Amelia Peláez’s Havana Hilton Hotel mural, ca. 1957. Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries.
Travelogue: Three Cities, Three Retrospectives
Beyond the stuffed animal selfies at PS1, LACMA and PAMM
It’s been a wild winter break, but What’s the T? is back in Chicago in time for dibs season and motivated by the artists brave enough to exhibit in the tundra. For those of you holed up in your apartment licking the radiator for warmth (like I am), here’s a recap of some shows outside of the snow globe.
Closing next Sunday, February 2nd (with a performance by Kim Gordon), is the exhibition that’s been blowing up my feed since it opened at PS1 in October of 2013. Mike Kelley’s retrospective is a 40,000 square foot sprawling colossus of an exhibition. Although I could have lived without the seemingly endless rooms of Kandors (a reference to the miniaturized capital city of Superman’s rival Brianiac) on the first floor, the exhibition impressively filled the sprawling school house and gave me a new appreciation for the artist.
Birdhouses by Mike Kelley at PS1.
Never before in my life have I seen so many swastikas and phallus and felt pretty ok about the whole thing. Arguably the greatest mindfuck in the entire exhibition (taking up an entire floor, the cacophonous a/v installation Day is Done was a close second), Pay for Your Pleasure, a corridor of large portrait paintings and quotations from famous intellectuals effectively complicated the relationship between violence and creativity. By the time I reached the end of the corridor I had completely lost the ability to tell right from wrong.
Kelley’s banners in the hallway at PS1.
The oft-posted Deodorized Central Mass With Satellites was among the least interesting rooms (also the one with the longest line). Watching people pose in front of the hulking mass of leftover toys, I wondered how Kelley himself might have felt about powerful installation’s transmutation into a selfie photo-op. I did pop a huge boner for the dysfunctional birdhouses and the artist’s drawings of his own name. Most disappointing though was PS1′s lack of snacks. The M. Wells Dinette conceptual Mike Kelley menu was admirable, but would it kill PS1 to sell a girl a croissant or fruit cup? I traveled all the way to Queens for this.
Mike Kelley at PS1.
Thankfully, we missed the Turrell retrospective at the Gug (heard the lines were unbearable even if the hole was amazing) in favor of seeing the exhibition in full splendor at LACMA. Apparently the artist, an LA native, made moves to stem the line issue by limiting the amount of guests allowed through the exhibition each day (and no photos allowed!). By the time my party of 5 arrived at LACMA , the $25 exhibition was completely sold out for the day. It was only through the loophole of student membership and my lovely friend, Conor Fields, that I was even able to see the exhibition. The antidote to the packed Kelley exhibition, my first glimpse of Afrum (White), the exemplary white cube that is the first of many light installations, was as religious an art experience as I’ve ever felt.
#today in (art) history
Carrie Mae Weems, The Assassination of Medger, Malcom, and Martin, 2008. Archival pigment print, 61 x 51 inches. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Other works, such as “Bullwinkle,” a modest projection in the shape of an antique television screen, featured plaques helpfully suggesting minimal viewing times to aid visitors in experiencing the desired effects of Turrell’s complex combinations of light and color. Guests moved leisurely through the exhibition. The immersive installations were smartly punctuated with wall-based work, such as the artist’s delicate aqua-tint etchings and hologram series. Despite the 20 minute wait, the paramount moment of the exhibition was Breathing Light (2013), a absorptive environment that mindfucks you in an entirely angle than Kelley’s Pay for Your Pleasure. Heats of eight are invited to take their shoes off, don booties, and spend five minutes in the space which features rounded walls and a deeply saturated bath of LED light that slowly gradients between red and blue. Shout out to the world’s best docent, Rikki Williams, for doing an impeccable job at keeping the antsy visitors to Breathing Light in check (and for letting me stay an extra minute).
LA’s other most famous dude, Frank Ghery, also deserves a shoutout for the unbelievably well designed Calder exhibition in the same building as Breathing Light and the other (reservation only) large-scale immersive Turrell spaces. Having seen a couple of attempts of shoving a bunch of mobiles and stabiles into a large room (including the MCA’s most recent attempt), I can truthfully say I’ve never seen a better presentation of the artists work. Ghery’s specially built pedestals wind around the gallery and create niches that isolate and accommodate each piece. His specially designed walls and plinths allow the viewer to see the delicate balance present in individual works instead of a mess of primary colored circles and wires hanging everywhere.
You’re okay too, Wei Wei.
Not to be outdone by other major metropolitan areas massive surveys of mostly male work, the Perez Museum of Art Miami (still known to me as the Miami Art Museum) opened it doors in December with an inaugural retrospective by Ai Wei Wei. While the exhibition has a few highlights, I found the smaller retrospective of works by little known Cuban modernist, Amelia Peláez, to be a far more compelling and apt exhibition for the brand new bayside contemporary art museum.
