Author Archive

Step by Step

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

After a week of working on my taxes and reviewing receipts, invoices, and statements, I found myself revisiting my last year of activities.  Dinner with a curator friend.  Buying a catalogue after a museum visit.  Donating to an alumni fund.  What did I gain from these exchanges?  Was I better off?  With these questions in mind, it was fitting for me to finally see Gerard & Kelly’s Timelining at The Kitchen, curated by Tim Griffin.  Timelining looks like experimental couples therapy, but it feels like the afterlife.

For Timelining, intimately related pairs of performers circumnavigate the gallery at The Kitchen while reciting items from personal timelines. These pairs include couples, ex-lovers, roommates, family members; these timelines include memories, milestones, and other life events, all the way back to being born. “We think of this relationship as a ‘ready-made,’” says Ryan Kelly.

Astride through circle after circle around the psychosocially loaded space, the performers take turns unspooling chains of memories in reverse chronological order, chains linked by the spatially specific connective, “in front of.” For example, “Got malaria…in front of…went to Ghana.”

Gerard & Kelly, "Timelining" (2014). Performance view, The Kitchen, New York, NY. Pictured: Ted Henigson and Todd McQuade. Courtesy of the artist and Kate Werble Gallery.

Intermittently, one performer will stop while the other paces ahead. Or one pivots from the shared path and and orbits in the opposite direction, like the sun departing its ocean reflection, then reconnecting hours later. Occasionally, the performers rupture their text-based recitations and break into movement. Most of this movement seems literal and mimetic, and accompanied by narration: swimming motions, upward stretches, or twisting contortions. All of these stops, pivots, and movements are parts of a disciplined choreography made up of devices and maneuvers – rules – with names like “loop,” “link,” “trigger,” and “movement-memory-snapshot.”

Although these rule-based performances – “scores” – are based on scripts and crafted from rehearsals, they will appear to most viewers spontaneous and dynamic. That’s because the performers have a lot to juggle. In addition to the architecture of the performance, described above, each performer must tune into cues from his or her partner. Also, the performers respond to audience members arriving and leaving.  During my first visit, I was referred to as “black sneakers,” a friend as “stripes,” due to his striped sweater.

Gerard and Kelly, "Timelining" (2014). Performance view, The Kitchen, New York. (Image: Ian Douglas. Pictured: R.B. Schlather and Adam Weinert.)

Within one or two revolutions around the gallery, the memories can span from uncompromising adulthood to tender childhood. For example, one performer reached from adult decisions like “Got sober” and “Got into BDSM” to childhood caprice, such as, “My sister counting my toes.” Public events (“Obama was elected” or “Marine Le Pen won the primary” commingle with private encounters, often existential: sex, relocation, death, first times and last times. And because these memories resurface as the performers cycle through their timelines, their description varies each time (ergo, “A picture of my sister counting my toes”). They also stack up into interesting compounds. Take this sequence: “I realized that I do not have wealth… in front of… “I considered nursing school”…in front of… “I had a bulging disc.” But quotidian bits arise, especially at the beginning of each score: “I forgot to email someone” and “The C train was running express.”

The Kitchen’s gallery is painted in white cube drag, but it’s not a neutral tabula rasa. A bold black line stretches more than three quarters into the space, like a road surface marking. In one corner, colored lights shine through holes in the wall. On the walls, drafted lines connect nail holes to each other. These all are vestiges of the previous show. The space itself has a timeline. Moreover, copper panels in the gallery and entrance bear braille text: snippets from the transcript of Kelly and Gerard’s own timelines. Why braille? Perhaps because braille uniquely combines bodily movement and text, just like the Timelining performance itself. Or because it has an irresistible tactile appeal, as evidenced by the oily fingerprints that remain on the copper surfaces.

Timelining reveals ways an individual really is buffeted through life by external forces, or piloted (or hijacked) by seeds planted early in life. And you get to see the consequences laid out bare, revisited numerous times during each score. Yet, I also felt an uncanny sense of purgatory. There’s something abeyant about these memories and events when you hear them recounted in this particular setting. First, the only climax is the present, and only the present is the climax. Second, the memories and events are neutrally indexed without evaluation, without signifying the weight of goodness or badness through drama or expressive fire. (Though surely, a viewer projects his or her own.) Do these Timeline markers amount to a sum? A judgment? Or do they merely populate the otherwise null period between “Now” and “I was born”? What if St. Peter, at the Pearly Gates, read a dutiful index of events instead of a dramatic legacy of pluses and minuses?

