Trust Me[ Read More ]
"Politics are always there, it’s inescapable. If you’re going to be a really good artist, it’s got to be there, because it is there."
For over four decades, sculptor and performance artist Maren Hassinger, has created powerful images that refer to nature as a complex, psychological space for political and personal transformation. Early pieces resembled stark groves of bare trees; wire rope forms twisted and bent from the heat of her welding torch. Lately her materials have included the underfoot and overlooked: trash, leaves, boxes, and piles of newspaper. Dance and movement are seminal to her work, and from her earliest pieces on, the viewer must circumnavigate and interpret the space, whether it’s a freeway overpass, a pink path, or a crowded, small room.
Maren Hassinger…Dreaming, a retrospective of her works, opens this spring at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, “the only museum in the nation emphasizing art by and about women of the African Diaspora,” as the statement on the institution’s website reads.
A native of Los Angeles, Hassinger’s work was included the traveling 2011 exhibition Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980, and in Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art in 2012. A residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem brought her to New York City in 1983, and she’s been in the Northeast since, where she raised her two children. Her daughter, Ava Hassinger is also an artist, and the two work collaboratively under the name “Matriarch.” Hassinger and I met in her apartment on Malcolm X Boulevard, in Manhattan.[ Read More ]
The origins of nostalgia and some theoretical foundations of photography.
I was first introduced to Sara Cwynar’s work while studying at Goldsmiths in London. My research explored the construct of what I call “social shrines”—creative manifestations wherein artists make use of and document everyday actions as a means of commenting on and elevating socio-cultural practices. My own creative and academic practice both revolve around an investigation of how ritual manifests itself in the spaces of the everyday. How can the banal be beatific? In what way have ideas of worship been redressed by modern American culture? How does ritual manifest in spaces ordinarily designed as secular? Cwynar’s work speaks to these questions by toying with camp popular visual tropes in a deft manipulation that presents a topography of North American consumption and cultural experience. Continuing in a long line of female assemblage artists, ranging from Vadis Turner to Amalia Mesa-Bains, in combining objects Cwynar offers an elevation of the familiar to that of the fantastic, desirous relics of the ordinary that reignite one’s appreciation of daily objects. In addition to beginning her MFA in photography at Yale University this fall, Cwynar recently published two books, Kitsch Encyclopedia (Blonde Art Books, 2014) and Pictures of Pictures (Printed Matter, 2014). My co-interviewer, Ashley McNelis, was first introduced to Cwynar’s work through these publications. We both sat down with the artist to learn more about what makes her encyclopedic kitsch stick. —Legacy Russell.[ Read More ]
On race, representation, and inspiration.
Toyin Odutola is a master of treading softly while issuing a powerful statement. Her conceptually direct images carry with them dense political undercurrents, yet never neglect the fundamentals of form and craft. While the formal concerns of mark-making and portraiture are in the foreground of her renderings, the ideological foundation on which Odutola works separates her from other artists. The images she creates speak about blackness—African blackness, American blackness, and the blackness of the 20th century color field—compounding these issues of race and history with those of gender. Having recently relocated her studio, the artist discusses her new locale, the evolution of her practice, and the few things that will never change.[ Read More ]
Artistic development, near-death experiences, and the power of persistence.
Melvin Van Peebles is truly a renaissance man. While he is perhaps best known for the groundbreaking film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), it’s only a small part of his oeuvre. He’s published books and stories, released a record prefiguring spoken word and rap, reimagined Sweetback as an opera, and is currently working on two theatrical productions. A grounding place for Van Peebles through it all over the years has been painting, and last December he participated in a group exhibition at Merton Simpson in New York’s Chelsea gallery district. Van Peebles is a small, slight man, who is terribly modest. I met with him a few weeks ago at his studio, and his friends and colleagues spoke highly of his honesty, generosity, and tenaciousness. He charmed us with his directness and authenticity. In his modesty, he avoided most of my questions about trying to get to the core of how he makes time for it all, but I did gain some insight into how exactly it is he came to be not only self-made, but also self-determined.[ Read More ]
Publishing as a tool of discovery.
