Guest post by Jacob Wick.
A current exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology, is a deft rebuttal of Institutional Critique. Take It or Leave It mashes together a variety of well-known works by well-known IC artists, creating a confused jumble of brands intelligible only if viewed in the same spirit as one views a shoe rack at a department store. The message, delivered through the cunning mess organized by curators Anne Ellegood, senior curator at the Hammer Museum, and Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the New Museum, seems to be: Institutional Critique, and by extension most current critical art, is irrelevant. Take it or leave it. I am tempted to agree.
Upon walking into the exhibition, on the second floor of the newly-free Hammer Museum, one encounters, first, and fittingly first, Andrea Fraser. She beams from a bulky television screen, leading a Gallery Talk (1989), a repeatable performance for which she is widely identified. As she primly leads us through a series of quotations lifted from museum brochures, reviews, and so on, highlighting an institutional language that has only intensified and become more isolated from everyday language in the last twenty to thirty years since Fraser led these tours—leading of course to that awful Institutional Art English article I hate so much, because honestly the everyday language of cricket fans or teenage YouTube enthusiasts is as unintelligible to me as Benjamin H.D. Buchloh might be to them, and you know, if you want to learn a sociolect, learn it, it’s really not that hard—we glance to the right and are accosted by Renée Green’s garish (but quite beautiful) Mise-en-Scène: Commemorative Toile (1992-1994), and a pair of bits of Mark Dion pieces, The Department of Marine Animal Identification of the City of New York (Chinatown Division) (1992) and New York State Bureau of Tropical Conservation (1992). This all in a room—a foyer, really—perhaps 8 ft x 20 ft. The trend continues throughout the rest of the show, with a bewildering oversaturation of work by easily recognizable IC artists organized room-by-room according to big dumb categories like THE MUSEUM or POLITICS. The POLITICS room, for instance, has two works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, two works by Robert Gober, and three works each by Jenny Holzer and Fred Wilson! Wow! Oh, and a Glenn Ligon piece, if I remember right.
The aural confusion rivals the visual confusion, with sound bleeding from Andrea in front, a relatively innocuous guitar piece with very nice furniture by the only name I didn’t recognize in the show (and which I didn’t write down, but I probably should have laid down on the furniture, I have to admit I was a little tired while viewing, or attempting to view, this show), the arabesque from Dana Birnbaum’s three-channel video installation Arabesque, and several other voices speaking from several other video installations. One can really only walk through the show saying, “oh, Andrea Fraser! oh, Alan McCollum! oh, Felix Gonzalez-Torres! oh, Adrian Piper!” and so on. Each work, regardless of its individual merit or its potentially radical past effect on the institutionalized art world of the 1980s and 1990s, becomes a calling card, a simple brand identifier, a shoe. The effect is to suggest a feeling that Institutional Critique should be, or has already been, laid to rest, that it has suffered the same fate as its preceding movements and morphed into a series of innocuous and critically irrelevant calling cards.
While Institutional Critique was certainly relevant—often many other things, including beautiful, shocking, and a variety of other adjectives, many of which are vinyled to the already-crammed walls of the show in the form of various historical derogatory reviews of IC artists—during its heyday, in the Internet age, where anyone looking at art or working in the art world probably has a smartphone and enjoys, or pretends to enjoy, a variety of privileges vis a vis the rest of the world, including the ability to very easily and quickly assemble a tawdry list of dirt surrounding any institution, from Hammer to the dollar, the opacity that once enshrouded institutions with a veneer of acceptability and inevitability has been replaced with an ironic remove that ensures the same effect. This ironic remove serves a very useful purpose insofar as it allows us to continue living lives of privilege without the persistent nag of horror at how and where our clothes were made, where the materials in our smartphones were mined and in what conditions (not to mention the conditions in which they were made), and the total unraveling of the environment that has recently become apparent. There is, almost without doubt, a legacy of horror in at least one object within 50 ft of you; there is, almost without doubt, a weather event without precedent that is currently occurring or has recently occurred in the region where in which you live. A lightly sneering ironic remove allow us to, in the words of a WWII propaganda designed by British intelligence in the event of catastrophic air attacks that tellingly became a meme so successful that it adorns dorm rooms everywhere, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” This ironic remove is necessary to live life without succumbing to a deep and unshakeable sense of doom and should be embraced, unabashedly, as such. This selfsame remove, however, is what renders work like IC, that attempts to call us out on things that we are very likely already aware of but are making a decision to ignore to retain a certain degree of sanity, irrelevant, for being reminded of the knowledge we are trying to ignore strengthens, rather than weakens, our barriers against it.
Let us, like Paul Bettany’s character in Dogville, consider an illustration. I am in a social situation with a friend. A party, perhaps, someone’s house or apartment, a someone that neither of us know particularly well, but who has invited us, for whatever reason, over. The party is relatively low-key. At some point, my friend goes to the bathroom. When my friend returns, I notice their fly is unzipped and mention that hundreds of people recently died in a factory fire in a garment factory in Dhaka, a fire that is having relatively little effect on the efforts of anyone to regulate garment factories in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia, where conditions are widely known to be unacceptable. I conclude by pointing out our party—our drinks, our clothes, our phones on which we take pictures and look up things on Wikipedia (or whatever), the iPad or iPod the music is playing off of, perhaps even the building we sit in, perhaps it is a house that was purchased and flipped after a predatory loan forced its foreclosure—is only possible because we are the privileged beneficiaries of a vicious and exploitative economic system so deeply pervasive that it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine its alternatives. Have I performed Institutional Critique?
