“I’d be safe and warm if I was in LA…”

November 22, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest post by Jacob Wick.

Towards the end of The Function of Criticism, Terry Eagleton suggests that the “role of the contemporary critic,” which is of course a different thing than the function of criticism - right? a role and a function are different things, but of course the function of something might be to provide a role, or a role might be to serve a function, in both cases it seems like function is greater than, trumps or possibly dictates, role – is to reconnect “the symbolic to the political,” by which he means “engaging through both discourse and practice with the process by which repressed needs, interests, and desires may assume the cultural forms which could weld them into a collective political force.” He is emphatic in pointing out that this role, this idea, is not new at all, but – like many ideas around a libertory role for art, theory, etc – harks back to an earlier historical moment. Eagleton tracks the formulation of what would eventually become criticism to 17th and 18th centuries and the publication of pamphlets like The Spectator or The Tatler or the slightly later Rambler, and posits the function of this publications as the creation of publics against authoritarian rule. It was these publications, Eagleton argues, that began to bind together the bourgeois public sphere as such, and that would later provide foment for this public to assert its hegemony over autocratic rule. It is worthwhile pointing out here that the focus of The Function of Criticism is very, very narrowly trained on England; although in the colonies, I’m sure the publication of the Federalist papers and the myriad pamphlets that fluttered up and down the Atlantic coast would be a decent analogue. In any case, Eagleton’s estimation of publication meaning the creation of the public jogs handsomely alongside Matthew Stadler’s estimation of publication (Stadler is, of course, a former BaS star, on an interview that I was privy to in a relatively non-participatory, hungover fashion). The function of criticism, though, is slightly more pointed than the formation of a public around a text; it is the formation of a demos around an intertext or series of intertexts that weave(s) through contemporary cultural production. In my view, this amounts to provoking and/or fostering the articulation of a local discourse in relation to a larger discourse that supersedes it, for it is around this localized discourse that a public or counterpublic might begin to recognize itself in context.

The not-so-recent hullaballoo over the use or misuse of English in e-flux press releases, which started with the dubious assertion that a language separate from English was being used in the online listserv/journal in Triple Canopy and fizzled out with an entire issue of e-flux journal dedicated to half-assed rebuttals of that thesis provides some useful fodder. e-flux is a listserv that serves some 90,000 readers across the world, and to which are submitted press releases from everywhere, all of them in English, some of them in better English than others. These press releases are generally written in a similar tone and register, a tone and register that is relatively uniform throughout early 21st-century art writing in English. These press releases, because they strive to make sense with and to each other, constitute a discourse. This is not in itself a problem. Neither is the quality of English in use, nor whether this use constitutes a separate language – which of course it doesn’t, that’s ridiculous, if anything it might constitute a sociolect (unless we are going to start talking about International Baseball English or something) – or even that English is being used (lingua francas are important if a global discourse is to be established, right?).

The problem is twofold: first, that this global discourse is directed, at least in part, by the e-flux journal, a monthly publication usually consisting of around 7 articles generally written by a relatively small pool of artists, curators, etc that are recognized by the selfsame global discourse as important, and who are in general from a relatively narrow geographical context. This journal responds generally to the global discourse that is in part produced and supported by the e-flux listserv. The views of this journal, which are not necessarily bad, but generally do not address specific local contexts in any way; to do so in a monthly publication of 7 or so articles would be impossible. Because this extremely limited journal exists in a feedback loop with the global listserv, however, a rather distressing situation arises whereby the narrow view of the journal is regurgitated unproblematically into local contexts, without a consideration for whether or not this discourse is pertinent, or even relevant, to said context. Thus, an informal contemporary art space in Shenzhen might feel the need to publish a press release, in English, on e-flux, in order to participate in a global discourse, but in order to participate in this global discourse it might also feel the need to articulate itself using the tone and register, even the current relevant topics, of that discourse, set by the e-flux journal. The local tone, register, and topics of Shenzhen would then be reoriented in some way towards this strangely narrow global discourse in such a way that what is happening at the informal contemporary art space in Shenzhen reads exactly like what is happening at, say, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. This does not make sense.

