Artists I Like: A Salute to General Idea

For a “Curating Contemporary Art” class last year, we were tasked with creating a theoretical exhibition. I chose the Canadian collective General Idea (1969-1994), because, well, I like them, but also because,

though well-recognized through retrospective exhibitions in Canada and Europe, [I thought they] deserved more attention here.

I also noted:

a recent revived interest in art of the eighties, particularly art related to AIDS-activism (including an upcoming show at the [MCA Chicago and] ICA Boston curated by Helen Molesworth).

With that heightened focus, General Idea seems to making a frequent appearance in e-flux and other art announcements, including in that very exhibition I mentioned, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, in an installation similar to the one I imagined.

Theirs:

Installation by General Idea in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s at the MCA Chicago and ICA Boston

Mine:

My theoretical exhibition, as designed in Google SketchUp

which you can view in more detail and navigate in 3D here, and was based on a previous installation:

General Idea, “Infections,” as installed at the World Wide Video Centre, The Hague, Netherlands, November 1994

Other recent mentions that have come up – an edition that the collective intended to produce in 1980 but did not fully complete, called Liquid Assets:

General Idea, “Liquid Assets,” 1980

and an announcement of a lecture by AA Bronson, the surviving member of the trio, at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, accompanied by a brief interview in their magazine.

AA Bronson

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I love being right…

… but who doesn’t? I refer in particular, though, to when your interpretations of art or artworks end up being validated by the artists themselves (though, if they’re not, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong–or that they’re right).

Today’s case has to do with Fred Wilson, a favorite of mine whose work I have presented and written on before. Last year, for a Curating Contemporary Art course, I began an essay on his work with an analysis of a video segment for Art21, the PBS series that looks at contemporary art.

 

Here’s what I wrote about the first few minutes of the video, which take place in Wilson’s studio:

The room in his studio where he arranges the objects is a white-walled, naturally-lit, cavernous warehouse space. He moves between this immaculate room and another room, just as high-ceilinged but not as well-lit, cluttered with ladders, portfolios, and artwork wrapped in cardboard and furniture blankets. He repeatedly returns to this room to retrieve objects from a wall of sturdy wooden shelving that houses his collection, resembling a museum storeroom. This analogy is key: Wilson’s studio, reflective as it is of his practice within museums, is itself set up like a museum. The mess of packing materials and the inactive collection occupies the storeroom; the curator/artist brings objects out of storage to be exhibited in the clean, bright, white room – the proverbial white cube of the exhibition space.

It is clear in this case that Wilson’s studio is meant to resemble the museums in which he does his projects; thus his studio becomes a staging area, where he can simulate an arrangement of objects as it will appear in a gallery or museum.

This supposition was based solely on my viewing of the video and my foreknowledge about Wilson’s practice. Here’s what was written in an article in the November 2012 issue of ARTNews:

Wilson bought his studio, formerly a garage, in 2001 and renovated it to look very much like a Chelsea gallery, with a facade of frosted windows, pristine white walls, and a poured-cement floor. “I wanted it to be this way because this is my gallery,” says Wilson, whose interventions in museum collections are often site-specific…

Entering his backroom storage unit is like walking into a combined history museum and thrift shop…

Quite similar, no? I’m realizing this may be coming off as bragging; I do not mean it to be. I only mean to convey that as someone who analyzes art for a living, it is satisfying and reassuring to find that what amount to educated guesses have some basis in reality; not only does Fred Wilson’s studio resemble a gallery, he renovated it to be so.

I experienced a similar feeling at a lecture by Allan McCollum, another artist I wrote extensively about in my undergraduate years. His lecture was a a sort of career survey, as my paper had been. Much of my analysis was based solely on my observations of his projects, as many of them had not been written about by other critics or historians. And much of what he said in the lecture bore out my analyses.

I guess I might have found myself in the right field, huh? I of course have my doubts at times. But lately, though work has been stressful and busy, I am finding that I am loving every single thing I am doing there, and I would be happy to keep doing it for quite awhile longer.

What I Saw When I Could Walk, pt. 2

And now, as promised, Cindy Sherman at MoMA and my celebrity siting!

As I mentioned, I was at home in New York to see these shows before they closed. I’d gone to the Met on Sunday, and was going to MoMA on Monday. I wanted to leave the house at a certain time, but dawdled and therefore arrived at the museum slightly later than I’d planned. Quick stop in the large gallery on the 2nd floor, to say hello to my old friend, Ellsworth Kelly’s Colors for a Large Wall, and a new friend, his Sculpture for a Large Wall.

 

Up to the top floor for Cindy Sherman. Surveyed the humongous wall papers of her strange characters in the atrium, then figured out which between the two entrances was the real start to the exhibition.