Insofar as a party is an institution—any party, regardless of its particular circumstances, contains both a normative protocol and an accompanying normative horizon of possible outcomes, just as any institution does—yes, I have. Formerly, institutions maintained credibility by disguising, with varying degrees of force, the aspects of their makeup that might damage that credibility. Institutional Critique directed its gaze, or rather our gaze, at these aspects. I can only assume that the effect was shocking and/or confusing, since I am too young to have experienced Institutional Critique during its era of relevance. In any case, were I to point out that to my friend that their pants were made in horrific conditions, etc, I would be highlighting an aspect of the institution that most parties try to leave out, namely that the objects that make the party fun were very likely produced in dire circumstances and as a result of great suffering.
While it is certainly possible that such a proclamation would have had an effect on a party pre-smartphone, it is almost impossible that such a proclamation, made now, would not be immediately dismissed or laughed off, or said, in the first place, with a degree of irony so as to neutralize its contents. Most people at the party, most people at any party of people that enjoy a certain level of privilege, likely already have heard about the Dhaka fire, or have heard the phrase “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” or something like it, and all of those people—those people who read Twitter or listen to NPR or the BBC or read the Guardian or whatever, who cares really—okay, us or we, not those people—choose to ignore these concrete facts of our own existences. We live in a constant state of dramatic irony, or something very close to the old Greek eirōneia.
Had we all been alive thousands of years ago, located in a relatively small area of the Mediterranean, and had the luck or circumstance to be a free or free-ish citizen of an antiquity-era Greek city-state, we might have, at some point, gone to a play. Regardless of whether or not this play was a tragedy or comedy, there would probably, at some point, be a character speaking from beneath us, down the stairs of the amphitheater onto the stage, a character who was speaking of something that we, the audience, knew was false. We would know it was false because of something else we had learned during the play, in another scene, a scene in which the character now speaking did not appear. We would know and the actor would know, probably, having been in rehearsals, spoken to other actors, and been aware of the general arc of the play. Everybody would know besides the character speaking, the character who has temporarily taken the place of the actor, who we—the audience and perhaps the actor, I don’t really know about acting—temporarily identify with, moreso than our identification with what is real.
We are now, at this point, the actors and audience in our own scenes, which are not in amphitheaters, but instead are in living rooms, museums, concert halls, book fairs, art fairs, galleries, restaurants, bars, whatever. At all of these times, in all of these places, we are ourselves, but we are different versions of ourselves: we are our house-party self, our museum self, our concert hall self, our book fair self, gallery self. Pablo Helguera, with droll precision, has highlighted this in his book Art Scenes: The Social Scripts of the Art World; Alex Galloway, much less drolly but no less precise, has highlighted this in his book Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization. Both authors point out that we act not in regard to dictates from sovereign power—the King, the state, whatever—but rather in regard to the protocols (for Helguera, scripts) we assume to be inherent and inevitable in a given situation. When briefly employed at a Hollywood gallery for which I was asked to write a press release for a show of paintings I found tedious and boring, I did not, for instance, write “this show is tedious and boring, but would probably look great above your designer furniture and that’s why it’s being shown here,” but rather wrote a press release in the style of blue-chip gallery press releases (“We are pleased to present…”). I’m not sure if that’s a particularly good example, but who cares? All saltwater fish will die off in 35 years.
For the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Andrea Fraser contributed a pair of essays: “There’s No Place Like Home,” in which she eloquently considers (and doubts) her own relevance; and “L’1% C’est Moi,” a beautifully-researched, well-written account of the current art market and its inextricable ties with the very people many critical artists, whose livelihoods depend on the art market, love to hate. The latter, while very informative, is very clearly Institutional Critique, a highlighting of an institutional issue that was very likely already known, and if unknown certainly intuited, by whoever might have read it. The former, on the other hand, is an investigation into the nature of critique, in which Fraser wonders if
… by interpreting negations as critique, by responding to judgments of attribution with judgments of attribution, by aggressively attempting to expose conflicts and to strip away defenses in critiques of critiques and negations of negations, critical practices and discourses may often collude in the distancing of affect and the dissimulation of our immediate and active investments in our field.
Does critique, of the sort that pervaded Institutional Critique and that pervades critical art following IC, aid us in our collective pushing away of actual, real problems? Does it aid us in ignoring that the Whitney is funding by the financial institutions and executives who are responsible for the slow bleed-out of the world’s environment, of global socio-economic mobility? Does it help us “Keep Calm and Carry On?” Sure it does, because we already know all that shit and we’re ignoring it because we’re alive and what else are we going to do!
