In Colors: Farrah Karapetian at Von Lintel



Dispatch from Los Angeles

Farrah Karapetian: Stagecraft at Von Lintel Gallery

2685 S La Cienega Blvd (between Alivar and Cullen streets)
January 17 to February 28, 2015
Los Angeles, 310 559 5700

Farrah Karapetian, Got to the Mystic, 2014. Chromogenic photogram from performance, metallic, 97 x 82 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

Farrah Karapetian, Got to the Mystic, 2014. Chromogenic photogram from performance, metallic, 97 x 82 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

When I was a child my father would delight me by playing Ken Nordine’s word jazz. We’d listen and laugh along with the absurdist poetry delivered in Nordine’s mellifluous baritone accompanied by bebop improvisations, breathy flute trills, the swish of a brush across a snare drum. I’d close my eyes and stare with my ears at the scenes Nordine sketched with words — short, jokey stories brimming with onomatopoeic ornamentation and witty little rhymes. His 1966 album, Colors, is a collection of 34 roughly one-and-a-half-minute vignettes, each characterizing a color with anthropomorphic anecdotes: ecru is a critic, for instance; burgundy is bulging and fat; lavender is an old, old, old, old, old lady.

I thought briefly of Ken Nordine after seeing Farrah Karapetian’s exhibition of new photograms and sculpture, “Stagecraft,” at Von Lintel Gallery. The comparison is perhaps a bit corny, I admit, but there is some correspondence to be found between Nordine’s evocation of colors through words and music, and Karapetian’s evocation of music through shape and color. There are shared elements of playfulness, improvisation and mood; with both, our mind fills in what the eyes do not see. While earlier works alluded to subjects with political weight (portraying riot police, protestors, guns and contraband), this series uses the accoutrements of music and performance as a vehicle to investigate the mutability of perception and the rhythmic possibilities of light, color, and space.

Farrah Karapetian, In the Wake of Sound; In the Break of Sound, 2014. Steel and glass, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

Farrah Karapetian, In the Wake of Sound; In the Break of Sound, 2014. Steel and glass, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

Karapetian began with bronzes and blues — the colors one feels listening to jazz, according to what Karapetian’s father revealed to her about his own sensations when listening to music. In Got to the Mystic (all works 2014), we see her father as a ghostly figure playing a skeleton of a drum kit, his face obscured by the hi-hat; the drum stands and rims and closures and cymbals register a stark white against the ruddy ground of the photogram.

Karapetian’s painstakingly crafted replica of her father’s drum kit — minus the skins and shells, leaving just the armature, the metal lugs, rods and stands — sits in an adjoining room. The cymbals are formed from glass, allowing light to pass through. A spotlight positioned on the floor of the gallery illuminates the sculpture from below, casting its shadow against the wall, and revealing the apparatus at play in Karapetian’s photograms. Many artists go to lengths to conceal their processes, but Karapetian, in the service of transparency, divulges her sources, shows us the “negative.”

The viewer, however, does not get the full experience, rather just a glimpse of how things work. In Three Muses one can clearly see the three bodies in space, but one can only imagine the haptic experience of three people trying to position themselves in a completely dark room, waiting for the flash of light that would inscribe their shadows on the paper. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Pause. Flash.

Karapetian spoke to me about the primacy of physical interaction in her work, from situating her subjects in the darkened space to the handling of the paper and processing. The viewer sees only the final result, limited to the perspective of the paper itself. We see only what the paper sees, as it mutely records the impression of shadow and light across its surface. It bears other marks, too, though. Around the edges, little fingerprints are indelibly smudged, and the pricks of the push pins that held the paper in place are visible. The prints hold a remarkable texture, impossible to capture in the jpegs you’d see online.

Farrah Karapetian, Three Muses, 2014. Chromogenic photogram from performance, metallic, 75 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

Farrah Karapetian, Three Muses, 2014. Chromogenic photogram from performance, metallic, 75 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

There are bronzes and blues — but also crimsons and yellows and indigos and deep, resonant greens. Yes, resonance: the colors here have it, just like sounds do. Light waves that linger. My memory of the electric greens and cyans of Kräftig — the color is so pure, so saturated and intense — challenges the colors I now see in the digital reproduction of the piece on my laptop and in the exhibition catalogue. Strange, how variable color is in real life and in reproduction. Stranger still, to think of these vibrant greens and blues produced by red and magenta lights. In the darkroom, the gap between perceived and resultant color becomes a playground of improvisation and experimentation, “a very present tense experience,” as Karapetian put it. Like a jazz musician mounting the stage, she may already know the riff, but where the song goes from there will always be a surprise.

Installation view, "Farrah Karapetian: Stage Craft," 2015, courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery.

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Installation view, "Farrah Karapetian: Stage Craft," 2015, courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery.

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Installation view, "Farrah Karapetian: Stage Craft," 2015, courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery.

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Weaving a Thread: Fall shows in London and Beyond



Report from… London

Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language at the Whitechapel Gallery and Tate Modern, October 14 to December 14, 2014, October 16 to December 6, 2014
Pedro Cabrita Reis: The London Angles at Spovieri, 23 Heddon Street, London W1, October 16 to December 6, 2014
Gerhard Richter at Marian Goodman Gallery, 5-8 Lower John Street, London W1. October 14 to December 20, 2014
Jill Baroff: For Your Love at Bartha Contemporary, 25 Margaret Street, London W1. October 14 to November 22, 2014
Platform A Gallery, Middlesbrough Railway Station, Zetland Road, Middlesbrough

Richard Tuttle, Compartmentalization, 2008. Mixed media, overall installed size 21 x 100 x 72 inches.  Courtesy of Tate Modern

Richard Tuttle, Compartmentalization, 2008. Mixed media, overall installed size 21 x 100 x 72 inches. Courtesy of Tate Modern

The Whitechapel Gallery’s recent survey of Richard Tuttle is part of a wider project that extends to a show of monumental sculpture at Tate Modern and a collaborative book with Tuttle that focuses on historic and contemporary textiles. The title for both Whitechapel exhibition and the Tate Modern sculpture, I don’t know: The Weave of Textile language, references the artists’ belief that textiles are underappreciated–Tuttle is himself an avid collector of textiles. The survey takes in a period between 1969 and 2014. Early works from 1971-2, the Wire Pieces, are typically humble yet complex and made using a simple and direct principle – a length of wire used to follow a wall drawing is then released. Now standing away from the surface and casting a shadow that reads as a vital part of the work, it completes this slight but precise composition. Slight, in this context becomes a virtue, as Tuttle eschews any obvious use of material in favor of inventive combinations of discarded (or at least not art store purchased) finds. Tuttle accompanies each work with a short poetic text. The use of words together with his choice of materials directs us to the richness of small, ubiquitous,quotidian things. In contrast, the vast sculptures at Tate Modern, the largest works Tuttle has made to date, span the extensive void of Tate’s Turbine Hall. With brilliantly colored textiles used over the planer plywood structure, it looks like a cross between a hovering schematic tree and an ancient aeronautical device. Throughout both installations, textile’s essential qualities of adaptability and ubiquity are repeated – literally, a weaving together of material in different forms for different functions. A number of London galleries currently exhibit artists who have somewhat adjacent concerns in their focus on resourcefulness and transformation across media.

Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis’ first exhibition at Spovieri, The London Angles, investigated familiar concerns for this artist. Foremost here is the window as a subject, both its literal construction and its philosophical implications vis-a-vis Renaissance concepts of framing and space. The sculptures combine vernacular elements in such a way as to cause a relational balance between sculpture, painting and architecture. Undisclosed #1, (2008), is a wall based assemblage comprising, glass, aluminum, acrylic on wood, found wood objects, armatures, fluorescent lamps and electric cables. The reconfiguration of elements familiar as parts of the built environment balance light and matter toward, as Cabrita Reis puts it, “a reality in its own right, instead of reproducing it.” The particular reconfiguration that envelops an acrylic painting on raw linen in another work situates the painting as a found object; if it weren’t under an assembled double glass and aluminum frame, for instance, it would be Ryman-like. The works often have trailing wires and even lean against gallery walls, increasing the impression of contingency and resourcefulness that results in an adequacy that never seems over worked.

Installation view of  Gerhard Richter;s exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery, London. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery

Installation view of Gerhard Richter;s exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery, London. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery

The inaugural exhibition of Marian Goodman’s impressive new digs in London’s West End consisted mostly of recent work by Gerhard Richter, and is that artist’s first gallery exhibition in London on such a scale – with over 40 works –in almost 20 years. Included were new works from the three series, Strip, Flow, and Doppelgrau, as well as a glass sculpture and a number of earlier paintings. The Strip paintings are a result of photographically deconstructing a 1990 oil painting by Richter. These consist of digital prints mounted between Alu Dibond and Perspex . In Strip 926-7, (2012), which measures five by almost ten feet, the color sampled from the original painting is organized as sharp narrow horizontal bands. The ochers and greens that dominate the lower 2 thirds, and the blues and reds of the top third, pulse and oscillate rhythmically. Robert Storr has described the Strip paintings as the most retinal paintings ever produced.

Jill Baroff’s fourth exhibition at Bartha Contemporary, a gallery in the Fitzrovia district run founded in 2000 by a Swiss couple, was titled For Your Love. The installation comprised five ink drawings and a floor-based cluster of red corrugated disks in which data is scientifically amassed and aesthetically realized. Variations of phenomena recorded from the physical world – tidal movement for example – are mapped as abstract line and form. Inherent fluctuations of space and time are seen here not as statistical data, though this is their source, but as objects and images to be contemplated. The ink drawings are made on Gampi paper (discovered by the artist on recent trips to Japan) together with the wooden discs that trap changing light in their surface grooves. This characterizes Baroff’s attitude to craft and material, which are as consistently important to her as the conceptual rigor of her ideas.

Clem Crosby, Penmanship is desirable, 2014. Oil on Formica on aluminium, 36 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Clem Crosby, Penmanship is desirable, 2014. Oil on Formica on aluminium, 36 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Leaving London (but barely leaving the railroad car) and heading northeast to Middlesbrough, Platform A’s exhibition in that station’s former parcel delivery room brought together six artists for whom the physical forming of a painting or a sculpture is vital to any reading of completed work. The artists in this meticulously curated show – Andrew Bick, Katrina Blannin, Clem Crosby, David Ryan, Francesca Simon and Kate Terry – each in their way use gesture as a decisive formal element. This is most obvious in the paintings of David Ryan and Clem Crosby, for both of whom spontaneity and working in the moment are crucial, though this manifests differently for each artist. Ryan emphasizes adjustment and improvisation within a specific limit of contested parts – part gestural sign, part schematic shape.. Crosby’s painting on aluminum, Penmanship is desirable, (2014), on the other hand, represents the final stage of a process that allows almost complete erasure of previous states. Leaving only the trace of any moves subsequently rejected, the fluid linear event that results is – including the knots of line that create shape – almost kinetic in appearance.

Simon’s two-part painting, In Construction, (2014), is situated across a corner, one canvas on each adjacent wall. The compositional elements echo and mirror each other asymmetrically. Another multipart painting, Blannin’s Three-Piece Suite: Pink/Black (Double Hexad: Contracted Root and Expanded=123/321 Tonal Rotation), (2014), comprising three abutted horizontal panels, , deploys a repeated linear permutation across each panel. The rational logic is clear from the reflected and refracted planes that accurately meet at defined edges. From diverse directions, these artists all arrive at a notion of making as an integral part of the finished work.

Jill Baroff, For Your Love, 2014.  Acrylic on wood, size variable.  Courtesy of Bartha Contemporary

Jill Baroff, click to enlarge

 

Bloom and Drang: Peter Blume’s Eclecticism



Report from… Philadelphia

Peter Blume: Nature and Metamorphosis at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

November 14, 2014 to April 12, 2015
118 North Broad Street (between Race and Arch streets)
Philadelphia, 215 972 7600

Peter Blume, Parade, 1929-30. Oil on canvas, 49 1/4 x 56 3/8 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Peter Blume, Parade, 1929-30. Oil on canvas, 49 1/4 x 56 3/8 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

A walk through the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ exhibition of work by Peter Blume (1906 – 1992) is like a tour through 20th century art. Precisionism, Surrealism, abstraction, and Pop art all have their moment in the painting and drawing of this lesser-known American artist, who is now getting his due with the Academy’s retrospective “Nature and Metamorphosis.” The accompanying catalogue, with excellent essays by Sarah Vure, Samantha Baskind and curator Robert Cozzolino, offers engaging insights into Blume’s particular brand of Modernism.

The confidence of Blume’s hand is striking. Whether rendering a stark winter farmhouse, a war catastrophe, or a pile of improvised biomorphic forms, the artist always knows exactly where to end one shape end and begin another. In the painting New England Barn (1926), for example, barn, farmhouse, and shed are joined by the up-down rhythm of repeated triangles. In a classic Cubist ploy, the edge of one background building merges with that of a horse cart in the foreground, confounding the expected spatial reading. Not so classically Cubist is a female figure in the hayloft, who has apparently bared her flesh for the cart driver’s pleasure. Unabashed sexual moments like this one recur frequently in Blume’s work, preventing its reading as pure form.

Peter Blume, The Eternal City, 1934-37. Oil on composition board, 34 x 47 7/8 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Peter Blume, The Eternal City, 1934-37. Oil on composition board, 34 x 47 7/8 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Blume’s take on the industrial subject matter of the Precisionists also involves unexpected insertions. Parade (1928) depicts the same type of ship ventilators as in Charles Sheeler’s familiar painting Upper Deck (1929), but Blume’s extreme dislocations of space and nonsensical additions (including a suit of armor) resemble the Surrealism of Max Ernst. Such insertions are both the strength and the problem of Blume’s work. He brushed aside associations with all movements, including André Breton’s attempt to identify him as a Surrealist: “They wanted me to join the club. I told them that was hopeless.” Yet in striking out on his own, he never quite found his own voice. Color palettes bounced from muted grays and whites to warm earth tones. Levels of detail varied from the minimal to the chock-full — as in The Eternal City (1934-37), an allegory of fascism that seems to contain every stone in Italy.

Like many artists of the era, Blume was deeply affected by the Second World War, and his confrontation with that conflict’s horrors spurred experimentation. In The Eternal City, his insertion of the bright-green head of Mussolini amid piles of equally bright-red bricks announced a willingness to try out-of-the-tube colors. Drawing also took Blume in new directions. A series of untitled ink doodles from 1946 used the automatic drawing technique favored by Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists, improvising biomorphic forms with pen and brush. Much more diffuse than the paintings, these inventions find their way into later works with compelling results.

