February 7, 2014 · Print This Article
Eastbourne is a quiet town, perhaps too quiet. The fading resort on the South coast of England is a popular destination with old age pensioners, who come to fade out in their turn, amidst tea shops, guest houses and an appealing promenade.
But something sinister is afoot, thanks to a pair of artists from the new home of Noir, Scandinavia. Indeed John Skoog and Bjarke Hvass Kure come from Sweden, where you get the impression that criminal corruption can happily co-exist with outward calm.
So, this overseas team have come to Eastbourne’s fantastic Towner Gallery with a sceptical eye. Having been invited to curate a show based on the permanent collection, they have called it Near Dark and now liken the four rooms it occupies to a crime scene.
“We were just clicking through the database and then we started talking about . . . Agatha Christie, this small town British detective story,” says Skoog who, together with Kure, has rifled through the permanent collection for evidence of misbehaviour.
Kure picks up the thread: “It is a mystery and it can be solved, or maybe it can’t. Sometimes what’s interesting about a crime is not necessarily finding out who did it, but more about actually the interpretation or deducing a meaning from images”.
Some of those images will be familiar to visitors, some less so. Both artists report a sense of near déjà vu as local landmarks appeared and reappeared in the vaults of the gallery. And Towner has a monopoly on images from the adjacent South Downs National Park.
But less familiar will be the unfinished works by Eric Ravilious. Eastbourne’s famous son is perhaps best known for his charming watercolours of the rolling hills which form the backdrop to the town. Now visitors have a chance to see him stripped bare, as it were.
Skoog and Kure are exhibiting a previously unseen colour test. The loamy shades of green and brown could only belong to him. Nearby is his incomplete view of Beachy Head, a nearby cliff with the sad distinction of being the country’s most infamous suicide spot.
And no one is above suspicion. Though both artists insist this show is not a whodunnit, they lay a bold accusation at the Gallery’s door. “In some strange way, it’s Ravilious – but it’s also Sherlock Holmes,” says Skoog. “He’s the one, who’s maybe like Sherlock Holmes turned bad or something. “
Well, if Holmes had his violin, surely the world is ready for a painting detective, even a rogue one if it comes to that. “It’s really super exciting to see what people think, especially as Ravilious is The Man here,” adds the artist.
Rest assured, as the show was shaping up Monday, there’s was nothing too sacrilegious in the offing. Kure specialises in hanging arty shows like this: “We’re trying to use the museum exhibition format,” he tells me. “We we’re really trying to be very sensitive to a lot of the details, a lot of the traditions, of how you make a museum exhibition.”
“The exhibition is a narrative,” he continues, explaining that variable lighting will give the visitor a sense this story is a cyclical one, from light to dark and back again: “You’re an interpreter or a reader going through what’s happened”.
Skoog meanwhile brings a filmmaker’s talents to the display: “There’s all these filmic terms, like zooming, a pan, a tracking shot. We wanted to use all these terms, to use them as tools for making an exhibition instead of a film.”
But while those techniques have made the final cut, the artist admits that the visitor may not even notice. Flashback is another technique, and the same local street crops up by two different artists in two different rooms, Skoog describes the slow realisation of this as “silently spectacular.”
“The crime scene can also be read on a more metaphorical level ,” says the filmmaker who intends the show to have the atmosphere of a good thriller rather than the payoff of a classic crime novel. But in a town where the thrills might be limited to chips on the pier, Near Dark should still deliver.
Near Dark can be seen at Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK, from February 8 until May 4 2014. The Gallery are also showing new film by John Skoog entitled Redoubt.
