Comic Revelations and Reappearances: Works by Will Bruno
Report from… Portland, Oregon
Comics With Still Life: Finding The Inevitable Place at galleryHOMELAND
September 5 through October 17, 2014
2505 SE 11th #136
Portland, OR, 402 936 1379
Will Bruno, Beach Comber With Still Life, 2014. Flashe and oil on canvas, 42 x 44. Courtesy of the artist.
Will Bruno’s new art exhibition launched at galleryHOMELAND early this month to a roomful of guests. Having quit his job to head out on the road, Bruno has returned to Portland from a residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. The Center is located on the banks of the Salmon River Estuary at the base of Oregon’s Cascade Head. Created away from smog-choked corners and cosmopolitan saloons, Bruno’s new works suggest keen effect of setting and season where south winds blow cool and flowers perfume the air. Made in flashe, oil, watercolor, acrylic, ink, graphite, colored pencil, and variously mixed media (wood, beach wood, flowers) the works evoke a clear sense of the artist amid deserts, beaches and untamable lands, open to the daily variations of light and landscape, engendering at all times the potential for revelation.
This exhibition of light-filled landscapes, interiors, portraits and still lifes is not without its avant-garde turns, with traditional painterly qualities augmented by wilder intervening abstractions and use of different media (even video). The show’s presentation adds to its variance, with canvas works hung on nails and dispersed, watercolors tacked in rows, comic works set behind glass, and spaces fashioned keenly to showcase installation pieces, both upon floored pedestals and dedicated wall-abutting shelves. GalleryHOMELAND curator Reese Kruse did a marvelous job of leading the viewers through, from work to work, with variations spread about the space.
Will Bruno, Right ‘n Good, 2014. Animated gif, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.
A cataract of three diminutive dusky aquarelles with a fragmented comic aspect begins the show; entitled Wendy (2014), they share page-space with naturalistic paintings of burnished and slung fruits. Set to deckle-edged off-white papers and behind glass, the latter still lifes are situated below highly finished ink compositions — comic scenes of a people Bruno has named “The Oogleheads.” The recurring characters are a fictive “band of roguish villains that had nowhere to turn after all else in their lives went sour from thievery and inbreeding.” The en plein air elements of these works are wrought in gouache with opaque layers that give a sense of unrestraint and presage the exhibition’s abstraction.
At 42-by-44 inches, the show’s largest painting is Beach Comber With Still Life (2014), hung near the gallery’s entrance. At the center of the composition is a still life of a succulent on a table covered with a patterned yellow cloth, while a candy-striped mock drapery hangs behind it. This flashe-and-oil painting on canvas features the comic figure “The Beach Comber,” who furtively lurks behind the drape with his stylized silhouette repeating in orange upon the yellow tablecloth. The large striped curtain is modeled from a simple, iconic dishcloth Bruno had been using at Sitka. This elemental juxtaposition, with its muted green and white as the perfect backdrop for the brighter paint of the succulent and table, calls to mind the summerhouses and figures of Fairfield Porter, but more sinister, and with none of their pastiche, These are examples of the confluence of mundanity and grandeur, silliness and beauty seen throughout Bruno’s art. The tablecloth and its reappearance have little deeper meaning (a simple texture) but one could discern a deliberate nod to ordinary life in lieu of sophistication.
The still lifes, discursive comic narrative elements, warped landscapes, and mixed media works give impressions of locales found during Bruno’s journeying in Oregon, the Olympic Peninsula, Canada, Glacier National Park, Moab, and a stay in a straw-bale lean-to off the grid in Taos. There are painted dreamscapes that abandon hierarchies of nature, self, and other. There’s the 20-by-16-inch Windows (2014), an iconic three-window oil painting on canvas depiction of, in Bruno’s words, “the perfect gradient sunset,” with which Bruno realized the power of memory to augment the work “when paint’s not working the way I need it to.” This painting is unlike the rest, in that it has the sunset light seen in certain of his aquarelles but instead of a human figure, the architectural triptych of windows serves as the figures, and finely so.
Inspired by Porter, Andrew Wyeth, David Hockney, Bruno’s greatest influence was the land and working or wandering through it; his signature is the recurrent objects, figures, and combinations of detail seen throughout his career to date. Bruno’s work, while possessing the spiritual sublimity of natural landscapes, resolutely flips the hitherto precious and othering view of nature on its head, with a declaration that “we are the Earth; it’s not a separate thing.” His painted works playfully poke fun at astonished reverence seen in the work of earlier artists, with what he describes as a practice of “ironic sincerity.”
His view of the everyday amid the majestic intends, Bruno says, “to decode life around me.” He asserts that “creating confirms existence, and drawing things I see every day helps to see how they fit together, to reconnect patterns.” On the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007, Bruno found and re-enlivened the old world and common object: a boot, a truck, and a port-a-john, amid astonishing sunrises and a lushness that is quintessentially Western. Such images and objects are found in his new show, but with more of the surprising juxtaposition seen in works like Beach Comber, and the restrained continuity of the comic fragments, all of which differentiates the old-fashioned Impressionistic handling seen here, from the experimental flourishes of the avant-garde.
Will Bruno, Something Shocking, 2014. Oil on paper, 15 x 11 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Correspondences throughout the exhibition offer strange (never weird-for-the-sake-of-weird) juxtapositions and splintered narratives, populating the paintings in the way many of us inhabit our dreams. To Bruno, the fragments are “more like life than linear ones ” seen in naturalistic narratives and history paintings. There’s In The Field (2014), an en media res dog’s-eye view of an old janitor in very large trousers, inexplicably mopping up a fallow, sloping field. There’s no context here but a figure (one who never reappears) in the landscape, and no perceptible reason for the mopping of earth, but the effects are both equanimity and disquietude: the mopping man seems calm in aspect and activity, but the perspective of him and the land are absolutely warped. The acrylic and oil brushstrokes look both fast and slow; and the light is distinctly thunderstorm, rumbling with doomy purples and grays and the chill of a haunting tale.
Images appear throughout this exhibition, and gather the way people do: often spontaneously. There are, visible in the works of Comics With Still Life: crustacean leitmotifs, collections of ephemera set in windowsills, architectural forms, geometric shapes, and old philosopher types fitted together with no reason but surprise. For Bruno, emblems are frequent but remain unconscious and sometimes unnoticed.
A final set of seven watercolors in purple with ink, Windowsill (2014), fills a large portion of a wall at the end of the show, with the white of the canvases furnishing their lights. Figures reappear in this abstract series, with portions painted with the sureness of ink-stroke seen in hanging scrolls by Japanese artists from past centuries. A magnificently plain ping-pong player seen from behind hangs below a still-life canvas with a giant rabbit. Another of the sequence sees the reappearance of a mustachioed giant peering beneath a magic rock: its magic is the addition of salt set into wet pigment to make it glimmer, a technique put into practice a handful of times in this series. Other watercolor-ink paintings in this cycle include a patinated arabesque and a series of abstract grisailles, which, like other works of the exhibition, supremely compliment the consummately diverse mood of the show.
