes Cut and Paste.

Art Matters | At the Independent Art Fair, Thinking Outside the White Box

A Pae White mobile (left) presented by Kaufmann Repetto and a Honza Zamojski sculpture (right) presented by Andrew Kreps.Tom Powell Imaging A Pae White mobile (left) presented by Kaufmann Repetto and a Honza Zamojski sculpture (right) presented by Andrew Kreps.

When Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook founded the Independent Art Fair in 2010, the art landscape in New York was a different place. Frieze had yet to enter the American market, and the vast Armory Show dominated the fair scene. “There was really a need for something more than the model that was imposed on us,” says the fair’s director, Laura Mitterrand.

Now in its fifth year at the Chelsea building that formerly housed the Dia Center for the Arts, the Independent continues to satiate the appetites of art enthusiasts who are hungry for the new and cutting-edge. Unlike the typical fair models, exhibitors at the fair are selected through referrals instead of through an application process. The fair also refrains from having similar-size, cookie-cutter booths. For this year’s layout, two young architects, Andrew Feuerstein and Bret Quagliara, conceptualized a series of tangram-inspired walls that can be customized according to each exhibitor’s needs. “The layout is dictated not by the space itself, it’s dictated by the galleries and what they’re going to be showing,” Mitterrand says.

The fair is also relatively small in size, with just 56 exhibitors spread out over four floors, as opposed to more than 200 at the Armory Show, creating for a more intimate setting conducive to collaboration and connecting.

From left: Julia Wachtel paintings presented by Elizabeth Dee Gallery; Richard Nonas sculptures presented by McCaffery Fine Art.Tom Powell Imaging From left: Julia Wachtel paintings presented by Elizabeth Dee Gallery; Richard Nonas sculptures presented by McCaffery Fine Art.

Several of the galleries showing decided to eschew the typical fair exhibit model altogether. The Lower East Side gallery Untitled opted to show not one, but 12 artists — thanks to Brad Troemel, who opted to have 11 rotating solo presentations by artists including Dwyer Kilcollin, Hannah Levy and James Clarkson follow his bitcoin-incorprated artworks. Each artist will exhibit for two-hour increments. Lauren Christiansen, director at Untitled, says that it’s about “adding a foil to the actual platform of the fair, just making it more an opportunity for a project and less about being a standard art fair booth.”

London’s Modern Art gallery decided to join forces with New York’s Maccarone and exhibit the tambourine sculptures of an artist they both represent, Paul Lee. Berlin’s Galerie Mehdi Chouakri went for a site-specific intervention with dots by Austrian artist Gerwald Rockenschaub that are sprinkled through the doors and staircase of the building. “It’s like a very playful way of dealing with a space,” says Mehdi Chouakri, the owner. New York-based Ramiken Crucible had a curiously bizarre sculpture of aspic by Andra Ursuta. Karma, a New York-based publisher of art editions, had a display of works by Amy O’Neill that show prizes won from children’s carnival games. Köln’s Galerie Susanne Zander opted to show unknown outsider artists. “This is one of the very few fairs where you can do such a project and people will understand what you want to say,” Susanne Zander says. McCaffrey Fine Art went the revival route, showcasing Richard Nonas, an artist whose work appeared in the 1977 Documenta show. Sprüth Magers, which has spaces in Berlin and London, presented a performance piece by John Bock in which an actress chain-sawed a wooden sculpture of a man; the dismantled parts will be packed in suitcases and sold off.

The model for Independent has been so successful that its organizers plan to host another edition during the November auction season. “I hope that people come to the fair wanting to see a gallery in particular, because they know it, because they’ve been involved in that gallery’s program before, and come out having made connections with multiple other galleries,” Mitterrand says.

The Independent runs through March 9 at 548 West 22nd Street, New York; independentnewyork.com.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 8, 2014

An earlier version of this post misstated the location of Galerie Susanne Zander. It is in Köln, not Zurich. It also misstated the name of a gallery. It is Galerie Mehdi Chouakri, not Mehdi Chouakri.

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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Armory Show Puts China Into Focus

MadeIn Company

A detail of “Under Heaven 20121020″ by Xu Zhen, the Armory Show’s commissioned artist for 2014.

The Armory Show, New York’s sprawling contemporary art fair that takes place on two former marine piers on the Hudson River, will put the spotlight on Chinese artists when it runs Thursday to Sunday.

For the first time in its 16 years of existence, the annual event will dedicate extra attention to China after naming the country its “focus session” for the fair. (The Armory Show typically chooses one geographical region for one focus session each year.)

However, the China section won’t include the country’s biggest names on the global art market. Instead of rolling out the usual suspects — Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, say — the 17 invited galleries from China and Hong Kong are exhibiting up-and-comers like Xu Zhen, Zhao Yao and Wang Luyan.

“The theme is to show the dynamism of contemporary art in China,” said Philip Tinari, director of Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, who curated the fair’s Armory Focus: China section. The works from China will also serve as an eye-opener for New York’s jaded art world, not least because many of the artists on show have never exhibited overseas – mostly, these days, by choice.

“In the ’90s, Chinese artists needed a show abroad, because they couldn’t show anywhere inside China,” Mr. Tinari said. “Today there are so many opportunities in their home market, so it takes extra effort for them to think about going beyond that.”

The fair’s spotlight will shine brightest on Xu Zhen, the Armory Show’s commissioned artist for 2014. Born in 1977 in Shanghai, Mr. Xu belongs to a generation that never experienced the Cultural Revolution and is more interested in conceptual art than realistic figurative painting. The latter is a hallmark of works by the most popular contemporary Chinese artists at auctions.

Among the pieces Mr. Xu produced for the fair is “Action of Consciousness,” an installation in which two performers and 50 large sculptures are hidden in a large 10-foot enclosed white cube. From within the cube, the sculptures are thrown into the air to be viewed by the audience for just the split second they emerge.

Katie de Tilly, director of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong, is bringing the works of Huang Rui and Wang Keping, artists who were early pioneers in China’s contemporary art movement. While auction houses have been instrumental in educating the world about Chinese art, much of the art sold at auction is in the style of “cynical realism,” Ms. de Tilly said. That means the West still has had little exposure to “the really good art [that] rarely leaves China as it is not necessarily commercial.”

Beijing Commune

“A Painting of Thought I-305″ by Zhao Yao.

Beijing Commune is bringing works by Zhao Yao, an artist from Luzhou, Sichuan province, born in 1981 whose paintings often resemble geometric shapes atop patterned backgrounds. Pekin Fine Arts is bringing Wang Luyan, a Beijing-born painter who comments on world geopolitics by coloring the gears of a watch with the flags of nations.

The artists on show, Mr. Tinari said, reflect two major forces in China’s contemporary art scene. The first is “a new group of younger artists, who see themselves as part of an international conversation.” The second: “the resurgence of ink painting. It says something about China’s willingness to embrace its own traditions as contemporary art.”

Pekin Fine Arts

“W Global Watch D 12-01″ by Wang Luyan.

In addition to highlighting art works from China, the fair is holding a symposium focused on topics related to art in China, from the country’s private museum boom to the state of the art market.

Adrian Cheng, the 34-year-old Hong Kong jewelry heir behind the K11 Art Foundation that is sponsoring the talks, said, “There has never been so many Chinese galleries going to New York.”

“The timing is significant. You’ve a new leadership in China and the general feeling we’re at a turning point,” he added. “It’s time to showcase a new generation.”

–Wei Gu contributed to this article.

030614

10 Works to See at the Armory Show in New York City

The Armory Show is back, with exhibitions and events planned across the city. In order to help you navigate one of the largest art fairs, we’ve rounded up the 10 must-see works.
Get ready for some art, because the Armory Show is back in New York City starting on Thursday. With deep roots in history, the fair is not only an homage to the original 1913 Armory Show exhibition that introduced modern art to New York, but it also is a reflection of the show’s founding principle to introduce new talent alongside the many established greats. Founded in 1994, the annual exhibition continues to be the largest art fair in the United States and draws art collectors and admirers from all over the world for a weekend-long, citywide celebration.Combing talent from all across the globe, this year’s exhibition will give spectators a look at some rarely seen works by prominent historical artists as well as feature the great works being produced by contemporary artists today. We’ve rounded up the top ten works to see during the four-day affair.Monika Grzymala, “Studio Berlin 2013,” 2013:

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Galerie Crone

Polish-born artist Monika Krzymala’s works live in a haunting balance of sculpture and drawing. Her explosive drawings are anything but traditional. For starters, they aren’t confined to a single surface. Instead, they use the special void between walls, floors, and ceilings to create an invisible canvas. She uses various forms of tape to create three-dimensional drawings. Each work is a site-specific response to the space that it occupies, proving that neither sculpture nor drawings are confined to their respective materials.

Jonathan Meese, “DER NULLKONIG MIT DEM SCHNALZMUND (BARTIUSSUS),” 2013:

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Jan Bauer

Jonathan Meese uses a combination of unorthodox materials to create highly textural themes of revolution and the failures of ideology in a feverish way, often pulling inspiration from the history of Germany’s war identity. The German-based artist has produced works for the past two decades across a wide range of mediums including installation, performance, sculpture, and painting.

Alexander Calder, “Men,” 1971:

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Crane Kalman

As one of the United States’ most famous sculpture artists from the 20th century, artist and inventor Alexander Calder is responsible for the introduction of the mobile, a sculpture of perfectly balanced objects. Working across all mediums, including sculpture, theater, painting, jewelry, and tapestry, Calder’s “Men” are as balanced and minimalistic as his monumental sculptures.

Aiko Hachisuka, “Sugar Mates,” 2013

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Courtesy Eleven Rivington, NY

Japanese-born artist Aiko Hachisuka is known for turning second-hand clothing into anthropomorphized abstractions of the human body. For her “Sugar Mates” series, the L.A.-based Hachisuka stuffed, painted, and stitched together the various fashion pieces to create giant, playful abstractions that nod to the industrialist sculptures of John Chamberlain.

Roy Lichtenstein, “Moonscape,” 1965

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Sims Reed Gallery

Widely known for his cheeky, oversized, comic strip silkscreens, Roy Lichtenstein is one of the most well known artists from the Pop art movement in the 60s that also included Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. But his dot laden canvases of damsels in distress aren’t the only works that Lichtenstein created. “Moonscapeuses paint and film to create a lunar scene that is reflective in light and texture, pushing the limits of the two-dimensional work.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, “Venere con Pipa” 1972

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Galleria Repetto

Italian painter Michelangelo Pistoletto is best known for his mirror paintings that serve as the foundation of his oeuvre. Pistoletto uses life-size mirrors as a base on which he adds painted figures or photographic prints. Through this, an active role is given to the spectator, who has inadvertently become an intrinsic part of the artwork.

Mark Flood, “Baron’s Bath” 2013

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Zach Feuer Gallery

Described as a prankster, Houston, Texas based Mark Flood is part punk-rock musician, part eccentric artist. Creating mostly multi-media works, Flood uses a wide range of toxic colors often dealing with themes of a hate-filled consumerist culture fueled by capitalism.

Mary Heilmann, “Splashy Cut,” 2013

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Using geometric forms as a basis for most of her art, American artist Mary Heilmann tends to get very personal with her work—every piece has a back story. Inspired by popular culture, the bright hues and shapes that fill her pieces relay a keen eye for color theory, but in unconventional ways. Her works are often meant to be seen as communal spaces to contemplate and socialize, often accompanied by seating areas.

Julia Dault, “Untitled 30, 12:00-6:00pm, August 24, 2013,” 2013

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Brooklyn-based artist Julia Dault creates sculptures with a highly industrial aesthetic. Using raw materials, such as Plexiglas and Formica, the harshness of the stiff materials is often negated by the way in which they are presented. Dault perfectly reshapes and balances the industrial sheets using strings and straps, adding an almost organic layer to their typically flat appearance.

Xu Zhen, “Under Heaven 20121020 (detail),” 2012

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Beijing-based Xu Zhen has the ability to flawlessly produce works in almost every artistic platform—from photography and video to installations, performances, and paintings—often times incorporating them all into a single work of art. Drawing from sociopolitical themes, Zhen’s use of the emotion of sensitivity creates an ironic, but humorous, look at human exploration.

The Armory Show, located at Twelfth Avenue and 55th Street, will be on display until March 9th and is open from 12pm—7pm daily.

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BWW Reviews: A Piered Armory Show Peers Back To The Past

March 7
6:37 2014

A Piered Armory Show Peers Back To The Past

By Barry Kostrinsky

As if there is not enough confusion in the art world THE Armory show and many satellite fairs dropped through New York Cities stratosphere Wednesday night and orbits through March 9. What is the Armory? An Armory is a place for the militia; however defendable attacks employing full scale GI Joe green suited plastic men and woman have gone dormant over the last century. What to do with all that empty cavernous space? In 1913 an Armory was repurposed to house an art exhibit and so was born THE Armory show. Now, no longer in an Armory, it might be better called the Pier show as it is housed in Pier 92 and 94 near 55th street on the far west side.

People watching is always a highlight of an art fair and this smart couple was a big hit

Add to the confusion the multiplicity of Armories in NYC-I guess there were a lot attacking Indian attacks in the pre I-Phone era, and you have a maze of misunderstanding. Throw in a few art fairs at other armories dotted throughout the city like the Art Dealers Association of America art fair at the Armory on 67th street and Park avenue and the 69th regiment Armory where the Fountain Art Fair parks itself through Sunday -the sight of THE original Armory, and you are rightfully perplexed with the fact that The Armory show is not in an Armory and some of the non-Armory peripheral shows are in an Armory. This should make sense, for it is the art world.

The current show at THE Armory (but really at the Piers) is in a half-nelson from the long-armed stranglehold of the aesthetics expressed in the original show from 1913. What was so avant-garde back in the days of dollar meals quite unlike Mickee Dee’s over 100 years ago, resurfaces over and over in the contemporary art world. Oddly enough the term avante-garde is a repurposing of another military concept- being ahead of the guard, at the front lines, and it makes me wonder if the flow goes both ways, is the Army calling military exercise performances pieces these days?

A unique map of NYC was an eye catcher at the fair

What was so avante-garde about THE Armory show of 1913?

It was the coming out party for so many artists and thoughts from Europe at the turn of the century and their introduction to the United States. Though there were many influential generals to be hanging in the original exhibit the one to take note of was The Champ. No, not Muhammad Ali, but Marcel DuChamp. Marcel was a brilliant thinker and broke through barriers in the art world much as Bertrand Russell did for mathematics. Both Bertrand and Marcel questioned basic assumptions and definitions and thus redefined their respective fields. Marcel blew open the doors for conceptual art and objects and artist have been gathering, playing and responding in the doorway ever since.

A corked classical figure complete with push pins- now that’s a place for those random notes

But whereas The Champ was ahead of his day inventing new ideas and concepts of art, today’s artist seem to be appropriating old ideas. Is this a bad thing? No, bad is too harsh a label, but contemporary artist constant homage, both knowingly and unwittingly to Marcel lacks a string, a bite and a sense of the new that we look to art to lead us lemmings towards a new paradigm.

Today, China is the focus of the special exhibits section at Pier 94. A Political volley? Simply put, I saw two themes shared by most of the Chinese galleries. One including minimal use of the space and objects loaded with high conceptual connotations hard to fathom. The other was the opposite, a sort of playful, whimsical free for all that spelled fun and excitement of the senses and was very much the polar vortex opposite and the antithesis of the other minimal forms. One country, a billion plus people, two ideas? Somehow DuChamp can seen to be the key primordial influence on both of these themes. He ain’t the champ for nothin. It was unusual to see a lack of political statements from the Chinese artist , but maybe I was not looking and reading too closely. We often sleep walk through life and see without seeing as we coat our perceptions with our expected expectations of reality. Or maybe it was the fault of that late night left-over seafood pasta dish.

Read more at http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwart/article/BWW-Reviews-A-Piered-Armory-Show-Peers-Back-To-The-Past-20140307#PUMFlRWvOP7rwD7z.99

BWW Reviews: A Piered Armory Show Peers Back To The Past

March 7
6:37 2014

A Piered Armory Show Peers Back To The Past

By Barry Kostrinsky

As if there is not enough confusion in the art world THE Armory show and many satellite fairs dropped through New York Cities stratosphere Wednesday night and orbits through March 9. What is the Armory? An Armory is a place for the militia; however defendable attacks employing full scale GI Joe green suited plastic men and woman have gone dormant over the last century. What to do with all that empty cavernous space? In 1913 an Armory was repurposed to house an art exhibit and so was born THE Armory show. Now, no longer in an Armory, it might be better called the Pier show as it is housed in Pier 92 and 94 near 55th street on the far west side.

People watching is always a highlight of an art fair and this smart couple was a big hit

Add to the confusion the multiplicity of Armories in NYC-I guess there were a lot attacking Indian attacks in the pre I-Phone era, and you have a maze of misunderstanding. Throw in a few art fairs at other armories dotted throughout the city like the Art Dealers Association of America art fair at the Armory on 67th street and Park avenue and the 69th regiment Armory where the Fountain Art Fair parks itself through Sunday -the sight of THE original Armory, and you are rightfully perplexed with the fact that The Armory show is not in an Armory and some of the non-Armory peripheral shows are in an Armory. This should make sense, for it is the art world.

The current show at THE Armory (but really at the Piers) is in a half-nelson from the long-armed stranglehold of the aesthetics expressed in the original show from 1913. What was so avant-garde back in the days of dollar meals quite unlike Mickee Dee’s over 100 years ago, resurfaces over and over in the contemporary art world. Oddly enough the term avante-garde is a repurposing of another military concept- being ahead of the guard, at the front lines, and it makes me wonder if the flow goes both ways, is the Army calling military exercise performances pieces these days?

A unique map of NYC was an eye catcher at the fair

What was so avante-garde about THE Armory show of 1913?

It was the coming out party for so many artists and thoughts from Europe at the turn of the century and their introduction to the United States. Though there were many influential generals to be hanging in the original exhibit the one to take note of was The Champ. No, not Muhammad Ali, but Marcel DuChamp. Marcel was a brilliant thinker and broke through barriers in the art world much as Bertrand Russell did for mathematics. Both Bertrand and Marcel questioned basic assumptions and definitions and thus redefined their respective fields. Marcel blew open the doors for conceptual art and objects and artist have been gathering, playing and responding in the doorway ever since.

A corked classical figure complete with push pins- now that’s a place for those random notes

But whereas The Champ was ahead of his day inventing new ideas and concepts of art, today’s artist seem to be appropriating old ideas. Is this a bad thing? No, bad is too harsh a label, but contemporary artist constant homage, both knowingly and unwittingly to Marcel lacks a string, a bite and a sense of the new that we look to art to lead us lemmings towards a new paradigm.

Today, China is the focus of the special exhibits section at Pier 94. A Political volley? Simply put, I saw two themes shared by most of the Chinese galleries. One including minimal use of the space and objects loaded with high conceptual connotations hard to fathom. The other was the opposite, a sort of playful, whimsical free for all that spelled fun and excitement of the senses and was very much the polar vortex opposite and the antithesis of the other minimal forms. One country, a billion plus people, two ideas? Somehow DuChamp can seen to be the key primordial influence on both of these themes. He ain’t the champ for nothin. It was unusual to see a lack of political statements from the Chinese artist , but maybe I was not looking and reading too closely. We often sleep walk through life and see without seeing as we coat our perceptions with our expected expectations of reality. Or maybe it was the fault of that late night left-over seafood pasta dish.

Read more at http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwart/article/BWW-Reviews-A-Piered-Armory-Show-Peers-Back-To-The-Past-20140307#PUMFlRWvOP7rwD7z.99

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Art Matters | At the Armory Show, China Takes the Spotlight

A painting by the artist Xu Zhen, whose works were co-opted for the graphic identity of this year's Armory Show.Courtesy of the Armory Show A painting by the artist Xu Zhen, whose works were co-opted for the graphic identity of this year’s Armory Show.

The Armory Show anchors what has held on as a robust art week for New York, in spite of similar events organized in the city during the milder month of May. The art fair on Piers 92 and 94 on the West Side Highway opened to the public this morning, and while one might say its theme is the same as ever — to make as much money as possible in five days selling contemporary (and modern) art — each year is more distinctively characterized by a regionally driven focus as well, and 2014’s is China.

The “Focus: China” section of the Armory Show is an encampment of 16 commercial galleries and four nonprofit spaces at Pier 94, clustered around a lounge dotted with blue exercise machines placed by the collective Polit-Sheer-Form-Office as a work commissioned by the fair called “Fitness For All!” The section is organized by Philip Tinari, an American curator who has been based in Beijing for the better part of a decade, where he is currently the director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.

One of the most intriguing presentations is the Beijing gallery White Space‘s solo booth, featuring new work by He Xiangyu, an artist in his late 20s who first gained notoriety for boiling down, over the course of about a year, 127 tons of Coca-Cola into an apocalyptic sludge that he subsequently used to fill a pristine gallery in an environmental gesture reminiscent of the 1970s artist Walter De Maria’s “The New York Earth Room.” Here, he offers two new, albeit tidier, jokes about scale and material: a totemic egg carton made of solid gold, leaned against the wall and holding a single, real egg, and the title page of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” printed in black ink on black paper, essentially invisible when observed in a passing glance. The opposite wall is hung with a suite of oddly intuitive, synesthetic tongue drawings: every day, the artist draws how his tongue feels. Recently, he began rendering it in wax as well; one of such self-portraits is displayed under glass in the front of the booth.

Left: an installation by Nadim Abbas. Right: a piece by He Xiangyu.Kevin McGarry Left: an installation by Nadim Abbas. Right: a piece by He Xiangyu.

Another engaging presentation can be seen at the booth of Gallery Exit, from Hong Kong, where two Roombas, the robot vacuum cleaners that resemble overgrown smoke detectors, roam a space littered with spiky concrete balls: enlarged castings of dust particles. The installation, made by Nadim Abbas, is meant to underscore parallels between the development of militaristic technologies and their domestic extensions, bringing the war home in an absurdist, Jetsons-y dance.

This year’s Armory Artist, whose work is co-opted for the graphic identity of the fair, is Xu Zhen. His oil paintings mimicking the goopy, striated qualities of toothpaste are replicated on the V.I.P. cards held in purses and wallets throughout the fair, and can be seen in their original form at Shanghai’s MadeIn Gallery‘s booth. MadeIn Company is also an alias the artist has been using since 2009, when he presciently sought to break away from a system in which artists are bound to a single name, brand and trajectory of activity contained by identity. Another Armory commission, easy to miss, and probably the best thing overall to see, is by Xu. A booth walled off on all four sides appears to be an architectural oversight, but in actuality houses an ongoing performance called “Action of Consciousness.” Inspired by Maurizio Cattelan’s emptying of the Guggenheim Museum in order to suspend his oeuvre from its ceiling, Xu’s boxed-off white cube contains people trapped within it, who every so often toss sculptural objects high enough to be spotted from the outside. The didactic text enumerates some of these as “a Roman column topped by a Chinese lantern or a wedding cake decorated with high-heeled shoes,” but it’s tough to pinpoint what they are by their fleeting appearances as they peek out over the walls.

This weekend continues with a two-day China symposium, also organized by Tinari. Saturday sets the stage by exploring the context and circumstances particular to Chinese contemporary art, as in the 2 p.m. session moderated by András Szántó, “The Chinese Art World Described as a System,” while Sunday zooms in on some specific currents in Chinese art itself, with a session called “The On | Off Generation” at 4 p.m., named for a seminal 2013 show at the Ullens Center, “ON | OFF,” which surveyed young Chinese artists (such as He Xiangyu, among others) who are making work that does not overtly appear “Chinese.” While the westernmost frontier of Midtown may feel a world away when wind chill is still a factor, this weekend is a rare opportunity to get an informed, firsthand tour of East Asia’s most developed art world, accessible via taxi.

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FORBES

Style & Design 3/07/2014 @ 12:40PM 153 views

Armory Show VIP Preview Draws Collectors, Welcomes Chinese Contemporary Galleries

The Armory Show preview is a must for serious collectors. Doors for the VIP event open at 12 PM; by 1:30, the halls are packed, and hopefully discerning eyes have already bought their favorite works, or at least placed them on hold. Artists Maurizio Cattelan and Michele Oka Doner, musician David Byrne, and television journalist Katie Couric wandered the halls and the special Chinese Contemporary section, curated by Philip Tinari, who is the art director for the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

“Am I shopping? Potentially, always,” said tennis legend John McEnroe. “So far today it’s a slow start. My time is limited, I have to pick up steam.”

Los Angeles based art philanthropist Eli Broad was a welcome figure. Inclusion in the Broad Collection is a dream for many artists and the galleries that represent them. “It’s a great educational experience,” said Broad. “Lots of interesting young artists I haven’t seen before are exhibiting.”

The atmosphere was upbeat. Several collectors missed out on works by coming in an hour late.

“Sales are fantastic, we’ve already sold very well,” said Leila Heller, owner of the Leila Heller Gallery. “I think most galleries are doing well, it’s a very healthy market. The stock market was up 265 points yesterday, so that always puts people in a good mood.”

International galleries were pleased that there was a focus on China, a plus for their businesses overseas.

Mark Spiegler, Jeffrey Deitch

“We are extremely happy to welcome our friends and collectors from Hong Kong and China to New York,” said Rachel Lehmann of the Lehmann Maupin Gallery. “It’s a very special moment because Phil Tinari, who is the curator for the Chinese section for the fair, has been trying to position the Chinese contemporary art world, that we don’t know well enough, in an interesting way. It’s an exciting moment, particularly for those of us who have galleries in Hong Kong and who work with artists in Asia and from everywhere else in the world.”

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ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST

The 2014 Armory Show’s Most Anticipated Galleries and Artists

March 4, 2014
Flowers, Andy Warhol

Flowers, Andy Warhol, 1970. Photo courtesy of Sims Reed Gallery

’Tis the season in New York for art collectors, with a plethora of art fairs poised to descend upon the city: Volta, the Art Dealers Association of America, Scope, and the Independent Art Fair, just to name a few. The main event, however, continues to be the Armory Show, now in its 16th year of bringing modern and contemporary art to the city.

Under Heaven 20121020, Xu Zhen, Amory Show 2014

Under Heaven 20121020, Xu Zhen, 2012. Photo courtesy of MadeIn Company

The multidisciplinary Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen is this year’s Armory Artist, the singular figure commissioned to build the fair’s visual identity. Known for the provocative, politically poignant nature of his films, photography, installations, and thickly laden, vibrantly colored oil paintings often compared to frosted cakes, he’s not only gracing the show’s posters with his artwork but also setting up Action of Consciousness, a kinetic installation of symbolic sculptures continuously thrown in the air, as the centerpiece to the fair’s Focus: China section.

Proud Italy (detail), Li Shurui

Proud Italy (detail), Li Shurui, 2013. Photo courtesy of Li Shurui and Aike-Dellarco

In this area the Armory Show spotlights 16 Chinese galleries selected by Beijing Ullens Center for Contemporary Art director Philip Tinari, among them Tang Contemporary Art, Aye Gallery, and Space Station of Beijing; Gallery EXIT and 10 Chancery Lane Gallery of Hong Kong; and Aike-Dellarco and MadeIn Company of Shanghai.

Zäh und zahm, Franz West, Armory Show 2014

Zäh und zahm, Franz West, 2011. Photo courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp

And as always, the fair will also offer a wide range of favorites: The contemporary section will feature works from the likes of Franz West, being shown by Antwerp’s Tim Van Laere Gallery, and Tracey Emin, represented by Manhattan-based Lehmann Maupin.

Buste au Corsage à Carreaux, Pablo Picasso

Buste au Corsage à Carreaux, Pablo Picasso, 1958. Photo courtesy of John Szoke Gallery

In the modern area we can look forward to coveted classics such as an Andy Warhol “Flowers” print (from London’s Sims Reed Gallery), Picasso lithographs and screen prints (from New York’s John Szoke Gallery), and a 1971 Alexander Calder gouache (from Crane Kalman of London).

March 6–9, Piers 92 and 94, New York; thearmoryshow.com, 212-645-0655

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BLOOMBERG NEWS

Billionaires Join Celebrities at Armory Show on Art Surge

By Katya Kazakina Mar 7, 2014 10:23 AM PT

Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

Georg Baselitz’s painting, left, sold for $660,000 by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac to a… Read More

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac sold $2.4 million of blue-chip art halfway through the exclusive opening of the Armory Show this week in New York, as the city’s biggest event of its kind got off to a busy start.

A Chinese client purchased a 10-foot-tall painting by Georg Baselitz for $660,000, and a French collector paid $1 million for a Tony Cragg heap of bulbous stainless steel resembling, from one angle, the Mad Hatter’s hat. Robert Longo’s large photo-realist drawing depicting a Burning Man scene went to an American buyer for $380,000.

“We are happy to be here,” said Thaddaeus Ropac, whose Paris- and Salzburg, Austria-based gallery took a four-year break from the Armory Show after a disappointing experience in 2009.

Spread over two hangar-size piers on the Hudson River, the March 5 opening of the 16th edition of the Armory Show was mobbed by wealthy collectors, art advisers and the press. Guests included billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, tennis champion John McEnroe, actor James Franco, newscaster Katie Couric, real-estate developers Jerry Speyer and Arthur Zeckendorf, and Don Marron, chairman of private-equity firm Lightyear Capital LLC. The Armory Arts Week includes countless competing events, with at least nine other fairs and the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg

A diptych by Israel Lund sold for $36,000 is displayed at the booth of Roberts &… Read More

Wealthy buyers are flocking to art after prices surged in the past decade, beating asset classes such as U.S. stocks, gold and fine wine. The Artnet C50 Index, which combines performance data from 50 contemporary and postwar artists, advanced 434 percent from the start of 2003 through last year.

‘Fell Apart’

The brisk sales and buoyant atmosphere represent a turnaround for New York’s largest contemporary and modern art fair, which runs through March 9 at Manhattan’s Piers 92 and 94. Since the financial crisis that roiled investment markets in 2008 and early 2009, the Armory Show has been plagued by an exodus of important galleries and increased competition from the Frieze Art Fair, a hip London transplant that opened in 2012 on Randall’s Island Park to mostly rave reviews from dealers and the public.

“The walls fell apart,” Ropac said of the 2009 Armory Show. “We just felt we didn’t want to come anymore.”

His was among several prominent international galleries that returned to the Armory Show after a hiatus, encouraged by recent changes. Organizers reduced the number of participants to 205 this year from 272 in 2011, invested in new 12-foot-tall booth walls, added a VIP lounge and offered upgraded food choices including Manhattan’s Boqueria and Brooklyn’s Mile End deli. The rickety staircase that used to connect the modern and the contemporary piers has been replaced by a steadier version.

‘The Action’

“There were too many galleries for the size of the space, there weren’t places to sit down, food was terrible,” said Noah Horowitz, the fair’s executive director since 2012. “All these issues needed to be addressed and we made a calculated attempt to address them.”

James Fuentes, a downtown New York art dealer, hadn’t participated in the Armory Show since 2010. Walking through the fair last year, he said he spotted important collectors and curators at a time when his gallery was quiet. He decided to give the event another try.

“I needed to come where the action is,” Fuentes said, standing in a booth filled with subtle works on paper by Jessica Dickinson.

Colorful Clothes

By the time Joel and Zoe Dictrow, emerging-art collectors who are husband and wife, rushed into the booth about four hours into the preview, 90 percent of the works were sold, with prices ranging from $3,000 to $14,000.

“Several people told us we have to come by your booth,” Joel Dictrow said to Fuentes.

Galleries including New York’s Zach Feuer and Eleven Rivington and Paris-based Almine Rech reported sold-out booths.

At Eleven Rivington, five hand-sewn bundles of stuffed colorful clothes on plywood pedestals by Aiko Hachisuka, a Los-Angeles-based artist, were quickly snatched up, with prices ranging from $6,500 to $8,500. Belgian collector Alain Servais said he bought one of the pieces; another went to a trustee of the New Museum in New York, the gallery said.

New York dealer Marianne Boesky’s solo presentation of work by South Africa-based artist Serge Alain Nitegeka resembled a giant maze of overlapping plywood beams and suspended shipping containers. The barricade-like structure masked the entrance to the booth hung with five large paintings made with plywood and roof paint. Priced at $10,000 to $25,000, they quickly sold to private collectors, the gallery said.

Smashed Pumpkin

Other early sales include a large abstract canvas by Scott Reeder, priced at $20,000, and Whitney Biennial artist Tony Tasset’s bronze sculpture of a smashed pumpkin, priced at $30,000, at Chicago- and Berlin-based Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Videos of imploding historic and residential buildings in Mecca, titled “Ground Zero,” played on the screens of mobile phones, at the booth of first-time exhibitor, Saudi Athr Gallery. The artist, Ahmed Mater, also created a large photograph showing the panoramic view of Al Masjid Al Haram mosque. The holy Muslim site looks dwarfed by surrounding new towers, the center of a giant construction zone. The piece sold for $44,000, the gallery said.

Roberts & Tilton gallery, with spaces in New York and Los Angeles, received numerous requests for a striped silkscreen diptych by Israel Lund, an emerging artist whose works are being flipped on the secondary market, according to dealers.

Longtime Client

The gallery sold the work for $36,000 to a longtime West Coast client “who will ultimately give it to a museum,” co-owner Bennett Roberts said in an interview.

“It’s hard to know who you can trust,” Roberts said. “We are consciously not giving in to the market. The artist is just starting his career. We are going to see big paintings and big sculptures.”

Just then Neal Meltzer, a New York-based art adviser, stopped by the booth to inquire about the work for a client. When told it had been sold, he asked if more were available. The answer was negative.

“That conversation happened all day long,” Roberts said after Meltzer left the booth.

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THE GUARDIAN LONDON

Whitney Biennial and the Armory Show: New York’s busiest art week

For the first time since 2004, the commercial and non-commercial art platforms share the same week. Are curators being forced to rethink their roles?

Armory Show
Crowds at this year’s Armory Show. Photograph: The Armory Show

New York is saturated with contemporary art in usual times, but this week it is full to bursting.

The Armory Show opened on Wednesday, on the piers of the Hudson River. A large crowd of collectors, curators, advisers and groupies charged through a notably strong edition of the city’s largest art fair. Many, though, had already had a full helping of contemporary art across town, at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Whitney Biennial, the city’s leading museum show of contemporary art, opened the day before – opening-night crowds for the perplexing, all-over-the-shop exhibition waited for half an hour or more to get inside.

This is the first year since 2004 that New York’s most prominent commercial and non-commercial platforms for contemporary art have fallen in the same week, However, while the Armory and the Whitney Biennial would pack an art-lover’s schedule on their own, there is even more to choose from. The Armory Show is only the biggest of 10 fairs, including the blue-chip ADAA Art Show and the young, scruffy Independent.

The Whitney Biennial has a spinoff in the form of the Brucennial, a rammed exhibition featuring around 600 female artists. (Women’s representation had been getting better in recent Whitney Biennials, but they account for less than a third of the artists at the museum this year.)

Trailer for the Brucennial, which ends this year.

It keeps going. The week’s openings have also included a Gauguin exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; a vital show on art and civil rights in the 1960s at the Brooklyn Museum; three large solo presentations at PS1, MoMA’s hipper kid sister in Queens; and untold numbers of openings at commercial galleries. Then there are auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, for collectors who still have money to burn.

The 2014 Whitney Biennial, the museum’s 77th edition, is a relatively large one. It includes work by 103 participants, splashed across three floors plus the lobby, basement, stairwell and elevators, and sites around town. Diverse to the point of incoherence, it does gel around a few themes.

There’s a good amount of abstract painting, such as from the Brooklyn-based artist Amy Sillman, as well as sculptures made of ceramic or fabric, such as a tumbling multi-colored tower of yarn from the 80-year-old Sheila Hicks. Numerous works involve archival research or presentations of historical material, such as a project by Joseph Grigley showcasing ephemera from a murdered art critic.

There’s also lots – really, lots – of sex and nudity, much of it homoerotic, most impressively in a nightmarish installation from the workaholic Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard (subject of a recent uproar involving Dasha Zhukova and racial insensitivity). There are a few oddball inclusions, such as the late author David Foster Wallace, whose notebooks for his novel The Pale King are displayed like relics.

Amy Sillman
Mother, by Amy Sillman. John Beren/Whitney Museum of American Art

Early reviews have not been kind. Unlike in previous iterations, the biennial’s three curators did not collaborate on a single presentation but worked on discrete sections individually. That independence may have contributed to the wildly divergent quality of work on display, according to Joshua Decter, a curator and the author of a new book, Art is a Problem.

“It probably would have been more productive for the three curators to have actually collaborated closely on one show, rather than each doing their own quasi-autonomous shows,” said Decter, who has attended every biennial since 1977. “The result may have actually been similar, but a more rigorous collaborative process might have led to a refining of each curator’s selections, and demanded of each to make useful edits and compromises.”

The Armory Show, by contrast, beat expectations. Hunted these past two years by the new Frieze New York fair, Armory has made a substantial push under its young director, Noah Horowitz, to refresh itself with a more rigorous selection process and a more international scope. The result is a fair finding its footing again after years of its future being in doubt.

Several dealers have booths with just a single artist, often showing not evidently commercial work. The booth of Marianne Boesky Gallery, for example, is overtaken by a riotous construction of interconnected black wood planks by Serge Alain Nitegeka, an artist born in Burundi and based in South Africa. Alison Jacques, a London dealer, has given her booth over to the Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes, whose art consists of minimal, almost offhand interventions in the gallery: a twig, a glass of water, a ping-pong ball.

This year’s Armory also includes a section devoted to Chinese art that features 17 galleries, nine of which have never shown outside of Asia. There’s a commissioned artwork from the Shanghai-born provocateur Xu Zhen, consisting of a white cube with performers locked inside, chucking sculptures into the air. It works as a parody of the typical art fair experience, with the art glimpsed only for a second before disappearing again.

Art of Change
Xu Zhen’s Art of Change installation. Photograph: The Armory Show

The China programming has been organized by Philip Tinari, the director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. It also includes an educational symposium on Chinese contemporary art. As recently as a few years ago, a museum director organizing part of an art fair would have felt bizarre. Today, with the market in perpetual boom, it feels almost conventional.

“I think we all have to learn how to make peace with the art fairs,” Tinari says. “It’s not that you ally with them infinitely, but this felt to me like a productive insertion at this time. And what institutions are really going to show these artists in New York now?

“That’s one of the great things about the fair in New York. It’s unlike Dubai, or even Miami. It’s not just the black-card holders. It’s the rank and file of the profession, it’s all these students. You have an audience that feels real.”

The overlapping of commercial and non-commercial, the market and the museum, has been the dominant theme of this art-saturated week. The Whitney Biennial’s curators have positioned their show in opposition to the booming art market, with many works from artist collectives and almost nothing from the large galleries of Chelsea. Yet the simultaneous opening of Armory, and all the other shows and sales, has highlighted the ongoing convergence of the two sectors.

Sterling Ruby
Basin Theology/Butterfly Wreck, by Sterling Ruby. Photograph: Robert Wedemeyer/Whitney Museum of American Art

The biennial, after all, is sponsored in part by Sotheby’s, and many of the auction house’s clients packed the Tuesday night opening while hundreds of others (including at least one former Whitney Biennial curator) queued in the cold outside. Works by several biennial artists, including Sterling Ruby and Channa Horwitz, could be bought at Armory or Independent; the biennial catalogue’s acknowledgements section thanks dozens of galleries. Michelle Grabner, one of the three biennial curators, is herself a painter – her work is on sale at the Armory Show.

The seemingly unstoppable proliferation of the art market, and the continued push of commercial enterprises into terrain that was once just for museums, has forced curators of biennials and other non-commercial shows to rethink their roles. But by the fifth day of New York’s stuffed contemporary art week, it was unclear just what role the Whitney Biennial still played in defining American art in a global, money-soaked ecosystem.

“The Armory Show now deploys intellectual window-dressing to give it some cosmopolitan street cred,” Decter observed. “And the Whitney Biennial is still in search of itself.”

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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

NY Culture

Visiting Armory Show’s Edgy Cousin

The 14th edition of Scope: New York 2014

March 7, 2014 6:32 p.m. ET

The crowd at Scope: New York 2014 Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Hubert and Victor-John Villanueva Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Fabrizio Ferri, Natalie Kates and Edward Sunderland Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Ebany Binks and William Etundi Matteo Prandoni/BFA

The 14th edition of Scope: New York 2014, a satellite art show during Armory Arts week, kicked off at the landmark post office near Penn Station on Thursday afternoon.

Through Sunday, 80 galleries from 22 countries are showcasing paintings, sculptures and experiential work, such as Belfast, Ireland, artist Sinéad O’Donnell’s “Headspace: White Cube,” a helmet-size white wooden box suspended from the ceiling by a wire.

Ms. O’Donnell, represented by Golden Thread Gallery, made the piece especially for the art fair environment, and invites visitors to stick their heads inside when she takes breaks from being inside of it.

“You’ll be okay,” Ms. O’Donnell assured us. “Just try to breathe and relax. I feel OK when I’m in there. I feel a bit dizzy when I’m out here.”

“Headspace” has as many meanings, from being a platform to discuss invisible disabilities like depressive dyslexia to being an escape for artists who are tired of facing white gallery cubes.

“The art world should embrace people who are different,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I don’t think we would be artists if we weren’t different.”

