Newsletter: May 2012
Cindy Sherman at MoMA
I should absolutely start by saying that I love Cindy Sherman’s work. Her black and white film stills from the 70s are some of the smartest pieces I have seen. And her entire oeuvre examines identity in a way no other artist has. But after being away from NYC and visiting the show subsequent to reading reviews (something I try to avoid), I have to say that I was disappointed. There were a number of great things about the show: the film stills , the room of history portraits, seeing all of her work together in one space allowed viewers to appreciate what she has accomplished over the years. But overall, I felt as if I had seen everything before. If you have seen one Cindy Sherman from a particular series, is it absolutely necessary to see 10 more? Sure, if you have the time and stamina. But if one is visiting NYC, there are so many other things worth seeing that will be new and fresh. However…
I am including images from the works that I responded to. One of the best parts of this exhibition is seeing so many of the black and white film stills from the late 70s/early 80s hung together. I thought I had seen all of them, and while I did recognize many, there were a lot I had never seen before. And hung together, they were marvelous!
Hanging the history portraits salon style was genius. The viewer can immerse himself in them in this small back gallery. Placing herself within the context of Old Masters paintings, these are some of Sherman’s finest works. Sherman is not trying to fool the viewer into believing these are real scenes or that she has “become” a particular character. We see the spot where the bald cap meets her head; we can clearly see the fake breasts and the unevenly applied bushy eyebrows on some of her characters. The works are playful but at their core about identity and how false perceptions can truly be.
In the final two galleries we see Sherman’s most recent photographs of herself as members of the upper class–the 1%. Her portrayal of these overly-tanned divas with sagging skin is spot on, making us almost feel sorry for them for their pitiful vanity.
It’s funny, one of the pieces of art I have always wanted to own for my collection is a portrait of Cindy Sherman by the photographer, Martin Schoeller. It is a close up of her face, little makeup, freckles, and no costumes; this is as close to the artist as a person as we will ever get. We normally see the quiet Sherman dressed up as someone else. Seeing her exposed and vulnerable held great appeal for me. It’s as if those eyes have really lived all of the moments she has created in her art.
Cindy Sherman will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art New York through June 11, 2012.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at SF MoMA
There is an amazing Mark Bradford show at SFMoMA as well but I have written at length over the years about his work. Instead I thought I would tell you about the wonderful exhibition of works by Dutch photographer, Rineke Dijkstra on view through May 28th. Whether it be through her famous beach series in which she photographed adolescents in their bathing suits in various places throughout the world, providing a glimpse into differences in comfort levels and body perception in various cultures, or through her series of bullfighters having just walked out of the ring, Dijkstra’s goal has always been to capture a “moment of truth” in her work.
In the 90s, she focused on imagery of people who had experienced traumas such as the bullfighters and women who had just given birth. In one of her most famous series, she takes pictures of Almerisa, a 6 year-old from Bosnia, whom she photographed every 1-2 years. We see the transformation from girl to woman and the cycle of life as the last images is of Almerisa and her own child.
Her works always have simple backdrops so we can focus on the moods and emotions of her subjects. The fact that most of her sitters are less than 20 years of age, an age when there is a perceived freedom and lack of fear, an false sense of immortality gives her works a power and truth that makes me actually long for my youth. Don’t get me wrong, their angst and vulnerability are palpable, but that is what makes us connect–we have all been there.
Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks at the MCA
I have to say I have a totally newfound respect for Rashid’s work after hearing him speak this past Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Message to Our Folks, his first major solo museum show, has been titled after a 1969 album by the avant garde jazz troupe called Art Ensemble Chicago. He selected the title because he liked the idea of “folks.” He wondered Who are “our folks?” Who is the collective us? Who is the message to? Viewers will either be embraced or distanced by the title. It was conscious decision to put the title inside the first gallery as opposed to the more common practice of placing it and the introductory wall text outside of the galleries. He wanted the viewer to read about the show while standing on an actual work, the wooden floor. He made the crowd the laugh by describing his desire to make the viewer look down in the first gallery (at the floor), up in the second (at the salon style hanging of photographs), and then down again at a work called “Black Yoga” which consists of a Persian rug and a video monitor of a man doing yoga all placed on the floor in the middle of the gallery. By nodding your head up and down by the time you make it to the third gallery, “you’ve already agreed with the show,” he stated.
