Pedro Velez, “#DrunkDictators,” 2014, Installation View, monique meloche gallery.
The ironies were too many to pass up writing about Pedro Vélez for Bad at Sports. Most immediately because I am a white male (no matter how I try, will this article be an episode of what Vélez constantly points out, neocolonialism?) who readily acknowledges the privilege within the system that’s been set up around me. Ironic since I have not seen the Whitney Biennial yet and am not sure if my budget will allow me to fly out to New York City, so I haven’t seen Vélez’s piece in the Whitney. Doubly ironic again since at one point several years ago Vélez publicly announced that he would not show art in Chicago since the city and art scene could not handle someone operating as both an artist and a critic. He chose to operate as a critic in Chicago so the only artwork of his I’ve really seen is the work currently at monique meloche gallery (mmg) for the “On the Wall” series. And lastly, it was ironic since it wasn’t so long ago that Dana Bassett made a gif of Vélez’s Twitter avatar, morphing him into the Grinch for her “What’s the T?” column on this same blog, in response to some comments she judged too harsh. They wouldn’t be the last from him.
Despite and perhaps because of these ironies, I’ll press on. If you’ve been following Pedro Vélez on Twitter, as indeed you should be, you can begin to see how linked his artwork is with his work as an art critic. Speech is a key element of Vélez’s work in all senses, and it is frequently put under his microscope: he examines which artists get talked about, plus why and how are they talked about; curating as speech receives a similar treatment as does museum administration; and perhaps most importantly, Vélez regularly surveys what we (the art press and critics) aren’t talking about and why, and what does that say about us and the larger art system? These notions and the questions they provoke are taken to Facebook and Twitter for quite lively discussions and debates that can join together like-minded individuals or result in some bruised feelings—both outcomes are equally likely.
It wasn’t surprising to see the devices of speech that Vélez often uses on display in his #DrunkDictators installation at mmg. Included on large poster-like sheets are the hashtags he refers to frequently, such as #neolibralism, along with less likely tags invented to roll together multiple points of critique like #Jame$Cunolialism, which is a pointed reference to the previous director of the Art Institute of Chicago. The iconic Twitter bird is included, drawn by hand, and appropriately, it’s breathing fire. Vélez doesn’t mince his words—that’s what makes him a good critic, but because of that he is often accused of being angry, an accusation he notes is likely to be born out of stereotypes since his white counterparts often receive no such accusations. #angry is also included on a poster-like area of #DrunkDictators. Around these are hand-drawn picket signs with a letter style approaching a punk rock flyer crossed with early graffiti. The phrases here are more opaque, even if you follow his dialogue online, like “Rum Ruby Stato” or “#15.”
Pedro Velez, “#DrunkDictators” (detail), 2014, monique meloche gallery.
Pedro Velez, “#DrunkDictators” (detail), 2014, monique meloche gallery.
These pickets and the hashtags (one picket just has #s on it) are the most overt reference to what has become called “hashtag activism,” which is a horrible, condescending phrase that seeks to neutralize the incredible power that activism can have on social media as networks spontaneously link up for a common cause, bringing together what Vélez both facilitates and instigates on occasion. As I write, apparently Fox “News” is slamming #BringBackOurGirls while willfully and gleefully ignoring the fact that such a tag is intended to motivate the political action to bring back the kidnapped girls, not to get the kidnappers to give them up—but when it comes to #Benghazi, Fox News is all about tags. Digital activism is an extremely important political tool as is its continuous development, and Vélez is one of very few artists to take it seriously as an art inspiration.
The questions that Vélez brings up consistently are vitally important ones of representation, of power, of true, real equality, of freedom and agency. They are not questions only of interest to people of color; they are not narcissistic questions. They are of course questions that many people would prefer not to ask, or answer, or even find out the answer to. And people get upset when these questions are asked and answered. But they are central to moving our world in a more just direction, and therefore, these questions must be posed. Thank goodness Vélez is asking them—few other artists are.
Vélez’s work is on view in the 2014 Whitney Biennial through May 25, and his #DrunkDictators is on view at monique meloche gallery through May 31.