On the other side of the fair, visitors can enter artist Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic’s 15-foot-tall monolith installation called “Atramentum.” Inside, a camera captures viewers’ reactions to the space’s infinite mirrored surface and calming ambient music.

“Their experience inside this monolith can be singular, introspective and pluralistically reflective,” Mr. Mestrovic said. “But that experience is also then saved, and the recorded impression of viewers’ time in the monolith is broadcast to the audience outside the fair. The viewer is the artist and the artwork at the same time.”

“We’re really about finding emerging artists and our thing has always been staying true to that,” Scope’s president, Alexis Hubshman, said.

Kevin Havelton, director of Rhode Island and Switzerland-based Aureus Contemporary, said Scope often comes across as edgier than more well-established art fairs.

“We’re like the rough cousin. If you go to the Armory, it’s all elegant,” Mr. Havelton said. “We’re the cousin that you don’t visit very often but when you do, you’re reminded of how much fun you can actually have.”

He is showing West Village-based artist Claire Shegog, who punctiliously hand paints thousands of identical 1-inch dolls, customizing each one’s dresses, jewelry, hats, skin tones and hairdos. With a laugh, Ms. Shegog said her work is inspired by old Hollywood movie director Busby Berkeley’s geometric work involving hundreds of dancers.

And, unlike a lot of contemporary art, Ms. Shegog said, her work is about nothing deeper than beauty and elegance.

“I’ve always gone on the instinctual: ‘I like it because it’s pretty and it’s cute and organized,’ ” she said. “And it sparkles.”

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THE MILLIONS

Essays

The Writing on the Wall (Redux): The 2014 Whitney Biennial, Starring David Foster Wallace

By posted at 6:00 am on March 13, 2014 0

Lisa Anne Auerbach, Let the Dream Write Itself, 2014. Wool, 63 x 80 in. (160 x 203.2 cm) Collection of the artist and Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach. Copyright Lisa Anne Auerbach. Photograph by Lisa Anne Auerbach.

Paper is a star of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, as one critic put it. This is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  A star of this show — the star, in my opinion — is what’s on the paper.  And what’s on the paper is something that has been on a lot of museum and gallery walls lately, as we noted here early this year.  That something is the thing we tend to think of as the domain of writers, not artists.  That something is words.

The current Whitney Biennial, like its precursors since 1932, tries to answer an impossible question: What is contemporary art in the United States today?  Here’s one answer: “Shape-shifting.”  That’s the title of the catalog essay by one of this Biennial’s three outside curators, Stuart Comer of the Museum of Modern Art.  Comer writes that in making his selections for the show he was “compelled by artists whose work is as hybrid as the significant global, environmental, and technological shifts reshaping the United States.”  Nowhere is this crossbreeding more vividly expressed than in one of this Biennial’s staples — what Comer calls “the complex relationship between linguistic and visual forms.”

Etel Adnan, "Five Senses for One Death," 1969. Ink and watercolor on paper. 11 x 255 in. (27.9 x 647.7 cm) Collection of the artist; courtesy Callicoon Fine Arts, New York Photograph by Chris Austen

coverConsider his choice of Etel Adnan, an 89-year-old, Beirut-born, Lebanese-American artist who wrote a highly regarded novel, Sitt Marie-Rose, set during her homeland’s brutal civil war.  (She has also written poetry and essays.)  A room at the Whitney has several of Adnan’s bright paintings on the walls, looking down on a large vitrine that contains Adnan’s accordion books made of long sheets of folded paper, known as leporellos.  One is titled “Funeral March for the First Cosmonaut.”  Through a series of watercolor images and blocks of writing, it tells the story of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space.  But Adnan’s lovely book is less a celebration of technological achievement than a reflection on creativity and loss.  “In the beginning was the white page,” it opens, a chilling fact known to every writer.  It goes on to describe Gagarin’s achievement as “a requiem for the sound barrier.”  Another leporello, “Five Senses for One Death,” conjures a whimsical world where “every Chevy calls me by my name.”  I want to go there.

In his catalog essay, Comer calls the unfolding pages of the leporellos “a proto-screen, a kind of precursor to the laptops, smartphones, and tablets that increasingly dominate our lives, where the distinction between language and image continues to collapse and multiple surfaces and screens abut and fold into one another.”  He notes that Adnan’s life and career are, like this Biennial, about breaking through boundaries.  “I find myself gravitating toward artists like Adnan who are working with culture in a freer and more open-minded way — not fighting so much against traditionally established boundaries as ignoring them, unwilling to define themselves as image-makers or writers, painters or sculptors or filmmakers, but working in the interstices of categorical distinctions.”

Many of the 103 participants in the show have chosen to ignore the traditional boundaries between linguistic and visual forms.  (Happily, there is also a lot of straight-up painting here, along with sculpture, videos, and performances.)  Artists whose works prominently feature written, drawn, painted, printed, or photographed words include David Diao, Carol Jackson, Philip Hanson, Steve Reinke, Karl Haendel, Martin Wong, James Benning, and Allan Sekula.  There’s an archive from the works of the boundary-shredding artist/writer/critic Gregory BattcockSusan Howe has done something William S. Burroughs would have appreciated: She has taken fragments of poems, folklore, criticism, and art history, then cut and rearranged them, printed them on a letterpress, and laid the fragments on facing pages.  “The bibliography is the medium,” Howe says on a note card beside the paired pages.  “(They) occupy a space between writing and seeing, reading and looking.”

Lisa Anne Auerbach, a Los Angeles-based artist, has stitched together a large woolen assemblage, an ebullient bath of thought bubbles that simply will not shut up.  Like some yammering New Age shaman, it peppers the viewer with witticisms and dubious wisdom, such as “You’re All About Going Deep,” “The Sooner You Get To the Second Chakra, the Better,” “Write It All Down,” and “Let the Dream Write Itself.”  Auerbach has also produced sweaters that bear messages (“Touch Me” and “Everything I touch turns to sold/Steal this sweater off my back”), as well as a giant zine she calls “American Megazine.”  Move over, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer.

Of course these artists’ bewitching use of words is nothing new.  Artists have been using words as images for at least the past century (along with single letters, even entire alphabets), an appropriation of the writerly strategy of arriving at meaning through narrative.  This Biennial adds to the body of evidence that the practice is accelerating and expanding.  I have a theory why this is so.  As the practice of writing on paper (everything from telegrams to letters to books to Post-It notes) is increasingly devoured by technology, words on paper are evolving from widespread tools of communication into the rarefied stuff of art.  As things recede, they also expand.  As a result, words are becoming as legitimate as the more traditional subject matter of painting, drawing, video and sculpture.  Running parallel to this trend is a more capacious notion of what constitutes art.  Or, as the great critic Holland Cotter put it, this Biennial demonstrates that “not-art” and “maybe-art” deserve a place at the table with “Art.”

Consider the room at the Biennial devoted to the independent publisher Semiotext(e), known for introducing French theory to the U.S. in the 1970s through the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, and others.  Now based in Los Angeles, it continues to publish works of “theory, fiction, madness, economics, satire, sexuality, science fiction, activism and confession.”  On one wall at the Whitney there is a selection of pamphlets produced especially for the Biennial, works by Simone Weil, Gary Indiana, and Chris Kraus, among others.  Another wall is plastered with pages of Semitoext(e) books, flyers, and posters of events, including the Schizo-Culture conference at Columbia University in 1975.  There’s also a poster for a performance by Semiotext(e) author/performance artist Penny Arcade that presents her succinct CV: “Bitch!  Dyke!  Faghag!  Whore!”  For four decades Semiotext(e) has been as much a sensibility as a publishing enterprise, championing the mash-up of high and low that’s now part of the culture’s bedrock.  But is all this verbiage “Art”?  Absolutely.

David Foster Wallace, Page from The Pale King materials, “Midwesternism” notebook, undated. Manuscript notebook, 10 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. (26.7 x 21.0 cm) Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Image used with permission from the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.

coverThe highlight of this Biennial, for me, is a smallish installation on the top floor, where a sheet of glass serves as a literal window into the mind of David Foster Wallace.  After Wallace’s suicide in 2008, Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little Brown, went to Wallace’s studio in California to retrieve a trove of manuscript pages, hard drives, file folders, spiral notebooks, and floppy disks — enough to fill a duffel bag and two Trader Joe’s bags.  Pietsch then spent two years stitching the material into the novel we now know as The Pale King.

On display behind glass at the Whitney is a small but revealing fraction of that mass of material.  There’s a spiral notebook with kittens and the words “Cuddly Cuties” on the cover, along with a scrap of paper that contains the word SCENES.  Another spiral notebook contains lists of characters’ names, written in Wallace’s spidery script.  Another contains references that seem to refer to the novel’s setting, an IRS office in the Midwest: “Bad Organization — many different departments all organized around a central command.”  Here’s another way of looking at the IRS: “A ‘bad wheel’ — comprises hubs and spokes but no rim.”  Another notebook page contains a group of pencil scrubbings, reminiscent of a Cy Twombly scribble.  Or maybe they were an attempt by Wallace to burn off excess energy.  Or maybe just sharpen a pencil.

coverFinally, on the wall above the window, there are two pages from a yellow legal pad that contain handwritten questions for the tennis star Roger Federer, the subject of a long article Wallace wrote for The New York Times in 2006.  It became a classic of sports journalism and was included in his posthumous 2012 book of essays, Both Flesh and Not.  As it happened, Wallace spent just 20 minutes talking directly with Federer for the article.  But the questions reveal how hard Wallace prepared, how hard worked at everything he did, how much he cared.  The questions also reveal a disarming directness, a necessary tool for any writer hungry to get all the way under his subject’s skin:

“Is your English good because it was spoken in your home?”

“Does it make you uncomfortable when commentators talk on and on about how good you are?”

“I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to the press and experts talk about you.  When you hear people saying that your game is not merely powerful or dominant but beautiful, do you understand this?”

There is also a bit of sly humor here.  Wallace, like every writer, sometimes bridled against editorial control.  He gives one list of questions a disparaging title: “Non-Journalist Questions: (Q’s the Editors want me to ask).”

Even a few years ago, it would have been unlikely for these marked pieces of paper to make their way onto the walls of a major American museum.  Thankfully, things are changing.  These pieces of paper are beautiful to look at and beautiful to ponder.  They provide nothing less than a glimpse into a brilliant writer’s mind at work.  It’s so intimate it almost feels like a trespass.  Even so, I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in how ideas become words, how words become literature, and how literature becomes art.

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ART FEBRUARY 15, 2014

The Armory Show Made Modern Art Something You Love to Hate Against the cult of novelty

The hundredth anniversary of the Armory Show, which opened in New York on February 17, 1913, and was by many reckonings the defining event in the history of modern art in America, has passed without inspiring a great deal of comment. The most imposing of the celebratory centennial events, an exhibition mounted at the New York Historical Society, never really caught on with the public or the critics. Most observers appear to have concluded that whatever the impact of the Armory Show might once have been, either as an artistic scandal or an artistic revelation, there is not much left to say about it in our battle-scarred postmodern period. The feeling may be that no purpose is served by revisiting some antediluvian debates about the nature of tradition and innovation. Who cares if the arguments were once so urgent that Theodore Roosevelt himself could not resist putting in his two cents? The conservatives lost. The avant-garde won. End of story. Marcel Duchamp, whose Nude Descending a Staircase was the cause célèbre of the Armory Show, is now more or less a beloved household name, known to one and all as the guy who put the moustache on the Mona Lisa.

But the more I have thought about the Armory Show during these centennial times, the more I have come to believe that what has so often been described as an artistic earthquake demands another look. As with many cultural events with multiple social and intellectual ramifications, the facts of the Armory Show remain difficult to determine with ultimate precision, much less to put in any final and coherent order. The more than two dozen scholars who contributed essays to the New-York Historical Society’s immense catalogue add valuable perspectives and shadings to Milton W. Brown’s classic and still wonderfully readable history, The Story of the Armory Show, first published just over fifty years ago. Somehow, the more one looks at this complicated story, the more its broader philosophic ramifications cry out for consideration, a process begun by Meyer Schapiro and Harold Rosenberg two generations ago. (“The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution” was organized by Marilyn Satin Kushner and Kimberly Orcutt, curators at the New-York Historical Society.)

The Armory Show, surely a revelation, was also something of a snare and a delusion. To the extent that the show turned modern art into a sensation, it can look like the beginning of the sensationalism that has by now all but swamped any authentically impassioned experience of modern art. I offer this thought in a speculative spirit. Certainly there are dangers in reasoning back too much from the sensationalism of the present. And yet if the story of modern art has been a perilous struggle between the artist’s ardent pursuit of private experience and the artist’s equally insatiable hunger for public acceptance, then the Armory Show remains at the very heart of that drama.

 

The Armory Show certainly helped make modern art familiar to the American public. It also helped make modern art fashionable—as well as scandalous. Although all the figures for the show are somewhat unclear, there is no doubt that in New York some 87,000 people saw approximately 1,400 works included in what was officially known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art. The show ran for a month in the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th Street and 26th Street. A smaller version was seen by twice as many people in Chicago, while in Boston the show pretty much fizzled. Although more than six hundred of the works in New York were by Americans, it was the Europeans who attracted the most attention, beginning with a gathering of what were billed as the founding masters of modern art, reaching back as far as Goya, Ingres, and Delacroix. There were generous selections of work by Redon, van Gogh, Cézanne, and Matisse. Brancusi, Picasso, and Kandinsky were represented. And of course there was Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. The newspapers were full of articles, editorials, and cartoons, by no means all unsympathetic. Some of the toughest comments were reserved for Matisse’s work, and for what was known in the press as “the Chamber of Horrors,” the gallery where Duchamp’s paintings hung with other Cubist works. One of the finest publications to appear in time for the centenary is Documents of the 1913 Armory Show (Hol Art Books), which reprints pamphlets sold at the show in New York and Chicago. There is a fascinating collection of opinions, For and Against, as well as an essay about Cézanne by Élie Faure, the formidable French critic and historian whose prose, lyric and lucid, is too little appreciated today.

 

New-York Historical Society

The origins of the Armory Show are themselves a tangled tale. It began with a group of generally youngish American realist painters, including Walt Kuhn, William Glackens, and George Luks, who had broken ranks with what they felt were the hidebound values of the National Academy of Design and created the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (aaps) to put their work before the public. By some accounts, the Armory Show, which was their maiden voyage, was at first planned to showcase the new American art, with a focus on artists who approached quotidian subjects with painterly bravado. It was largely due to the efforts of the romantically inclined artist Arthur B. Davies that the new European painting and sculpture came to loom so large. Davies sent Kuhn to Europe to gather works. He began his tour in Cologne, arriving in time to catch the last day of what was an epochal International Art Exhibition. The large selection of van Goghs, Cézannes, Gauguins, Signacs, Picassos, and Matisses that he saw in Cologne shaped his sense of what might be possible in New York. Davies joined Kuhn in Paris, where the American painter and critic Walter Pach, living there at the time, was particularly helpful in bringing Davies and Kuhn into contact with artists, dealers, and collectors, including the Steins.

European dealers, who saw America as a potential market for modern art, were generally happy to send material to New York; perhaps they didn’t know how untested the organizers of the AAPS really were. In the end, much of what did sell consisted of works on paper, which gave collectors an opportunity to weigh their long-term reactions to the new art without large outlays of money. The APPS hardly outlived the Armory Show, lasting only long enough to tie up the loose ends involved with such an ambitious effort. “Like the salmon or the butterfly which lives only to give birth,” Milton Brown observed toward the end of his history, the AAPS “brought forth the Armory Show and expired. It is almost as if the very process of creation had consumed all its energies.”

 

Even today, the mere mention of the Armory Show telegraphs a frisson of shock or scandal, the sense of a great disruption or eruption in the cultural landscape. People relish the love-hate relationship that New Yorkers developed with Duchamp, Matisse, and others they regarded as the cowboys of contemporary European art. Coming eighteen months before the beginning of World War I, the Armory Show may seem like one of a number of early warning signs, the cultural sphere sensing broader upheavals on the horizon. But like the other great cultural shock and scandal of 1913, the premiere of The Rite of Spring in Paris three months after the opening of the Armory Show in New York, the relationship between these events and the evolution of art in the twentieth century remains vague. Are such shocks or scandals little more than a sort of embarrassment registered by a significant swath of the public and forgotten soon after? Or do they inject an unfamiliar but vital substance into the public imagination, which inoculates the public against old prejudices and paves the way for some fundamentally new recognition? With both the Armory Show and the premiere of The Rite of Spring, the intentions and the implications remain somewhat muddled, in part because the attitudes of the participants are unclear. By some accounts Diaghilev was looking for a scandal that would be good for business, while Stravinsky and Nijinsky only wanted to produce the best possible ballet. And when Kuhn and Davies toured European studios, collections, and galleries, they were surely as interested in educating themselves and their fellow artists as they were in creating a kerfuffle in the press, although they undoubtedly welcomed that as well.

Bettmann / Corbis

Since the days of Courbet and Manet—who were both represented in the Armory Show—creative spirits have employed methods that are unfamiliar, if not downright obscure, to bring a personal vision to the attention of the world. Not surprisingly, it has often been the case that one person’s hard-won dream appears to another person to be nothing but a hoax. This conundrum, a subject of heated debate between self-styled progressives and traditionalists at the time of the Armory Show, may strike some as by now having become almost banal, but I am not convinced that it has ever been resolved. To the question that once upon a time was asked about Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi, and Duchamp—is the artist a visionary or merely crazy like a fox?—we have now added the further possibility that there is no difference between being a visionary and being crazy like a fox. Art can still bewilder museumgoers, who are unsure to what degree the artist is high-minded, bloody-minded, diffident, obscure, narcissistic, impudent, or merely out to grab our attention. When critics and curators celebrate as authentic personal expression the kind of stunts that Dalí specialized in seventy-five years ago and that Jeff Koons specializes in today, aren’t we seeing another twist in this tale? And although they may not want to let on, many museumgoers, even fairly sophisticated ones, still feel some suspicion about exactly what motivated Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd to produce their strenuously simplified works.

 

To look back to the debates provoked by the Armory Show is to see ideological opponents taking up these very same perplexities, and the arguments have not lost their sting. The organizers of the show recognized the importance of these debates, which they highlighted in For and Against, the pamphlet published in time for the opening of the show in Chicago. In 1913, the conservatives may have been wrong about many things, but the questions they raised were not trivial ones. Matisse would have understood perfectly the criticisms launched against him by Kenyon Cox, the proudly traditional painter of impassive classical figures, who had no patience for anything since the Impressionists and was not convinced even by them. Cox observed, surely thinking of the anatomical distortions in Matisse’s Blue Nude, one of the sensations of the show, that Matisse had forgotten “that the great and really difficult task is to draw beautifully and expressively without drawing falsely.” While Matisse would never become an enemy of simplification, he certainly grappled with the conflict between expression and truth that Cox outlined here. In the extraordinarily realized lithographs of odalisques that Matisse produced in the 1920s, he set out to answer precisely the kinds of questions Cox raised, drawing beautifully and expressively and with absolute naturalistic accuracy.

Reading through the debates around the Armory Show, I am reminded all over again that tradition and innovation are two sides of the same equation, a fact acknowledged by anybody who honestly embraces these questions. Cox may have been dead wrong about Matisse, but who can blame him for being on the lookout for charlatans? And who can disagree with him when he says that at some point a distinction must be made between what he calls a “sincere fanaticism” and “an individualism exaggerated and made absurd for the sake of advertising”? The conflict between freedom and authority—between the instincts of the individual and the weight of tradition—is not so much an insoluble problem as it is the seed from which all art grows. And both conservatives and progressives recognize this—at least they do if they really care about the life of art. When Cox says that “the traditions of art, like the laws of social existence, are the outcome of human effort extending over countless centuries,” his view is arguably not all that different from that of Walter Pach, a great progressive voice of the time. Writing in defense of Cézanne, whom Cox dismissed, Pach argued that “the spirit of art is the same throughout the ages, the forms of art forever change as the needs of the new eras succeed one another.” Of course that is another way of speaking about tradition, which Cox believed in, too. And while Pach argued that most of the great artists have been “misunderstood and attacked, until appreciated and canonized,” he quite reasonably answered, “No, a thousand times, no,” to the question of whether “every artist who is attacked will turn out to be a genius.”

But how does one decide who is and is not a genius? Cox’s complaint is against “the modern tendency … to exalt individualism 
at the expense of law.” This leaves Cox depending on the “law” and Pach depending 
on the “spirit”—and it goes without saying that the debate about the relationship between those two ideals is a very ancient one. Frank Jewett Mather, another conservative voice weighing in about the Armory Show, wrote that “taste” wants “real breadth of taste”—in other words individualism modified by some other value, perhaps Pach’s “spirit of art.” “Where something like taste exists,” Mather wrote, “the new brusque procedures are readily assimilated.” But assimilated to what? Mather praised Augustus John and said that he “can go some way with Matisse because he never forgets Manet and Botticelli”—which can be seen as describing either John’s timidity or John’s steady feeling for what Pach called “the spirit of art [that] is the same throughout the ages.” I do not think the fact that Matisse is an infinitely more significant artist than John entirely settles the debate, because of course Matisse himself was quick to cite the importance of the precedents of Dürer and any number of other Old Masters. “Let us look once more at the page of history and give its true meaning,” Pach wrote. But who is to say what that meaning is?

 

What everybody at the time of the Armory Show seemed to agree on, conservatives and progressives alike, was that ultimately the public would decide what was of value and what was not. It will not come as much of a surprise—certainly not to anybody who has observed the wishful thinking of intellectuals, pundits, and politicians—that everybody expected the public to more or less side with them. Arthur B. Davies only wanted a situation where “the intelligent may judge for themselves, by themselves.” And Pach argued that “the hundred thousand people who visited the exhibition in New York gave proof that in this new country, the ‘new spirit’ of appealing to ‘the intelligent’ will find the justification that was to be looked for and hoped for.” To which Cox, asked if the public had been fooled, responded: “No, I think the bulk of the public is usually found to be sane. There are always a few ‘suggestible’ people, always a certain number of ready dupes for any loudly advertised quack.” Some liberal spirits, then as now eager to embrace new ideas, were a little too willing to deny the act of judgment without which the experience of art becomes meaningless. That could be a problem with some comments by Frederick James Gregg, who acted as the press agent for the show. “The moral is that there is nothing final in art,” he wrote in Harper’s, “no last word, and that the main thing is not to be taken in on one hand, and not to be blind on the other.” There is a thin line between this and moral relativism.

Perhaps one of the lessons to be drawn from the Armory Show is that there are different kinds of upheavals and sea changes in the arts, and that we would do well to make certain distinctions. While Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase surely provoked the greatest public scandal, from the point of view of what would happen in the studios of American artists in the next forty years, the noisy but less widely publicized controversy over Matisse’s works was infinitely more significant. Among the fascinations of the Nude Descending a Staircase is that the year before the Armory Show, Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes, self-appointed 
theoreticians of Cubism, had pressured Duchamp into removing it from the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. Years later Duchamp recalled that they had felt that the painting “was really exaggerating the theoretical side of cubism,” and had asked him to at least change the title, which must have seemed overly naturalistic and descriptive. So Duchamp’s Nude had actually had a vexed relationship with the avant-garde before it appeared in New York, which some might say means that the public turned out to be ahead of the theoreticians of Cubism when it came to deciding what was truly important. What the public found in Duchamp’s painting and its title was a puzzle—which confirmed an assumption or even a prejudice about the nature of modern art. The American Art News described Duchamp’s Nude as “the conundrum of the season.” The more questions and controversies there were, the bigger the crowds grew.

Wikimedia Commons

With Matisse—who was represented by important works including the Red Studio, now in the Museum of Modern Art—the attacks launched by the critics feel more intimate, more a matter of grappling with enduring artistic questions. At least a small amount of Matisse’s work had already been seen in New York, and sophisticated viewers of whatever ideological stripe were aware of the weight of the arguments being made on his behalf. It was here that the conflict became most acute between what Cox called “the universal language of art” and what progressives saw as the audience’s obligation to try “to understand what the artist has tried to express.”

In one of the strongest essays in the New-York Historical Society catalogue, Kimberly Orcutt argues that a key question became whether the artists were sincere or insincere. Cox was convinced that Matisse was putting one over on the audience, with his “tongue in his cheek and his eye on his pocket.” But the more interesting critique was offered by Royal Cortissoz, who argued that the radical simplifications of Matisse’s art were not “the naivete of a child” but an “adult playing a trick.” What is striking about this is the implication that a certain kind of naiveté, if sincere, might be viable. Of course sincerity can be difficult to establish, and the conservatives could certainly have been forgiven if they were amused that the progressives, in justifying their own admirations, cited the academic credentials of certain avant-gardists. Thus Frederick James Gregg, in making the case for Matisse, emphasized that although he might draw in a radically simplified way, he had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. This was a way of demonstrating that Matisse did indeed know “the universal language of art” that Cox celebrated, although that still left open the matter of what he had and hadn’t done with it.

 

The closer I look at the questions raised by the Armory Show, the less they appear to be questions that could be successfully posed—much less answered—in a setting where some twenty thousand people a week were wandering around, many of them there to gawk at a small number of works they had read about in the press. For a number of Americans who were aware of what had been happening in Europe since van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cézanne made their break with Impressionism in the 1880s, the exhibition certainly provided the opportunity to see a substantial body of work. Collectors who would be important for the future of art in America—including John Quinn, Arthur Jerome Eddy, Albert Barnes, Walter Arensberg, A. E. Gallatin, and Stephen C. Clark—bought from the show, though many of them bought only modestly. Works by pioneering American avant-gardists were included, by Patrick Henry Bruce, Arthur B. Carles, John Marin, and Charles Sheeler, among others. For younger American artists with an appetite for the new, there were certainly revelations aplenty.

If we regard the story of modern art as a story of endlessly expanding possibilities, the sheer bravado of the Armory Show cannot fail to appeal. And even at a time when those possibilities seem to be diminishing—as Meyer Schapiro said they were already diminishing when he wrote about the show in the early 1950s—the aura of romance can cling to such an event. Schapiro was at pains to point out that the Armory Show was by no means the only factor in bringing modern art to America. He mentioned, as every conscientious scholar does, the exhibitions that Alfred Stieglitz had been sponsoring since 1905 in his little gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue. And yet Schapiro felt that the Armory Show was a watershed. “In this continuous process,” he wrote of America’s gradual embrace of modern art, “the Armory Show marks a point of acceleration, and it is instructive for the student of social life as well as of art to observe how a single event in a long series may acquire a crucial importance because it dramatizes or brings into the open before a greater public what is ordinarily the affair of a small group. The very scope and suddenness of this manifestation of the new art were a shock that stirred the sensitive more effectively than a dozen small exhibitions could have done.”

Bettmann / Corbis

I am not entirely convinced by this argument. Do sensitive souls really require that kind of large-scale manifestation? I am left wondering if for those in New York who were most deeply engaged with the whole question of the nature and the direction of the avant-garde, the Armory Show had both the fascination and the peril of a monumental flash in the pan. Since 1905, month after month and year after year, it had been Stieglitz’s exhibition program that gave interested New Yorkers their first opportunity to grapple with Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and Brancusi. And there was no scandal at 291. In a reminiscence published in the 1950s, Edmund Wilson recalled visiting Stieglitz’s gallery in the 1920s, and his sense of this man who was “something of a mesmerist,” who was “running counter to the pressures of that era” and had been delivering since 1905 “a monologue, a kind of impalpable net in which visitors and disciples were caught from the moment they came within earshot.” Although Stieglitz was himself an enthusiastic supporter of the Armory Show, I think that this man, working alone in his modestly scaled gallery, might have been a far more attractive spokesman for the new than the promoters of the Armory Show, or at least that is how it appears from the perspective of the rapacious art world we inhabit today.

 

The Armory Show made modern art the thing you loved to hate. And in that sense, it can seem like a road that should not have been taken, or at least not regarded with so much enthusiasm. I say this with a certain astonishment, because it is not what anybody who loves modern art expects to end up feeling when they contemplate what is without a doubt an extraordinary story. Schapiro himself hinted at a certain discomfort with the unquenchable optimism that animated the show. “People in 1913 overestimated the spiritual unity of the different examples of freedom or progress,” Schapiro wrote; “they felt that all innovations belonged together, and made up one great advancing cause.” From our perspective, Schapiro recognized, this can seem a mistake. “Fewer thought, as we do today, that modernity is problematic and includes conflicting, irreconcilable elements.”

If Schapiro, writing in the early 1950s, equivocated mildly, it remained for Harold Rosenberg, writing in The New Yorker on the fiftieth anniversary of the show in 1963, to press the case for the Armory Show as a problematic direction in American art. The decisive factor for Rosenberg, writing a decade after Schapiro, was surely that he could not but regard the Armory Show within the context of the art explosion of the early 1960s, when the tidal force of Pop Art and sundry Neo-Dadaist adventures threatened to overwhelm the audience that went to art for its more complicated and contemplative pleasures. Rosenberg concluded his account of the Armory Show with some reflections on what he called the Vanguard Audience “that sprang from the Show and was empowered by it.” This audience—the audience that in the early 1960s was enthusiastic for Pop—was the one about which Rosenberg said it “is prepared for change in any tempo, it is infinitely impatient, its appetite for novelty outstrips the capacity of art to satisfy it.” While Rosenberg sympathized with the organizers of the Armory Show in their effort to bring “the new out of the shadows,” he saw that by the 1960s, “the Vanguard Audience itself is a major problem of art.”

Today it is an even bigger problem. Scandal and shock, whatever their dubious value a century ago, have degenerated into sensation and novelty, and the attendance figures that were a badge of honor for the organizers of the Armory Show have become practically the only thing that arts professionals want to talk about. Only the other day, Thomas P. Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, remarked at the World Economic Forum in Davos that “we need to make our case with metrics, framed in a language that businessmen understand.” He said that what he called “the culture industry” had to connect with the rest of the world “at a deeper socioeconomic level.” I can sympathize with Campbell when he worries that at Davos culture was “an add-on,” or “the entertainment.” But in the museum world, the tendency has been to respond to this problem by amping up culture’s entertainment value—by emphasizing cheap thrills and prefab scandals and shocks, the priorities of Rosenberg’s Vanguard Audience.

The great, unresolved question that lingers from the Armory Show is the question of the relationship between the modern artist and the modern audience. The audience for modern art has too often been encouraged to confuse novelty with independent-mindedness. By highlighting, however inadvertently, the element of novelty in the new art, the organizers of the Armory Show set up expectations that artists could not and indeed should not necessarily satisfy—and that might eventually be their undoing. Only relatively rarely do accounts of the Armory Show mention one of the greatest Cubist compositions included in the event, a 1910 charcoal drawing of a female nude by Picasso. This exquisite creation, which Stieglitz loaned to the show and said was “as perfect as a Bach fugue,” is a work of infinitely deeper consequence than the Duchamps and Picabias with their attention-grabbing titles that held the attention of the crowds at the Armory Show. But the subtleties of Picasso’s Cubism—or of Matisse’s Red Studio—were swamped, or at least threatened to be swamped, by the dramatic force of the event. If it is true that the modern artist and the modern audience had one of their great encounters in the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in February 1913, it is equally true that it was a troubled and tumultuous meeting, the beginning of a rocky relationship that has too often been presented in a falsely romantic light.

Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic and the author, most recently, of Magicians and Charlatans (Eakins Press Foundation).

Oscar Murillo: The Supernatural Artist as the Young Giant of Painting: Interviews. Reviews. Images. Text.

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BLOOMBERG

Oscar Murillo Mints Money With Scribbles, Dirt, Food

Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg
Oscar Murillo at work in a gallery space at the Rubell Family Collection.

Two years ago, artist Oscar Murillo, now 27, cleaned offices to put himself through art school. His paintings sold for less than $3,000.

Oscar Murillo

Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg

Oscar Murillo, the first artist to become resident at the Rubell Family Collection. During his five week stay, he created 50 artworks. Source: Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg

Oscar Murillo’s Star Shines in London’s Cont Week

Oscar Murillo, Untitled (£20-30k) £146,500

Oscar Murillo, Untitled (£20-30k) £146,500

It’s been Oscar Murillo’s week in London with stunning sales at all three auction houses. This evening Phillips sold the above untitled work for £146,000 above a £30,000 high estimate. That caps off the sales Dan Duray highlighted on GalleristNY:

A 2011 painting by the artist Oscar Murillo, who was born in 1986, went for an impressive $391,475 at the Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary day sale in London yesterday, surpassing a previous record by a factor of 10.

Mr. Murillo followed up that auction high today at the London Sotheby’s Contemporary day sale, with a work from 2012 that sold for $177,456.

Judd Tully spoke to the buyer of Phillips’s work to get a sense of the demand:

There was a surge of bidding for market rising Columbian artist Oscar Murillo as “Untitled” from 2011, a bravura oil, paper, and debris on canvas abstract painting scaled at six feet by five and a half feet sold for multiples of its high estimate, making £146,500 ($224,145) (est. £20-30,000). The buyer, who declined to give her full name but said it was “Antonella F,” is a young Columbian collector who lives some of the time in Miami and has a private art fund for young artists. “We learned about Murillo at Art Basel last month.”

Colin Gleadell adds some more details to the Murillo story:

Looking at his very short career to date it is clear this artist is heading somewhere. He has been artist in residence at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, a place where many a reputation has been formed. He has been bought in depth by Charles Saatchi, and this summer presented an installation at the prestigious Art Basel fair. He has shown with many galleries, though most, like the Carlos Ishikawa gallery in London, are not associated with high prices. However, he will be included in a group show next month at the David Zwirner gallery in New York, which is.

The art world has clearly been abuzz with the sound of Murillo’s name. At Phillips, his work was bought by an art fund (that is, an investment vehicle) based in Miami. At Christie’s, there had been unprecedented media attention from Colombia before the sale, and bidding came from four different continents, including South America. A collector told me there was talk that the artist was being head-hunted by the White Cube gallery, an unconfirmed rumour of the kind that fuels speculation and spikes prices.

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Oscar Murillo

Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg

Artist Oscar Murillo and trend-setting collectors Mera and Don Rubell. The Rubell Family Collection opened the exhibition of the Colombian-born artist during Art Basel Miami Beach fair in December 2012. Source: Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg

Oscar Murillo

Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

“Untitled (Stack)” (2012) by Oscar Murillo. The lot, estimated to bring $60,000 to $80,000, will be offered during Sotheby’s “Contemporary Curated” auction on Sept. 25 in New York. Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

Oscar Murillo

“Untitled” (2012) by Oscar Murillo. The painting is estimated at $50,000 to $70,000. Source: 2013 Christie’s Images Ltd. via Bloomberg

The way collectors are grabbing for his messy canvases in a frenzy has all the earmarks of an art-market bubble.

“He’s had the quickest upward trajectory for his age of any artist I’ve seen in 25 years,” said Kenny Schachter, a London-based dealer, curator and writer. “There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point.”

True enough.

In June, an untitled 2011 painting featuring scribbles, dirt and the word “Pasteles” fetched 253,875 pounds ($389,199) at Christie’s in London, more than eight times the high estimate.

David Zwirner, whose gallery represents postwar masters Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Ad Reinhardt, added Murillo to his stable just last week.

Tomorrow, the artist’s first major solo show in the U.K. opens at South London Gallery, a nonprofit space where the entire content of the Murillo’s studio will be on view, from stitched canvases and porcelain vases to dried beans and bottle caps.

Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips will offer works by Murillo in their September contemporary-art auctions in New York.

“Untitled (stack),” made a year ago with two overlapping canvases featuring the words “Water” and “Taco,” is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000 at Sotheby’s. (BID)

Next Basquiat!

“He is being branded as the next Jean-Michel Basquiat by the speculative part of the market,” said Belgian collector Alain Servais, who paid about 30,000 pounds ($47,715) for a Murillo installation earlier this year. “I am worried the market will put such pressure on him that he won’t be able to develop.”

Murillo grew up in La Paila, a small town in Colombia where his family worked in sugar-cane mills. Eventually, the clan immigrated to London, where Murillo made his way through the Royal College of Art.

Elements of South American culture — food, music, language — populate Murillo’s art practice, which knows no boundaries, including performance, installation, publishing, painting and sculpture.

The Murillo buzz began building around 2011 with performance art pieces like “animals die from eating too much – – yoga!” In this project, several women twisted into yoga poses as the audience watched.

Energized, he continued with “animals die from eating too much — bingo!” in which he entertained female art patrons with Colombian food and a game of bingo.

Moving On

Dealer Francois Ghebaly, an early supporter, brought 15 paintings by Murillo to NADA Miami art fair in December 2011. They were priced at $2,500 to $8,500.

“Everything sold in the first hour,” said Ghebaly.

Young Murillo was already moving to the next level with the helping hands of Hans Ulrich Obrist, an influential curator, who invited him to London’s Serpentine Gallery and the Roman arena in Arles, France.

At the Serpentine, South American office cleaners mingled with art-world patrons eating Colombian food, drinking champagne and dancing salsa. (This was the piece, not the party.)

By December 2012, Murillo had another major platform during the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair: the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation.

On opening night his 15-foot-tall paintings, featuring the words “Mango,” “Chorizo” and “Yuka,” were seen by international collectors and museum directors.

“This kid is striking,” said Mera Rubell in an interview. “When you meet him, you want to be part of the story.”

No Stopping

She and her husband, Don Rubell, met Murillo earlier that year in New York. Knowing they were coming to his temporary studio, he created nine new paintings in 48 hours.

They invited him to be the first resident artist at their foundation in Miami. He stayed for five weeks and made 50 artworks.

“We bought all 50 works,” Rubell said.

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ARRESTED MOTION

Openings: Oscar Murillo – “Distribution Room” @ The Mistake Room

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Last weekend, along with taking in the LA Art Show (covered), we also stopped to check out the much talked about Los Angeles and US debut of Oscar Murillo. Touted as the next Basquiat by some in the art world, the Colombian born artist put his process on display with videos, finished and unfinished works at The Mistake Room with a show entitled Distribution Room. During the opening, raffle tickets ($1000) were also sold to pick winners of two t-shirts painted on by Murillo.

Discuss Oscar Murillo here.

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Oscar Murillo

by Legacy Russell

BOMB 122/Winter 2013, ART

Murillo has had his fair share of journeys; he is a native of La Paila, Colombia, and a resident of London, who, just a day before our meeting, confirmed our appointment via mobile from Paris and, in less than 24 hours from when we meet, is scheduled to board a plane to Miami. Distance, displacement, movement: these are all concepts that Murillo explores in his practice—a manifestation of a body in transit, an artist’s incisive inquiry into the geographies of space, both on the canvas and off, within the studio and out into the world beyond.

Born in 1986, Murillo is a recent graduate of London’s Royal College of Art. A painter with a flair for the performative, he often works with video and participatory installation. As we talk, he shows me recent work on his computer, a range of paintings, as well as documentation of what the artist refers to as “family parties”—vibrant films, saturated with motion and color, of intimate gatherings of his friends and kin. These pieces—home videos, nearly—are illustrations of localized ceremony and everyday happenings, situated eons away from the white boxes of the art world. They are a window into the celebration and ritual of a collective public.

The canonized archetype of an artist alone in his studio—quickly expiring as we wade further into the tides of a global culture—is one that this artist, refreshingly, does not seem to have much of an allegiance to. For Murillo, the act of making holds as much potential for liberation and functionality within the confines of one’s studio as it does in one’s home, on the street, or within one’s community. In his work, actions and words, paint and parties, all speak at the same volume. The objects made by his hand float buoyantly within the realm of the liminal, always here and there, inside and out, home and abroad, all at once very familiar, and yet, somehow, entirely untranslatable. Murillo’s use of text in his paintings illustrates the limits and the possibilities presented by language; words are part of histories that are not always our own, but that we cling to. The physicality of painting is one that provides a sturdy framework for making the leap into the performative realm, a showing of convivial desire. Here, the artist raises a champagne glass—and sometimes an arepa—in lieu of a looking glass, an eloquent reminder of the spaces we travel between and a reflection of these worlds and the constructs that lend them composure, and neutrality.


Legacy Russell We’re here in London just after your return from Paris last night and before you leave for Miami tomorrow. I’d love to hear about what you were doing in Paris, and what you plan to do once you hit Miami.

Oscar Murillo My Berlin gallery, Isabella Bortolozzi, is taking part in FIAC in Paris. Around the fair other projects are happening, for example, “R4” is working toward building up a museum in the outskirts of Paris on this island called l’île Seguin. The curator of the Migros Museum, Raphael Gygax, decided to commission about 20 artists to do outdoor projects on the island, among them Oscar Tuazon, Annette Messager, Ugo Rondinone, Nicolas Party, Martin Soto Climent, and me.

My piece, called Make it Happen in Steps, was based on something I had done this summer in the South of France and which involved me and a collaborator running, jogging, and dancing in an amphitheater. An amphitheater is a space that demands a spectacle. But the production value of my work is purposely low. I like to work with things that are—I wouldn’t say necessarily always around me, but I like to be resourceful, basically. I got a mirror, two empty cartons of coconut water, and a playlist of Fania All-Stars music—Latin American artists like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, major salsa musicians. So I created a one-hour playlist and jogged and danced in front of a mirror to this music. At the end of it, I just walked off and that was the piece.

