Newsletter: February 2012
David Hartt “Stray Light” at the MCA
Inaugurating the MCA Screen space at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Canadian born David Hartt has created a media-base environment. Born in 1964, Hartt now lives and works in Chicago and is best known for photographs he takes with a “dispassionate eye.” Hartt’s subject matter for this project is Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company building completed in 1971 by architect John Moutoussamy and interior designer Arthur Elrod. An iconic eleven story building on South Michigan Ave. that houses both Jet and Ebony magazines, its interior has essentially not changed after three decades. A video animates the photographs of the interior office space that hang in the small gallery while instrumental music accompanies. Watching the video is like stepping into a time warp.
Even entering the room, Hartt has recreated the bench and carpet from the offices in the museum. It’s a bit surreal watching a video with images of a functioning interior office space and looking down at the same carpet under your own feet. There are two very interesting aspects to this work. The first is that Hartt was able to provide viewers with an insider’s view of an African American environment as a true outsider. The second is that his work is quite timely; the building has been sold and the company is relocating. This exhibition is on view through May 6, 2012.
Prospect 2 New Orleans
Prospect 2-New Orleans
The Prospect 2 biennial runs from Oct. 22, 2011 to January 29, 2012. Founded in 2008 by curator Dan Cameron after Hurricane Katrina, it was created in an effort to help revitalize the city. I was so sad I didn’t make it to Prospect 1 as I heard it was amazing. 42,000 people came during the course of the biennial though 100,000 had been set as a goal for attendance. Last year due to a lack of funds, Prospect 2 did not occur, Prospect 1.5 (a smaller group of shows and events) took place instead. The first edition had $4.5 million to play with while this year’s version was only able to raise $2.3 leading to a smaller program. Instead of 81 artists, 26 artists’ work is on view. Venues can be found throughout the city and that is really what I enjoyed most about visiting the show. You get to see areas and buildings that you would not normally venture into on a trip to New Orleans (the mint, historic homes, museums, and universities are just a few examples).
The first thing I learned on my trip was that most locals refer to Hurricane Katrina as the Army Corps disaster. Some people get VERY upset explaining that it was not the hurricane that was the problem but the way the natural disaster was handled. I made a note to share that factoid with the general public. Okay, now that that is out of the way, onto the art.
The opening weekend included a performance, The Marigny Parade, by R. Luke Dubois who had hired five local marching bands to play at various points throughout the city having them converge at Jackson Square to kickoff the ribbon cutting ceremony.
After the opening festivities I walked up to the New Orleans African American Museum to see Lorraine O’Grady’s Art Is…, a one-day performance in September of 1983 at the Harlem African-American Day Parade. It wasn’t until 2009 that photographs from the performance were finally printed.
“Provoked by a comment from a feminist friend that ‘the avant-garde doesn’t have anything to do with black people,’ O’Grady decided to present a work of avant-garde art for the enjoyment of the parade’s million-plus viewers. Fifteen young dancers and actors rode a float on which a 9 x 15 foot antique-styled gold frame captured everything surrounding it as art, while smaller gold picture frames were deployed by the performers to bring the spectators into action.” The smiles on the people’s faces are great! When they are captured within a frame, they are ebullient–there is a joy, a look of hope I haven’t seen in people for a long time.
The beauty of Sophie Calle’s work is the stories she tells. Taking over 1850 House, a Louisiana State Museum on Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, Calle used a typical museum format where roped off rooms have numbers placed by items of interest. Visitors read pertinent information about those items on a plaque. Utilizing the existing museum rooms and furniture, Calle inserted other objects (45 to be exact ranging from a wedding dress to a taxidermic cat) into the mix and the informative text shares vignettes about a woman’s life. We, the visitors, traveled with this woman on her journey of life.
Another opening weekend performance, Blink by William Pope.L, began in the Lower 9th Ward and ended at Xavier University where it will stay until the end of the biennial. I was very happy that I managed to get to the Lower Ninth, an area not too many tourists head to. The devastation from Katrina is still visible but the majority of homes have been rebuilt or renovated. I can’t even imagine what people living there went through.
The work “Blink” consisted of projections of images of local residents responding to questions about New Orleans onto a truck. The truck used was pulled by humans as it traversed throughout the city for a full 24 hours straight.