Brennan Gerard says, “One of the other things that happens with memory is that when someone remembers and it’s so specific that when you hear it or read it, it feels like you had it too. That’s the weird thing about it. It’s totally subjective, but somehow impersonal—like it doesn’t belong to that person. In fact, it’s communal.” He’s referring to the role of memory in intersubjectivity – the ways identities build other identities. Or as Kelly says, “We are formed by being undone by one another.” -Indeed, the most trodden surfaces of Timelining, intentional or not, seem to be major unifying events that tower over the collective memories of performers and audience: Reagan, AIDS, Gulf War, Bush, 9/11, Iraq, Obama. What will Timelining look like ten years from Now?

Lobby Art

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Auction houses have hired well-connected lobbyists to prevent artists from receiving royalties when their work sells at auction, according to the New York Times.

Of course, artists deserve royalties when their work sells.  Art objects are not commodities, in the conventional sense.

Hilary Harkness, "Mother Lode," 2006 - (depicts a Christies auction of Rockettes and their gestation)

 

Then again: “The auction houses worry that the proposed royalty bill would encourage more sellers to abandon public auctions for private deals.” -This seems to be a valid concern, because private deals in the secondary market can be notoriously secretive.  Art professionals deserve a public record of secondary market sales, for which auction records suffice.  Moreover, auctions are better for the public because major sales usually include a public or semi-public preview of the art for sale, before it disappears into private hands.  And ultimately, if auction houses can bring a seller a better profit, which is likely, then sellers will stick to the auction houses.

But then: “‘The Internet Association does not support the American Royalties Too Act,’ said the group’s president and chief executive, Michael Beckerman, arguing it will constrict the free market.” -Actually, there is no such thing as a free market. That is just a myth that greedy people invoke when they don’t want to play by rules.  In fact, the auction houses already defy this so-called free market.  Here is an example: “Christie’s and Sotheby’s have had trouble widening their profit margins in recent years, partly because of incentives they’ve given to big-ticket sellers to win their business.”

The most crass argument: “Sotheby’s and Christie’s have also argued that royalties would benefit only the wealthiest artists and estates, because they are the ones most frequently sold in the secondary market.” -But royalties would allow these wealthy artists to invest in studio assistants, archivists, production specialists, web designers, and more.

Action Figures

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Dan McCarthy’s  fifth solo show at Anton Kern Gallery features deceptively brushy new paintings and drawings, and more than thirty Facepots – McCarthy’s ceramic vessels pegged with facial features.

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

These images look simple and iconic, yet highly expressive.  The titles derive from rock album titles, while McCarthy’s subject matter seems to focus on a universalized summer of love, where individuals dance and revel, play guitar, skate, and commingle with birds – most of this while naked.  Gender is evident through bare breasts and phallic guitars, but it feels like a loose suggestion. Everyone in the paintings seems gleeful, perhaps aglow with sexual liberation.  That’s less true in the drawings, where the aforementioned birds seem too close for comfort.

Through an innovative process, McCarthy transfers these images, like monoprints, from a painted to canvas to another one, which is slathered with layers of marbleized gesso.  His figures are luminous with Easter-egg hues that could convey emotional states, colored festival lighting, or the magic hour around sunset.  Either way, the colors transplant their bearers to a higher order, where origin and language lose priority to immediacy and joie de vivre.

Dan McCarthy, "Peach Tree," 2013 (l) and "Partridge Family," 2013 (r) (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

That is not to say that they are beautiful by conventional standards of appearance.  McCarthy does not tantalize us with titillating curves, attenuated midriffs, and defined muscles, which we might anticipate when pondering a Rite of Spring or utopian summer festival.  Then again, ecstatic liberty and play are more beautiful features than chiseled abs, aren’t they?