Toward the exhibition’s end are more watercolors of snow-covered peaks, painted during Bruno’s time in Banff. He and his companion visited Canada to backpack along Lake Minnewanka, where “we heard a bear grunting outside our tent and ran the five miles back to the car in the middle of the night.” His ideas about man and nature are by no means spelled out plainly, but a study of the works within galleryHOMELAND show an artist with a congenial place in, and understanding of, nature. Bruno’s plan was to spend concentrated intervals in practice, and carry his tiny still lifes and sketches into new lands. The fruit of his adventuring is a collection emblematic of an inner, as well as outer, exploration.
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A Dispatch from “Manifesta 10”
Manifesta 10 at The State Hermitage Museum
June 28 through October 31, 2014
Palace Square 2
St. Petersburg, Russia, +7 812 710-90-79
Francis Alÿs, Lada “Kopeika” Project. Brussels—St. Petersburg, 2014. In collaboration with brother Frédéric, Constantin Felker, and Julien Devaux. Commissioned by “MANIFESTA 10,” St. Petersburg. With the support of the Flemish authorities.
Manifesta, the European biennial of contemporary art, is held in Western European cities — most recently in Genk, Belgium. This tenth edition, hosted by St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, was housed in the Winter Palace and New Hermitage, the two main buildings of that institution and, across the enormous Palace Square, the city’s main plaza, in the newly renovated General Staff Building. The Hermitage, an encyclopedic museum celebrating its 250th anniversary, is devoted to world art, going up to Post-Impressionism and the paintings by Henri Matisse; another collection of Russian art is in the State Russia Museum. Because visas are expensive, Russia is not readily accessible to many Americans and West Europeans, so the primary intended audience was Russian. There were a great many foreign tourists in St. Petersburg when I visited in late July, but relatively few of them focused on Manifesta.
Thomas Hirschhorn, ABSCHLAG, 2014. Mixed media with paintings by Kazimir Malevich, Pavel Filonov and Olga Rozanova from the collection of the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, 16.5 × 9.36 × 3.25 meters. Commissioned by “MANIFESTA 10,” St. Petersburg. With the support of the LUMA Foundation and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Installation view, “MANIFESTA 10,” General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.
Some of the artists responded to specifically to contemporary issues in Russian society. Alexandra Sukhareva, who is Russian, presented photographs from World War II archives. There is a video of a Russian dance class by Klara Lidén and a video of young dancers by Rineke Dijkstra. Boris Mikhailov presented photographs of a protesters’ camp in Kiev. The late Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, a gay artist who had been beaten up in the streets, was represented with Tragic Love (1993), a series of photographs of the artist dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Some foreign artists also offered Russian themes. Yasumasa Morimura made photographs based on drawings of the Hermitage when its art was removed during World War II. Marlene Dumas showed portraits of famous gay men including three Russians — Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Diaghilev and Rudolf Nureyev. Thomas Hirschhorn, whose Abschlag (2014) was designed for “Manifesta 10,” showed a gigantic collapsed building in which works by the revolutionary Russian Constructivists are installed. Erik van Lieshout presented the story of the Hermitage cats, longtime residents of the museum; they perished during the siege, but today are back in the museum basement, controlling invading rodents. And Francis Alÿs, whose boyhood dream was to travel from his native Belgium to the other side of the Iron Curtain, crashed a Russian Lada, a now-obsolete model of car into a tree inside the courtyard of the Winter Palace.
Vadim Fishkin, A Speedy Day, 2003. Electronic clock, room construction, light by A.J. Vaisbard. Courtesy Galerija Gregor Podnar, Ljubljana, Slovenia/Berlin, Germany. Installation view, “MANIFESTA 10,” General Staff Building, State Hermitage Museum.
Facing controversy about Russian anti-LGBT laws and, also, about the country’s action in the Crimea, in interviews Manifesta’s curator Kasper König, who described Russia as “a repressive and authoritarian country,” articulated frankly the difficulties he faced. So far as I could see (I was not able to attend the performances or public performances, which were held outside the central exhibition site), much of the art, including most of the art by non-Russians was the kind displayed at such exhibitions in America. Certainly this is true of Olivier Mosset’s large, handsome monochromes; Ann Veronica Janssens’s very beautiful installations of floating liquids; and Vladim Fishkin’s A Speedy Day (2003), which compresses the twenty-four-hour light cycle into two-and-a-half hours, an effect especially evocative in far-North St. Petersburg, where the summer days are so long. The same can be said of Joseph Beuys’s Wirtschaftswerte (“Economic Values,” 1980), a commentary on food shortages in East German stores; Bruce Nauman’s Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage, 2001); Susan Philipsz’s piano recording inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which was played on the main staircase of the New Hermitage. Lara Favaretto’s installation of concrete blocks in the gallery for ancient Greek sculpture; Tatzu Nishi’s temporary wooden living room built around a chandelier in the Winter Palace, creating a home with the museum; and a painting from 1966 by Gerhard Richter made similarly affecting use of the site.
Louise Bourgeois, The Institute, 2002. Silver, 30.5 x 70.5 x 46.4 cm; steel, glass, mirrors, and wood, vitrine, 177.8 x 101.6 x 60.9 cm. Collection of The Easton Foundation, New York, USA.
As the Hermitage’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, rightly notes in the catalogue, “Displaying contemporary art alongside the classics is a common occurrence.” The logic of this procedure deserves discussion. In the gallery of the Hermitage devoted to Nicolas Poussin you can see the relationship between his early Joshua’s Victory Over the Amalekites (1625-26); Moses Striking Water from the Rock (1649), painted more than 20 years later; and his Rest on the Flight to Egypt (1655-57), a marvelous example of his late style. Normally we thus find visually connected works in one gallery. When, however, the physically contiguous works are historically distant, imagination is then called upon to identify connections. This is true when Louise Bourgeois’s silver sculpture The Institute (2002) is installed alongside an etching by Piranesi and when Katharina Fritsch’s sculpture Frau mit Hund (“Woman with Dog,” 2004), which alludes to the life of Russia’s historical high society, is displayed in the former emperor’s private quarters. In a challenging variation on this familiar procedure, Maria Lassnig, Dumas and Nicole Eisenman occupied the two rooms of the Winter Palace usually dedicated to Matisse. (His paintings were removed to the General Staff Building.) They too deal with the female body and its sexuality, and so temporarily giving them his privileged place in the Hermitage counted as a political gesture.