Peter Blume, Rock and Stump, 1942. Black chalk and graphite, stumped with incised lines on cream wove paper, 18 13/16 x 22 7/8 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Peter Blume, Rock and Stump, 1942. Black chalk and graphite, stumped with incised lines on cream wove paper, 18 13/16 x 22 7/8 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

A notable example is Flowering Stump (begun in 1945 but completed in 1968). The floral forms that emerge from this stump resemble many things but nothing in particular: fungi, acorn squash, genitals, sting rays. An automatic charcoal study that accompanied this piece clearly helped Blume imbue his work with such free-floating associations. Another pivotal piece, House at Falling Water (begun 1938, completed 1968), is possibly the strangest image ever of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece. The intensely detailed plant forms and tiny, waif-like hounds in the foreground command our attention, rendered as they are with the vibrating tonality of Ivan Albright’s mounds of undulating flesh. Meanwhile, Blume softened the house’s concrete slabs to the consistency of tofu.

 

Peter Blume, Crashing Surf, 1982. Oil on canvas, 30 x 50 inches. Courtesy of Elisabeth and William Landes. Art © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Peter Blume, Crashing Surf, 1982. Oil on canvas, 30 x 50 inches. Courtesy of Elisabeth and William Landes. Art © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

The works completed in the 1970s and 1980s bring Blume’s de-familiarized bio-forms to their pinnacle. Piles of rocks in From the Metamorphosis (1979) freely transform themselves to toes, arms, breasts and buttocks. In Autumn (1984), a gaggle of squashes tilt to and fro with more excitement than is customary for vegetables, their ticklish stems resembling the business end of a sex toy. In each of these paintings, full-intensity background hues pop out in front of foreground blacks and grays, flattening the space and adding to the festive delirium of the scene. The elements that began in earlier works — Cubist dislocation of form, Surrealist transformation of scale and substance, the bizarre use of primary and high-contrast colors, and of course sexual innuendo — finally coalesce into a personal statement that, while referring to different types of Modern art, maintain its own integrity.

Peter Blume, Tasso's Oak, 1957-60. Oil on canvas, 81 x 96 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

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Peter Blume, Recollection of the Flood, 1967-69. Oil on canvas, 48 x 54 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

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Peter Blume, Home for Christmas, 1926. Oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 35 1/2 inches. © The Educational Alliance, Inc./Estate of Peter Blume/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

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Just As Juvenile When They Were Juvenile: Jake & Dinos Chapman in their hometown of Hastings



Report from… Hastings, England

Jake & Dinos Chapman: ‘The Realm of the Unmentionable’ at the Jerwood Gallery

October 25, 2014 to January 7, 2015
Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex
www.jerwoodgallery.org

 

Jake and Dinos Chapman, Sturm und Drang, 2014 © Jake and Dinos Chapman

Jake and Dinos Chapman, Sturm und Drang, 2014 © Jake and Dinos Chapman

Just a few months after taking over London’s Serpentine Gallery, Jake and Dinos Chapman have another large-scale outing. The brothers spent their teenage years in Hastings, on the south coast, and most of The Realm of the Unmentionable is an enjoyably mischievous reprisal of the greatest hits you’d expect from the local boys made bad. That’s ideal for anaudience who may not have seen much of their work before. For those more familiar with it, the obvious focus is on the show’s relationship to place, and on the newer streams of work, which push forward the Chapmans’ interest in value, originality and fame in art.

It’s relevant that Hastings, which has important historical associations and was a fashionable tourist destination in the 19th Century, had become one of the least salubrious towns in the south of England by the 1980s: the Chapman view of existence, brutal to the point of satire, had to come from somewhere.  Of less relevance is the fact that this author went to Hastings Grammar School, which became William Parker Comprehensive by the time the Chapmans attended. Appropriately there’s an Archive Cloud of 79 drawings, gathered in 2012 but dating back to school and college days and demonstrating that the Chapmans were just as juvenile when they were juveniles. The Sum of All Evil, 2012-13, is a version of the original Hell, destroyed in the MOMART art warehouse fire in 2004. It features not just thousands of individual figures at 35:1 scale, but also one god-like pair of feet at full human size, dressed in locally sourced rainbow socks. There are a couple of the brain machine sculptures, one expanded by the addition of three spectating mannequins from Hastings junk shops. Each member of this nuclear family holds a pair of eyeballs, as if to emphasise their failed striving for true vision, and the head of each contains a radio blaring out. The competing channels yield a cacophonous clash of cultures which infects the whole show. There’s also a new set of repurposed Victorian / Edwardian portrait paintings from the series One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved, 2014.  Not significantly different for some of the originating canvases, these are again sourced locally.  The show’s site specificity, then, is weak: we have work made in Hastings, and material sourced in Hastings. What we don’t have is any work about Hastings or explicitly derived from experiences in Hastings.

Jake and Dinos Chapman, One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved (that it should come to this) XVII, 2013 © Jake and Dinos Chapman

Jake and Dinos Chapman, One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved (that it should come to this) XVII, 2013 © Jake and Dinos Chapman

There are new works of known types. Sturm und Drang, 2014, a grotesque bronze version of an old Chapman favourite, Goya’s Great Deeds – Against the Dead; a naughty boy defacement of Los Caprichos, all phallically elongated noses and tongues; and hand-coloured etchings (Human Rainbow II, 2014) which exploit the imaginative use of rainbows in dark settings.  There re also new examples of Living with Dead Art, 2014: small views of designer interiors featuring classic masterpieces alongside the Chapmans’ own work; Twombly and sex dolls; Rothko and mutants; Guston and Ronald McDonald; and so on.

Two new work types, however, advance the bothers’ interest in originality and fame in art as a way of challenging the value ascribed to it and hence – by implication – value systems as a whole.

First, they have remade Tracey Emin’s tent of everyone she slept with, which their fellow White Cube artist has steadfastly refused to recreate following its destruction in the said MOMART fire. Resisting the temptation to stick themselves in, the only apparent differences from the original are blank panels where no photo documentation was available. The title makes the risibly false claim that this is The Same Only Better, 2012. It hasn’t gone down well with Emin, but I guess the Chapmans would be disappointed if it had. Here it reads as a run-down seaside parallel – her Margate, their Hastings – as well as a way of questioning the primacy of the original and the fetishizing of the lost.

Second, they reboot their serial use of Hitler, the artist. There’s no doubting how notoriety affects the attention paid to his dull paintings.  A muddy still life attributed to him is installed – unmarked, for a change – in its own reverential space, but with the ceiling lowered to less than five feet. That undercuts the reverence, but also forces the adult viewer to bend down in front of the Führer’s art. Then again, the ceiling is also a child friendly nod to the ‘join the dots’ drawings installed nearby – under an ironically full height ceiling – which evidently plays on the reactions Jake recently provoked by saying that it was a waste of time to take children to art galleries.

So Goya, Hitler, Twombly, Emin, children’s book illustrators and their own past and present are all reduced / elevated to the same level. What, then, is the Chapman “realm of the unmentionable”? Perhaps the point is that the realm is unpopulated: nothing is too tasteless, immoral or cheap to be included. The world is so wicked, in their vision, that cynical laughter is the only response.