I lay out all these details because the timing was key. I caught the celebrity in question in the 2nd gallery, and he then went out through the first. He’d clearly gone through the show backwards, and so had I been a bit earlier or later, or done the same, I would have missed him.

First gallery, with a selection of works from different series and a few early portrait experimentations. Second gallery, with the full suite of Untitled Film Stills. I’m going through slowly and thoughtfully, trying to savor each one despite their great number and small size. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a man, smiling knowingly at the photographs, who looks a great deal like Benedict Cumberbatch.

Right now, you’re either squealing with delight, or wondering, “who?” If you’re part of the small percentage of the general population who knows he is, you’re probably already obsessed with him. He is the star of BBC’s “Sherlock,” written by the inimitable Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, a modern-day update of Sherlock Holmes in which the detective is an insensitive sociopath with razor sharp wit who talks a mile per minute. Check out Season 1 on Netflix, season 2 on Project Free TV (each season is 3 movie-length episodes). And don’t be fooled by the similar U.S. series coming out, “Elementary” (with Lucy Liu as Watson, seriously?????); it’s a cheap imitation.

So I’m in front of the Untitled Film Stills with a Cumberbatch lookalike. The face is spot-on, but I’m not sure about the body; this man is sporting broad, muscular shoulders in a tight t-shirt, jeans, and hipster headphones around his neck. I think of BC as quite svelte in his slim suits. So as subtly as I can I start following him around, pretending to look at art but really looking at him, to confirm my suspicion, and the more I see his face the more sure I am. Pretty soon, possibly cuz he realized I was stalking him, he left. As soon as I could, I texted my fellow Sherlock fans, with whom I’d just that day and previous night been discussing him.

Later, I had my doubts, because he was supposed to be in a play in London later that week. But I also found that he’d just been in New Jersey for some horse race. That he made it a point to get to MoMA for the Cindy Sherman in the middle of his hectic schedule, that and his knowing smiles at the Stills, shows that he’s a contemporary art fan. Swoon!

Oh, how was the exhibition, you say? Oh, yes, fine, good. I was in a bit of a tizzy after my encounter and had some trouble focusing back on the art, but after awhile I settled in. Otherwise, it was a good retrospective, progressing through her major series including some interesting ones I hadn’t seen, such as the Fashion ads in which she wears designer clothing but is otherwise completely hideous.

Generally each gallery was devoted to a series, but some galleries were a mix of works from different series with some other theme, like how she manipulated backdrops, or when she started putting multiple figures in through the magic of photoshop. These comparisons/themes seemed a little forced, and the mixed galleries seemed to break the rhythm of the show.

In my next post, Bowdoin and Buffalo, including more early Cindy Sherman!

What I Might Be Seeing If I Could Walk

Last week, the day before I moved from Boston to New York, I sprained my foot. Good timing, huh? Good thing we’d hired movers. On an artistic note, my foot is turning all kinds of lovely shades of purple, pink, blue, green and yellow. On a practical note, if I walk just a few blocks I’m ready to put my foot up and call it a day. Therefore my typical New York pastime, museums and galleries, is out. Here are a few things I might be seeing if I was not temporarily disabled.

A CUT ABOVE: 12 PAPER MASTERS, Christopher Henry Gallery, on view until July 15th

The only reason this particular show gets top billing is that my parents went on Sunday, and so I likely would have accompanied them, minus my gimpiness and desire to sleep in that day. (This led to a conversation between my mom and I about our ignorance that some galleries were open on Sundays, though she recalled this article, which is a few years old. Anyone know what the trend is now?)

Anyway, I’d already seen most of these artists, even these particular works, in Slash: Paper Under the Knife at the Museum of Arts and Design. Like most cut paper art (of which there is quite a lot these days), it either blends into the crowd, or completely stands out and therefore is worth a second or third look. Chris Gilmour’s cardboard St. George and the Dragon is impeccably made, down to the last detail. Adam Fowler’s excised pencil scribbles (which I also saw at my friend’s gallery, Kunsthalle Galapagos in DUMBO*) are mind-blowing. The sculpted books by Guy Laramee, Doug Beube and Brian Dettmer are also intriguingly detailed.

ALIGHIERO BOETTI: GAME PLAN, MoMA, on view until October 1st

What can I say? Boetti is one of those major modern artists whose name I knew, but I had only been familiar with one particularly famous work or series–in his case, the Mappas, world maps in which each country’s shape is made from it’s own flag:

Due to his inclusion in an exhibition I was working on, I also became familiar with his interest in duality, which he expressed by renaming himself Alighiero e (and) Boetti, and creating a portrait of himself as a set of twins.