In a conversation I had recently with Renzo Martens about the Institute for Human Activities, for which he is the Creative Director, while he was in town for a solo show at The BOX, he mentioned both that he is interested in redirecting critical art’s “mandate” and that his work with the IHA is decidedly non-revolutionary. “We’re just going to do what art does,” he said. “Which is, like, create a really tiny alternative economy which rich people really like to have around, and see how it goes.” The IHA is an institution that quite earnestly touts art as a means for revitalizing a town outside of Kinshasa in the war-torn, globally-exploited DRC and which operates off of the already well-established model of the global arts residency. The IHA will, and has already attempted to begin to, teach drawing and other arts-related classes to palm-oil plantation workers; a few of these workers will be particularly talented; the IHA will, with the local artists’ permission, sell their drawings in the international art market; the proceeds from these sales will lift those few lucky artists out of poverty; other palm-oil workers may become more interested in art and work harder on drawings than on manufacturing palm oil; and so on. The settlement will offer an artists’ residency for artists to engage with the local arts scene and teach classes to locals. Meanwhile, rich people, who love to be around the creature comforts that artists surround themselves with—nice bars, cappuccinos, good food, artists—will stay in an onsite hotel, increasing the settlements’ real-estate value and general quality of life. Perhaps these people will buy or build houses near or on the settlement, as they have in places like Marfa, TX, raising the value of the property and ostensibly improving quality of life for everybody. In short, aside from the occasional swipe on its website, there is no critical component to the IHA at all. That said, the logical conclusion of the IHA—or one possible or believable conclusion, given that institutions function almost entirely on belief, as Adam Overton pointed out in my interview with him, not on logic—is that the palm-oil workers will stop working in the palm-oil plantation and start drawing, thereby robbing Unilever of the exploited underclass that it, like all capitalist enterprises, needs to survive.
If Martens is redirecting art’s critical mandate, as he says he wishes to do, he is redirecting it towards creating art that is not critical at all, but that rather simply does what art does, or what capitalism does, or what whatever does. Perhaps what we need now, he is saying—and, again, I can’t help but agree—is engagement, whether naïve or not, rather than negation, for only in our engagement can we, and whosoever has the (mis)fortune to surround our work, truly experience the absurd, hideous, exploitive nature of the institutions that structure our lives. As Danh Vo says in this hilariously uncomfortable YouTube interview with Bartholomew Ryan of the Walker Art Center: it is “very important to…exercise the bureaucracy.”
Jacob Wick is an artist, writer, and improviser who lives in Los Angeles. For more information, visit jacobwick.info. Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology is on view until May 18, 2014, at the Hammer Museum. Renzo Martens: Episode III is on view until March 1st, 2014, at the BOX Gallery.
The Life Instinct: unification, the eternal return, the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species, survival systems and operations, equilibrium.
– Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!
Last May, when I wrote MAINTENANCE #1, I quoted the interview Bartholomew Ryan did with Mierle Laderman Ukeles, for Art In America in 2009. Maintenance, she told him, “is trying to listen to the hum of living. A feeling of being alive, breath to breath.” That’s still my lodestar for this column.
I write fiction most of the time, at Bookslut I write a reading diary on different themes, and here I write about specific solo publications – the reading I do, and bump into doing, here in Chicago. I write about “the people [the writers, the editors, the publishers] who are taking care and keeping the wheels of society moving.” I try to pay attention. Here where Our Scene is so rad and vibrant but also so segregated by neighborhood, schools, tone, etc., this is something we can always fail better at.
The Life Instinct: unification, the eternal return, the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species, survival systems and operations, equilibrium.
– Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!
Here are five books I read this month, and pictures of three more. An asterisk means the book (or zine) came out less than 365 days ago. (The green polish is Selena Gomez Nicole by Opi. I don’t own the bottle but I did bonk my thumb running for the #18, and a nice lady at the library let me do a touch-up. The silver is Wet n Wild.)
September 26, 2013 · Print This Article
The Hagedorn Foundation Gallery, located surprisingly in a nondescript complex of galleries and antique shops in Buckhead, a north-side neighborhood of Atlanta, curated a show focusing on feminism, performativity, and photography. The works in the show by the artists Jill Frank, Mónika Sziládi, and duo Double Zero (Hannah Ireland and Annie Vought) examine how to make a photograph of someone, a person, a woman (perhaps) and what that means. One of the organizing principles of the show – performativity, a buzz word indeed especially since the 1990s with Judith Butler’s work on gender – finds itself in relation to photographs that draw attention to the process of their making. Alongside considerations of gender and femininity as performative gestures, the works in the show investigate the apparatus of photography and imagistic representation itself – Jill Frank’s work in particular. Adding to this work by Frank is the Untitled (Projection) series by Steffani Jemison presented in her solo exhibition, When I Turn My Head, in the upstairs gallery at Hagedorn.
The works in Ready for My Close-Up evoke other images of women from history: paintings, film stills. These other images, not necessarily direct references, exist in an assemblage of representation with Frank’s, Sziládi’s, and Double Zero’s. When seen in conjunction with When I Turn My Head, the sphere of the imagistic medium, photography, opens itself to critical examination and self-reflection. Ready for My Close-Up seems to ask whether the question of female or feminine representation is the question of representation itself.
Jill Frank’s Menacing Romance
Four photographs from Jill Frank’s series Romance are presented in the show: Romance / Popocatépetl and Iztacchíhuatl (2012), Romance / Secret Sniper (2012), Romance / Vertigo (2013), and Romance / Un Homme et un Femme (2013). All images are chromogenic prints with rich colors that provoke fantasies, and with their large size (30” x 37”), the viewer feels as if she can initially step into the scene. The first two images, Romance / Popocatépetl and Iztacchíhuatl (2012) and Romance / Secret Sniper (2012), depict more unsuspecting narratives, whereas the last two images, Romance / Vertigo (2013) and Romance / Un Homme et un Femme (2013) start to take on a more sinister e/affect.