Jake and Dinos Chapman, The Sum of all Evil (detail), 2012-2013. Courtesy of the Artists and White Cube

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Installation shot of the exhibition under review,.  Foreground: Jake and Dinos Chapman, The Same Only Better, 2012

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The Perils and Pleasures of the Contemporary Biennale: Case in Point, Montreal



Report from… Montreal

L’avenir (Looking Forward), October 22, 2014 to April 1, 2015
Various venues, check bnlmtl2014.org for details

Nicolas Grenier, Promised Land Template, 2014, architectural installation: wood, acrylic, construction materials, light, filters, three painting and a cactus, 366 x 366 x 650cm (courtesy of the artist and Galerie Art Mûr in Montréal)

Nicolas Grenier, Promised Land Template, 2014, architectural installation: wood, acrylic, construction materials, light, filters, three painting and a cactus, 366 x 366 x 650cm (courtesy of the artist and Galerie Art Mûr in Montréal)

As every city on the globe seemingly has its own biennale these days, necessarily some are less well known than others. I am something of an expert in relative obscurity, having mounted the world’s smallest, the 195 Hudson Street, Apartment 2A Biennale in my own humble abode. La Biennale de Montréal is also among the less celebrated biennials, and in fact it was only by complete chance, spying a poster out of the metro window on my arrival in that city, that I was aware that it was taking place. But what it may lack in celebrity it makes up for in local vim and vigor, and indeed in many ways it also serves as a useful paradigm, a sort of perfect example, of the perils and pleasures of the contemporary biennale.

Just as the Venice Biennale remains notorious for its governmental politics, the Montreal Biennale does not disappoint on the front of bureacratic intrigue, and has gone through mutations and machinations to arrive at its current incarnation. Launched in 1998 by the Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal, the event has subsequently seemingly been merged with the Triennale de Quebec, devoted to largely Francophone practitioners within the state of Quebec, to slightly confusing effect. Thus what was originally an ambitiously international event, with two equally pan-international organizers including the celebrated New Zealand curator Gregory Burke, somehow gained two extra curators and a strong Québec quota of artists. As a result the show is now precisely divided between Canadian and international artists, of the 50 participants 16 being from Québec and nine from elsewhere in Canada. To confuse things further, a fifth curator emerged at the last moment, one Sylvie Fortin, the “Directrice générale et artistique” whose contribution as “Executive Director” remains entirely mysterious.

Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens, The Prophets, 2013, mixed media, 125 x 1300 x 81 cm (courtesy of the artists; installation views Henie Onstad Kunstsenter)

Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens, The Prophets, 2013, mixed media, 125 x 1300 x 81 cm (courtesy of the artists; installation views Henie Onstad Kunstsenter)

The fundamental difference between “gallery” artists and “Biennale” artists was once brilliantly explained to me by Jeffrey Deitch, and the Montreal Biennale certainly makes clear that it wants no truck with what might be considered more representative commercial elements, even symbolically opening right bang between the opening night of FIAC and the Toronto Art Fair. As a statement this makes clear that Montreal does not need either Paris or Anglophone Toronto and could never be confused with any such art fair. Thus while the staple fare of any fair, its bread and butter, remains painting, this Biennale has boldly blacklisted so old fashioned a medium. Indeed despite listing “painting” in its publicity material as one of its ingredients there are precisely three actual paintings in this entire large exhibition. As it happens these are extremely interesting, held together in an engaging architectural installation, a wooden box with weird traction sandpaper flooring, by local artist Nicolas Grenier, and one of them, Incoming Flux (2014), in oil and acrylic on wood, is among the most intriguing and accomplished paintings I’ve seen for a long while. But it is typical that these paintings are seemingly only considered acceptable for the Biennale because they deal with a subject matter, a topic, a social or intellectual issue, rather than just being purely visually or aesthetically rewarding. Grenier’s box construction is next to a long display of wonderful little objects laid out by Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens, but these are not allowed merely to be attractive and amusing tiny sculptures. Titled The Prophets, they are in fact “models” of various economic models — 3D renderings of statistics. It seems that you are allowed to make art that resembles “art” so long as there is also some weighty discourse or additional theoretical explanation behind it. This is true of several of the stand-out works of the show, whether John Massey’s strikingly dense black and white digital prints — apparently all about “language” — or Suzanne Treister’s wonderful coloured drawings and spectacular wall work, all of which detail alternative histories of the 20th century.

Even the best of the audio-visual works in the exhibition, Oleg Tcherny’s subverted travelogue La Linea Generale (2010) almost excuses its visual beauty with the voice of the philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Among the few works to just “be what they are” without extra-mural justification are Thomas Hirschhorn’s brutal four-minute video Touching Reality (2012) and the seemingly casually scattered stuffed animals of Abbas Akhavan, one of the real discoveries of this Biennale.

Like any Biennale, Montreal’s supposedly has a theme, “L’avenir — Looking forward“ which is, according to this classic example of a statement written by committee, meant to examine “recent developments in contemporary art in relationship to speculation, futurity and the history of future projection, and the currency of projecting into the future.” And like any biennial, the actual show only has the faintest possible connection to its ostensible theme whose interchangeable generic category headings immediately vanish from the viewer’s memory.

This vision of the future, as far as art itself is concerned, is very heavy on video and film and if I had obeyed my usual strict rule of not devoting longer than five minutes to audio-visual work I could have whisked through the whole show in an hour. The actual total running time for the assembled video runs over 10 hours by my calculation. One has to ponder who apart from the curators (if even they) actually sits through all of this stuff to the bitter end. And when you decide, just for once, to see an artist’s film all the way through to the last frame, chances are it will consist of live, real-time transmission, without beginning or end.

Dominique Gaucher, foreground Plantation, 2014. Wood, metal and matches, 36 x 120 x 180 inches and hanging, Delta, 2011-2012. Acrylic, oil and paper on canvas, 180-1/4 x 422 inches.  Courtesy of Arsenal, Montreal

Dominique Gaucher, foreground Plantation, 2014. Wood, metal and matches, 36 x 120 x 180 inches and hanging, Delta, 2011-2012. Acrylic, oil and paper on canvas, 180-1/4 x 422 inches. Courtesy of Arsenal, Montreal

Essential to a gnawing sense of frustration is that the Biennale must be spread out over a vast array of locations. In this respect at least Montreal is relatively manageable, the majority of the exhibition being held in one central building, the renowned Musée d’art contemporain, although they have provided at least one venue which one cannot visit at all, the “ville souterraine” being entirely off the map, where “Adaptive Actions” are apparently collaborating with local workers in a project destined to be always invisible.

Trekking to the outlying venues has unexpected rewards in the non-Biennale-related art one sees by accident. Thus, for instance, the Arsenal Art Contemporain, a mind-bogglingly gigantic art hangar to make even the largest Gagosian space seem modest, introduces us to the astonishing gigantic “paintings” of Dominique Gaucher. The Arsenal is hosting a couple of videos for the Biennale, but it is Gaucher who is the revelation. Likewise at the gallery Parisian Laundry to which one repairs to see a new film by Edgar Arcenaux, one can instead discover the accomplished, sophisticated paintings of Paul Hardy.

Even at the Gare Centrale hunting everywhere for some site specific project nobody has heard of or ever seen, one is sent instead to see a wonderful show of shadow sculptures made from cut out boxes, all by some nameless artist.

But then, fundamentally, biennials of this nature are a public relations exercise for the host city, so kudos to them for enabling serendipitous encounters in their lost suburbs.