Given that this is still just a small fraction of his both conceptually and aesthetically diverse oeuvre, I look forward to seeing the show and learning much more. Doubtless I will report back when I do see it.

ART OF ANOTHER KIND: INTERNATIONAL ABSTRACTION AND THE GUGGENHEIM, 1949-1960, til September 12th, and RINEKE DIJKSTRA: A RETROSPECTIVE, til October 8th, the Guggenheim

The Guggenheim is always sort of a destination museum, isn’t it? Going there is a big production. Since I can usually finagle my way into a museum for cheap or free, I’ll just “drop in” to the Met, MoMA or the Whitney for a show I’m curious about, but you don’t just “drop in” to the Guggenheim. I think it’s the building that does it (that and the lines out the door). Even after being there many many times, it’s hard not to experience awe when you walk into the rotunda. It’s hard not to feel like the trip up or down the ramp is its own special journey, regardless of the art on view. Therefore, my bar is higher for Guggenheim exhibitions; I can’t merely be curious about what’s on view, it takes a bit more.

So I’m not sure if these two exhibitions would get me there, but they might, at least given my lukewarm interest in what’s currently at the Met and Whitney. Rineke Dijkstra is one of those contemporary artists who comes up so often that I should know her work better than I do (for example, until I just checked, I thought she was male).

The abstraction show nominally would not have any surprises–Abstract Expressionists/New York School in America, Informel/Tachisme in Europe. Looks like a pretty canonical line-up. It would be more groundbreaking, for example, if “international” included abstraction from farther abroad than Europe, like Neo-Concretism in Brazil, or Gutai in Japan, of which the Guggenheim will be doing a big survey. But this show is based on what the museum actually collected in that period, so I’m guessing more “international” is mostly out. Nonetheless, it can be very refreshing to see these old favorites in-person, and you never know what particular works might catch you by surprise. I for one have not encountered that much European abstraction in person, and would love to get a sense of the tactility of works like this:

 

I’d also probably make the rounds of the Chelsea galleries, but I’m not going to go through the trouble right now of trying to sift through them all online just to tell you what I think the highlights might be. Maybe I’ll do a part 2, but hopefully by then I’ll be able to walk and see for myself.

And, oh yeah, it’s July 4th! What will I be doing? Lunch and seeing Brave with my mom (shame to be in a dark movie theater, but what else am I gonna do with a gimp foot?), baking a raspberry pie, dinner with my dad and his girlfriend, and perhaps attempting to see the fireworks while avoiding the crowds on Riverside. Happy 4th to you, readers!

*That’s “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” for the uninitiated. Or as my stepdad likes to say, “Down Under Manhattan Bridge… Oh!” It’s in Brooklyn.

P.S. I know from my analytics that there are actually some people reading this (mostly people I know, I’m sure). So my reaction is, where are the comments? To once again quote Eddie Izzard, “I’m not a priest, you may talk to me.” I really do want to hear your thoughts, questions, reactions, vehement counter-arguments, et cetera!

Welcome: Who, What, Why, and Some Immediate Business

Why, hello there! This here is the beginning of my art blog. I don’t really expect anyone to read this, but we all need a mouthpiece these days, don’t we?

If you actually are reading this, most likely you already know me, but just in case you don’t, a bit about me: I just graduated from Tufts with a masters in art history and museum studies. I am an aspiring museum professional and curator, with particular interests in modern and contemporary art and museum history and theory.

Why an art blog? Because now that the chaos and non-stop work of grad school is over, and I am (at least temporarily) unemployed (expect updates on my employment status within weeks *fingers crossed*), I plan to make myself keep reading about, seeing, and perhaps making art. Without the built-in forum that comes with classmates, colleagues and coworkers, I plan to use this blog to articulate my thoughts on what I read, see and make.

Down to business: I was particularly inspired to start this blog today because I read this morning about a series of exhibitions that I felt the need to comment on. The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is a contemporary art museum in Connecticut that I have not yet visited but have always respected and been interested in (particularly since they gave Fred Wilson an award and exhibition, and I am a big Wilson devotee. I shook his hand last year! A highlight of my life thus far, to be sure). The Aldrich announced on e-flux a set of programs collectively called united states,

a series of solo exhibitions and artist’s projects that approach both the nature of the United States as a country and “united states” as the alliance of separate forms, entities, or conditions of being.

They go on to list the artists in the program:

united states includes solo exhibitions by Pedro BarbeitoJonathan BrandBrody CondonBrad KahlhamerBrian KnepErik Parker, and Hank Willis Thomas, as well as singular projects by Jane BensonAlison CrocettaCeleste FichterErika HarrschNina KatchadourianMatthew NorthridgeRisa PunoJohn StoneySui JianguoFrances TromblyRosemary Williams, and Jenny Yurshansky.