Who’s the most interesting art critic in the country right now? Nope, not Jerry Saltz. I might change my mind tomorrow, but today I’m pretty damn sure it’s Hennessy Youngman. Okay — Hennessy’s not actually an art critic. He’s not an art writer. He’s a thinker of Art Thoughtz who has described himself as “just an American nigga at the cross section of dissonant worlds, and I’m the chaos of those conflicting cultural spheres unresolved in all their wonderful madness.” His stuff takes the form of direct-address video monologues performed by Youngman himself, who sits in a white-walled “alabaster alcove” and proceeds to break down art world rhetoric into its constituent bullshit parts. Have a look at Hennessy’s latest, on Relational Aesthetics:
It’s a truly blissful feeling when someone says straight out loud what you’ve been thinking but were too cowed by your peers to say yourself, no? Youngman spreads this kind of bliss with each new episode of Art Thoughtz. But what he does is not exactly about speaking truth to power – it’s a bit more irony-laced than that. Check out this episode on Curators, for example. It’s pretty sexist (although the observation about Velma hair was frakkin’ brilliant), and I think Hennessey might be confusing, or at least conflating, curator with dealer here….
I love how in my YouTube stream, this episode is followed by a promotional interview with Rhizome executive director and New Museum curator Lauren Cornell (Free). This coincidental juxtaposition sums it up for me: at the same time that the young, blonde, attractive Cornell seems to exemplify the type of curator Youngman is caricaturing, she’s also one of the few out there who is actively thinking-through the social media practices that Hennessey himself is engaging. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cornell wanted to include Youngman in one of her next shows.
Point is, Hennessey Youngman is taking the piss out of everything and everyone; the layers of irony are too thick to fully pry apart and as a result we’re forced to assume a different posture, as it were, in our reception of Hennessy’s Thoughtz. If you read it straight, you’re going to get defensive or pissed off and thus totally miss the point, but if you think it all boils down either to comedy or simply an outsider’s attempt to take a giant shit on the art world, you’re not listening carefully enough. It’s one of those both/and kind of things that pushes us into areas that make us feel uncomfortable. And in my book, that is always a good thing.
Henessey is already something of an internet phenomenon, yet there’s surprisingly little out there about who this guy actually is, where he comes from, etc. I like that he’s a man of mystery and hasn’t yet been included in one of Ms. Cornell’s exhibitions. The dominant culture always manages to absorb its critics, though, so I don’t hold out much hope that he won’t be, sooner or later. I do know that in this interview Hennessy Youngman had the balls to respond to the question “Can you be successful if you’re a Muslim artist?” thusly:
Are you serious? Have you ever heard of this artist collective known as Al-Qaeda? They did this performance piece called 9-11. That was absolutely jaw dropping. They only performed it once, but luckily it was very well documented and can be seen pretty much anywhere on the internet. Highly recommended. Way better than anything them Fluxus or Dada motherfuckers could come up with.
So I’ll hold out just a little bit of hope that Hennessy never cleans up his act enough to grace the museum’s white walls.
Guest Post by Julia V. Hendrickson
Notes on a Conversation.
With—Mark Pascale (Curator in the Dept. of Prints & Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Adjunct Professor of Printmedia at SAIC)
In—the Prints & Drawings Study Center
Commenced—on Thursday, February 17th, 2011, 4:15–5:15pm
“It’s a dream job. It’s great place to work. Even under great pressure, when people are at their most difficult, there is still a lot of love here and we all know it. We give each other a lot of space, there’s a tremendous amount of collaboration here, and people supporting everybody when they need the support. I think it’s very collegial.”
— Mark Pascale
In a curious corner of the Art Institute, beyond the lions and the ticket booth; through the first gallery on your left (filled, currently, with John Marin’s watercolors); past a large glass door; and adjoining a nondescript long white hallway, lies a room full of natural light and very busy people. Dedicated to public inquiry, the Goldman Study Center in the department of Prints & Drawings is one of this city’s quiet treasures. Open to the public by appointment only (available to classes in the mornings and to individual researchers in the afternoons), since the 1940s the department has made available over 80,000 works on paper that are part of the Art Institute’s collection. Staffed by hard-working curators, collection managers, researchers, administrators, and interns (as well as its own paper conservation department), the study center serves as a visual library; it offers the rare opportunity to examine a small selection of major works of art in person, without the distancing of glass or display.