Paul Hardy, Caryatid, 2014.  Oil on linen, 24 x 16 inches.  As seen in the exhibition, Et ensuite, on recommence, Parisian Laundry

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Intallation shot of Suzanne Treister's Hexen 2.0 , HISTORICAL DIAGRAMS: From ARPANET to DARWARS via the Internet.  2009-11. Courtesy of the Artist

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John Massey, One, 2014, digital print, 162.4 cm x 162.4 cm x 5 cm (courtesy of the artist)

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“Antiquated Piece of Shit”: Andrew Lampert at UTVAC



Dispatch from Austin, TX

Andrew Lampert: Don’t Lose the Manual at the Visual Arts Center, University of Texas at Austin
September 19 to December 6, 2014
2300 Trinity Street (at San Jacinto Street)
Austin, 512 471 1108

Andrew Lampert, installation view, "Don't Lose the Manual," 2014, at the UT Visual Arts Center. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

Andrew Lampert, installation view, “Don’t Lose the Manual,” 2014, at the UT Visual Arts Center. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

The meatiest portion of Andrew Lampert’s “Don’t Lose the Manual,” at the University of Texas’s Visual Arts Center through December 6, commences with a blunt shot of a middle-aged man in a crumpled red shirt. He waxes lyrical on the technology of potato chips. This is Charlie, a recurring character in the stream of short documentary videos (all from 2014), who recalls the odd pleasure of chancing on charred potato crisps as a kid (back when fallible humans sorted through the starchy masses whizzing by on conveyor belts). Adult Charlie laments the “bank of cameras” looming over the process now, which feed images to insatiable computers sending 0s and 1s to air pistols that gun down unsuitable snacks into a gulf of oleaginous waste.

Andrew Lampert, installation view, "Don't Lose the Manual," 2014, at the UT Visual Arts Center. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

Andrew Lampert, installation view, “Don’t Lose the Manual,” 2014, at the UT Visual Arts Center. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

Next, the two sexagenarian stars of Cave of Wonders bow over in quarters so cramped and overflowing with books that before the first Ludditism can emerge from their mouths, I’m overtaken with longing for an erstwhile, rent-stabilized Manhattan. Lampert’s voice inquires over his whirly hand-held camera, “Will you always adapt to technology, or will you stop?” A brittle, scarlet copy of Sun Ra’s This Planet is Doomed (2011) beams down over the couple and their bookshelf garret as they reply that they were “isolated… pushed into email… forced to continue” updating and upgrading, until both eventually succumbed to a pricey laptop, which they admit to fussing over like toy-greedy children.

Newish technology is conversely embraced in Citizens of the Wider World, the next video fragment, which follows a group of seniors studying digital photography and the World Wide Web at “@ Senior Planet,” where the mission is “aging with attitude.” Lampert’s lens spends about a minute with each unnamed student as their reasons for attending are reported: “feeling less scary about [the Internet],” traditional photographs’ susceptibility to moisture and age, whereas “in the computer they can last maybe forever.” A lattice of platitudinous images — lopsided sidewalk trees, shadowy mannequins in hazy windows, grinning friends mid-gait — project onto the classroom wall and frame the students’ monologues. In the final scene of this six-minute video, the seniors smile quietly over their crisp A-4 paper diplomas, glad, I think, to have something tangible in hand.

The nostalgia that accompanies the hand-wrought continues in the next video segment, Typewriter Tony. Here we meet a purveyor of the “abandoned technology,” who notes how the pre-online and post-world are differentiated by the ability to be alone: the Internet “infringed on our lives so much… [the typewriter] puts you in a different state.” Could the distinction here be between the art of being alone and just plain, albeit distracted, loneliness?

Andrew Lampert, installation view, "Don't Lose the Manual," 2014, at the UT Visual Arts Center. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

Andrew Lampert, installation view, “Don’t Lose the Manual,” 2014, at the UT Visual Arts Center. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

And what does “losing the manual” signify anyway? A beclouded experience of technology? A technically astute, but ethically unsound use and disuse of gleaming machines? The whole of Lampert’s exhibition doesn’t quite make a call but rather functions much like the gadgets and contraptions it puts on display — as a list, or a grid, or the coolly scanning gaze of a security camera.

Our first character pops in again in Charlie’s Future Technology quoting the futurist Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As Charlie speaks, I notice I’ve gone beyond recording snippets in lieu of scrawling notes, and am now plainly watching the monumental projection through my iPhone. The camera app is insisting I don’t have sufficient storage to record. The gallery is closing soon and I worry that I’ll forget the details of the video on the way from doing something I love to doing something that earns a wage.

Andrew Lampert, still from Cave of Wonders, 2014. Video, TRT 6:30 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

Andrew Lampert, still from Cave of Wonders, 2014. Video, TRT 6:30 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

The subsequent video, Actual Real Cameras tracks a lovely girl fumbling with an old 35mm Minolta SLR in a singular, aesthetically engaging portion of the exhibition. That SLR is the same model that was passed down to me for my first photography class. The taut click of the open shutter startling the onscreen digital-native was just one enchantment in a sensual process of image-making that was already in its death-throes when I got my hands on my first Minolta. I shot exclusively on Kodachrome and by chance managed to get through most of my college courses before the remaining three labs in the world still processing the film were shut down. Like Charlie, I had a weird childhood fascination that remains, but mine was with brightly colored images, and I imagined the world had once been Kodachrome-bright and had subsequently faded like a husk from the flush of its Technicolor glory.

It’s banal to discuss nostalgia and dead technology, and somehow it’s become trite to talk about degrees that become obsolete sooner than they’re earned. A heavy wordlessness looms around the issue.

Andrew Lampert, still from Actual Real Cameras, 2014. Video, TRT 5:50 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

On the other side of the gallery, past Lampert’s photographic grids of everyday people who tread Manhattan gaze-down, iPhone aloft, there is a little dirge that takes place at Jonas Mekas’ New York institution, Anthology Film Archives — where the artist is also Curator of Collections. The video DCP/Steenbeck documents in a plain, split-screen composition the removal of a 16mm Steenbeck editing bay from Lampert’s residence on the right, while in the left frame the Anthology staff hoists, by yellow cord and lever, a new DCP (Digital Cinema Package) projector into place. The pale-blue, formica Steenbeck is carried out to the trunk of car and covered with a black blanket. Charlie’s potato chip insights and skepticism still linger at the end of Lampert’s exhibition: “Somehow this is more economical.”

Andrew Lampert, still from Citizens of the Wider World, 2014. Video, TRT 6 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

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Andrew Lampert, still from Charlie's Future Technology, 2014. Video, TRT 1:30 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

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Andrew Lampert, still from Typewriter Tony 2014. Video, TRT 6:30 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

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Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: The Histories of Rupert Goldsworthy



Rupert Goldsworthy at Ritter/Zamet
July 25 through October 25, 2014
Unit 8, 80A Ashfield Street (between Turner and Cavell streets)
London, +44 (0) 207 790 8746

Rupert Goldsworthy, The Coleherne, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

Rupert Goldsworthy, The Coleherne, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

English-born artist Rupert Goldsworthy has followed an eclectic path over the past two decades. Living mostly in Berlin or — as at present — New York, he’s spread his energies across writing, researching and curating, as well as his own art, and has run project spaces in both cities. There are clear continuities across all those activities, though: the history of political activism and AIDS; an interest in how different communities interrelate; and an ongoing investigation into how images are reused and what they stand for. His book, CONSUMING//TERROR: Images of the Baader-Meinhof (2010), for example, traces the visual history of the Red Army Faction (the West German terror group) and their logo. His last exhibition at Ritter/Zamet, in 2012, used image sources as diverse as medicine packaging, stickers from street art, and his own photographs of signs and monuments to juxtapose the old and new communities in the Neukölln area of Berlin.