Over his 14 year career, Rashid’s work has been about the exploration of the physicality of materials–an investigation of both visual and conceptual constructions of identity and abstraction using commonplace objects such as plants, books, records, soap and shea butter. He appropriates and his work is riddled with art historical references. Of course, his experience as a black man in the United States informs his entire oeuvre.
Rashid explained to the large crowd who had gathered to hear him speak to the curator of the exhibition, Julie RodriguesWidhom, that he uses materials that he was influenced by that had significance for him. The work is informed by these known materials. (Persian rugs from a trip to West Africa, shea butter from growing up in a home that used it for healing, plants which require the nurturing touch of the owner, CB radios that he and his dad used.) Viewers can either identify with the objects as well making it a shared conversation, “a collective conversation” or not. But things are continuously introduced and reintroduced in his work. Though being a black man influences his output, he explained that he experienced no trauma as a result of it, and he was careful to make the distinction between a person’s history and a collective history. He deals with his neuroses more than any tragedies in his work. Rashid’s very educated history involved both a grandmother who attended college and a mother who was a professor at Northwestern–a historian and thus historical figures were very important in his house. An example of this can be seen in a photograph titled “Self-Portrait with my hair parted like Frederick Douglass.” He wondered, if you part your hair like a brilliant man, do you get any closer to being a brilliant man?
His interest in photography began when he worked with a wedding photographer; it eventually led him to portraiture and then he became the subject of his photographs. That led to his interest in light and the question how does light interact with surfaces? How is work brought to life by the way light reacts to it?
I really like what he said about his fascination with people who live somewhere but don’t really live there–they live in the past where their history is. He is interested in finding a “now” space. Rashid wants to connect to his own experience rather than live through experiences of people who came before him. He grew up in a home filled with Afro-centrism early on but that stopped and he told the audience that he felt abandoned. He said it’s like having a Bar Mitzvah and then having your parents tell you that the family is not going to be Jewish anymore. His value system had shifted and he had to negotiate how to live in the world after that. It is for this reason, and others, that the shifting nature of identity is a recurring theme for Rashid.
Julia asked him about how and why he makes what are considered paintings without actually using paint. He said “I have always been enormously concerned with painting, I have never been concerned with paint.” His floor pieces are actually subtractive, not additive. He considers himself a “photographer that came to sculpture and my sculpture looks like paintings.”
I am quite drawn to his branded oak floor works which he began recently in 2011. When hung on a wall, Rashid feels that they recall 1970s wood paneling. When asked about the iconography of palm trees and the cross hairs of a shotgun, he has logical explanations. Palm trees represented an opportunity, an escape vehicle. Being from Chicago, a trip to a destination with palm trees seemed like a privilege; it provided access. The cross hairs came from the logo of a group he loves, Public Enemy. He just loves the symbol which he finds formally aggressive. Across from the salon of photographs is a mirrored work which has the word “run” spray painted in white on it. Rashid is drawn to the word because it is the quick suggestion of something that moves your body. He likes simple suggestions that are significant and the word “run” and the cross hairs have a similar feeling. Is the gun pointing at me or am I pointing it at someone else? He explained that his work has no clear agenda but presents many views, some of them conflicting.
When asked why he uses mirrors in his work he brought it back to the discussion of “nowness” that began in graduate school. He gave the example of fixing one last thing in a mirror before you turn around and walk out into the world. We never seem to care or acknowledge that 10 minutes later that same flaw we fixed will be back. It is our “now” character who believes that what people see is the image we just saw in the mirror. We seem to know who we are in that “now” moment and we stay with that when presenting ourself to the world.