Painting by Peláez at PAMM.
I thought the inclusion of the furniture was a little much, but I loved the objects made by Peláez herself. Her ceramic work epitomizes the bright colors and modern, bold markings of her still-life paintings on shapely vases and cups. I would take the espresso set. The show was thoughtfully put together and I was delighted to learn of the artist’s life and work. Now I just wish I could go back in time to Cuba and see her Havana Hilton Hotel mural.
Back in Chicago, I’m waiting on my invite for what will be either the awesomest or worstest retrospective in Chicago history: David Bowie Is. Stay tuned.
Header image features Breathing Light, 2013, by James Turrell at LACMA.
Still from Faith Wilding’s “Waiting” performance as seen in the 1974 film “Womanhouse” by Johanna Demetrakas, (1974, USA, 47 min.) (courtesy of Johanna Demetrakas and Three Walls Gallery).
The Weekly debuts with hilarious email chain. Sunday was a big day for Chicago poet, Anthony Opal. Not only did he trudge through the snow to talk drama with Sofia Leiby at Devening Projects, he also launched The Weekly with some “Revolutionary Interactive Storytelling” by the very entertaining and all around solid dude, Fred Sasaki. Enjoy.
Hope Esser performing “Telegraph Progress” at The Watermill Center’s 20th Annual Summer Benefit.
Celebrites fawn over Chicago artist at Watermill
Hope Esser Goes Viral
Reportings coming in this evening from sources from Facebook to Bloomberg indicate that Chicago performance artist and occasional What’s the T? correspondent, Hope Esser, painted The Watermill red at the art center’s celebrity studded annual summer benefit. Esser could be viewed from on high, performing in a red dress with flag sleeves from atop the performance lab’s building. Her figure was made more striking by the red fabric draped rapunzel-like directly under her.
Bloomberg.com revealed celebrities from Abromavic to Gaga to bankers no one care about were seen at the event. The article smartly shouts out Esser as well. Watch out for Esser’s performance in the next Lady Gaga video, featuring Marina Abromavic.
Real collaboration at The Hills.
Drain & Reeder Create “On The Spot” Art Exhibition
Show in real time at The Hills Esthetic Center
This past Monday (yes, an opening on a Monday) evening at The Hills Esthetic Center “Jyson Deeder and Tim Rain” debuted “A Nerdier Red”, “community organized” by Josh Reames, at everyone’s “favorite” Garfield Park “gallery”, The Hills. The collaborative exhibition came together as it opened with Reeder & Drain turning the notoriously useless loft above the gallery into the command center from which the art was generated and then incorporated into the official gallery space.
Reeder & Drain tell it like it is.
Down in the gallery, visitors feed off the artists’ frenzied energy and joined in, painting a huge canvas, random hats and eventually joining in on a “drum circle.”
Visitor’s in various states of gallery attendance.
Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1977. Long-term installation in
Western New Mexico. Photo: The New York Times.
Reading is Fundamental
Some Unrequired Reading: As Jerry Saltz opens his piece on Deitch’s depature from LA MoCA, “It was always only a question of when, never if.” That being said, the internet is ablaze with opinions on the development. If you’re into that sort of thing, more here, here, and here.
Gay Marriage is Trending and TotallyFab-u-lous: The Gossip is that The Gossip’s Beth Ditto recently married her partner, Kristin Ogata, in Maui. Ditto and Ogata has my dream wedding: Ditto wore a Gaultier gown and it looks like they made all their guests coordinate. To. Die. For.
Don’t worry beaus, Buxom babes aren’t the only one getting hitched. Recently, our personal fav queen Latrice Royal made news by becoming ordained in order to officiate over a good friend’s wedding ceremony. Catch this great interview on Latrice’s killer outfit and her controversial opinions on gay marriage on Dragofficial.com.
Notes on the Art of Conversation: We’re really excited about what Claudine Isé has to say about all things art conversational during her Much Much More lecture hosted by the Humboldt Park branch of the Chicago Public Library and Philip von Zweck. Even more educational than reading, this event is not to be missed.
Printer’s congregate to prove printing not dead
Printer’s Ball takes over Hubbard Lofts
This past Saturday the Printer’s Ball, hosted by Spudnik Press with the support of the Poetry Foundation, took over the Hubbard Street lofts, once again proving print media’s vitality with displays, demonstrations, lectures, conversations and empanadas. WTT? was especially impressed with the Riso demonstrations provided by SPARE residency in the Post Family space.
Tony Fitzpatrick in conversation with Printer’s Ball founder, Fred Sasaki. Fitzpatrick regaled the audience with tales of Studs Terkel, Lou Reed, Haiti and Cuban cigars.