A global discourse does not make sense without the existence of local discourses that challenge or at least interact with that discourse. If New York used to be the center of the art world, the Internet is the center of the art world now. This is not an oxymoron; we should drop the tired hat of insisting that the Internet will make us free, is devoid of hierarchy, and so on. Packets of information float horizontally across a non-hierarchical field for a while, yes, but in order for them to be legible they are converted via Internet Protocal (IP) into the hierarchal tree of the Domain Name System (DNS). If you’d like to read an entire book about this, please consider Alexander Galloway‘s Protocol. If you wouldn’t, read this 7 or 9 page gem by Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” In societies of control, power exists in the form of internal and/or internalized functions that corral anarchic forms of life into easily-policed norms. One of these norms might be the notion of “our global society,” the general assumption that we live in a world where we are all flying to Mumbai or Vancouver or Philadelphia whenever the latest investigation of you know, whatever, that we are all part of an abstracted society of global travelers (for more about this, check out Lane Relyea’s book Your Everyday Art World, which I haven’t finished at all, in fact I’ve barely started it, but he writes about this stuff immediately and in a very engaging manner, like in the first chapter or possibly even the introduction). The problem with “our global society,” of course, is that it doesn’t exist, or that it only exists to those who have tremendous wealth or privileged access to tremendous wealth. I live in Los Angeles, for instance, and occasionally am able to access wealth in the form of grants, paid travel by host organizations, etc. I may have been “global” from 2006ish – 2009ish, while I was living in New York and playing relatively regularly with a trio I had with two Irish musicians. My residence in our global society ended abruptly with the crash of the Celtic Tiger. Anyway, the point is that our global society doesn’t actually exist, and by endlessly repeating how it exists, and how great it is, how revolutionary for all of us, local contexts lose the ability to recognize themselves.

For instance, Southern California! The California-Pacific Triennial, which closed recently at the Orange County Museum of Art, made an attempt to at least slightly narrow California’s global context to the Pacific Ocean, rather than across the continent to New York or across a continent and an ocean to Europe. This seems exciting and it probably is, but to be honest the show generally seemed directed at the nonexistent global public I have discussed above, not towards a discourse that exists between or among Pacific art scenes, probably because that discourse doesn’t actually exist. This discourse also does not appear to exist – at least not to me, and I am certainly new, but isn’t that at least sort of the point of this series of blog posts? – in the City or County of Los Angeles.

Last month, I went to an opening at Honor Fraser for Dawn Kasper’s THE ABSURD show. The opening featured a gospel choir of that sang and danced in the space between the PA, pictured, and the two platforms, also pictured, leaving almost no space for an audience. The choir was incredible, really, it reminded me of Andrew Hill’s gospel music, it reminded me of Don Byron saying in 2008 or 2006 or whenever that was that gospel music is the most interesting improvised music happening, the room – an art gallery, seriously – a huge mass of people feeling very intensely, sweating and confused, rich collectors baffled at why they couldn’t see better, everybody looking very confused and happy, some dancing or trying to dance, the singers occasionally falling down from the Spirit. The whole thing felt to me a bit like a gag in the sense that I described in my last post, the gospel choir wrecking the scene of the art opening in a positively heroic fashion. At the post-opening reception a man next to me gushed to the man next to him that he tries to visit New York City once a month for inspiration.

The County of Los Angeles sprawls across 4000 square miles and holds 9.8 million people in fifteen cities speaking something like 200 different languages. In my neighborhood, I hear Tagalog, Spanish, Korean, and Bengali regularly: what are they talking about? What is their discourse? According to the listing at LA Art Resource, there exist at least 50 artist-run (maybe 85) initiatives in the City of Los Angeles (one of the fifteen cities in the county), located in phone lines, apartments, the Internet, lofts, and so on. What are they talking about? What is their discourse? Are artist-run initiatives speaking Tagalog or Korean, Bengali or Thai? Are they speaking to each other, in English, or in Spanish, about their local contexts? What the hell is going on in Burbank or Lancaster, Pasadena or San Gabriel? Surely not nothing. And if nothing is happening, then shame on us allowing that narrative, that public, to disappear from our discourse.