Did you notice what I noticed? Well, yes, Hank Willis Thomas and Nina Katchadourian are involved, and they are both fantastic. But beyond that: the solo exhibitions are all men. Women artists are only given “singular projects,” most of which are by women. I was so perturbed, that before I had the idea to start this blog, I wrote a message to the museum’s staff to try to articulate my reaction:

I am a young museum professional on a curatorial track. I was very interested to read about the series of exhibitions, united states. It looks like a fascinating line-up of artists and projects – Hank Willis Thomas and Nina Katchadourian are particular favorites. I was, however, slightly disturbed by the fact that all seven of the solo exhibitions are going to men, and women are only represented in the individual projects. I am certainly not making a plea for forced tokenism, only awareness. Many prominent female artists are making significant work on this subject, as you acknowledge by including their work as “projects.” It seems an oversight, then, to have given their work such unequal status in comparison to male artists, to have not deemed any of those female artists worthy of a solo exhibition along with their male counterparts. I hope this is a discrepancy you may be more aware of and work to counteract in the future.

I hope my message indicates that I do not see this as malicious or purposeful sexism or discrimination. I assume that they just happened to pick all male artists for the solo exhibitions, and perhaps only realized too late, if at all, that all the artists they picked happened to be men, not women. This would be fine, except that 0 women out of 7 artists seems like a pretty abysmal ratio, particularly when they seemed to take other kinds of diversity–ethnic, racial, geographic–into consideration. This series of exhibitions will make up the bulk of the museum’s programming until February. I think in this day and age 7 months in a contemporary art museum’s exhibition cycle is a bit long to go without a significant female voice, but I’m sure it happens all the time (come to think of it, the museum where I’ve been working has not had a female solo show in the last year). All the more reason museum professionals need to work to be aware of these programming discrepancies, particularly before the schedule is set.

This comes on the heels of another interesting gender issue. Over the last year I have been assisting with a group exhibition that will include both historic (going back to the late-19th century) and contemporary artists. The curator has been hyper-aware of the relative dearth of female artists, and without resorting to tokenism, has conscientiously worked to get the ratio up to 1 in 4, and to give the work of the female artists some prominence. Given his consideration, it then seems a little silly to me that a female artist being included in the show should object to the fact that the title of the exhibition, which comes from a novella of the same name, includes the word “Man.” The context of the title and the show itself make clear that in this case “man” is a synonym for “mankind” or “humankind,” not “male person or persons;” the species, not the gender. Is it problematic that we categorize our entire species by a gender that makes up only half its population? Of course it is. But I believe it is more important to change our attitudes than to change our language. Of course language is a powerful indicator of societal and cultural norms, but words only have the power we give them. If we accept “man” as an archaic but still valid shorthand for “the human race,” I don’t believe we should have any problem with it.

But obviously there are people who disagree! Do you agree with the female artist about the use of “man?” Do you think I’m overreacting to the all-male programming at the Aldrich? I want to hear from you, oh notional reader!

UPDATE:

I got a long, considerate, and somewhat satisfactory answer from the Exhibitions Director at the Aldrich. It’s nice to get such a thoughtful response! I thought I’d just get dismissed into the hate-mail pile. I won’t quote the whole thing, but here’s the meat of it:

In the context of the entire ‘united states’ semester of exhibitions we
consider the solo shows and projects of equal importance. As we met with
artists and invited their participation, and reviewed proposals from the
open call, we made decisions in collaboration with the artists –
including gallery space assignment, number of works to be exhibited,
duration of exhibition, and allocation of funds – based on what was
required to realize their vision.

As a result, the ‘united states’ semester includes a variety of
presentation formats (including single and multi-day performances,
outdoor installations, interventions, ephemeral work, videos, and more
traditional gallery shows) and a range of durations: some solo shows are
up longer than others, and some projects, such as Nina Katchadourian, are
on view longer than solo shows. The Pedro Barbeito, Jonathan Brand, and
Hank Willis Thomas shows are on view for less than three months, while
the projects by Alison Crocetta, Celeste Fichter, Erika Harrsch, Frances
Trombly, and Jenny Yursansky will run through the entire six-month
semester. These decisions were made based on the specific needs of the
works to be exhibited within the context of the series, and also in
response to more practical considerations of overall museum schedule and
the need to accommodate additional exhibitions during the semester. Also,
some singular artist projects were more expensive to produce than solo
shows, so allocation of funding was also made based on the needs of the
work and not on whether it was a ‘solo show’ or an ‘artist project’.

This is a pretty satisfactory answer, though if the two types of programs are really meant to be on equal footing, they might reconsider their branding, as in this brochure. Size does tend to connote relative importance.