Archive for October, 2013

In the Cards

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Absence, on view now at Paula Cooper Gallery, is comprised of four different bodies of work by Sophie Calle, but Where and When? Lourdes is the most psychologically compelling work.  It opens like this: “I had asked Maud Kristen, a clairvoyant, to predict my future so that I could catch up to it and meet it.”

Sophie Calle, "Absence" at Paula Cooper Gallery

Where and When? includes photographs, texts, and sculptures that document Calle’s series of consultation with a card-reading psychic.  After a few false starts, the psychic ultimately directs Calle to Lourdes, the famous religious pilgrimage destination credited with more than sixty miraculous interventions by the Virgin Mary.  Throughout the journey to Lourdes, Calle processes thoughts about her ailing mother, a recent break-up, the possibility of random and imminent life changes, and the constant return of absence.  She also selectively documents her interactions with the locals of Lourdes, some of them humorous, others profound.  But the real project here is to see what happens when Calle surrenders control:

“The point of this game is not to confirm or deny Maud Kirsten’s gift for clairvoyance.  I want to let myself be manipulated, controlled.  To go into a future that I never imagined and, even if Maud refuses to give me orders, become the passive object of my destiny through her visions.  Relinquish myself.  Give up.”

Then again, racing after her future is more like an excess of control, a usurpation; it’s like a coup against destiny.

Sophie Calle at Paula Cooper Gallery

Facing this destabilization of control, Calle encounters resistance on the part of control, in form of rules and customs.  -There is crowd control, for example: “A couple walks past.  A man with his arm around the waist of a woman pushing a pram.  Their looks order me to step aside: a descendant gives you certain rights.”  -And there is decorum: “How do I speak to the Virgin?  I take advice from friends.  ‘If it’s a first interview, say vous not tu,” advises Fabio.  Florence suggests: Dear Miss, dear Madam, or dear Virgin.  She adds, ‘If you come back in a wheel chair, it means everything’s fine.'”  -Finally, there the way Calle records the haunting surveillance of a numerological follower, which is the number eleven.  She has a consultation on November 11th at 11am.  A ride in train car number eleven.  A mass with an audience of eleven.  A “medium-size” candle for 5.5 euros.  And so on.

Sophie Calle at Paula Cooper Gallery

Throughout this work, Calle delivers with great agility some combinations of wit and wonder, such as this one about an effervescent interpreter of miracles: “He suggests a meeting with the bishop.  ‘You won’t be bored.  His name is Perrier, like the sparkling water, and he is incredibly bubbly. The man is unique.  He is the only person in the world who does what he does. A doctor who does not treat anyone.  A doctor who only examines patients who declare themselves to be cured.  A doctor for the miraculously cured.'”

Sophie Calle at Paula Cooper Gallery

Finally, there are limits to Calle’s willingness to relinquish control.  Calle has traveled all the way to Lourdes, and even considered walking there, but now at Lourdes’ sacred grotto, she can’t bring herself to kneel (“That’s going to be difficult.”), nor can she hold her attention for more than the prescribed ten minutes (“I could stay longer, it’s not unpleasant, but the restaurant closes at nine.”).

One lesson from Calle’s story is that absence is not always counterbalanced with physical presence.  It’s possible to have both simultaneously.  Calle’s mother has three months to live, but Calle already invokes her name in the past tense.  “Was my mother a good mother?  I’m already using the past tense…”My mother, still alive and already absent.”  “Was my mother a good mother?” is the same as “Will she be remembered as a good mother?” which is a speculation about how the future will evaluate the past, not to mention the unattainable standard set by the Virgin Mother; her time-tested criteria make us bound to fail.

"Every time my mother passed by the Bristol Hotel, she stopped, crossed herself, and told us to shut up. "Silence!" she said. "This is where I lost my virginity."

The closing line could be the opening to a sequel: “Now the cards know that they can send me anywhere.”

Met with Skepticism

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Will the Metropolitan Museum of Art begin to charge admission with its new lease provision?