The setup, or lack of setup, of the City of Los Angeles, a setup that Brecht derided in the early 20th century as a collection of culturally vacant suburbs haphazardly roped together under a dubious civic entity (a situation only slightly ameliorated by the Interstate system) might prove actually beneficial to the development of a sort of critical ecosystem, a local discourse that might operate as the conglomerate of a series of hyperlocal discourses. Perhaps it is beside the point to fret about what Los Angeles’s unified cultural identity is, and instead ask what the cultural identity of Koreatown is, and how that relates to neighboring Mid-Wilshire or Historic Filipinotown. What is happening in Los Angeles is not what is happening in New York, but it shouldn’t be, namely because Los Angeles is not in New York. But what is happening in Los Angeles surely has the potential to be absolutely fascinating and exciting, if – maybe only if – we can get a little critical.

Jacob Wick is a conceptual artist living in Los Angeles, CA. For more information, please visit jacobwick.info.




Recoloring Queer and Transgender Performance Art: Reflections on Recent Performance Panels

November 19, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Autumn Hays 

Let us start off by acknowledging that there is a distinct difference between Queer and Transgender subjects. It’s important not to lump these two together. Though related and often overlapping, these are not interchangeable terms. Queer being a reclaimed pejorative for gay, and transgender being a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender. (see more.) With that in mind what I would like to look into a reoccurring concern in the discussions that take place around both queer and transgender performance art.

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Artist Micha Cárdenas. (photo- Fran Pollitt)

In the last month I have seen multiple panels touching on the subject of new Queer and or Transgender works. There was a definitive connection between all panels: and attempt to shake up current the definitions, and what some define as new codified zones of safety. When I say zones of safety, I am referring a kind of identity politics that sits safely in a form of expression that is confortable enough for new standards of acceptance. Artworks that sit in this comfort zone fail to realize the full potentiality of the subjects and often begging to forum it’s own predictable cliché. The challenging of the formulation of a tamed queerness or transgender performance is an often-highlighted theme appearing in new works. The formulation of a safely circumscribed zone undermines the attempt to reconsider the subject due to an inadequate scope.

Queer and or transgender arts panels often attempt to define the new wave of artists making work in these areas. Today many artists are attempting to define a new direction that departs from the identity work that came out the 80s and 90s. Often these earlier works are ascribed the quality of crying out for recognition. Much of the work being produced today is looking for finer definitions, as opposed to this preliminary awareness.

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“Queer Chicago” ‘ Artist Keijuan R Thomas. Defibrillator on 19 October 2013. (photo- Isabelle McGuire)

We could go on to talk about the subject of the word Queer as discussed during the roundtable “New Queer Aesthetics” in late October. Queer New York International Arts Festival (QNYI)  had come to Chicago to exhibit a Queer Fest as an extension of the one in New York at Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery . The Chicago show featured artists Suka Off, Bruno Isakovic, Gabreiela Mureb, and Keijaun Thomas. Queer fest distinctly pulls itself away from other Queer festivals which they feel are accepted ideas of the term Queer. As one of the festivals curators, Zvonimir Dobrović, explained, the festival seeks to redefine and challenge preconceived notions of the term Queer. Not all work is made by the LGBT community and instead is defined loosely by a sort of norm-challenging ascetic. After struggling through various definitions, redefinitions, embracing, rejections, fears of washing out the word of meaning completely, and other post-modern linguistic dilemmas an audience member mentions queerness in regards to race, specifically the colored queer. Why is this important? Because the conversations began to progress from the semanticlogical, what is Queer, to what are current Queer issues are concerned about, who are we dealing with the queer female of color in art today.

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“Transgender/Arts- A Roundtable on the Future of Transgender Cultural Production” at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago on 6 November 2013. (photo- Noah Davies / SAIC)

This November I attended a panel at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Transgender / Arts : A roundtable on the future of transgender cultural production, which  included panelists Trish Salah, Jules Rosskam, Julian Carter, David Getsy, and Micha Cárdenas. During the panel many valid points were made about Transgender art. Micha Cárdenas presented important question to the panel, “Where are the trans women of color in art?” Many of the panelist themselves who specialize in Transgender arts could in fact not think of a single artist. The panel began to discus a kind of film festival, performance and art transgender normative narrative. A washed down version, where you began to see something constrained, not quite all the way there. Sitting in a place somewhere in academia where it is comfortable and safe.