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Scene Down Under
Chippendale NSW’s Galerie pompom and MOP projects. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Australians pride themselves on being a nation of art-goers. In a country where debate runs high and fiery about which city is Australia’s arts capital (main competition: Sydney vs. Melbourne, with Brisbane getting a look-in every now and then) hot contenders for the most-visited museums in the country are the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, and Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery. In 2012, the mantle was passed back to Victoria when the Art Newspaper’s annual report on worldwide museum attendance put the NGV on top with 1.5 million visitors, surpassing the Queensland Art Gallery’s 1.4 million. Figures since then have hovered around the same mark. As the Sydney Morning Herald noted at the time, NGV, which records the residential locations of their visitors, draws a staggering 70 to 75% of its attendees from Melbourne and the surrounding area.
The Brisbane Powerhouse. Photograph by Jon Linkins.
Australians may flock to the big blockbusters and internationally traveling shows that visit their official state galleries, but when you ask them what they’ve seen recently, it’s not usually what’s showing at the major museums that they mention first and foremost. In the most recent census data released in 2011, about 26% of the population aged 15 and over reported visiting a visual arts venue over the past year. The state museums clearly draw big crowds, but what Aussie art-goers talk about when you ask them what’s new and interesting are the exhibitions they’ve seen at smaller spaces, commercial galleries, and artist-run initiatives.
Tyza Stewart, Drag Dreams, 2014. Oil on board, 45 x 30 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Heiser Gallery.
Alex Winters, an independent curator and the Curator and Exhibitions Coordinator at the popular performance and visual arts venue Brisbane Powerhouse, says there is definitely a feeling of excitement for art “at its emerging stages, presented in underground or lo-fi settings.” The wealth of artist-run initiatives, or ARIs, which can be found in art centers in cities around the world but exist in abundance here — and are an integral part of the exhibition ecosystem — speak to this excitement for low-pressure exhibition spaces. Don’t misunderstand, this is not your “art-party” scene (though they do throw a good opening) but professional, polished exhibitions that keep production costs low by pooling the resources, time, and effort of those who run them. They’re for artists, by artists, where you can find a tight-knit community of creative professionals supporting their city’s arts scene, and where gallerists and curators go to find “the emerging.”
Brisbane-based artist Sam Cranstoun describes his start as a typical one. “The best opportunity for young artists to exhibit straight out of university is with the many ARIs that have emerged locally,” he says. “These exhibiting platforms for emerging artists are really important, and they manage to regularly present high-quality work given the early nature of the artists’ careers.” After exhibiting in a few of these spaces, like Boxcopy, inbetweenspaces, and Accidentally Annie Street, he was offered representation from the Brisbane-based Milani Gallery. There he joined a stable of notable and established names such as Judy Watson, Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Eugene Carchesio, and the estates of Gordon Bennett and Ian Burn.
Installation view, “Sarah Mosca: Useless Gestures,” 2014, at Galerie pompom. Photo by docQment.
Ron and George Adams, founders of the artist-run initiative MOP Projects, in Sydney’s Chippendale neighborhood — one of a few arts “hubs” in the city — were careful to make the distinction between ARI and commercial when in 2012, after 10 years running MOP, they opened Galerie pompom. Situated in a smaller space next door it serves the moneymaking function while preserving MOP as a space for all things emerging and experimental without a focus on profit.
That’s not to say that the two don’t inevitably overlap at times. An upcoming and eagerly anticipated exhibition, “Acid/Gothic” (August 20 to September 14, 2014) will take over both exhibition spaces. Nick Garner of Das Platforms, a quarterly print magazine and online media project covering art and culture, is curating the exhibition, which features notable Australian artists Gary Carsley, Pia van Gelder, Tracey Moffatt, Sarah Mosca, Tomislav Nikolic, Jess Olivieri and Giselle Stanborough, as well as the German artist Peter Weibel. Corresponding with the next issue of Das Superpaper (the print component of Das Platforms), the exhibition will also be presented as a “short film of an exhibition,” but shot in a separate location — the historic colonial Elizabeth Bay House. George Adams explains that “the formal and theoretical underpinnings of the project were to ask ‘How do we remember, how do we relate to each other and how do we navigate this universe together?’ while the film prompts the question ‘What can conventions of exhibiting works learn from the evolving conventions of film?’”
Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney, installation view of “Acid/Gothic,” 2014, at Galerie pompom. Artwork: Peter Weibel, Vulkanologie der Emotionen, (Vulcanology of Emotions) 1971/1973. 16 monitors, video, runtime: 7:20 min. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt.
How the idea of a film of an exhibition will pan out remains to be seen, but the project has attracted institutional support from the Australia Council for the Arts, and it falls in line with a current trend in arts programming that ignores borders of print, film, performance, or virtual vs. physical presentation, while exploring new ways to construct what we know as an “exhibition.”
Winters notes that the Brisbane Powerhouse is mindfully pursuing programming that could fall in a number of categories and “producing more whole venue events to bridge the gaps between art forms.” The upcoming “IRL,” to be launched in May 2015, will be a “Whole-venue festival celebrating the convergence between live arts, visual arts and digital and gaming culture.”
Matt Hinkley, Untitled 7, 2014. Polyurethane resin, pigment, and aluminium, 10 x 3 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne.
Similarly, “Framed Movements,” at Melbourne’s Australian Center for Contemporary Art from October 10 to November 23, 2014, focuses on the way that both dance and the visual arts engage with movement, or choreography, as an exploration of time and space. A part of the citywide Melbourne Festival for theatre, music, dance, visual arts, and multimedia events, the exhibition will be accompanied by a full run of performances.
This type of production in small to medium size spaces provides a way for funding to cross borders as well. It’s part experimentation and part practicality. Interdisciplinary projects that span multiple art forms make themselves eligible for grants from a larger pool of supporters who concentrate on print, film, performance, technological advancement, or other media. A 2013 change in government, and resulting and forthcoming cuts to arts funding, have left many anxious for their futures. The newest proposed budget plans to cut A$87.1 million to the arts over the next four years, taking the bulk out of Screen Australia and the grants awarded by the Australia Council. Support for individuals and small arts projects and organizations will be hit hardest, but the cuts are expected to bring reduced budgets and job cuts to entities large and small. Already a turn to more philanthropic avenues of funding is being seen, but how this will affect the Australian art scene and the country’s gallery-going habits, only time will tell.
Recommended current and upcoming exhibitions:
·Archibald, Wynne, and Sullman Prizes 2014 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, July 19 – September 28, 2014.
·Annette Messager: Motion/Emotion at the Museum of Contemporary Art, July 24 to October 26, 2014.
·Matt Hinkley at Sutton Fine Arts, August 2 to 30, 2014.
·Gunter Christman at The Commercial, August 29 to October 4, 2014.
·Julie Fragar at Sarah Cottier Fine Arts, October 9 to November 1, 2014.
·Bridie Lunney, There Are These Moments at Gertrude Contemporary, July 26 to August 23, 2014.
·Optical Mix at the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, August 16 to September 28, 2014.