“Hit me in the head hard enough to knock me over. This needs to look real, so I’d rather you hurt me then it look fake.” These were some of my first words to Chen Shen, then a 1st year graduate student in the Photo Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Until that point, we had never met before, and I could see him a little hesitant to follow my request. I was getting ready for a performance at Cranbrook Art Museum and we just a few days from the event. While Chen had initially responded to an open request for an event photographer, there was still a very crucial role I needed filled: someone who looked like they were in the audience, who would come out of nowhere and clock me in the head so I could crash into a couple people and hopefully get them to spill their drinks on me to effectively end the performance. Looking like he was a well dressed guest, no one would know he was a performer until curtain call.
Soccer Playground, 2013
At that point, I wasn’t yet familiar with his work, which would have clued me into his hesitation. Not only is Chen accomplished in the nuances of his craft, his work is quite the opposite of what I asked him to do. I wanted him to be rude, angry and the center of attention; to shock and appall others and to possibly really hurt me. Chen isn’t looking to shock, but wants his works to remain open ended, becoming conversational instead of controversial. In his large scale photos as well as his more intimate portraiture, Shen aims to open a dialogue about how industrialization changes a place, for better or worse. Humans change their environments in response to changing needs, yet what are the impulses to change and who are those deciding what change and when? We will continue to adapt to our new surroundings, but are these a manifestation of our dreams or a political power?
Though its only been a few days since he received his MFA from Cranbrook, it has been the better part of a year that he has been honing his Garden Metro series, started this past summer focusing on his home town of Changping, China, which is one of 18 suburbs of Beijing. Often referred to as the “Garden of Beijing”, it has very recently been transformed by population growth aided by the arrival of a new train line leading into the city. The Changping Metro Line took only one year to build, and the project’s speed is a symbol of change in the country as a whole. While touted by the Chinese government as a testament to industry and advancement, Chen is weary of the pace of change in China and its affect on traditional methods, safety and ethical standards that often get in the way of fast paced progress.
None of the highrises, office buildings or governmental buildings and stadiums in the series have people in them. Instead, humans exist within the deterioration of the older ways, in the fields and parks instead of the office parks. They inhabit the in between spaces. Transportation doesn’t just connect two places, it shrinks the spaces in between, as a blur through the windows of a train, dots within grids from a plane, etc. Sensitive to this blurring which can lead to erasure, Chen has tried to capture the accelerating change in the moment, as what exists off the train can’t be seen while on it. In the stillness of these portraits, he aims to preserve what was there just before the train came along, as well as the moments after it first arrived in Changping.
Tom: Do you think there is a certain type of sadness here? A lot of your works relate to how we relate to our environment and how that can change us.
Chen: I don’t really shoot the portraits or landscapes with a ton of light, or making them heavy with aggressive color. I try to hold something back a little bit, to leave something on the image. I want to leave part of the image for the audience to put themselves in it and feel those sensations by themselves.
T: Even those it is not visible in, the train exists in all the photos. It becomes a specter or dragon that divides the landscape, it changes how people interact with the landscape. Your series tends to focus on the change to your hometown, how it is not always positive.
C: I think the rail is kind of a dilemma. Something going too fast can easily slip out of control. The people living in the Garden may have a dream about what the future is, but when things are going wild or crazy, you cannot really predict what will happen. Also there are some things that change so fast. When you leave for a few years and then come back, it is hard to recognize anything. So some of it is dealing with the present with the past.
T: When you went back to China last summer, were you expecting to do this series? Or did it come out of a realization of how different your home town was?
C: I had a plan before I came back to Beijing, but I changed my idea of where I was going with the series when I was able to experience the changes there. For the Metro, everything was new, and it didn’t take that long to build. I took the Metro line, and when you are on the train you can see all the places changing so fast — like in an hour — from the city to rural fields. More and more people are moving further outside of the city, because central Beijing is really expensive. Many people are moving from other provinces to Changping, but work in Beijing, so the Metro line really has changed how many people live there.
Flower Clown, 2013
T: As there are two sides to the idea of progress, I’m assuming that many people had different reactions to the rail line. Did you see that in the people who you photographed?
C: One or two of the portraiture subjects are my neighbors, and they have been living there for a really long time, but some of the portraits are total strangers. I met with them to have a talk with them as well as to ask their permission to photograph them. I went to specific locations to both take their photograph and talk with them about that place.
T: Has this series been seen by the participants or by people in China? Have you shown them there?