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“Autonets” Artist Micha Cárdenas. (photo- Fran Pollitt)

How does performance readjust and challenge Queer and Trans identity without losing site of the community in general? There is something that happens to us when we are about to fully realize the other; we find a way to compromise, to only go so far. Many Queer or Trans artist today are attempting to push at the boundaries of a newly accepted normative narrative and point at the things we are forgetting, those who still don’t have a voice. The Art world, the world, is still white male dominated. In a way the lull of sleep we put ourselves in this supposedly post-feminism, post-racism, post- sexism, post-gender issues world that we keep referring to as better than it was before is more dangerous. Because hiding under that comfort is the fact we haven’t changed all that much, we should be forging new grounds and making sure it doesn’t fall asleep.

If I was asked where the new queer or trans aesthetic is headed today, I would say somewhere within the struggle of continuous disturbance, in the understanding that things aren’t there yet and we have to keep shaking it up, shaking ourselves up, so we don’t become our own worse enemies, the perpetuators of a normative Queer of Trans identity. As performance art specifically keeps pushing on with another panel at the Hemispheric Institute for Performing Arts, this week discussing “Race & the Colonial Impulse: Queer Performance Practices”, I look forward t a continued discussion that bridges gaps in the dialogue between racial queer and transgender  issues in the arts.

 

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Autumn Hays is an Artist, Curator, Teacher and Writer. She graduated the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in Performance where she received the John Quincy Adams Fellowship. She received her BA in Visual Arts at UCSD. Hays was the recipient of numerous scholarships, grants and awards including two major Jack Kent Cooke association scholarships.Currently she is assistant curator at Defibrillator and Directing Coordinator of the Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. www.autumnhays.com




EDITION #20

November 18, 2013 · Print This Article

Two buses, Two shows

The Central Techno Authority really came through this past Friday as perpetually late but perfectly on time for not one, but two rounds of seriously heady electronic music. First off, I just want to say that I had been excited for this Oneohtrix Point Never show at Constellation for-ever. I heard from a murky internet source that the show was to be opened by Chicago’s Brett Naucke. However, it later surfaced that Naucke was premiering a quadrophonic composition at Experimental Sound Studio. For this iteration of ESS’s Oscillations Series, Naucke was going cultural with a piece based on Richard Serra’s sculpture Reading Cones. Obviously, I had to go to both.

OPN at Constellation.

I headed off on the long journey north to ESS on first the 74 east and then the 50 northbound to wherever Edgewater is. Despite the two buses, I arrived right on time to get a seat for Naucke’s set. I closed my eyes and felt like my brain was unraveling, in a pleasant way. Naucke’s 30 minute set was distinctly metallic, and gave off the aural vibe of the sculpture, which itself appears to be some sort of Staregate-like vortex propelling industrial wavelengths into the atmosphere. The sounds were given life and movement through the quadrophonic experience, which immersed the audience who were also fully zoned. The piece culminated with a twinkly modulation that echoed into silence and eased the audience back to reality. My reality was that I needed to get to Oneohtrix Point Never stat!

Bootleg of Naucke’s Composition for Richard Serra’s Reading Cones.

I unfortunately had to skip out on Alex Barnett & Ken Camden as I boarded the 50 southbound to the 77 back west to Constellation. To be honest, I was a little panicked– I had spaced out and forgot to buy tickets. The show had sold out, but reality wasn’t going to get in the way of my destiny. After another endless bus ride, I arrived at the venue ready to scheme my way inside. Shout out to the slackers who bought tickets and didn’t show up cause I got into the shit no problem. Sat down three rows back, right in front of point never’s Daniel Lopatin right as he began to play.

Oneohtrix Point Never’s encore at Constellation.

Lopatin’s sound has noticeably evolved with his most recent release on Warp Records and I was really curious to see how his new sound would translate live. Oneohtrix Point Never was initially known for the mellow post-apocalyptic feel he achieved by looping his Juno 60 and pitched down samples. His set reflected this change. Instead of his trusty Juno 60 dominating his rig, Lopatin’s faced glowed angelically under the ambient light of his Mac laptop. Although the method has changed, the vibe remains the same. The audience was treated to a series of electronic compositions incorporating many of his new techniques including melodious chopped up vocal samples and pulsing synthesizers and a surprising amount of bass and percussion. The pulsating live visuals played off the hyper modern digital Wabi-sabi design of his most recent album covers. The pairing of music and visuals created a polysensorial glimpse into our inevitable cold futures wandering aimlessly in small pods across space time into nothingness. As the set came to close, I felt uplifted. That night the impossible became possible.