“Pitch White” by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick at L9 Center for the Arts in the Lower Ninth Ward was a rare treat. This arts center is doing great things, showing art in community the two artists grew up in in a Victorian home. On view during the Prospect 2 opening was a show of photographs by the couple (each an artist in her/his own right and have been photographing people from the community for years). What made these works so powerful was not the works themselves but the fact that these photos had been sealed and stored as the couple fled during Hurricane Katrina. Their entire artistic production was in jeopardy and when they returned to their former home, they were saddened to find the photos ruined…or so they thought. What emerged was a new series of works printed using the damaged negatives. The photos are textured and often envelop their subjects in inexplicable auras and almost otherworldly environments.
Artist Bob Tannen launched a collaborative painting installation at the Art House on the Levee 9also in the Lower Ninth). Tannen rarely exhibits his work without inviting other artists to share the limelight. So it’s no surprise that Tannen has invited not only artists, but people who don’t normally go by that title, to use his canvas, paints and studio to present their own ideas on two murals on a total of 57 feet of canvas.
While visiting galleries, I was introduced to a fantastic young female painter, Iva Gueorguieva who had a show at Heriard-Cimino Gallery on Julia Street. Her violent, active canvasses give a sense of armageddon though they are abstract. It is the clashing of colors, shapes and media (she paints and collages elements onto the canvas as well) that create a chaotic and unsettling energy. The artist is originally from Bulgaria but has lived in Baltimore, New Orleans and is now a Los Angeles resident.
One of the Prospect.2 opening weekend’s biggest crowds was at an event only marginally related to the citywide biennial. At the New Orleans installation The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory organized by Swoon, a NY artist known for her community-driven collaborative endeavors, the line was around the block. “The Music Box - a dream-like village of wood and glass structures outfitted with amplified sound devices, all constructed on a Piety Street lot in the Bywater—is a P.2 “satellite exhibition,” which means they receive no funding and only minimal advertising from Prospect New Orleans. Still, organizers had to turn people away at the door as the shantytown filled to capacity, the raised bleachers overflowing and guests sprawled out wherever they could find a spot in the narrow spaces between buildings. The evening’s performance was conducted by Quintron, who led a group of musicians in a cacophonous symphony of creaks, groans, bells and strings. Afterwards, the crowd was free to wander the shantytown and explore the instruments, bringing the village to life beneath strings of white lights.” I could not believe the turnout for this event. The outside fences were covered with quintessential Swoon works (see above image). The Music Box closed on Dec 10th.
At the Old U.S. Mint one found William Eggleston’s black and white nightclub portraits–single images of characters from 1970s clubs. These works were quite different from the typical photos of his found in most exhibitions. Also on view was An-My Le’s Delta: New Orleans, Louisiana 2011. The artist spent time in Louisiana and visited different Vietnamese communities of the Bayou. Finding similarities in her view into the Asian community in New Orleans to communities in Vietnam itself, she mixes photographs from the two environments and viewers really can’t tell which is which.
I was so very pleasantly surprised by the New Orleans Museum of Art. After arriving sweaty and weak in the knees from my bike ride to the venue on a glorious sunny day, I have to say I was more impressed by the works from the permanent collection and the special exhibitions than the Prospect 2 works on view.
Wayne Gonzales: Light to Dark/Dark to Light is on view till Feb 26, 2012. I love Wayne Gonzales’s work anyway, but this show of his work included examples of work from series I was previously unfamiliar with. There are great contemporary works on view by Allan McCollum, Alex Katz, Wayne Thiebaud, John McCracken, Richard Diebenkorn, Zhang Huan, Louise Nevelson, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Louise Bourgeois. Their collection of Cornell boxes is impressive. There is a great Kandinsky, “Sketch for Several Circles” 1926.
And I very much liked “Study of a Tree,” an ink on canvas by Renoir. I like so little by him that this struck me. The image doesn’t do it justice at all.
On the 3rd floor of the museum the Art of Oceania and Asian Art section is very cool.
There was also an excellent exhibition by E.O. Hoppe. I had never heard of him, but when he sailed for India in the fall of 1929 he was arguable the most famous photographer in the world, exhibiting with Steiglitz and Steichen. He was a portraitist who then turned to making artbooks about people and topography of different countries. This show highlights the transition that occurred when India went from a British ruled agrarian to an industrialized society. My reaction to the images was how amazing it is that after almost 100 years so much in India looks the same.