At l’île Seguin in Paris, I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing, but I wanted to use the same principles. I got myself a couple of sheets of reflective acrylic mirror, two speakers, some amplifiers, four car batteries, some disco lights, and an iPod with the same Fania All-Stars playlist. The island is a heavily industrial place, a bit like Detroit. There used to be a car factory there, and it’s quite run-down. The idea was to curate an installation that would play this music continuously, and not be dependent on someone having to turn it on and off. It’d just be there, kind of playing along—bringing some life to the place. So that happened last weekend, just before I did a two-person presentation with David Hammons at FIAC.

LR And what about Miami?

OM I met the Rubell family for the first time in New York earlier this year. They got curious about my work, and we had a studio visit. My gallery called, “Don and Mera want to come to your studio.” And I said, “Well, I don’t have any work in the studio.” The gallery said, “We’ll get some work from storage and bring it over.” I thought, Bringing paintings back to the studio, what’s the point? For me it was an opportunity to show my work in process because the process is very important. Finished paintings they could see in the gallery. So before the Rubells visited, I stayed up all night and made a couple of paintings. Making these works created a residue of the process. And the Rubells understood that.

Every year they curate a show for their foundation in Miami; the last one was American Exuberance with four huge paintings by Sterling Ruby in the main gallery space. This year they invited me to do something there. I went to Miami this past April. They suggested this incredibly large room—I mean, it’s overwhelming! I didn’t feel comfortable making work for such a massive space without inhabiting it somehow. So I said, “I think it’s very important for me to come here and make the work from scratch.”

LR You occupied it—physically.

OM At the beginning of summer, I traveled back to Miami with all my materials and lived there for six weeks, working at the Rubell family collection.

LR So when’s the opening? When do other bodies get to occupy the space, along with you and your works?

OM The work is done and will open in December for Art Basel Miami Beach.

LR You paint, you’re doing performance, you’re recording these performances and they’re being shown as videos. All these different strands connect. Where does painting situate itself in your practice and where does it intersect with performance?

OM Paintings happen in the studio where I have my own kind of system, although there can be physical residue of performance in them. I like to cut up the canvas in different sections, work on them individually, fold them and just leave them around for months. I don’t work on a painting with the goal of finishing it or having a complete and finished painting at the end of a work process. The idea is to get through as much material as possible, and various materials go through various processes. In most parts there is this mark making that happens with a broomstick and oil paint. I make a bunch of those canvases, fold them in half, and put them on the floor. My studio is a cradle of dust and dirt, of pollution. I don’t tidy up at the end of each production process. It’s all very much on purpose; it’s continuous process, a machine of which I’m the catalyst. Things get moved around, I step on them, and they get contaminated. It’s not about leaving traces, it’s about letting things mature on their own—like aging cheese or letting a stew cook, they get more flavorful. That’s kind of how these paintings are made.

LR So the textures, these layers—they’re in part done by your own hand, but also by the larger sort of “hand” of the environment they’re born into. It’s a collaboration of creative site and creative body in that way, a sort of merging.

OM The individual canvases are very much the DNA; they record that movement, the process of making. When these different processes are done, I move on to the stage of actually composing a painting. The individual canvases are laid out with the aim of making a composition. For example, the painting we are looking at right now started with different patches of bleached black fabric, then there’s this mark-making process, and then you have the word at the end. And that’s the last thing that is added to the work.

LR Is the text in the foreground meant to represent a dialogue of what’s taking place in the background? “Pizza,” for example, or “Champagne”—are these words represented in the textures and painterly gestures they are suspended in?

OM For me the words are very displaced. Like cultural displacement with performance, in painting it’s material displacement, object displacement. I’ll show you this one, which I’m really excited about. It says, “Yoga.”

LR This one is really neat because there is a physicality that is manifest in the word itself.

OM Yeah. Some words like yoga have gained a duality of meaning in my work. They are not only visually representative of their meaning but also, compositionally, there’s a formality. The canvases get folded so you get the word kind of mirrored in the paint’s absorption onto the other side of the fold, and sometimes you get a pattern. Here it almost looks like a person doing yoga. So as my practice develops, the concept of displacement is present in both my performances and in my paintings.

LR How does performance tie in, regarding the narrative of displacement? How do your physical actions find their place within open space?

OM The idea of the space, regardless of my own art, underlies all that. There’s so much movement in the world, constantly. We all move around, we all travel, and I like to think most of the population in the world has shifted from one place to another; not necessarily globally—it could just be locally from one part of the country to the other. And so things change. For example, I’ve come to appropriate music and Vita Coco coconut water as symbols of displacement. Coconut water has been incredibly well marketed as a tropical drink that comes from parts of the world like Hawaii and the Caribbean. In metropolitan cities it has a certain message attached—healthy lifestyle . . .

LR Restorative powers in some way.

OM You find it in yoga studios, in gyms, and in all kinds of fitness places. So for me, there’re all these interesting navigations. I grew up in a very small town in South America and now live in London, which I have adopted as my home. But I’m also being displaced because I don’t find complete satisfaction with one or the other. That can be a micro example of displacement. For me these paintings are by-products of being in the studio and making work. I mean, that’s one shift. I guess that happens to all artists when showing work in galleries, or showing work in one place or the other.

LR There’s also a literal displacement when you’re taking the work out of the studio—I like how you called it a “cradle” earlier—into a totally different situation, a different context.

OM Yeah, exactly. But I like to think that these paintings also imply a displacement of time. They’re like rugs. An unstretched painting is a kind of abstract thing, one that suggests that it perhaps has been found or comes from some other space or time. But while it has this aura of being a historical thing when placed out of context, it just comes from the studio.

LR Let’s talk about the sort of family-party performances that you’ve done. I would also like to hear about the collaboration with Serpentine Gallery, The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party, which seems to link back to the idea of bringing people together, providing an opportunity for exchange, and maybe engaging with an audience that extends beyond the bubble of the art world. I mean, for you to have a party with your family is one thing, but to bring that into an art-world context . . .

OM I want to give you more background about the parties: they are family events for celebrating something—a birthday, a communion—or just people getting together. Like most parties, sometimes you only talk, sometimes you dance. I’ve been doing these parties with my family, but I wouldn’t exactly call them performances. I’ve been very cautious as to how I appropriate these family parties and bring them into the realm of my art practice and out to the public as an event that happens within the art world. So the spaces have to be very particular; it’s not like, “Let’s just throw a party in a gallery space.”

LR Well, the rules of a “family party,” versus an “art-world party”—at first blush they are totally different. Yet both are social spaces, both are spaces that can be politicized, that have their own vernacular and rubrics of ritualized behavior.

OM The Serpentine was very interesting because it isn’t exactly a gallery, but an institution. I took advantage of the fact that the institution was willing to host my event not in the main galleries but in the outdoor pavilion. As part of their annual commission, this year the Serpentine had the architect team Herzog & de Meuron collaborate with the artist Ai Weiwei to design a pavilion. Starting in June the Serpentine hosted a summer program there.

The pavilion itself had this interesting architecture—it wasn’t about a show of architecture, it was about an understatement of architecture. It looked like a theatrical space: you had seats, there was a kind of platform where you could speak or perform. So I decided to take over the entire space and decorate it as if we were having a family gathering.

My family works in the cleaning industry and they used to have these really great parties in the summer and Christmas, where people would dress up. It was a big deal. It was very eloquent, in a kind of, you could say, “cheesy” way. But it was really nice. We had food, and there was an abundance. The parties don’t really exist anymore because there’s no money around, there’s no money for parties. So I thought, Well, I have this offer from Serpentine; the conditions are perfect to throw a party. I want to do this. Then there was also this other layer, which was Comme des Garçons—

LR I was going to ask about that, how to negotiate the introduction of that genre of haute couture.

OM I did a project with them; they commissioned me to do an ad for one of their campaigns and I thought, Oh this is great. But also there was a degree of discomfort because as much as I like Comme des Garçons as a label, it’s not something that I wear. The presence of the brand brings up notions of commercialism and publicity, things I’m interested in exploring in my work—hence the words that I use sometimes in my paintings.

LR Right, with the canvases like banners, the words at that scale are almost like billboards. They really speak to the culture in which they’re produced—everything bleeds together in that way.

OM Exactly. They gave me something like $12,000 in credit—it wasn’t in money, it was in credit—and that’s insane.

LR With that, you can buy one shoe there. Maybe two if you’re lucky.

OM So I thought, Well, what am I going to do with this? So I combined the two projects and it became A Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons. The idea was that the party would be a party, and we’d have champagne. We’d make it as elaborate as possible, and then Comme des Garçons would come in as this kind of extra layer. Now, how to democratize Comme des Garçons? How to make a product that is usually very exclusive available to the masses? So we got as many items as possible with the credit offered—perfume, clothing, what have you—and then made them prizes at the party for dance competitions and games. But we also just gave it away. While the typical art audience was present, the core of the party was my family community, a community of friends.

LR It seems like this creates some permeability in the white-wall institutional space that’s not your space, that’s not public space.

OM Yeah. The pavilion was a buffer. These projects and these parties also have a sociopolitical undercurrent.

LR Would you consider it a mode of activism?

OM I don’t think it’s activism; it’s more my wanting to give some strength and purpose. It’s not about an agenda—

LR —or a cause.

OM Yeah, there’s no cause or agenda. There’s a desire to bring different facets of society together through events, and that’s very much the bottom line. It then assumes a social and political agenda because of the potency that it carries. Most of the time it’s positive, but there can be challenging elements that you have to deal with. Two days ago, on the 18th of October, there was a family party that I did in Paris—and I mean this was bourgeois, this was, like, crazy. The event took place in a beautiful private home near the Champs-Élysées in the center of Paris. You had a Picasso on the wall, you had Lucio Fontana pieces by the bedside—it proved to be the perfect setting to celebrate a birthday and I invited a friend of mine. It wasn’t his birthday and he didn’t even know about my intent. About an hour before the thing began I said, “You do know that we’re here to celebrate your birthday?” He kind of freaked out but then he really embraced it. The invitation to the performance was a birthday card; it was kind of confusing, and threw people off. Some people said, “Why am I going to celebrate this guy’s birthday? I don’t even know who he is.” So they come into this incredible Parisian apartment and there’s Latin music, really expensive champagne (Ruinart!) going around, and then tamales, which is a typical Colombian food. So there were these mixtures. Champagne and tamales don’t necessarily go together—

LR But they can, right? Because they did! (laughter)

OM Yeah, exactly. They did! I think it’s psychological. So you had this kind of mishmash of cultures, and then one minute the music stops and this guy makes an announcement to thank me for celebrating his birthday, and everybody starts to sing “Happy Birthday” to him and then we all began dancing.

LR What type of Latin music?

OM A lot of salsa. Just the sound of music in this house was weird, you know?

LR Yeah. I was going to ask you about the concept of “Latin American conviviality,” a phrase the Serpentine used in the press release for your event. It’s interesting to think about what that means, and whether you perceive your work as speaking through a particular vein of Latin American identity.

OM I don’t think so. I mean, it’s inevitable—I’m Latin American myself. So I’m not exactly going to appropriate a different culture to—

LR Right, it’s always good to start by working with yourself, first.

OM Exactly. It has to be genuine, it has to be authentic. It can always fail, I’m not saying that it’s always going to be successful. But the success rate is higher when you have higher control over the different topics at hand. And so it was and is usually Latin American conviviality, but it has a resonance in relation to everything. For example, there are these yoga performances that I’ve done—last year I transformed the whole gallery into a yoga studio and allowed my friends and people I know to come and do yoga for free. I made these yoga platforms and installed these very makeshift mirrors. Because it was temporary, there wasn’t any reason to be elaborate about it. It simply needed to be functional. Yoga, especially Bikram yoga, is incredibly—

LR —hardcore.

OM Displaced.

LR It’s incredibly intense.

OM Yes, it’s intense on the body, a real physical workout. Bikram yoga is something that this guru, Bikram Choudhury, from India, started. Yoga as a practice is a Hindu tradition but then it was transported to Western society, where it was packaged. It started in LA and has been gradually franchised. It’s also an industry that today is dominated by women. Men do it—I do it from time to time—but yoga was something that women were not allowed to do. All these shifts are interesting to me, and I reference yoga because I know it and I’m able to talk about it authoritatively.

LR You start with yourself.

OM Yeah. It has to be personal somehow.

LR I wanted to ask you about the neoconcrete—a lot of people writing about your work have been talking about the history of neoconcretism. That movement happened around 1959 to 1961 and is often tied to artists who worked and lived in Brazil. In the neoconcrete manifesto, they talk about work being conceived as a sort of quasicorpus—the idea that a work’s reality is not exhausted by its constituitive elements. But rather that the work can have a life outside of those elements, exist within social or public space, and, in doing so, avoid a narrow specificity. Do you have any thoughts on that?

OM Obviously I think the neoconcrete movement from that period in Brazil was something quite strong. You had artists like Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Lygia Pape. Neoconcrete art was a catalyst at the time. I think that a lot of the work—not to say it’s derivative—is influenced by modernism. But they were able to appropriate from this stiff, rigid period of European modernism and digest it, and produce their own identity. And they opened it up and made it accessible to society. I guess you could say theirs was a multipurpose, flexible practice, making work that is almost pragmatic, something that’s useful.

LR That serves society in some deeper sense and, in doing so, hopefully avoids becoming part of a more elusive canon that escapes the culture or community the work is meant to serve.

OM This applies to the neoconcrete objects but also to the performances and other projects. They were inclusive because at the time it was normal to bring people together for a common cause. In our time it is difficult to talk about community.

LR Why would you say that is?

OM I think the word community has a stigma attached to it, no? And it’s very elusive too. Community can mean many things. There’s this idea of the art community, which is complete bullshit. Or the Latin American community. It’s just a label that is easy to put on things. These family parties are a way to be with my family and be together with people. It’s not like cultural tourism. These are genuine things that real people participate in.

LR And it’s part of your personal fabric.

OM Yeah, part of a personality. In terms of having a relationship to this period of art in the early ‘60s, the work and the participants were not forced. You can feel that there was a sense of that conviviality, as you were talking about earlier.

LR There is a part of the neoconcrete manifesto that talks about art as an instrument for creating society. It seems to me that it would ring true in talking about these worlds that you’re creating, these environments, these societies, that people can either opt into or opt out of and participate in different ways. So what do you see as your next steps as you continue to build your practice, build your work—are there directions you’re curious about exploring?

OM I want to make it more ambitious, more focused. A lot of these projects have happened between Europe and Colombia or in both Colombia and Europe. I think it would be really interesting to do something along these lines in the States. Like in New York. The idea of tuning into that particular culture is very important. So I think that’s where I see these things working out next—you know, to think about the sensitivity of the next place that I would like to do something, and then make it work there.

LR And continue painting.

OM And continue making these paintings. Like I said earlier: they’re fundamental to my practice. Painting for me functions as a form of mediation. You shut yourself off in the studio and make this work and there’s a relationship to everything else that happens in the practice, whether it’s directly connected or not. How do I apply that same kind of rigor and authenticity to everything else? How to show my works in new ways? How to retain control over them, even if they were sold and someone else now owns them? The dirt we spoke of earlier, well, there’s dirt everywhere—New York, London, New Delhi—all around the world, and so that’s kind of democratic. At least for me.

THE INDEPENDENT.LONDON

In the studio with Oscar Murillo, artist

‘Most painters are terrified of painting as the same space where they are defecating’

Saturday 07 September 2013

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Oscar Murillo is tucking into a lunch when I meet him across the street from his studio in east London, and we start our interview over tasty Turkish food. I ask about the press he received for his paintings going for record prices in the June auctions and he says he was in his native Colombia and the news swept through the country.

He is clear that his work is not about the market at all, but is about the experiences that he had, first in South America and now here in his adopted country. Born in 1986, Murillo and his family came to London in when he was 10. He recalls his idyllic “childhood innocence”  in a small village in Colombia with a large extended family. “My father was a mechanic  in a sugar cane factory and my mother worked for a candy factory: we had a sweet life!”

Fifty of Murillo’s relatives have migrated  to London, forming as close clan here as in Colombia. “My uncle and cousin work with  me in the studio and my mother comes and helps me cook – my auntie too.” Murillo’s past exhibitions have included “events” where  his family “play themselves”. “They are not performers, more a re-enactment of who we  are and what we do.”

Murillo studied at the Royal College of Art and says this period was important to him, even if as something to react against. He recalls insisting that his seminar would be held in the local chicken shop, admitting his peers “found it very offensive”. He wanted to use the detritus of life in his work, asking the owner to make a bin with one of his canvases to collect the rubbish in, something that he now has translated into his studio practice.

At this point, we decamp across the street  to see the practice in action. We walk down  a side passage into a surprisingly small space  – Murillo’s works can be very large – where  his cousin and uncle are casting some of the cannon balls in concrete that will feature in his forthcoming show at the South London Gallery. On the wall hang some of his paintings, unstretched, slightly grubby looking, their surfaces enlivened with words familiar from past works – coco, yoga or chorizo.

He breaks off our conversation to discuss something with his helpers who are un-moulding some of the balls and preparing others, lacing them with the debris of past paintings and dirt from the floor.

I point at the dirt, created in the making of the cement, being transplanted to the canvas, and he says, “Most painters are terrified of painting in the same space where they are eating, sleeping and defecating. This is my  idea of how the work progresses.” As I leave,  I ask if his uncle and cousin help with the paintings, and his answer is a brisk: “When it comes to making the paintings, that’s my job.”

Oscar Murillo: if I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400 kilometres north of the equator, South London Gallery, London SE5 (020 7703 6120) 20 September to 1 December

MOUSSE

Oscar Murillo “if i was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400km north of the equator” at South London Gallery

November 19~2013

For his first major solo exhibition in the UK, London-based artist Oscar Murillo empties his studio to present its contents in the main gallery space. Stitched canvases, drawings, sculptures and films, tables constructed from copper sheets, used as flooring in previous shows, and floor pieces made from masses of pulped biro drawings continue Murillo’s practice of translating various aspects of studio endeavour into matter and then into form.

Murillo’s work encompasses painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance. Harvesting the accumulative material conditions of his studio on canvases, fabrics and paper, and mobilising the physical remnants of distinct social situations, he exposes some of the contradictions and complexities apparent across socioeconomic, racial and cultural boundaries. Gestural marks that index artistic labour are layered with dirt, dust and debris, used as materials in their own right, but equally as evidence of the often-invisible tasks and efforts of others which underpin the social and physical fabric of different locales and circumstances. Marked copper sheets from past exhibitions demonstrate various ways in which the passing of time can be documented and archived through materials and discarded matter.

An active component at the heart of the exhibition is a lottery that references the popularity of this phenomenon in many cultures. Murillo instigates a situation that highlights some of the intricacies of social and cultural encounters, as he has done in previous exhibitions and events, but this lottery project takes this area of his practice into new territory, raising numerous questions about authenticity, value, and the complex relationship between the public, private and commercial sectors of the art world.

The lottery project launched on Monday 2 September. Each individually screen-printed ticket is worked on in oil paint by the artist and a member of his family, has its own number and is signed on the reverse by the artist. Tickets cost £2,500 each and can be purchased online or by contacting the South London Gallery. The artist’s proof and the lottery ticket are both inscribed by a calligrapher with the name of the purchaser or intended recipient(s) and will then be displayed in the SLG’s first floor galleries throughout Murillo’s exhibition. The tickets are on sale until 7.30pm GMT on Friday 18 October during the week of Frieze Art Fair. The first, second and third prizes are devised by Oscar Murillo and will be revealed at a prize draw on 18 October. Access to the prize draw is strictly limited to lottery ticket holders plus one guest.

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at South London Gallery

until 1 December 2013

Oscar Murillo, “if I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400km north of the equator” installation view at South London Gallery, 2013

Courtesy: the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London. Photo: Mark Blower.

– See more at: http://moussemagazine.it/oscar-murillo-southlondon/#sthash.XNstcLDW.dpuf

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THE TELEGRAPH LONDON

Art market news: Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo to be represented by the David Zwirner Gallery

Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo, whose prices have rocketed in recent months, to be represented by the David Zwirner Gallery which has premises in London and New York, says Colin Gleadell.

yuka chips, Oscar Murillo, 2013

yuka chips, Oscar Murillo, 2013 Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner

When young artists suddenly start to make high prices there’s often a change in representation about to take place. In the case of 27-year-old Colombian-born London resident Oscar Murillo, whose sudden astronomic price rise I commented on in July, it has now been confirmed that he is to be represented by the David Zwirner Gallery which has premises in London and New York.

Murillo applies studio debris to his rough-hewn canvases in what can be classed as a performance. Last summer, the auction record for one of these canvases leapt from £20,000 to £254,000 amid gossip that he was to be represented by the White Cube gallery. Until then he had shown with numerous galleries, particularly the Carlos Ishikawa Gallery in London.

However, representation with David Zwirner – rated as one of the most powerful and successful contemporary art gallerists with artists Luc Tuymans and Marlene Dumas, as well as the estates of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin on his books – takes Murillo into a new league. The news precedes the opening of his latest show at the South London Gallery in Peckham on September 20.

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Oscar Murillo, ‘Dinner at the members club? Yes! i’ll have a black americano first pls’, installation views, 2013

Frieze Magazine

Oscar Murillo

Carlos/Ishikawa

The title of Oscar Murillo’s first London solo show was a mouthful: ‘Dinner at the members club? Yes! i’ll have a black americano first pls’. The titular ‘black americano’ in this case was – by his own admission – none other than the young London-based artist himself, whose Colombian origins are often emphasized in his painterly and performance-based practice (though there were also packs of ground coffee at the gallery, which visitors were welcome to take home). ‘The members club’ was apparently a reference to the ICA committee who had invited Murillo to rustle up something nice and performative for their annual fundraising dinner. He was happy to oblige: his debut exhibition at Carlos/Ishikawa became the setting for a champagne lunch, prepared by the artist with his relatives and served on grimy tablecloths made of ornate fabrics that had been gathering dirt for the occasion.

Welcome to the members club (all works 2013) is also the title of a 42-minute video, which documents the making of lollipops at the factory that employs most people in Murillo’s hometown, La Paila, in the southeast of Colombia. (Packed into boxes on one of the two platforms in the main space, the freely available sweets inevitably recalled Félix González-Torres’s candy piles.) But the artist doesn’t consider rough-and-ready, handheld videos such as this one to be art works in their own right; rather, he uses them to set his practice in context. A similar role is assigned to the social gatherings – such as dinners, yoga sessions, games or dances – that Murillo refuses to call ‘performances’ (though others do that for him), because they strike him as a natural, spontaneous outgrowth of his work, as opposed to an exercise in relational aesthetics of the kind practiced by, say, Rirkrit Tiravanija and his peers.

When it comes to Murillo’s broader output, it’s not always easy to determine what is ‘work’ proper and what is mere support. In a sense, everything at Carlos/Ishikawa was folded into his work’s sociable sphere for the duration of the show, and most of the things on display could be bought when they were not freely given. Yet not all of the objects had the same status. For example, one of the exhibition’s most distinctive features – the reflective copper sheets laid over a low plywood structure – were not art as such, according to the artist, but rather work-in-the-making (to be shown at a later date in a different gallery). Three weeks after the opening, these had lost some of their sheen and were looking tarnished – precisely the effect Murillo strives for. Instead of presenting a finished product, the artist wanted this exhibition to reflect some of the processes that inform his studio practice.

Painting forms the backbone of Murillo’s artistic practice, though rather than a brush he often uses a broom stick and a sizeable oil paint pad, in a sort of rudimentary mono-printing technique. Roughly hewn, stitched-up canvases in two or three different sizes – mostly large – and as many varieties (he calls them ‘banners’, ‘stack paintings’ and ‘bingos’) were hung on, leaned or stacked up against all available walls. Before the mark-making process begins, these are left lying about for a month or two to wear them in and let them gather ‘information’ (what the artist has referred to as the ‘DNA of the studio’). Murillo, who sees mess as a generative force, makes it a point never to tidy up his work environment. There is an archival element to much of the artist’s production, which retains traces of former activities, whether in the shape of single, underscored words and numbers (‘work’, ‘yoga’, ‘poker’, ‘maiz’, ‘3’) that feature prominently on his canvases, or condensed into solid dirt balls made up of studio débris (pulped drawings, thread, cement dye, copper, dust) dotted around the gallery.

‘Dirt’, and sometimes ‘dirt on canvas’, is insistently listed among the artistic media in Murillo’s works. More than just a widely available material, dirt for the artist has a levelling effect: we all experience it, black and white, rich and poor alike. In his eyes, that’s what makes it ‘democratic’. It’s easy to dispute this claim. Dirt is, after all, socially stratified; it belongs to the streets, to some more than others, and grows more scarce the higher one climbs. In some quarters (the art world among them), dirt can be exotic, a rarefied commodity, the mark of originality.

Murillo evidently sees himself as a mediator between different demographics, facilitating encounters between two worlds that would not normally meet – namely the art crowd and the Latin American immigrant community – through the events that he organizes. And yet, at the rehearsal fundraising lunch at Carlos/Ishikawa, the artist’s relatives who cooked tamales for us sat at their own table. The event may well have been intended as a critical comment on the exclusivity of the artist’s dinner, but the message it ultimately put across was as confusing as the exhibition’s title.

Agnieszka Gratza

Oscar Murillo

Oscar Murillo, ‘Dinner at the members club? Yes! i’ll have a black americano first pls’, installation views, 2013

Back to the main site

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THE ART NEWSPAPER LONDON

Interview with Oscar Murillo: at home with the Rubells

The 26-year-old artist on what it was like to live and work at the Miami collectors’ private museum this summer

Oscar Murillo at work at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami

The Colombian-born, London-based artist Oscar Murillo, 26, gained attention while he was still completing his painting MA at London’s Royal College of Art. A recently graduate, he is presenting a show of new work at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Murillo spent several weeks living at the Rubells’s museum, producing a number of large-scale works, five of which will be exhibited on-site. Murillo talked to The Art Newspaper about his forthcoming show, his two-pronged approach to making art, and the effects of growing up without video games.

The Art Newspaper: How did you meet the Rubell family?

Oscar Murillo: They saw a solo project I did with Stuart Shave/Modern Art at the Independent fair last March in New York, and they were curious to know more about what I do. At the time, I was living in the city so they came to the studio. I knew who they were but I hadn’t met them before. However, they were interested enough to offer me an exhibition.

You are the first artist to have had a residency at the collection.

It’s a kind of residency but it’s not something that [the Rubells] do as collectors—they did it to facilitate my project. I said that I needed to work in situ in order to make something on a large scale. The museum closes in the summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go there and make the show happen.

What was the set-up like? Were you given any rules to follow?

It wasn’t like a commission—I was never told “we want this type of work”, but I knew I was going to have a show in that space and there were certain things I wanted to focus on. However, there was enough time to treat the space as a studio and not assume that certain works were going to be shown. My living quarters were linked to the museum so, if I wanted to, I could wake up at 2am and have access to it. Despite the fact that they—the Rubells, the museum staff—had seen my work, they were still relatively new to what I do, so this project was something of a leap of faith for them.

Have you worked on this kind of scale before?

No. This was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself.

Were you assisted by anyone while you were there?

Juan Roselione-Valadez, the director of the museum, was great, for many reasons. He looked after me and sourced the materials that I needed, but we also had very interesting conversations about the work as it developed.

You like to incorporate certain words into your paintings.

Certain words are often connected to a type of social endeavour that I like to bring into the realm of my own practice.

You once said that your paintings are “permanent archives or reminders of what else happens in the practice”. What did you mean by that?

When I spoke of the wider aspect of my practice, I was referring to my performances. Some of my paintings contain abstracted words—“chorizo”, “yoga”, “mango”—but the performances create context for them. For example, prior to the performance at the Serpentine [Gallery, in London] earlier this year, I was invited by Comme de Garçons to do a campaign for their new season. They used five images of previous paintings of mine and gave me £10,000. Their clothes are quite expensive and I could have bought a new wardrobe, but instead I invited members of my family to go to Dover Street Market in Mayfair, London, and attempt to buy some of these clothes, which are targeted at a certain kind of audience—my mother is not exactly eight stone. The trip became a cultural clash that I wanted to do something with. The project at the Serpentine was coming up so I called the performance “The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons” and the idea was to invite a wide demographic of our society to participate. The performance was a party and Comme des Garçons became an anchor. It became something that you could win during the evening’s events: raffles, dance competitions, karaoke. The brand, which is usually very exclusive, became a democratised item. That was the idea.

I also did an event in Paris: a bourgeois birthday party where a similar kind of cultural clash happened. This time there were different Colombian foods there. I’ve also done two yoga-based performances. That’s where I got the idea of infusing the words into the paintings and that’s what I mean when I say they become archives. These paintings give me the opportunity to freeze the performances into the work. I mean, a painting is a rectangular device used to record things.

How did you become an artist?

I was never really an artist as a child. There’s no history of anyone in my family being an artist and I didn’t grow up around art at all. In Colombia I grew up outdoors, I played in building sites – I didn’t grow up with a Playstation. It was a very tangible existence and I was raised like that until I was ten. Then I moved to London. You might have found that same environment in post-war London, but in the mid 1990s it was totally different: there were so many safety buffers. It’s a very sanitised environment and so art became one of the only things that I could tap into to satisfy my desire for tangibility.

You say you didn’t have much art around when you were growing up, and that it was more of a physical existence, but this physicality is also central to your practice.

Exactly—the idea of obliterating or abusing material in a way that is kind of careless or primitive is something that I used to do to a piece of wood when I was a kid, for example.

This is an important show so early in your career—did you feel any pressure to perform?

Its hard to contextualise it now—nobody has even seen it. When the work was finished, I felt pretty satisfied with the results and I felt a moment of euphoria. But now I’m just interested in seeing the reaction of the public more than anything. There’s always pressure to perform. I could be naive and say I felt no pressure and that I treated it just like working in a studio, but I decided to go there and challenge myself. I feel this is a real opportunity; who knows, I might not get to make a seven-metre painting ever again, so it was the perfect moment. Everything was there and I wasn’t going to shy away from it.

”Oscar Murillo: Work” is at the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, until 2 August 2013

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BOMB MAGAZINE

Oscar Murillo

by Legacy Russell

BOMB 122/Winter 2013, ART

Order a digital or print copy of BOMB’s Winter Issue here, or subscribe.

Listen to an audio excerpt from this interview:

Murillo_01.jpg
Untitled, 2012, oil paint, graphite, oil stick on canvas, 128 x 100 1/2 inches. Images courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin.

When I meet Oscar Murillo for the first time, it is in Central London. Murillo lives and works in East London. Anyone familiar with this city knows that the distance between East and Central is nothing to scoff at. Yet Murillo shows up unfazed on his bike—neon yellow and neatly folded by the time he enters the café—and greets me with a quiet warmth and open ease.

Murillo has had his fair share of journeys; he is a native of La Paila, Colombia, and a resident of London, who, just a day before our meeting, confirmed our appointment via mobile from Paris and, in less than 24 hours from when we meet, is scheduled to board a plane to Miami. Distance, displacement, movement: these are all concepts that Murillo explores in his practice—a manifestation of a body in transit, an artist’s incisive inquiry into the geographies of space, both on the canvas and off, within the studio and out into the world beyond.

Born in 1986, Murillo is a recent graduate of London’s Royal College of Art. A painter with a flair for the performative, he often works with video and participatory installation. As we talk, he shows me recent work on his computer, a range of paintings, as well as documentation of what the artist refers to as “family parties”—vibrant films, saturated with motion and color, of intimate gatherings of his friends and kin. These pieces—home videos, nearly—are illustrations of localized ceremony and everyday happenings, situated eons away from the white boxes of the art world. They are a window into the celebration and ritual of a collective public.

The canonized archetype of an artist alone in his studio—quickly expiring as we wade further into the tides of a global culture—is one that this artist, refreshingly, does not seem to have much of an allegiance to. For Murillo, the act of making holds as much potential for liberation and functionality within the confines of one’s studio as it does in one’s home, on the street, or within one’s community. In his work, actions and words, paint and parties, all speak at the same volume. The objects made by his hand float buoyantly within the realm of the liminal, always here and there, inside and out, home and abroad, all at once very familiar, and yet, somehow, entirely untranslatable. Murillo’s use of text in his paintings illustrates the limits and the possibilities presented by language; words are part of histories that are not always our own, but that we cling to. The physicality of painting is one that provides a sturdy framework for making the leap into the performative realm, a showing of convivial desire. Here, the artist raises a champagne glass—and sometimes an arepa—in lieu of a looking glass, an eloquent reminder of the spaces we travel between and a reflection of these worlds and the constructs that lend them composure, and neutrality.


Legacy Russell We’re here in London just after your return from Paris last night and before you leave for Miami tomorrow. I’d love to hear about what you were doing in Paris, and what you plan to do once you hit Miami.

Oscar Murillo My Berlin gallery, Isabella Bortolozzi, is taking part in FIAC in Paris. Around the fair other projects are happening, for example, “R4” is working toward building up a museum in the outskirts of Paris on this island called l’île Seguin. The curator of the Migros Museum, Raphael Gygax, decided to commission about 20 artists to do outdoor projects on the island, among them Oscar Tuazon, Annette Messager, Ugo Rondinone, Nicolas Party, Martin Soto Climent, and me.

My piece, called Make it Happen in Steps, was based on something I had done this summer in the South of France and which involved me and a collaborator running, jogging, and dancing in an amphitheater. An amphitheater is a space that demands a spectacle. But the production value of my work is purposely low. I like to work with things that are—I wouldn’t say necessarily always around me, but I like to be resourceful, basically. I got a mirror, two empty cartons of coconut water, and a playlist of Fania All-Stars music—Latin American artists like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, major salsa musicians. So I created a one-hour playlist and jogged and danced in front of a mirror to this music. At the end of it, I just walked off and that was the piece.

At l’île Seguin in Paris, I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing, but I wanted to use the same principles. I got myself a couple of sheets of reflective acrylic mirror, two speakers, some amplifiers, four car batteries, some disco lights, and an iPod with the same Fania All-Stars playlist. The island is a heavily industrial place, a bit like Detroit. There used to be a car factory there, and it’s quite run-down. The idea was to curate an installation that would play this music continuously, and not be dependent on someone having to turn it on and off. It’d just be there, kind of playing along—bringing some life to the place. So that happened last weekend, just before I did a two-person presentation with David Hammons at FIAC.

MURIO-00156-300.jpg
milk, 2012, oil, spray paint, oilstick, dirt on canvas, 77 1/8 x 65 3/4 inches.

LR And what about Miami?

OM I met the Rubell family for the first time in New York earlier this year. They got curious about my work, and we had a studio visit. My gallery called, “Don and Mera want to come to your studio.” And I said, “Well, I don’t have any work in the studio.” The gallery said, “We’ll get some work from storage and bring it over.” I thought, Bringing paintings back to the studio, what’s the point? For me it was an opportunity to show my work in process because the process is very important. Finished paintings they could see in the gallery. So before the Rubells visited, I stayed up all night and made a couple of paintings. Making these works created a residue of the process. And the Rubells understood that.

Every year they curate a show for their foundation in Miami; the last one was American Exuberance with four huge paintings by Sterling Ruby in the main gallery space. This year they invited me to do something there. I went to Miami this past April. They suggested this incredibly large room—I mean, it’s overwhelming! I didn’t feel comfortable making work for such a massive space without inhabiting it somehow. So I said, “I think it’s very important for me to come here and make the work from scratch.”

LR You occupied it—physically.

OM At the beginning of summer, I traveled back to Miami with all my materials and lived there for six weeks, working at the Rubell family collection.

LR So when’s the opening? When do other bodies get to occupy the space, along with you and your works?

OM The work is done and will open in December for Art Basel Miami Beach.

LR You paint, you’re doing performance, you’re recording these performances and they’re being shown as videos. All these different strands connect. Where does painting situate itself in your practice and where does it intersect with performance?

OM Paintings happen in the studio where I have my own kind of system, although there can be physical residue of performance in them. I like to cut up the canvas in different sections, work on them individually, fold them and just leave them around for months. I don’t work on a painting with the goal of finishing it or having a complete and finished painting at the end of a work process. The idea is to get through as much material as possible, and various materials go through various processes. In most parts there is this mark making that happens with a broomstick and oil paint. I make a bunch of those canvases, fold them in half, and put them on the floor. My studio is a cradle of dust and dirt, of pollution. I don’t tidy up at the end of each production process. It’s all very much on purpose; it’s continuous process, a machine of which I’m the catalyst. Things get moved around, I step on them, and they get contaminated. It’s not about leaving traces, it’s about letting things mature on their own—like aging cheese or letting a stew cook, they get more flavorful. That’s kind of how these paintings are made.

Murillo_02.jpg
yoga, 2012, oil, spray paint, oilstick, dirt on canvas, 77 1/8 x 65 3/4 inches.

LR So the textures, these layers—they’re in part done by your own hand, but also by the larger sort of “hand” of the environment they’re born into. It’s a collaboration of creative site and creative body in that way, a sort of merging.

OM The individual canvases are very much the DNA; they record that movement, the process of making. When these different processes are done, I move on to the stage of actually composing a painting. The individual canvases are laid out with the aim of making a composition. For example, the painting we are looking at right now started with different patches of bleached black fabric, then there’s this mark-making process, and then you have the word at the end. And that’s the last thing that is added to the work.

LR Is the text in the foreground meant to represent a dialogue of what’s taking place in the background? “Pizza,” for example, or “Champagne”—are these words represented in the textures and painterly gestures they are suspended in?

OM For me the words are very displaced. Like cultural displacement with performance, in painting it’s material displacement, object displacement. I’ll show you this one, which I’m really excited about. It says, “Yoga.”

LR This one is really neat because there is a physicality that is manifest in the word itself.

OM Yeah. Some words like yoga have gained a duality of meaning in my work. They are not only visually representative of their meaning but also, compositionally, there’s a formality. The canvases get folded so you get the word kind of mirrored in the paint’s absorption onto the other side of the fold, and sometimes you get a pattern. Here it almost looks like a person doing yoga. So as my practice develops, the concept of displacement is present in both my performances and in my paintings.

LR How does performance tie in, regarding the narrative of displacement? How do your physical actions find their place within open space?

OM The idea of the space, regardless of my own art, underlies all that. There’s so much movement in the world, constantly. We all move around, we all travel, and I like to think most of the population in the world has shifted from one place to another; not necessarily globally—it could just be locally from one part of the country to the other. And so things change. For example, I’ve come to appropriate music and Vita Coco coconut water as symbols of displacement. Coconut water has been incredibly well marketed as a tropical drink that comes from parts of the world like Hawaii and the Caribbean. In metropolitan cities it has a certain message attached—healthy lifestyle . . .

LR Restorative powers in some way.

OM You find it in yoga studios, in gyms, and in all kinds of fitness places. So for me, there’re all these interesting navigations. I grew up in a very small town in South America and now live in London, which I have adopted as my home. But I’m also being displaced because I don’t find complete satisfaction with one or the other. That can be a micro example of displacement. For me these paintings are by-products of being in the studio and making work. I mean, that’s one shift. I guess that happens to all artists when showing work in galleries, or showing work in one place or the other.

LR There’s also a literal displacement when you’re taking the work out of the studio—I like how you called it a “cradle” earlier—into a totally different situation, a different context.

OM Yeah, exactly. But I like to think that these paintings also imply a displacement of time. They’re like rugs. An unstretched painting is a kind of abstract thing, one that suggests that it perhaps has been found or comes from some other space or time. But while it has this aura of being a historical thing when placed out of context, it just comes from the studio.

Murillo_04.jpg
work just happens! to the noon via the beach, 2012, performance in Arles, France.

LR Let’s talk about the sort of family-party performances that you’ve done. I would also like to hear about the collaboration with Serpentine Gallery, The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party, which seems to link back to the idea of bringing people together, providing an opportunity for exchange, and maybe engaging with an audience that extends beyond the bubble of the art world. I mean, for you to have a party with your family is one thing, but to bring that into an art-world context . . .

OM I want to give you more background about the parties: they are family events for celebrating something—a birthday, a communion—or just people getting together. Like most parties, sometimes you only talk, sometimes you dance. I’ve been doing these parties with my family, but I wouldn’t exactly call them performances. I’ve been very cautious as to how I appropriate these family parties and bring them into the realm of my art practice and out to the public as an event that happens within the art world. So the spaces have to be very particular; it’s not like, “Let’s just throw a party in a gallery space.”

LR Well, the rules of a “family party,” versus an “art-world party”—at first blush they are totally different. Yet both are social spaces, both are spaces that can be politicized, that have their own vernacular and rubrics of ritualized behavior.

OM The Serpentine was very interesting because it isn’t exactly a gallery, but an institution. I took advantage of the fact that the institution was willing to host my event not in the main galleries but in the outdoor pavilion. As part of their annual commission, this year the Serpentine had the architect team Herzog & de Meuron collaborate with the artist Ai Weiwei to design a pavilion. Starting in June the Serpentine hosted a summer program there.

The pavilion itself had this interesting architecture—it wasn’t about a show of architecture, it was about an understatement of architecture. It looked like a theatrical space: you had seats, there was a kind of platform where you could speak or perform. So I decided to take over the entire space and decorate it as if we were having a family gathering.