But what utopia is not engineered?  The chromatic, dancing figures remind me of the Crakers, the genetically engineered post-humans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  Here is how Crakers mate:

“There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat.  Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen – a trick of variable pigmentation filched from the baboons with a contribution from the expandable chromosphores of the octopus. … Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females – just as male penguins present round stones, said Crake, or as the male silverfish presents a sperm packet.  At the same time they indulge in musical outbursts, like songbirds. Their penises turn bright blue to match the blue abdomens of the females, and they do a sort of blue-dick dance number, erect members waving to and fro in unison, in time to the foot movements and the singing: a feature suggested to Crake by the sexual semaphoring of crabs. From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left.  Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quartet find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades.  And that is that.”  

Like the gift round stones above, the glossy Facepots supplement the action.  They smile mutely; they are Mr.-Potato-Head caryatids, or graven sock-puppet ancestral busts.  The bright colors and bite-size scale might remind a viewer of candy, peppers, and fruit while studying the eyes, noses, and mouths of these ceramic faces.

"Facepots" by Dan McCarthy (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

 The Facepots series also serves as a bridge to McCarthy’s drawings in the back (maybe an Anton Kern Gallery tradition).  Here, the birds seem ready, or at least capable, to menace the splotchy faces, pecking at the eyes and mouths.  One blue bird either kisses or pecks at the cheek of a pompadoured face with a Joker smile.  Similarly ambiguous rictus-to-rictus contact occurs between a crying face and a blue hummingbird.  Finally, a canary seems to scale the disheveled face of a redhead with blue tongue sticking out, as if that head is turned on its side.  Who trusts who more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Art, American Dream

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Keith Mayerson has gained international recognition for his paintings and comics. This month, he reaches a career milestone, with an extraordinary painting installation at the Whitney Biennial that coincides with a solo exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery. Keith was kind enough to converse with me about painting, teaching, and how to “get personal” in art practice, in all the best ways.

Keith Mayerson at the Whitney Biennial 2014 (Image: Derek Eller Gallery)

MB: The works you exhibit in the Whitney Biennial represent each series of paintings you exhibited in galleries throughout the last twenty years, such as Hamlet 1999 and Good Leaders, Endangered Species.  But of course, each painting is part of a whole.  How did you choose what to include and exclude?

KM: I had ideas for one-painting shows, three-painting shows, etc., but also for a large cosmology to be entitled My American Dream.   As you know, Michael, I have been teaching at SVA for over sixteen years in their Cartooning and Illustration Dept., and am their “Cartooning Coordinator”, and feel in some ways an avant garde cartoonist. Even though I’ve published a graphic novel with the writer Dennis Cooper long ago in 1986 – and then again more recently, it was republished by Harper Perennial – the bulk of my artistic output is as an artist who makes nonlinear narrative installations of paintings and drawings that hopefully stand on their own for form and content, but also, when juxtaposed purposefully against other images, do tell a larger story.

My American Dream was born out of mostly the last four years of having painted from images I take myself of my own life of my own family and world (loving John and Yoko, post-Beatles, when they wrote and sang about their own lives and it was powerful and emotional enough to relate to others), after a long (I’ve been exhibiting for twenty years now!) career of appropriation (The Beatles, I feel, were the first post-modern band in that they would speak through avatars: they weren’t the Beatles, they were “Sgt. Pepper”; it wasn’t they who were lonely, it was “Eleanor Rigby!”) and abstraction (music without the lyrics, but for me also harnessing emotion and the unconscious in iconic form).

But as I got older, I realized that much of my work, mostly in the last decade, had a lot to do with the theme of My American Dream, and luckily, Stuart Comer, who also wanted to mix old and new, knew that I had success in the past with my salon-style installations, and allowed me to go for it with this super salon. He curated from a large cosmology of works I presented, than I edited from that and so on. Stuart had some terrific ideas for works that were outside the box of the American-only parameters I had been initially thinking of, and I also added some suggestions.   In the end, as soon as I found out how much space I had, I worked on the layout, thinking about the narrative and visual flow, the relationships between the works, and the way the viewer might navigate the works and come to their own conclusions of what ultimately of what My American Dream could mean for the Twenty-first century.

Keith Mayerson, "Husbands (Andrew and I)", 2012

MB: According to the Whitney, these paintings unveil a narrative that “focuses simultaneously on subjects drawn from cultural history and the civil rights struggle and from Mayerson’s own life.”  What do these cultural figures mean to you?  How does your life relate to civil rights struggle?