When asked about his use of oyster shells, he told us about an essay called “Sharpening My Oyster Knife” that he found interesting. He explained that there is never a need to sharpen an oyster knife. The author is subtly saying in her work, don’t worry about me, I am fine. I’m just sharpening my oyster knife. He thought it was brilliant.
Another literary reference was explained. In a large central work there is a book, The End of Blackness. Rashid told his audience that he was intrigued by the theories in the book. He went on to explain that if you can walk up to something then we can experience it together. But a collective group cannot walk up to concepts such as “blackness” so it cannot be monolithic.
In the first gallery “Sweet Sweet Runner” is a video from 2010 that references an independent film in which a black protagonist runs from white authorities. In this version, the protagonist is simply going on a jog in Central Park. In the next gallery, Rashid’s emotive portraits highlight the humanity of his subjects. One series considers black subjects within the history of photography. The double images and reflective nature in his pieces are influences from W.E. B. DuBois’s notion of “double consciousness” when one always looks at one’s self through the eyes of others.
A thorough look at the work of an artist who still has much to offer us.
Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks is on view at the MCA Chicago through August 5, 2012.
Mexico City Galleries
X no es la nueva Y is the new show by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on view at Galeria OMR. In Pulse Spiral, each light bulb shows the pulse of a previous participant. This work is a smaller version of Pulse Park which filled Madison Square Park in New York with pulsating light a few years ago. The way it hangs in the space it is like a living chandelier, registering heartbeats of all who enter.
I love all of Hemmer’s work and I had the pleasure of speaking with him at a dinner after the opening. Not only is he interesting, but he is also extremely friendly. In this work, the viewer stands in front of what appears to be a mirror while the eyes turn black. Smoke then billows up from the eye sockets and the eyes fall into the bottom right corner, adding to the bank of eyes of previous viewers.
In this work a bag fills with air and then deflates, just as a single breath would fill the bag. If the air flow stops, then it is as if the last breath has occurred.
Upstairs is a work with thousands of images of people kissing. When a person walks past the screen, the couple kisses. Settigns can be changed to show a steamier interaction as well as different combinations of sexes locking lips.
And the title of the show comes from an editioned piece which I am proud to now own as part of my collection. X no es la nueva Ylooks like a circuit breaker with two digital readouts that runs on a watch battery. It has over 500,000 variations and when one holds the red button down, a new statement is made such as: Mexico City is not the new Hong Kong. What a fun conversation piece at my next party!
Gabriel Kuri at Kurimanzutto
Sarah Lucas Nuds at Anahuacalli Museo Diego Rivera
I did not even know that this museum existed. Nor did I have any idea that Diego Rivera had over 50,000 pre-Hispanic works amassed in a collection that lives in this beautiful building. What a treat to enter this magnificent space! Jose Kuri was brilliant to have Sarah Lucas create works that were peppered throughout the building. This was one of the highlights of the trip.
I didn’t know where to look as I made my way throughout the marvelous space. Figurines were displayed in cases behind glass, Rivera’s murals flourished in the natural light of the main upstairs gallery.
Sarah Lucas made several works constructed of cigarettes. This drawing is of Leon Trotsky who was both friend of Rivera and lover of Kahlo before he was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940.
Lucas’s familiar stuffed nylon works seem less sexual and more regal in this environment. They dialogue nicely with the pre-Hispanic works.
Every room had a beautifully decorated ceiling.
Poule! at Fundación/Colección Jumex
I think that the Jumex Collection has some of the finest contemporary works around. However, most people agreed that the exhibition Poule!, though it proclaimed to being disparate in its selection of works and have no real theme, was too disconnected. The show did not feel curated at all; it seemed like just a random sampling from the collection and therefore the works didn’t necessarily dialogue with each other. The term “Poule” comes from trapshooting when the term “pull” is used. French and Belgians interpreted it as “poule,” the curator writes, but what that has to do with the works on view by artists such as Francis Alÿs, Miriam Backstrom, Slater Bradley, John McCracken, Hannah Wilke, and Oscar Muñoz, I could not figure out. I did like that the gorgeous space was not overhung. In particular, each work in the main gallery had its own space and felt fresh.