A woman lays across a kneeling man’s knee with her head invisible to the viewer – it hangs down, exposing her throat where his his hand rests. Her knee hosts a series of bandages, the slingback of her shoe has slipped from her heel.
Two men stand at the edge of a dock. Wearing matching colored shorts, one holds the other from behind, grasping at his neck and chest. The man standing in front reaches over his head to hold onto the man behind him. The man in front looks up obliquely with an indistinguishable gaze.
These two photographs: Romance / Vertigo (2013) and Romance / Un Homme et un Femme (2013) exemplify the complications Frank creates for our traditional senses of Hollywood romance. Frank’s statement for the show describes her process and intentions behind the series:
“The photographs in this exhibition portray couples re-performing poses inspired by popular media images that were formative in constructing their own understanding of romantic interaction and presentation. The photographed performances challenge the authority and familiarity of the collective visual archive of American romance in order to engender a critical conversation about the influence of dominant representations.” 
The show’s title Ready for My Close-Up directly references the last lines aging Hollywood actress Norma Desmond speaks in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. The film, a story of a silent film actress gone mad yearning to occupy the space of the Hollywood picture again, ends with her face approaching the camera until it disintegrates into a haze of grey. Her closeness to the camera quite literally destroys her, but it was the years of distance which contributed to her delusions.  Hagedorn’s exhibition statement describes the cultural reference to the film in relation to the photographic works shown in Ready for My Close-Up:
“In the last half century, feminism and performativity have influenced contemporary photography more than any other cultural markers. The exhibition title is taken from the exit line of Sunset Boulevard, a film which questions female identity issues, the rehearsal of the self, the gaze of the viewer, and the use of the theatrical to command attention, all influenced by culture and all features of this group exhibition.” 
The works in the group show can all serve as critical responses to the film, whether the work is explicitly influenced by the film or not; they exist together in the sphere of representation’s history. Frank’s photographs play out the deranged romantic entanglement of the film’s Desmond and Joe Gillis. Mónika Sziládi’s photographs present the viewer with a crowded and disorienting perspective of cultures and practices of representation. Double Zero’s photographs and video portray a feminine masquerade pushed to hyperbolic extremes.
Sziládi, The Montage-Paparazzi
Sziládi’s photograph Untitled (Ladies) (2012) sticks a fuzzy and blurred face into the foreground of the image. The close-up shot has gotten too close like Norma Desmond’s final close-up in Sunset Boulevard. The six photographs shown at Hagedorn are from her series Wide Receivers, possibly a play on the position in American football, the players that are able to receive passes from the quarterback and are often celebrated for those glorious catches. Her statement describes her interests in the “social sphere and its attendant behaviors” and her “aim to collapse the space between the physical and the virtual.”  The images, a flattening of perspectival depth, contain images of imaging or representational processes and those who are allowed representation. There is a sense that when one figure stands in front of another, there is no space between their bodies; one actually cuts through the other’s body.
Untitled (Blonde) (2011) can be read as representing representation itself. Through Sziládi’s inclusion of images of handheld cameras, subjects posing for snapshots, a woman putting on make-up reflected in a mirror, and a perhaps drag queen taking up the center space of the photograph, after whom the photograph is titled, the photograph seems to become a commentary on the practice of photography itself. Next to the blonde, a man was caught with his eyes closed. To the left of him, a man’s eye peers directly out of the frame towards the subject looking at the photograph. Michel Foucault states that the 17th century painting Las Meninas (1656) by Diego Velásquez
“presents us with the entire cycle of representation: the gaze, the palette and brush, the canvas innocent of signs (these are the material tools of representation), the paintings, the reflections, the real man (the completed representation, but as it were freed from its illusory or truthful contents, which are juxtaposed to it); then the representation dissolves again: we can see only the frames, and the light that is flooding the pictures from outside, but that they, in return, must reconstitute in their own kind, as though it were coming from elsewhere, passing through their dark wooden frames.” 
Sziládi’s digital composites of images taken at “public relations and networking events as well as trade shows and meet-ups of social segments that have connected online to interact offline”  comment on the constructed nature of the way we present ourselves in public and the ways in which we image those constructions. Like Velasquez’s painting, the apparatus of representation shows itself explicitly, drawing our attention to our own practices of presentation and public performance.
Double Zero’s Revealing Masks
Double Zero’s photographs and video push these meticulous constructions of public appearance to the extreme. In their video Cha cha cha changes (2013), Hannah Ireland and Annie Vought dress each other up with unconventional objects or conventional objects in unconventional ways. Over the course of the video’s almost 23 minutes, the two women take on absurd costuming and masking. With materials that are used for make-up application and other cosmetic tools, their faces become covered in lipstick and face paint, their heads bound in bubblewrap and what appears to be foil that could be used to dye hair. Flower stems are stuck into the fabrics wrapping their heads, blooms sticking out from their faces.