Rupert Goldsworthy, Installation shot of the floor, 2014. Acrylic and varnish on the floor, 144 x 144 inches (dimensions variable). Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

Rupert Goldsworthy, Installation shot of Mosque Floor, 2014. Acrylic and varnish on the floor, 144 x 144 inches (dimensions variable). Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

Everything in Goldsworthy’s current show was made onsite during a month’s residency at the gallery. The floor dominates: it was undisguisedly hand-painted with typically North African tile-like patterns. Combined with the natural light filtering through the small gallery’s roof, Mosque Floor generates the atmosphere of a courtyard and makes for an environment that — true to his interdisciplinary form — provides the platform for events with guest artists, musicians and writers.

The images around the courtyard are predictably varied. The most striking and conventionally painted is Clone Moustache, a looming close-up of part of a face with bushy hair completely covering the mouth. That suggests secrecy or a failure of communication, as well as membership of the 1970’s Castro-clone scene, a culture driven by extreme promiscuity. Both aspects fit the text paintings Mineshaft Dress Code and The Coleherne, which adopt a painterly photographic halftone dot format, similar to Sigmar Polke’s, to depict a crowd outside a notorious 1970s London leather club. The text is a word-for-word enamel reproduction of the club’s amateurishly hand-written dress code notice, which Goldsworthy has blown up to the scale of a man’s body. New York’s Mineshaft was among the first sex clubs to be closed by the city during the AIDS crisis, and according to Goldsworthy, its dress rules were well known in gay lore. The list is fascinating, featuring as it does both what can be worn (biker leathers, western gear, uniforms) and what can’t (suits, rugby shirts, disco drag and, surprisingly, cologne or perfume).

If those three paintings suggest nostalgia for the pre-AIDS freedoms of the ‘70s, albeit tinged by what came later, then Anita and Brian takes us back a little further: in a red and black graphic style that imitates a printing process, we see Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones in Nazi uniforms. That puts us in 1969, just before Jones was found dead in

Rupert Goldsworthy, Mineshaft Dress Code, 2014. Enamel on canvas, 72 X 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

Rupert Goldsworthy, Mineshaft Dress Code, 2014. Enamel on canvas, 72 X 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

his swimming pool. Finally, Bull appropriates an early 20th century cartoon about the plight of Armenians, then adds a painterly splatter of bloody color. Several copiously moustached men strive to push a bull off a cliff: impending disaster is now visibly present.

The overall effect is more allusive than systematic, but we might think not just about AIDS, but more generally about how one culture imitates or opposes another, or how visual representations help form cultural identities, or whether the various patterns of collapse referenced — not just the end of the pre-AIDS sex scenes, but the dissolution of Ottoman Turkey, the fall of the Third Reich, and the endpoint of Western colonialism suggested by the floor’s expansion of Islamic influence — have any commonalities.

All that makes for a fascinating and emotional installation. London is very different now, and as an ex-pat visiting his hometown this year after three decades abroad, Goldsworthy talks of finding a sad irony in the double erasure of its recent history: first the decimation of his generation by AIDS, and then gentrification. You do, though, need the background provided by Goldsworthy to pick that up, else all you get is disparate work with an aura of potential linkage. Other artists — de Chirico and Rauch, for example — make a virtue of frustrating our desire to make logical connections, but integrate their choices in a distinctive painterly language. Goldsworthy is a chameleon painter, choosing styles to match his sources. That may be thematically appropriate, but it does sacrifice that sense of the artist’s own visually coded world, which makes for more immediate appreciation.

Rupert Goldsworthy, Installation view at Ritter/Zamet Gallery, 2014.

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Rupert Goldsworthy, Bull, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

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Rupert Goldsworthy, Clone Moustache, 2014. Oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

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Rupert Goldsworthy, Anita and Brian, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Ritter/Zamet Gallery.

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Rupert Goldsworthy, Installation view at Ritter/Zamet Gallery, 2014.

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Hippie Pop: Martial Raysse at the Pompidou



Report from… Paris

Martial Raysse: Rétrospective 1960-2012 at the Centre Georges Pompidou
May 14 through September 22, 2014
Place Georges-Pompidou
Paris, +33 1 44 78 12 33

Martial Raysse, Raysse Beach, 1962 - 2007. Work in 3 sizes Installation. Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne. Photo: Philippe Migeat/Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

Martial Raysse, Raysse Beach, 1962 – 2007. Work in 3 sizes Installation. Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne. Photo: Philippe Migeat/Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

Martial Raysse’s career falls into two phases. One stars the precocious Pop artist who exhibited in New York and Los Angeles in the 1960s and pioneered the use of neon and video, envisioning an art culture extending from North Africa to Japan. The other features the hermetic figure who abandoned the commercial art scene for a commune, made shamanistic assemblages, and emerged from the political and cultural turmoil of 1968 to reincarnate, under the influence of Marcel Duchamp, Baudelaire’s “painter of modern life.” The more than 200 works in this 50-year retrospective, multi-faceted and leavened with art-historical references, trace an unconventional artistic trajectory.

Raysse, now 78, was shaped early on by art in the South of France. Raised in Vallauris, where his parents were ceramicists, he encountered Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso and became friendly with artists in Nice, including Yves Klein and Arman. Responsive to post-war popular culture, the so-called School of Nice offered an upbeat alternative to the angst-driven legacy of war, Existentialism and Abstract Expressionism. Affiliated with Nouvelle Realisme, in the 1950s Raysse explored sculpture and became known for his vitrines displaying objects from the French supermarket Prisunic.

Martial Raysse, Made in Japan, 1963. Collage, photograph, oil and wood on canvas, work in three sizes, 125 x 192,5 cm. Pinault Collection Palazzo Grassi Spa - photo : Santi Caleca. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

Martial Raysse, Made in Japan, 1963. Collage, photograph, oil and wood on canvas, work in three sizes, 125 x 192,5 cm. Pinault Collection Palazzo Grassi Spa – photo : Santi Caleca. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

These objects open the exhibition, followed by works from the 1960s that envelop the viewer in sunny, Pop nostalgia: Raysse Plage, an installation featuring sand, beach toys, life-size pin-ups, a neon sign and a jukebox was created for the famous 1962 “Dylaby” exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Raysse is perhaps most identified with his riffs on Ingres’ odalisques, some of which form part of “Made in Japan,” a series based on postcard reproductions of Western masterpieces. Alluding to the French Impressionists’ interest in Japanese prints, they also recall Man Ray’s altered photograph, Le Violin d’Ingres (1924).

Raysse draws less on the industrialized reproduction of Andy Warhol than on Duchamp’s art of ironic appropriation and hermetic imagery. Duchamp introduced readymades in America, and Raysse’s stays in New York and California extended this trans-Atlantic dialogue. He rejected the tormented individualism of abstract painting and shared Duchamp’s ambivalence towards “wet paint.” L’appel des cimes: Tableau horrible (1965) — its neon mountain crest a Pop allusion to the Sublime — makes ironic reference to American landscape painting and to the material density of Abstract Expressionism. Raysse responded to the new intellectual currents of Structuralism and semiotics with ever more simplification and refinement. To free signs from their material context, he reduced his iconic odalisques to cut-out silhouettes and he eventually projected them, along with other symbols, on the inner surface of a desert tent.