Lastly, on the first floor, there was an excellent exhibition called The Elegant Image: Hindu Buddhist and Jari Bronzes from the Indian Subcontinent. It closed on October 23, 2011.
An official site of Prospect 2 is the Contemporary Art Center known as CAC to locals. I love the CAC. What a great space!
Highlights for me from the group show at the CAC were works by Grazia Toderi, an acclaimed video artist. Her subject is light and I enjoyed both her graphite metals and melted tin on gator board works as well as her video Orbite Rosse from the 2009 Venice Biennale. It remind me of a lunar like landscape with sparkling elements.
And Stockholm artist Jonas Dahlberg’s black and white video, Macbeth from 2011. Lasting 11 minutes the slow moving camera pans to the right and you see the bed, radiator, a bedroom with light flickering thru the windows producing shadows in various places on a wooden floor. You see a white sink, a closet door and there is no sound. The work is made after models are created. The video has a dreamlike and ghostly effect. There is tension because the subject is both not real and similar to the real world we live in.
Unfortunately, a piece I was very much looking forward to seeing, Francesco Vezzoli’s outdoor installation, was stuck in customs during the opening weekend.
The Language of Less (Then and Now) at the MCA
A very enjoyable exhibition curated by Michael Darling, “The Language of Less” focuses on Minimal art from the 1960s/70s as well as that created by five artists working now who have been highly influenced by their predecessors. To be categorized as Minimal, work typically has to have little evidence of the artist’s hand, use industrial materials, and focus on seriality, color, line and surface. But curator Darling opens our eyes to a broader range of works that can be included in this “ism.” The first half of the show exhibits historical works while the latter half shows works by a newer generation. The first gallery has architectural and often monochromatic works by Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Brice Marden, Blinky Palermo, Frank Stella, Josef Albers and Ad Reinhardt.
But the work that stood out for me in that space was a cotton batting and cardboard ziggurat-like sculpture by Jackie Ferrara.
The next room showcases work by those we most often associate with Minimalism–those that utilize the gallery space in unexpected ways: Fred Sandback, Sol Lewitt, John McCracken, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre to name a few. Once again, there were a couple of surprises for me: a simple Martin Puryear wood work that rests against the gallery wall, and a Ralph Humphrey painting from 1967, Untitled, an off-white canvas with three thin horizontal lines of orange-yellow paint that seems to glow on top of or from within the canvas.
Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Ryman, Jo Baer and Daniel Buren’s measurements and a focus on materials used in the production of art connect them in the following gallery. Jackie Winsor’s Cheesecloth Piece from 1981 in the center of the room is an example of her sculptures she bases on cubes which allow her to experiment with materials.
The last gallery in the “then” section had many works by artists I had not previously heard of or would not typically associate with Minimalism but the themes of Minimalism are present in their work. The only difference is their use of natural materials: Tony Conrad, Alan Sonfist, Richard Tuttle, Ree Morton, Franz Erhard Walther, Keith Sonnier, Christo and Richard Artschwager.
Moving back out into the main atrium, one sees Bottom Dollar by Oscar Tuazon, a young American artist working in Paris, overhead. Creating a lower fabric ceiling with wooden trusses, Tuazon’s intent was to create a more intimate space using raw materials. In another room more of his work which is influenced by current events such as war, political strife, and the economic crisis is on view. This is exemplified in a work in which a steel plate presses down on fluorescent lights threatening to crush them. In another work, a sheet of safety glass lies shattered on the floor representing the irregular cracks that can occur in what is perceived as an unbreakable material.
I always assumed Carol Bove was on the older side because her work makes her seem like she is wiser than most, but it turns out this Swiss artist now living in New York is only two years older than me. Blending ideas about art, fashion, design and social history, Bove’s work “transitions from void to solid” with grace and ease. She boldly explores the feminine and the decorative in her work using materials such as shells and peacock feathers. My favorite piece in this show is the work of patterns made using fine chains suspended from the ceiling with beads.