The two take turns transforming each other’s appearance. In what appears to be a reference to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, particularly Cremaster 3, they go through processes of bodily manipulation and adornment.  If Barney’s Cremaster Cycle is about the development of the male testes, what can be said about Double Zero’s feminine transformations? Their statement reads: “We have united to use our 20 year friendship as the basis for investigating the ways we affect one another, the boundaries between us, and different modes of taking up space in the world. With the complexities of friendship and the trust we’ve built over time, we pursue these themes directly in the actions and objects we make together.”  Their photographs and video show a relational transformation. They affect one another whether they choose it or not. The silliness of the objects and the resulting ornate masks when coupled with their facial expressions in the video, the phenomenon of feminine friendship grows into a complex situation of acceptance and denial.
Norma Desmond, after she convinces herself that her script for her film about Salome, the ancient femme fatale, will be directed by Cecil B. DeMille, she starts a rigorous beauty routine. She claims that she needs to make herself ready to be in the pictures again and a sequence shows her being massaged, prodded, wrapped, lotioned. At one point, while wearing products on her face and with her hair wrapped, she enters Joe’s room, but tells him not to look back at her; when she is made-up in this way instead of the proper way, he is not to gaze upon her. Desmond’s excessively vain self-consciousness, is a private practice made public. At another moment in the film, after gazing at herself in the mirror, eyes wide with frenzy, she rips off the cosmetic strips on her face before walking into Joe’s room to discover he is leaving her. She chases him as he exits the house. To get his attention, she shoots him. She shoots him again. This is the moment of her breakdown. After this moment, all she can do is sit in front of the mirror and prep for the camera.
Concluding Remarks: does Jemison’s ink adhere?
Desmond lives in a world of cameras and characters. To her, cinema ended when dialogue began. She says to Joe “We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces.” She then steps into the light of the film projector in her home movie theater that is showing one of the movies she had starred in. The woman actress need only have a face; she didn’t need a voice – this is the kind of cinema that Desmond supports. The voice destroys the perfect face; the face of 1932 Marlene Dietrich’s Shanghai Lily that Laura Mulvey gazes upon in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”  As Joe Gillis voice-over narrates, Norma is a “celluloid self.”  Is the celluloid flat? Does it have any depth? Is her self only surface, the merging of the surface with the underlying anatomy, her body? Or, is her self a thin veneer covering the surface of the filmic foundation?
The upstairs gallery of Hagedorn hosts Steffani Jemison’s show When I Turn My Head which “considers issues that arise when conceptual practices are inflected by black history and vernacular culture” and also “addresses the form and materiality of a photograph through the fugitivity of the image.”  Works from her series Untitled (Projections), photographs printed on acetate, explore the ways in which an image may separate from its support. The ink does not sink into the acetate; it rests on the surface, creating a depth of materiality.  Mary Ann Doane writes in her seminal essay “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator” that “The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it at a distance. Womanliness is a mask which can be worn or removed. The masquerade’s resistance to patriarchal positioning would therefore lie in its denial of the production of femininity as closeness, as presence-to-itself, as precisely, imagistic.”  Taken together with the works in the show on the ground level, what do we discover about photography as a tool and method for thinking through and creating structures of representation? How much does the image adhere to what it represents and the foundation which holds that very representation itself?
Sziládi, the figure of montage-paparazzi, makes apparent the apparatus of representation while Frank’s photographs create scenes in which non-extraordinary people inhabit the characters of Hollywood in order to experience true romance. What Frank shows us, though, is that these typical narratives are not without their dangers. Norma murders the man she has come to love. Whether or not that love is true is a question we could ask. In considering Ready for My Close-Up, must this love be artificial? Double Zero’s work seen as a sort of parody of making-up for the camera, expresses the artificial nature of feminine identity construction. However, within the framework of feminine friendship, we can’t too quickly dismiss these gestures of dressing one another. The collage nature of Sziládi’s digital images is seamless. Before knowing that they were constructed, I stood in front of the photographs pondering what parties they came from: where do these people gather? Are they all in costume together, playing into some collective fantasy?
Frank’s series grew from an iconic image, at least in today’s age of Hollywood: the image of Baby / Jennifer Grey crawling towards Johnny / Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. A recognizable image. What sets Frank’s later photographs apart is their subjects’ poses are initially unrecognizable. In some way, their illegibility may gesture towards an infiltration of our cultural imaginary that we now fail to recognize. The everyday performances of relationships and romance congeal in Frank’s photographs. Ready for My Close-Up, a show curated around the issue of feminism and performativity, finds its complexity in Frank’s strangely unsettling images of menacing romance, Sziládi’s disorienting flatness, and Double Zero’s interplay of masking and revealing.
Desmond, an embodied image of the female hysteric, is deluded. Her wide eyes stare out at the film spectator. As the character Salome, a woman who has been historically represented as a seductress, she approaches the camera, staring directly out at us, outside the frame of the film. In this moment, is she re-living/playing her past traumas? Traumas that may have led to this moment? In the film’s final moments, when Desmond declares that she is ready for her close-up, what can we say is exterior? What is interior? Who is she? And, gazing at her, making eye contact, who are we?
Ready for My Close-Up
September 12, 2013 – October 25, 2013
Artists’ Reception: October 4, 2013, 6:00 – 8:30 PM
Panel Discussion with the artists and Wendy Vogel, Associate Editor at Modern Painters: October 5, 2013, 12:00 – 2:00 PM
Hagedorn Foundation Gallery
425 Peachtree Hills Avenue, Number 25
Atlanta, GA 30305
 Jill Frank, Statement
 Sunset Boulevard. Directed by Billy Wilder. 1950.