C: I didn’t publish them in China, but they have already been shown on Chinese websites that are like Flickr, as well as photo club sites, and people seemed to have different attitudes about them. Some said they had really been touched by the photos. They can see the sadness and get the metaphors in them. But some people didn’t really want to see that kind of photo. They think that a photographer should not make negative comments about China. But that is not a major part of the public though. There is a small group who are really aggressive in terms of nationalism, and they likely think the Western media has a lot of bias against China’s current state. I think more people prefer the project and have had positive comments on it.
T: With one story, another is left out. Progress is considered a good thing, yet it eliminates another way of being, forcing it out. So there is going to be multiple sides.
C: But I’m not trying to document something as much as finding the lyrical moment.
T: What about your Thesis exhibition? Having to choose only two photos from your Garden Metro series, a lot of weight bears on them to summarize the series. There was a photo of two musicians called Erhu Players and a portrait of a clown…
C: He is a flower delivery clown, so he is supposed to be really happy, delivering flowers and performing some magic for the customer. One day I ran into their shop and asked permission to photograph one of the clowns. I asked the clown to show a pose that he would do for a customer, but to me, he just showed that sad face (laughs). So i kind of think that he doesn’t really like his job at all, and I imagine that he doesn’t really get a good salary. The society is moving so fast, that some groups are getting wealthy really quickly and then the others are not. I also think its interesting to have a clown in this series, because clowns are from Western culture, so its kind of rare to see many clowns in China.
I use flowers as a metaphor in the series, both real and painted, like in some of the portraits. Traditionally, Changping has been considered a very beautiful place and is known as the Garden of Beijing. Flowers are very fragile, some live for such a short time, yet they have been around much longer than all of our architecture. I’m most interested in the sun flower, though, because the sun can be political imagery in Chinese thought.
Erhu Players, 2013
T: In the photo of the two musicians, they hold onto a traditional instrument of China, the erhu, and repurpose the space to provide them with an acoustic environment. While they are tiny in comparison to the architecture surrounding them, they powerfully subvert its intention — existing under the rail instead of on the train. Instead of forward travel, they stay still in time, even halting time by keeping to the traditions. They serenade the space, humanizing it. Yet if the rail didn’t exist, they wouldn’t have the acoustics it provides. It becomes a new relationship and a new use of the space.
C: This was the hottest day of the summer. Whenever I see this picture, I can imagine the sound of their music mixed with all the sounds of nature and competing traffic. It always brings me back to that moment.
T: This rail line is replacing architecture and infrastructure from the late 20th century. Its pretty recent stuff when you think about China’s long history as a nation, yet it has powerful implications on how the political atmosphere has changed. How is this different than what the 20th century architecture replaced?
C: There are still many supporters of Mao and they are very patriotic. Especially older people. Many of them remember that period firsthand. Western people probably see it as a brutal time, but for these people, the revolution was happening while they were teenagers and so they were swept up in it. It still has a strong impact on Chinese society. After 1979, the people were opened up to the whole world and different philosophies and new cultures. Again, the younger generation was influenced by this, being able to go abroad as well as embrace Western culture. China has both socialism and capitalism happening together which is very interesting from anyone’s perspective.
T: Yeah, there are so many people in America that will defend capitalism to their death even though it is keeping them in poverty. Likewise, any inkling of socialism brings everyone screaming, yet many of the established parts of our society are socialist constructs.
There were several working prints and contact sheets hanging up and laying around his studio on factories and power plants, even some office buildings. All of them focused on steam rising out of them. In the night, the steam is ghost like, filling the space and haunting it, much like the train line in Changping does in his other works. Other times, the steam is barely visible or imbued with a tint applied in editing, yet it occupies the majority of the picture plane. While the architecture remains locked to the ground, in service to humans until it would eventually lose all purposeness and be reduced to rubble, a victim to gravity, the steam keeps rising. Freedom to return to a natural state, barely visible sometimes, yet overwhelmingly there. In their early state, they appeared to be some of his most hopeful works yet.
C: These are new, these are in Michigan about an hour from here. Actually, the tea pot outside is part of my process for this series, coming from a lyrical approach. I started to have an interest in the topics of Wildism and Life Cycles. Concentrating on forms of water as a metaphor throughout the series, so basicly you see the steam here, or the steam from the teapot, or other forms like the factories.
T: They have a spiritual element.