AND is an interdisciplinary platform for artists’ books and art-related publications. Their premise is theoretical and experimental, presenting a rich terrain of versatile publications and concepts that consider printed matter and the role of the publisher today. AND originated from an inquiry concerning the concept of print on demand at a time when attitudes to publishing were shifting and everyone was talking about the death of the printed page. For AND, publishing is about creating a dialogue and connecting their readers to different concepts surrounding artists’ books. Founded by Eva Weinmayr and Lynn Harris at the Byam Shaw School of Art in 2009, AND devises a strong collaborative element in the making of publications. Their recent project at The Showroom, "Working in the Edges," discussed the idea that in communally sharing tools, publications can be constructed critically, conceptually, and practically. By bringing practitioners together to discuss publishing, its constraints, and its possibilities, the project allowed participants to develop a sense of community, making it possible to share ideas. From this perspective, publishing becomes a tool to make discoveries.[ Read More ]
Music, the voice, intention, and history.
For Allora & Calzadilla (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla), music does not soothe the so-called beast but is intertwined with the long history of war and human conflict. Making use of brass instruments that are featured prominently in military bands as well as rock-and-roll anthems appropriated by US soldiers as psychological weapons, the artists have drawn attention to the complicated role music and sound have played in warfare and nation building. In their early video, Returning a Sound (2004), they welded a trumpet to the exhaust pipe of a moped. Marking the end of the US Navy’s use of Vieques as a bombing range, a local activist drove the modified moped around the island with the trumpet blaring with every rev of the engine. Similarly, their installation Clamor (2006) featured a bunker-like structure that secreted away a group of musicians. With horns and flutes instead of guns protruding from the structure, the band played a range of war music from Ottoman Janissary bands to Twisted Sister, whose song, We’re not going to take it, was infamously used during the American invasion of Panama in 1989. More recently, Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on the Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano (2008) engages with the idiosyncratic history of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which has been embraced over time by a range of groups, from the Nazi Party to the European Union. Performed on a piano set on castors and customized so that the pianist stands in a hole cut in the very center of the instrument, the player and instrument act as a single unit—one inside the other—perambulating around the exhibition space.
At their recent exhibition at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Fault Lines, Allora & Calzadilla worked with trebles—boys who sing as sopranos until puberty when their voices break—from the American Boychoir School and Transfiguration Boychoir. Performing in pairs, the boys stand, sit, and bound off of sculptural stone risers installed throughout the space, all the while singing antagonistic lines culled from Cicero, Shakespeare, and popular culture. This interview took place over email throughout the course of the exhibition.[ Read More ]
How to modernize your medium.
Carron was kind enough to give me a tour of his recent exhibition at 303 Gallery in New York, Music is a s-s-s-serious thing. The title borrows the words of the Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti who, despite a very short career, was considered one of the most talented musicians of the 20th century. Carron’s first source of inspiration for this exhibition was an LP recorded by the pianist, which features abstract graphic design on the cover, though he eventually parted from any visual reference to it. Much like the sculptures he appropriates, Carron altered the quote with a stammer. A repetition of the consonant S, which alleviates the seriousness conveyed by Lipatti’s words.[ Read More ]
I began working on Parallel Memories while I was in Russia to develop a public art commission in a city called Perm, by the Ural Mountains. There I met Mikhail Nagaitsev, a Russian man about my age, who told me of his fond memories from early childhood in Czechoslovakia.[ Read More ]
"It’s so important to make your own little specks of peace around you. It’s a matter of being an idiot."