My family works in the cleaning industry and they used to have these really great parties in the summer and Christmas, where people would dress up. It was a big deal. It was very eloquent, in a kind of, you could say, “cheesy” way. But it was really nice. We had food, and there was an abundance. The parties don’t really exist anymore because there’s no money around, there’s no money for parties. So I thought, Well, I have this offer from Serpentine; the conditions are perfect to throw a party. I want to do this. Then there was also this other layer, which was Comme des Garçons—

LR I was going to ask about that, how to negotiate the introduction of that genre of haute couture.

OM I did a project with them; they commissioned me to do an ad for one of their campaigns and I thought, Oh this is great. But also there was a degree of discomfort because as much as I like Comme des Garçons as a label, it’s not something that I wear. The presence of the brand brings up notions of commercialism and publicity, things I’m interested in exploring in my work—hence the words that I use sometimes in my paintings.

LR Right, with the canvases like banners, the words at that scale are almost like billboards. They really speak to the culture in which they’re produced—everything bleeds together in that way.

OM Exactly. They gave me something like $12,000 in credit—it wasn’t in money, it was in credit—and that’s insane.

LR With that, you can buy one shoe there. Maybe two if you’re lucky.

OM So I thought, Well, what am I going to do with this? So I combined the two projects and it became A Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons. The idea was that the party would be a party, and we’d have champagne. We’d make it as elaborate as possible, and then Comme des Garçons would come in as this kind of extra layer. Now, how to democratize Comme des Garçons? How to make a product that is usually very exclusive available to the masses? So we got as many items as possible with the credit offered—perfume, clothing, what have you—and then made them prizes at the party for dance competitions and games. But we also just gave it away. While the typical art audience was present, the core of the party was my family community, a community of friends.

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animals die for eating too much! yoga, 2011, Performance at Hotel, London.

LR It seems like this creates some permeability in the white-wall institutional space that’s not your space, that’s not public space.

OM Yeah. The pavilion was a buffer. These projects and these parties also have a sociopolitical undercurrent.

LR Would you consider it a mode of activism?

OM I don’t think it’s activism; it’s more my wanting to give some strength and purpose. It’s not about an agenda—

LR —or a cause.

OM Yeah, there’s no cause or agenda. There’s a desire to bring different facets of society together through events, and that’s very much the bottom line. It then assumes a social and political agenda because of the potency that it carries. Most of the time it’s positive, but there can be challenging elements that you have to deal with. Two days ago, on the 18th of October, there was a family party that I did in Paris—and I mean this was bourgeois, this was, like, crazy. The event took place in a beautiful private home near the Champs-Élysées in the center of Paris. You had a Picasso on the wall, you had Lucio Fontana pieces by the bedside—it proved to be the perfect setting to celebrate a birthday and I invited a friend of mine. It wasn’t his birthday and he didn’t even know about my intent. About an hour before the thing began I said, “You do know that we’re here to celebrate your birthday?” He kind of freaked out but then he really embraced it. The invitation to the performance was a birthday card; it was kind of confusing, and threw people off. Some people said, “Why am I going to celebrate this guy’s birthday? I don’t even know who he is.” So they come into this incredible Parisian apartment and there’s Latin music, really expensive champagne (Ruinart!) going around, and then tamales, which is a typical Colombian food. So there were these mixtures. Champagne and tamales don’t necessarily go together—

LR But they can, right? Because they did! (laughter)

OM Yeah, exactly. They did! I think it’s psychological. So you had this kind of mishmash of cultures, and then one minute the music stops and this guy makes an announcement to thank me for celebrating his birthday, and everybody starts to sing “Happy Birthday” to him and then we all began dancing.

LR What type of Latin music?

OM A lot of salsa. Just the sound of music in this house was weird, you know?

LR Yeah. I was going to ask you about the concept of “Latin American conviviality,” a phrase the Serpentine used in the press release for your event. It’s interesting to think about what that means, and whether you perceive your work as speaking through a particular vein of Latin American identity.

OM I don’t think so. I mean, it’s inevitable—I’m Latin American myself. So I’m not exactly going to appropriate a different culture to—

LR Right, it’s always good to start by working with yourself, first.

OM Exactly. It has to be genuine, it has to be authentic. It can always fail, I’m not saying that it’s always going to be successful. But the success rate is higher when you have higher control over the different topics at hand. And so it was and is usually Latin American conviviality, but it has a resonance in relation to everything. For example, there are these yoga performances that I’ve done—last year I transformed the whole gallery into a yoga studio and allowed my friends and people I know to come and do yoga for free. I made these yoga platforms and installed these very makeshift mirrors. Because it was temporary, there wasn’t any reason to be elaborate about it. It simply needed to be functional. Yoga, especially Bikram yoga, is incredibly—

LR —hardcore.

OM Displaced.

LR It’s incredibly intense.

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The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons, Serpentine Gallery Park Nights, 2012. Photo by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy Serpentine Gallery, London.

OM Yes, it’s intense on the body, a real physical workout. Bikram yoga is something that this guru, Bikram Choudhury, from India, started. Yoga as a practice is a Hindu tradition but then it was transported to Western society, where it was packaged. It started in LA and has been gradually franchised. It’s also an industry that today is dominated by women. Men do it—I do it from time to time—but yoga was something that women were not allowed to do. All these shifts are interesting to me, and I reference yoga because I know it and I’m able to talk about it authoritatively.

LR You start with yourself.

OM Yeah. It has to be personal somehow.

LR I wanted to ask you about the neoconcrete—a lot of people writing about your work have been talking about the history of neoconcretism. That movement happened around 1959 to 1961 and is often tied to artists who worked and lived in Brazil. In the neoconcrete manifesto, they talk about work being conceived as a sort of quasicorpus—the idea that a work’s reality is not exhausted by its constituitive elements. But rather that the work can have a life outside of those elements, exist within social or public space, and, in doing so, avoid a narrow specificity. Do you have any thoughts on that?

OM Obviously I think the neoconcrete movement from that period in Brazil was something quite strong. You had artists like Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Lygia Pape. Neoconcrete art was a catalyst at the time. I think that a lot of the work—not to say it’s derivative—is influenced by modernism. But they were able to appropriate from this stiff, rigid period of European modernism and digest it, and produce their own identity. And they opened it up and made it accessible to society. I guess you could say theirs was a multipurpose, flexible practice, making work that is almost pragmatic, something that’s useful.

LR That serves society in some deeper sense and, in doing so, hopefully avoids becoming part of a more elusive canon that escapes the culture or community the work is meant to serve.

OM This applies to the neoconcrete objects but also to the performances and other projects. They were inclusive because at the time it was normal to bring people together for a common cause. In our time it is difficult to talk about community.

LR Why would you say that is?

OM I think the word community has a stigma attached to it, no? And it’s very elusive too. Community can mean many things. There’s this idea of the art community, which is complete bullshit. Or the Latin American community. It’s just a label that is easy to put on things. These family parties are a way to be with my family and be together with people. It’s not like cultural tourism. These are genuine things that real people participate in.

LR And it’s part of your personal fabric.

OM Yeah, part of a personality. In terms of having a relationship to this period of art in the early ‘60s, the work and the participants were not forced. You can feel that there was a sense of that conviviality, as you were talking about earlier.

LR There is a part of the neoconcrete manifesto that talks about art as an instrument for creating society. It seems to me that it would ring true in talking about these worlds that you’re creating, these environments, these societies, that people can either opt into or opt out of and participate in different ways. So what do you see as your next steps as you continue to build your practice, build your work—are there directions you’re curious about exploring?

OM I want to make it more ambitious, more focused. A lot of these projects have happened between Europe and Colombia or in both Colombia and Europe. I think it would be really interesting to do something along these lines in the States. Like in New York. The idea of tuning into that particular culture is very important. So I think that’s where I see these things working out next—you know, to think about the sensitivity of the next place that I would like to do something, and then make it work there.

LR And continue painting.

OM And continue making these paintings. Like I said earlier: they’re fundamental to my practice. Painting for me functions as a form of mediation. You shut yourself off in the studio and make this work and there’s a relationship to everything else that happens in the practice, whether it’s directly connected or not. How do I apply that same kind of rigor and authenticity to everything else? How to show my works in new ways? How to retain control over them, even if they were sold and someone else now owns them? The dirt we spoke of earlier, well, there’s dirt everywhere—New York, London, New Delhi—all around the world, and so that’s kind of democratic. At least for me.

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In the studio with Oscar Murillo, artist

‘Most painters are terrified of painting as the same space where they are defecating’

Oscar Murillo is tucking into a lunch when I meet him across the street from his studio in east London, and we start our interview over tasty Turkish food. I ask about the press he received for his paintings going for record prices in the June auctions and he says he was in his native Colombia and the news swept through the country.

He is clear that his work is not about the market at all, but is about the experiences that he had, first in South America and now here in his adopted country. Born in 1986, Murillo and his family came to London in when he was 10. He recalls his idyllic “childhood innocence”  in a small village in Colombia with a large extended family. “My father was a mechanic  in a sugar cane factory and my mother worked for a candy factory: we had a sweet life!”

Fifty of Murillo’s relatives have migrated  to London, forming as close clan here as in Colombia. “My uncle and cousin work with  me in the studio and my mother comes and helps me cook – my auntie too.” Murillo’s past exhibitions have included “events” where  his family “play themselves”. “They are not performers, more a re-enactment of who we  are and what we do.”

Murillo studied at the Royal College of Art and says this period was important to him, even if as something to react against. He recalls insisting that his seminar would be held in the local chicken shop, admitting his peers “found it very offensive”. He wanted to use the detritus of life in his work, asking the owner to make a bin with one of his canvases to collect the rubbish in, something that he now has translated into his studio practice.

At this point, we decamp across the street  to see the practice in action. We walk down  a side passage into a surprisingly small space  – Murillo’s works can be very large – where  his cousin and uncle are casting some of the cannon balls in concrete that will feature in his forthcoming show at the South London Gallery. On the wall hang some of his paintings, unstretched, slightly grubby looking, their surfaces enlivened with words familiar from past works – coco, yoga or chorizo.

He breaks off our conversation to discuss something with his helpers who are un-moulding some of the balls and preparing others, lacing them with the debris of past paintings and dirt from the floor.

I point at the dirt, created in the making of the cement, being transplanted to the canvas, and he says, “Most painters are terrified of painting in the same space where they are eating, sleeping and defecating. This is my  idea of how the work progresses.” As I leave,  I ask if his uncle and cousin help with the paintings, and his answer is a brisk: “When it comes to making the paintings, that’s my job.”

Oscar Murillo: if I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400 kilometres north of the equator, South London Gallery, London SE5 (020 7703 6120) 20 September to 1 December

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GALLERISTNY

UPDATED: Oscar Murillo’s $800,000 Week in New York

The Sotheby's work.

The Sotheby’s work.

“There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point,” Kenny Schachter told Katya Kazakina in her profile of the 27-year-old artist last week. Boy, that’s an understatement! Today and yesterday, a couple of untitled works by Mr. Murillo from last year came up at auction here in New York, and both sold for double their high estimates. These two lots come on top of a third Murillo that set a new record for the artist last Thursday at Phillips at $401,000, ten times over its high estimate.

The first, at Sotheby’s “Contemporary Curated” auction, sold yesterday for $197,000, with premium. It had been estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000.

The second sold today at Christie’s “First Open” sale, and though its estimate was slightly lower ($50,000 – $70,000) it sold for around the same amount $195,750, with premium.

That Mr. Murillo only doubled his high estimate shows a degree of logic exists in his bonkers market. This past June Mr. Murillo exceeded a high estimate by a factor of eight in London when a piece of his sold for $389,199, his previous auction high.

The October Paintings

The October Paintings – A Painting Project by Vincent Galen Johnson in Los Angeles

his is the second painting in this suite that is finished with a white paint layer and wash. There were 2 applications with scraping by painting knife and then a sharper blade. The painting is one of the most aggressively worked surfaces in the collection.

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The October Paintings,

These 4×4 foot paintings are my continued experiment in the medium of painting. I intend for each work of art to be unique in its making. Different paint, mediums, brushes, rags – wet with paint, dry with paint, wet with mediums, dry rags and my own hands are used to create the works. Each of the fully completed works is allowed to dry for several weeks before it is then compared to the others in the suite to decide if more work needs to be done to the picture to my satisfaction. Paint is layered and overlaid and allowed to dry, sometimes later scraped away and repainted with or without medium. There are also several small-scale works under production that are sometimes employed as test devices for the larger works. The project is a follow-up to my Cosmos Suite of paintings, which are also still underway. Each so far is 30×40 inches or 20×24 inches. You can search for the Cosmos Suite on my blog to see the works.

This is the first painting in The October Paintings suite to employ layers of titanium zinc white as an overlay to the potent colors beneath. The work has performs as a collision of forms and colors recede and thrust forward to the painting surface.

This particular post is done in light of the incredible excitement happening in the LA artworld in this year of 2014. Several major announcements have been made of world-class international and major galleries expanding to Los Angeles, including Spruth Magers, Hauser & Wirth, Maccarone, Tanya Bonadkar, Gavlak. Other LA galleries are expanding into warehouse sized spaces including Kordansky, Various Small Fires and LA Louvre. The Mistake Room is a major new kunsthalle in Los Angeles that will focus on art not from the West. There is new gallery activity in Leimert Park, with the opening of Papillion and soon an exhibition space by Mark Bradford. Recently FIAC announced plans to expand to LA in 2015. There has never been a year in LA’s art history where so many major new venues were announced or soon forthcoming, including the Marciano Foundation for Contemporary Art and the Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles. What is happening today is light years away from the hole-in-the-wall and apartment gallery scene of the 1990′s LA artworld. I cannot lie and say that this new energy has not helped to push my practice of painting even further along that it was even 2 years ago. It is something that I am determined to be successful at – which is to produce a vast body of paintings in which my reputation as an artist will be made.

thanks

Vincent Galen Johnson

Los Angeles

 

 

Untitled The October Paintings work #1: This work explores relations in color and light and experiments with layering down painting medium and then pushing paint directly into the medium. It is created with rags and both dry and paint soaked rags and loaded brushes. The effect is atmospheric and evocative of landscape painting.

Untitled The October Paintings work #1: This work explores relations in color and light and experiments with layering down painting medium and then pushing paint directly into the medium. It is created with rags and both dry and paint soaked rags and loaded brushes. The effect is atmospheric and evocative of landscape painting.

Untitled The October Paintings work #2: This work is created by scraping away layers of paint and applying paint with fine brushwork in certain areas. It is an abstract work that plays upon the body of abstract paintings of mythical vistas by Cy Twombly that I saw at the Menil Collection.

Untitled The October Paintings work #2: This work is created by scraping away layers of paint and applying paint with fine brushwork in certain areas. It is an abstract work that plays upon the body of abstract paintings of mythical vistas by Cy Twombly that I saw at the Menil Collection.

Untitled The October Paintings work #3: This work is is rendered impressing large areas of paint and medium into the canvas and using a painting knife to mis and redistribute the paint across the entire canvas surface. The effect is that the represented non-objective field appears to be disintegrating. Nothing appears fixed; the substrate areas seem to desire to advance to the foreground.

Untitled The October Paintings work #3: This work is is rendered impressing large areas of paint and medium into the canvas and using a painting knife to mis and redistribute the paint across the entire canvas surface. The effect is that the represented non-objective field appears to be disintegrating. Nothing appears fixed; the substrate areas seem to desire to advance to the foreground.

Untitled The October Paintings work #4: This work is about eliminates spacial depth and is another which I see a bit of Twomby's influence. The surface is heavily worked with brushes and rags, incidents of local color effectively distinguish themselves in the overall pictorial view. Its quite the opposite of the other works created in this series.

Untitled The October Paintings work #4: This work is about eliminates spacial depth and is another which I see a bit of Twomby’s influence. The surface is heavily worked with brushes and rags, incidents of local color effectively distinguish themselves in the overall pictorial view. Its quite the opposite of the other works created in this series.

Untitled The October Paintings work #5: This work segregates then enfolds layers of color with a painting knife and while releasing undercurrents of highlight colors from underneath its darkness. There is a structural integrity in the picture that allows the underneath to become visible while the overall representation is boldly dark.

Untitled The October Paintings work #5: This work segregates then enfolds layers of color with a painting knife and while releasing undercurrents of highlight colors from underneath its darkness. There is a structural integrity in the picture that allows the underneath to become visible while the overall representation is boldly dark.

Untitled The October Paintings work #6: This work represents a slow moving live red universe. It is as if a small sample of the sun were re-presented as a photographed object using paint. The overall red-orange color dominates yet color elements create the full picture.

Untitled The October Paintings work #6: This work represents a slow moving live red universe. It is as if a small sample of the sun were re-presented as a photographed object using paint. The overall red-orange color dominates yet color elements create the full picture.

Untitled The October Paintings work #7: This work adapts a more local distribution strategy in terms of paint by using loaded rags. It also confirms my interest in representing objects in formation. This is a magical forrest of color and light.

Untitled The October Paintings work #7: This work adapts a more local distribution strategy in terms of paint by using loaded rags. It also confirms my interest in representing objects in formation. This is a magical forrest of color and light.

Untitled The October Paintings work #8: This work is created by mixing wide bands of color with a painting knife, then adding a smoky middle area. The upper bands transform their colors as they move to the lower portion of the canvas. The look is that of a forrest of color.

Untitled The October Paintings work #8: This work is created by mixing wide bands of color with a painting knife, then adding a smoky middle area. The upper bands transform their colors as they move to the lower portion of the canvas. The look is that of a forrest of color.

Untitled The October Paintings work #9: This work uses a bold light blue exception recovered from the scraped away layers of paint as its centering visual anchor. Provocative and delicate colors float in the pictorial window.

Untitled The October Paintings work #9: This work uses a bold light blue exception recovered from the scraped away layers of paint as its centering visual anchor. Provocative and delicate colors float in the pictorial window.

Untitled The October Paintings work #10: This work is a dense black-green pictorial field with aspects and elements of builds of local color and white paint touches. The work appears to have both depth and a fixed surface.

Untitled The October Paintings work #10: This work is a dense black-green pictorial field with aspects and elements of builds of local color and white paint touches. The work appears to have both depth and a fixed surface.

Untitled The October Paintings work #11: This is  my gold paint picture. In it are aspects of long held influences from Japanese art. The small objects appear to be strange orbs comprised of one or two colors beyond the gold body each inhabits.

Untitled The October Paintings work #11: This is my gold paint picture. In it are aspects of long held influences from Japanese art. The small objects appear to be strange orbs comprised of one or two colors beyond the gold body each inhabits.

October Painting 1 and 2, Los Angeles, California by Vincent Johnson

The October Painting 1 and 2, underpainting stage,  Los Angeles, California by Vincent Johnson

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First stage of blue (Payne’s Grey) underpainting.

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The most recently completed work in The October Paintings suite. This particular work was painted over completely in three different directions, plus a ghostly layer in between was added. I was listening to an audiotape on German art history while making the work. This painting challenged me over and again against earlier selves. I continued to add additional layers and work the canvas, forcing it to meld and produce astonishing bands of color. Yet I did not want it to be like or look like the previous work I had just made. I don’t know if I should be making notes on how each work differs from the next; I guess I’m counting my memory of making each one and looking into each work to see where and how they vary in conception, production, style, layering. brushstroke, rag work.

Its still cool in the morning, dew on the grass. The sun is slow to rise before it spreads its wonderful light over my back yard studio.

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The October Paintings - numbers 3 and 4

The October Paintings – numbers 3 and 4 – The October Paintings (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson) – the paintings are at the underpainting stage. They will be allowed to dry in my studio and then a layer of white glaze will be added. That will dry. Then I will work on each work, layer by layer, allowing each layer to dry, or be worked or added to as I desire. Our car Roxy is in the background, her back arched as she defies a mushroom to move.

October Paintings 3 and 4 - three of three

The October Paintings (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson) – paintings 3 and 4. Taking advantage of the fabulous weather in LA.

October Paintings 3 and 4 - two of three

The October Paintings – paintings 1 and 2 (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson) – with our cat Roxy playing in the back yard.

October Paintings 5 and 6, underpainted on October 31, 2013. Van Nuys, CA

October Paintings 5 and 6, underpainting – layer one – October 31, 2013. Van Nuys, CA

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The October Paintings, 2013, under painting layers, Los Angeles, California, by Vincent Johnson

The October Paintings, 2013, paintings one and two, under painting layers, Los Angeles, California, by Vincent Johnson

The October Paintings (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson)

The October Paintings – paintings one and two (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson)

Welcome to the Post Conceptual Artist Paintings of Vincent Galen Johnson in Los Angeles.

I am painting in my back yard studio that is about 3,000 square feet. It has a concrete patio where I work and three concrete block walls where I can lay my work on  and look at recently made work while creating new paintings.

The October Paintings are comprised of nine 4×4 foot oil on canvas paintings. These are the largest canvases I’ve worked on since my return to painting after two decades of working with photography. I was trained as a representational painter at Pratt Institute and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My graduate degree is in critical theory and painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The works are a continuation of my exploration of the history of art materials, combined with using the layering techniques of representation to create singular new abstractions. This is my first time working on several large-scale canvases at once. What I’ve noticed over the years is that every significant work I’ve made eventually finds its way into the world, often through unanticipated opportunity.  The works are visceral, visually rich, emotively engaging. They follow the six large-scale paintings in the COSMOS SUITE that is also ongoing and was started in 2012, and the NINE GRAYSCALE PAINTINGS in LOS ANGELES that I completed in 2011. In my work I have always sought to reach for and produce imagery that lends itself to a serious consideration of the ideas that come to the mind when approaching the image. For me these works seek to substantiate themselves in the world, to be both evocative and provocative, beautiful and remarkable in both concept and realization. As these works are fully developed I will continue to record the journey am taken on with them, until they are complete.

OCTOBER PAINTING - Scumble glazing, second phase of the paintings.

OCTOBER PAINTING – Scumble glazing, second phase of the paintings.

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October Paintings – scumble glazed and drying in studio.

During the scumble glazing layer of the painting, where I knock down the underpainting colors so that the next layers can deliver a fabulous punch, I thought about the magnificient, enormous paintings I saw this summer at the Menil Collection in Houston, by Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko. The high seriousness of Rothko’s chapel paintings was amazing. Yet on that day it would be my discovery of the excellence of Cy Twombly as a painter of the primordial and playful sublime that captivated my attention in his purpose built stand alone large gallery space that showcased his work far beyond the circular swirls I know but care nothing for at all. It seems that when Twombly switched to specific subject matter – whether it be abstract landscape paintings, where he had simply marvelous deep rich green works, or his overall giant abstractions, filled with playful and powerful singular and exciting moments, both satisfied in wonderful ways. I was fortunate to make two trips to Houston this summer. The Late Byzantine to Today was a marvel to behold; I also had no idea that the Menil is a world class repository of Surrealist art. I was also privileged to see the James Turrell retrospective at the MFA Houston, which itself will be expanding soon with a major new building devoted to modern and contemporary art. The Menil Collection itself will be adding seven new individual artist showcase galleries, which combined with their traveling shows will make Houston as important a center for seeing art as anywhere in the US outside of New York. I am looking at the nine 4×4 foot October paintings in my studio. Its the largest body of work I have ever produced as a painter. I can see so many possibilities in this new direction. It gives me reason to continue to push to get my work into the world, despite all of the difficulties I have experienced. Painting makes me see beyond my own being.

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, CA

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Vincent Galen Johnson – The October Paintings – outdoor studio Los Angeles

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Just added this final layer of paint to this painting. Now its ready. by Vincent Johnson 2014

The October Paintings in Los Angeles, 2014, painted and written by Los Angeles based painter and writer Vincent Galen Johnson.

My journey into painting has never ended, only paused during the many years my primary artistic practice moved from painting to writing, then to photography and writing. I’ve never stopped looking at painting. I went to London over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2011 to see the Gerhard Richter retrospective. It was strange to see a photorealist painter realize the power of paint being managed through sheer process and to create astonishing images of such subtle yet shocking beauty. While in London I took in a full day visit to the National Gallery, where I was swept away by such a superb landscape painting by Constable. I felt as if I were seeing an apparition as the leafy structure that represented part of a tree seemed to extend from the canvas into the gallery space. I also recall seeing Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer, Eric Fischl and David Salle ‘s paintings from the 1980’s from those magnificent shows on West Broadway in Soho. Of late I’ve become a fan of Beatriz Milhaze, Nicole Eisenman, Henry Taylor, and have for years followed the work of Kerry James Marshall. Now I feel I need to feed my mind on as many superior painted pictures as I can devour.

Anselm Kiefer painting show in Antwerp

Gerhart Richter painting

This is the third year since I began painting again after two decades of making photographic works and writing in Los Angeles. Paint is a remarkable material in which to work. It offers seemingly an infinite number of ways of working the canvas, from application to scraping off even week old paint, to rubbing and applying several more layers with brushes, rags, and painting knives. It took me a while to allow myself to work abstractly. I still have about five unfinished paintings that I started in 2005 based on architectural vistas from my imagination, and they remain in my art storage, and one is in my studio, still unfinished. So its not totally true that I first started painting again in 2011; it was actually in 2005, but I gave up after a couple of months and put those canvases away for a future time. Its the sheer malleability of paint that drives me to work with it today, and its film-like capacity to be overlaid and yet see what’s underneath that enthralls. So far each of my paintings is abstract yet I continue to study the history of materials of artists as well as making my own multiple experiments on each new canvas. Some of my works have as many as a dozen layers and overlays of paint. Each one seems to inform the other as to the next possible direction to start in and then to build up to in terms of sheer quality of paint handling, image power,  and fulfillment of the mind through the eyes. Its a richly rewarding feeling to be making this new work after so many years, and to see where I had left off as a painter two decades ago. And then to see where I’ve come along since that time, using all of the tools and skills learned in Brooklyn and Chicago many years ago in school.

A painting by Nicole Eisenman
A painting by LA painter Henry Taylor.
A suite of paintings by Sigmar Polke

Painting outdoors in the California sun has been a revelation. I can allow my paintings to dry in the sun. Then store them at night in my art storage. Then bring them out again to look at in the proud light of the morning, and sit and walk among them, and think about what is the next step for each of those that are yet to be complete. Having the sky as my ceiling has been amazing, and having so much space in which to operate has unleashed so many great ideas about the direction to take my work, as I can sit the paintings in my outdoor studio and relish them in the warmth of a February day in Southern California. Next I’ll be working on a few dozen much smaller canvases, then returning to the larger 4 by 4 foot canvases. This post has been my afternoon break to record where I am with my new work.

It makes me happy to be painting again, in California.

Vincent Galen Johnson

Los Angeles

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The October Paintings by Vincent Galen Johnson in Los Angeles, March 2014

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This painting was layered with paint over several days, then scraped out with the excess paint allowed to dangle from the area of the canvas where it had been cut away. The painting now has a sculptural element of pure paint hanging from its several lawyers beneath.

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The painting on the far right was transformed with gold, blue and grey paint this evening. See the final above.

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This canvas was handled completely differently from most of the others and has a final overlay of paint that creates the image of a colorful chalk board.

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A thick impasto of dazzling color was spread with a painting knife across the canvas. in waves, in this painting.

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The painting to the left reminds me of photos of sunbursts.

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My outdoor painting studio.

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My painting studio set up.

Vincent Johnson: CV
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America and Art Slant, and in over fifty different publications in total. His works were shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. He has shown recently at Soho House (curated by ForYourArt, Los Angeles) and at Palihouse (curated by Los Angeles Nomadic Division), West Hollywood, and most recently at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood. Johnson’s work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012); PS1 Museum, New York; the SK Stiftung, Cologne; Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART; Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles; Boston University Art Museum; Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona; Adamski gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen; Lemonsky Projects, Miami. Johnson’s work has been published in a dozen exhibition catalogs. His work was exhibited in the inaugural Open Project exhibition at the Palace of the Inquisition, Evora, Portugal, July – October, 2013 and at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood.

Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He is a work member of THE WINTER OFFICE, Copenhagen. THE WINTER OFFICE upholds a creative strategy concerned with defining an intersection between art, architecture and design.

Vincent Johnson: CV

Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America and Art Slant, and in over fifty differen publications in total. His photographic works were shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. He has shown recently at Soho House (curated by ForYourArt, Los Angeles) and at Palihouse (curated by Los Angeles Nomadic Division), West Hollywood, and most recently in Photography 2013 at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood. Johnson’s work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, SK Stiftung, Cologne; Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects; Boston University Art Museum; Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona; Adamski gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen; Lemonsky Projects, Miami. His work has been published in over a dozen exhibition catalogs. He is currently working on a series of self published photography books that will focus on the U.S. cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland, Ohio, Miami, Florida and New Orleans. Johnson is also creating abstract paintings for his Cosmos Suite, that explores the practice of painting with the knowledge of historical painting practices. He is using the techniques of representation to create remarkable works of abstract art. At Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, he recently exhibited an entire suite of grayscale paintings. In the Spring of 2013, he exhibited a series of edgy photographic works at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood, California. His work will be exhibited in the inaugural Open Project exhibition at the Palace of the Inquisition, Evora, Portugal, opening July 15, 2013.

Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

vincentjohnsonart@gmail.com

http://www.vincentjohnsonart.com

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos Suite 2012-2013

Hello

This is Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.

Here are three new paintings are added to my Cosmos Suite of paintings 2.24.2013. These are the 7th, 8th and 9th paintings created in the Cosmos Suite. They are also the 4th, 5th and 6th large scale paintings in this body of work.

These Cosmos Suite paintings are created using various experiments in media and paint application. Johnson has done substantial research into the area of the history of painting materials and there use, and employs this knowledge in the production of his work.

There are now a total of nine paintings in the Cosmos Suite. Six of the nine paintings are thirty by forty inches in size. Three of the paintings – the originals in the suite, are twenty by twenty four inches in size. Each painting takes about a month to create as there is a three week drying time between the first and second layers of the painting. As the suite grows there will be additional sizes including larger works.

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Cosmos Suite: A Meeting Between Two Figures in Space

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

Poured Liquin in center of painting, added stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out.

Large areas of vertical yellow in painting. Layered canvas in thick paint in certain areas. Reminds me of seeing Gerhard Richter’s painting retrospective in London in the fall of 2011.

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Cosmos Suite: State and Grace

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles

Used sponges on face of painting. Layered canvas in thick paint.

Poured Liquin in center of painting, added stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out.
Reminds me of Florida’s mysterious beauty

Shape is of Florida in part

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Cosmos Suite: State and Grace – final – complete 2.25.2013

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

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Cosmos Suite: State and Grace – final – complete 2.25.2013

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

2A.artcat

 Cosmos Suite: Astral Melodies
30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

used sponges on side and surface of the painting. used large brushwork. Layered canvas in paint.

Poured Liquin in between stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out. Started out with thick brush in corner to mix, abandoned this quickly.

Sensing jazz standards here – floating fields of opulent pure romantic color

Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.
Below are some of the other paintings I have completed since returning to painting in the summer of 2011.
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Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)

Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings

California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.

Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches

Cosmos. Oil on canvas  2012 by Vincent Johnson

Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.

Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and posted here.

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.
photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.
Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, California

Reviews of the 2014 Whitney Biennial

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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

NY Culture

Stairmaster: Ephemeral Art at the Biennial

Charlemagne Palestine Brings a ‘Sonorous Alter’ to the Whitney

March 6, 2014 9:51 p.m. ET

Three curators — Stuart Comer, Michelle Grabner and Anthony Elms — chose the works included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, with each one taking a floor of the museum.

With nearly every inch of display space enlisted for the Whitney Biennial, which opens Friday at the Whitney Museum of American Art, one New York native went to work on the periphery.

“I’ve been coming to the museum since it was built, and I’ve always loved the staircase,” said Charlemagne Palestine, participating in his first biennial at the age of 66. “This particular kind of concrete has a fantastic resonance. It’s Taj Mahal-esque.”

For his installation in the Whitney’s stairwell, he sought to create what he called “a sonorous altar,” following visitors as they go up and down the museum’s floors. Twelve speakers, set up in corners of the stairwell, play all day. Within the din are the sounds of his singing voice, which he recorded while walking the stairs with a glass of cognac, as well as an electronic drone.

Mr. Palestine used 12 speakers adorned with stuffed animals in the hallway of the museum. Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

“If it works well and the sound is encompassing enough, when people come up the staircase they will be nicely disoriented, even hypnotized,” Mr. Palestine said.

There is a visual element too: Each speaker is adorned with some of the artist’s collection of stuffed animals, or “soft divinities,” as he calls them. Among the cast are a monkey, a rabbit, a bear and a droopy pink elephant.

How many plush animals does he own? “Ten thousand and growing,” Mr. Palestine said. “I’ve become a kind of orphanage.”

Most of the animals are back home in Brussels, where Mr. Palestine now lives, but some date back to his coming-of-age in New York. He grew up in Brooklyn and established himself as an artist in the 1960s and ’70s. His activities included theatrical performances and concerts whose boundaries would blur, often with an aggressive edge that could find him destroying piano strings in recital or filming a video (“Island Song”) for which he screamed and sang while racing a motorcycle.

“At the time, it was totally unheard of,” said Antonio Homem, director of the Sonnabend Gallery, which staged a recent show of Mr. Palestine’s early work in Chelsea. “He was such a perfect example that what was going on in art didn’t just have to do with painting or sculpting in traditional terms. There were many other possibilities.”

During his formative years, Mr. Palestine held down a job performing music high above the streets of Midtown, in the bell tower at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue. “I started to play this crazy stuff when he asked me to try them out, and he found it great,” he said of the church’s retiring bell master, who hired him while he was still in high school. “Nobody approached bells like a monster except for me, which goes to how I work in general.”

Charlemagne Palestine created ‘a sonorous altar’ for the Whitney Biennial. Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

For his piece on the stairs at the Whitney, Mr. Palestine channeled part of his past, as well as the past of the Whitney. For the last biennial before the museum moves to a new site in the Meatpacking District, his installation strikes up a last dance with the building itself, which was designed by the famed Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer.

“I was trying to think about what kinds of voices I felt belonged in the Breuer building,” said Anthony Elms, one of the biennial’s three curators.

“He’s a really important maker for me, and for a lot of people—curators and artists,” he added. “He seems to be on lots of people’s minds.”

As one of several older artists in this year’s biennial, which takes history as one of its themes, Mr. Palestine said he’s happy for the attention granted to timely but fleeting work that for many years had been forgotten.

“Ephemeral is in again. It’s fabulous for somebody like me,” he said. “I like to make things, but my things can always transform.”

He’s no mere elder statesman, though.

“I’m a young emerging artist at 66,” he said. “I need at least another 25 years to do all the things I want to do. It’s always in process.”

Representing New York

Six other Whitney Biennial participants with New York ties:

Zoe Leonard

A nook on the museum’s fourth floor has been transformed into a giant “camera obscura,” with a small hole in a window that projects a ghostly image of the skyline onto the walls of a darkened room.

Jacolby Satterwhite

This artist’s hyperkinetic video work makes use of computer animation that, the catalog says, can teach a viewer “to be elsewhere and present at the same time.”

A tangle of thread by Sheila Hicks. Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

Sheila Hicks

A colorful tangle of thread stretches from floor to ceiling in a sculptural work by Sheila Hicks, who splits her time between Paris and New York and draws on studies of ancient textile design.

Ken Okiishi

The traditions of painting and pawing at touch screens come together in this artist’s work, which focuses on moments when creative methods and states of media begin to smear.

Semiotext(e)

This publisher of philosophy and critical theory, now based in Los Angeles but long stationed in New York, is represented by an installation and readable works by Jean Baudrillard, Eileen Myles, Chris Kraus, Sylvère Lotringer and more.

A Dan Walsh painting. Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

Dan Walsh

Geometric paintings by Dan Walsh are striking in their simplicity, with shapes that align grid-like patterns with Tibetan mandalas.

—Andy Battaglia

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

Art Matters | The Whitney Biennial’s Last Upper East Side Hurrah

From left: Sterling Ruby's From left: Robert Wedemeyer; Devin Farrand. From left: Sterling Ruby’s “Basin Theology/Butterfly Wreck,” 2013; Shio Kusaka, “(dinosaur 2),” 2013.

After almost a week of previews and vernissages, today 945 Madison Avenue opened its doors for the public to descend upon the last Whitney Biennial to take place on the Upper East Side. Two years from now, the Whitney Museum of American Art will have settled into its new building beside the High Line, and the days of several hundred people in “festive attire” snaking all the way down to Park Avenue as they wait to ooh, aah and roll their eyes at the latest and greatest in ostensibly American art will be a thing of the past. In the future when the museum is at capacity, all the excess people will be pushed into the Hudson River.

Tuesday was the premiere opening, and as the witching hour struck, shrapnel of artists, collectors and socialites blasted out of the building to umpteen dinners hosted around town. A party for the publishing collective Triple Canopy, which participated in the biennial as an artist, was held stumbling distance from the Breuer Building in the restaurant of the Carlyle Hotel. Gilded frames, venerable bartenders and bloody hamburgers set a fitting scene for New York’s now thoroughly multiborough contemporary art world to make a ceremonial goodbye to its ancestral home off Central Park.

Keith Mayerson's Keith Mayerson’s “My Family,” 2013.

This year’s exhibition is a bit schizophrenic by design. Instead of inviting curators from disparate fields and institutions to collaborate on producing one sprawling survey show, three curators — Stuart Comer, chief curator of the department of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art; Anthony Elms, associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, professor and chair of the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — each organized their own exhibition on a single floor of the building. It is a parfait that has been met with mixed reviews, thus far. As the punctuation mark closing the museum’s nearly 50-year tenure on Madison Avenue, the show resonates as an ellipsis . . . not going out with a bang, nor confusion, nor definitiveness, but with fluidity and as a bridge to the future. There are new artists, new genres, new demographics and new regions emphasized here, all of which have long since been integral components of America art, but which have not necessarily been given adequate recognition as such.

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New York
20140307151612-leonard_photo
Group Exhibition
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue, 75th Street, New York, NY 10021
March 7, 2014 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM

In Conversation: First Impressions of the 2014 Whitney Biennial

by ArtSlant Team

ArtSlant editors Natalie Hegert, Joel Kuennen, and Charlie Schultz met up at Agra, an Indian restaurant on Lexington Avenue, to discuss the opening of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, its surprises, best in show, and disappointments. They touch on trends and themes of scale, archives, lists, dongs, and objectness—parsing the line between artwork and artifact.

Charlie Schultz: I guess I’ll start by saying I found this year’s iteration of the [Whitney] Biennial to be far less crowded than in past Biennials, which struck me as a surprise because I thought I read that there were more artists in this Biennial than in previous years.

[Indian music plays in the background…]

Natalie Hegert: I felt like the last edition was very spacious as well…This year I was very struck by this tendency for the curators to go from very large objects to these tiny details you had to study – little notebooks and small archival photographs and things like that – so my attention was constantly being drawn from these sort of monumental sculptures and large, abstract paintings to tiny little details.

Joel Kuennen: Yeah, on [Michelle] Grabner’s floor there are large abject works like Molly Zuckerman-Hartung and Sterling Ruby, and then going into these archive pieces which are presented in tables and behind glass draw an interesting parallel between fulfilling a cult of personality while working against a cult of personality by humanizing figures like David Foster Wallace, breaking away from the idea that these are sacred objects.

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung,  Notley, 2013,  Latex housepaint, enamel, and spray paint on dropcloth (hinged, in two attached parts),  96 x 132 inches;  Courtesy of the artist and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago / Photography by Tom Van Eynde

 

[Someone clanks a glass, drops a fork, papadums arrive, the waitstaff says something…]

N: Thank you.

C: Yeah, the shifts in scale are definitely prominent. There’s a lot of really small stuff! [everyone laughs]

N: A lot of things to read…

C: A lot of things in vitrines, which is a pretty standard way to display paraphernalia. There was a lot of paraphernalia on account of the various archives that were curated into the show.

J: Yeah.

C: I thought the archives were a really interesting aspect of this Biennial. I enjoyed all of them, and the way they played off one another. The rooms for Semiotext(e) and Triple Canopy bookended Stuart Comer’s floor. I spent a long time hovering over Joseph Grigely’s vitrines, and listening to the experimental recordings in Malachi Ritscher’s room.  

N: Joseph Grigely’s piece was the one that surprised me most, because I didn’t know what I was getting into until I started exploring around, and then that reveal, coming later, is what I found pretty interesting.

C and J: Mmmhmm.

J: Yeah, I found it interesting that a lot of the archive pieces were kind of rock star stuff, David Foster Wallace and Allan Sekula. They were paraphernalia that literati would be really tuned into. It’s kind of an odd mix in this show but signifies at least a concurrency of research and criticism within contemporary practice.

N: I was surprised at the selection of Allan Sekula’s work—the notebooks—I did not expect that.

J: But they’re funny, they’re like [laughing] sketches on an airplane. It’s a weird gesture.

They’ve got the in memoriam thing going on.

C: Very much in memoriam, which is in line with the idea of the archive. Both David Foster Wallace and Alan Sekula are deceased. They both have literary archives. You know a notebook is just a notebook until the writer is dead, then it becomes an artifact. And it was interesting to see so many artifacts intermixing with artwork, and where the line gets blurry between the two. Between DFW and Sekula, I’d say Sekula’s notebooks have much more of an artistic flair.

N: They did, they were very graphic.

C: I was really not sure how the curatorial conceit was going to work out. With three curators and each one doing their own floor I imagined it would have been more disjointed. It didn’t really feel that way. [both agree, mmhmm] I wonder how much of a role Jay Sanders and Elizabeth Sussman, the curatorial advisors, helped unify the visions of the three curators.