C: Yeah, thats what I’m interested in talking about. Like something behind what you’re looking at. I kept thinking that the factory or the power plant also is an organ of life, cause the factory is kind of like a body and the steam coming out of the chimney is trying to speak out and express something.
“Malachi at the Empty Bottle (Pool Table Series),” 2003. Photograph by Angeline Evans.
Guest Post by Jessica Cochran
This year’s Whitney Biennial curators Michelle Grabner, Anthony Elms and Stuart Comer cast the net so far beyond Chelsea that New York Magazine’s Jerry Saltz lamented “curators are so determined to stay pure, to avoid acknowledging the machinations of commerce, that the show is completely disconnected from the entire world.” Elsewhere, however, in the pages of the more academically inclined Artforum, Emily Apter took the biennial’s discursive turn away from New York centric art objects as an opportunity to consider the “liminal space” of a museum biennial “replete with printed matter, writing, texts of all sorts—in short, with words.” “The textual object,” she writes, “demands to be seen as a live, or “living,” work, an interface of bio and res.”
Its true, the archival impulse is what set the tone and struck a chord this year, particularly in the work of Chicago-based Joseph Grigely and Public Collectors (founded in 2007 by Marc Fischer), both curated into the biennial by Anthony Elms. Each taking as their subjects the lives of a deceased creative individual and his personal belongings, their projects build meaningfully on the Whitney Biennial’s recent history of both deceased artists and artist-curated “sub exhibitions,” notably from the 2012 edition the inclusion of George Kuchar (died, 2011); Robert Gober’s presentation of work by Forrest Bess; Nick Mauss’ curation of queer-oriented work culled from the museum collection; and also discursive contributions, such as Andrea Fraser’s essayNo Place Like Home.
Joseph Grigely’s projectThe Gregory Battcock Archive, 2009-2014 is a mini exhibition of ephemera culled from the archives Gregory Battcock that Grigely recovered himself in the storage area of an artist studio building. Battcock was an intrepid New York critic (something of a reformed artist) who was mysteriously murdered in Puerto Rico in 1980 and known for his writing on minimalism and other emerging genres of conceptual art. The Whitney display, with postcards, photographs, manuscripts and scribbled notes organized into vitrines, is an extension of Grigely’s own text driven practice, specifically the projectConversations with the Hearing. For the art workers among us, this glimpse into the world of a dynamic talent and fastidious thinker gives pause for reflection: how will my activities live on after I am gone, and who is going to care?
In scholarship on artist’s books, much has been written about the concept of paratext as it impacts a book’s concept and meaning. An artist’s reflexive manipulation of the book’s gutters, typography, headers and index, for example, impact the text’s meaning as it is delivered to the reader. So too in Grigely’s presentation of the Battcock images and texts in the real dimensional space of the gallery, a different kind of paratext becomes important: the vitrines as support structures and the aesthetic arrangement of the material. The vitrines, “each made of a different hard wood, a different shape and height” and “composed as an irregular modular sculpture,” inform the way we maneuver through and consume the text. Because, as Grigely told me, “no archive is disinterested” and in an extension of Joseph Albers’ articulations of color theory, “you can’t put one document beside another without changing both.”
Joseph Grigely, “The Gregory Battcock Archive 2009-2014,” Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art. Photo by Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.
Joseph Grigely, “The Gregory Battcock Archive,” 2009-2014, Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art. Photo by Andrés Ramírez. Courtesy Air de Paris, Paris.
Public Collector’s biennial contribution was dedicated to a different kind of archive—the recordings, ephemera and images of Malachi Ritscher, who, Fischer wrote in a publication for the project, was a “Chicago-based documentarian, activist, artist, musician, photographer, hot pepper sauce maker, and supporter of experimental and improvised music.” Deeply respected and liked throughout the Chicago music community, Ritscher spent years independently recording thousands of live free jazz, experimental and underground improvised live shows at venues throughout Chicago, in addition to his day job as a union engineer and anti-war activist. On November 3, 2006, he self immolated in front of the Flame of the Millennium sculpture by Leonardo Nierman in full view of the Kennedy Expressway just north of Chicago’s busy loop interchange. As he wrote in texts found posthumously and displayed on a poster in the exhibition, “If I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world.”