It was by way of the New York Drawing Center that I discovered Tomi Ungerer. After rabidly devouring all that I could get my hands on, I wondered why it was only later in life that I had found his work. The adults of my childhood had certainly played a cruel trick on me. I can't fully describe the way I felt looking through the diverse, wily, brutal, and tender graphic work of this artist, except to say that my skin chilled. His hand is one of complete freedom as well as control: his humorous depictions of animals feel more human than people beside you; the elegance of the renderings of bodies and politics in Babylon and in The Underground Sketchbook seduce and invade your mind; Fornicon titilates while admonishing us and our machines; and, then there are the children's books which bestow respect on children—those who need not be coddled by the un-realities of life. Ungerer himself and his work can be flirtatious, unflinching, and ruthless in satire; his drawings always lead you on a journey that is equal parts magic yet stinks of the real. I had the pleasure to speak with Ungerer at length by phone while he was in Strasbourg, and I in New York, where his first US retrospective opens at The Drawing Center on January 15. Claire Gilman has curated an exhibition representative of both his erotic works and his children's book illustrations, a vindication for an artist once banned in this country.
Ungerer has been recognized as a Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters, a Chargé de Mission by the French Ministry of Education, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur, and was awarded the National Prize for Graphic Arts by the Ministry of Culture. He has worked passionately on behalf of Franco-German Relations, and with humanitarian operations, the French Red Cross and Amnesty International. Ungerer is the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Prize, the most prestigious children’s literature prize, as well as the European prize for Culture. He holds an ambassadorship for Childhood and Education by the Council of Europe for which he drafted the Declaration of Children’s Rights. The Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg opened with Ungerer's collection of over 1500 volumes and a stock of over 8000 drawings; it is unique and a first in French history that a government-funded museum has been established on behalf of a living artist.[ Read More ]
Expanding the medium of artists' books.
Clive Phillpot is a writer, editor and curator best known for his tenure as the head of the library of the Museum of Modern Art from 1977 to 1994. At MoMA he initiated and shaped the Artist Book Collection, one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its kind. In 2013, a selection of his writings on artists’ books was published by JRP|Ringier: Booktrek: Selected Essays on Artists' Books (1972–2010) is a record of the medium from its beginnings to its current widespread and influential state. The essays include texts from his early “Feedback” column for Studio International, exhibition catalogue contributions, interviews with professionals, and essays on pivotal artists working in the field. Like the Artist Book Collection, Booktrek is a vital reference for anyone interested in the medium and its history. Like his career, our discussion at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London intersected with many of the notable people, institutions and circumstances significant to the origins and proliferation of artists' books as a medium.[ Read More ]
A live conversation about performance, adventure, and objects.
As part of an ongoing series hosted by Independent Curators International (ICI), I invite artists to discuss their work in an intimate environment. These talks are a continuation of a larger series of conversations and panels I’ve been initiating with artists from around the globe. Here in New York, the talks focus on Israeli art and artists. These particular conversations aim to explore the artists’ work in relation to place and time. While considering their origins and background, these artists react and examine possibilities of reshaping political, religious, and social structures. The series of articles began with the study of Ohad Meromi’s practice and will continues by revisiting Tamar Ettun’s and Dana Levy's works, as well as proposing a theoretical curatorial vision of the artists’ works as a whole.[ Read More ]
Building a mutable sound system with found materials.
Gary Simmons is a contemporary artist, teacher, collaborator, and proud father of one. He was formally trained in painting, but his body of work interrogates notions of race, pop culture, social stereotypes, and politics through a variety of mixed media. After twenty-five years of art making, his work has been acquired by a host of major public art institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of Art. Simmons’ was born and raised in New York, where he currently resides. He completed graduate studies in Los Angeles.
I caught up with him at the site of his current show in the Treme, as participant of the biennial Prospect.3, the afternoon before the performance with the hip-hop artist Beans (Robert Edward Stewart II), a long time friend. This is Simmons’ first experience working in New Orleans.[ Read More ]
A discussion of urbanism and Staten Island, cartography, and monumental sculpture’s place in modern society.