 Hagedorn, Statement
 Mónika Sziládi, Wide Receivers statement, http://msziladi.com/index.php/image/statement/13
 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1994), 11.
 Sziládi, Wide Receivers statement
 I am indebted to Justin Andrews for calling this to my attention.
 Annie Vought, “Double Zero Videos,” http://annievought.com/category/double-zero/
 Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen, vol. 16, no. 3 (1975): 6-18.
 Sunset Boulevard.
 Hagedorn Foundation Gallery, Press Release for Steffani Jemison’s When I Turn My Head.
 During the panel discussion featuring Steffani Jemison, when I asked Jemison if she could describe the title choice and process of making these images, she replied that she was examining the make-up of a photograph: its support and its image. Panel discussion with Steffani Jemison, Rizvana Bradley (Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University), and Rujeko Hockley (Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum) on 9.21.2013 at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery.
 Mary Ann Doane, “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator” in Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), 25. Reprint of the essay’s 1982 publication in Screen: Screen, vol. 23, no. 3-4 (1982): 74-88.
A historical piece which points towards exceptional moments observed directly by the writer, in Chicago, over the course of the previous calendar year. Alternative, NFP, and commercial galleries, as well as art centers, museums, and public spaces, were visited more-or-less regularly, according to the nature of their programming. All artwork copyright original artists; all photography copyright Paul Germanos.
Per convention, “best of” lists and “year in review” articles are released late in December. And critics have tended to follow in lockstep. Yet such a schedule might be a cause for concern when one considers how little time in reflection is afforded the author of any such piece.
That said, it’s the original scope of the critic’s experience, and not the amount of time spent in reflection upon that experience, which is the greater issue in most cases. Readers have good reason to wonder about art writers: How much did he or she see in the first place? And what does it mean to be placed in a “top ten” list by a person who might have attended only ten events?
Of course, with regard to the utility of press, the writing itself counts for little; it’s a publication’s masthead and associated social connectivity which are really crucial. For whether the subject is artwork or the publicity related to it, heavily invested dealers, artists, directors, et al, labor to get the right bits in the right places, till the overall picture looks good–much like jigsaw puzzle work. The gaming of interpersonal relationships is, after all, the chief modality of the art world.
Let’s try something different!
Forgoing the pretense of a rational narrative, German painter Butzer dryly delivered pre-Socratic fragments–first in his native language and then in English–alongside projections of his artwork. The audio and visual elements in combination, amounting to a performance, were, in fact, stronger than his show which followed at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
Butzer became moderately excited when, after the lecture, I presented him with a question about Nietzsche.
6:30 PM, January 25, 2012
Cochrane-Woods Art Center, Room 157
(adjacent to the The Smart Museum)
University of Chicago
5540 S. Greenwood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
Runner-up: Karsten Lund’s performance piece in Peregrine Program.
Curated by Jake Myers and Chris Smith, a/k/a “Tag Team,” and featuring 19 artists (Adam Farcus, Adam Grossi, Alberto Aguilar, Alex Bradley Cohen, Angeline Evans, Brian Wadford, Caroline Carlsmith, Cory Glick, Edra Soto, EC Brown, Irene Perez, Jeriah Hildwine, Jim Papadopoulos, Kevin Jennings, Nicole Northway, Pamela Fraser, Philip von Zweck, Thad Kellstadt, and Vincent Dermody) “Short Court: Tropical Aesthletics” was dominated by Jake Myers’ own performance in the center of the gallery.
There, Myers and company (including two professional players) offered to “take on all comers” in a high-spirited volleyball match. The boisterous physical competition which ensued was entirely contrary to the quiet struggle for rank which is usually present, if unseen, at such affairs. This was good. It’s yet unclear to what degree Myers’ work is ironic.
February 10 – March 10, 2012
1765 S. Laflin St.
Chicago IL 60608
With regard to the consistency and volume of his production, Hamza Walker has been exemplary: Every exhibition at The Renaissance Society is accompanied by a broadsheet containing one of Walker’s companion essays. Curiously, these essays usually go nowhere. Are they not read? not understood? not thought to be of any value? Sunday attendance at The Ren is too often like unto church: orderly, solemn, performed for fear of damnation, and forgotten on Monday.
The Renaissance Society
Cobb Hall, Room 418
University of Chicago
5811 S. Ellis Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
Runner-up: Jason Foumberg, skyrocketing in 2013.
The Estonian performance collective NON GRATA staged the destruction of an American-made sedan on the grounds of New Capital: outdoors, late-winter, encouraging audience participation in the act. No fig leaf of sport covered the aggression here; this was a naked, public display of violence hitherto latent in the community. And it was possible to read the event as a sort of response to the call made by Butzer a little over one month earlier.
7:00 PM, March 4, 2012
1136 N. Milwaukee Ave.
3114 W. Carroll
Chicago, IL 60612
Runner-up: Unsolicited letters from Wesley Kimler.
(5) Most Noteworthy Young or “Emerging” Artists: Sarah and Joseph Belknap, Tyler Blackwell, Robert Chase Heishman, Sofia Leiby, Jake Myers, Meg Noe, Danielle Rosen, Joseph Rynkiewicz, Etta Sandry, Vincent Uribe, and Nikki Werner.