Unlike Grigely, for Public Collectors, “directing attention to and caring for the creative work of under-recognized people like Ritscher” is at the core of each project they mount. Amidst the presentation of recordings and ephemera, a recorder and a small paper sign, which Ritscher used to record and temper dialogue around him in the clubs, hangs above a series of brown suitcases: “Your cooperation (i.e. restraint) is appreciated.” This statement drips with melancholy. Because while his protest suicide was carefully recorded and it was his hope that it would circulate widely, the video of his death was entirely suppressed; and the reporting of his death, much less any discourse generated, was subdued and grass roots, covered minimally by local and national papers.
Public Collectors, “Malachi Ritscher,” 2014, Installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art. Image courtesy of Marc Fischer.
Public Collectors, “Malachi Ritscher,” 2014, Installation view (detail), Whitney Museum of American Art. Image courtesy of Marc Fischer.
“In this space of affection, navigate the inappropriately cared for and the tossed aside particulars.”[i] In his catalog essay, Elms argues for Deleuze and Guattari’s “close vision”—or a notion of curator as custodian of a culture that is micro, idiosyncratic, ineffable, and eminently forgettable. Though a growing trend in curatorial practice, this decidedly counters the “bigger is better” ethos of the contemporary biennial as a perfectly and purposefully in-graspable thing. It also departs from the biennial’s value system as rooted in the empire building world’s fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries—many call London’s Great Exhibition of 1951 held in a dramatic crystal palace the “first” biennial—designed to give viewers a deeply overwhelming “great mass and jumble of things” (commodities, mostly) as “a challenge to make sense of … unimaginable diversity; to find or invert a “perspective” on the whole so that objects could be made to “stay and lie orderly.”[ii] Anything but orderly and still, Grigely and Public Collectors’ presentations animate the individual, allowing visitors to, in Grigely’s words, “draw and draw out”[iii] the subject because, as Elms points out in his essay, “hearing is not the same as listening.”
Most biennials are to some extent about nation building and nation branding—Prospect in New Orleans as a response to Hurricane Katrina is an American example—and in doing so the confrontation or processing of deeply entrenched national trauma. In the Whitney Biennial, however, the work of Grigely and Public Collectors amplifies a particularly American trauma of the self actualized yet alienated creative individual who is ultimately alone, forgotten, desperate or dislocated. Instead of healers, however, we might call them thieves. In his essay “The Curious Case of Biennial Art” Jan Verwoert asserts that one paradigmatic biennial artist is a “thief” who (as opposed to the fairly straightforward “jokers” and “scouts”) uses their understanding of the economy of desire to deal in the secrets of a mirage of cultural identity centered around an undecipherable trauma that glints like a ruby in the dust when one tentatively points a spotlight in its direction.”[iv] Battcock and Ritscher may be dead and gone, but their ideas are alive thanks to the illuminating work of Joseph Grigely and Public Collectors. And as the art world grows ever bigger in size and speed, one can only hope that the Whitney Biennial continues to make room for the discursive, textual and “tossed aside particulars.”
Jessica Cochran is a curator living and working in Chicago
[i] Anthony Elms, “Sentences sometimes are impediments,” in The Whitney Biennial 2014 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014), 155
[ii] Donald Preziozi, “The Crystalline Veil and the Phallomorphic Imaginary,” in The Biennial Reader, ed. Elena Filipovic, Marieke Van Hal, Solveig Ovstebo (Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall, 2010), 45
[iii] Joseph Grigely, “The Gregory Battcock Archive 2009-2014,” in The Whitney Biennial 2014 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014), 185.
[iv] Jan Van Verwoert, “The Curious Case of Biennial Art,” in The Biennial Reader, ed. Elena Filipovic, Marieke Van Hal, Solveig Ovstebo (Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall, 2010), 190
Disco Fever: Isa Genzken’s Retro-spective at the MCA
Get down, get down
You probably know of Isa Genzken as the iconic German artist famous for her wild sculpture assemblages. And you may have heard that her MCA exhibition which opened mid-April had a lot to do with 9/11, but what’s suspiciously absent from the reviews of the show is that Genzken is a super freak. References to disco, colorful music and clubs are constant throughout the exhibition. Genzken’s cement boom box table is solemn but still lyrical, and the 2002-2003 series “Social Facades” are like flattened disco balls. Mirrored plastic panels and bright club kid colors are incorporated in many of the sculptures and 2-D works on view at the museum.