Jacolby Satterwhite, “Transit,” Video Still from Reifying Desire 6, 2014. HD digital video, color, 3-D animation; Courtesy of OHWOW, Los Angeles, and Mallorca Landings Gallery.

 

J: The conceit, I think, was to produce like-sentiments, to allow contemporary cultural themes expressed in American art to come out for themselves. But you also had this really interesting sense that each curator built their own Biennial. And I guess you get that feeling with [Stuart] Comer’s floor, like it is meant to be an all-inclusive floor to showcase a real variety of works, despite him specializing in performance and media work, he definitely brought in a lot of interesting painting.

N: There were some surprises on that floor, for sure.

[twangy Eastern music persists]

C: One thing I noticed on the fourth floor that seemed somewhat thematic, and I noticed it elsewhere on the other floors, was this predilection for inventories, these lists that people were making. There was a lot of visual repetition which is a consequence of listing anything, [N laughs] and I have actually have a list here of artists who made list-type pieces: David Foster Wallace’s notebooks showed lists of names, Ben Kinmont’s Shhh Archive was list oriented, Ken Lum’s Midway Shopping Plaza and Gretchen Bender’s melted vinyl piece both incorporated lists of names.

N: Weren’t the names in Bender’s piece movie titles?

J and C: Yeah, they were all movie titles.

C: Next on my list is Shio Kusaka’s stoneware piece that was made up of so many types of pottery. Stephen Berns, who was next to Kusaka, was showing photographs that had been exposed multiple times, sequentially, and those sequences were shown as a list.

J: And the Channa Horowitz, which what was that, like sonakinatography, it was her own time-marking system. Yeah, there was definitely a lot of play with systems.

C:  Peter Schuyff’s pencil piece, Sans Paper

J: Yeah yeah yeah yeah…

C: That was another. But yeah, archives and lists are of course related to systems and structures. An archive is a system and a list is a structure.

J: There was this theme of reiterating systems; attacking those systems, changing those systems and then, finally, a process of creating new systems. The best example of this was our collective favorite, the chess conference.  [everyone laughs]

C: Best in show goes to Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess.

J: Yes.

N: I don’t think I stayed and watched that long enough.

J: [laughing] it was like a forty-five minute piece.

N: I liked it, but I didn’t stay for very long.

J: I mean it was a great period piece that totally fulfilled its role of being a little bit jocular in its portrayal of a past moment that is still relevant. It interrogates the work of man to make a machine to beat man, all within a chess conference. It’s weird, like gender identities, human identities, computer identities, it’s all there.

C: Right.

J: And everything sort of just comes into collision. [everyone laughs]

N: We’ll have to compare…the portion of the film I saw was when they were doing a press conference or something. Were there other parts? [laughs]

C: Yeah, that’s what we watched. We saw the press conference. There was more, they go from the press conference to an actual convention.

N: Oh, okay.

J: And they joke that they have one female participant this year and “she’s welcome.”

C: She’s welcome.

N: I kind of wanted to see the computers battle it out. [all giggling]

C: Yeah, I mean whoever the protagonist was provided comic relief in so far as he would say what I was thinking, at least, which is that this is as boring as I can imagine, and I find the work of all my peers trite and boring, and all his peers look over and scowl.

J: He had a great fake name too, I forget what it was.

C: Papa George.

J: Papa George [all laugh]

J: And then there was the semiotext(e) archive, which was amazing.

C: Yeah, I liked that a lot.

J: It made me really want to be in that concert in 1996. [laughing]

C: Yeah! Made me want to sit in the semiotext(e) archives.

J: And then an amazing archive done by Triple Canopy, which was really cool, working with the idea of how artwork survives in the archive, and can exit in personal archives, deaccessions and beyond through reproduction. My favorite part were the three washbasin table stands, one from the period of the original artwork that stood as the fulcrum of the exhibition, and then they had a 3-D printed copy of it, and then they had the son of the family that owned the original work make a copy of it.

N: What did you guys think about the stairwell piece [by Charlemagne Palestine]? That really set the tone for the whole experience.

C: I liked that, for one I liked the playfulness of the puppets and the droning sound in the stairwell. It functioned really well in that space because there was a lot of acoustic resonance.

N: Well that is where it derives from; that was the artist recording himself walking up and down the stairs, making these sounds.

C: I didn’t realize that. So it’s very site-specific.

N: It made me want to join in, like “WOHHHHHH,” but I held back. I probably should have just gone for it.

J: It’s kind of nice being in the Whitney and being as loud and laughy as you want to be. It seemed like there was a different kind of respect for everything, more celebratory.

N: Well at the last Biennial I was struck by this tension between works that were meant to be interactive, and works that weren’t, but looked like they were, and how much strain that puts on museum personnel. I had another moment like that in, I think the second floor, where there’s just a record player in the middle of the room with a sign on it that says, “To start, do this…” But the cover was on, so I looked over to the museum guard and said, “May I?” and he’s like, “No, no. Don’t touch.” Rather dissatisfying really.

J: Later people were fucking with it.

N: I’m always curious about that disconnect.

J: There was another moment, the artist that did the Pussy Riot mannequins.

N: Lisa Anne Auerbach…

J: Yeah, she had this giant book.

C: The Megazine

N: I loved that.

J: And she was there, fussing with things, and the security guard in the corner was watching her very intently, and she’s like, “I’m going to flip the page.” Thirty people in the room stand back as she flips the page very slowly.

C: Probably what I found to be the most visceral and abrasive installation in the show was…

N: Bjarne Melgaard [all laughing]

C: He took that cake, again.

J: It’s his cake.

C: That to me was really stepping into another person’s world.

N: Well, especially when the first thing you encounter is a giant dong, just hanging there.

J: They are all dongs. The entire installation is dongs.

N: I really loved those carpets though. I kind of want one. It gave the room a very interesting feel. Sort of cozy but abject at the same time.

C: Sexualized mannequins.

N: I think those are real sex dolls.

J: Also the projections of the cult members on the wall. David Koresh talking to one of the members. And then the reaction shots of the cult members with these vacant looks.

N: And then the mass wedding…

J: People listening with insane looks on their faces. It develops a really weird mirror between you viewing in the room with the screens making up the walls. And then, of course, the chimpanzees eating and having sex.

N: It reminds me of a George Costanza moment, where he’s in bed with his girlfriend and simultaneously leaning over and taking a bite of hoagie.

J: Classic moment. And what was behind [the chimpanzees] again?

N: Was it a gay porn?

C: Mmmhmm. Power porn. Abrasive stuff.

N: But I didn’t see any explicit moments; I just saw the banter, the forced acting…

C: There were explicit moments.

N: The dialogue was so banal, like, “We just called you over here because we heard you were a slut.” [all laughs]  

Picking back up on the topic of the presence of penises in the Whitney; I thought it was actually quite pronounced. There were a lot.

J: Plethora of Dong.

C: I can only think of two dongs.

N: There was the Gary Indiana…

C: There’s probably twelve in that piece alone.

Keith Mayerson, My Family, 2013, Oil on linen, 56 x 70 in.; Copyright Keith Mayerson / Courtesy the artist and Derek Eller Gallery, NY / Photographer Tom Powel Imaging

 

N: That painter, Keith Myerson, with the salon-style paintings that looked rather traditional, but then very prominently placed there in the middle was a guy in a tree with a unmistakably erect penis.

J: I thought it was a tree limb.

N: There were others, too. Also there were many works that were thinking about shifting sexual identities, most representative of course is the Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst project. There was a lot of art centered on queer subjectivity, especially in that room. Was that Anthony Elms’ [floor]? Or Stuart Comer? Those two floors blended together for me. I felt like Michelle Grabner was the most distinct.

J: I feel like Elms got pulled into the others; it wasn’t as distinct as the Comer and Grabner.

N: Anthony had Elijah Burgher. There were some dongs in there too.

J: Dong, dong, dong, dong, dong, dong.

J: I feel like his [Elms] references are a little older too, pulling in contemporary art from the last ten, twenty years. Just overall, the work seemed to represent a bit more background and lead-up than just the cutting edge.

C: I know one of the keystone works on his floor was actually not on his floor. Zoe Leonard’s camera obscura.

N: I loved that. I thought that was a really fitting tribute to the building.

J: Just titled with the address.

C: It was sleek, it was simple and it was always changing and site-specific. On a cloudy day you’re not going to see much in there.

J: There’s another over-optical reference too on Grabner’s floor, the photographer, what’s her name?

N: Sarah Charlesworth.

C: I didn’t know she died last year. That was a sad thing to learn today. Those were beautiful prints. Very simple, and I like how she referenced Alfred Stieglitz’s great magazine with her title, Camera Work. It was a sly way to bring up an archive without including another artifact.

J: It really feels like visuality and the study of the visual is embedded in the contemporary art canon now. The camera obscura was a surprise, a pleasant one.

There was a lack of critical race art aside from Pedro Velez’ work stashed in the basement by the elevators.

Dawoud Bey, Maxine Adams and Amelia Maxwell (from The Birmingham Project), 2012, Archival pigment prints mounted on dibond, 40 x 64 in.; Copyright Dawoud Bey / Courtesy of the artist

 

C: Dawoud Bey…

J: It was subtle though; the three diptychs from his Birmingham Project, they are layered, beautiful pieces, forcing collisions of identity through time and place.  Race was present, but you didn’t see an interrogation.

N: What do you think of the inclusion of Donelle Woolford?

J: It raises my ire.

N: I’m never sure what to think about that.

J: I think the idea is ill-conceived. He certainly took many steps to make it as verifiable as possible, and it’s a long-ass project, and three different actresses play the black female artist, Donelle Woolford.

And it’s a dick joke.

N: More dongs.

J: Is this work saying that this work is what a black female artist makes? Dick jokes? Is that the joke?

N: It’s hard too, because most people will pass by that and not know anything about it, if you don’t take the time to read the wall text through. Only at the end does it say, oh by the way, Donnelle Woolford is a fictional character created by Joe Scanlan! But that is the trouble in presenting an artist’s work in a Biennial. You only get a glimpse at their practice, and it’s more about how things play off of each other.

J: She was also paired next to David Robbins, an artist that specifically deals with humor. He had his nice cattywampus bookshelf with a few copies of his Concrete Comedy book on it.

C: It was right across from the really hilarious and cartoony Laura Owens painting.

J: I don’t think that was the right spot for Donelle Woolford.

N: Is she doing a performance too? Just like 2012, they say you can’t experience all of the Biennial unless you see all of the performances. [laughs]  We didn’t see “My Barbarian,” did we?

J: We have to check out Tony Tasset (400,000 Artists).

N: I’m curious about that.

C: Are they in alphabetical order?

N: They are in alphabetical order.

C: Or order of importance. [laughs]

J: And that goes back to lists.

N: That’s true.

C: One of the other interesting things Anthony said was that he wanted the work to say “hello” to the building. I liked that idea of communion with the building, especially since the Whitney is leaving the building this year. Zoe Leonard’s camera obscura was perhaps the most blatant.

N: And Charlemagne Palestine…

C: Yes.

J: And Radamés “Juni” Figueroa in the courtyard.

C: Sheila Hick’s piece with the colored threads that looked like they were being disgorged from the ceiling, that was a successful installation.

N: There was a lot of interesting textiles too. I thought there were a lot of ceramics. Because I never think of ceramics.

Sterling Ruby, Basin Theology/Butterfly Wreck, 2013, Ceramic, 28 1/8 x 39 3/8 x 41 inches 71.4 x 100 x 104.1 cm; Copyright Sterling Ruby / Photographer: Robert Wedemeyer.

 

C: There were some good Sterling Ruby ceramics.

J: It took me a minute, but then I was like, okay. Again with the abject, they were holding discarded, broken shards. They were refired, reglazed, over and over, melted together. One of those pieces where the process becomes the work. That might be the key to abject work, to appreciate it for more than its horrible physical appearance.

C: And there were three of them, so again with this repetition, listing idea.

N: What did you think was undeserving, or did you find something boring?

C: What did you think about that room of Tony Greene paintings? That took me by surprise.

J: That was very strange. It was like they had a prior installation in there, and they forgot it.

N: That one just took me back to the Forrest Bess mini show, artist curating artist thing, but I felt that this presentation felt like kind of a knockoff. I wasn’t sure it was adding to [the Biennial].

C: That piece was technically curated by Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie. It seemed like a strange room to me.

J: The work was strange in the context of the Biennial too. It came from a decorative background. It definitely wasn’t as ostentatious as the rest of the work. I wonder if that’s a pretty reliable characteristic of the Biennial, a lot of audacious work.  A lot of work that shouts. I imagine subtle work doesn’t work well here.

C: You just miss it.

N: Yeah. I thought the most subtle work that I encountered was portraits by Paul P.

J: The blue watercolors. They were pretty but I don’t know why they were there.

N: Next to the Paul P works though, the Michel Auder voyeuristic video installation, I loved that piece. It came right after the Joseph Grigely collection of ephemera around Gregory Battcock, so I thought that was perfect, because you were first offered this glimpse into this man’s life, then you walk into another room and you’re looking into these windows at other peoples’ lives. I thought that was a really poetic arrangement.

C: That was good curating.

N: Last thoughts.

C: There were a lot of types of craft, which I think is very poignant. In our current reality where so much is virtual and everything seems digitized or ready to be digitized, the tangibility of these artifacts and archives and artworks seemed like it was a real concern.

N: The objectness.

C: Sure. [all laugh]

N: Over and Out.

 

Charlie Schultz, Natalie Hegert, Joel Kuennen

 

(Image on top: Zoe Leonard, Sketch for 945 Madison Avenue, 2014, IPhone photo, 3 x 4 in. (7.6 x 10.2 cm); Courtesy of the artist / Copyright Zoe Leonard.)

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Photography at the Whitney Biennial: Hidden in Plain Sight

Photo-spotting at the museum turns up photo-sculpture, photo-performance, and a view of Madison Avenue like you’ve never seen it

It’s been a long time since photography was considered a separate medium made by people who called themselves photographers—the medium has been thoroughly absorbed and blended with painting and sculpture, video and installation for several decades at least. But it can be fun to check in on photography in a show like the Whitney Biennial, which offers a broad look at rising trends and new directions in art. These seven artists from this year’s show, which spans three floors and was curated by three different people, prove that photography is hardly over—it’s just changed shape in one way or another, and lives on as a tool or a reference or a lens.

Stephen Berens
As a resident at the American Academy in Rome, Berens made multiple exposures of the same views of the city over the course of a summer, making pictures at different times of day for a project called 40 Views of Rome, 2005. For the series here, he combined the images into dark pictures where only slivers of ruins and silhouettes of the city’s ubiquitous stone pines are visible, making pictures as layered as Rome itself.

Stephen Berens  Top:August 4, 2005, Night, July 28, 2005, Night (Lightning), 2013, dye-based inkjet print. Bottom: August 4, 2005, Night, July 28, 2005, Night (Lightning), July 28, 2005, Night, August 7, 2005, Night, July 29, 2005, Middle of the Night, 2013, dye-based inkjet print. COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST. COURTESY THE ARTIST. ©STEPHEN BERENS.

Top: Stephen Berens, August 4, 2005, Night, July 28, 2005, Night (Lightning), 2013, dye-based inkjet print. Bottom: Stephen Berens, August 4, 2005, Night, July 28, 2005, Night (Lightning), July 28, 2005, Night, August 7, 2005, Night, July 29, 2005, Middle of the Night, 2013, dye-based inkjet print.

COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST. COURTESY THE ARTIST. ©STEPHEN BERENS.

Dawoud Bey
Bey’s portraits from “The Birmingham Project” and his picture of Barack Obama might be the most straightforward photographs in the Biennial. Clear and sober, Bey uses the camera to record the solid surfaces of his subjects, and to hint at what is solid beneath that surface.

Dawoud Bey, Barack Obama, 2008, pigmented inkjet print. COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST, COURTESY STEPHEN DAITER GALLERY, CHICAGO. ©DAWOUD BEY.

Dawoud Bey, Barack Obama, 2008, pigmented inkjet print.

COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST. COURTESY STEPHEN DAITER GALLERY, CHICAGO. ©DAWOUD BEY.

Sarah Charlesworth
Photography itself is the subject of Charlesworth’s inverted and reversed diptych of a view camera with its bellows extended. The negative and positive images mimic the effects of the lens and the negative, making a self-referential picture that questions the act of looking, a longtime concern for the artist, who passed away unexpectedly last year.

Sarah Charlesworth, Camera Work, 2009, two chromogenic prints, each mounted and laminated with lacquer frames.  THE ESTATE OF SARAH CHARLESWORTH. COURTESY THE ESTATE OF SARAH CHARLESWORTH AND MACCARONE, NEW YORK. ©THE ESTATE OF SARAH CHARLESWORTH.

Sarah Charlesworth, Camera Work, 2009, two chromogenic prints, each mounted and laminated with lacquer frames.

THE ESTATE OF SARAH CHARLESWORTH. COURTESY THE ESTATE OF SARAH CHARLESWORTH AND MACCARONE, NEW YORK. ©THE ESTATE OF SARAH CHARLESWORTH.

Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst
Two rows of color photographs make up Drucker and Ernst’s glamorous Relationship, 2008-13. In the top row, a figure with long bleached-blond hair poses in heels or in a dark apartment; below, a person with short dark hair lounges in bed or wades in the ocean. The series documents the couple’s gender transitions, artist Drucker from male to female and filmmaker Ernst from female to male, in images that, like gender, walk the line between documentary and performance.

Drucker_600

Installation view of Zackary Druckers and Rhys Ernst’s, Relationship, 2008-13.

COURTESY THE ARTISTS AND LUIS DE JESUS LOS ANGELES.

Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft
The whimsical shapes in these rich silver gelatin prints by these artist collaborators call to mind Karl Blossfeldt’s early botanical photos, but there is something unconvincing about them, despite being printed on lush fiber paper. Based on sketches and descriptions of unidentified plants from a mysterious 16th-century text, the Voynich Botanical Studies look like plants imagined by children—they have leaves like little hands and tiny pineapples for flowers but were made using 3D software.

Left: Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 06r Jaro, 2014, gelatin silver prints. Middle: Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 23r Podzim,, 2014, gelatin silver prints. Right: Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 20v Podzim, 2014, gelatin silver prints.  COLLECTION OF THE ARTISTS AND KOENIG & CLINTON, NEW YORK. COURTESY THE ARTISTS AND KOENIG & CLINTON, NEW YORK. PHOTOGRAPHY BY ULRIK HELTOLFT.

Left: Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 06r Jaro, 2014, gelatin silver prints. Middle: Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 23r Podzim, 2014, gelatin silver prints. Right: Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 20v Podzim, 2014, gelatin silver prints.

COLLECTION OF THE ARTISTS AND KOENIG & CLINTON, NEW YORK. COURTESY THE ARTISTS AND KOENIG & CLINTON, NEW YORK. PHOTOGRAPHY BY ULRIK HELTOLFT.

Carol Jackson
Jackson’s photo-sculpture hybrids are ornate, crust-covered shapes that are sliced open to reveal a glossy photo center. Pandemonium, 2013, is a complex shape with a skin of what looks like ash-colored mud. Where the form has been bisected, an image of burning trees is revealed, suggesting a hot core to the cool piece.

Carol Jackson, Youthful Beast, 2013, wood, papier-mâché, acrylic, and inkjet print. COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST. COURTESY THE ARTIST. PHOTOGRAPH BY CLARE BRITT.

Carol Jackson, Youthful Beast, 2013, wood, papier-mâché, acrylic, and inkjet print.

COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST. COURTESY THE ARTIST. PHOTO: CLARE BRITT.

Zoe Leonard
Leonard’s room-size camera obscura makes the case that photography is a relevant tool for looking at the Biennial. Through a palm-sized lens set in the building’s front window, Madison Avenue is projected upside down on the gallery walls, turning the museum itself into a camera.

Zoe Leonard, Sketch for 945 Madison Avenue, 2014. COURTESY THE ARTIST. ©ZOE LEONARD.

Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue (installation view), 2014, lens and darkened room.

COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST. COURTESY MURRAY GUY, NEW YORK AND GALERIE GISELA CAPITAIN, COLOGNE. PHOTO: BILL ORCUTT.

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Insiders Are Not Outsiders: A 2014 Whitney Biennial Review

Posted: 03/07/2014 11:38 am EST Updated: 03/07/2014 8:59 pm EST

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Thirty years in the art world and I had never been to a Whitney Biennial. That was actually something worth bragging about and especially after having been to one I can unabashedly lament that I will never be able to say it again.

The Whitney Biennial carries immense weight in the art world. There is almost nothing in visual art that exists as a gauge, a standard, a benchmark or just a simple “this is more advanced than that.” No matter what artwork you are looking at, accomplished or ridiculous, there is always a nattering nabob who will remind you that any discussion of the work in terms of it being “good” or “bad” is taboo. One of the scant retorts available at all these days is to point out that the artist one is examining had been in a Whitney Biennial. To say “so what” to that is to risk a charge of philistinism. The fear of being asked, “Are you the biggest idiot ever?” is too great — nobody can dismiss inclusion in the Whitney Biennial as anything but an accomplishment. In the land of the jaded snob, extending one’s palm open near an artwork and saying “This artist was in the Whitney Biennial,” is as close as it gets to being a bearded wizard uttering “Behold!”

And yet trudging through a Biennial is a time-honored pulling back of the curtain hiding the Wizard of Oz. The art world respects the Whitney Biennial artists and the market-gain they receive from inclusion, but badmouthing each Biennial is as predictable a ritual as champagne on New Year’s Eve; nobody can resist using critical pontification to masquerade their envy over not being included or not having their allies represented in a Whitney Biennial.

The 2014 Whitney Biennial is a pile of unadulterated shit. There is supposed to be a celebration because a lot of Los Angeles artists have been included, and indeed the show is less New York-centric than ever before. But it is not a show that represents the Los Angeles art scene as much as it represents Los Angeles art school insiders (art schools in Los Angeles ARE the establishment, the bubble that protects what status quo there even is connecting L.A. to the internationalist “big art” conformity machine). But that is no surprise — the Biennial is the ultimate art world insider exhibit. It is just that this exhibit sees so many insiders pretending to be outsiders. The language of outsider art is present in about half of the artworks (the other 50 percent are my two least favorite branches of conceptualism: dry conceptualism and conceptualism masquerading as rotten formalism). One could call it an outsider art show except that it is the ultimate insiders navigating the art world ladder of success with outsider visual strategies.

OUTSIDER BULLSHIT

The trick to being an “insider outsider” is to make it look more obvious than a thrift store. There is macrame, knit sweaters, bric-a-brac chandeliers, sloppy ceramic and lots of wood scattered about the Whitney Biennial. There is an insidiousness lurking in the simpleton charm of this work. “Oh hey that looks funky…” is what the impulse thought of a viewer is when one encounters this work, but sadly, IT’S A TRAP! Most of this work has a tsk-tsk tongue-clicking pretension to being about something other than it is — you see, if the work were about interesting-looking art that incorporated an outsider aesthetic (or heaven forbid were made by an actual art outsider), then it would be accessible and engaging — something that is not taken kindly in the cold art world climate of rarifying the shit out of every human experience into academic-objective “re-presentations” of phenomena. So this is never outsider-informed art; it is outsider-embellished stances, analyses and deconstructions. The Mike Kelley impulse to soul-killingly crush any joy out of the visual language of the non-elites was the most insidious twist to the worship of irony in the late 20th century. It stands victorious (and resiliently unattacked) as the mainstream default approach to art-making practiced by the insiders atop the shit heap called contemporary art at 15 years and counting into the 21st century.

And speaking of Mike Kelley, the Laura Owens painting in this exhibit is so derivative of Mike that it reveals a new level of curatorial naiveté that has to be singled out. Owens is long out of ideas so you cannot shame the washed-up, but a curator’s first job is to spot a cheat. Just nasty.

CONDESCENDING CONCEPTUALISM

The stark message about conceptual art in the 2014 Whitney Biennial is that the anything goes as long as it has an art history referent. Every time you turn around there is some terrible speck of nothing teetering on a curatorial insistence that it is art and justifying it by having some tepid construct about other art, artists, art criticism, art history or another construct unnamed by the academy as of yet but definitely involving the word art. The great Semiotext series is given a vast gallery for its archives and the curatorial impulse is to make its legacy as unappealing as a library trashcan — a feeble attempt at “artifying” the installation with silver wallpaper on one wall is a cowardly curatorial act of “Warholizing” an institution with no allegiance to something as presently mainstream as “The Factory.” Even when they dumb it down, the Biennial makes sure to do it obtusely — the silver wall of Semiotext pages is not half the embarrassment as is the including of David Foster Wallace journals as “artworks” by the late author — most of them are exhibited closed or open to indecipherable pages, totally uninteresting after the connection with the author. Celebrity stands in here as a substitute for curatorial rigor, hiding behind the glamor of their names and nothing else.

A BLOODLESS MAINSTREAM

Amidst the hubbub there are plenty of forgettable paintings, installations, videos that would be elevated if they were simply relegated to YouTube and too much sculpture that vacillates between appearing to be a mainstream object performing an art function or an art object performing a functional function. The aesthetic of the day is either proto-minimalism with some clever twist to make it commentary or outsider integrity as an alias for downright sloppiness. And of course, no major art exhibit these days is incomplete with out the myriad twaddle taking place “outside the institution’s walls”. The Whitney brochure for the show was chock full of detritus that will be screening on inconvenient dates and times, almost as a reflex to ensure the Biennial can never really be experienced completely, and thus, can never be ripped apart in its entirety. Well fuck it, I cannot wait. This is a gargantuan turd that, if the art world need to be re-plumbed in its entirety to flush, so be it, call the goddamned plumber immediately or just give up, set the whole institutional art world on fire and at least we can get some nice marshmallows out of the deal.

DEATH AS CAREER STRATEGY

There were four artworks in the show that made me think. Artworks that stayed with me… that made me take to google for all of 20 minutes to ponder.

All four of these artworks had death, in one form or another, as their central theme. Some were weirdly, perhaps unintentionally, poetic but the curators made sure to kill as much of that potential as possible. The four pieces were:

•The “art group” Public Collectors present a synopses of Malachi Ritscher, a musician and music-compiler who took his own life via self-immolation in Chicago in 2006 to protest the U.S. war in Iraq.

•The late Gretchen Bender had a 1988 artwork “People In Pain” completely refabricated as an artwork by Phillip Vanderhyden. The original artwork, exhibited in the 1989 museum show “A Forest of Signs” had totally disintegrated.

•Joseph Grigely discovered a caché of personal effects from art critic Gregory Battock, hidden in a studio space for decades. Battock was murdered, stabbed to death on Christmas Day in 1980 while vacationing in Puerto Rico in a crime that was never solved. Battock had an interesting life and a career in the art world that intersected with many art world luminaries.

•A “sub-curated” gallery presented a few paintings by the late Tony Greene. Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie had been classmates of the artist in the early 1990s at graduate school. Greene passed away from AIDS complications years ago.

Each of these has an unavoidably serious topic as the pretext for the art installation. Grigley and Public Collectors have scraps from their subjects arranged in vitrines. Whether by curatorial choice or necessity, the overall effect here is about as far from maudlin and sentimental as one gets when the subject is the dearly departed. Perhaps there are among us those who would like to be remembered through unsentimental museum wall text, but both of these subjects were screaming for a documentary film or even a coffee table book to better tell the story, to acquaint us, to celebrate a random human life with whom we might connect. Nope, the Whitney made sure to freeze dry all the passion and let didactic assumptions reign free.

The Bender/Vanderhyden artwork was more complex. In her curatorial walk-thru on March 7, curator Michelle Grabner explained that the Whitney was resistant to crediting Vanderhyden; the institution houses its own restoration department and they never get credited as being artists. Grabner apparently fought the good fight and in doing so she has sent the message loud and clear to aspiring artists: be the foot-servants of those who showed in the museums a quarter century ago to cut in line on your way up the carer ladder. And on top of that, Bender’s “People In Pain” is a snide, elitist thumping of popular culture and one of the ugliest large works of art ever executed.

The paintings of Tony Greene, also almost a quarter-century old, were included by curator Stuart Comer. On his March 7 curators walk-thru he poignantly expressed that a generation of artists died and that their voices would never be heard and that it was important to include one from then who, absent that terrible plague, would conceivably be making art and engaged in the art community alongside all of the Biennial participants today. The amount of space devoted here is generous and the delicate paintings show a range, discipline and sensitivity way beyond almost any other artist in the entire show. The second greatest tragedy of Tony Greene’s passing after his death itself is that had he lived he would certainly be omitted from a Biennial (and an art world) that privileges the smarmy over the poetic, the academic over the delicate and critical distance over beauty.

So those are the choices — die or sell-out. Whether you’re a painter or whether you’re a sculptor, if you’re staying alive with an earnestness, buddy you’re nowhere by the look of the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

Follow Mat Gleason on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CoagulaMagazine

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by Kevin McGarry

March 7, 2014

Whitney Biennial 2014

The most streamlined mythology of the past two decades of the Whitney Biennial goes something like this: 1993 represented the Big Bang of art and identity politics, and since then, the curve has bobbed up and down like a sine wave, going above and below the axis of overthought mediocrity towards an ever more platitudinous parody of itself. It is, after all, the biennial that everyone… loves to hate. Shoot me now. Framing it this way can be as mind numbing as discussing the weather, and yet, it is nearly as inescapable.

Perhaps drawing from its upper Manhattan terroir, the Whitney Biennial is an inimitable, enduringly anachronistic, and extremely self-referential institution. Each edition rehashes the questions “What is contemporary?” and “What is American?”—often to post-rational ends. Convoluted curatorial conceit is the most dangerous pitfall threatening state-of-the-art-world survey shows today. The best biennial I’ve seen in the past couple of years was Luiz Pérez-Oramas, André Severo, and Tobi Maier’s 2012 30th São Paulo Biennial about, simply, “poetics”—a theme so loose and extensible that the exhibition wore it as a heartening halo rather than a pretentious noose. In this respect, the 2014 Whitney Biennial does not fail. Well, actually, it does, but only in execution; the conception of its structure and thematics do not doom or significantly distract from the works contained therein. Assembled by three outside curators—Stuart Comer of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Anthony Elms of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and Michelle Grabner of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—it is not rhetorically proposed as three discrete shows; it is actually (actuality is always refreshing!) three discrete shows spread across three levels of the Whitney Museum’s 945 Madison Avenue building.

The second floor, curated by Elms, is exhaustingly under-stimulating. On first glance, Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan’s Image of Limited Good (2014), a sculptural tableau of suitcases filled with a resin-like substance and purple tracings of retro airline logos pinned to the wall, looks promising, but—pardon the pun—unpacking the piece is a joyless pursuit. It would work better at an art fair, as would Charline von Heyl’s Folk Tales (2013), a grid of black-and-white collages, which is not awkward like some of the other works on this floor, but by no means as absorbing as her work usually is. Transgressive hero Gary Indiana’s untitled contribution seems dated and confused. It’s comprised of a diptych pairing a collection of headshots and nude candid photographs of incarcerated men of color with a large, inelegantly installed, semi-circular LED curtain looping footage of jellyfish, which, according to the text, are anatomically symbolic of… the panopticon. The effect of the piece is incomprehensible (in this room it might not actually be possible to get far enough away from the curtain to view its moving images as such, instead of as a crumpled field of large diodes); it superficially juxtaposes cultural issues from the 1980s with presentation technologies that are modern, but look terrible. Rebecca Morris’s paintings, Untitled (#14-13) (2013) and Untitled (#15-13) (2013), given the company, stand out, and respite can also be found in the two cinemas made to house films by Michel Auder, Steve Reinke with Jessie Mott, and the Los Angeles-based collective My Barbarian, but in terms of this chapter of the Biennial having a compelling story or discernable position, there is none.

Moving up one level and several notches in quality, Comer’s third floor contains the highest concentration of expected names. This is by no means a dig: why not represent the most consistent and influential American artists in the Whitney Biennial, particularly if they haven’t been invited before? At the pinnacle of buzzy and undeniably good is the singular and prolific force that is Bjarne Melgaard. His room recalls the Korova Milk Bar (from A Clockwork Orange), populated by silicon sex mannequins with blond weaves and raccoon eyes, posed alternately on haute, club kid furniture you might find in a fancy, edgy French person’s apartment and on the wholesome braided carpets you might find in a Maine farmhouse. The Gesamkunstwerk, entitled Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby (2014), includes projections of found clips depicting interchangeable violence between animals and people respectively, and a monitor with a staged, raunchy confessional dialogue between two gay lovers who seem to hate one another. The wall text identifies the dissolution of humanity into a circus of cruelty as its subject, but this declaration is, frankly, not even necessary, because the work is writ so large, scary, and engrossing.

Shaped like the islands of Manhattan, Hawaii, and Kauai, Ei Arakawa’s hats for two and three people, are, by contrast, totally benign, but much crazier. Arakawa’s mutable and often inscrutable practice has been hitting for a while now—another New York-based artist, like Melgaard, whose industrious imagination has flourished during the past years in a corporatized city that has been sapped of its creative life force. It’s not immediately clear if Ken Okiishi’s vertical, wall-mounted flatscreens, each titled gesture/data (2013), partially painted over with impressionistic brushstrokes are important, but they look fresh; and the floor-to-ceiling salon hanging of Keith Mayerson paintings, casting autobiographical moments alongside renditions of iconic American people and symbols, gives the underappreciated painter his due. On a different register, a room near the back of floor three—Afterlife: a constellation (2014), organized as a work of art, at Comer’s invitation, by Group Material cofounder Julie Ault—interweaves intergenerational referents and inspirations into a tautology unbound by the unities of time and place. To name but a few, filmmaker Matt Wolf’s slideshow, which includes a narration that touches on his adolescent discovery of the late David Wojnarowicz, is placed next to Wojnarowicz’s own Calendar (1989). To its left is Closed (1984–85), a painting by late Lower East Side artist Martin Wong, who is an ongoing subject of inquiry for Danh Vo. And in turn, Vo’s piece, snowfall/northern Sierras 1847 (2013), which echoes Alfred A. Hart’s photograph Stumps cut by Donner Party (c. 1868), is placed on the other side of the room near a text by Ault about Wong and Wojnarowicz. But the most transcendent inclusion on this floor has got to be Lebanese-born Etel Adnan, the eighty-nine-year-old writer, poet, and here, painter, whose canvases depict emotional landscapes told in simple compositions of four or five hard-edged hues, and whose two epic poems outstretched in accordion books go from earth to space to death to life and back in an unbroken, linear circle.

None of the three shows are sparse, but Grabner’s fourth floor jams the most works in of all. Even more so than in Comer’s exhibition, the two most captivating works are made by popular, market-anointed artists. Sterling Ruby, working in his best medium—ceramics— puts forth three Vulcan maws from his “Basin Theology” series (2013–14), full of glossy, broken archaeologies. Behind those is one big painting, As-yet-untitled (2014) by Laura Owens, which both eschews verbal description and has a lot of fun with words; the text “When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot, and hang on” accompanies a 1980s children’s illustration of a boy and his dog swinging by rope across a teal void, within and beneath a meticulously layered vortex of painting posing as digital effects, posing as painting. Many other big, colorful, abstract paintings by women fill this main room: Jacqueline Humphries, Louise Fishman, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Dona Nelson, and Amy Sillman. The largest canvas, Gaylen Gerber’s undated Backdrop/Untitled, is flat grey and inconspicuously stretched around the entire wall outside the elevator. It is itself a surface for other works to be hung on; presently it’s Trevor Shimizu’s untitled ritualistic figurative compositions but on April 15, as the wall label tells us, it will be replaced by Sherrie Levine’s Thin Stripe: 10 (1986) and David Hammons’s Untitled (2010). Placed at the end of the most natural path through the fourth floor, Zoe Leonard’s 945 Madison Avenue (2014) is all about depriving the viewer of light. It’s a huge camera obscura refracting the quotidian windows of Madison Avenue onto its walls. As an elegy to the building on the occasion of its last biennial, it’s a much too obvious, precious note to end on—something that could have been devised by a PR assistant as readily as by a great photographer like Leonard. Overall, there is a bit too much going on here for Grabner’s show to coalesce a striking identity, but there’s a harmonious enough fluidity to how it all intermingles, probably owing to the personal and pedagogical connections among the artists and to the curator, who is an artist herself.

Something about that lends itself to the overarching Biennial’s greatest success, whose most contemporary experiment deals with framing a curator as a locus of collaborations and conversations, rather than the steward of conceptual frameworks that enslave art. Grabner’s show is not about the Midwest, but there is a preponderance of artists from Chicago and the surrounding region (even a Dawoud Bey photographic portrait of the Chicagoan American president, Barack Obama (2008), is hung above her curatorial statement). Comer’s exhibition doesn’t stake itself as a queer show, and by no means exclusively contains queer artists, but he and most of the ones that I was struck by and mentioned above publicly identify as queer (as do I). Perhaps Elms’s show suffers because it lacks an expansive, lived impetus. But ultimately, at the risk of being boring, I must conclude the same as usual… the Biennial essentially falls flat. Though multifaceted, it’s hard to imagine a truly textured object with only three sides. That the three exhibitions fully commit to their autonomy is a good thing, but unfortunately, the aggregate effect that arises from their congress feels jumbled and piecemeal. The experiment as a whole fails, and while it shouldn’t go in the vault as our recollection of 2014, it is a step forward because, suspended in the loftiest, Sisyphean heights of democratized irreality, testing its own form is exactly what the Whitney Biennial should always endeavor to do.

Kevin McGarry is a writer and curator based in Los Angeles and New York.

Bjarne Melgaard, Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby, 2014.

1Bjarne Melgaard, Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby, 2014.

Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, Image of Limited Good, 2014.

2Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, Image of Limited Good, 2014.

Charline von Heyl, Folk Tales, 2013.

3Charline von Heyl, Folk Tales, 2013.

Gary Indiana, Untitled (detail), 2014.

4Gary Indiana, Untitled (detail), 2014.

My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013.

5My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

6View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

Ken Okiishi, gesture/data, 2013.

7Ken Okiishi, gesture/data, 2013.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014 with works by Keith Mayerson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

8View of the Whitney Biennial 2014 with works by Keith Mayerson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

View of Julie Ault, Afterlife: a constellation at the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

9View of Julie Ault, Afterlife: a constellation at the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969.

10Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

11View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

12View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.

Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue, 2014.

13Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue, 2014.

  • 1Bjarne Melgaard, Think I’m Gonna Have A Baby, 2014. Mixed media with video and holographic projections, dimensions variable. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 2Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, Image of Limited Good, 2014. Campaign tables, hectograph duplicators, carbon ink, suitcases and briefcase, depression glass, gold-plated swizzle sticks, disassembled greeting card rack, hectograph prints on interleaving tissue, hinges, and blueprint rack. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 3Charline von Heyl, Folk Tales, 2013. Acrylic, ink, wax, charcoal, and collage on paper, 36 parts, 24 x 19 inches each. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 4Gary Indiana, Untitled (detail), 2014. Video projection, four text panels, grid of 25 digital C-prints on archival hot press matte paper, and LED curtain, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo by Bill Orcutt.
  • 5My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013. Still from video, color, sound, 30:00 minutes. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles. © My Barbarian.
  • 6View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 7Ken Okiishi, gesture/data, 2013. Oil on flatscreen, VHS transferred to .mp4, color, sound, 35 1/3 x 21 x 3 7/10 inches. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York. © Ken Okiishi.
  • 8View of the Whitney Biennial 2014 with works by Keith Mayerson, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 9View of Julie Ault, Afterlife: a constellation at the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014.
  • 10Etel Adnan, Five Senses for One Death, 1969. Ink and watercolor on paper, 11 x 255 inches. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York. Photo by Chris Austen.
  • 11View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Photo by Kevin McGarry.
  • 12View of the Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
  • 13Zoe Leonard, 945 Madison Avenue, 2014. Lens and darkened room, 210 x 300 x 632 inches. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Murray Guy, New York; and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.

Review: 2014 Whitney Biennial

The Biennial tries something new, but winds up being the same old thing

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Right off the bat, the 2014 Whitney Biennial raises a question: Is it an exercise in out-of-the box thinking? Or does it represent a tacit admission that the Whitney is no longer institutionally capable of mounting its signature show? The answer is probably both. Read on for our full review of this year’s museum-wide exhibition with our own slideshow gallery of highlights, then scroll down for a sneak peak of the gallery itself.