On the CTA, time is not linear. Manifest your own reality.

Brandon Warren Alvendia (Chicago, IL) 36 y.o. male Filipino-American is a suspect in the petty theft of 2.5 sentences of a press release text from an undisclosed New York City Art Gallery. The perpetrator attempted to invoke Fair Use Doctrine and thus waived the use of the cryptomnesia defense. The victims will remain unidentified to protect the privacy of their families. Alvendia is expected to plead guilty and accept his sentence of a lifetime of community service.

Installation at Women Weed & Weather.

The Weatherman Report

Gerhard Richter, Rain, 1988 (oil on canvas, 67 cm x 92 cm).

Cement Obstacle Foils Cyclists on Damen

Tired of the conventional potholes and run-of-the-mill cracks that dot and line every block of the city? Bike commuters were no doubt asking for a new kind of obstacle, and Chicago has answered the call. Introducing an impressive, and hopefully temporary, cement addition to the already difficult cycling conditions at Damen and Walnut.

It’s existed long enough to earn some traffic cones and warning signs, though the majority of the safety equipment has fallen over and drifted into the bike lane. Other rough-riding winners of the week include the nearly bike-proof eastbound stretch of Grand, between Pulaski and Central Park, and the viaduct on 23rd street, between Western and Rockwell, which last month featured a white loveseat that was perfectly situated in the middle of the craggy westbound lane. Keep reading the Traffic Report for more roadway gossip and Chicago street surprises in the future!

From Emerald City to blue painted beans, Saturday Night Openings Pop

A gem by Annie Strachan. at LVL3′s Emerald City.

LVL3 directors, Vincent Uribe and Anna Mort showing emerald solidarity at the exhibition’s opening.

Cutris Mann’s new cutout images of his studio are to die for.

A detail of Daniel Luedtke’s large scale mixed media sculptural work at the opening for Secound Primary at 3433.

Carson Fisk-Vittori and Derek Fretch during their triumphiant return to Chicago for the opening of Women Weed & Weather at Carrie Secrist Gallery.

WTT? visits New York, Gets Killer Mani

SO, here’s the T. Last week I was in NY for a wedding at Bryant Park.* The affair was black tie and I arrived in NY in desperate need of a manicure. In an usually unusual turn of events, I ended up in the East Village apartment of Miss Pop Nails, fashion manicurist to all my favorite drag queens, celebrities and designers. Being the So Fla yentas that we both are we totes hit it off, and Miss Pop gave me the most to die for manicure I’ve ever had.

Photo by Spencer J. LaFrandré.

Since I can’t keep anything to myself, here are some masterpieces nails that Ms. P created for the Guggenheim before the project was unfortunately scraped due to some “other” museums nail salon.

Masterpieces of nail couture.

If you’re like me, and can’t get enough of fly nails, follow Miss Pop Nails on tumblr/instagram and check out her tutorials. Here’s how to do my wedding nails on Cosmo. Living for her Warhol-inspired flower mani and the project with KAWS!

I died.

*A shooting went down on the ice rink the same night as the wedding! That was it’s whole own crazy story.




Wandering SF: SF Public Library

November 13, 2013 · Print This Article

The best thing about living in San Francisco is that I can step out of my apartment and, without any planned route, find an art exhibition that I had no idea was happening.  At the beginning of every month, I like to walk my rent check to my property manager’s office by the Civic Center.  The Civic Center is a cultural crown of jewels in this city with a symphony, ballet, opera, library, and museum surrounding City Hall.  SF is so cool that the city closes the Civic Center for massive events like a concert by Deadmau5 or the 2013 X Games Dew Tour complete with a skate park and dirt bike course.