·The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier at the National Gallery of Victoria, October 17, 2014 to February 8, 2015.
·Stuart Ringholt, IMA at Ksubi at the Institute of Modern Art, August 2 to September 6, 2014.
·Tyza Stewart at Heiser Gallery, August 5 to 30, 2014.
·Platform 14 at Jan Manton Art (presented at Metro Arts), August 14 to 30, 2014.
·Tom Nicholson: Comparative Monuments (Ma’man Allah) at Milani Gallery, September 5 to September 20, 2015.
·Wildflower Dreaming: Shirley Corunna and the Coolbaroo League 1952-1962 at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, July 15 to December 14, 2014.
·Shaun Gladwell: Afghanistan at John Curtin Gallery, August 1 to September 14, 2014.
·Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, In–Habit: Project Another Country at the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, August 1 to October 3, 2014.
·The Extreme Climate of Nicholas Folland at the Art Gallery of South Australia, July 19 to November 30, 2014.
·Beauty & Strength: Portraits by Michael Riley at the National Portrait Gallery, March 21 to August 17, 2014.
·Arthur Boyd: Agony and Ecstasy at the National Gallery of Australia, September 5 to November 9, 2014.
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Flows of Light and Form: The Life and Work of Emmanuel Cooper
Emmanuel Cooper OBE, 1938–2012, A Retrospective Exhibition
Ruthin Craft Centre
December 7, 2013 to February 2, 2014
Park Road (at Lon Parcwr)
Ruthin Denbighshire, LL15 1BB, +44 (0)1824 704774
University of Derby
February 21 to March 28, 2014
Derby, DE22 3AW, +44 (0)1332 593216
Contemporary Applied Arts
April 10 to May 31, 2014
89 Southwark Street (between Great Suffolk and Lavington Streets)
London, LE1 0HZ, +44 20 7436 2344
Emmanuel Cooper, Tea bowls, hand-built porcelain, approximately 10 x 9cm, ca. 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Ruthin Craft Center. Photograph by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd.
Born in Derbyshire in 1938, Emmanuel Cooper was one of Britain’s foremost studio potters, whose expansive interests also led him to prominent roles as an art critic, broadcaster, author, political activist and teacher — most recently as visiting professor of ceramics and glass at the Royal College of Art. Cooper moved to London in the early 1960s to study with Gwyn Hanssen, setting up his own Westbourne Grove workshop in 1965. The decision to remain within the concrete vistas and glittering lights of the metropolis, eschewing the rurality of traditional pottery, was in large part a response to his social and political needs as a gay man, which in turn informed his professional pursuits and his potting. In doing so Cooper set the tone for a life dedicated to individual and creative investigation, rather than convention.
Emmanuel Cooper, Bowl, ca. 1990s. Stoneware with blue ceramic glaze, approximately 11 x 27 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Ruthin Craft Center. Photograph by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd.
“Emmanuel Cooper OBE, 1938-2012, A Retrospective Exhibition,” a traveling show recently at the Ruthin Craft Center in Wales and Contemporary Applied Arts, London,brings together examples from throughout his 50-year career, beginning in the 1960s during his time as a production potter, through his final years when he experimented freely with hand-built forms. At the heart of the exhibition are the porcelain and stoneware vessels for which Cooper is perhaps best known, and that convey architecturally his environmental interests and even the characteristics that defined him.
Superlative pieces include stoneware bowls from the 1990s and 2000s, in volcanic glazes of blue, turquoise and cerulean that look like ancient ceramic calderas. Handling them, if one is fortunate enough to do so, is an immense pleasure because it confirms the potency of their physicality and object-ness. They evoke both the astronomical and the quotidian — vast cosmological star fields, but also the pitted detail of coarseurban surfaces. A bowl from 2005 in white-blue plutonic glaze rises from a modest circular base, its sides opening out at a steep angle to a graceful, wide rim, lending a sense of volume that far outweighs the actual dimensions. These bowls inhabit space so confidently that, like celestial bodies, they seem to possess their own enigmatic atmospheres.
Other works, such as a lean, high-spouted jug of elliptical design, containing in its front edge all the nobility of a ship’s prow, are glazed in cascading rivulets of light grays or whites upon darker ground, sometimes tinted with eddies of reds, yellows or blues that appear fluid. They are reminiscent of those tantalizing geological remnants on distant planets that could indicate where water once flowed. Closer to home they echo one of Cooper’s consistent motives taken from city life: lights reflected in the tarmac of rain-soaked London streets. This was an experience of color in fluent motion encountered by him many times on his motorbike during nighttime rides home from a bar, an opening or a lecture. The nature and effects of water are a theme throughout Cooper’s oeuvre. A quiet yet pivotal aspect of these works is the subtly handled relationship between structure and texture, where the simplicity of elegant, balanced lines permits the eye to move unhindered across rugged, prismatic crusts.
Elsewhere, smoother porcelain bowls — stem and traditional — range from bold daffodil yellows to softer oranges, pale blues, and whites, often with flecks of varying color floating upon glassy surfaces. The rims are sometimes distinguished by a thin line, as can be seen on a stem bowl of delicate pink with gold-yellow perimeter (made in the 1990s), or a liquescent bowl of light blue, circled in red brim (from the 2000s). While the stem bowls in particular are redolent of organic forms and although their clay is from the earth, the intention of the work itself is not of the earth, but drawn from an urban existence.
Emmanuel Cooper, Jug, ca. 2000s. Stoneware with volcanic glaze, 21 x 27 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Ruthin Craft Centre. Photograph by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd.
Hand-built porcelain tea bowls from 2010, constructed with strips of clay, the joins visible beneath the glaze and the form less concerned with the wheel’s precision, evince a strong sense of investigative play, showing that Cooper’s industrious nature remained undiminished toward the end of his life.
During the early- to mid-2000s I lived with Emmanuel Cooper and his partner David Horbury, at their Chalcot Road home, behind the cluttered cornucopia of their Fonthill Pottery shop on the ground floor, which was rarely, if ever open, and operated more as display and storage space, which disappointed passersby. Emmanuel’s studio was in the basement, a sacrosanct part of the house that I became familiar with. We used Emmanuel’s pots and plates daily, washed them, stacked them, and once or twice accidentally broke them. Eating from them greatly enhanced the sense of occasion, whether a pedestrian meal or one of his famous Sunday night supper parties, while also raising a strange dichotomy — using works of art that were collected by museums, sold at auction and published in exhibition catalogs, in the functional, unfussy realm of our daily rituals. Drinking from the deep, translucent layers of a Cooper mug, the base lost under dark tea, I often thought that there were not storms contained within those cups, but entire galaxies.