Photograph: om Powel Imaging

Keith Mayerson, My Family, 2013

Instead of the usual buildingwide bacchanalia of zeitgeisty goodness we’ve come to know and love (or love to hate), the proceedings are broken into three more or less discrete exhibitions. Each is mostly confined to its own floor, and organized by a different outside curator. Handling the duties are Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance art at MoMA; Anthony Elms, associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, who is an artist and professor in the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. Asking why they got the job as opposed to other people is a bit like wondering why certain Ping-Pong balls pop up during Lotto drawings.In some cases, one curator’s selection winds up on the floor of another (or in a Whitney common area, such as its lobby or moat), but each floor remains distinctly the expression of a single point of view.Somehow it works, or at least it does so enough of the time to make this Biennial seem better than most. I know: faint praise! Still, this edition should be remembered for its inclusion of paintings in pretty decent numbers, as well as its emphasis on semiforgotten careers and artists from outside New York.This separate-floor arrangement, of course, makes it easier to heap praise or to assign blame, depending on your tastes. For me, the Westminster trophy for Best in Show indubitably goes to fourth floor, helmed by Grabner. Apparently the first practicing artist involved in shaping a Biennial, she brings an artistic eye to installing art, a talent that curators were routinely expected to apply before the practice became professionalized. In her own work, she’s something of a formalist—a dirty word in certain quarters—but the attention she pays to the relationships between forms turns out to be a virtue.Many of her selections are worth a shout-out, but those off the top of my head includes Gretchen Bender’s black crumpled cenotaph, listing backlighted movie titles form the ’80s; Joel Otterson’s psychedelic harem tent; Amy Sillman’s prismatic abstractions; and Joshua Mosley’s charming Claymation video of an early-20th-century tennis match. The last is hung within a stretch of rooms putting an emphasis on quietude, both visually and conceptually. It starts with one of Anthony Elms’s picks: Zoe Leonard’s spooky and sublime camera obscura installation. Set within a spacious portion of the floor, the piece consists of a large lens board covering one of the Whitney’s “eyebrow” windows overlooking Madison Avenue. On the opposite wall, the lens throws an upside-down projection of the buildings across the street, with the dimmed, blurry image being pretty much the same scale as its subject. From there you proceed into the gallery containing the aforementioned video, along with Stephen Berens’s layered photos of Rome, and a long shelf filled with Shio Kusaka’s exquisite pottery. This part of the exhibit is best summed up by the title of Ben Kinmont’s text-driven tableau in the next room: Shh. Down the corridor you’ll also find Jennifer Bornstein’s video of naked women performing modern dance routines, and Peter Schuyff’s case full of corkscrewing pencils.

“Nobody calls the Biennial the Oscars of the art world anymore, but in some ways, the comparison is more apt than ever.”

I wish I could say the rest of Biennial was as strong as the fourth floor, but it isn’t. I liked Ken Okiishi’s painted flatscreens on floor three, along with Bjarne Melgaard’s crazy, hypersexualized whorehouse of horrors off to the left of Okiishi’s wall. Melgaard is precisely the sort of art star who’s benefited from the market’s premium on sensationalism, but give the man his due: He’s good at what he does.

Ultimately, the 2014 Biennial is somewhat square, even provincial, and that may be okay for now. Because truthfully, the formula is impervious to change. You could scour the planet and probably find enough artists to mount a truly mind-blowing survey every other year. But that supposes the Biennial is just a show when it’s really not. It’s a brand, and like any brand, genuine risk makes its shareholders nervous. The Whitney’s forthcoming MePa home will only raise the stakes in this sense, making a ground-up rethink less likely.

Nobody calls the Biennial the Oscars of the art world anymore, but in some ways, the comparison is more apt than ever. Like the Oscars, the Biennial is an exercise in self-love, demanding attention it doesn’t quite deserve, but you pay it heed anyway. On that score, 2014 is the Ellen DeGeneres edition: safe, genial, with just enough jokes that land to distract you from the ones that fall flat.

Explore the Biennial layout for yourself

Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

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Continue reading the main story Slide Show

View slide show|11 Photos

2014 Whitney Biennial

2014 Whitney Biennial

Credit Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

For its 2014 Biennial, the last before taking the plunge downtown, the Whitney went a little wild with the recipe. It picked three curators from outside the museum and outside New York. (One just recently arrived.) It gave each of them free rein on a floor in the museum’s Breuer building to work solo, with no cross talk required, though, of course, there was some, and some space sharing, too.

The result is a large, three-tiered cake of a show, mostly vanilla, but laced with threads of darker, sharper flavor, and with a lot of frosting on top.

For a long time, almost any biennial concoction the Whitney came up with was critically squashed. That tradition seems to have ended with the 2002 show, when the attacks were so ferocious that a lot of people began to back off.

And the shape of the art world was starting to change. It was growing hugely bigger. There was just more of everything: more artists, more galleries, more things. Postmodern pluralism, which for two decades had made conservatives crazy, was turning out to be their best friend. It diluted political thinking and encouraged easy-on-the-eye luxe. Much of this year’s Biennial fits without resistance into the city’s concurrent art fair week. That’s the way things are.

Within this anodyne context, the show’s organizers — Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art; Anthony Elms, an artist and associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, also an artist and professor of painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — have made some interesting choices, pulled in some new faces and shaped three quite different shows.

If you want to go straight for frosting, head to Ms. Grabner’s installation on the fourth floor, which has by far the most artists — about half the show’s total count of just over 100 — along with the biggest objects and the brightest colors. In an interview, Ms. Grabner said forthrightly that she did not take her primary mission to be the tracking down of young talent. She mostly chose artists in mid- or mid-late career, many of them women. Good idea.

Several are painters — Louise Fishman, Jacqueline Humphries, Dona Nelson, Amy Sillman, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung — who work in variations on gestural abstraction. Their work is hung together in one gallery, which may not have been the best move. In the enclosed space, so many energy-generating pictures short-circuit one another a bit.

Still, it’s an impressive display of formal chops, though I come to it with a handicap. I find Abstract Expressionism, a historical style referenced here, overrated and pretentious, a bore. Why would anyone want to bother with it, except maybe to do some constructive damage, which is the option that Ms. Nelson and Ms. Zuckerman-Hartung, in interestingly unalike ways, seem to take: Ms. Zuckerman-Hartung slices up the canvas (or, in her case, a dropcloth); Ms. Nelson messes up the surface with applications of ratty-looking, driplike skeins of paint-soaked cheesecloth.

In general, Modernism — recycled, retooled, whatever — hangs like a mist over the fourth floor, particularly over ceramics that might as easily date from 70 years ago as from today. So it’s tonic to encounter an inky storm cloud of a vinyl-and-neon wall piece called “People in Pain,” made in 1988 by Gretchen Bender (1951-2004) and restored (“remade” is the term on the wall label) by Philip Vanderhyden this year.

A cheerful Pop sign sculpture by Ken Lum embedded with references to the Vietnam War is half obscured by overcrowding. But three smallish paintings by the Chicagoan Philip Hanson, quoting Blake and Dickinson, are lovingly displayed. They’re directly across from a case of handwritten notes made by the novelist David Foster Wallace for a book left unfinished at the time of his 2008 suicide.

Their presence seems to come out of nowhere, but it’s smart, a wake-up injection of not-art (or maybe-art) into an installation heavy with art with a capital A. Dawoud Bey’s studio portrait of Barack Obama placed, with perfectly inscrutable intent, right up front serves a similar purpose.

Painting and language are also basic ingredients of Mr. Comer’s smaller, sparer third-floor show. And right off the bat, he introduces us to a virtuoso of both: the Lebanese-American writer and painter Etel Adnan, now 89, whose accordion-fold notebooks, dating to the 1960s, combine diarylike accounts of violence and near-abstract poetry with horizontally extendable watercolor landscapes.

Mr. Comer also gives us a chance to revisit the California artist Channa Horwitz (1932-2013), who made a memorable impression at the recent Venice Biennale with ultrarefined geometric drawings that suggest stitch work and genetic coding, and functioned as a form of dance or performance notation.

A lot of what Mr. Comer’s installation is about is the phenomenon of mixing, how everyone’s doing everything. Morgan Fisher makes film, paintings and sculptures that are also architecture. Kevin Beasley’s sculptures are products of his performance. The irrepressible Jacolby Satterwhite combines vogueing, martial arts and contemporary dance in video animations in which he is the main performer.

Within Mr. Comer’s installation, as in the Biennial as a whole, artists are curators. At his invitation, the painter Richard Hawkins and the photographer Catherine Opie have organized a mini-retrospective of paintings-on-photographs by an art school classmate, Tony Greene, who died of AIDS in 1990 at 35. Tributes to the dead — there are several in this Biennial, including, by default, one to Terry Adkins, who died just weeks ago — have a ripple effect: Most of Greene’s lavish, petite paintings are, in essence, valentines and prayers sent out to friends disappeared.

They are also, of course, inherently political statements, and in a Biennial damningly mum about politics, it is bracing to find work that isn’t. Photographs of, and by, Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, a transgender couple, put queer consciousness on the front burner, and work by the California photographer Fred Lonidier stands as a beacon of dedicated activism. Starting in the 1970s, Mr. Lonidier documented the lives of immigrant laborers on both sides of the United States/Mexican border. Rather than exhibit his pictures in galleries, he showed them in shopping malls, union halls and tractor-trailers. He got in trouble, got censored, but kept keeping on. God bless him.

The bottommost layer of the biennial cake, Mr. Elms’s installation on the second floor, is the thinnest in numbers and, at first bite, the least sweet. But it has some of the work I liked best. A piece at the entrance by Jimmie Durham — Native American by descent, in self-exile from the United States since 1987 — was a good omen. His abstract but roughly humanoid sculpture called “Choose Any Three” is made of stacked wood chips inscribed with names: Vanzetti, E. Zapata; Crazy Horse; Ho Chi Minh, Cristóbal Colón, Johnny Colón, Kay Starr, Malcolm X, etc. Mix and match and create your own political meaning for the piece.

This is also sort of the general method underlying Mr. Elms’s show, which reveals itself slowly. You spot an LP playing on a turntable, but there’s no sound. You listen closer, and maybe there is: a kind of audible vacuum, moving air. The recording was made on Sept. 11 and 12, 2001, by Matt Hanner, a member of the collective Academy Records. He lived under a flight path near a Chicago airport. When planes were grounded after the news of the Sept. 11 attacks, he taped the extraordinary silence.

An installation by Public Collectors, a Chicago group founded by Marc Fischer in 2007, is also about preserving sounds: hundreds of live experimental music performances taped over many years by Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago jazz fanatic and political activist who publicly immolated himself in 2006 as a protest against the war in Iraq. Thanks to Public Collectors, which functions as a custodian of cultural materials that no one, including museums, wants, Ritscher’s life’s work survives, including the briefcases in which he carried equipment, which are here.

The Biennial contribution from Joseph Grigely is a similar act of salvage. Some 20 years ago, in an abandoned factory in Jersey City, he found a cache of manuscripts and photographs that had once belonged to Gregory Battcock, the art critic and artist. Battcock, a ubiquitous and influential figure in the New York art world during the 1960s and ’70s, was murdered in Puerto Rico in 1980. After years of research, Mr. Grigely has pieced together an archive of this complex and personable writer’s life. The selection in the show is riveting.

And the archive isn’t all reading; there are plenty of visuals, as there are throughout Mr. Elms’s low-fat exhibition. You have to return to the fourth floor, to a space he borrowed from Ms. Grabner, to see Zoe Leonard’s crepuscular camera obscura view of the street outside the Whitney.

But back down on 2, he’s offering a dreamboat of a video called “The Beautiful One Has Come,” by Dave McKenzie; a suite of tiny collage-poems by Susan Howe; Elijah Burgher’s colored pencil drawing of three nude males, posed in front of Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s 15th-century treatment of the same theme; and a handful of pocket-size notebooks with cartoonlike watercolors by the Conceptualist Allan Sekula.

The notebooks were a surprise to me, and they are certainly of interest. But their inclusion points to a major flaw in this biennial. Sekula, who died last year, was one of the most incisive, persistent and underrated political artists America produced after World War II. For some four decades, through texts and photographs, he critically documented the everyday realities of American classism and economic inequality. He worked within the art world: He was a revered teacher but stayed clear of its fads and foolishness. His major life’s work is fundamentally un-art-fair art.

But his notebook drawings have relatively little to do with his major work, and everything to do, at least in the distorting context of this show, with the present market taste for cash-and-carry neatness, craftsiness-as-quality and political content as a kind of sweet-and-sour flavor enhancer. Despite some good work assembled for this Biennial by three bright curators, I left feeling pretty much the way I do when I leave an art fair, full but empty, tired of dessert, hungry for a sustained and sustaining meal.

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NEW YORK MAGAZINE

  • 3/5/2014 at 9:00 AM

Seeing Out Loud: There’s a Smart Show Struggling to Get Out of This Big, Bland Whitney Biennial

Sterling Ruby’s ceramic sculptures are the best thing in the show.

If you want to get the most out of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, start on the fourth floor and spend most of your time there. This portion of the exhibition — there are three, each with its own curator — was organized by the Chicago artist-gallerist Michelle Grabner, and includes the show’s visual and material high point: a central gallery crammed with colorful painting, sculpture, and handmade objects as well as ceramics and textiles. It’s wildly overfilled, radiating heat and energy. The prehistoric-like wrecked giant ceramic ashtray-objects of Sterling Ruby are maybe my favorite objects in the show; I love the chaotically woven two-sided paintings of Dona Nelson, the glimmering chain-metal beaded-curtain adorned with antique tools by Joel Otterson, the material-poetry of the collaboration between Amy Sillman and Pam Lins. There are more than a few duds, and the usual buddy-buddy inclusions of friends and former students — everyone does that, not just Grabner — but if you wander through the rest of this floor, you’ll find other artists well worth looking at.

And, apart from scattered pockets in the rest of the show, it’s the last blast of visual and material juice that you’ll get in this optically starved, aesthetically buttoned-up, pedantic biennial.

Much of the rest of the show is a nebulous tasting-menu mess that exudes an inert elegiac air. I kept hearing myself think, I see dead art: Work that looks and behaves like it is supposed to look and behave but that doesn’t make us see differently, that doesn’t rethink form, reimage structure, or explore material, color, or new orders. You’ll spend way too much time here reading long wall labels that explain what the work is supposed to be about. Never mind that Oscar Wilde said something like, “The moment that you think you know a work of art, it is dead to you.” This reading-to-see is an extension of our highly educated class of artists and curators, an urge to ape the look of art, play by the rules, and be accepted by institutions. The result is a generic, noncommittal, straitlaced show.

There’s something else. About 40 percent of the individual artists in this show are older or deceased. The average age of the artists in Grabner’s salon-gallery is around 55. On the second floor (organized by Anthony Elms), the average age is around 50. Now, let me stipulate that newness, nowness, and nextness have nothing to do with age, or with the age at which an artist emerges. I wouldn’t have a job if the art world weren’t intensely cross-generational and layered. (An artist can catch fire for the first time at age 90.) Yet such emphasis on older practitioners makes this biennial come off as a dodge, as if the curators were scared of making a wrong call. Or they haven’t spent enough time in the trenches (as opposed to flying around the world participating in symposiums with like-minded curators), and have lost touch with what might be going on beyond what they already know. Right off the second-floor elevator entrance is a sculpture by Jimmie Durham, who was born in 1940. It was made in 1989! I’ve been told that it is the last work he exhibited in New York before he decamped to Europe. I like Durham’s work enough but there’s no reason he should be taking up this biennial slot — let alone with this work. Ditto the lovely notebooks by the late filmmaker Allan Sekula.

Careful correctness abounds. Hot young artists and market favorites and spectacles have been shunned. The show is peppered with collectives and collaborations. It isn’t New York–centric, and it loves artists who’ve been in other biennials or who’ve already had museum surveys. Success is okay as long as it’s not too financial or big. Rudolf Stingel created a mind-blowing installation in Venice last summer, but he’d never be included in a show like this. Nor would more unpredictable excellent younger talents like Andra Ursuta, Josh Kline, or Lucy Dodd. The show cries out for one of William Powhida’s gigantic art-world-Babylon murals, maybe downstairs in the restaurant. The curators are so determined to stay pure, to avoid acknowledging the machinations of commerce, that the show is completely disconnected from the entire world.

Stuart Comer, who curates media and performance art at MoMA, opens his third-floor show with Dash Manley’s trailer-scale walk-in wood and metal frame with large prints or something inside. Nearby is a large ridiculous video of the artist reenacting some scene from an early American film. The work is here because it checks all the boxes: It takes up a lot of space, is momentarily engaging, has video, references film, and comes with elaborate explanatory wall text. Whole Lower East Side galleries could fit in the space this washout takes up. Nearby is a very large gallery devoted to Semiotext(e), the publishers who introduced French poststructuralist theory to the U.S. I’ll just say that I saw ten artists in galleries last month who would’ve been better and more relevant. Grrrrrr. Sigh.

The curators are also infatuated with the current institutional tic of display-mania: artists who act as curators, anthropologists, and archivists, mining eccentric informational territories. I adore this sort of idiosyncratic  exploration. Yet so much of that art begins with fabulous raw information and then does barely anything to transform it. Here, Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan have “appropriated” the extraordinary collection of anthropologist George M. Foster, who in the 1960s gathered and annotated airline menus. Magical material! You just want to look at it! And then Snobeck and Sullivan turn it into a dead display of suitcases and prints supposedly about “disseminating subversive information” and how “immutable social systems might be re-engineered.” Ben Kinmont falls just as flat by asking museum visitors to send him a note with the time and date of a conversation they have at home. He will then make annotated records of the time and date of the first 100 notes. Absolutely by-the-book bland informational-conceptualism. These artists are unwilling or incapable of presenting information whole to yield its inherent power, or they fuss it up, turning everything into artsy little displays.

Though not everything. There’s a very good small show trapped in the body of this very big, bad Biennial. Exemplary in this regard, Zoe Leonard has turned one of the largest single galleries in the museum into a beautiful empty camera obscura, using the Whitney’s distinctive prismatic window as a lens. Here we see the world projected upside-down into the darkened space; traffic runs on the ceiling; building façades reach to the floor. In this reverberating quiet, one of the Whitney’s final uses of its unusual architecture before it moves downtown, we see the place where the real meets the power of the abstract.

*This article appears in the March 10, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

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This Is Not a Survey: An Incomplete Review of the Whitney Biennial

06/03/14 5:30 PM EST
This Is Not a Survey: An Incomplete Review of the Whitney Biennial
Guests entering the Whitney Biennial 2014 press preview

(Courtesy Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

The wall text for the 2014 edition of the Whitney Biennial opens with a defensive admonition: “The field of contemporary art is far too vast for one exhibition to encompass,” it reads, disclaiming the idea that the the biennial is actually a comprehensive survey of current practice, as most people seem to think it is. In that same spirit, let’s admit that the Whitney Biennial itself is far too vast for one so-called review to encompass—lest it become nothing more than a list of names and dates, an archive of the stuff that’s been crammed into and across three floors, a courtyard, and a lobby gallery.

This biennial is the brainchild of three curators, from three different places—Anthony Elms (Philadelphia, and formerly Chicago), Stuart Comer (New York by way of London), and Michelle Grabner (Chicago and Wisconsin)—and the floors have roughly been divvied up among them, with a few exceptions. One might expect this to give the Biennial a schizophrenic character, but it more or less holds together, with some nice call-outs and resonances from floor to floor.

Let’s start with the weird backbone of the exhibition, and the reason why you should avoid the elevator in favor of the stairs: A 12-channel sound installation by Charlemagne Palestine, emitting from a series of speakers that have been decorated, a la Mike Kelley, with an array of abject stuffed bears and elephants and strands of bedraggled scarves. The piece (which was recorded by the artist in the museum space itself) is a mantra of unease, a bed of haunted synth-like sounds humming and dying and punctuated with the occasional affected human voice. Palestine’s inclusion here (he was Elms’s choice) colors much of what you see on other floors. It’s not mood music, per se, since this Biennial’s flavor isn’t exactly Nightmarish Doom, but it does have an outsized influence on the way you experience the show.

For instance: Head up to the fourth floor, Michelle Grabner‘s domain, where the introductory wall text is paired with a straightforward, albeit intense, portrait of Barack Obama taken by Dawoud Bey. The Commander-in-Chief’s gaze is complicated by the fact that, while you’re looking at him, you’re also awash in the stairwell’s audio, and that droning miasma of sound suddenly makes Barack look like the sort of hard-assed Machievelli who could, well, order a fleet of drones to hit a country we’re not technically at war with.

But let’s start back downstairs, or at least try to make some necessarily reductive, broad-stroke characterizations about what this biennial means and how it reflects the temperaments of its respective curators. What do they care about, and why does it matter? Elms is a bibliophile, a lover of the archival and collectable, and all of that is clear from the second floor—which, and we can argue about this, is probably the smartest one here. I’d venture that everything on this level, including the sculptures and paintings, has to do with language in various forms: language that communicates, or fails to; language that is bent or broken or impotent.

The link is sometimes obvious, as in Susan Howe‘s Tom Tit Tot, 22 letterpress prints that take found writing and twist it into concrete poetics. These prints, arrayed in a vitrine, share a room with Elijah Burgher‘s excellent colored pencil drawings incorporating written spells (sigils) and a hanging acrylic-on-fabric piece that also reads like imaginary hieroglyphics. Even Charline von Heyl‘s grid of 36 drawings—incorporating appropriated images of Russian and Polish folk art, spray paint, graphite, and other media—takes on the appearance of a typographical chart, itemizing letters from a distant past or an unknown future. And  the Carol Jackson sculptures spread throughout the space—some on pedestals, some hanging from the walls—are like graffiti forms pouncing into three dimensions: a bit cheesy in a Frank-Stella-in-the-’80s way, but boldly confident in their alien funkiness.

Other rooms in this floor-covering expansion of Elms’s brain feature archives a bit like masoleums, extolling the underappreciated dead. One corner nook organized by the collective Public Collectors is dedicated to Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago audiophile known for obsessively recording live concerts, jazz and otherwise, and also for protesting the Iraq War until  2006, when he committed suicide by lighting himself on fire in a very public place while carrying an anti-war placard. I didn’t know any of this; did you know any of this? Part of the point is that you probably didn’t, and that an American man can self-immolate without becoming any sort of folk hero. But here he is in the Whitney Museum, his posters and suitcases and recording devices and Butthole Surfers’ set lists arrayed like holy objects, which is certainly a beautiful homage, but also a bit sad.

In an adjacent room, Joseph Grigely presents a dissection of the life of a deceased painter-cum-critic, The Gregory Battcock Archive. It brings together printed matter, photographs, postcards, and other materials in vitrines, as well as some posters on the wall. There’s an art review from the New York Free Press, circa 1969, the prose all bebop beatnik bounce. On the wall there’s an actual abstract painting—supposedly the only remaining work by Battcock—that is pretty bad in its generic mushiness. Is this the archive as homage, celebration, or simple oddity?

Stuart Comer’s third floor is the most self-consciously hip in this biennial, and the one most interested in tapping into new media. There’s a room-sized installation by Bjarne Melgaard—now best known for making a chair sculpture that Dasha Zhukova pissed everyone off by sitting on—featuring female mannequins, digitally-printed penis pillows, and videos of animals. (It’s colorful and energetic but somehow flat and subdued, like a Ryan Trecartin environment that’s had all the kinetic life sucked out of it.) There’s a piece by Ken Okiishi: five Samsung televisions playing generic programs, turned on their side, their screens daubed with oil paint. A Fred Lonidier work—a 1976 piece that could have been made yesterday—is a wall hung with t-shirts, their fronts custom-printed with images and news announcements related to the GAF Corporation. (The shirts get larger as it goes, from child-size to a Men’s Large, perhaps a nod to the way in which we grow up with companies, our lives colonized by their narratives.)

And an entire room is given over to ephemera from the publishing house semiotext(e)—including a fancy, silvery wallpaper that collages images, posters, announcements, and the like. Several semiotext(e) titles are propped on little shelves, as if we’re in a highbrow gift shop. (Semiotext(e) is trending right now! Fun fact: Head over to Zach Feuer right now and you can see sculptures by Brad Troemel that vacuum-seal the imprint’s monochromatically-covered mini-volumes into color field arrangements augmented by faux-dredlocks.)

Elsewhere on the floor Comer’s focus becomes a bit more diffuse. There’s a whole area that seems weirdly nostalgic for the mid-’80s—David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong, a book by Martin Beck focused on the playlist for a party held in 1984. Which is fine, the Biennial isn’t a survey of our contemporary moment, and these throwbacks are paired with work by Danh Vo and others, but: Why? Meanwhile, Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst‘s photographic series Relationship, 2008-13, is one of the biennial’s true stand-outs—it tracks the pair’s criss-crossing gender transformations (male to female, female to male), and is beautifully composed, funny (some Sarah Lucas-y humor, wherein eggs stand for balls and bratwursts become penises), and unabashadedly sweet and sentimental. The only misstep is in hanging the series in the same room as A.L. Steiner‘s playfully subversive documentary images, which are close enough in style and attitude that the nearby hanging creates a sort of ghetto of photographic queerness.

Comer does include a fair amount of painting as well. Keith Mayerson‘s dozens of canvases, hung chockablock, are notable for having absolutely no defining signature style whatsoever. There are paintings of shipwrecks; of Elvis; of Tin Tin; of Times Square; of James Dean hanging out in a tree, masturbating. Individually, they’re not much; together, they’re a statement about taste (bad and good) and an obsessive work ethic.

Up to the fourth floor, which is helmed by Michelle Grabner, who touts her mission as being about “curriculum building.” That reeks of school, but Grabner’s true M.O. is to focus craft: ceramics, textile, and enough color to stun an elephant. The focus here is more on things: Ricky Swallow‘s patinated bronze sculptures, which resemble delicate little folded-cardboard constructions; Sheila Hicks‘s drooping masses of rainbow materials; Sterling Ruby‘s Lucio Fontana-aping ceramics, like oversized horrorshow ashtrays. Everything is pretty bright and immediate and there’s a mini-focus on women abstract painters: Amy Sillman, Jacqueline Humphreys, Laura Owens, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Suzanne McClelland (plus Rebecca Morris downstairs). Philip Hanson‘s paintings turn quotations from William Blake or Emily Dickinson into hippy spirals that are pretty unbearable, but they’re notable as a reminder of Elijah Burgher’s New Age vibe on the second floor, minus whatever ironic distance that younger practitioner might have. As a curator, Grabner wants to grab you by the shoulders and say: Handmade still matters—like Karl Haendel‘s intricate, realistic graphite drawings, hung in a very Baldessarian arrangement, or Shio Kusaka‘s stoneware and porcelain vessels, decorated with tear patterns or dinosaurs.

What does the 2014 Whitney Biennial mean? Who knows, really. If we had the time or inclination we could offer some conjectures about the ever-expanding field of painting (Dashiell Manley, Dona Nelson); Americans’ obsessions with early-20th century European experimental theater (Shana LutkerMy Barbarian); self-portraiture recast as space-age camp (Jacolby Satterwhite); video-as-voyeurism (Michel Auder filming people through apartment windows, Dave McKenzie filming an unaware Henry Kissinger); or the ironic importation of the tropics into bone-cold New York City (Radames “Juni” Figueroa‘s cozy, heated hut out in the Whitney’s courtyard).

But trying to draw too many cross-connections in an exhibition of 103 artists seems just plain silly, and arbitrary. So why not end in an arbitrary place? If there’s one weird object in the entire biennial to dwell on, perhaps it can be a notebook in a vitrine of effects from David Foster Wallace, who hung himself in 2008. Its cover features two blue-eyed kittens rolling around on a bed of roses, beneath the heading Cuddly Cuties. Heartbreaking in its simplicity and aura of posthumous awfulness, it’s a fitting place to stop—before you descend that staircase of dread and rejoin the wider world.

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HYPERALLERGIC

Museums

Whitney Biennial 2014: Where Have All the Politics Gone?

Lisa Anne Auerbach, "American Megazine #2" (2014), inkjet prints and staples, twenty pages (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

Lisa Anne Auerbach, “American Megazine #2″ (2014), inkjet prints and staples, 24 pages (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

The 2014 Whitney Biennial has many things: oversized ceramics, big abstract and figurative paintings, experimental jazz, videos of people having sex, and bead curtains. What it doesn’t have all that much of is politics. For the most part, the art in this year’s biennial faces inward, reflecting on itself and sometimes the larger world in safe and comfortable ways. You won’t be too put out, turned off, or riled up. You’ll probably just have a good time.

Charlemagne Palestine's 12-channel sound installation "hauntteddd!! n huntteddd!! n daunttlesss!! n shuntteddd!!" (2014) fills the Whitney's stairwell. (click to enlarge)

Charlemagne Palestine’s 12-channel sound installation “hauntteddd!! n huntteddd!! n daunttlesss!! n shuntteddd!!” (2014) fills the Whitney’s stairwell. (click to enlarge)

There is some excellent work in the show. Sterling Ruby’s large, ritualistic ceramic bowls are fabulous. Zoe Leonard’s room-size camera obscura is delightful. Sculptors Alma Allen and Carol Jackson offer brain-bending formal innovations, and I felt as though I could have sat and listened to Charlemagne Palestine’s droning, mesmerizing staircase sound installation for an hour. Paintings by an under-appreciated Chicago Imagist (Philip Hanson), a sound piece made from field recordings of Chicago on September 11 and 12, 2001, when air travel was suspended (Academy Records/Matt Hanner), a gigantic magazine with text culled entirely from psychic consultations (Lisa Anne Auerbach) — there’s plenty to like. But that’s just the issue: the biennial is overly neat and likeable, scarcely messy or funny or challenging.

Carol Jackson, "Pandemonium" (2013), wood, acrylic, papier mâché, and inkjet print

Carol Jackson, “Pandemonium” (2013), wood, acrylic, papier mâché, and inkjet print

Is that a disastrous thing? No. Is it a shortcoming? Absolutely. All art need not be political, but a show that disregards politics in the United States in 2014 is a delusion — not simply because of the state of the country and the world, but also because of the state of art itself. Social practice is experiencing a moment of profound attention and criticality. Artists of color are being included more than ever in the mainstream, yet often still in a segregated way, which many of them question. Within the art world itself, certain practitioners have taken up residence at the border between institutional acceptance and an outsider stance, carving out space for satire and critique. By and large, none of that is in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

I’m inclined to think that this omission stems at least in part from the exhibition’s lack of diversity. It’s telling that one of the strongest, most openly political showings comes from Dawoud Bey, whose two diptychs were curated by Michelle Grabner on the fourth floor. (Bey’s photograph of President Obama also hangs, lonely, at the entrance to the floor.) Bey recently spent seven years visiting Birmingham, Alabama, where, in 1963, white supremacists bombed an African-American church, killing four girls, and shot two African-American boys to death. His research led to The Birmingham Project, a series of black-and-white photo diptychs that pair portraits of African-American youths the same ages as the victims with those of African-American adults the ages the victims would have been in 2012. The gazes of the subjects are both inviting and unsettling.

Dawoud Bey's prints from "The Birmingham Project" (2012) hanging behind Peter Schuyff's carved pencils

Dawoud Bey’s prints from “The Birmingham Project” (2012) hanging behind Peter Schuyff’s carved pencils

Probably the only other artist as explicitly political as Bey is Fred Lonidier, an artist and longtime union activist who focuses on labor issues in his work. Lonidier’s contribution, curated by Stuart Comer on the third floor, consists of a 1976 piece called “GAF Snapshirts” — T-shirts obtained by the artist from a manufacturer called GAF and then custom printed with notes and images from his research into the company — and a 2003 work titled “‘NAFTA…’ Returns to Tijuana/‘TLC…’ Regresa a Tijuana,” two photos relating to a project that Lonidier undertook exploring the conditions at a light assembly plant in Tijuana, Mexico. The works (especially the T-shirts) are eye-catching, but even with their accompanying wall text seem to suffer from a lack of context.

Fred Lonidier, "GAF Snapshirts” (1976) (photo by Hrag Vartanian)

Fred Lonidier, “GAF Snapshirts” (1976), 32 photo- and text-printed T-shirts (photo by Hrag Vartanian)

Also on Comer’s floor is the much-discussed 2012 documentary film Leviathan, made by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University. Shot on tiny waterproof cameras, some attached to nets and people, others thrown into the sea, the 87-minute-long film explores industrial fishing in an unprecedented way, through dark, disorienting images and almost entirely without words. Although its origins at the Harvard lab explicitly position the work as “ethnographic,” critics have pointed out its almost de facto politics. At the Whitney, plunging underwater with Leviathan feels like bursting through the museum’s walls to let in the world outside.

Ken Lum, "Midway Shopping Plaza" (2014), powder-coated aluminum and enameled plexiglass (click to enlarge)

Ken Lum, “Midway Shopping Plaza” (2014), powder-coated aluminum and enameled plexiglass (click to enlarge)

Other artists in the show come to politics, as many of us do, by way of identity. Ken Lum’s towering “Midway Shopping Plaza” (2014, fourth floor/Grabner) is a witty amalgam of tacky signs for Vietnamese-owned shops, except all of the names relate to the Vietnam War. Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst’s Relationship series (2008–13, third floor/Comer) consists of photographs of the two transgender artists in the process of transitioning in opposite directions, a fascinating subject, although the pictures are a bit generic. A.L. Steiner (also third floor/Comer) exhibits her film “More Real Than Reality Itself” (2014) within an all-over installation of photos, “Cost-benefit analysis” (2014), both of which attempt to use the artist’s body and autobiography as a starting point for mining questions of radicalness and activism. It’s one of the few pieces in the biennial that pulls you in with a seductive complexity.

AL Steiner, "Cost-benefit analysis" (2014), pigmented inkjet prints, photocopies, and paint; "More Real Than Reality Itself" (2014), multichannel video installation, color, sound, 54 min

A.L. Steiner, “Cost-benefit analysis” (2014), pigmented inkjet prints, photocopies, and paint; “More Real Than Reality Itself” (2014), multichannel video installation, color, sound, 54 min

Part of the problem of politically minded art in a setting like the Whitney Biennial is that its surroundings are unfavorable. In a show of such scale, viewers often gravitate to larger, flashier works and don’t have the energy or time to do the reading required to understand projects such as Lonidiers’. (Why linger on wall text when you could walk fewer than 10 feet to the Bjarne Melgaard room, which the artist has tricked out with plush, trippy furniture and oversexed female mannequins?) In this biennial, too, a fair amount of the political work is from the past, making it feel less relevant to the present day. (Catherine Opie and Richard Hawkins have curated a room of appealingly strange paintings by Tony Greene, who died of complications from AIDS in 1990 and whom Hawkins calls “the first one out of all of us making work specifically about HIV.”) On top of that, some of the older work is presented in a pristine archival format, which makes it seem even more sealed-off and distant. (A room by Public Collectors on the Anthony Elms-curated second floor presents the archive of Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago experimental jazz enthusiast and activist. It contains mostly music recordings and memorabilia arrayed neatly in glass cases, above which one well-composed photograph of Ritscher protesting hangs on the wall.)

Public Collectors' Malachi Ritscher archive

Public Collectors’ Malachi Ritscher archive

There is much more to come in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, as the performances, videos, and other time-based works are unveiled. Who knows what political ideas may yet unfold. But right now the exhibition’s three floors offer a kind of cozy art cocoon — a sentiment not nearly as distanced from the art fairs as some observers would like to think.

The 2014 Whitney Biennial opens to the public on Friday, March 7, and continues at the Whitney Museum of American Art (945 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through May 25.

HUFFINGTON POST

Your Guide To The Artists Of The 2014 Whitney Biennial

Posted: 03/06/2014 8:43 am EST Updated: 03/06/2014 8:59 am EST

The 77th Whitney Biennial opens Friday, transforming the Madison Avenue museum into a dizzying and somewhat overwhelming sketch of the contemporary art world, as well as a prediction of its future. This year’s crop of 103 participants features artists and collectives ranging from age 28 to 89, hailing from everywhere from Kingston, Jamaica to Berlin, Germany.

Offering everything from sound installations to arts and crafts, this year’s Biennial promises to be “one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in the United States that the Whitney has offered in many years,” according to chief curator Donna De Salvo. This year’s art fest is divided into three separate floors, each designated by a different curator — MoMA’s Stuart Comer, ICA Philadelphia curator Anthony Elms, and Chicago-based artist and professor Michelle Grabner. While each curator brings a different perspective to the mix, all are focused on including artistic perspectives not grounded in New York.

How are you ever going to navigate 103 of the most exciting artists of today (and tomorrow)? We’ve picked out ten artist’s we’re particularly excited for to give you a taste of what’s out there. For the other 93, you’ll have to make your way to the Whitney. Behold, 10 Whitney Biennial artists we can’t wait to see.

1. Pedro Vélez.Born 1973 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Lives and works in Chicago, IL, and Milwaukee, WI.

white

White Privilege in Art CriticismWhat was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
Apocalypse Now. Watched with my dad when I was a kid and it fucked me up.

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
Handmade posters and banners about white privilege in art criticism and American (USA!) society in general.
2. Victoria Fu. Born 1978 in Santa Monica, CA. Lives and works in San Diego, CA, and Los Angeles, CA.

belle

Belle CaptiveWhat was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
Pamela M. Lee took our “Feminist Legacies in Contemporary Art” class to a space that is now CCA Wattis Center. It was all very new to me, and when I encountered Adrian Piper’s “Cornered,” a video monitor pinned by an overturned table, it was like her video image could see right through me. Piper, looking directly at the camera, was addressing me — a feeling both alienating and intimate — collapsing her present with mine. I obviously haven’t soon forgotten the power of her words, her gaze, her moment.

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
My roots lie in narrative cinema, and I feel very much wedged between the experimental analog films that were heavy influences on me as a student, and more recently the rabbit hole we have all fallen through — namely, the internet, virtuality and the digital touchscreen. At its very base, my work is an expression of these elements, combining both original 16mm film and appropriated, lo-res clips from the internet. I’ll be installing a moving image installation in the Lobby Gallery in early May. The multi-projection piece from the Belle Captive series plays with our actual space, cinematic projected space and computer screen space.
3. Louise Fishman. Born 1939 in Philadelphia, PA. Lives and works in New York, NY.

fishman

Crossing the RubiconWhat was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
On a personal level, a painting by my paternal aunt, Razel Kapustin, of starving children. I was nine or 10 years old at the time. Secondly, paintings in the Philadelphia Museum and at the Barnes Foundation by Chaim Soutine.

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
There are two of my paintings in the Whitney Biennial: “Crossing the Rubicon” and “Ristretto.” Both were inspired by residencies in Venice, courtesy of the Emily Harvey Foundation in 2011 and in 2013. The paintings reflect the transformative power of water, light, and the formidable Titians, Tintorettos, Veroneses, etc., as well as the exquisite Murano glass of the early to mid-20th century.

Who else’s work are you most excited for at the Biennial?
Without question, the paintings of Dona Nelson.
4. A.L. Steiner. Born 1967 in Miami, FL. Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

rachel

More Real Than Reality Itself, 2014, digital videoBriefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
Documentary realness.

What is your biggest distraction from working?
Clocks.
5&6. Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst. Drucker: Born 1983 in Syracuse, NY. Ernst: Born 1982 in Pomona, CA. Live and work in Los Angeles, CA.

drucker

Relationship, #____What was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
ZD: Arian Piper’s Cornered – one of my all-time favorites.
RE: Superstar by Todd Haynes

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
ZD & RE: “Relationship” is a photographic series we created that documents our five plus years together. It’s 46 images on view on the 3rd floor and the work shows our evolution as people, as a couple, and throughout our gender transitions. “She Gone Rogue” is a 22-minute fantastical narrative film starring Flawless Sabrina, Holly Woodlawn and Vaginal Davis. It will play in the lobby gallery from March 26 to April 13.

Flawless Sabrina will be doing tarot readings at her apartment across the street from the museum as an auxiliary event connected to the Biennial and also to “She Gone Rogue.” Additionally, we are staging a live TV Talk show in the museum lower lobby on April 4 for the public programming portion of the Biennial.
7. Alma Allen. Born 1970 in Heber City, UT. Lives and works in Joshua Tree, CA

alma

What was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
The Clyfford Still paintings at SFMOMA.

What is your biggest distraction from working?
My best distraction from working is my daughter Frieda.
8. Lisa Anne Auerbach. Born 1967 in Ann Arbor, MI. Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

anne

Let the Dream Write ItselfWhat was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
The majesty of King Tut’s first visit to the U.S. in 1977, followed soon after by Steve Martin’s song abut the ancient ruler demonstrated that humor could be both a celebration and a critique. As a child, I was also quite mystified by John McCracken’s red plank at the Art Institute of Chicago and delighted by the grotesqueness of Ivan Albright.

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
A large knitted banner, three knitted outfits, and Issue #2 of an oversized zine called American Megazine.

What is your biggest distraction from working?
Distraction is part of work.

Who else’s work are you most excited for at the Biennial?
Keith Mayerson. We’ve known one another for 25 years and we’re both thrilled to be showing in the same room together.
9. Keith Mayerson. Born 1966 in Cincinnati, OH. Lives and works in New York, NY.

abraham

Abraham LincolnWhat was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
When I was first out of college and living in New York in the early ’90s I saw one of the first Mike Kelley shows with the stuffed animals on the blankets, and it was a revelation, a post post modernism. Duchamp-like-readymades, but with warmth, narrative, and emotion, that addressed their context within art history, but also left room for transcendence and the ineffable. After seeing the show I wanted, in the hubris of my youth, to start an art movement called NeoIntegrity, and went to grad school in Southern California to be an artist.

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
“My American Dream” is a salon-style installation of 42 paintings created primarily over the last 10 years (although a few others from the beginning decade of my career also slipped in), that is an open-ended, non-linear narrative of my own life with my husband and family, embedded in a comic-like arrangement of images from cultural and political histories of civil rights and personal agency that helped make our country great and gave me inspiration.

What is your biggest distraction from working?
I love teaching, but perhaps this isn’t a distraction as much as its an extension of my own work as an artist — art is about teaching, and in the still rarefied world of fine art, its incredibly edifying to help others help themselves in finding their voice in their work, hopefully also bringing their work to the world to make it a better place.