The Great Richmond is collaboration between the cartographer Neil Greenberg and the sculptor Will Corwin. The two were introduced by Monica Valenzuela, the Director of Development and Community Programming at Staten Island Arts, after both independently proposed projects focusing on the future of the borough via abstract methodology—Greenberg through imaginary maps and Corwin via interactive sculpture. The simplest means of collaborating turned out to be Greenberg visiting New York for several weeks at a time and camping out on Corwin’s couch. They made field trips to the island, wandered its streets and researched its history at the archives in the basement at Snug Harbor. Two years later, the result is a game-based and crowd-sourced sculpture incorporating many ideas from previous projects. For Greenberg it references imaginary urban manifestations and interventions such as Fake Omaha and Freshwater Metro Transit, and for Corwin it is another iteration of pseudo-randomly generated sculpture such as the Clocktower Chess Match.
The Great Richmond is an interactive project that will draw its momentum from the 65,000 or so tourists and Staten Islanders who wander into the Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and are willing to interact with the piece. The rules are simple: choose two game tokens from the storage shelves and place them on any of the four color-coded tables. There are eight varieties of token, cast-plaster sculptures approximately a cubic foot in size, representing different facets of the island: infrastructure, history and culture, architectural fabric (retail and residential, government institutions, contemporary culture, and connectivity with the rest of the boroughs), and agrarian aspirations. The four tables represent four visions for the island—a return to an agrarian utopia, secession, and increased suburban or urban fabric. The possible outcomes of visitors’ choices are concretized in Greenberg’s cycle of four fantasy maps of the island, while Corwin’s contribution lies in the tokens and shelving matrix. [ Read More ]
"A precisely aimed reach into the immeasurable flow of things."
For nearly three decades, German painter Neo Rauch has mesmerized and mystified viewers with his boundless imagination and his ability to give shape to the intangible, the bizarre, and the paradoxical. His figurative compositions, which also imply abstraction, reach far into the histories and myths of communal living, of ideology, faith, creativity, and the subconscious. From all of these realms Rauch spins scenarios with a pronounced absence of the linear and the logical, or of common temporal and spatial perspectives. Giant humans cradle their miniature selves or tower over dwarfed others; small German towns assume Himalayan dimensions; old-time laborers and modern-day businessmen engage in enigmatic tasks involving obsolete tools; trees grow houses like fruit, fields grow explosives like vegetables; sea creatures breed women, menfolk morph into flocks of birds; boulders become clouds, clouds become words; and arteries of bulging paint, hazardous-looking liquid, or pure energy snake and flow through it all.
Rauch’s palette ranges widely between tricolored scenes suggesting underexposed or lost histories and extravagantly colored canvases with dramatic, almost fluorescent highlights. His protagonists, whom he politely calls his picture personnel, serve the painting before they serve a story. They are employed for the purpose of creating tension, harmony, and discord of color and form. Rauch follows these figures’ evolution on the canvas, observing their influence, their pace and authority, which then prompts him to drive their activities further.
Physical and mental labor and, more recently, explicitly artistic labor, have always been at the center of Rauch’s interests. His early, agitprop-style compositions featuring pensive-looking staff (toiling toward alleged progress under looming watchwords in formal yet off-kilter semi-industrial landscapes) later gave way to more allegorical and epic scenes whose elements of folklore and myth seem at once local and elusive. Yet always, the depictions of men's and women's active efforts and gestural communication, as disparate and enigmatic as they may seem, result in a strong sense of community in the painting. There’s an undisclosed common goal that Rauch’s protagonists dutifully pursue among globs of mysterious matter.
I’ve always been fascinated by the existential mood yet distinct air of neutrality and moral detachment that prevails in Rauch’s painted societies. While there’s conflict, even rebellion and upheaval, there’s neither overt terror nor affliction or even strain in the figures’ faces, no matter what type of crude or gentle acts they are engaged in. The man bound in ropes, about to be beheaded, appears in a strange and accepting union with his slayer. Victims and perpetrators are two sides of the same coin and depend on each other. There’s no tension in a play without a villain; there is no progress without conflict. Like in a selfless universe, all participants seem to contain multitudes and to possess the fluidity to change and morph into one another.