However, one of the most invaluable treasures in Prints & Drawings is not actually on paper. It is, in fact, embodied in a living, breathing, wise-cracking person: a curator, Mark Pascale, who is celebrating his 30th year with the Art Institute. I first knocked on Mark’s door over two years ago, armed with the brazen assumption that he would meet with me based on a shared love of comic art and his connection to Ohio (he went to graduate school at Ohio State University). Since then, Mark has proved to be an encyclopedically resourceful, tirelessly supportive, always kind mentor and friend.
While visiting the study room last week, we looked at one of my favorite recent departmental acquisitions, a bequest from the estate of Sylvia Sights: a small collection of envelopes and ephemera illustrated by Edward Gorey (who was born in Chicago in 1925). Sylvia Sights and Gorey were childhood friends and Lakeview neighbors. Gorey attended SAIC for one semester in 1943, and after he left Chicago he wrote to Sights frequently. Many of the envelopes are from his time at Harvard (1946-50), and were often sent under fantastic pseudonyms like “Childeric Drool” and addressed to “Fascia Scorch.” You can see more photographs of the collection in an album here.
I asked Mark about print-related shows he is proud of being involved with during his time at the Art Institute. He spoke of the intense research and collaboration that goes into major museum exhibitions:
“Being involved in the Jasper Johns: Gray show [in 2007] was a career changing moment for me. He was an artist that I had admired, as an artist, and I especially had admired his printmaking. It was hugely inspirational and instructive to me. It was a frightening prospect because he’s very judgmental, and he is not known for his generosity. But I was asked to join the team and I did. […] That experience, working with James [Rondeau] and Douglas [Druick], Harriet Stratis, Christine Conniff-O’Shea, and Maureen Pskowski, having a cross-departmental experience was fantastic.
The other show that I’ve done that I’m extremely proud of is the one that was called After the Crash: Picturing the U.S. 1930-1943, which I did [in 2000] in conjunction with a curatorial assistant in photography and the special collections librarian in Ryerson. We incorporated prints, photographs, and texts from the Depression, [about] the Depression.
We used our WPA [Works Progress Administration] and FSA [Farm Security Administration] holdings, and it was based upon my question: ‘If so many of the artists who worked for the WPA were urban, why are there so many farm images?’ So, [we were asking] whether or not the FSA photographs played any role in what got depicted in printmaking. To some degree we found evidence that it definitely was true, and there were quite a few artists that worked both on the FSA project and the WPA project. […] The crowning moment for that was, even though we didn’t get to do a book, we had a panel discussion that was chaired by George Roeder, who created the Visual and Critical Studies area at SAIC (now sadly deceased), and included Studs Terkel, who was still really sharp, he really had his wits about him, and the photo historian and photographer Naomi and Walter Rosenblum, respectively.”
— Mark Pascale
Mark also collaborates across the city with other museums and galleries. In the mid-1990s Mark was an advisor and catalogue contributor to one of the definitive Chicago print shows, Second Sight: Printmaking in Chicago 1935-1995, a survey exhibition at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art. When I mentioned that show, he sighed and said, “I wish I could redo it because I’ve learned a lot more about the history of Chicago printmaking since then. But I covered some of it in the Chicago Stories exhibition.”
(Chicago Stories is Mark’s most recent departmental exhibit from the summer of 2010, an historical survey of local printmaking called Chicago Stories: Prints and H.C. Westermann’s ‘See America First‘. While I served as an intern in the department with Mark, fellow intern Andrew Blackley and I collaborated with him on the research, writing, and exhibition planning for Chicago Stories.)
Although Mark rarely has the time to advise or organize more than one show a year outside of the department, he is often asked to judge exhibitions. This year he selected a members exhibition for the upcoming Southern Graphics Council Tempting Equilibrium conference in St. Louis (March 16th-19th, 2011). At the Art Institute, Mark is currently working on a departmental exhibit showcasing a promised gift of over 100 contemporary drawings from a private Chicago collection. He notes that the museum recently has received a lot of criticism for doing private collection shows, but that it’s simply a way to honor and celebrate the major support of private collectors:
“We’re often accused of being an island, and we’re not. To some people we might be. We don’t buy that much art. We spend a lot of time engineering gifts. […] The people who are quick to criticize the museum don’t seem to know of the long and distinguished history of giving that Chicago museums enjoy, and don’t seem to know that we don’t receive much public money. There’s a limit to what we can do, and a high expectation for what we put out. My feeling is that they should be excited and happy that this art stays in the city forever.”