One of the most prominent sculptures included in the show looks like and is called “Disco Soon” from the “Ground Zero” series. A multicolored party light in a shopping bag stands out in a room of installation behind the disco sculpture.
Disco shopping mall.
Aside from the disco vibes, the video work on display is pretty entertaining. One piece is a lo-fi amorphous melodrama featuring fellow German art superstar, Kai Althoff. At one point Genzken waxes poetic on the weather reporting in Europe and how much better it is in the US. She also made a tourist-y video of skyscrapers and facades in Chicago called “Drive Chicago” when she visited the city for a show at the Renaissance Society in 1992. It’s presented in a room that’s kind of too bright for video, but you can lounge in those comfy Pippiloti Rist bean bags while you watch.
Disco ‘Soon’ (Ground Zero), 2008.
In addition to video and disco, Isa is the OG queen of selfies (telling you, there’s a lot more than 9/11 and mannequins). Portraits comprise a subtle but sustained presence in her work. Genzken is seen at various points in her life: as a young artist in various statues of undress for a video performance, in still photographs amongst a collage of other artists, as an x-ray image drinking wine and then there’s the photo of her ear taken by Gerhard Richter.
Disco might be silly, but it’s way less ridic than that other major solo retrospective in town. The exhibition is on view at the MCA until August 3rd.
#T of the Town
Scene & Be Seen
And you thought there were a lot of openings during the winter.
Caroline Carlsmith’s work at the Northwestern MFA exhibition at the Block made viewers get down. Literally. Emily Kay Henson and Robert Chase Heishman underneath Carlsmith’s table with precisely arranged pyrite.
Diana Harper reading Carlsmith’s poem “The Procedure of Pyritization”.
Way easier to fit entire Northwestern MFA class in a single photo. Raphaël Fleuriet, Caroline Carlsmith, TJ Proechel, Nicole Wilson and Jason Dixon.
The spooky entrance to Cardinal Cross. If you missed the opening you can still visit the exhibition (if you dare!) on May 17th from 3-10PM.
This is your brain on Tony Balko. Peep this video from last weekend’s Cardinal Cross.
Work by Michael Kloss in If I had my life to live over, I’d live over a delicastessen on view at Johalla until June 15th.
Thorne Brandt, Chris Cook, and Anna Cerniglia at the opening for “If I had my live to live over, I’d live over a delicatessen” (mouthful) at Johalla this past Friday night.
Work by Ilie Paun Capriel on view at Johalla until June 15th.
David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 18 December, 2011. IPad drawing printed on four sheets of paper, mounted on four sheets of dibond
92 9/10 × 70 1/10 in. Edition of 10. Annely Juda Fine Art.
All T All Shade
Stepter on the closing of Johnny’s Diner in Logan Sq.
PS- did you hear that the #Logansquarist is “hiring”?
THIS happened Saturday night. You’re welcome. Photo by Mike Paro.
More T of the Town…
Work by Anaïs Daly (ceiling) and Ron Ewert on view at Johalla until June 15th.
18th street was packed on Friday night as art lovers (?) came out of the woodwork for Pilsen Art Walk. This is the scene outside of ROOMS gallery during a performance in the front window.
Work by Jeremiah Jones on display at rooms. Watch the video (of the video), it’s really cool!
Christian Cruz with Elee Eck at the ROOMS gallery opening for Jones Friday night.
The opening for Miss Kilman and She Were Terrible Together curated by none other than Matt Morris at The Hills Esthetic Center on Saturday night.
Morris with Ben Foch and Chelsea Culp at the opening for the exhibition, Miss Kilman and She Were Terrible Together at The Hills Esthetic Center on Saturday night.
Giving good face: Andrew Holmquist with Eric Ruschman in front of a painting by Joan Snyder at The Hills.
Can’t decide if I was more into this belly button eye print or the painting of Tupac. Like Chromatic Consortium, we loved this show for the effortless mixing of more recognizable names like Richard Hawkins, Miller/Shellabarger and Alex da Corte with students from Morris’s undergrad studio seminar.
Ladies Who Wear Leopard: Curator Kristin Korolowicz VS. The Franklin’s Edra Soto at Dock 6 Design + Art #7 this past Friday.
Fad me up, Scotty
If you’ve been to the SAIC MFA show, you know the process and trappings of exhibition display are IN. Here are just a few recent encounters.