Over the course of the previous year, some memorable artwork, conversation, or public engagement was initiated by each the people listed above. Further, as a result of the good attendance at gallery openings and other events which most displayed, their names were easy to learn and remember.
(6) Best Museum Show: “The Language of Less (Then and Now) @ MCA Chicago”
Above: Dan Flavin: Untitled (for you, Leo, in long respect and affection) 3, 1978; John McCracken: Untitled, 1967.
Above: Carl Andre: Zinc-Lead Plain, 1969; Donald Judd: Untitled, 1970.
Curated by Michael Darling, the “Dimensions of Space” gallery within “The Language of Less (Then and Now)” exhibition wasn’t novel, or exciting, in the conventional sense. Rather, the thing had the appearance of being the logical conclusion of a long meditation upon the fundamental unit, or building block, of the works included, viz., the square. And this formal vocabulary hasn’t disappeared. For example, in “Binary Lore,” the most recent show local NFP threewalls, Edie Fake recalled Carl Andre.
Closed on April 15 , 2012
220 E. Chicago Avenue (MVDR Drive)
Chicago IL 60611
The Smart has made an effort to push its programming outward: into its lobby and courtyard. That physical movement runs parallel to the community engagement which has been a major thematic concern of several recent exhibitions. “Feast” wasn’t solely a remembrance of the past by means of a presentation of artifacts; rather, “Feast” was a new sort of moment, available to be experienced via the socialization which was possible at its opening reception.
February 16 – June 10, 2012
Smart Museum of Art
University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
Curated by Stephanie Smith
Artists: Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Sonja Alhäuser, Mary Ellen Carroll, Fallen Fruit, Theaster Gates, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, InCUBATE, The Italian Futurists, Mella Jaarsma, Alison Knowles, Suzanne Lacy, Lee Mingwei, Laura Letinsky, Tom Marioni, Gordon Matta-Clark, Mildred’s Lane, Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, motiroti, National Bitter Melon Council, Ana Prvacki, Sudsiri Pui-Ock, Michael Rakowitz, Ayman Ramadan, Red76, David Robbins, Allen Ruppersberg, Bonnie Sherk, Barbara T. Smith, Daniel Spoerri, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and others.
Mikey McParlane’s performance on April 1, 2012, was really something special. Relevant to contemporary gender issues (whether I’m able to tease-out any deeper meaning) McParlane presented ambiguously in the guise of a harlequin. Here, the choreography, costume, makeup, audio and lighting came together perfectly. It was weird and beautiful.
April 1, 2012
“Second Annual Lyp Sinc Show”
1136 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60642
Performances by: Happy Collaborationists, Ben Foch, Sasha Hodges, Mikey McParlane, Sofia Moreno, Jillian Soto, Courtney Macandanz, Rosé Hernandez, Robin Deacon, Taisha Paggett, Jake Myers, Sharon Lanza, Monica Panzarino
Runner-up: Edyta Stepien & Ayako Kato @ Chicago Art Department
Hashimoto’s work was interesting in its own right. But, too, quite literally depending upon fiber, it recalled gallery artist Anne Wilson’s past treatments of the space, and prefigured Fred Sandback’s recent showing there as well. Politics aside, it’s rare for a dealer (here) to survive long enough for such a formal thread to become evident–running through a succession of shows. Hashimoto was polite and professional, and he didn’t need to be so.
September 14 – October 20, 2012
“Super-elastic collisions (origins, and distant derivations)”
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
118 N. Peoria St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Runner-up: “Lane/Sirianni” @ New Capital
76,000-square-feet of colored vinyl, with a 500,000 USD budget, whose real cost was the good will of its patrons.
June 5 – September 30, 2012
The Chicago Loop Alliance’s “Color Jam” by Jessica Stockholder
State Street and Adams Street
Runner-up: “De-mystifying the Art Critic @ Chicago Artists’ Coalition”
Insofar as a tangible return on investment is concerned, ACRE stands head-and-shoulders above it’s peers. Whether related to the residency, the sheer number of shows produced by ACRE has transformed the landscape of the Chicago art world.
1913 W. 17th Street, 1F
Chicago, IL, 60608
(12) Greatest Misses by Chicago’s Critics: “Noelle Mason @ Thomas Robertello Gallery” and “Sheree Hovsepian @ moniquemeloche”
Above: Artist Noelle Mason explains the process by which the satellite-mapped US/Mexican border city “bird’s eye perspective” textile in the foreground was fabricated; pinhole camera prints documenting her substantial skydiving experience are mounted on the wall in the background.
Above: Sheree Hovsepian with her artwork.
We all wonder why some shows receive press while others do not. Mason and Hovsepian “did everything right,” and yet received scant critical attention.
“Blue Skies/Black Death”
September 7 – November 3, 2012
Thomas Robertello Gallery
27 N. Morgan
Chicago, IL 60607
February 4 – March 24, 2012
2154 W. Division (@ Leavitt)
Chicago, IL 60622
These two (three) were interesting for the same reason: brush or roller “strokes” were applied directly to the walls of the exhibition site. “Painting,” here, was no longer wholly a commodity but rather also a temporary transformation of the venue itself.