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“They are looking for answers”: Jawad al Malhi at Al-Ma’mal Foundation
Jawad al Malhi: Measures of Uncertainty at Al-M’mal Foundation for Contemporary Arts
June 6 to July 4, 2014
New Gate, Old City, Jerusalem 91145, (+972) 2 6283457
Installation view, “Jawad al Malhi: Measures of Uncertainty,” courtesy of Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Arts
Palestinian artist Jawad al Malhi watches the activity on the street from his balcony in the Shufhat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, where he was born and still lives. At times it mirrors what he sees in television coverage of events across the Middle East, and it reminds him of his own fervent engagement with politics in the past. Young men on the street, mostly adolescents, stand around nervously waiting for something to happen, for an encounter that will set off an action in which they can participate. When it does, individuals who may not even know each other suddenly come together as a group, expressing their passion and acting as one. But when the event is over the solidarity disappears and they drift apart, uncertain and without purpose.
Jawad al Malhi, Measures of Uncertainty VIII, 2013-14. Oil on canvas, 242 x 204 centimeters. Courtesy of the artist and Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
This fleeting moment after an event — the atmosphere, the body movements, the gestures and facial expressions —is what al Malhi seeks to capture in his paintings, viewing the crowd as if through a wide-angle camera lens, and using large canvases with minimal colour. It must be rather like trying to paint the sea after a wave has crashed, when for a moment the waters seem to have no clear direction.
There is hardly a hint of the environment in these paintings, and a powerful absence of architectural space, just the dust and glare of an exposed public space. The boys seem to be wandering around nowhere. This is in total contrast to Al-Malhi’s previous body of work, a series of panoramic long-distance photographs that show the buildings of Shufhat packed claustrophobically close, and with no sign of people. Entitled “House No. 197,” they were exhibited at the recent Helsinki Photography Biennial, and at the Venice Biennale in 2009.
The youths depicted in his current exhibition, “Measures of Uncertainty,” could be hanging out near the Israeli checkpoint a short distance from al Malhi’s house, but in conversation the artist says that they are not necessarily Palestinian: they could be in Cairo, or Istanbul, or anywhere in the Middle East. Dressed in the generic t-shirts, hooded jackets and jeans of kids anywhere, they live in what he calls “Coca-Cola time,” perhaps meaning a mixture of expectation and emptiness, a mood as international as their clothes.
Coming into the elegantly renovated Al-Ma’mal gallery, a former tile factory, in Jerusalem’s Old City, the bleached, creamy colours of the paintings almost merge into the stone walls and there is a general sense of stillness, suggesting peace and harmony. At first sight, you could be looking at all-male scenes on the fringe of a football or cricket field. But a closer study shows the deep, naked unease in the expressions and body movements of people caught in suspense, floating in a toxic, anonymous haze.
Jawad al Malhi, Measure of Uncertainty VII, 2014. Oil on Canvas, 161 x 206 centimeters. Courtesy of the artist and Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
There is a pervading sense of watchfulness. The characters watch each other and us. They seem aware of being watched — by the artist, by television cameras, by the international community. Sometimes a gaze catches the viewer’s eye and creates an emotional link. We find ourselves watching rather than viewing them, but with all this attention, they don’t know what to do. Many of the characters are portraits of people al Malhi knows — boys who work in a local garage or tire factory, for instance — which invests a strong, contemporaneous reality to the work. The characters express confusion and bafflement; they scratch their heads and look around, seem lost, stunned, mildly indignant, filled with trepidation. Each one seems isolated in his own restless dream.
But the dream, says al Malhi, doesn’t exist. What does exist is the huge potential energy, even power, within the crowds on the street. “They are looking for answers,” he says, “but perhaps should be trying to find questions.”
Letter from Leeds
Leeds Art Gallery
October 2013 to April 2014
January 22 to February 22, 2014
Henry Moore Institute
Dennis Oppenheim: Thought Collision Factories
November 21 to February 16, 2014
George Shaw, The End of Time, 2008-09. Courtesy Leeds City Art Gallery.
The cultural center of the city of Leeds can be found in a pair of museums located on the Headrow, a prominent avenue adjacent to the majestic Victorian City Hall: the Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute. Around the corner is &Model, a rough-and-ready raw space gallery started by a group of art professors from the Leeds Metropolitan University, including the collaborative team Nathaniel Mellors and Chris Bloor, and James Chinneck and Derek Horton. Liam Gillick has in the past expressed his pet theory that Yorkshire has been singled out in the UK to produce the nation’s most notable visual artists: Damien Hirst, David Hockney and Henry Moore are all from the Leeds-Bradford region. Gillick’s theory is that each of these artists has a plain-talk approach to art that allows them to be more accessible to a British public that has always been a bit cagey about contemporary art. Despite Gillick’s assertion, the three venues above present a combination of conceptually challenging exhibitions, or cast shows involving traditional genres that don’t really play to a public merely comfortable with the status quo.
Nocturne at the Leeds Art Gallery (through April 2014) is much more than its simple premise suggests. A direct statement of an exhibition, it presents the work of John Atkinson Grimshaw, George Shaw, Jack Yeats, George Sauter and Walter Greaves. Set in a single room, the canvasses form a round-table discussion on the hazy boundary between night and day—the idolization of “verdurous glooms.” The conversation lies mostly between Grimshaw, the Leeds based Victorian painter who lends a gothic sensibility to his renderings of what were contemporary scenes, and George Shaw, a 2011 Turner Prize nominee whose images of desolate suburban ruins have a similar lyrical melancholy, sans the Victorian saccharine historicism. Tree Shadows on the Park Wall, Roundhay Park, Leeds (1872) is reminiscent of René Magritte’s series The Empire of Light (1950-54), in its surreal combination of brightly articulated shadows on a park path, against a twilit sky. Grimshaw uses the conceit of the Nocturne to play capriciously with light sources in his claustrophobic canvas. Meanwhile, Shaw presents a return to nature in his work The End of Time (2008-9). The nemesis of the nocturne, artificial light, has been rendered null and void with the demolition of a small suburban home, whose foundations now sit in the semi-darkness that was ubiquitous before Edison.
Curators Patrick Morissey and Clive Hanz Hancock presented a more polemical framework in the exhibition Crossing Lines at &Model. The curators have declared a general renewed interest in “the non-objective” in the 21st century, the exhibit feature sixteen British painters who work in this mode of abstraction. Artists such as Andy Wicks, Giulia Ricci, Frixos Papantoniou, Alex Dipple and Marion Piper take a multifaceted approach to image and object making, exploring pattern, line, edge and texture. The show is quite encyclopedic in its explorations of form, but most of the works resonate harmoniously; Ricci’s delicate, and ethereal honeycomb patterns provide a soft response to Papantoniou’s incisively colored sleek hard edge compositions. Add to this the injection of another fifteen artists in the form of a show reel of digital video and sound work in Parallel Lines that complements the visual mode of representation with extended forms encompassing extra sensorial interaction. Parallel Lines features the work of Anthony Braxton, Rebecca Hart, Jamshed Miah, Laura Eglington and Ad Reinhardt’s ironic manifestos, The Twelve Technical Rules (or How to achieve the Twelve Things to Avoid).