Kate Ruggeri is a Chicago-based artist, DJ, and curator who has shown at Roots & Culture (Chicago), Green Gallery East (Milwaukee), Western Exhibitions (Chicago), and Important Projects (Oakland). She is one of those people who exudes a humble cool, yet is enthusiastic about all she’s committed to, and excited about life and the people and things in it. After a handful of years of staying in touch from afar, I wanted to connect more closely to ask Kate some questions about her life and her work before she moves to New Haven in July to pursue her MFA at Yale.
A.Martinez: Were art and making art important to you from a young age?
Kate Ruggeri: Oh, yeah. Totally. My parents were always really encouraging. In elementary school I started taking drawing classes outside of school. I won a few poster contests. I used to do this thing every year called The Olympics of The Visual Arts, which is a New York State program. Pretty much you assemble a team, work on a year long project, and then compete against other teams. When I got a little older I got really into dark room photography. You know, carrying a camera around all the time and developing film in your bathroom. My mom and I took figure drawing classes together. A lot of colleges have art classes for kids during the summer, so I was always doing that too.
Kate in her studio
Martinez: How long have you kept a journal? And what does this practice of journaling do for you and your art practice?
Ruggeri: Since elementary school. I think my first one has a little lock on it. I never really stopped. It’s actually super important, to clear your head, to drain it. I try to write every day. I feel very scattered if I don’t. For art making, it’s good for me to work through ideas and to understand impulses I have. Often I make something and I’m not sure why I made that decision or was drawn to that form. Writing brings everything to the surface. It brings clarity. Studio work is one way of thinking and writing is how I detangle everything. Not just artwise, but life wise. It’s all the same, of course.
Martinez:How long have you had your own studio space? What does it look like?
Ruggeri: After school I had a tiny studio in a building across from Moonshine on Division. It’s been torn down since. I’ve been in the spot I’m at now for a little over a year. It’s a co-op at Damen and Fulton. I moved in there after my old spot on Elston burned down. We have an entire floor that is divided amongst us. My studio’s a mess. I see other people’s studios sometimes, and they have a turntable and little plants and it’s very cozy. My place is like a construction zone. I like that better. It lets me focus on the work.
Martinez: What is a typical day in the studio like for you?
Ruggeri: Nights are better. I like working when no one is around. You can play music loud. I believe in a witching hour. It really depends, though. I usually am working on one sculpture and 4-5 paintings at the same time. If I just finished something big or just installed a show, I draw and watch movies at home. I don’t really have a routine. Ben Medansky once described his ceramic studio as being around a million crying babies. That’s how I feel in there. I work a lot in series, so I just treat 6 pieces at the same time, and then have some experiments going. Right now I have some exercise balls I’ve been sort of doodling on. Then I’ll carve on these wood paintings until my hand hurts. Then I’ll cut some wood shapes out to paint. Or dump plaster on something. It’s a mix of working on very planned pieces and experiments. Everything always changes though.
“Tree Gremlin” 2012
Martinez: How do you begin a painting?
Ruggeri: Putting something down, anything! I break it in. I try not to think about it too much and just get the ball rolling. Usually it’s a good color.
Martinez: You work in both 2D and 3D- how does a piece become one or the other?
Ruggeri: When I was in school I used to trip myself up with that question. I can say now that they’re all paintings. I’m a painter that has sculptural impulses. I try to feed both ways of making. I try to be democratic about it. The larger sculptures can be exhausting to make, so there is often a down period of just painting and drawing before starting one again. Material, color, and mark making can drive a piece to be 3D or 2D. Finding a good object. Seeing a particularly inspiring show of painting or sculpture.
“They Have To Cut Out Part Of My Heart And Rebuild It With New Valves And Shit” 2014
Martinez: What artists inspire you?
Ruggeri: Philip Guston, Mike Kelley, Matisse, Picasso, Claes Oldenberg, Cy Twombly, Franz West, Rauschenberg, Joan Miro, Giacometti, Sterling Ruby, William J. O’Brien, Jonathan Meese, Mary Heilmann, Huma Bhabha, Gerhard Richter, Howard Fonda
Martinez:You have a pretty extensive record collection and DJ monthly at Danny’s. Do you feel there’s a connection between your music endeavors and your art-making?