Spotted at the Printer’s Ball: Momentarily back from Ox-Bow, Lauren Anderson checks out photos and posters at Johalla Projects.
With—Nadine Nakanishi & Nick Butcher of Sonnenzimmer
In—the Sonnenzimmer studio, 3605 N. Damen (rear)
Commenced—on Monday, February 14th, 2011, 6:30–7:30pm
“From the fine art world, we’re not fine art enough, and from the design world, we’re too fine art, so we’re always in this in-between of not being enough art, and not being enough design. The beauty of that is that we can say ‘graphic art’ because we like images, and graphic art you have to produce. You produce it in a way that has economic and functional [reasons] behind it, otherwise it wouldn’t be graphic art. Graphic art is creating images under an economic framework that has to do with the process, the tools, the money you have, and what it’s for. We wanted to describe that somehow.”
— Nadine Nakanishi
This past fall I ran into Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher in the hallway outside of the Post Family headquarters on Hubbard Street. Peculiarly, they had with them a chair, an apple, a camera, and a long beam of wood. Mystified then, I was to realize months later that they had just finished the photo shoot for Field Integration, Nadine’s second artist book, which will be released this Friday, February 25th.
I met Nadine and Nick, also known collectively as Sonnenzimmer, a little over a year ago at my first Chicago Printers Guild meeting. From the outset I was struck by the power of Nadine’s passionate conviction, and by Nick’s welcoming, reasoned demeanor. Since then I have followed their tireless creative progress, and I have been astounded time and again by work that is always thoughtful and sincere.
Nadine and Nick are collaborators who exist wholly in a collaborative Chicago print community. The enthusiasm they have for art, typography, and design is contagious, and utilizing that enthusiasm they are able to connect with a wide range of creative talent in the city. Field Integration is a microcosm of such connections, with a preface by Fred Sasaki (associate editor of Poetry magazine) and editorial assistance from Jonathan Messinger (book editor for Time Out Chicago and publisher at Featherproof Books). Scott Thomas (of the Post Family and Designing Obama) hosted the photo shoot in his new office space, and the book itself was offset printed in Chicago at Mission Press, with a screen printed cover and inserts from Sonnenzimmer’s press on the North Side.
Field Integration (2010) is a companion book to Nakanishi’s first publication, Formal Additive Programs (2009). Both artist books were partially funded by the Community Arts Assistance Program (CAAP) grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. After constant rejections from the grant community in her native Switzerland for “not being Swiss enough,” Nadine now has a lot of enthusiasm about the role of the CAAP grant in the city. Her advice when applying is to pay attention to deadlines far in advance (the deadline for 2011 grants was January 31st), and to take advantage of the public grant review sessions that happen in the spring. She also encourages artists to seriously think about the best finance possibilities for creating new work that will extend beyond the project and provide momentum for a career as an artist.
Formal Additive Programs certainly brought Sonnenzimmer’s momentum to the table. The book is a beautifully simple and concise collection of eighteen instructions, simple pieces of advice to follow step-by-step throughout the design process. Field Integration transforms the functional design advice into something more philosophical: a treatise on process and experiment in relation to images, design, and Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging.
The book unfolds in more complexity upon every re-reading. Field Integration is very much an artist book, for the texts and the images could not communicate as powerfully alone. The main essay offers Sonnenzimmer’s thoughts on philosophy and history, exploring the tenets of Ikebana, and focusing on balance in nature as a new way to consider design. There is a beautiful, haunting undercurrent from Fred Sasaki’s appropriated lines on Ikebana and the WWII Heart Mountain Japanese internment camps. It is a part of American history that Nadine notes, “has not really been digested yet.”
Paired with the text are black and white photographic still life arrangements, playful interpretations of the fundamental forms of Ikebana: the point, the line, and the plane. An electrical wire in the background grounds the arrangements, and serves as the balancing horizon line. Informed by the photographs, judiciously restrained splashes of color appear in small painted sketches and in the screenprinted inserts.
I see Sonnenzimmer’s books as manifestos on their unique design and production process, and that alone presents an interesting archival project for the Chicago art community. With Field Integration, Nadine and Nick present a tactile, functional object that includes the how, the why, and the what of their business. It is a practical form of self-promotion, and a holistic way of communicating who they are as creative people. Would that we each could find such a voice.
Sonnenzimmer is holding a book release party for “Field Integration” on Friday, February 25th from 7:30-9:30pm at the Elastic Arts Foundation (2830 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd floor). The release includes readings from contributors Fred Sasaki and Jonathan Messinger; photographic interpretations by Martha Williams and Jeremy Bolen; and music by Geoff Farina. The event is free.
You can watch a short documentary on the making of Field Integration here:
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.