May 6 – August 19, 2012
Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S. Cornell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60615
Robert Davis and Michael Langlois
“Living the Dream” in “Re: Chicago”
September 16 – March 4, 2012
DePaul Art Museum
935 W. Fullerton
Chicago, IL 60614
Bey was exactly as expected; Kahra was wholly unexpected. Both photographers presented evidence of the human condition, the bodily circumstance, of their subject. Whether relatively conventional or experimental in its execution, the genre of social documentation is alive and well. Sincere, but not maudlin, the work in each case was a relief from the tide of irony here yet to ebb.
“1975 to the present, a career survey”
May 13 – June 24, 2012
The Renaissance Society
5811 S. Ellis Avenue
Bergman Gallery, Cobb Hall 418
Chicago, Illinois 60637
threewalls’ artist-in-research residency
June 1 – June 30, 2012
119 N. Peoria #2d
Chicago, IL 60607
After “Color Jam” and “Forever Marilyn” the bar couldn’t have been much lower.
Installed in August of 2012; now closed.
220 E. Chicago Avenue (MVDR Drive)
Chicago IL 60611
Norton’s schmutzy floral collages incorporate all manner of found objects–cast or bound together with wax and resin. If her additive Ab Ex, Neo-Dada process might recall a male figure such as Rauschenberg, her palette and penchant for translucent materials are more distinctly feminine.
After showing at Johalla Projects and the late Ebersmoore, Norton graced the MCA in 2012. In 2013 she was hired by Northwestern University; and institutional connectivity is, we all know, key to longevity in Chicago.
August 7 – October 23, 2012
Curated by Karsten Lund
220 E. Chicago Avenue (MVDR Drive)
Chicago IL 60611
(I) The following errors were identified and corrected in the article above:
- “Sofia Leiby” was originally written as “Sophia Leiby”
- “Vincent Uribe” was originally written as “Vince Uribe”
- “Chris Smith” was not named as Jake Myers’ partner in Tag Team
(II) Image of Jason Lazarus at ACRE Projects removed:
- On March 25, 2012, the author of the article above created a photograph of Jason Lazarus in the act of igniting fireworks in the alley behind ACRE Projects. Uploading said original digital image to Flickr, the author of the article above maintained the nomenclature which he received on-site at the time of said event: ACRE staff referred to said event as Lazarus’ “Fireworks Extravaganza.” Regarding that reference, for 16 months no complaint was made. Jason Lazarus saw said image on Flickr 16 months ago, left a comment on Flickr at said time, and therein made no complaint about the presence of the words “Fireworks Extravaganza” in said image’s Flickr caption. After the publication of the article above a complaint was received by Bad at Sports, from ACRE, with regard to the use of the words “Fireworks Extravaganza” in said image’s caption on Bad at Sports. The offending image and caption have been removed from the article above.
(III) No Endorsement:
- The author of the article above failed to clearly indicate that even as his viewing experience was his own, so too his conclusions were his own. No individual member of Bad at Sports, nor Bad at Sports collectively, ought to be assumed to endorse the article above, in part or in whole. Errors and omissions are the fault of the author of the article above, not Bad at Sports.
Likewise, with the exception of content which he has produced, the author of the article above endorses no content on Bad at Sports, whether said content is found in the blog, podcast, or in any other place.
- In the article above, an image of John McCracken’s “Untitled,” 1967, appears opposite Dan Flavin’s “Untitled (for you, Leo, in long respect and affection) 3,” 1978. Whether appropriate, McCracken has been associated with “finish fetish” artists: meticulous practitioners of craft, whose minimal objects are denominated by clean, smooth surfaces, illustrated by the mirror-like reflectivity of McCracken’s piece in said image, above.
Heidi Norton, while having exhibited geometric figures in the same museum (MCA) in the same year (2012) as McCracken, is in no danger of being confused with him. Norton’s work of late has been hallmarked by blobs, drips (see the image of Norton’s work, above) and other surface irregularities.
The author of the article above chose to employ the word “schmutzy” to describe said formal qualities in Norton’s work. “Schmutz,” literally, means “dirt,” though it’s more broadly used to signify some foreign matter: possibly organic, probably only semi-solid, and definitely capable of making a mess. The primary meaning of the word cannot be overlooked.
Artists and critics, male and female, gay and straight, in contemporary Chicago, have set precedent for the descriptive usage. For example, the application of such material to a picture plane was the definition of “painting” provided by Vera Klement: “a mark with liquidy [sic] stuff…a recreation of the body in a way, it’s the stuff that’s in your body, sloshing around in there, that kind of feces, primal material,” at 8:42 – 10:05, in the BaS podcast “Episode 214: Constellations: Paintings from the MCA Collection” October 4, 2009.
And prior to said statement by Klement, Jason Foumberg wrote: “paint flows expressively like an ejaculation,” in his June 22, 2009, piece “Portrait of the Artist: Dutes Miller,” in Newcity.
Bodily processes and sexuality might be hinted at by a word such as “schmutz” when used in relation to the appearance of Norton’s work; but, the association is no more necessary than is forcing such a (bodily, sexual) reading of “finish fetish” in relation to McCracken’s work. And it’s wrong to conflate the artist and the artwork: a description of one ought not to taken as a description of the other. In no place has it been written that Norton is schmutzy, or is a schmutz.
Postscript above appended on July 21, 2013, by the author of the article above, subsequent to a letter received from the blog’s editor.