— Mark Pascale
The other big show Mark has been working on for the last few years, scheduled for 2013, is a Martin Puryear retrospective, focusing on Puryear’s printmaking processes. Although much of Puryear’s early work was destroyed in a fire, Mark has been able to find a number of working and state proofs for his more recent editions. The exhibit will highlight Puryear’s etchings from Paulson Bott Press (Berkeley, CA), and a major work from Arion Press (San Francisco, CA): illustrations for Cane, a 1923 novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer.
Above and beyond his knowledge of modern and contemporary art, Mark also knows a thing or two about good food in the city. At the end of our conversation, Mark humored me with a list of a few of his favorite places to eat out.
“Any opportunity to eat badly, I will accommodate it. I have a very high threshold for people’s hot dogs and fries, because it’s such a Chicago thing. Chicago-style hot dog joints are not like what I experienced growing up. It’s local, and I love local.”
— Mark Pascale
1.) Hot dog and fries at Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand (and many other places, but G&J is the best) (2720 River Road, River Grove, IL)
2.) Tom Yum Koong (shrimp soup) and Pad Ped Pla Dook (spicy catfish) at Opart Thai House (4658 North Western Ave., Chicago)
3.) Enchiladas Mole at La Oaxaqueña (3382 North Milwaukee Ave., Chicago)
4.) Bhendi Masala (okra curry) at Hema’s Kitchen (2439 W Devon Ave., Chicago) or Udupi Palace (2543 W Devon Ave.)
5.) Hungarian Potato Pancake at Smak Tak (5961 North Elston Ave., Chicago)
6.) Chicken Fatoush Salad at Pita Inn (Skokie, Wheeling, and Glenview, IL)
Julia V. Hendrickson is a native of eastern Ohio who lives and works as a visual artist, writer, and curator in Chicago, Illinois. In 2008 she graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art and a minor in English from The College of Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Julia is currently the gallery manager at Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as the office manager and design assistant for Ork Posters. She is a teaching assistant at the Marwen Foundation, an active member of the Chicago Printers Guild, and has taught at Spudnik Press. A freelance art critic and writer for Newcity, Julia also keeps a blog called The Enthusiast, a documentation of the daily things that inspire, intrigue, and inform. She is currently exhibiting at Anchor Graphics (Columbia College Chicago) in a solo show titled FANTASTIC STANZAS, on view through March 26th.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR NEXT TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8TH AT 7PM DUE TO THE IMPENDING BLIZZARD. NOW YOU CAN STAY HOME AND MAKE COCOA INSTEAD!
My second and last, lovingly delivered plug of the day is Chicago-centric: ThreeWalls is presenting the first session of an ongoing series called the @work SALON. Tomorrow night, Tuesday, February 1, at 7:00 pm, they’ll be discussing alternative curatorial practices with Anna Cerniglia (Johalla Projects), Nicholas Frank (Inova), Aay Preston Myint (No Coast) and Kelly Shindler (Art:21). This is an open discussion that depends on audience participation, so if you’re interested in things curatorial, brave the coming blizzard and get your asses in those folding chairs (or on the floor, if you don’t arrive early enough)! The topic, and the speakers, all sound really terrific. Here are all the details, below.
Tuesday, February 1, 7:00 pm
In the first session of the @work SALON series, we explore alternative models of curatorial practice.
In May 2010, e-flux editor Anton Vidokle published “Art Without Artists?” in which he described the dangers and demerits of the rising power of the Superstar Curator. The polemic essay elicited a flurry of equally polemic critical response from curators and artists, thus kindling the flames of a discontent with the increasingly independent role of the curator that have flickered since the 1970s.