That installation, Oued Laou (1971), inspired by a trip to Morocco, also grew from Raysse’s interest in film-making. While TV commercials inspired the satiric humor of his Jésus-Cola (1966), American independent films like Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), with its use of appropriated footage and occult images, stimulated Raysse to more-incisive investigations of dreams and myths, of the underlying psychology of media culture. The political failure of the 1968 strikes reinforced this inward turn, inspiring a feature-length film, Le Grand Départ (1972). Chronicling a guru leading his deluded followers on a quest for a better world, it resonates with the improvisation of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (1969) but features characters inspired by the comics of R. Crumb. Using color negatives and exaggerated contrast, Raysse simultaneously invokes and deconstructs paintings like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830) and Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), blending a dystopian political vision with evocations of childhood innocence.

Childhood merges with psychedelic culture in his subsequent papier-mâché mushrooms, colorful hand-made sculptures and fetishistic assemblages. Raysse went on to pursue hermetic visions in painting, using automatic writing and mixed techniques on paper. Moving to bucolic surroundings in the Dordogne, he extended his references to the ancient Mediterranean, including Bacchus and Carnival, cultivating a broader vision of Pop. Developing an ideal of liberation informed by literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who saw in Carnival a reversal of established order, celebration of the body, and visions of universal participation, Raysse took on broader social themes in large-scale painting and sculpture, and he’s created public projects that encourage civil reflection.

Martial Raysse, Le Carnaval a? Pe?rigueux, 1992. Distemper on canvas 300 x 800 cm. Pinault Collection, Palazzo Grassi Spa/photo : ORCH orsenigo_chemollo, ©Adagp, Paris 2014.

Martial Raysse, Le Carnaval a? Pe?rigueux, 1992. Distemper on canvas
300 x 800 cm. Pinault Collection, Palazzo Grassi Spa/photo : ORCH orsenigo_chemollo, ©Adagp, Paris 2014.

The public ambition of his work provides the context for his embrace of painting, which takes on a theatrical character, like the multimedia provocations of his Pop period. While the cinematic mash-ups of Delacroix and Géricault in Le Grand Départ use gestural camera movements and solarized shapes to suggest the Dionysian immersion of Abstract Expressionism, a vision of Bakhtin’s “carnivalesque body,” Raysse emerges from his psychedelic phase with irony intact, along with Duchamp’s ambivalence towards paint. There’s dystopian darkness in Carnival à Périgueux (1992), with its harsh illumination and bursts of neon-inflected color. Utilizing the frieze as an organizing device, with figures isolated against a flat backdrop, Carnival recalls David’s Neo-Classicism, but also the artifice of Berthold Brecht’s anti-illusionist theater. Favoring acrylics and the unconventional medium of distemper, associated with theatrical and commercial painting, Raysse distances himself from oils, from the full-bodied figural tradition of Balthus or Gérard Garouste. His numerous portraits, often recalling movie headshots, seem more fully painted, but the collaged face in Miss Bagdad (2003) suggests that, for him, paint is more like a decorative veneer, applied like make-up.

The retrospective culminates with a 30-foot-long panoramic painting, Ici plage, comme ici-bas (2012), another frieze, in which the transgressive and utopian impulses of the 1960s combine with contemporary social commentary. The image depicts crowds of provocative young girls mingling with men of doubtful character, with bloody rituals in the background. It inspires comparison to Breughel and Bosch, but the awkward, illustrative rendering of the figures and faces, along with the cartoon-like color, place it more in the graphic tradition of German artists like Otto Dix, or, indeed, of Constantin Guys, the Parisian illustrator who inspired Baudelaire’s famous essay. But if the technique is illustrative, it’s worthy of note that Raysse does craft these images himself, unlike other post-Duchampian painters.

Raysse’s ambivalent embrace of popular culture works best in the playful self-interrogation of his films, in which he’s more accessible and his irony less severe. In Mon petit coeur (1995), the lush radiance of Pop persists in a magic-lantern glow, even if the veneer of glamour, enriched by old age and history, renders its images as poignantly remote as the cryptic projections of Oued Laou. But by sustaining the glow of his early works they affirm an urge for transcendence, a luminous vision of pleasure and social participation that supports what Raysse soberly calls his “reasoned optimism.”

caption to follow.  Martial Raysse  © Adagp, Paris 2014.

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Martial Raysse, You, 2009. Distemper on canvas, 43.7x 35.7x 2.5 cm. Collection Martial Raysse. Photo : Philippe Migeat, Centre Pompidou. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

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Martial Raysse, D’une fle?che mon cœur perce?, 2008. Bronze, white gold leaves, sculpture, 250 x 105 x 120 cm. Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris Private collection. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

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Martial Raysse, Camenbert Martial extra-doux, 1969. Film 13:00 minutes. Centre Pompidou, muse?e national d’art moderne. Photo : Philippe Migeat / Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

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Martial Raysse, Raysse Beach, 1962 - 2007. Work in 3 sizes Installation. Centre Pompidou, muse?e national d’art moderne. Photo: Philippe Migeat/Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

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Martial Raysse, America America, 1964. Work in 3 sizes, Installation with light, Neon, metallic paint, 240 x 165 x 45 cm. Centre Pompidou, muse?e national d’art moderne. Photographic credit: Philippe Migeat / Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Dist. RMN-GP. © Adagp, Paris 2014.

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Martial Raysse, L’Appel des cimes: Tableau Horrible, 1965. Oil, various materials, espadrille and neon 130 x 190 cm. Courtesy of the artist and the Centre Georges-Pompidou.

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Painting from the Barricades: Self-Portrait with a Yellow Umbrella



Jessica Cheung, Self Portrait, from the Umbrella Revolution series, 2014, unfinished.

Jessica Cheung, Self Portrait, from the Umbrella Revolution series, 2014, unfinished.

Jessica Cheung is too busy and nervous to sleep right now, and anyway she has two lives to live in parallel these frantic, momentous days: painter and pro-democracy demonstrator.

In fact, there has been no let-up in her painting since street protest was added to her schedule; on the contrary, the urge to record her participation, to witness the sensation of facing tear gas and the agents provocateur of the Triads, has only intensified the lure of the easel.  Ordinarily, Cheung balances a day job in marketing with a burgeoning artistic career in her native Hong Kong, having graduated the New York Studio School in 2010.  The sketches are works in progress, and she plans to show them at a hotel fair in Singapore next month, the Bank Art Fair.

These plein air oil sketches are a riposte—or a plucky attempt at one at least—of a truism of art history that mechanical images have entirely usurped hand made ones in news reportage.  To the almost instant ubiquity of the aerial shots of mass protest, which by their nature elude the iconic not to mention any sense of individual expression, Cheung translates the qualities of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement that has galvanized her and the best part of her generation.  Eschewing anger, frustration, even the melodrama of victimhood, these quick and factual yet exploratory and soul-searching pictures are quiet, deliberative, honest and purposive.  They have the incendiary eloquence of hope.  DAVID COHEN, Publisher and Editor, artcritical.com

Statement by Jessica Cheung, :

These are dark days in the history of Hong Kong.

Thousands of pro-democracy supporters occupy the streets surrounding Hong Kong’s Financial district. We want a real democracy. We want an open election for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. We want the resignation of our existing Chief Executive, Chun-ying Leung.