Who else’s work are you most excited for at the Biennial?
Lisa Anne Auerbach, who serendipitously is my Biennial roommate, is an old friend — she was going out with my best friend Dan Knapp, and we all worked in his mother’s house in Colorado on our art together to go to grad school in Southern California, and although we went to different schools, would all hang out together in LA in the early ’90s, and its an incredible wonder that we are now sharing the same room. Her work and sensibility is fantastic, and we are fellow travelers in our art in many respects.
10. Miguel Gutierrez. Born 1971 in Flushing, NY. Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

whit

Photo by Eric McNattWhat was the first artwork you remember really shaking you up?
It was probably seeing “West Side Story” on television. Or maybe it was seeing the nearly naked dancers at the Folies Bergere in Paris when I was 12. I can’t remember.

Briefly describe your work at this year’s Biennial.
“Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/” is a duet for dancer Mickey Mahar and myself. It’s the first of a three part series of queer pieces looking at artist burnout, mid career artist status dramas, how to queer the present and the future, and the labor of dancing.

What is your biggest distraction from working?
Answering emails like these. Endless insecurity. Facebook. Porn.

The Whitney Biennial runs from March 7 until May 25, 2014 at the Whitney Museum in New York.

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GALLERISTNY

On View

The 2014 Whitney Biennial Disappoints, With Misfires, Omissions, Only Glimmers of Greatness

'Threshold' (2013) by Walsh. (Photo by Steven Probert, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery)

‘Threshold’ (2013) by Walsh. (Photo by Steven Probert, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery)

From the moment that the Whitney Museum revealed that the 2014 biennial would have three curators, each organizing a show on a separate floor, I’ve been worrying. The decision sounded like an abdication of responsibility, a downgrading of the museum’s trademark show, and a recipe for a colossal disaster.

I was wrong. This year’s biennial is not a disaster, but neither is it anything close to a success. It is deeply dissatisfying—a wunderkammer-like, all-over-the-place show that offers some remarkable pleasures and far too many enervating frustrations. It pulls you in not three, but dozens of different directions, plenty of which are dead ends. The quality of the art is dramatically uneven, the tone uncertain. Some work agilely somersaults forward. Too much is frighteningly adrift. There are baffling omissions.

The thrill of the biennial has always been its attempt to capture the moment, presenting the public a view on art today. This three-part approach amounts to a dodge, an attempt to please too many constituencies that will instead please no one. With 103 participants—twice the number in 2012’s excellent, poetic edition, which was organized by Jay Sanders and Elisabeth Sussman, Whitney curators who advised this year’s triumvirate—the overstuffed biennial is back, shortchanging artists.

'Maxine Adams and Amelia Maxwell (from The Birmingham Project)' (2012) by Bey. (Courtesy the artist)

‘Maxine Adams and Amelia Maxwell (from The Birmingham Project)’ (2012) by Bey. (Courtesy the artist)

In a sense, though, it feels like an honest description of today’s art world, which is deeply riven, between money and the museum, pop culture and the underground, and marked by competing visions. The biennial captures—or is perhaps just caught up in—this fraught, tense moment, but is unable to make anything fruitful out of it.

You sense that tension from the moment you enter the show and hear Sergei Tcherepnin’s clever sound piece, made with transducers attached to the lights in the lobby of the Breuer building. It crackles and clicks and squeals—discomfiting noise made by the creaks and vibrations of the institution itself.

Climb the stairwell and you find speaker after speaker letting out harsh, buzzy drones, occasionally interrupted by frightful chanting. It’s the work of experimental music doyen Charlemagne Palestine, who spent time in the stairwell recording it (his customary glass of cognac in hand, a placard notes), evoking the artistic ghosts who haunt it, and the backdrop of history against which artists must now act.

Keep climbing. I recommend, while your eyes are still fresh, starting on the action-packed fourth floor, which belongs to the painter and professor Michelle Grabner, who is based in Chicago, runs alternative spaces in Oak Park, Ill., and Little Wolf, Wisc., and is responsible for about half the show’s participants. It’s a barnburner of an expressionist painting display, rich with women artists, and an inclusive, rollicking celebration of craft.

'Untitled' (2013) by Allen. (Courtesy the artist)

‘Untitled’ (2013) by Allen. (Courtesy the artist)

It’s mayhem up there!  Thick streams of fabric in pungent colors spill down from the ceiling, the work of artist Sheila Hicks, who is 80 this year, not far from three large, brash ceramic urns, oozing with lava, by Sterling Ruby. The excellent New Yorker Dona Nelson has two large paintings that she’s dyed wildly and stitched with rambling string. They jut from the wall, so you can savor both sides of them. They dazzle, as do two precise geometric abstractions by Dan Walsh.

Ms. Grabner comes dangerously close to overcrowding her show. These works are breathing, but barely. With 36 artists on the floor (more are elsewhere), there’s only room for a single, superb painting by Laura Owens, an Angeleno who is easily one of today’s most exciting painters, making magic out of a spliced cartoon, grids and marks, which she subtly tangles Photoshop-style on her canvases. With two or three more (at least), you could get a sense of her range (ditto for the strong, sparkling Jacqueline Humphries), but instead they have to share the floor with a bevy of weak abstractions, by Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Suzanne McClelland and Tony Lewis.

Potentially daring moments always feel close at hand, if only they could have been fleshed out. There are a few beautiful portraits that address the legacy of racial violence by Dawoud Bey (plus, speaking of tension, one of President Obama), two elegant works by the late, great Pictures Generation artist Sarah Charlesworth, a lone Gretchen Bender (lovingly remade by Phillip Vanderhyden). The stop-motion animation of an two men playing a form of proto-tennis, by Joshua Mosley, is a gem, but it’s only three minutes long. Again and again you will yearn for more.

Those who regularly mourn the lack of ravishment in biennials will at least be heartened by Ms. Grabner’s celebration of the hard-won and handmade, in a long shelf of some 70 humble ceramics by Shio Kusaka that ooze dedication, plus Ken Price-worthy walnut and marble forms by Alma Allen and slow-burn ceramics from veteran John Mason.

'Five Senses for One Death' (1969) by Adnan. (Photo by Chris Austen, courtesy the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts)

‘Five Senses for One Death’ (1969) by Adnan. (Photo by Chris Austen, courtesy the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts)

The visual punch decreases with each floor, reaching a kind of steady state on floor three, in the hands of Stuart Comer, a former Tate curator who recently became head of performance and media art at the Museum of Modern Art. He delivers the strongest section, with 23 artists, gamely mixing media and championing multi-taskers, beginning with a decisive palate cleanser in the form of 89-year-old Lebanese-born polymath Etel Adnan, whose ingenious scrolls (admixtures of painting and text) and spare canvases of the view from her Bay Area window set the tone, radiating a warmth that is intimate and personal.

Secrets are being shared on floor three; bodies are morphing, writhing and posing. Keith Mayerson has hung, salon-style, a sublime and idiosyncratic vision of Americana, with Abraham Lincoln, Superman, James Dean (masturbating in a tree) and more. Jacolby Satterwhite, who is among the youngest artists here, has a bewitching video in which he hurtles in costume through interstellar space, time and identities. Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst document, in heartrending photos, their sex changes, male to female and female to male. Bjarne Melgaard steals the show with a madcap, hellish lounge-lair filled with lugubrious sofas, absurd projections, vacuums, sex dolls, penis dolls and a holographic monitor of monkeys mating. It all apparently has to do with our overheating, out-of-control age—the anthropocene—and it does not suggest things are going to turn out so well.

'Transit,' video still from 'Reifying Desire 6' (2014) by Satterwhite. (Courtesy Monya Rowe Gallery and Mallorca Landings Gallery)

‘Transit,’ video still from ‘Reifying Desire 6′ (2014) by Satterwhite. (Courtesy OHWOW, Los Angeles, and Mallorca Landings Gallery)

Mr. Melgaard is one of the few real New York stars here. Even if biennials are no longer as much about who’s in and who’s out in any given year, it’s shocking that not one artist from the exciting, fast-emerging gangs who have been featured in recent shows at MoMA PS1—and even the 2013 Lyon Biennale—is here.

Bland conceptual-architectural works, the bane of curatorial-intensive biennials, put a drag on things in Mr. Comer’s section, particularly from Morgan Fisher and Yve Laris Cohen, who parrot institutional critiques that we’ve heard about for decades. Meanwhile, bland paintings by Dashiell Manley, which are displayed in an inconceivably large faux storage space, figure in an equally bland stop-motion video (it’s time to kill off the painting-as-prop trope).

Thankfully, these whiffs are balanced out by Mr. Comer’s thoughtful, elegiac attention to history. He has intricate geometric drawings by the late Channa Horwitz, open-ended scores for other mediums, and gives a room to Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie to organize a show of the deliriously camp but seriously refined paintings of Tony Greene, who died in of AIDS in 1990, and another to curator Julie Ault, who features works and ephemera from her friends and collaborators, like the late Martin Wong and Matt Wolf, who recalls in an audio slide show how, as a teen in the 1990s, he typed “gay” and “art” into a search engine, and discovered David Wojnarowciz, another AIDS casualty, who was a redoubtable artist and activist. What more can we hope for from artists? (Not to mention our search engines?)

'Folk Tales' (2013) by von Heyl. (Photo by Jason Mandella, courtesy the artist and Petzel)

‘Folk Tales’ (2013) by von Heyl. (Photo by Jason Mandella, courtesy the artist and Petzel)

Anthony Elms, a curator at Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art, is asking something like that on the second floor, where visual delectation plummets almost to zero, saved only by two exuberant paintings by Rebecca Morris. (Even Charline von Heyl, typically a showstopper, delivers underwhelming black-and-white collages.)

A mournful tone prevails. There are stretches of white wall, empty spaces on the floor. Poet Susan Howe’s texts, lining one vitrine, are bare fragments, wasting away. Joseph Grigely includes archival materials from the late, murdered art critic Gregory Battock—iconoclastic articles and accounts of his sexual escapades (the remarkable backstory is worth reading in the biennial’s treasure-filled, if overstuffed, catalogue, to which—full disclosure—I contributed an interview). Marc Fischer, who runs a Chicago group called Public Collectors, stages a miniature memorial to Chicagoan Malachi Ritscher with iPods stocked with experimental music concerts that Ritscher taped in the Windy City from the 1980s until his 2006 death by self-immolation, protesting the Iraq War.

There are some fine moments—Michel Auder’s hypnotic, noir-filled video room (nighttime cityscapes, peeks through windows), Paul P.’s handsome desk and quiet drawings, truly odd, alluring sculptures by Carol Jackson and works by the late Terry Adkins, rods lined with cymbals that map the structure of birdcalls, all the while recalling medieval devices for violence—but they’re undercut by dry or slight works by Dave McKenzie, Gary Indiana and Allan Sekula.

Mr. Elms has vital ideas to share, like his positing an expansive definition of the artist that embraces anyone whose activities (collecting, archiving, cruising) take on aesthetic and ethical import through their care and devotion, but I kept wishing I could just read about it in a book.

'Untitled (#01-13)' (2013) by Morris. (Photo by Lee Thompson, courtesy the artist Galerie Barbara Weiss)

‘Untitled (#01-13)’ (2013) by Morris. (Photo by Lee Thompson, courtesy the artist Galerie Barbara Weiss)

More of the biennial will be unveiled in the coming weeks, with what looks like a potentially strong (and commendably manageable) video and performance program, including dance from Taisha Paggett, music from Pauline Oliveros and a new opera from the severely under-rated Robert Ashley, who passed away just days ago.

In the meantime, you can head downtown to find a monumental sculpture by Tony Tasset (part of Ms. Grabner’s section) along the Hudson on West 17th Street. It’s tiled with colored panels, engraved with almost 400,000 alphabetized names of artists from the 20th and 21st centuries. Mr. Tasset has discussed it as a way of removing hierarchy, of celebrating everyone equally. That’s of course diametrically opposed to the idea of a biennial, and so I was pretty much expecting to hate it, as a smug, self-satisfied display of overwrought conceptualism. And yet, searching through it, hunting for the names of artists who have meant a great deal to me, I found it to be a moving exercise, my eyes coasting across thousands of unknown artists and coming across other favorites along the way. It offered some consolation—a reminder that over time artists get sifted out of obscurity, that history gets reimagined. This year’s biennial may be a disappointment, but thousands of artists are hard at work, waiting in the wings. The 2016 biennial is not so far away.

(Through May 25, 2014)

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THE NEW REPUBLIC

ART MARCH 6, 2014

Whitney Biennial: The Most Narcissistic of all New York Art World Events

Does anybody actually remember the Whitney Biennial of two or ten or twenty years ago? I doubt many museumgoers remember any of them very clearly, if indeed they remember them at all. You don’t have to take my word for this. In the catalogue of the 2012 Biennial no less an authority than the Whitney’s very own director, Adam D. Weinberg, observes that “memories are relatively short.” So before I even walk into the 2014 Biennial, which is opening to the public this weekend, I thought I would try and refresh my memory about Biennials past, by pulling out of a closet the thirty years worth of Biennial catalogues that I have salted away.

Collection of the artist. Copyright Stephen Lacy
Academy Records’s still from The Bower, 2011-13.

The first thing to be said about the Biennial, which began in 1932, is how astonishing it is that after all these years people still care. Year after year, the critics and sundry cognoscenti conclude that the show is a mess of one kind or another. One year it seems to be a better sort of mess, another year worse, but there is something about the nature of the mess that keeps people coming. As Weinberg observes in the 2012 catalogue, there is a fascination in watching each new set of curators “wipe the slate clean” and “do something that contrasts with the previous one. It’s amazing that even in a short, two-year period, people want to put the prior one behind.” That remark brings us to the enduring electricity of these exhausting events. At least in the last thirty years, it’s become the out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new show, which sometimes involves recycling the old things as new things; after all, how much in the world is ever really new? The Biennial is the most purely narcissistic of all New York art world events, an orgy of navel-gazing that can leave a bad feeling—a sense of unease, if not disgust.  

There’s a but-enough-about-me-let’s-talk-about-me slant to a great many of the Whitney catalogues. “How can the Whitney Biennial remain relevant?” the curators asked in 2006. And in 2010, the curators explained that “if the curators of the 1993 Biennial were called to curate the 2006 Biennial, they would have shaped a completely different exhibition than the one they curated thirteen years before.” Jump to the 1993 Biennial and you find David A. Ross, the director of the museum at the time, announcing that the museum is “depart[ing] slightly from the organizing principles that have guided these exhibitions in the past two decades.” Four years later, Lisa Phillips, a Whitney curator, is announcing that the museum is “breaking with precedent,” while the Biennial after that is accompanied by a declaration that the six curators from across the country who have been assigned to organize the show will bring “fresh thinking … to a time-honored but ever-contentious exercise.”  So is it any wonder that when you open the catalogue of the 2014 Biennial you find that “the museum has taken this process of experimentation a step further?” A step, by the way, that sounds an awful lot like steps taken at one time or another in the past, “with two in-house curators acting in the role of advisors and three external curators asked to organize the exhibition.” The Biennial has been reorganized so many times that it’s a miracle it hasn’t been reorganized out of existence.

Although they nearly always contain work of some consequence, the overwhelming impression is of anxiety and hysteria.

The Whitney Biennials are restless, unwieldy, banal, belligerent, sporadically engaging, and at times just plain batty. Although they nearly always contain work of some consequence, the overwhelming impression is of anxiety and hysteria, a show that no matter how much it reaches beyond Manhattan tends to reflect the very worst of New York, the city’s vanity and one-upmanship and frenzied zeitgeist readings. It’s a show that demands a reaction, that demands to be new every time. The fever begins with the catalogues themselves, which for at least the past thirty years have been engineered for obsessive distinctiveness. No two are the same size or shape or color, and hardly any one of them can be said to be well designed. 2006 is thick and chunky, “designed and bound so that it can be pulled apart to create ninety-nine posters designed by the Biennial artists.” 2004, big and square and bound in grey velour, is accompanied by a box full of bumper stickers, decals, and assorted pamphlets and goodies by the artists in the show. 2002 sports a bright red CD on its cover, which suggests a high-tech bellybutton.

Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York. Photo by Jason Mandella
Charline von Heyl’s Folk Tales, 2013. Acrylic, ink, wax, and charcoal and collage on paper.

Back in 1995, when Klaus Kertess organized the Biennial, he titled his introductory essay “Postcards from Babel,” and that will do very nicely as a title for any Biennial of the past twenty years. Kertess, a man of refined sensibilities, thought to include an old-timer, the Abstract Expressionist painter Milton Resnick, in a lineup that emphasized recent stars such as Matthew Barney, Stan Douglas, Carroll Dunham, and Cindy Sherman. Something-old-something-new is a reliable Biennial trope, with this year’s sentimental favorite probably being the eighty-year-old fabric artist Sheila Hicks, whose finest work is very fine indeed. Kertess hoped that there was some kind of mysterious metaphoric language—a language that emphasized “visual plasticity, ambiguity, and multivalence”—that might knit together the Babel of the Biennial. But my exceedingly vague memories of Kertess’s Biennial—refreshed with a look at “War Stories,” an essay I wrote at the time and included in my book Eyewitness—suggests that finally Kertess didn’t do much better than any other curator before or since. I will, though, take Kertess’s hipster aestheticism in 1995 over the emphasis on “the geopolitical, the psychosocial, and the body’s politic” of the 1993 Biennial.

Courtesy of the artist
Alma Allen’s Untitled, 2013. Marble sculpture on an oak pedestal.

As for the 2014 Biennial, isn’t it a fact that everybody is approaching the show with the expectation that it’s going to be Babel all over again? Perhaps a somewhat different brand of Babel, but Babel nevertheless. Because this is the last Biennial to be held in the Whitney building designed by Marcel Breuer on Madison Avenue—the museum moves to new quarters in the Meatpacking District in 2015—there may even be more narcissism and navel-gazing than in some Biennials past. The self-reflexiveness begins with the mottled textures on the cover of the 2014 catalogue. I had no idea that there was some particular significance to these patterns, until I read the catalogue introduction by curators Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner, in which the patterns are said to “come from rubbings of the surfaces of the Breuer building.” This building, much maligned as an upside-down ziggurat when it first opened in 1966, is now regarded by some as an idiosyncratic architectural masterstroke. The “rubbings” from the building’s uneven surfaces (I am quoting the curators) become “a motif meant to ground the reader of the wide-ranging content in the physical facts of the exhibition experience”—a motif that appears not only on the cover but on decorative pages within the catalogue.

Anybody who has followed the Whitney’s furious battle to remodel or reconfigure or entirely reject the Breuer building will be amused by this sudden burst of sentiment. The building is being treated as if it were an old gravestone in a New England cemetery—an object of veneration. The Whitney gang hasn’t even left Madison Avenue and they’re repackaging the building for nostalgia value. That’s certainly in line with the Biennial mentality, which holds that only when you are safely speeding into the future can you afford to look back. As for the curators who are in charge this year, they’re stuck in exactly the same place as every Biennial curator has been for the past thirty years, excited to be “rethink[ing] how American art is understood, articulated, and debated.” One of these eons, the curators might try thinking instead of rethinking.

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GOTHAMIST

An Opinionated Guide To The 2014 Whitney Biennial

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Matt Hammer’s Tomorrow is Still Above You (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

Didn’t Gothamist already post about this?
Yes, we did, in fact! The excellent preview by Ben Miller would be a strong introduction if you stopped reading now. But you already clicked and the money is in the bank, so read on for a fuller picture of the show.

Fine. What is the Whitney Biennial?
The Whitney Biennial is a once-every-two-years (“biennial”) exhibition presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art (“Whitney”) of mostly new and emerging contemporary American artists. The Whitney has been putting on large group exhibitions for nearly 100 years, but the biennial format only began in 1973. It is first and foremost an exercise in curation, and this year the Whitney invited outside curators to put together the show, culminating in its distinct format and (sometimes) unique results.

Is it fascist?
Well, that depends on how you feel about museums. (At the Frick they force you to WEAR your overcoat if you decide not to check it!) But seriously, though the Biennial is mostly uncontroversial in a larger, more general sense, it is routinely the target of familiar and valid criticisms from within and without the art world. As recently as 2012 a parody Biennial website mocked the exhibition’s corporate ties.

The most notable (and sustained) criticisms were made by the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous feminist art collective formed in 1985 in New York City, active through the late 1990s, and still working today, who in 1987 protested the Biennial to draw attention to the dearth of female and minority artists in the showcase. “The Guerrilla Girls Review The Whitney” was held at the non-profit Clocktower gallery, where the group denounced the systemic disenfranchisement of women in the history of the Biennial up until that point (for the seven exhibitions from 1973-1987, the number of women of color in the Biennial was a “statistically insignificant 0.3%”). In 1987, women were a mere 27% of artists in the Biennial.

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Guerrilla Girls Poster via guerrillagirls.com

2014’s Biennial is still not immune to these criticisms: by one early estimate, roughly 30% are women and 7% are black. Is it a coincidence that this year’s only female curator assembled the most diverse collection? Should I disclose that I am a white male now or later?

So? What’s the big deal?
However you slice it, it’s just one of the biggest art-world events in one of the biggest centers of the art-world in one of the most famous museums in one of the biggest cities in the United States. The Whitney Biennial exists, and you most certainly will be hearing about it.

This year’s Biennial is taking on a slightly different format: three curators from outside the Whitney were invited to organize their own show on one of the museum’s three main floors. Anthony Elms, Stuart Comer, and Michelle Grabner took over the second, third, and fourth floors respectively. Elms is an associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (read a nice Q&A with him here), Comer is the Media and Performance Art Curator at the MoMa, and Grabner is an artist and professor at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Let’s get to it, then!
There is a lot to get through: 103 artists and groups make up the 3.5-ish floor exhibition, so this will mostly highlight the pieces I liked the most and try to provide a sense of the three distinct floors. Am I qualified to do so? No, but neither are art historians, because art history is saturated with hired bullshit.

The Second Floor
Each level opens with a curator’s statement summarizing their approach to their exhibition floor. Elm’s guiding question for the second floor was the same one Marcel Breuer posed to himself when designing the Whitney—”What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan?”

Walking out of the elevators your are confronted with your first piece, Jimmy Durham’s Choose Any Three, a wooden totem with names of famous persons in groups of three, made during his time in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He has been living and working all over Europe since the mid-90s, and his presence foreshadows one of the floors more interesting themes: Patriotism. What is an ex-pat American artist’s relationship to American contemporary art? Is he even American? Does it matter? (Yes.)

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Jimmy Durham’s Choose Any Three (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

High points elsewhere on the second floor: intermittent screenings of last year’s stellar film Computer Chess by Andrew Bujalski, shot entirely on some ancient Sony AVC 3260 VHS cameras…

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Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

…Paul P.’s beautiful abstract portraiture…

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Paul P., Untitled (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

…and Gary Indiana’s LED curtain installation, looping footage shot inside the now-closed Presido Modelo prison in Cuba modeled after Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon design. Next to the curtain is an artist’s statement set on top of still photographs of mostly naked young men.

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Gary Indiana’s LED Curtain (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

The second floor is rounded out with two curated personal collections, one of art critic Gregory Battock, who was stabbed to death in Puerto Rico in a still unsolved murder, and the other of Malachi Ritscher, an underground music scholar who set himself on fire during rush hour on the Chicago expressway in protest of the Iraq War.

There are three video installations centered around looking and being watched, often without consent—feeding into an implicit dialogue on post-PRISM America—completing a second floor that, as I said above, is a question of patriotism.

The Third Floor
Stuart Comer wrote that the artists he brought to the Whitney had work that’s “as hybrid as the significant global, environmental, and technological shifts reshaping the United States.” The third floor has an apocalyptic 22nd century feel to it, with invited artists extrapolating reflections on contemporary problems with a futuristic pessimism. That’s right, it’s got it all: Place, Movement, Violence, Philosophy, Technology, Capitalism, Nature, Industry, Globalization.

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Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatrography XVIII, 1991. Casein and ink on mylar, 54 × 39 in. (137.2 × 99.1 cm). Estate of Channa Horwitz. Courtesy of the Estate of Channa Horwitz and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. © Channa Horwitz. (Photograph by Robert Wedemeyer)

But the third floor is the standout, for me at least. Channa Horwitz’s formalized graph paper illustrations that are like complex, colorful, and highly regulated DNA read-outs (my favorite of the more traditional artwork); the trippy experimental documentary Leviathan on the fishing industry in New Bedford, Massachusetts, produced by a group from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab; a really cool photo series from Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, Relationships, of a transgender couple undergoing a gender transition in opposite directions; and a mixed media installation of feminist video and photo prints from A.L. Steiner.

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(Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst’s Relationships, Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

There’s also a whole room for Semiotext(e), including an entire new series of texts commissioned for the Biennial, an excerpt of an interview with Gilles Deleuze, and some artifacts from the influential publishing house’s 40 year history.

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Still from Semiotext(e)’s Deleuze A to Z with Claire Parnet (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

Finally, let’s not forget the Bjarne Melgaard’s *NSFW* Real Doll room. The creepy dolls are propped up on ugly, handmade, yet equally as artificial couches. The photo is a little blurry, but it’s a keeper, accounting for the disorienting video screens looping footage of animals, humans, fighting, and fucking in a truly distopic future pleasure house. Melgaard’s room is definitely a make-or-break moment; you’re gonna love it or hate it, most likely, though there is plenty to be ambivalent about.

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(Bjarne Melgaard’s untitled installation, Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

The Fourth Floor
Grabner’s aim for the fourth and final floor was to assemble a collection that was not framed to be a “purely subjective take on contemporary American art” but rather a “curriculum that presents identifiable themes, generalities even, that are currently established in the textures of contemporary aesthetic, political, and economic realities.” The result is the Big-A Art floor, packed with massive sculptures and installations, that Grabner identifies with “three overlapping priorities: contemporary abstract painting by women; materiality and affect theory; and art as strategy.”

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The Whitney’s 4th Floor (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

A very classic spread results in what is arguably the least subject-diverse floor, but the most formally and technically interesting, in a strictly artistic sense. It is also home to a small display of David Foster Wallace’s notebooks on The Pale King, including a list of 52 “Good Names” scrawled on the back of a Rugrats notebook (the best of the names, #2 on that list, is “Nugent Brian Nugent”) and some notes from his interview with Roger Federer. Even though DFW is a household name, it is a curious, but welcome, inclusion nevertheless,

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(David Foster Wallace’s Cuddly Cuties Notebook, Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

Towards the back is a short, shifty stop-motion animation video of some clay figures playing an early version of tennis called jeu de paume by Joshua Mosley. Sports culture is gargantuan and interesting, so probing an original artifact of play is an interesting and fruitful area.

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(Joshua Mosley Je de Paume, Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

Out of the big pieces, Gretchen Bender’s People in Pain, repaired by Philip Vanderhyden, is most impressive, filling out a large wall with distressed black vinyl, lit by neon blue LED lights illuminating various movie titles. Not getting into specifics about the rest of the pieces is not a knock; I was simply less drawn to, but no less impressed by, the large abstract canvas paintings and a rainbow-colored bunch of hundreds of thick streams of yarn pouring down from the ceiling (very cool).

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(Gretchen Bender’s People in Pain, Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

TL;DR Version
The third floor is the most interesting, the fourth floor has the best Art, and the second floor definitely exists. It’s hard to not feel underwhelmed, always conscious that this is simply another museum, despite the prestige and buzz that surrounds the Biennial, but that may be just a common feeling with art in general. There is a lot of talk about the Whitney’s “signature windows,” and the commissioned pieces that dialogue with them, which is mildly annoying.

Wow, modern art is the worst! I could do that shit.
Nope, that attitude is the worst. That generally blasé dismissal of art is a toxic and lazy defense mechanism. Furthermore, it’s one of those dangerous statements that nearly means nothing at all; a void collapsing in on itself as it barely escapes your face.

Even being extremely conservative with the estimate, humans have been artists since, well, we started being human, so a lot has been done before—it should be no surprise that the conceptual underpinnings of a piece of art (and the non-vacuum art resides in—namely, our increasingly mediated visual culture) take on a more privileged position as time goes on. Also, people don’t have to spend 35 years learning to paint anymore, so go make some art or something.

Fair enough, but did anything suck?
Definitely! For what it’s worth, every museum has its duds and the Biennial is no exception. I offer one in particular—Morgan Fisher’s Ro(Ro(Room)om)om, a Russian egg type installation modeled after three rooms in the Whitney’s new and under construction home in the Meatpacking District. Fisher sets each one inside of the other at different scales, finishing the largest (and most useless, Museum-wise) room, a closet, at full scale.

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Morgan Fisher’s Ro(Ro(Room)om)om, (Marc Yearsley / Gothamist)

It’s just drywall and nails adorned with the unavoidable (read: not intentional) scrapes and scratches that arise during assembly and movement. It is basic, uninspired, lazy, and offensive; unimaginative, no matter how verbose you get about it. There are other misfires, of course, but I’d offer the unfortunately titled Ro(Ro(Room)om)om as the poster child of What Sucks About Art Sometimes. Other flops include oil paint on LED video screens and the stairwell installation of speakers decked with stuffed animals emitting an ambient droning sound. For the most part, though, it is usually advisable to not focus on the shitty stuff.

Well, should I go?
I don’t know. A benefit analysis is never useful for these types of things. Either someone is going to go to this thing or they are not, arguing its worth is completely subjective. How much do you need that $20? But if you like art, are interested in something that comes around once every two years, and have some disposable income set aside for recreation and edification, an afternoon at the Whitney barely costs more than a ticket to a movie, and you won’t ever be able to Netflix it. Honestly, I’d recommend it on the strength of the third floor alone. This year’s Biennial has highs and lows, everyone is going to have different tastes, you like what you like, and, as always, time is a flat circle.

Contact the author of this article or email tips@gothamist.com with further questions, comments or tips.

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Vincent Johnson: The October Paintings – Update

October Painting 1 and 2, Los Angeles, California by Vincent Johnson

The October Painting 1 and 2, Los Angeles, California by Vincent Johnson

The October Paintings – numbers 3 and 4 – The October Paintings (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson) – the paintings are at the underpainting stage. They will be allowed to dry in my studio and then a layer of white glaze will be added. That will dry. Then I will work on each work, layer by layer, allowing each layer to dry, or be worked or added to as I desire. Our car Roxy is in the background, her back arched as she defies a mushroom to move.

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The October Paintings (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson) – paintings 3 and 4. Taking advantage of the fabulous weather in LA.

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The October Paintings – paintings 1 and 2 (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson) – with our cat Roxy playing in the back yard.

October Paintings 5 and 6, underpainted on October 31, 2013. Van Nuys, CA

October Paintings 5 and 6, underpainting – layer one – October 31, 2013. Van Nuys, CA

October Paintings 5 and 6.on 11.01.13 no .3 October Paintings 5 and 6.on 11.01.13

The October Paintings, 2013, under painting layers, Los Angeles, California, by Vincent Johnson

The October Paintings, 2013, paintings one and two, under painting layers, Los Angeles, California, by Vincent Johnson

The October Paintings (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson)

The October Paintings – paintings one and two (a new paintings project by Los Angeles based artist Vincent Johnson)

The October Paintings are comprised of nine 4×4 foot oil on canvas paintings. These are the largest canvases I’ve worked on since my return to painting after two decades of working with photography. I was trained as a representational painter at Pratt Institute and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My graduate degree is in critical theory and painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The works are a continuation of my exploration of the history of art materials, combined with using the layering techniques of representation to create singular new abstractions. This is my first time working on several large-scale canvases at once. What I’ve noticed over the years is that every significant work I’ve made eventually finds its way into the world, often through unanticipated opportunity.  The works are visceral, visually rich, emotively engaging. They follow the six large-scale paintings in the COSMOS SUITE that is also ongoing and was started in 2012, and the NINE GRAYSCALE PAINTINGS in LOS ANGELES that I completed in 2011. In my work I have always sought to reach for and produce imagery that lends itself to a serious consideration of the ideas that come to the mind when approaching the image. For me these works seek to substantiate themselves in the world, to be both evocative and provocative, beautiful and remarkable in both concept and realization. As these works are fully developed I will continue to record the journey am taken on with them, until they are complete.

OCTOBER PAINTING - Scumble glazing, second phase of the paintings.

OCTOBER PAINTING – Scumble glazing, second phase of the paintings.

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October Paintings – scumble glazed and drying in studio.

During the scumble glazing layer of the painting, where I knock down the underpainting colors so that the next layers can deliver a fabulous punch, I thought about the magnificient, enormous paintings I saw this summer at the Menil Collection in Houston, by Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko. The high seriousness of Rothko’s chapel paintings was amazing. Yet on that day it would be my discovery of the excellence of Cy Twombly as a painter of the primordial and playful sublime that captivated my attention in his purpose built stand alone large gallery space that showcased his work far beyond the circular swirls I know but care nothing for at all. It seems that when Twombly switched to specific subject matter – whether it be abstract landscape paintings, where he had simply marvelous deep rich green works, or his overall giant abstractions, filled with playful and powerful singular and exciting moments, both satisfied in wonderful ways. I was fortunate to make two trips to Houston this summer. The Late Byzantine to Today was a marvel to behold; I also had no idea that the Menil is a world class repository of Surrealist art. I was also privileged to see the James Turrell retrospective at the MFA Houston, which itself will be expanding soon with a major new building devoted to modern and contemporary art. The Menil Collection itself will be adding seven new individual artist showcase galleries, which combined with their traveling shows will make Houston as important a center for seeing art as anywhere in the US outside of New York. I am looking at the nine 4×4 foot October paintings in my studio. Its the largest body of work I have ever produced as a painter. I can see so many possibilities in this new direction. It gives me reason to continue to push to get my work into the world, despite all of the difficulties I have experienced. Painting makes me see beyond my own being.

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, CA

Vincent Galen Johnson new paintings - outdoor studio Los Angeles - 1

Vincent Galen Johnson – The October Paintings – outdoor studio Los Angeles

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Just added this final layer of paint to this painting. Now its ready. by Vincent Johnson 2014

The October Paintings in Los Angeles, 2014, painted and written by Los Angeles based painter and writer Vincent Galen Johnson.

My journey into painting has never ended, only paused during the many years my primary artistic practice moved from painting to writing, then to photography and writing. I’ve never stopped looking at painting. I went to London over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2011 to see the Gerhard Richter retrospective. It was strange to see a photorealist painter realize the power of paint being managed through sheer process and to create astonishing images of such subtle yet shocking beauty. While in London I took in a full day visit to the National Gallery, where I was swept away by such a superb landscape painting by Constable. I felt as if I were seeing an apparition as the leafy structure that represented part of a tree seemed to extend from the canvas into the gallery space. I also recall seeing Sigmar Polke, Anselm Kiefer, Eric Fischl and David Salle ‘s paintings from the 1980′s from those magnificent shows on West Broadway in Soho. Of late I’ve become a fan of Beatriz Milhaze, Nicole Eisenman, Henry Taylor, and have for years followed the work of Kerry James Marshall. Now I feel I need to feed my mind on as many superior painted pictures as I can devour.

Anselm Kiefer painting show in Antwerp

Gerhart Richter painting

This is the third year since I began painting again after two decades of making photographic works and writing in Los Angeles. Paint is a remarkable material in which to work. It offers seemingly an infinite number of ways of working the canvas, from application to scraping off even week old paint, to rubbing and applying several more layers with brushes, rags, and painting knives. It took me a while to allow myself to work abstractly. I still have about five unfinished paintings that I started in 2005 based on architectural vistas from my imagination, and they remain in my art storage, and one is in my studio, still unfinished. So its not totally true that I first started painting again in 2011; it was actually in 2005, but I gave up after a couple of months and put those canvases away for a future time. Its the sheer malleability of paint that drives me to work with it today, and its film-like capacity to be overlaid and yet see what’s underneath that enthralls. So far each of my paintings is abstract yet I continue to study the history of materials of artists as well as making my own multiple experiments on each new canvas. Some of my works have as many as a dozen layers and overlays of paint. Each one seems to inform the other as to the next possible direction to start in and then to build up to in terms of sheer quality of paint handling, image power,  and fulfillment of the mind through the eyes. Its a richly rewarding feeling to be making this new work after so many years, and to see where I had left off as a painter two decades ago. And then to see where I’ve come along since that time, using all of the tools and skills learned in Brooklyn and Chicago many years ago in school.

A painting by Nicole Eisenman
A painting by LA painter Henry Taylor.
A suite of paintings by Sigmar Polke

Painting outdoors in the California sun has been a revelation. I can allow my paintings to dry in the sun. Then store them at night in my art storage. Then bring them out again to look at in the proud light of the morning, and sit and walk among them, and think about what is the next step for each of those that are yet to be complete. Having the sky as my ceiling has been amazing, and having so much space in which to operate has unleashed so many great ideas about the direction to take my work, as I can sit the paintings in my outdoor studio and relish them in the warmth of a February day in Southern California. Next I’ll be working on a few dozen much smaller canvases, then returning to the larger 4 by 4 foot canvases. This post has been my afternoon break to record where I am with my new work.

It makes me happy to be painting again, in California.

Vincent Galen Johnson

Los Angeles

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The October Paintings by Vincent Galen Johnson in Los Angeles, March 2014

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This painting was layered with paint over several days, then scraped out with the excess paint allowed to dangle from the area of the canvas where it had been cut away. The painting now has a sculptural element of pure paint hanging from its several lawyers beneath.

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The painting on the far right was transformed with gold, blue and grey paint this evening. See the final above.

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This canvas was handled completely differently from most of the others and has a final overlay of paint that creates the image of a colorful chalk board.

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A thick impasto of dazzling color was spread with a painting knife across the canvas. in waves, in this painting.

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The painting to the left reminds me of photos of sunbursts.

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My outdoor painting studio.

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My painting studio set up.

Vincent Johnson: CV
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America and Art Slant, and in over fifty different publications in total. His works were shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. He has shown recently at Soho House (curated by ForYourArt, Los Angeles) and at Palihouse (curated by Los Angeles Nomadic Division), West Hollywood, and most recently at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood. Johnson’s work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012); PS1 Museum, New York; the SK Stiftung, Cologne; Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART; Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles; Boston University Art Museum; Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona; Adamski gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen; Lemonsky Projects, Miami. Johnson’s work has been published in a dozen exhibition catalogs. His work was exhibited in the inaugural Open Project exhibition at the Palace of the Inquisition, Evora, Portugal, July – October, 2013 and at Another Year in LA gallery, West Hollywood.

Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He is a work member of THE WINTER OFFICE, Copenhagen. THE WINTER OFFICE upholds a creative strategy concerned with defining an intersection between art, architecture and design.

vincentjohnsonart@gmail.com

http://www.vincentjohnsonart.com

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos Suite 2012-2013

Hello

This is Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.

Here are three new paintings are added to my Cosmos Suite of paintings 2.24.2013. These are the 7th, 8th and 9th paintings created in the Cosmos Suite. They are also the 4th, 5th and 6th large scale paintings in this body of work.

These Cosmos Suite paintings are created using various experiments in media and paint application. Johnson has done substantial research into the area of the history of painting materials and there use, and employs this knowledge in the production of his work.

There are now a total of nine paintings in the Cosmos Suite. Six of the nine paintings are thirty by forty inches in size. Three of the paintings – the originals in the suite, are twenty by twenty four inches in size. Each painting takes about a month to create as there is a three week drying time between the first and second layers of the painting. As the suite grows there will be additional sizes including larger works.

1A.artcat

Cosmos Suite: A Meeting Between Two Figures in Space

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

Poured Liquin in center of painting, added stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out.

Large areas of vertical yellow in painting. Layered canvas in thick paint in certain areas. Reminds me of seeing Gerhard Richter’s painting retrospective in London in the fall of 2011.

6A.artcat

Cosmos Suite: State and Grace

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles

Used sponges on face of painting. Layered canvas in thick paint.

Poured Liquin in center of painting, added stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out.
Reminds me of Florida’s mysterious beauty

Shape is of Florida in part

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Cosmos Suite: State and Grace – final – complete 2.25.2013

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

5B.artcat

Cosmos Suite: State and Grace – final – complete 2.25.2013

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

2A.artcat

 Cosmos Suite: Astral Melodies
30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

used sponges on side and surface of the painting. used large brushwork. Layered canvas in paint.

Poured Liquin in between stripes of pure paint color to canvas, mixed with paint rags, dabbed till thick paint areas are leveled out. Started out with thick brush in corner to mix, abandoned this quickly.

Sensing jazz standards here – floating fields of opulent pure romantic color

Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.
Below are some of the other paintings I have completed since returning to painting in the summer of 2011.
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Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)

Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings

California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.

Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches

Cosmos. Oil on canvas  2012 by Vincent Johnson

Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.

Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and posted here.

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting: The Storm (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles, California

Vincent Johnson, Grayscale painting, Snow White/White Snow (2012). Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches, created in studio in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings, Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles, (2001). Oil on canvas. Each panel is 20×24 inches.
photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.
Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles, California

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THE NEW YORL TIMES

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Detail of “Untitled,” 2013, by Laura Owens, one of the women revitalizing abstract painting. Credit Private collection; courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
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Continue reading the main story

WHITNEY Biennials can be daunting, confounding, exhausting and sometimes even outrageous. No matter how the curators organize this sprawling survey of what’s happening in American contemporary art right now, trying to navigate the museumwide exhibition and make sense of it all is a challenge, even for the pros.