KM: As a gay man, who is married to my partner of over 22 years, I see that the civil rights movement has helped to forge the place where we are now. While still a struggle, it’s a place where all people can find their agency and live with the freedom to be respected and live how we wish and to create art commenting on our nation and being as individuals within our democracy to make it an even better place.

MB: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.  When I look at these paintings, I sense a story of progress.  Are you (or your paintings) optimistic?

KM: Definitely. As I get older, I realize that, in the meditation of painting, I want to create images that give me optimism and hope.   During the contentious Bush years, when many of these works were created, rather than “Bush is bad” works I could have done, I rather wanted to make works that provided positive questions and contemplations of where we could go based on great people, scenes, and things that inspired our country to be great for me the artist, but also for my viewers, to help inspire where we can go as a country and peoples.

MB: Despite your attention to narrative, a concentric-circle abstract painting beams like a sun among your imagery in the Biennial.  Is this abstract painting a departure from narrative?

KM: Some works from my first 10 years as an exhibiting artist also made it into the mix, which the Iconscapes, as I call them, are a part of.   As a son of a psychoanalyst, I have a penchant for the unconscious, and want my unconscious, which spills out in my brush along with my conscious hand whilst painting, to appear.

Keith Mayerson, "The Dalai Lama Teaching the Diamond Cutter Sutra and Seventy Verses on Emptiness at Radio City Music Hall Oct 14, 2007", 2008

KM (continued): These Iconscapes (which I still create) are meant to essentialize these emotions and, like a dream, iconic images and figures occur; and here, juxtaposed with the representational imagery, [the Iconscapes] provide emotive breaks, like musical interludes between lyrics in a song or opera, of what the narrative might be about, and also show how the representational works may break into abstraction in micromanaged moments, and how the abstract images might harness figurative elements…   The large circle Iconscape here is placed above the painting of the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall, as if the lens flares in that painting (along with the mandala-like architecture of Radio City itself), could morph into a form of pulsating light and feeling.

MB: Your current solo exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery is called My American Dream (prologue) and functions as a “first act” for the larger narrative in the Whitney Biennial.  However, most of the historical figures you’ve painted did live and die before you.  Do you consider them to be ancestral figures, at least “in spirit” or outlook?

Keith Mayerson, "Superman", 2014

KM: Pictures of Superman (in the Eller show, a new work derived from the first Fleischer Brothers version of the iconic hero to coincide with the image in the Whitney I painted over a decade ago from the the first Superman comic strip by Siegel and Schuster), Kermit, Tintin, and more are iconic characters that, like Scott McCloud discusses in his his great book, Understanding Comics, we “suture into” while reading and watching them, having them become our avatars like in a RPG video game as we go on their journey.

Lincoln, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are also for me icons that really lived that we can also suture into and relate to. For me, it’s while painting, to give me hope and inspiration, but also for the viewers, to remind them that what they stood and struggled for is still all-important.   -Like in a comic, when the viewer is participant in the creation of the ultimate content of the work when they, in an act McCloud deems “closure”, complete the action of one panel to the next in their mind to go on the journey along with the iconic avatars of a comic story, I hope that the viewer, like myself, can relate to these important figures and scenes that helped to forge the great America we currently live on thanks in part to some of these icons, and to inspire people to continue the struggle to make our country a better place for truth, freedom, justice and the American way….

It Depends

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

The fifth edition of Independent features 50 galleries from 14 countries, which already makes for greater international diversity than The Armory Show.  It’s also a more fluid and relaxed design than the Armory’s rigid booths.  Independent’s exhibitors unroll themselves among angled dividing walls, so the boundaries feel arbitrary and impressionistic.  There’s daylight in this former DIA home, and no hot lamps to make for the Armory’s panopticon anxiety.  It’s no wonder that Creative Advisor Matthew Higgs has called the site “among the most iconic and art-friendly spaces anywhere.”