City Hall

Louise M. Davis Symphony Hall

War Memorial Opera House

On this particular rent-check-walk, I decided to check out the main branch of the SF Public Library at the Civic Center.  If you’ve seen the 1998 movie City of Angels starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, then you’ll understand this: it’s the same library that all the angels in black coats visit to read books and stand around looking creepy!  Little did I know that there would not only be one exhibition, but five!  Stumbling across these exhibitions in a space like a public library brought me back to undergrad and learning about the idea of curating.  It’s an interesting position to be curating a show at a library – a local history and audience are engaged primarily with something else in the space (the books) but are somehow casually distracted, entertained, and educated by the exhibition.

SF Public Library main branch

A part of the exhibition, Three Artists Witness the Occupy Movement: A Plein Air Story.

The first exhibition I accidentally saw was called Three Artists Witness the Occupy Movement: A Plein Air Story.  If it weren’t for the table jutting out in the middle of the walkway, I would have kept on going about my tour of the library, but I paused to see what the enclosed case had to offer.  It was lovely paintings by three different Oakland artists who documented the Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco events.  The placard said, “Exhibition continues in café wall display case, lower level,” so I decided to see what else was in this show.

The other part of the exhibition, Three Artists Witness the Occupy Movement: A Plein Air Story.

John Paul Marcelo, The Port Shutdown, 2011. Oil on wood.

Anthony Holdsworth, Occupy the Port of Oakland, 2011. Oil on Board. 20″ x 28″.

Jessica Jirsa, Closing of the Ports, December 12th, 2011. Oil on Canvas.

The painting show was a lot of fun.  It’s unclear who curated the show based on the text provided, but a little googling on the Internet leads me to believe that the show was originally presented as Occupy: The Plein Air Story and curated by Eric Murphy at Oakland’s Joyce Gordon Gallery last November.  This exhibition cleverly puts three different artists side-by-side for a comparison of the same subject depicted in varying styles.  John Paul Marcelo’s The Port Shutdown is an eerie march of shadowy dark figures, Anthony Holdsworth’s Occupy the Port of Oakland (2011) is a bright pastel palette of folks walking towards the sunlight, and Jessica Jirsa’s Closing of the Ports (2011) is a colorful cartoon-like gathering of characters.

 

A Little Piece of Mexico: The Postcards of Guillermo Kahlo and His Contemporaries

After looking at the painting show, I turned around to discover the Mr. and Mrs. George F. Jewett, Jr. Exhibit Gallery and an exhibit titled A Little Piece of Mexico: The Postcards of Guillermo Kahlo and His Contemporaries.  In a place like a library, the contributing parties to making the show possible are a paragraph in itself.  Here’s who is billed as presenting the show: The San Francisco Public Library, the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco, the Department of Latina/Latino Studies in the College of Ethnic Studies and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs of San Francisco State University, and City Lights Foundationg.  Wow!

The exhibition makes a fantastic case that the cultural identity of Mexico was shaped by the popularity of the photo postcard at the turn of the 20th century.  With images from international photographers like Guillermo Kahlo, Abel Briquet, F. Leon, and CB Waite, the exhibition honors the iconic images that undoubtedly shaped the current contemporary branding of Mexico’s visual identity.  The significance of this show to the local Mexican and Mexican-American population is palpable, while also revealing the country’s heavy influence on San Francisco’s own architecture and landscape design.

As I walked upstairs to check out a show about tennis, I noticed another show with fabulous architectural renderings.  An exhibition titled UNBUILT: San Francisco spans five venues throughout the city and presents proposals for various buildings and urban spaces within the city that were never realized.  My dad is an architect, so genetically so am I, and so this show was really interesting to me.  Architects also have the best handwriting in the world, so there’s something about architecture and text that is always aesthetically amazing.  As a resident and avid walker of SF for almost five years, I genuinely appreciated seeing these renderings and sketches for spaces that I’ve come to call home – it’s like walking into an artist’s studio or flipping through your old sketch book and seeing thoughts and ideas for past work that just never made it off the page.

Finally, and coincidentally enough for me as a blogger for a blog called Bad at Sports, there were two exhibitions highlighting sports – They Were First: African Americans in Sports and Breaking the Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers.  Both exhibitions provide a more historical context (rather than visual) of the obstacles and triumphs of a marginalized group of athletes.  Simple timelines line the walls of the library with photos and text reminiscent of a history museum show or even the waiting lobby to the “Soarin’ Over California” ride at Disneyland.

