February 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
Elizabeth Huey’s paintings, drawings and collages are a strange assemblage of landscapes, early 19th century fashion and medical treatments. Colorful and overlapping images combine various narratives and settings, the overall effect of which is to create a sense of both bucolic ease and modern industrial distress.
These works are unsettling. They are moody and mysterious, a little confusing and off-kilter. There is an understated horror in the best of them. One wonders about the people and their ailments. These people are mad, they have been put away, and they suffer through their treatments. They are isolating, clinical, and one wonders if they work at all. She does not focus on the obvious cruelties we are used to hearing about, such as shock treatment. Instead we see instances of ether, hypnosis, baths, etc. The style emphasizes flatness, people and buildings are sometimes out of scale, and the colors often have a strange Autumnal hue to them.
It is the push-pull nature in them (madness and healing, open forests and sterile interiors, fashion and erotica) that keep me returning to them repeatedly.
All images were borrowed from Elizabeth Huey‘s website.
February 26, 2012 § 3 Comments
The Ungovernables, the newly opened triennial at the New Museum is uneven, as these large surveys tend to be. However, the curators have made an effort to turn the exhibition’s focus on to the global community of artists, especially those that tend to reference the politically and economically dicey past 30 years (which represents the entire life-span for most included artists). This is not about documenting what is going on in New York, or even in America. The art world has become truly global, both economically and creatively, and so it is nice to see a survey exhibition that embraces this reality.
It is impossible to like everything one sees, and I have to admit that the layout of the New Museum makes it hard to enjoy a number of these works as they are installed (a nice building on the outside, a disaster on the inside). Still, there were a number of artists that I did enjoy learning about. Adrian Villar Rojas stole the show with his monstrous, futuristic robotic-hybrid made of white clay over a wooden structure. The clay, drying out and cracking, offers a sense of vulnerability and decay to what visually looks like an all-powerful Armageddon machine. This effect is heightened by the sheer scale of the work, which is truly impressive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the work of Hu Xiaoyuan, who traces the lines of wood planks on thin white silk, then paints over the wood, and covers it with the silk tracing. This both abstracts the wood, and lends it an intimate and hand-made quality that leaves one with a sense of humble beauty and dedication. A number of these plank works are installed, but since they are in a passage way, between a video room and the elevator doors, they look like a pile of garbage the installers forgot to throw out. Perhaps this deception was intentional on the curator’s part, but if so it is a conceit that failed, as the works are delicate and pretty enough to demand a quiet corner in another part of the room. While I wasn’t crazy about most of the paintings by Lynette Yiadom Boakye, the largest one, a portrait of a black boy in a striped shirt, jumped off the wall, and was one of my favorite pieces in the entire show. Boakye’s other works tended to be a little too self-concious, trying to hard to show their “unfinished state”, and combining the style of traditional history and scene paintings with black subjects that didn’t really do anything. In this portrait, though, the boy almost melds into the background, he is present and effusive, confident but not calling attention to himself, traditional and yet a breath of fresh air.
Mariana Telleria had a number of works installed on white wall shelves. She emphasises the materiality of small found objects. A half-inflated balloon is inserted through a metal ring, a broken bottle is left as just that, vines and twigs are twisted together and that is enough. I do not think that any one of these works could carry the stature of “art” on its own. It takes the collected assembly of various materials and objects to carry the whole thing off, but when done right it is a nice balance of found natural curiosities and well-known knickknacks that are transformed with the simplest of additions. Pratchaya Phinthong’s pile of Nigerian money greets visitors as soon as they exit the top floor elevators. As a nod of the head to global economics, political corruption, and national desperation it is a simple but effective sculpture. As the value of the artist’s holdings change, the size of the pile changes, the larger the face values become, the more the color scheme alters. A fitting work for this day and age.
Lastly, I enjoyed watching the members of The Propeller Group debate how to re-brand Communism for the contemporary world, how to “sell” it as a consulting group would advise a corporation, and then create the storyboard for a commercial hawking the revitalized brand. I like these creative approaches that combine real-world work models with an artistic vision. Encorporating video, institutional critique, research, information, and many other artistic practices, this still comes up with an entertaining end product. This is the kind of collaborative effort and process that I would like to see more of. Of course, one of the artists I most wanted to see at the New Museum (Gary Ross Pastrana, from The Philippines) I was unable to find on any floor. Overall, though, I give the curators credit for having such an international focus, and for bringing together artists with a focus that touch on real issues and realities, as opposed to bland, overly general themes that other recent biennials have suffered from.