Two machines designed to embody idea production inhabit the galleries of the Henry Moore Institute. An exhibition of the American conceptual sculptor, Dennis Oppenheim, titled Thought Collision Factories presented the artist’s Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. Utilizing flares, fireworks and a cotton candy machine, these pieces are fascinating, even delightful to look at, but at the same time it is difficult to share/comprehend Oppenheim’s Cold War enthusiasm for archaic aluminum slides, gears, gaskets and wheels when every woman, man and child has access to all human knowledge in a pair of glasses or a wristwatch and can at the very least set up a basic operating platform on any computer. His interest in fireworks and flare-based outdoor installations is a different matter. The documentation of his various pyrotechnic projects, large scale ephemeral incendiary displays featuring pithy phrases such as “Go Further With Fiction” (1974) or “Mind Twist” (1975)—meant to be viewed from afar and integrate text into the landscape, exemplify the exhibition’s main goal of presenting Oppenheim as an artist whose practice inhabited and served as a nexus between sculpture, conceptual art and language. The exhibition is wonderfully thorough—sketches, maps, photographs and measured presentation drawings of the mechanical pieces and related works line the walls. The videos Machine-Gun Fire (1974) and Echo (1973) and the sound Piece Ratta-callity (1974) provide a simpler and more poignant representation of the artist’s process and his contribution to contemporary discourse than the oddly dated dinosaurs in the main rooms.
A Dizzying Kaleidoscope: Artistic Experiment meets Product Design at London’s Barbican
Report from … London
Pop Art Design at the Barbican Art Gallery
22 October, 2013 to 9 February, 2014
Installation shot of the exhibition under review including the Moloch floor lamp, 1970-71, by Gaetano Pesce , Richard Hamilton’s Epiphany, 1964), Leonardo, Sofa, 1969 by Studio 65 and Fiche Male (Plug Socket) 1977 by Yonel Lebovici © Gar Powell-Evans 2013 Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery
Packed with two floors of objects and images in seemingly every medium – lounge chairs and television advertisements, collages and coke bottles, paintings and floor lamps – the Barbican’s ambitious Pop Art Design pitched itself as “the first comprehensive exhibition to explore the exciting exchange of ideas between artists and designers in the Pop age.” (The exhibition was previously seen at the Vitra Design Museum, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.) As the show’s paratactic, three-word title would suggest, it is Pop that was posited as having mediated between the latter two phenomena: a sensibility, both historical and ineffable, that nourished art and design alike in the Cold War era. Claiming a kind of insouciant reciprocity between the ambits of artistic experimentation and product design, the show consistently flattened out the differences between them, venturing instead a “thematic kaleidoscope [sic]” that adduced a range of loosely grouped works without much regard for their respective origins, intentions, or effects.
One of the first objects in the exhibition, a “Leonardo” sofa by Studio 65 (1969), hit all the right notes and suggested – in its play between use value and the ironization of signs – what the exhibition might have explored more thoroughly and carefully. Conflating function and iconicity, the couch sets the stars and stripes of the American flag into an undulating, two-tiered assembly of interconnected parts. Nearby, a Jasper Johns target painting lent some proto-Pop context (one of the painter’s flag paintings was presumably unavailable), while a Yonel Lebovici’s large Fiche Male (Plug Socket) sculpture (1977) duly recalled Claes Oldenburg’s giant objects and their outsized estrangement of even the most ordinary of household wares. Like the nearby “La Bocca” couch, also by Studio 65, designers during the late 1960s and 70s indeed paid heed to certain artistic currents; the “La Bocca”’s inflated red lips conjure up both Man Ray’s legendary painting, Observatory Time: The Lovers (1936)and Dalí’s Mae West Lips Sofa (1937). But the appeal to art historical and even contemporary artistic iconography in strains of design cannot be seen as the mere equivalent of Pop’s varied, ambivalent, and often contradictory uses (and abuses) of design. With its post-Cubist juxtaposition of collage-like imagery, including a car hood, cuddling lovers, and a plate of spaghetti, James Rosenquist’s I Love you with my Ford (1961) performs a very different operation upon its mass-produced object than, say, Oldenburg’s Soft Lunchbox (1962).
A viewer studies Alain Jacquet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1964, while seeming to avoid Allen Jone’s Chair, 1969 © Gar Powell-Evans 2013 Courtesy Barbican Art Gallery
A wall text noted apropos of one Pop painting on display that it was “difficult to tell if it is critical or appreciative.” Such a description goes some way in underscoring the indeterminate premise of Pop at large, at least in its early phases. If post-war design made use of popular imagery to enliven forms bound up with function, Pop’s reproduction of consumerist codes aimed to question the very mechanisms of their incessant repetition. To be sure, not all (indeed, hardly any) of the show’s appliances and apparatuses fall into the category of “good design.” And certain twentieth-century designers (Bruno Munari’s bent forks come to mind) often undermined the clockwork of utility even as he contributed to its development. Yet the exhibition took no pains to distinguish between the semantic registers of either the artworks or objects on display – or to probe the point at which artwork and object in the postwar period often seemed to trade identities. One glimpse of such slippage came in Allen Jone’s Chair (1969), in which a functional seat rests on the upraised legs of a submissive female mannequin wearing S&M gear. That Allen is commonly referred to as a sculptor, rather than furniture designer, at least complicates the work’s aesthetic and material status in interesting ways. An early, hand-painted room divider by Andy Warhol on display undeniably conjured up questions about hand-wrought artifice as opposed to use value. Likewise his nearby Close Cover before Striking painting – which flattens the American Match Company and Coca Cola advertising into the same pictorial and conceptual plane – highlights early Pop’s critical engagement with mass-produced imagery.
Yet the later paintings that peppered subsequent rooms (like Warhol’s ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe) appeared as mere filler on the wall, related to design in only the loosest sense. In a similar vein, making cameos in nearly every gallery was the work of Alexander Girard, known chiefly for his work in fabric and textile design, but also celebrated for his comprehensive design environments from the 1950s and 60s, particularly the La Fonda del Sol restaurant in Manhattan’s Time-Life building. Aside from a penchant for bright colors and simple shapes, Girard’s relation to Pop is difficult to trace except in the most ample dimension. Ed Ruscha’s painting, Honk (1962) hypostatizes commercial typography to the dimensions of monumental architecture; the work implicitly insists upon the rapport between commercial design and a (visualized) language of the everyday. By contrast, his photographic series Every Building on the Sunset Strip appeared entirely out of place here, and once again stretched the exhibition’s conceptual parameters past any discernible limits. The section titled “Everyday Life Made Public” in fact seemed to dispense altogether with questions of design, while, conversely, the ample space dedicated to work by Charles and ray Eames – from chairs to films – related to Pop art in only the loosest of senses.