This wall of photographs displaying red smiley faces on every figure made me laugh. I found it refreshing that the artist did not take himself too seriously. It reminded me of Baldessari but more playful. I love the simple presentation of the photos lined up side by side and taped to the wall in a long line.
This was the most beautiful installation. Held between two sheets of glass, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the photographs in both black and white and color with varying shades of light and shadow.
Like a dilapidated Judd, this work by Carroll drew me over for closer inspection.
This narrow hallway was lined with ephemera and tchotchkes and I found the installation quite intriguing. There was also an Urs Fischer crushed cigarette carton suspended from a wire that traveled around in a circle, a video by Francis Alÿs of his tracking of a storm, and some precious wear cups perched on a ledge by George Stoll that one could almost miss if engaged by other works.
This year, rather than heading out to the infamous Jumex party at the actual plant, the party was held in the historic district in a gorgeous building near the Zócalo. It did not disappoint–a good time was had by all–as well as a lot of tequila!
Studio Visits in Mexico City
I was lucky enough to spend Saturday morning visiting three artists’ studios.
The first stop was the studio and home of Carlos Amorales who works in a variety of media. The project he is currently working on is for this year’s Manifesta. Amorales has created a machine that will make continuous charcoal drawings throughout the run of the exhibition. The drawings will be cut and hung on the wall much like we see here.
Next we headed to Emilio Chapela’s studio. I had seen his single-person booth at Henrique Faria’s stand at the fair and couldn’t wait to hear him talk about what I had seen. He is currently working on a project in Berlin where he has created a bookshelf and other artists will select titles and make books for it–the catch is that all of the books are made out of wood. Chapela sees books as a dying breed and so the physicality of them is intriguing. He takes wood from old “sleepers” (train tracks) and creates these gorgeous books.
Chapela searches images and phrases on Google and those become elements of his work. In the work above he typed in the word “appliance” and these are the images that come up. The work becomes both abstracted and a statement about society as we move further away from human interaction and spend more time in front of our computers.
Here is another example of Chapela’s wooden and numbered books. Just as our books sit on most of our shelves and go unread, these books that have no pages become decorative objects in the home.
Maximo Gonzalez could not have been more welcoming. His work is varied and consists of drawings as well as wall works and sculpture but currency can be found in most of his creations. Utilizing currency that is out of circulation he either pushes holes and creates tapestries of patterns of negative space, or he glues fragments together to create woven textural abstractions like you see in the image below (a crappy image that does not do the work justice at all).
Zona Maco 2012
Sparse is the adjective I would use to describe the interior of the Zona Maco fair. I went three years ago (the year that Swine Flu broke out) and felt that this year the fair had lost some of its sophistication and clout from previous iterations. That was until I stepped into the vans that shuttled visitors to the collateral events for the fair held in various locations around Mexico City. I soon learned how well attended Maco is –I met curators, collectors, dealers and artists from all over the world. It was amazing! And with galleries like Lisson, Sadie Coles and Salon 94 participating, there was some stellar work to be seen. I particularly enjoyed the section of younger galleries and the single artist booths. However, the design area was in a terrible location and fell flat.
Highlights for me:
I loved the video installation at Max Wigram’s booth.
In two corners of Galleria Continua’s booth were Daniel Buren installations with mirrors that I found appealing.
Mario Mauroner’s booth was topped with a neon cow. Hard to miss.
Lisson came with some big guns including an Anish Kapoor, Lawrence Weiner and this beautiful Richard Deacon.
I fell in love with this colorful felt-filled coffee table at Enrique Guerrero.
I just found this visually fun.
I loved this installation at Nordenhake’s booth!