Adena Cartsonis, age 9, 2nd place winner for 7-11 category.

The best part of this entire SF Public Library multi-exhibition day was seeing artwork from the winners of an art contest for kids coinciding with Breaking the Barriers.  Northern California kids aged 7 to 18 were asked to portray how they have broken barriers.  As cynical as I’ve become now that I’m 30, there will always be a special place in my life in memory of the art opportunities I got when I was a kid.  Growing up, my suburban New Jersey town offered plenty of art opportunities for kids that I completely devoured – art classes at school, annual art exhibitions at the mall, and contests for different purposes like a banner at an elementary school or the yearbook cover or the town’s New Year’s Eve celebration logo.  How many high school students enroll in AP Art or go through the lengthy submission process for a college art application?  It’s awesome that the library exhibition included this artistic component for the local kids, and its something I believe will be a special introduction for every participant, especially the winners.  Watch out Hugo Boss Prize 2035!

 

Conclusion?  Who knew a day at the library could be so fun and artsy!




INSTALLATOR

October 29, 2013 · Print This Article

“Tumblr is a great way for people who don’t create content to share content thus lending their life some kind of creative import.”  This is the somewhat omniscient Jayson Musson’s tweet from a couple of weeks ago.  The more I think about it – and I have been thinking about it way too much – the more I realize that he’s probably right.  There are a lot of people on Tumblr and I am one of them.  And I cannot get enough.  But you know what, I don’t care if these people haven’t created the content they’re posting, at least they’re posting content – which, in of itself, is a creative act.  And it’s visual, and I personally am constantly learning from it.  It’s a visual literacy of the highest import.

My own Tumblr, Installator, is a curated (for lack of a better term) blog of other people’s content.    Installator (wrapit-tapeit-walkit-placeit) is essentially a compendium of art in a state of movement – being installed, de-installed, moved, crated, knocked down, hung, lifted, cleaned, screwed together, and on and on.  It’s about art as an object, but decidedly not the object that most people understand it to be.  Not precious, or in some cases priceless, well-lit aesthetic nuggets that just seems to appear on walls, or pedestals, in fields, on buildings and above couches.  These are images of artworks that are not static.

Sometimes I wonder if people who go to museums or galleries think these things just kind of magically appear overnight – like some sort of aesthetic fairy flitting down to delicately place a painting on a wall with their sparkly fairy-dusted level.  Well they don’t, and there is a magical coterie of individuals who do make it happen: art handlers/preparators/riggers/etcetera.  I am not an art handler, though I have done my fair share of handling art (I’m also married to a former preparator).  It is with the utmost respect for these folks that I showcase them in the photos that make up Installator.  Other people are impressed too.  Of the many comments I do get on one photo or another – a common one is some form or another of: “I want to do this for living!”

Looking for images can be a pain in the ass, but when I find a good one I get really excited.  I have a loose set of criteria that I stick to when finding them; ideally it’s a large jpeg; includes an image of a person(s); is of an artwork or artist that I admire; is visually representative of the act of installing or de-installing and has to be stimulating to look at.  Funny pictures help, as do process-oriented sets of images.  I mostly start with a Google image search including an artist’s name (or sometimes an artwork) and the word “installing”.  Another route I take is plundering the Facebook photo albums of museums.  I find that European museums do the best job of documenting their behind-the-scenes, but there are a few museums with their own oft-updated Tumblrs, blogs and websites (the Dallas Museum of Art, Contemporary Museum of Art, Houston and the Walker Art Center are tops.)

At this point it seems as though a lot of Museums are catching onto this peeking-behind-the-curtain-thrill.  Many of them are sharing much of the work that goes into setting up an exhibition, not only by posting more and more images for the public, but also using it as a form of education about the lives of artworks.  This can only be healthy.  It humanizes the pricelessness that these objects are assumed to have once they enter the institution.  It also showcases the care for these objects from a preservation standpoint.  I thought this quote from the Chrysler Museum of Art was interesting, even though the images they did post were some of the most beautiful I’ve come across: “We generally do not discuss anything related to the movement of art. There are lots of reasons for this, ranging from the obvious (security) to the obscure (proper protocols and handling).  …. We rarely if ever actually photograph art being moved. This is [a] field where mistakes are not an option, and a great work of art being damaged because somebody tripped over a photographer just can’t happen.”