Perhaps most poignant in synthesizing the exhibition’s dizzying “kaleidoscope” were the numerous examples of Italian design, whether Ettore Sottsass’s willfully kitsch plates and mirrors, Studio D’s “Pillola” Lamps (1968), or the “Passiflora” lamp by Superstudio (1968). While the influence of Pop and proto-Pop imagery upon these examples of post-war design is relatively straightforward, the role of design in Pop art itself is a far more thorny matter, shot through with questions that cut to the ambivalent origins of Pop itself. While not in the exhibition, Man Ray’s infamous object, The Gift (1921) makes literal the potentially barbed nature of appropriation, as practiced first by Dada artists and again after World War Two by neo-Dada and certain Pop figures. Gluing a row of tacks to the surface of an iron, Ray transfigures the object into a menacing weapon, but also renders it useless as an appliance. Artists like Rosenquist and Oldenburg did not merely rehearse the visual pleasures of commodification, but probed the relationships between them: the extent to which every aspect of our daily lives is implicated in an economy of consumption and desire, including a consumption of signs, codifications, and spectacularizations of those desires. Appropriating the language of advertising (and hence, implicitly, of design), Pop Artists frequently troubled the spectacle of consumerism, as much as simply reproducing its mechanisms. The exhibition’s hesitancy to acknowledge that nuance proved as disappointing as its individual objects were thrilling to see.
Warmer Than You Think: Due North at Icebox Project Space
Due North / í nordur at Icebox Project Space
January 9 to 25, 2014
Crane Arts LLC
1400 N American Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122-3803
Magnus Sigurðarson, foreground, Contained STORM I & II, pedestal, Plexiglass, fan, and Styrofoam balls; and David Scott Kessler, rear, Lopi: A Traveler’s Saga in Four Divinations, 2013. Photo by Magnus Sigurdarson
Many Americans declare their credo by displaying Warner Sallman’s soft-focus portrait of Jesus in the front hallway. Icelanders used to do the same by hanging a portrait of a cold and unreachable rock—the legendary “Lonely Mountain.” The choice encapsulates the outside world’s image of Iceland as a forbidding place, and one that prides itself on difference. Its population of 320,000 keeps alive a language so archaic that speakers more easily read thousand year-old poems than the words of its modern-day cousins, English and German.
The exhibition Due North at Philadelphia’s Icebox Project Space exposes cracks in Iceland’s ice. Juxtaposing well-known Icelandic artists’ work with that of Americans who recently visited their country, the show affirms, but more often demolishes stereotyped views of the country. It also suggests that in this globally-connected world, Iceland’s singularity is likely to fade.
That Iceland is warmer than we think is evident in the experience Philadelphia artists had when they journeyed to the country as part of a grant-funded trip. Arranged by the exhibition’s curator Marianne Bernstein, who is also an artist in the show, the excursion brought five U.S. artists to the island country in February 2013, and this group later met other Americans at the Nes residency in Skagaströnd, a rural village in the north. The curator describes carefree car rides around the country, the unbridled hospitality of locals, and a cadre of Icelandic counterparts who were open-minded and free of the art world’s cutthroat mentality. Unique to Iceland was a culture of “singing and making” in which visual artists crossed over to the music world.
Hrafnhildur Arnardottír (a.k.a. Shoplifter), Sun, 2013. Synthetic hair and mixed media. Photo by Marianne Bernstein
This “cold country, warm people” theme expressed itself in the Icelandic artist’s friendly and exuberant formal choices. Examples include Hrafnhilder Arnardóttir’s Raw Nerves II and Sun, both of which contain bundles of fluffy red synthetic hair; Haraldur Jónsson’s colorful, blob-like vinyl TOKENS; and Magnus Sigurðarson’s Contained STORM I, consisting of white Styrofoam balls blowing like popcorn kernels in a glass case. Most telling was Guðmundar Hallgrímson’s (aka MUNDI’s) cartoon-like textile version of the above-mentioned “Lonely Mountain,” made of soft, thick wool.
The Americans’ art was by contrast much more severe. Katie Baldwin’s prints were more stripped-down than in the past, with large empty areas punctuated by dark forms. Looking like a foggy horizon view from the bridge of a fishing boat, Marianne Bernstein’s Braille Constellation series consisted white squares embossed with a line of braille. And tucked in a dark corner of the exhibition space, Cindi Ettinger and Katya Gorker’s video What we Did projected the Martian landscape of northern Iceland onto a pair of boulder-like forms.
The exhibition’s video art, in fact, showed the largest contrasts of style and aesthetic. The show’s centerpiece was a sequence of enormous projections that turned the 100 foot expanse of the Icebox into a colossal View-Master. David Scott Kessler’s Lopi: A Traveler’s Saga in Four Divinations was a Wagnerian epic of Iceland’s harsh landscape. With the iconic Icelandic fortune-teller as a narrative nexus, the video showcased steamy geologic formations, the northern lights, and nighttime shots of shaggy Icelandic horses. Compare that to Ragnar Kjartansson’s Guilt Trip, a 10-minute piece running on a standard-sized monitor. In it, the well-known Icelandic artist wanders the icy landscape dressed in a city overcoat and pointing a shotgun at nothing in particular. With a goofball humor reminiscent of Jon Stewart’s fake news correspondents, this video took pot-shots at the business corruption that led to Iceland’s recent banking collapse.
Subjects like this one—and that of artist Rúrí’s Future Cartography III, a pair of large printed maps showing global climate change’s subtractions from the coastal landscapes of both Iceland and the eastern United States—were a sign that Iceland’s artists are thinking about the same issues as artists everywhere. Although the rocks on which they live are strange and wonderful indeed, Icelanders’ DNA seems to be same as everyone else’s.
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Hippies Use Side Door: Alan Shields at Cherry and Martin
Report from…Los Angeles
November 23, 2013 to January 11, 2014
2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA, 310-559-0100
Alan Shields, In Bed the Sty is Teacups, 1976-77, acrylic, beads, canvas, belting, 120 x 120 inches, 304.8 x 304.8 centimeters. Courtesy of Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer.
There is an overwhelming and unnerving self-consciousness inherent in the acts of making and doing. Some rare individuals are able to divorce themselves from the implications of their actions, but for the vast majority of people, every move they make is done with the consideration of how this action will be perceived. This is why most people make decisions at a low-risk level. Of course, it is natural to desire acceptance, to desire approval. But artists, like athletes and performers, also seek admiration. As athletes want to be stronger and faster than the competition or actors want to be more beautiful and captivating than their peers, artists want to be the most illuminating and intellectual of their group.