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But get creative, artist friends, if you don’t have $20 to cover the deterrent ticket fee.  And your VIP connection can’t help; Independent is decidedly separate from the other concurrent fairs and doesn’t honor other passes, not even Diners Club International.  Still, a $20 ticket is closer to affordable than the $40 Armory ticket.  Is it a better deal?  There’s a greater density of relevant-feeling art at Independent, but Armory includes panel discussions and lectures, along with a greater range of modern and contemporary work.  So which ticket is more “worth it?”  There’s a debate to be had, but for now, let’s look at some art…

Photo and sculpture by Alexandre Singh at Sprüth Magers
Armin Boehm at Meyer Riegger

As in recent versions of the Independent, there’s an interesting strain of comics-derived art.  It involves either drawn or appropriated comic images, then often reapplies them with darker or ironic results.  From the slightly more “outsider” end of the continuum is William Crawford, whose 900 erotic drawings, with impressive perspective and architectural drafting, and adult film narrative (such as housewife-on-plumber action) were discovered in an Oakland home and may have been created in a prison, according to Galerie Susanne Zander.  More insider is Julia Wachtel, represented here by a Miley Cyrus/cartoon mash-up.  Dan Graham and Antoine Catala present a CGI love triangle involving a dolphin, presumably autobiographical.  ;)

William Crawford at Galerie Susanne Zander

Julia Wachtel at Elizabeth Dee

Dan Graham and Antoine Catala
Danny McDonald at House of Gaga

Reconstituted, recycled, and appropriated images pop up in works by Leo Gabin, Eloise Hawser, Josh Kolbo, Eva Kotatkova, John Stezaker, and Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen.

Leo Gabin at Peres Projects
Eloise Hawser at Balice Hertling
Eva Kotatkova tabletop fold-out photos at Meyer Riegger
Josh Kolbo at Société

John Stezaker at The Approach

 

Special adventures in materials are evident in a gunpowder abstraction by Tomás Espina, oxidized abstraction by Etienne Chambaud, and resin realism by Andras Ursuta.  Chambaud’s oxidized paintings are made from copper powder paint splashed with wild animal urine from jars; no paws or hooves touch the canvas.  Andras Ursuta presents blocks of resin embedded with resin-cast eggs, peas, and chicken legs – entirely inedible.

Etienne Chambaud at Labor
Adriana Bustos (l) and Tomas Espina (r) at Ignacio Liprandi
Andras Ursuta at Ramiken Crucible

Finally, there’s a semaphoric, geometric current encompassing David Diao, Paul Lee, and Richard Nonas.

David Diao at Office Baroque
Richard Nonas at McCaffrey Fine Art
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Paul Lee at Maccarone

Other works that stood out to me were the cheeky text paintings by Morag Keil and the Matthew Brannon book in a jaunty booth with “mise en scene” designed by his wife, Michelle Elzay, and featuring an elegantly curved table by Jacques Jarrige. I liked the surreal works by Ruth Nemet and Enrico David, an Angela Davis poster by the politically active and St. Petersburg-based collective Chto Delat?, and Mark Dion’s squirrel.  Artist’s Space had tempting boxed portfolio editions available, including Carol Bove, Joan Jonas, Lawrence Weiner, Cory Arcangel, Stewart Uoo, and more.

Morag Keil at Real Fine Arts

Limited Edition prints at Artists Space

Three Star Books, featuring Matthew Brannon and John Armleder

Matthew Brannon's limited edition book at Three Star Books
John Armleder and Matthew Brannon works at Three Star Books
It says, "Knowledge is Power": A "Learning Poster" by Chto Delat? at KOW
Mark Dion at Galerie Nagel Draxler
Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen at White Columns
Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen at White Columns
Martina Kubelk at Galerie Susanne Zander
Glib Reena Spaulings postcards of art dealers at Campoli Presti
Reena Spaulings postcards of art dealers at Campoli Presti
Frances Stark photo of her boyfriend at Artists Space

 

And everything at Broadway 1602 looked great, with a special focus on 1960s and 1980s works by Evelyne Axell, Sylvia Palacios Whitman, Rosemarie Castoro, Experiments in Art and Technology Archive, along with new paintings and a sculpture by Paul P., who also appears in the Whitney Biennial.

Rosemarie Castoro at Broadway 1602
Sylvia Palacios Whitman (l) and Evelyne Axell (r) at Broadway 1602
Experiments in Art and Technology Archive (Leon Harman and Ken Knowlton) at Broadway 1602
Paul P. at Broadway 1602

Of course, the best photo on view is Judy Linn’s portrait of the late Hudson, founder of Feature, Inc., to whom this Independent is lovingly dedicated.

Portrait of Hudson by Judy Linn