In this SALON session, we respond to this discussion by proposing to move beyond it. Instead, we accept the premise of the creative curator, and ask: what are some boundaries-pushing, interdisciplinary curatorial models that fully embrace all the potential inherent in that role? How has the “educational turn” changed the stakes for independent and institutional curators? How are curators (aspiring or established) responding to, profiting from, or perhaps even ignoring, the academicization of their practice? And what are some thoughtful ways in which curatorial practice is responding to different institutional models, as well as reaching beyond the arts institution, to address activism and politics?
Invited guests Anna Cerniglia (Johalla Projects), Nicholas Frank (Inova), Aay Preston Myint (No Coast) and Kelly Shindler (Art:21) will help to lead a discussion that will address these questions and many more.
Anna Cerniglia is a curator, visual artist, and the director of Johalla Projects. She received her BFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2006. Over the past five years, she has worked throughout Chicago to convert unconventional spaces into alternative venues for exhibiting art. Cerniglia founded South Union Arts in 2005 and has since curated for ALLRiSE Gallery, Grolsch, Buchanan Art Project, Lakeview East Art Festival, and Johalla Projects. Outside of the United States, she has worked as an assistant curator as at Berliner-Liste and as a co-curator at La Porta Blu Gallery of Rome. Most recently, she has begun working with the aldermen of Wicker Park and Logan Square (Joe Moreno and Rey Colon, respectively) to foster and promote public displays of art.
Nicholas Frank is curator at the Institute of Visual Arts (Inova) and a co-founder of the Milwaukee International. He ran the Hermetic Gallery in Milwaukee from 1993-2001. His projects and work have been exhibited at the Tate Modern (London); Kölnischer Kunstverein (Cologne); Swiss Institute, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise’s Passerby and Small A Projects (New York); Angstrom Gallery (Los Angeles); Locust Projects (Miami); Hyde Park Art Center, SAIC Sullivan Galleries, and many others. His solo and collective activity have drawn attention from The New York Times, Art Forum, Art in America, Sculpture, ANP Magazine and New City. He has written on art and other subjects for New Art Examiner, Purple, X-tra, Sculpture and Artpapers. A current project is featured at the Poor Farm in Manawa, WI. Frank is represented by Western Exhibitions, and teaches at MIAD.
Aay Preston-Myint is an artist, printmaker, and educator who does collaborative programming with No Coast, Mess Hall, ACRE, and Chances Dances, and edits an online journal called Monsters and Dust. He has exhibited nationally in San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York, and has contributed original writing as well as had multiple reviews of work in the Chicago Reader, New City, Proximity, and AREA. He is currently an MFA candidate in Studio Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Kelly Shindler is currently completing a dual Master’s in Art History, Theory, & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 2003, she has worked at Art:21, producer of the Peabody award-winning PBS documentary series, Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, where she is presently Director of Special Projects and runs Art:21’s blog. She also works with SAIC’s experimental moving image series, Conversations at the Edge. As a curator, Kelly co-founded of the Package Deals film series, whose programs have screened in over thirty cities around the world. She has curated exhibitions and programs for the Australia Cinematheque, Oulu Music Video Festival in Finland, Scandinavia House in NYC, Sequences Festival in Reykjavik, and the Sullivan Galleries in Chicago, among others.
I’ve been following the ‘curation’ meme for awhile now, and find its latest iteration particularly fascinating. Whereas in the recent past, the term ‘curated’ has tended to crop up in marketing and shopping-related contexts (i.e. “to curate” = “to pick and choose,” “to select,” or at its most base, “to shop around so others don’t have to”), last week I noticed that the term is now being slung around by those on both sides of the iPad/Apple wars. In an article titled Curated Computing: What’s Next for Devices in a Post-iPad World, on ars technica, analyst Sarah Rotman Epps puts a new spin on what’s already become a tired (and annoyingly mis-applied) buzz-word, arguing,
There is something very significant about the iPad beyond how many units it will sell: it’s changing how we think about the PC. The iPad creates a use case for a device that doesn’t do everything your laptop does, targeted at a consumer that uses devices more for consumption than production. The iPad ushers in a new era of personal computing that we call “Curated Computing”—a mode of computing where choice is constrained to deliver less complex, more relevant experiences. Let me repeat that, because it’s the essence of the Curated Computing experience: less choice; more relevance.