The work of Alan Shields (1944-2005) never seems to make excuses for itself. It stands firm, indifferent to worship or criticism. It is self-aware and self-critical, but not self-conscious. It is not humble and it is not modest, despite its relatable aesthetics. It is not preoccupied with convincing those who come across it of its worth or value. This work does not feel insular; unlike many other objects, these project a sense of necessity—a need to be made, a need to be seen, a need to be lived with and cared for.
A mini-survey of Shields’ work from the 1960s to the 1980s is now on view at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles. The vibrant colors, surprising material and compositional decisions, and evocative texts and titles throughout are reflective of the counter-culture of the era that shaped his art, but at the same time appear as fresh and confidently articulated as the work one might encounter in an emerging artist’s studio today. Many artists coming out of MFA graduate programs, particularly painters and sculptors, are caught in a distressful position, wanting to be “playful” and “experimental,” but also feeling anxious about the cursory nature of this activity, combined with an immense pressure to frame their work in a conceptual or theoretical manner. This anxiety often leads to aseptic carbon copies of things they saw in some seminar. For this generation of young artists struggling to balance work and play, it would likely behoove them to take a deeper look at Shields’ oeuvre, and the intellectual fun he has proven that can be had as an artist.
Alan Shields, Dance Bag, 1985, acrylic, canvas, glass beads, thread on aluminum tubing, mirror. Height: 40 inches, 101.6 centimeters; diameter: 48 inches, 121.9 centimeters. Courtesy of Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles.
The earliest pieces in the show are three framed concrete poems, or “untitled typed drawings,” as Shields referred to them. Each of these typed drawings (all 1968) indirectly describe one specific thing (an airplane, bubble gum, cigarettes) through terse, staccato phrasing, within the confined form of a rectangle. The real poetry of these text pieces derives from the almost autistic tranquility of their making, which goes on to inform much of what constitutes the rest of the exhibition, consisting of works from the following three decades.
Two mobile-like objects anchor each room. The first, Dance Bag (1985), comprised of acrylic, canvas, glass beads, and thread on aluminum tubing, is fastened above a circular mirror that is approximately the same size as the circular bottom of the hanging sculpture. The second, In Bed the Sty is Teacups (1976-77), a limp chain link composition of acrylic-soaked canvas, is suspended from taut triangulated bead-covered wire, with more beads loosely strung to and beneath it, vaguely mimicking a thin shadow. Both of these breezy constructions dangle in stillness, implying a potential movement on their part; in doing so, they goad the viewer to move about them. This is the common wish of all three-dimensional objects, but as its title suggests, the possibility of a dance between object and viewer is open—a jointly sly and benevolent move on Shields’ part.
Other wall works include radiant unprimed and unstretched canvases, each eliciting movement like the sculptural works they surround, and together, they create varied allegorical manifestations of being. The aptly titled Finger Lickin’ (1974-76), is splattered with rainbow colors, the dashing marks reminiscent of a rambunctious finger painting. This initial painted layer is smothered with a cast net of thread, rope, string, and beads, creating a momentary pause, until the web causes the eye to wander further. Next to it is Subway Series (1984), a lax grid consisting of orbs with peripheral orbs, which bring to mind the growth within a Petri dish or the early films of Stan Brakhage. David Omar Rosaria (1982), the most saturated of the wall works, is a concise kaleidoscopic sequence. It flows like a liquid sand painting with belting adhered to its surface to create a simple and humorous design—a boxy portrait of a perplexingly endearing robot.
In this age, where media and technology have become so narrowly defined by the Internet, and marketing and advertising have devolved into the equivalent of commercial speed dating, it is easy to forget what these things mean. Is a wheel still technology? Can a poem be a form of advertising? Shields’ work reminds us of the limits and prospects of language and objects in society. Any apparatus has potential, any image has meaning. With this knowledge, it becomes our duty to engage and react.
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Urban Jungle: Marik Lechner in South Tel Aviv
Report from… Tel Aviv
Niger River: Paintings by Marik Lechner was at Rosenfeld Gallery, 1 Shvil HaMif’al Street, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, October 10 to November 16, 2013
Marik Lechner, Untitled, 2013. Oil on canvas, 200 x 408 cm. Courtesy of Rosenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv
On the edge of Florentin, between gentrified South Tel Aviv and Jaffa Port, is a run-down industrial area, a refuge for foreign workers, which is fast reinventing itself as an arts neighborhood. You can walk into a bar filled with hookah-smoking Asian and African men, then be engulfed by a well-heeled group from North Tel Aviv on a guided tour. The artists are moving in, turning the disused warehouses and cheap space into studios and galleries. To date, the biggest draw is the Rosenfeld Gallery, where Marik Lechner is currently showing his large, paint-laden canvases. Flamboyant and lavishly expressionistic, the work is held together by the strength of its compositional structure, and by its narrative – a quirky kind of magical realism that is both funny and darkly unsettling.
It’s one of those exhibitions where there is so much newly-applied oil paint that the whole gallery smells deliciously of it. And a strong presence of life also emanates from the work – at first because of the vigour of the actual painting, but then, as the images open themselves up to scrutiny, from the way they are densely populated. Humans, animals, landscapes, fish and birds, trees, buildings: everything seems to breathe, and there is a general lushness and exuberance.
Some of the paintings look as if they are still growing. Two figures stand intimately close, in what at first seems to be a field of flowers, but there are goldfish as well as plants orbiting around them. Is everything underwater, or could the two be standing in front of a huge fish tank? Or perhaps we are in the tank viewing them through the glass. Movement is everywhere, and Lechner keeps his narrative fluid and suggestive. The figures are feminine and youthful — one seems to be offering a flower, for instance — but their eyes and hair are animal-like, even feral.
Marik Lechner, Untitled, 2013. Oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Courtesy of Rosenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv
Another possibly underwater painting shows a seated figure holding a posy of flowers. Everything floats, including her hair, and although the paint is thick and heavy, even clumsy, the feeling it conveys is light and lyrical. Scarlet fish seem to float behind and in front of the figure, plants are growing, it is a verdant, flowering place. And yet there is an undeniable violence in the work, a suggestion of spattered and dripping fresh blood. In a series of small canvases, death and playfulness go together: monkeys up to monkey business, with heads that look bared to the skull, and eye sockets rather than eyes, their mouths gaping to show garish-coloured teeth. There are humanoid animals to match the animal-like humans: a fox-like creature seems to pose for its portrait; an owl sits watchfully on the shoulder of a kind of green snowman; a spotted dog sits on a table, among wine glasses and paper chains, looking at a view which suggests, at least to me, an open city square at Christmas time. Darkness is falling, and the scene is illuminated by artificial light from the surrounding buildings, and a big fir tree. Then I spot a boat among the buildings, which makes me wonder…
Only as I am about to leave do I ask about the title, Niger River. Apparently Lechner moved into the area recently, and got to know a Nigerian worker who helped him build his studio. The worker described the Niger River in a way that was so evocative for Lechner that it became the fantasised subject of most of these paintings, and the title of the show.
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