Ruggeri: Yes. It feels very connected.
Martinez:What musicians inspire you?
Ruggeri: Parliament/Funkadelic, Dead Moon, Congos, Minutemen, Bad Brains, Robert Wyatt, Brian Eno, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Sparks, Beach Boys, Lee Scratch Perry, Roxy Music, De La Soul, Neil Young, Patrick Cowley, Big Star
“Ghost Curtain Call” 2013
Martinez:What do you typically listen to while in the studio working?
Ruggeri: It’s different every time, chosen for the day and mood. But Nas “Illmatic” gets played a lot. J.Dilla, Shuggie Otis, Pastor T.L. Barrett, Skip Spence, Velvet Underground. Mixes from friends. Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, Witch, Amanaz are all good…
Martinez:Do you do collaborations with other artists?
Ruggeri: Sure, I’ve done it a few times. Right now I’m working on a collaboration with Alex Valentine. He gave me these plates to draw on, and then we’ll print them together on newsprint, and then use them to paper mache a sculpture. It’s great because Alex is primarily a printmaker and I know barely anything about the process. I love the idea of making a sculpture made out of drawing. A perfect hybrid.
Martinez: In 2012, you co-curated a show, “Quarterly Site 11: Line-of-Site“, at Western Exhibitions. How did you land this opportunity? What was the experience like for you? And do you think you’ll curate more shows in the future?
Ruggeri: Jamilee Polson Lacy asked me to do it. She’s been doing these curatorial series for a while now, asking artists to curate a show at a different gallery. It was great. I got to work with Alicia Chester and Karolina Gnatowski. It’s fun to be on the other side of things, and it gave me an opportunity to create a show entirely different from my practice. I really wanted to see a show of top notch performance work. Curating is a lot of work, but I would love to do it again. I think the trick is when you start to think, “Why isn’t ___ kind of work being shown? Why hasn’t someone curated a show about ____?” is when you should get on curating a show. I’m starting to feel that, but I would need the right time and space.
Martinez: You and I actually met while undergrads at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. What is something that has stuck with you from your education and experience there about being a painter, artist, or person?
Ruggeri: Something that always stuck with me is remembering how I felt there: supported, invigorated, and that changing the world was definitely possible. It’s good to protect that enthusiasm, even when you’re working 9 to 5 and feel too tired to go to the studio.
“Dollar Sign” 2012
Martinez:How has your experience at Ox-Bow School of Art as student and then again as a fellow affect your art? How long were you there total?
Ruggeri: Ox-Bow. Oh, man. I first went in 2007 as a student, and pretty much tried to take as many classes there as I could. If you got work study, you just had to pay for the credits, which I needed anyway. I went three consecutive Summers and one Winter. The Summer of 2010 was great, I took a class with Jose Lerma called “Expanded Painting, Expanded Sculpture.” Not hard to see it was a big influence on me. I was really lucky to receive a Joan Mitchell Fellowship this past Fall and I was an artist-in-residence for 5 weeks. As a student, classes meet everyday. I also had to wake up every morning to clean toilets for work study. This time, as a resident, it was like being at a beautiful retreat. There were only other residents, I had my own studio, and I got to structure my own day. It was incredible.
Martinez:Congratulations on your acceptance to the MFA Painting program at Yale! What are you most excited about in starting this program in the fall?
Ruggeri: Thanks! I’m most excited about a fresh start. And making better art.
Martinez:What do you think are some interesting things happening around the city of Chicago art-wise?
Ruggeri: I’m finishing up a re-make of a sculpture I lost in the fire. It’s a harp. I just wrapped up these brooches I made for the Three Walls Gala coming up in June. Starting some new paintings. I keep thinking I need to stop because I’m moving, but I have some projects I want to do before I leave. I have an ongoing series of fake album covers, and I have a photo shoot coming up for the next installment.
“Rainbo Series” 2013
Martinez:Your recent show, “Tropical Depression” at LVL3 just closed May 4th. Do you have any other openings coming up?
Ruggeri: No, thankfully! I’m moving to New Haven end of July. I’m trying to tie up loose ends.
Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, art related or not that you think of often?
Ruggeri: Say yes to all opportunities offered to you. Avoid excessive thinking about the past and future.
A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL. She is currently working on a performing arts summer festival called The Living Loop, and will release her first book of poetry this summer.