That’s the purpose of the Occupy Central movement. However, our government used pepper spray and tear gas against unarmed and peaceful citizens last week. Now, they even allow large groups of triad gang members to attack pro-democracy participants. Female protestors have been sexually assaulted. I am not sure what will happen next. Everyday is full of fear and worry.

As a Hong Kong-based artist, I think I have a mission to speak up for our freedom and our hometown. My self-portrait in “The Umbrella Revolution” series shows the outfit protestors wore in preparation for pepper spray attack on the first day of Occupy Central on September 28.  But what followed was tear gas, spraying innocents whose only weapons were umbrellas. I feel hopeless and helpless, because my hometown is very sick now. I strongly call for the end of the violence from this brutal government, waking up the rest of local residents and pro-government supporters to understand that what we are doing is correct and we are not being used or controlled by anyone.  The whole world is watching now, why don’t you guys open your eyes! Please stand up for the future of Hong Kong.

Jessica Cheung, Self Portrait, from the Umbrella Revolution series, 2014, unfinished.

Jessica Cheung, Self Portrait, from the Umbrella Revolution series, 2014, unfinished.

Jessica Cheung, Self Portrait, from the Umbrella Revolution series, 2014, unfinished.

Jessica Cheung, Self Portrait, from the Umbrella Revolution series, 2014, unfinished.

 

L’Orientaliste on the Continent: Robert Janitz in Berlin



Report from… Berlin

Robert Janitz: Oriental Lumber at Meyer Riegger
September 17 through October 25, 2014
Friedrichstraße 235 (between Hedemannstraße and Rahel-Varnhagen Promenade)
Berlin, +49 30 31566567

Installation view, "Robert Janitz: Oriental Lumber," 2014, at Meyer Riegger Berlin. Courtesy of the gallery.

Installation view, “Robert Janitz: Oriental Lumber,” 2014, at Meyer Riegger Berlin. Courtesy of the gallery.

For his first solo exhibition with Meyer Riegger, Robert Janitz shows a selection of his three favored forms: a plant sculpture made from cut sheet metal, a suite of portraits of the backs of heads and a selection of large format abstractions made from layered paint, wax and flour. Far from being disparate or eccentric modes, these three archetypal forms actually gather themselves around figuration as a unifying idea. Janitz work is indebted to de Kooning’s early black-and-white abstractions as well as the canvas-works of the Actionists from the 1960s. “Oriental Lumber” is an eccentric exhibition that shows an artist who flits back and forth between serious abstract painting, wordplay and dada-like witticism.

Janitz has cited his plant sculptures as a Duchampian gesture but in the context of this exhibition, Margiela Fontäna (all work 2014), seems more of an ironic commentary on glossy, “finish fetish” Minimalist sculpture. It is larger than an average human and placed casually in the middle of the gallery as a houseplant would be. Its sleek and polished surface makes it something of a decoration, though its slightly sagging silver fronds give it something of a comic, Oldenbergian character. The towering plant stands in for refined taste and a pristine sensibility, a possible counterpoint to the comparatively messy paintings.

Robert Janitz, Audrey Hepburn as Dr. Double aka The Ornithologist, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 63.5 x 51 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

Robert Janitz, Audrey Hepburn as Dr. Double aka The Ornithologist, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 63.5 x 51 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

On one wall of the main gallery, five paintings were hung close together, four of these were “portraits,” and the fifth was an abstraction the same size and format as the portraits. A messy grid of chalky white on black, Proprement Dit hung there among the portraits like an imposter, daring us to draw distinctions between it and its representational counterparts. The heads are amalgamations of coiled brush marks, calico surfaces and impasto patches. These link us to the abstractions by way of brushstroke — but far from being personifications, the portraits are empty signifiers. They are featureless, generalized and flattened. One possible reading is that they conjure the anonymity of urban life. In Berlin or New York, we leave our homes and studios and file into the conveyor belt of faceless heads: the back of the head is in effect a “blank canvas” or a space for projection. The anterior portions of the brain are the oldest and most primitive. Our basest necessities are addressed by the function of the hypothalamus, the brain stem (the brain’s houseplant?). In Audrey Hepburn as Dr. Double aka The Ornithologist Janitz clues us into the projection game that he is setting up. The two-shapes-and-a-background that comprise this small black and orange canvas could be a Hollywood icon, a cartoon character or a bespectacled bird-watcher (a surrogate for a compulsive gazer). Without access to an identity the surfaces become what they really are: combinations of shapes, textures and colors. Janitz puts the infrastructure of the portrait in place but it merely dangles over the paintings’ surface like a thin veil.

Robert Janitz, Rhythmische Klangformen: Eine Studie, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 264 x 203 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

Robert Janitz, Rhythmische Klangformen: Eine Studie, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 264 x 203 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

The remaining walls of the gallery showed Janitz large-scale abstract paintings. These works are physical insofar as they reveal both the action and the substance of their making. But theirs is a kind of physicality that is not seductive or rewarding. We can see that Janitz moves the viscous flour-wax-paint solution across a painted layer with a very wide house painter’s brush. But this is perhaps more of a commentary on utility (what good is a painting, anyway?) than it is about experiencing pleasure or delight in the painted surface. The surface of a painting such as Rhythmische Klangformen: Eine Studie ends up appearing more like an X-ray than an action painting. This association is aided along by the interplay between the jet-black painted ground and the yellowish paste-wash that is thinly applied in muscular vertical swathes. The cords of build-up that run up and down the painting’s surface in wide intervals creates a sequence of bone-like partitions in which blank, grey surfaces are carved out. These “empty” zones in the paintings are something like hollowed out reliquaries or porticos where one might insert an icon (think back to Audrey Hepburn’s cameo) or an image of a saint. At times, the striated towers that fill these surfaces appear like processions of solemn, hooded figures.

Janitz titled the show after the hardware store in Bushwick where he shops. He is interested in workmanlike materials, ungraceful products like glue and wax. These materials have become Janitz’s stock and trade and when he began to use them there was a sense of discovery and experimentation in his work. I get the impression that Janitz would like to move beyond these washy/pasty paintings into a form that combines his interests in craftsmanship, figuration and sculpture — but here he has settled to show three types of work that each make use of one or more of these elements. Anachronistically, the work here points us away from painting and into the realm of performance. This exhibition is Janitz’s first in his native Germany, so it makes sense that he would exhibit a cross section of these varied works. He flirts with relational aesthetics with his Oriental Lumber, a custom-designed pair of Nikes that he wears in the press image for the show. The sneakers are a fitting metaphor for a restless artist who seems to need to move around a lot.

Installation view, "Robert Janitz: Oriental Lumber," 2014, at Meyer Riegger Berlin. Courtesy of the gallery.

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Installation view, "Robert Janitz: Oriental Lumber," 2014, at Meyer Riegger Berlin. Courtesy of the gallery.

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Robert Janitz, Proprement Dit, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 63.5 x 51 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

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Robert Janitz, Traduction Nouvelle et Notes, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 137 x 106 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

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Robert Janitz, The bonfire of vanities, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 195.5 x 152.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

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Robert Janitz, Le Prince Roumain, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 63.5 x 51 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

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Robert Janitz, Mirrors, 2014. Oil, wax, flour on linen, 63.5 x 51 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

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Robert Janitz, Margiela Fontäna, 2014. Steel, plastic and wood, 50 x 50 x 262 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger Berlin.

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