There is also what I cannot find.  I have a mental list of artists whose work I would very much like to see installed.  There are also museums that simply aren’t interested in showing how work travels from the bowels of their storage to the walls of their galleries.  Outside of Instagram, commercial galleries very rarely show images of their artists work being installed (though Salon94 has a great blog that features this).  Along the same lines, it’s often difficult to find images of art fairs being loaded in.  Artists who have their own websites also rarely show images of their work from this viewpoint (Sterling Ruby and Martin Eder (?) are a couple of exceptions).  Holy Grail images would include almost anything pre-1980, better yet pre-1950.   The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (watermarks excluded) is by far one of the best resources I’ve found.  As far as mediums go, who knew it was so hard to find images of drawings and photographs being installed?

A short wish list, in case anyone was inclined to do some of their own digging and submit: Morris Louis (a good one, though this one is pretty good), Allan McCollum, Eve Hesse, Cady Noland and On Kawara.

8.-de-Menil

What’s next? I thought an old fashion artbook might be a good way to harness a lot of what’s happening on the Installator tumblr.  There is more to mine here: from the relational aesthetics of it all to the art historical precedents of installing art.  However, after looking into it and making a couple of inquiries, I realized that it would never happen.  I don’t own these images and I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the red tape (from artist to gallery to museum) about ownership and rights.  Nonetheless, I do worry that with the fleeting nature of screen-scrolling, people aren’t really looking.  Good old fashion page-turning sounds nice to me – maybe one of these days.  For now, I’ll still be looking for content and posting it for my 137,507 “followers”.

 

Bio: Britton Bertran ran 40000 from 2005 to 2008. He currently is an Instructor at SAIC in the Arts Administration and Policy department and the Educational Programs Manager at Urban Gateways. An occasional guest-curator, he has organized exhibitions for the Hyde Park Art Center, the Loyola Museum of Art and several galleries. You can find him trying to be less cranky about the art world on twitter @br_tton.  Stay tuned for a couple more guest posts where Britton will be waxing poetic on what’s wrong with the Chicago art world circa 2013, while thinking out loud about how to fix it and another post about looking forward to 2014 (and maybe a top 10 list of sorts too.)

Above images:

  1. “KULTÚRA NAPJAINKBAN, dan perjovschi után szabadon” (via richardlivesus)
  2. “The Acrobatic Sculptures of the Rooftop Garden”. Alexander Calder’s “Man” being installed at SFMOMA
  3. MoMA staff dismantling Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937) for shipment to Spain. Photo taken on September 8, 1981 by Mali Olatunji. Image © The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  4. “Monumental wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly installed on Dartmouth campus.  This major site-specific work, titled Dartmouth Panels, was commissioned by longtime arts patrons Leon Black ‘73 and his wife Debra, who contributed $48 million towards the creation of the center.” (artdaily.org)
  5. “This piece is made of ceramics, a medium which Robert Arneson helped bring to a full-fledged, independent art form. Typically, large-scale works such as this would be made out of bronze or marble. Luckily for our installation crew, this piece is hollow, meaning it only weighs between 500-700 lbs. Heave-ho!” (SFMOMA)
  6. “This incredible sculpture by Turner Prize-winning artist Anthony Gormley, consisting of 40,000 clay figures, has been put on display at an empty Tudor manor house…. It took five days to place the humanoid characters into position across the ground floor of Barrington Court, a National Trust Property near Ilminster in Somerset. The installation ‘Field for the British Isles’, was originally created in 1993 and has been loaned to the property by the Arts Council Collection through its Trust New Art Programme.”
  7. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Placebo), 1991. Installation process. Image courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art; photo by Roman Iwasiwk (curatedobject.us)
  8. Dominique de Ménil supervise l’acrochage d’une toile de Barnett Newman en 1991. | Dominique de Ménil oversees the hanging of a Barnett Newman’s painting in 1991. (Marc Riboud, circa 1991, 38 x 52 cm via Galerie Verdeau, via tongue depressors; via bruvu)