The serene, unperturbed facial expressions in Rauch’s paintings are somewhat reminiscent of Western religious art, especially Giotto, the Italian pre-Renaissance master who was active at the brink of a new era, just before individualism, science, and perspective began to enter painting. Rauch obviously knows how to paint in perfect perspective but he employs his skill to demolish ordinary notions of spatial proportionality. This allows him to present disparate events accumulatively and simultaneously, something only painting can pictorially accomplish. Everything exists in one single space and in one present: attempts from centuries ago face today’s endeavors face future pasts alongside individuals’ dreams and collective utopias.
On the occasion of his latest exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York, I had the opportunity to ask Neo Rauch seven questions, which he answered in writing.[ Read More ]
On painting, architecture, and working in "chapters."
My first encounter with Quaytman’s work happened by chance around 2004 when I was working on a Portuguese translation of Susan Howe’s Pierce-Arrow. During a visit to Howe’s home in Guilford, Connecticut, the conversation quickly shifted away from Charles Sanders Peirce and semeiotics to architecture. At some point she volunteered, “If you like architecture, I must show you the house my daughter and her husband Jeff Preiss recently bought nearby,” the daughter being Quaytman. We drove for about five minutes and arrived at a magnificent structure designed by Tony Smith perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Long Island Sound. In hindsight, I feel like I have been stalking Quaytman, quietly following her development since the early days of the artist-run space Orchard.
In 2001, Quaytman introduced the idea of chapters as a way to organize her working on different subjects in discrete series. In an era that tends to (over?) analyze everything, the concept provides viewers with a roadmap, while at the same time allowing the artist space to experiment. The works that compose O Tópico (the subject), on view at Gladstone Gallery, have been commissioned by Brazilian collector Bernardo Paz for his private garden in Inhotim, Minas Gerais. The exhibition provided the perfect opportunity for me to finally meet Quaytman and talk about our common interests related to painting and language.[ Read More ]
A residency program on view.
Nicholas Weist is the director of the Shandaken Project, which offers free residencies to artists and other cultural producers on a 250-acre grounds in the Catskill Mountains in New York. This month, the residency is organizing a three-year retrospective exhibition in a disused apartment in the East Village. Ethan Philbrick met Weist during a retreat-style conference held by the Shandaken Project earlier this year, which invited nine artists, scholars, and administrators to investigate how queer theory informs cultural production today. More on this program is available here. When they met for lunch to have this conversation, Weist made overflowing and unruly open-faced sandwiches.[ Read More ]
The technology of light.
Sun dogs, or phantom suns, appear when sunlight moves through ice crystals in high-altitude cirrus clouds or low-lying air currents (known as diamond dust) and refracts horizontally to create a halo of light around the sun. Inspired by sun dogs, Melvin Moti’s The Vision Machine is a moving image installation that will operate with the same mechanical system for a period of fifty years, positioning the poetics of light refraction against the policies of planned obsolescence. The Vision Machine is a projector that creates images of refracted light through the paired down vocabulary of a light source, lens, and several rotating prisms. The piece was partially inspired by Riccardo Manzotti’s “the spread mind,” a radical externalist theory that holds that consciousness is spread between the material world and an individual. The Vision Machine is anchored between these two sources of inspiration—one physical, the other theoretical—arguing for the infinite interdependency of thought and materiality.[ Read More ]
A series of conversations about location, process, and practice.
The Los Angeles Studio Visits is an attempt to understand how architectural structures inform artistic practices. The nature of our quotidian relationship to room, the physical world, and sound drives this series as I go through the city meeting with artists to discuss what concerns they are working out in their studios.[ Read More ]