“While the Met said it has no plans to change its current policy of a suggested $25 admission price for adults, the lease’s new language opens the possibility that in the future, with the city’s permission, the museum could charge a required fee, rather than suggested admission.” -WSJ

“Harold Holzer, the museum’s senior vice president for public affairs, who oversees admissions and visitor services, said that ‘we have no plans to institute either of the above, and no plans to make plans.’” –NY Times

But try to parse this statement: “We are extremely grateful that the City, which has long provided essential operating support to the Met, has moved now to reaffirm a policy that not only allows visitors to pay what they wish at the door, but has encouraged us to offer same-week entrance at no additional cost to the Cloisters museum and gardens in Fort Tryon Park, and has enabled us to provide free-with-admission access to all special exhibitions, as well as cost-free gallery tours, curatorial lectures, library access, and visits by New York City school groups.” –Met Director Thomas Campbell, with italics added

-It sounds as if either visitors will pay for special exhibitions, or “yeah but no.”

New Criteria

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

The Artist Volunteer Center is a new non-profit focused on art and volunteerism.  Founded by artist and social activist Jason A. Maas, the AV Center aims to inspire and promote socially conscious artistic endeavors based on volunteerism.


Through its innovative model, participating volunteer artists will earn “cultural currency” to exchange for access to open-call and juried artist opportunities, and artists can apply for funding to develop and present socially conscious projects.  Moreover, artists can immerse themselves at the residency program, collaborative workspace, and an exhibition venue at The AV Center (set to open in 2014).

“The AV Center will be a destination for those seeking a forum to witness, present and participate in artwork that is derived from direct engagement with socially conscious issues,” says Maas. “Certainly our roots are in New York City, but our goal is for the organization to exact a global footprint, aiding and revitalizing communities through community service by artists, here and abroad.”

The AV Center is fiscally sponsored by Brooklyn Arts Council. The AV Center’s Advisory Board is in formation and currently includes Joyce Frost, Travis Laughlin, of the Joan Mitchell Foundation; Kristian Nammack, activist, independent curator, and art industry consultant; Jay Paavonpera, and Gregg Petan.

On behalf of the Advisory Board, Mr. Nammack said, “We want to encourage artists to develop a consistent relationship with volunteerism and the communities they are serving by engaging in ongoing volunteer activities that require prolonged involvement. We look at volunteerism as mutual aid and not charity. Both parties benefit as equal partners in the personal relationships they forge.”

Maas adds, “Volunteering is one of the most meaningful human experiences. Artists have the remarkable gift to take their experiences and share them. Therefore, it is critical to the development of culture that we, first, help artists become volunteers, and, second, allow their voice to be heard.”

The AV Center will debut a launch event in New York on October 29th to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.  This launch event will begin the 100 Hour AV Challenge, starting with a day of service to benefit the Henry Street Settlement.  There is also an open competition to design a mural based on the theme, The Power of Volunteerism.

Objects of Life

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Our oceans have warmed by almost one degree fahrenheit in the past 40 years, sea levels rose almost eight inches in the past 100 years, and the Arctic sea ice has lost more than 300,000 square miles per decade since 1979. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have passed, in parts of the world, 400 parts per million – the highest in millions of years. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported 95% certainty that humans are responsible for climate change, up from 66% in 2001. And based on our current CO2 emissions, our atmosphere will become dangerous before the end of this century. For doomsday scenarios, how about this one, which already is under way?


Luckily, we have artists committed to environmental topics and practices. And these artists have traditions to support them. Mary Mattingly is one of these committed artists. Her current show, House and Universe, at Robert Mann Gallery, combines photographs and sculptures about cycles of consumption.

Mary Mattingly, "House and Universe" at Robert Mann Gallery

For starters, Mattingly consolidates her belongings into clusters that she calls “man-made boulders,” then performs with them in set-up photos to demonstrate her views about alternative ways we might live with the things we consume. For example, Pull (2013), in which the artist does just that to a twine-bound bundle of belongings, suggests an itinerant (and labor-intensive) practice that makes use of existing urban infrastructure. (Would Push be too Sisyphean?)  Mobile living might be in our futures, and the obvious way to facilitate this way of living is to reduce our possessions. (Then again, most young renters in the City are familiar with this lifestyle.)