This year’s edition, its 77th, which opens next Friday, is the last in the Whitney Museum’s Madison Avenue home before it decamps to its new building in Manhattan’s meatpacking district in 2015. It is also perhaps the most highly anticipated contemporary art event in a week jam-packed with gallery openings and art fairs.

For the Biennial’s finale in the Marcel Breuer building, the Whitney invited three outside curators to organize the show: Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance at the Museum of Modern Art; Anthony Elms, associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, an artist and a professor in the painting and drawing department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In a break from years past, the three have each taken a floor and will present distinct visions, rather than one buildingwide narrative. Although they have coordinated in some of the public spaces, the second, third and fourth floors can be seen as independent shows and visited either in bite-size pieces — one floor at a time — or swallowed in one gulp.

“It’s as if you’re on your laptop and have three windows open,” Mr. Comer explained. “It’s not a collaboration but a conversation, a dialogue.” To drive home the point that this is “a show with three chapters,” as he calls it, the catalog gives each curator a distinct section, printed on differently textured papers.

This year’s biennial is especially dense, featuring the works of 103 participants (a word carefully chosen to include both individual artists and artist collectives), more than twice the number in 2012. Art is everywhere — in the stairwells, the sculpture court, the elevators, the lobby (where the composer and artist Sergei Tcherepnin has created a sound installation emanating from the ceiling).

Performances will be sprinkled throughout the museum, changing during the run of the show, which ends on May 25. (The schedule will be posted on the museum’s website.)

It’s not the first time the Biennial will spill out of its home, this time into Hudson River Park, at 17th Street, with a monumental multimedia work by Tony Tasset, composed of colored acrylic panels etched with the names of 400,000 artists, from Picasso and Warhol to little-known emerging artists.

For visual omnivores, the week also offers a panoply of commercial art fairs. There are the Art Dealers Association of America Art Show, at the Park Avenue Armory (at 67th Street), which opens on Wednesday, and the sprawling Armory Show, at Piers 92 and 94 (12th Avenue and 55th Street in Clinton) and the Independent Art Fair, (548 West 22nd Street in Chelsea), which both open on Thursday.

But it is the Biennial that aims to capture what’s happening in American art. Themes inevitably emerge, delivered in different ways, in different mediums, by different curators. Here are a few to look out for during your visit.

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“Five Senses for One Death,” 1969, ink and watercolor by Etel Adnan, 89, the Beirut-born cultural editor. Credit Collection of the artist; Callicoon Fine Arts, New York

Words and More Words

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The “Midwesternism” notebook, from “The Pale King” materials by David Foster Wallace. Credit Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin/David Foster Wallace Literary

PAPER is a star of this Biennial, with dozens of books and printed material. “Now that we have access to more archival material, we are all preoccupied with how we can reanimate it and create living histories,” Mr. Comer said. The independent publisher Semiotext(e) is presenting a series of books; an artist duo, Valerie Snobeck and Catherine Sullivan, have created an installation whose imagery and objects are based on a lifetime of airline menus collected by a Chicago anthropologist.

The 89-year-old Beirut-born cultural editor and artist Etel Adnan, whose accordion-folded paper books and diaries depict street scenes of New York, suggest the relationship between writing and painting. Also on view are the spiral notebooks with sketches that the writer David Foster Wallace kept while researching “The Pale King,” his last novel. (His biographer, D. T. Max, called them “an improvised bulletin board.”)

In addition to printed matter, look for literary accouterments, such as a writing table created for Nancy Mitford, the British novelist, by the Canadian-born artist Paul P.

Arts and Crafts

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“Blehh,” 2012, a delicately tooled wall piece of leather, enamel, brass and acrylic, created by Carol Jackson. Credit Collection of the artist, Courtesy the artist

The first Arts and Crafts movement, in England, challenged the taste of the Victorian era. Now the handmade aesthetic is flourishing again, Ms. Grabner said. “As so much moves to the digital world, there is a movement of slowing art and life down.”

Sheila Hicks, an artist whose career has involved melding art, design, craft and architecture, has created a monumental fiber sculpture from ceiling to floor in a spectrum of colors. Lisa Anne Auerbach, based on the West Coast, has knitted sweaters with political messages in the trim.

There is also ceramic art by Shio Kusaka, John Mason and Sterling Ruby, as well as a delicately tooled leather wall piece created by Carol Jackson. The Los Angeles artist Joel Otterson created a 14-foot-tall curtain wall of colored beads that seems straight from a hippie apartment.

Looks That Deceive

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“Relationship,” 2008, from a photographic diary by Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst that chronicles the couple’s years together. Credit Courtesy of the artists and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles

Things are not always as they appear. Genders are switched. Artists known for working in one discipline are presenting work in another. There are writers who paint; painters who write poetry; filmmakers who create sculptures; photographers who draw.

What appear to be abstract canvases by Ken Okiishi are actually oil paintings on flat-screen televisions, with a mash-up of footage from old VHS tapes and new digital images in subjects ranging from newscasts to commercials in an installation that is neither a painting nor a video.

An especially provocative photographic diary compiled by Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst in Mr. Comer’s installation chronicles the couple’s five-and-a-half-year relationship, in which one transitioned from female to male, and the other from male to female. Until now, this had been a private journal.

Toward the end of March, look for a 22-minute video by the duo called “She Gone Rogue,” described as an odyssey through a world of transgender-themed magical realism when it was shown at the Hammer Museum’s biennial in 2012.

Female Painters

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“Okie Dokie,” 2008, dyed cheesecloth and acrylic on canvas, by Dona Nelson, who lives and works in Pennsylvania and New York. Credit Collection of the artist; Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Erben Gallery, New York

Women are revitalizing abstract painting, and they are well represented here, with works by artists like Louise Fishman, Jacqueline Humphries, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Dona Nelson, Laura Owens and Amy Sillman.

“I am focusing on a handful of women artists who take on the authority of abstract painting — its history, its ambition and its relationship to power and gender,” Ms. Grabner said. “I wanted to put them together to underscore how different the language of abstract painting can be.”

She isn’t alone; Mr. Elms has included two large-scale abstract paintings by Rebecca Morris on the second floor. Long a fan of Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist architecture, Mr. Elms said the works fit perfectly with the space.

Nostalgia

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“Gone With the Schwinn” hangs in Keith Mayerson’s installation. Credit Collection of Dan and Jane Slavin. Courtesy the artist and Derek Eller Gallery, New York

In trying to grapple with the future, artists of different generations are looking to the past for inspiration. The Surrealist environment on the fourth floor, created by Shana Lutker, a Los Angeles-based Conceptual artist, is loosely based on a fistfight between André Breton — a founder of Surrealism — and two artists, Joan Miró and Max Ernst, over their sets and costumes for a ballet based on “Romeo and Juliet” in 1926. (Breton considered the production lowbrow, Ms. Grabner explained). Ms. Lutker’s stage, an abstract re-creation of the sets and costumes, from Miró’s drawing, includes hanging stainless-steel figures of dancers, two cast ballerina feet and hundreds of red fliers on a ballet bar, to symbolize those thrown onto the stage in a protest.

On the third floor, a 19th-century-style salon, the work of Keith Mayerson, is hung with images from his own modern family: he and his husband; Elvis Presley; Kermit the Frog; and Marvin Gaye, among them.

“It falls somewhere between comic books, a story board and an old-fashioned painting gallery,” Mr. Comer said. He also enlisted Triple Canopy, a nonprofit group that publishes books and an online magazine, to create an installation that explores the cultural meaning of artworks as they are collected, sold, replicated, photographed and exhibited. It focuses on the Garbisch family (Col. Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch) and its vast trove of American primitive paintings and furniture, given to many museums. (The Whitney sold its gift in 1999 to focus on the 20th century.) Objects include a wash basin on loan from the Met and carefully made reproductions.

Architecture

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An image from a camera obscura installation by Zoe Leonard at the Whitney Museum. Credit Courtesy of the artist

Perhaps because the Whitney is saying goodbye to the Breuer building — or because more artists today are preoccupied with architecture, both as a form and a discipline — watch for constructed objects and architectural images, and ideas about what a museum should be, to be addressed in myriad ways.

Zoe Leonard has transformed a fourth-floor space into a giant camera obscura. Most of the Breuer’s trapezoidal window is blacked out, with only a small hole left that projects an inverted image of the unfolding streetscape — people rushing, and taxis and buses barreling by — onto the walls, ceiling and floor of the gallery.

Morgan Fisher, a Los Angeles artist, has created a curious portrait of the Whitney’s new Renzo Piano building. His sculpture, on the third floor, is an intentionally scrappy construction fashioned from drywall, in which he has reconfigured spaces in the museum, from the lobby to a boardroom coat closet. “It’s about how we rethink the history of museums and the hierarchy of space,” Mr. Comer said.

Mining Marcel Breuer’s archives, Mr. Elms brought together 24 artists and groups to answer a question by Breuer in his earliest notes on the building, when the architect wrote: “What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan?”

Look for the artists’ responses to that question in Mr. Elms’s second-floor installation.

Correction: March 1, 2014
An article on Friday about the Whitney Biennial, which opens next Friday, misstated the age of Etel Adnan, an artist who will have work displayed in the show. She is 89, not 84. The error was repeated in an accompanying picture caption.

A version of this article appears in print on February 28, 2014, on page C21 of the New York edition with the headline: State of Our Art, According to Whitney.

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CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Meet artist Michelle Grabner, Whitney Biennial 2014 curator

A key figure in Chicago’s art world, Michelle Grabner takes on the highest-profile job of her career

March 07, 2014|Christopher Borrelli

NEW YORK CITY — A few months before Michelle Grabner presided over the final details of the prestigious 2014 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art here, a white Buick LeSabre plowed into the side of her small art gallery in Oak Park. This was back in the fall, on a quiet Sunday just after dawn. She knew the car was coming, and she welcomed the impact. She even invited some friends to come over and watch.

Grabner, an artist, curator, critic and professor at the School of the Art Institute — a figure so deeply influential and ubiquitous in the Chicago art scene and beyond that artist Tony Tasset puts her at “the dead center of the art world right now” — had little to fear. As one of three curators of the 77th edition of the Biennial, arguably the most venerated trendsetting showcase for contemporary art in the world (it opened Friday and runs through May), Grabner stands atop a career apex. Explained Jay Sanders, Whitney curator (as well as co-curator of the 2012 Biennial: “Michelle, as an educator, a curator and an artist herself, defines what it means to curate contemporary art in 2014. And it means facing a hugely expanded field where a curator is expected to occupy more than one space at a time. Michelle champions the overlooked, the emerging, the conceptual, visits artist studios, can read (traditional) painting. So she’s a big voice now.”

Which was exactly why that car drove into the Suburban, the roughly 9-by-9-foot cinder block gallery, comically minuscule, that Grabner and her husband, artist Brad Killam, created 15 years ago.

Depending on whom you ask, Grabner receives one of a few familiar refrains: She’s a community builder; she’s rigorous; she’s fearless.

“But sometimes now, Michelle can also function as a kind of institutional symbol. And her reputation, her rank in the art world, is such that I wanted to let some air in there, puncture that rank, make the Suburban more visible, while providing a critique — I wanted to make an argument that allowed us to see vulnerability again.”

That’s artist Dana DeGiulio. She drove the Buick into the Suburban.

DeGiulio’s also close friends with Grabner, who once served as her SAIC graduate school adviser. But that’s not to say Grabner had no reservations about DeGiulio’s idea. The Suburban sits off Lake Street in Oak Park, a few feet from the back steps of Grabner’s small, cream-colored home. Grabner, 51, is a reasonable person with a 9-year old daughter and two adult sons; the gallery, a labor of love, has an international reputation as a forward-thinking destination for inventive artists.

“Still, I liked Dana’s idea very much,” Grabner said. “It was a jarring gesture. Brad didn’t think he could be there for it. But I liked it metaphorically, because after 15 years you lose sight of things. With the Whitney coming, I wanted to reframe stuff, re-evaluate. I hoped she wouldn’t bring it down, but I knew she had it in her.”

Indeed, DeGiulio proved methodical: To pay for the 1996 Buick, she sold a piece of Grabner’s art, which Grabner herself had given DeGiulio as a present; DeGiulio even sold it to the gallery that represents Grabner, New York’s James Cohan Gallery (leading to the awkwardness of the Cohan’s calling Grabner to inform her a friend had sold back a gift). A week before the crash, DeGiulio — who says this was the most impersonal work she’s ever done, “but I am a person, I have a history with Michelle and I felt trepidation” — removed four small trees from Grabner’s side yard and built a ramp at the curb, to ensure the ramming went off smoothly.

Around 6 a.m. Nov. 17, she angled the Buick across Lake Street, hit the gas and backed into the gallery going about 18 mph.

“She actually caught air,” Grabner remembered. The result unnerved everyone. DeGiulio said she couldn’t make eye contact with anyone all morning. Grabner said her husband became upset (Killam said he wasn’t, “just shocked at the damage”). The car tore a huge hole in one wall and buckled the others. The roof leaks now.

The Suburban’s future is iffy.

“I thought carefully about why Michelle agreed to do it,” DeGiulio said. “I got emails later that said I was a narcissistic terrorist and that I took advantage of the way Michelle will allow an artist to do what they want. But Michelle knows what she’s doing. She let me do it because she is an artist and I’m an artist and, though I had to ask something hard and dangerous of her, Michelle is the kind of person who wants it to get asked.”

The Whitney was closed. It was a Monday, Presidents Day. Light snow fell in Manhattan. Grabner moved cheerfully down Madison Avenue, then reaching the museum, shouldered open the heavy service door on the side, tugged off her winter hat and walked to security to gather her visitor’s sticker. Though the Biennial was weeks away, the lobby hummed with installers, assistants, artists, the sound of crates splitting open, the buzzing of drills. A curatorial assistant, Elisabeth Sherman, appeared at Grabner’s side: “From here, do you want me to tell you each day what artists are coming that day, that way you can prepare for each person?” Grabner smiled a secret smile and nodded: So many personalities involved.

Grabner had arrived a few days earlier to oversee installation, insisting she didn’t have much to do this late in the process. The layout of her part of the Biennial (which is the entire fourth floor of the massive museum, plus pieces spread around the Whitney, plus an off-site sculpture from Tasset in Hudson River Park, 5 miles south) had been a protracted negotiation, settled months ago. But there were still details, and many of the more than 50 artists she’d invited to the show would need something: a second opinion, an advocate, an editor. The day she arrived, Los Angeles artist Karl Haendel wanted a wall color changed; Grabner evaluated the situation, time and taste, and disagreed. “I had to talk him down.”

That Monday, in the lobby, a light and jaunty bossa nova poured from an open elevator: Union art installers were working with artist Jeff Gibson, another artist Grabner invited. His piece was a dreamy video of random consumer goods — combs, meat, sunglasses — shown on a flat-screen TV fixed to the wall of the elevator. Home Shopping Network-like displays faded in and out. Gibson’s point was unmistakable: The Whitney is just a department store, each floor holding gaudy commodities. Grabner walked to Gibson. The installers cleared out. The two watched the video, and Grabner leaned in: “Whatever you’re doing, it works.”

The music went on and on.

From the lobby, Sherman said: “I feel like I’m on hold and I’m going to yell at customer service in a minute.”

“Yes, very irritating,” Gibson said, smiling.

Grabner’s grin filled her face — until Sherman, going over the latest developments, remembered a few things. Another of Grabner’s artists, whose work is a series of postcards pre-reviewing the Biennial, wanted a live model to hand out the postcards (Grabner puffed up her cheeks and blew outward); another was trying to decide in what corner of the museum store he would place his installation (she raised her eyebrows slightly); another wanted a message printed on the museum toilet paper.

“That’s more than we can do at this point,” Sherman said. “We can’t fabricate anything, can’t add pieces and can’t produce stuff.”

“I don’t want a carnival,” Grabner said.

“And I don’t want to be rude, but toilet paper, that’s a non-starter,” Sherman said.

But Grabner was over it, moved on. She arrived at the Biennial as the first artist to curate the Whitney Biennial, and though she repeatedly said her motivation was not to push her own ideas about art but to get her artists looked at, reality intrudes. Grabner may be known for a conceptual, theory-driven taste, but the woman herself is pragmatic, straightforward. She speaks breathlessly, like a heroine in a screwball comedy. Her hair is a helmet of curls, and her outfits veer toward hoodies and Green Bay Packers green (she’s also a football-obsessed Wisconsin native). Said Chicago curator John Corbett: “There’s this sense that Michelle lords over her world. But everything about her says she humbly presents others. It’s funny she’s seen as a power broker. I doubt she likes it.”

Her down-to-earth air, on the other hand, some friends say, can be deceptive. Grabner is often blunt, matter-of-fact-direct enough to disarm you. Tasset, who lives down street from Grabner, said: “She’s in her studio at 4 in the morning, stays terribly connected to everyone, acts as a visiting critic at Yale, heads to the Art Institute, seems to bake bread with one arm and curate the Whitney with the other. In the summer, at the Suburban, it’s hilarious, these European and New York art people dressed in black, standing on her lawn eating brats, Michelle grilling. She’s an uber soccer mom. But also ruthlessly honest, a double-edged sword.”

I asked her at the Whitney if the Biennial would give her additional art-world leverage or if it made her anxious, given how the show often becomes a barometer of contemporary art, thereby prone to intense criticism.

    • 21

Grabner watched an installer drill holes into a sheet of metal and said, the words coming 100 mph: “It works against me; it leaves a bunch of corpses. And one then feels responsible for the bodies. One can’t do anything right: You invite an artist, you’re excited, they’re excited. Now they don’t want to be placed alongside that artist, they don’t like the catalog, nothing came out of it for them. It’s a thankless duty, but it’s my duty. At the same time, I do get to go back to Oak Park at the end of this, and many of these artists, they’ll feel neglected. One or two will become stars. The rest — it goes downhill from here.”

Just don’t mistake those notions for ambivalence.

Milwaukee-based artist David Robbins, whom Grabner has known for decades (and is included in the Biennial), said: “Most people are ambivalent about what they do. I know good artists who wonder if they should give it up. Most people think of paths not taken. But that’s not Michelle — she is doing what she always wanted, and when no part of you is conflicted over the role you play in the world, there’s so much energy to devote.”

In early February I visited Grabner in the large attic studio that she and Killam built in the garage behind their home and the Suburban. Grabner was hunched over one of her tondos (essentially a Renaissance term for a circular work). Behind her, the walls were plastered with her daughter’s crayon art, a large photo of a football player on television (magnified until the image had became dense and grainy) and a promotional poster featuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. She worked with a hypnotic rhythm, sliding a stylus filled with silver up and down a round canvas, drawing narrow line after narrow line until the artwork resembled an optical illusion.

“I like the repetition,” she said, not stopping. “People call it meditative. It’s radial. The silver is more active than my participation, because the silver will tarnish and make the work dynamic.

“It’s not uniquely inventive, but I’m not interested in invention. Showing one’s hand is not something that floors me. Making something you haven’t seen yet? That’s one definition of art for some people. But I went to art school in the 1980s, the height of postmodern art, and things were undercut, appropriated. Pop culture picked up on it better than art did. Still, I liked that stuff. I guess it makes me more of a conceptualist, because art that circulates in the world, shows in a gallery, gets assigned a price, has never interested me as much. Though that is a reality.”

Grabner grew up in the Fox River Valley, outside Green Bay. Her father painted taxidermy fish, her uncle carved duck decoys; she expected to teach art in a high school some day.

“Really, it was like coming from a socialist state,” she said. “No diversity. It’s humiliating to have too much money and humiliating to not have enough.”

The rest, her path, is so winding, reductiveness is inevitable: Undergraduate years at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee; graduate school at Northwestern University, where she became friends with painter Ed Paschke, making sexualized drawings of Mr. Ed, photographing stills off TV screens. After college, Grabner married Killam (they met when their work was in the same Chicago show) and moved to Milwaukee.

“Having ambition, with nothing else around, you create the scene you want to see,” Killam said. By the mid-1990s, Grabner’s art was drawing acclaim and gallery interest, her acute criticism was appearing in major art publications. But also, she and Killam were curating shows in major local museums and storefronts alike.

Said Nicholas Frank, a Milwaukee artist: “Michelle and Brad were resolutely set on remaining local and connected to the wider world. That felt new. Milwaukee had a closed-off art scene, and they were can openers, learning to foster a cultural exchange between wherever they were and people they connected with.” Nevertheless, a late ’90s show of Scandinavian artists, curated by Grabner and Killam and held in museums and galleries throughout Chicago and Milwaukee, put them on the map in Chicago. So, to be closer to more opportunity, they moved to Oak Park in 1997; she had joined SAIC in 1996. Flash forward a decade: By 2009, eager to move the school in a more a theory-driven curriculum, she was chair of painting and drawing.

“Really, she revitalized the department,” said Lisa Wainwright, SAIC’s dean of faculty.

In 1999, she and Killam opened the Suburban; in 2008, they bought a 19th-century farm in central Wisconsin, naming it the Poor Farm and creating yet another celebrated destination for contemporary artists. Grabner had perfected the art of keeping one foot inside the mainstream, the other at the periphery.

“You know the thing about having to move to New York to be an artist?” asked John Riepenhoff, owner of Milwaukee’s Green Gallery. “Michelle just invited everyone to her. Which is radical. But to her, it’s normal.”

If you cast a casual eye on the art world now, there are moments when it can seem as if Grabner is everywhere at once. In the past year alone, her work was spotlighted by Chicago’s Shane Campbell Gallery; last fall, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland devoted a large survey to her work (the curator was a friend); even the small Hyde Park Art Center had a Grabner-curated show about appropriation in Midwest art. That’s just for starters. Concurrent with the Biennial, New York’s Armory Show and James Cohan Gallery will also feature Grabner’s work, which Cohan calls “a combination of intellectual rigor and beautiful objects, a marriage of appropriation and tradition, all with an unusually high curiosity toward the wider world.”

At the Whitney, one moment she was in the lobby greeting conceptual artist Saul Ostrow — she warned he could be cranky, but he exploded in toothy smiles and bear hugs when he saw her — the next she was moving briskly through cluttered, unfinished galleries, asking if a certain painting was already hung. (The assistant’s reply came fast: “Michelle, we would not hang anything without asking you first.”)

A week earlier, she was in Chicago, delivering a My-Biennial-in-40-Minutes primer to the staid board of governors of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

It was a character-revealing performance, a one-woman show delivered in her breakneck rat-a-tat: Grabner, before 50 or so board members — most in dark blue, carrying black bags — launched into a hilariously blunt deconstruction of the Biennial and how she thinks about it, complete with info graphics. Her other two curators, she told her audience, are Stuart Comer of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Anthony Elms, a former Chicago curator now at the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia (each of whom get their own floor to curate). There are about 100 artists in the show (typically it presents lesser-known artists). She invited more than 50; the others about 25 each. Her search took her to scores of studios, nearly every corner of the country. And in the end, she personally knows more than half of her Biennial invitees.

Two board members in the back threw each other knowing glances.

As if answering their probable thoughts, Grabner continued: She offers this information upfront because she wanted the process of curating a show as important as the Biennial to be transparent. In other words, she wanted people to know it is not fair: “I was looking for artists who influence art today, and influence me.” Many of the artists she invited are friends, some were students, some teachers, some Art Institute colleagues. Eight of the 17 Chicagoans in the show are her picks, though not because they are from Chicago, she stressed. (Later she said the city’s art scene does not impress her, its “provincial disposition” being a “terrible waste of energy.”)

She continued.

She is not interested in using the Whitney “as a platform for bringing someone to you that you can market and move through the (traditional art) system.” So, for example, she included elaborately annotated notebooks from writer David Foster Wallace, and another artist will fill a table with discounted catalogs of art shows that once graced the Whitney. Another moved to Amsterdam and whittles pencils into sculptures (more eye rolls from the back). She told of “summerlong” fights with the Whitney to include a piece by artist Gretchen Bender, who died a decade ago; Grabner wanted (and eventually received) permission to invite artist Philip Vanderhyden to re-create a Bender installation. She also told of endless arguments about the work of Donelle Woolford, “who is a fiction, the invention of a white New Jersey artist who hires models to play the role of ‘Donelle,’ a black, up-and-coming artist. Donelle does not exist.” (“Donelle” is also the only African-American woman in Grabner’s part of the show, which concerned the Whitney, she said later.)

The Whitney’s Sanders, instrumental in hiring Grabner, told me a few weeks later he didn’t have a problem with revealing how the sausage gets made. In fact, he sympathized: “Michelle being an artist, making value-judgments of other artists has to be intense. Transparency is how you handle it.”

On the train back to Oak Park after the board meeting, Grabner grew teary.

“They were lovely,” she said, “but they come from an affluence I don’t understand or value. I showed my graphics tongue-in-cheek, and they stayed so straight!” She said she was terrible. Later, Walter Massey, president of SAIC, sent a note: He’s on the committee for the future Barack Obama presidential library, which needs to stay up on contemporary art, and would she do her presentation for them too?

“Of course I said yes.”

    •  21

Back at the Whitney, the Tuesday after Presidents Day, long into an already long afternoon, Grabner pushed her hands into her coat pockets and surveyed the fourth floor, stepping around workbenches. Her floor, full of grand gestures and physically huge pieces — Shana Lutker, one of the artists there, said the floor plays “like a series of exclamation points” — required endless consideration of electrical cords, painters, sheetrock preparation, union rules, whether the sidewalk outside was too slushy to unload a fragile work.

She showed no exhaustion. Even when an assistant reminded her they had four days to finish installing her part of the Biennial, she looked less worried than delighted by the variety and density of work around her. She seemed as comfortable here, and easygoing, as she does back at the Suburban.

Later, asked if he imagines Grabner and her ambitions staying much longer in Chicago, Robert Storr, a South Side native, influential curator and dean of the Yale University School of Art, lamented: “Chicago, as an art center, has never thrived relative to the coasts, but then it also never used to look to the coasts for validation the way it does now. It needs the synthesizing energy that (Grabner) brings. It needs to hold on to people like her.”

Theaster Gates, one of Chicago’s most celebrated artists (and a 2010 Biennial alum), said: “A moment this big should take pressure off Michelle and lead to more opportunity — Berlin, Venice.”

But Grabner told me that she would move back to Milwaukee eventually and felt no loyalty to Chicago, and though she expected a “career unwinding now,” she showed no sign of pressure or melancholy. We walked to a ledge at the museum holding vases from artist Shio Kusaka. You might assume, for an artist who once let another artist plow into her gallery with a car, Grabner would find a row of fairly conventional vases to be overly pedestrian.

“Elegant,” she said instead.

Then added: “I enjoy them as things. But en masse, it’s compelling: Could be an art installation. Could be a display at Bed Bath & Beyond. High and low. Quite interesting, no?”

cborrelli@tribune.com

Twitter @borrelli

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California Artists in the 2014 Whitney Biennial

Allan_Sekula

The 2014 Whitney Biennial line-up has been kind to Southern California. About 30 percent of the lineup include creatives who live and work in California, which almost entirely means L.A. but also includes San Francisco, Sebastopol, and San Diego. That’s actually pretty good, since the rest, while unsurprisingly New York-heavy, does its best to spread the nods around the map.

There were three curators on the team, all from outside the Museum. Interestingly, for this edition each curator gets their own floor instead of doing the whole thing collectively. Anthony Elms is Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; he worked at Performa 11 performance-art based fair; and is also the editor of WhiteWalls, an independent publishing imprint. Michelle Grabner is Professor and Chair of the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; a senior critic at Yale in the Department of Painting and Printmaking; and active in the world of artist-run project spaces. Stuart Comer has been Curator of Film at Tate Modern, London, but he just left the Tate to move to new York and set up shop at MOMA.

Per the Whitney brand — and the personal purviews of the curators’ career specialties — you’ll find video, performance, indie publishing, and experimental installation galore — but there’s also a refreshing, almost old-school affection for straight-up photography, painting, and sculpture. For all three curators, it has been about identifying what is influential now, and that might mean a next-big-phenom or a well-established (or even, in a few cases, deceased) artist who is nevertheless on everyone’s mind. While fairly eclectic in mediums, the list is heavily (but not thoroughly) Caucasian, and about 70 percent male. The show doesn’t open until March, but in the meantime for those keeping score at home, here follows a brief overview of the California delegation. Loosely grouped into big-tent genres, and without knowing exactly what will be shown in March, the lineup promises to deliver a balanced and engaging American biennial in which the home team is poised to make a big impression in all the Biennial’s most major categories.

Zackary Drucker

Zackary Drucker
Zackary Drucker

Zackary Drucker

Performance and performance-based video: One of the most interesting artists working in Los Angeles today, Zackary Drucker — along with frequent collaborator, the filmmaker Rhys Ernst — is a writer and performance artist whose smart and sexy work is both transgressive and heartfelt. My Barbarian is a performance collective founded in 2000 by Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade who mix up media channels and crowd-sourced movement-based installation, and are working in increasingly complex interdisciplinary formats. Catherine Sullivan works with film and live performance, producing quirky, math-based yet emotional vaudeville, upending conservative social taboos. taisha paggett creates danced-based performance art in specific locations, full of DIY urgency and modern archetypes. What Lisa Anne Auerbach does is more of a social practice than a performance practice; but her adaptation of what was once called radical craft has yielded politically-charged textiles, closely examining the cultural aspects and activist potential of all manner of public costume.

Laura Owens

Laura Owens
Laura Owens 356 Mission

Laura Owens 356 Mission
Tony Greene

Tony Greene

Painting: Laura Owens has become one of the best known figures in the LA art world; as a painter, mentor, and now exhibition space operator, her efforts to create vibrant, salient abstract paintings have never ceased to evolve, and her latest, larger-scale paintings are particularly compelling. The late Channa Horwitz was known for her mathematical drawings and installations, pursuing a rules-based geometric abstraction that communicates like conceptual semaphore on graph paper — and is a bit like seeing the Matrix in technicolor. The late painter Tony Greene (whose presence is curated by his friends and colleagues Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie) demonstrated influences ranging from Robert Mapplethorpe to Nayland Blake and Derek Jarman. Rebecca Morris has a painting practice that is at once abstract and folksy, with an Outsider-style ritualized mosaic quality; her work is messy but urgent, measured but rough, deliberate but expressive. Karl Haendel makes these impressive realistic figurative drawings, often based on vintage photographs, that have this retro flavor and a masterful specificity that lend them an eerie nostalgia and evocative dematerialization.

Victoria Fu

Victoria Fu
Victoria Fu

Victoria Fu
Fred Lonidier

Fred Lonidier

Photography and Film: Victoria Fu makes photography and video installations, but her work seems to be after the same goals as abstraction in painting — generating vibrant op-art, crisp and ethereal at the same time. Dashiell Manley‘s videos, objects, and site-specific installations examine the relationship of space to language. The late Allan Sekula has been one of the most influential photographers and thinkers in the overlapping realms of contemporary photography and social theory for the last several decades. Fred Lonidier (San Diego) also approaches photography as a catalyst and function of social change. Stephen Berens works in photography mainly; but his reductivist, pattern-seeking, serial works are both quasi-abstract and grounded in experience and observation. Miljohn Ruperto works simultaneously in several aesthetic modes in his video and photography, creating apparently dissonant bodies of work often shown together in installation form.

Ricky Swallow

Ricky Swallow
Shio Kusaka

Shio Kusaka
Joel Otterson Wall-of-China

Joel Otterson Wall-of-China

Sculpture and Installation: Morgan Fisher’s sculptural, architectural color-blocking, deploy bright and primary colors that look like early video games melded with op-art and then turned into a room you can walk around in. John Mason is a pioneer of ceramic sculpture, whose decades of education and work embodies the history and heyday of progressive ceramics in L.A. Shio Kusaka also makes vessels, with strong influences of this innovative ceramics tradition, employing a multiplicity of techniques, and with her Asian heritage as an aesthetic touchstone. Ricky Swallow makes sculpture that defies, belies, and transcends its own materials — for example ordinary objects rendered as bronzes that look like random cardboard, in a witty Yoko Ono meets Marcel Duchamp kind of way. Joel Otterson and Shana Lutker, each in their own way, also riffs on the ordinary object, transplanting and rendered them into dystopian sculptures that resists specific narrative. Sterling Ruby loves to site serious sculptures in wacky places, and wacky sculptures in serious places, morphing monumental color-driven modernisms with pop humor and industrial scale.

John Herschend Thing Quarterly

John Herschend Thing Quarterly
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Publishing: There’s a large number of publishers and independent writers represented in the Biennial, including some surprises. A.L. Steiner works in installation, video, and performance, in addition to producing books and zines. Ben Kinmont (Sebastopol), is an artist, publisher, and antiquarian bookseller — consciously blurring the boundaries between projects, events, and publishing. Jonn Herschend (San Francisco) among other things co-curates and publishes THE THING Quarterly, as well as making short films. Semiotext(e) is an acclaimed publisher of artist books of tracts on the philosophies of art-making. Gary Indiana, while known primarily as a writer, also works as a filmmaker and visual artist. David Foster Wallace — that’s a bit of a head-scratcher. They have only said that the author will be “recognized posthumously,” but no one really knows what that will look like.

Check out more works from the California artists here:

Catherine Sullivan

Catherine Sullivan
Channa Horwitz

Channa Horwitz
Dashiell Manley

Dashiell Manley
Karl Haendel

Karl Haendel
Karl Haendel

Karl Haendel
Lisa Anne Auerbach

Lisa Anne Auerbach
Miljohn Ruperto

Miljohn Ruperto
My Barbarian

My Barbarian
Rebecca Morris

Rebecca Morris
Stephen Berens

Stephen Berens
Sterling Ruby

Sterling Ruby

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Top Image: Allan Sekula.

About the Author

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Los Angeles.
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March 6, 2014
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The Young Guns: 8 Whitney Biennial Artists Born After 1980

“Relationship (Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, 2011)” by Zackary Drucker. Courtesy of the artists and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.
 

It is always risky for a critic or curator to lump artists together by some vague theme or age group, for fear of trampling the artists’ intentions in the attempt to proclaim connections. But the cohort of young artists in the currentWhitney Biennial are so independent and energetic in articulating their practices that there is little danger of these voices getting lost.

Seven of this group of eight were selected by Stuart Comer, whose show’s premise argues that we are currently witnessing the dissolution of the old art-historical boundaries between mediums and the birth of new hybrids, a artistic development paralleling the widespread adoption of new and hyphenated personal identities in the broader culture. Touring Comer’s third floor installation at the museum, these young artists provide some of the clearest expressions of that thesis, perhaps because they have spent most of their lives in times that have embraced the composite, the blended, the layered.

If you want to get an idea of what will be talked about not only in this Biennial, but for years to come, check out these artists with long careers ahead of them.

KEVIN BEASLEY (born 1985)

At first glance, the contribution of this New York-based artist may appear to be a pair of assemblages made from the detritus of everyday life in the city: a sneaker, a torn bit of clothing, all clinging to a grey lump of plastic or foam. In fact, these objects are a sort of sculptural recording of one of the performances at the heart of Beasley’s practice. More than merely leaving behind documentation or props, the artist is striving to encapsulate the potential of movement in a static work, aiming to freeze movement from various angles like a cubistic memory. In addition to the objects on the third floor, Beasley will be performing in the second week of May.

ZACKARY DRUCKER  (1983) and RHYS ERNST (1982)

drucker

Zackary Drucker, “Relationship (Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, 2008).”
Courtesy of the artists and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

Offering up the most literal expression of shapeshifting personal identities, Drucker and Ernst both have been undergoing gender reassignment surgery for several years, the former from a man to a woman, the latter vice-versa. A couple in their personal as well as professional lives, the Los Angeles duo have recorded the slow evolution in photos and films of their everyday lives. The means of expression is perhaps the most traditional of any of these artists—when looking at the wall covered with color photos of utterly intimate moments shared between the two lovers and artists, it is hard not to think of Nan Goldin’s photographs of a quarter century ago. Yet where Goldin’s works were praised for their honest expressions of angst and pain and frailty within relationships, the power here comes from the couple’s casual joy and easy confidence. The occasional visual jokes (two eggs held between a pair of thighs, a sausage about to be consumed) refer back to the project’s central theme with a knowing wink and reveal behind the seemingly candid shots a self-awareness that speaks to everyone’s attempts to remake themselves. Films by the pair will be on view a various times during the Biennial’s run.

RADAMÉS “JUNI” FIGUEROA (1982)

Ostensibly, Figueroa tries to offer a little bit of his native San Juan, Puerto Rico, in his humble plywood architectural installation, located in the space the museum euphemistically calls its sculpture court. In fact, the hut—decorated with a few tropical plants and items of clothing—occupies the claustrophobic basement-level pit, over which the full mass of Breuer’s Brutalist building looms. As political metaphor, this relationship of between artwork and host lacks for subtlety. But on further examination the installation reveals layers of rebelliousness and humor. In the plastic photomural of palm trees that serves as the hut’s entry curtain, one senses the artist’s embrace of the outsider’s stereotypes about the tropics, like a reclaiming of words of derision. And at least during the frigid opening week, the neon sign inside that says “breaking the ice” turned the conciliatory phrase into a well-placed jab.

YVE LARIS COHEN (1985)

Brooklyn-based Laris Cohen may win the title of most easily overlooked artwork in the exhibition—and this is a year with quite a few contenders. Only after reading the wall label might the viewer notice a deep cut in the surrounding sheetrock. On five different occasions during the show’s run, that piece of wall will be removed by art handlers and brought to the Whitney’s still-under-construction downtown space, where the artist and a troupe of dancers will incorporate the sheetrock while performing pieces with choreography derived from OSHA regulations. The performers will then take the responsibility for returning and reinstalling the prodigal chunk of plaster. Is the work about the futility of trying to document something that is as time- and location-specific as the movement of people through an ever-changing world? Or will the wall, as it becomes more and more distressed, start to speak of the way that people inevitably leave a mark, however difficult it may be to read the exact intention of the mark-maker?

TONY LEWIS (1986)

lewis

Tony Lewis, peoplecol, 2013. Pencil, graphite powder and tape on paper.
Courtesy the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago. Photo Robert Chase Heishman.

Lewis is the only artist in this cadre to be selected by curator Michelle Grabner. His two large works on paper are formally austere yet simultaneously touching, since they embody a yearning to reach out and communicate, even as the speaker seems to have come to believe communication is impossible. The white paper is covered in smudges and footprints, the occasional smear of black pigment, and even more rare smatterings of glitterring graphite. Hovering over this gritty ground are a few stray words or individual letters and a meandering line that seems to trace one pathway connecting these signs. The text fragments are lifted from a script that Lewis does not reveal, except to say it grapples with the history and ongoing development of race relations in the United States. We are left to trace our own lines, find our own way through this bleak landscape. Like characters in a Beckett play, the drawings are driven by a need to converse, even if understanding is to be eternally out of reach.

DASHIELL MANLEY (1983) Los Angeles, CA

manley

Dashiell Manley, Scene 3 Version B 2, 2013. Gouache, ink, watercolor, linen, wood,
acrylic sheet, lighting gels, paper, tape, and steel. Image courtesy of the Artist,
Redling Fine Art, and Jessica Silverman Gallery. Photo Jeff Mclane.

Manley’s presentation includes large clear panels that have been painted on or have had colored lighting gels attached, as well as video monitors showing looped footage that seems to incorporate these semi-transparent abstractions with both old films and more recent footage, perhaps from TV advertisements. The wall label tells us that the paintings and videos were derived from the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery, and it would be easy to assume these are homages or second-level appropriations. But as one considers the relative strength of the various pieces, it becomes increasingly hard to tell what was the input and what was the output of Manley’s creative process. One might guess that the panels are byproducts of a cumbersome process of colorizing the film. Or maybe they are Minimalist reductions of the film, movement transposed into color and shape. After further consideration, the whole ensemble becomes a comment on the overlap between the concepts of inspiration and creative expression and the circularity of the artistic process.

 JACOLBY SATTERWHITE (1986)

satterwhite

Jacolby Satterwhite, “Transit,” Video Still from Reifying Desire 6, 2014. HD digital video,
color, 3-D animation. Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery and Mallorca Landings Gallery.

Satterwhite’s sci-fi video fantasias grouped under in the series Reifying Desire 1-6might be analyzed as a next generation riposte to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, though I doubt that was the artist’s intention. Mixing live action and animation and incorporating his own dance performances as well as drawings by his mother, Satterwhite’s videos explode on the screen with never-ending action and indigestible waves of imagery. Where Barney’s films seemed be a desperate attempt to explain the messiness of desire—like the ego and super-ego trying to rein in and order a confusing world—Satterwhite is intent on inventing his own environments to conform to his every whim, conveying the id let loose with a set a video-game development tools.

SERGEI TCHEREPNIN (1981)

Bathing the rigid surfaces of the museum’s lobby in gentle washes of music, Tcherepnin makes music with the architectural structure itself, or at least its light fixtures. Expanding across the ceiling is a field of the concave round metal lamp shades about three feet across. They look a bit like giant cymbals, and now that Tcherepnin has rigged them to play his compositions, they sound a lot like cymbals as well. The artist’s works, or at least the ones I listened to, worked in counterpoint to the rigid grid of the architecture. Rather than following the visual clues to develop aural expression of a repetitive, minimalist bent, Tcherepnin teased from this structure a gentle harmony.

By Eric Bryant

Via Artspace

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Draft created on February 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Francois Harland: Architecture at Demisch Danant

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