Jason Dodge is an American artist, influenced by both conceptual and Minimal art, working in Berlin. Everyday items found in the gallery appear random, a lightning rod on the floor points due north, a spotlight shines on the gallery wall where the artist has hidden a bell behind the drywall. The bell remains silent until it is excavated and a human rings it. But his work is much more about what these items represent than the pieces themselves.
Leonor Antunes works in both Lisbon and Berlin and uses the triangular grid system to experiment with materials. Fish nets are a subject used a great deal by the artist because they are both made by hand and can endlessly expand. However, in this installation the powerful triangular form is found on the floor in cork and brass. However, when it is translated to rubber in net form, it loses that power and its form.
Gedi Sibony, a New Yorker, is influenced by the fact that his father was a contractor. Using elements from the built environment and found objects in his sculptures. He encourages us to “look more carefully at the everyday splendor of the world around us.”
“The Language of Less (Then and Now)” is on view until April 15th (The Then section) and March 25th (The Now section).
RE :Chicago at DePaul University Art Museum
Chicago has struggled to find its place as an artistic center over the years. Many famous artists have strong ties to Chicago but usually leave, making their reputations elsewhere. The city “rivals other cities in music, architecture, and theater, but it is seen as a second city in the visual arts.” The exhibition “Re: Chicago,” at the new DePaul University Art Museum space, attempts to demonstrate how Chicago is an artistic center in its own right. The organizers of the show sought out esteemed members of the Chicago arts community (museum specialists, critics, collectors) and asked them to pick work by an artist who is already famous, is no longer famous, or never was famous but ought to be and write about it. “The multiplicity of viewpoints provides a nuanced view of the city’s artistic heritage.” Most of these artists will probably be unfamiliar to you as they were to me with a few exceptions.
Harry Callahan’s black and white photos; Tony Fitzpatrick’s collage;
Marcena Barton’s bold self-portrait from 1932 in which she paints herself naked, directly gazing at the viewer; Margaret Burroughs figurative paintings;
Dawoud Bey’s photograph of an African boy named Mohammed whose gaze stops one in his tracks; Kerry James Marshall’s painting within a painting;
Angel Otero’s canvas with both paint and oil emphasizing process and materials;
Tim Anderson’s wonderful graphite portrait of Joan Mitchell with a strong yellow background;
Juan Angel Chavez’s installation of found objects and plywood; Shane Huffman’s gelatin silver prints with cosmic patterns; Collaborative duo Robert Davis and Michael Langlois; Oli Watt; Paul D’Amto’s photographs of public housing projects; Nick Cave’s sound suits; Art Shay’s photos; Wesley Kimler’s large-scale painting Five Sisters mixes abstraction and realism; Marcos Raya, one of the chief members of the Mexican mural movement; Gertrude Abercrombie’s surreal paintings, Dom Baum’s assemblages, Suellen Rocca’s Imagist work with organic forms and strong color; self-taught Henry Darger’s works on paper; sculpture by Richard Hunt; and my favorite–Arthur B. Davies who introduced European modernism to the US.
His work Helen, The Dawn Flower from 1908 is stunning. A nude stands in front of a drawn curtain. She is elongated but somehow still elegant and refined.
On view through March 4, 2012.
Robert Overby at Rhona Hoffman Gallery
You have until January 21st to catch the current exhibition of underappreciated artist Robert Overby’s work at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago. Long before Rachel Whiteread cast the inside of a house in London,Robert Overby, a California artist who lived from 1935-1993, layered latex and cheesecloth on the exterior of an abandoned house. The works that resulted from this now hang in Hoffman’s gallery from ceiling to floor. The two large scale works speak to each other across the main gallery space.
One with two holes where windows were and one a complete rectangle of layers and layers of latex. Overby was interested in the skins that resulted from his process, not a sculptural freestanding object left behind. What I love about the works are the imperfections, the details you notice in the textures. Unlike a photo, the casting process literally captures details of a space–paint, wood, etc. And to Overby, process was key.
Be sure to also check out the works on paper in the other galleries which while textural, don’t carry as much emotive power as the large latex works–at least for me.
Born in 1935 in Harvey, Illinois, Overby attended the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in the mid-1950s and later moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a graphic designer and taught advertising and graphic design. There was a retrospective of his work at the UCLA’s Hammer Museum in 2000. Keep your eyes out for more exhibitions of his work in the upcoming months.