Oof! The connotations of the word ‘curation’ just get worse and worse, don’t they? “Less choice; more relevance?” Here, the verb curation isn’t merely equated with shopping; it signifies exclusivity and an active process of kicking the riff-raff out of the so-called “walled garden” of Eden that Apple has created and actively cultivates (or polices, depending on your point of view). You can watch a YouTube video of Epps describing her “curated computing” concept in (slightly) further detail here; I think it’s pretty dumb myself, but you can judge for yourself whether the idea of ‘curating’ in this context provides a useful conceptual metaphor or just trendy b.s..
In The Death of the Open Web, NYT Magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan used the term ‘curation’ to drive a related train of thought. In yesterday’s Magazine, Heffernan describes the Web as “a teeming commercial city…where Malware and spam have turned living conditions in many quarters unsafe and unsanitary” and “bullies and hucksters roam the streets.” Before, she argues, there was no way that Web denizens could escape the rabble. The rise of the iPhone, the iPad and the ubiquitous app, however, are now allowing users to migrate into the online equivalent of a gated community in the ‘burbs. Heffernan goes so far as to liken it to “white flight.” She writes,
In spite of a growing consensus about the dangers of Web vertigo and the importance of curation, there were surprisingly few “walled gardens” online — like the one Facebook purports to (but does not really) represent.
But a kind of virtual redlining is now under way. The Webtropolis is being stratified. Even if, like most people, you still surf the Web on a desktop or laptop, you will have noticed pay walls, invitation-only clubs, subscription programs, privacy settings and other ways of creating tiers of access. All these things make spaces feel “safe” — not only from viruses, instability, unwanted light and sound, unrequested porn, sponsored links and pop-up ads, but also from crude design, wayward and unregistered commenters and the eccentric voices and images that make the Web constantly surprising, challenging and enlightening.
Heffernan’s analogies are powerful and persuasive, although I do think she’s romanticizing some of the cruddier aspects of internet citizenry a bit. In any case, Hefferman’s use of the term ‘curation’ in this context aligns curators with those snooty, front lawn-obsessed Homeowners Associations and NIMBY-types, if not with community policing.
And finally Eliot van Burskirk, in an article written for Wired last week, took a jab at Epps’ opportunistic deployment of what he describe as “a well-worn meme” while acknowledging that Epps is undoubtedly “on to something” in her use of the term curated. Van Burskirk, tongue loosely planted in cheek, goes Epps one better and dubs this “The Age of Curation.”
Curation is the positive flip side of Apple’s locked-down approach, decried as a major, negative development in computing by many observers, present company included. Who would have thought that in 2010, so many people would pay good money for a computer that only runs approved software?
It runs counter to the idea, prized by geeks, that computing equals freedom. If it were Microsoft doing this, we’d all be storming the Gates with torches and pitchforks.
Nonetheless, the Age of Curation (see? anyone can coin a catchphrase) began long before today’s conversation about curated computing. In this Age of Digital Excess (oops, there I go again), we’re surrounded by too much music, too much software, too many websites, too many feeds, too many people, too many of their opinions and so on.
Curation is already fundamental to the way in which we view the world these days, and the iPad is hardly the first technology to recognize this.
I don’t have a dog in the walled garden vs. the riff-raff, suburb vs. gritty city, the iPad vs. Freedom of All that Is Good and True argument. I’m more interested in the ways that the terms curator and curation, which once had such dusty connotations, are undergoing a semiotic rejuvenation of sorts. Its meanings are not confined to a single realm of experience anymore – the curator has finally broken free of the White Cube. Alas, the white cube seems only to lead out into a Walled Garden, but I guess you have to take what you can get.