All photographs were taken by me. For more information on the exhibition, visit the New Museum website.
February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Martin & Munoz hover between photography and sculpture. Their work surrounds the idea of the snow-globe. What is traditionally viewed as a cheap vacation tchotchke has been transformed into a storybook world full of dark deed and misadventures. What has always caught my eye are the actual snow-globes that they create. Small in scale, and usually keeping with the snow theme and actual snow, they are small self-contained stories. Murder, accidents, war, animal attacks, the narratives are full of terrible things that belay the almost pure and innocent nature of the chosen sculptural medium. Someone with a more active imagination might view these sculptures as the all seeing-eye that is often used in fantasy stories (think: Wizard of Oz, or The Lord of the Rings). I tend to see them as captured memories, in this case horrible events that have been bottled and put on a shelf; in this way, they can no longer torment, but should never be forgotten.
I admit that I am more drawn to the globes than to the framed photographs that Martin & Munoz also show. The imagery in the photographs is similar to that of the globes (the works in this exhibition are based on The Night), and I enjoy investigating them, tracking the actions of all the characters. The sets are beautifully photographed. However, the large photographs lose the sense of intimacy. The flat nature of the prints removes them from the viewer a bit, they tend to become a recording of a world, as opposed to a whole world in and of itself. Interestingly, the globes in this show were installed on a wall mount, all in a row, in the back room of the gallery space, as opposed to being spread throughout the gallery on pedestals. This not only prevents viewers from walking around the globes, but also seemed to make them seem less important, whereas I think they deserved much more attention and light.
November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
I have an awful lot of catching up to do, so the next couple of posts will be short. Tomo Matsuyama’s show at Joshua Liner Gallery closed in October, but was a great collection of new work, showcasing not just paintings and drawings but sculptural and installation motifs as well.
Tomo’s work is a great hybrid of both traditional Japanese themes and contemporary urban style. Often one will come across a large canvases with a feel of historical narratives, such as horsemen in battle, but using bright neon colors with built-up layers of paint. There is a dynamic looseness to the work even though the compositions are tightly constructed. Tomo also creates murals, and is influenced by street art, and some of the scale and levity of these pursuits can be seen in these works, especially the small works on paper he had on display here.
Additional installation images and information can be found on the Joshua Liner site.
October 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
The 1970’s (at least, everything that the 1970’s was supposed to be) is still alive and well in the drawings and paintings of David Kramer. The NYC-based artist has just opened a new show at Heiner Contemporary in Washington D.C. I first came across him at the Laurant Godin booth in last year’s Armory Show, and it is a pleasure to be able to see more of his work now.
The main image sources for Kramer are magazines from the 70’s, with their colorful ads and glossy pages, the cars and the cigarettes and the naked women and the hot tubs. Crazy color schemes and clashing clothes, turtlenecks under tweed jackets, headbands, swingers, hi-fi, jai-alai. Kramer utilizes these sources to great effect, giving his work an older visual reference style but keeping it fresh and contemporary. The fact that the works are more sketchy than completed helps keep them from being just windows on a time period. A number of artists use porn magazines from the 70’s and 80’s, and it is good that Kramer looks beyond that. His is a broader scope, his quest isn’t for a pre-AIDS sex romp, he wants a pre-Regan smoothness.
The artist also includes text in his work: thoughts, funny stories, observations. Kramer doesn’t want to re-live the 1970s, he wants the kind of life that was promised to him when he was growing up there. The words, then, are personal and intimate, funny and a little sad, as the artist struggles with adulthood. The fact that the works tell us he has come up shorter than he would like make them accessible to anyone who views them; we are all part of the same club.
All artworks are copyright David Kramer. A nice interview of the artist by Matthew Smith can be found on the New American Paintings blog. All images were borrowed from Heiner Contemporary, where the exhibition continues through October.