Mary Mattingly, "Pull" and "Life of Objects" (both 2013)

More poignant is Life of Objects (2013), in which that cumbersome bundle rests on top of a fetal-positioned nude figure. Although the boulder seems massive, the figure does not appear distressed, and there’s even an ergonomic negotiation between the contours of the model’s upper body and the boulder. This picture asks: Are we overwhelmed by our weighty consumption? Is there an ideal proportion between individuals and their belongings? And could we repurpose our consumed goods as sheltering resources? Mattingly seems to believe that we could. About the model/boulder stack, she writes:

“Cradled in the curve of the spine, these ‘things’ are also our blanket and thus our protection. Subsequent works like Floating a Boulder and Flock explicate the ways that wayside objects can transform into clothing, transportation, or shelter in a post-apocalyptic world.”

Mary Mattingly, "House and Universe" at Robert Mann Gallery

Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969-70) appears in Mattingly’s Filling Double Negative (in collaboration with Greg Lindquist) (2013), and other images in this show might remind viewers of Robert Smithson, Ana Mendieta, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and even Robert Rauschenberg. What’s interesting is that these senior pioneers did not have explicit environmentalist agendas, but through Mattingly’s references and citations, possible environmentalist dimensions of those artists’ output might rise to the surface.

Viewers can glean a sense of Mattingly’s optimism by examining her resourcefulness with materials, her provisional experimentation, and above all, her readiness to make lemonade from the lemons that climate change might give. Is there a utopia in store for the humans who survive a CO2 saturated atmosphere – the 500 ppm club? If so, Mattingly might already have begun to supply a vocabulary for it.


Love You Tender

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

At first glance, Mark Wagner‘s medium is “money.”  But on a closer look at Money, Power, Sex, & Mark Wagner at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, Wagner’s application of collaged banknotes goes beyond those materials and reaches toward concepts more abstract: value, consensus, obsession. The legal tenderness of each “currency collage on panel” squirms under a viewer’s scrutiny of the cut-up money he reconstitutes into Byzantine pictures, grotesque portraits, kaleidoscopic patterns, and one elegant map.

Mark Wagner, "All Other Factors Remaining Equivalent... A Bird in Hand," 2013

In a world where one trillion dollars in market value can disappear in minutes – and then reappear just as quickly – does a sweaty dollar bill mean much? Then again, as the most frequently traded currency in the world, the dollar opens doors! Milton Friedman famously proposed a “helicopter drop” to raise demand and counter falling prices. By raining down money on ordinary people, spending would increase and prices would rise.

Still, despite that tantalizing image, the dollar really has value based on proportions and credit. In Wagner’s words:

“Though omnipresent, money is becoming increasingly ephemeral. Once it was fully tangible…stamped metal disks. Then it was a piece of paper that stood for an amount of metal held somewhere else. Then the piece of paper was divorced from the metal and valued only in faith. And now paper has given way to electronic currency. The closer you look, the harder it is to see.”

Zimbabwean currency in Pratchaya Phinthong's "What I learned I no longer know; the little I still know, I guessed,"

Mark Wagner’s impressive dexterity yields an expansive pictorial vocabulary, rich with enchanting details, seductive textures, surprising transformations, and a monstrous baby. George Washington, of course, initially seems to be the recognizable star of each image, but one starts to realize how he is the face of the dollar more than the face of himself. The intaglio-furrowed George Washington is not the same as the Crossing-the-Delaware Washington. The real star here is the decorated uniform of the dollar itself: the filigree, the seals, the flora and fauna. Looking at these collages might remind us about how much we take for granted of such a mobilizing or paralyzing element of our daily lives.

"Lincoln's, too (Mercurys and Subarus)"

How much actual money went into these collages? Wagner answers this, with a twist, in his catalog:

“A dozen years of cutting up money at up to a thousand dollars a year has generated only a couple pint jars of true refuse. In a way these jars of minced, mangled, and tangled oddments are more compelling than the collages themselves. Any day I might point the art wand at them, declare them a sculpture, and effectively reduce wasted currency to zero.”