This week: Amanda and Susan Sollins talk to Marina Abramovic and then Tom Sanford and Amanda talk to Brent Birnbaum at NADA 2011 (the first two minutes are a bit noisy, it goes away).
The Spectacular of Vernacular
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
128 pp, $19.99
neapolis, Minnesota. With 26 contemporary artists and more than 40 artworks included, Vernacular was sure to be fabulous. Sadly enough, I didn’t get the chance to see this show, which is why this little catalogue is such a gem. To be honest, I picked it up because of snazzy cover, a detail of Lari Pittman’s A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation #30. Exhibition catalogues are best when they do more than simply document what has already occurred, when they instead take on their own identity and become a book. The Spectacular of Vernacular achieves this, mostly through the three contextualizing essays.
The introductory essay by Darsie Alexander, chief curator at The Walker, divides the concept of vernacular into three broad categories (I’m paraphrasing here): Location, Ritualistic, Amateur. She then uses these parameters to specifically discuss many of the works included in the show. Her definition of vernacular runs from regional signage to faux-naïve thrift store art. Ultimately, I needed this essay to understand the connective tissue that linked these sometimes disparate pieces. For example the seemingly unrelated Beauty, by Jack Pierson and Marina Abramovic’s video Balkan Erotic Epic: Exterior Part 1 (B). After reading Alexander’s essay, I came to see the relationship–using that which already exists (or at least seems to) to create something new. Something in the family of found art, if you can call Abramovic’s use of ancient religious ritual “found.” I wonder what the viewer who didn’t read the essay thought about the selections.
The concluding two essays were interesting but not necessary to understanding the exhibit. “The Vernacular,” excerpted from the 1984 book Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, by John Brinckerhoff Jackson discusses architecture, particularly of small town America. The book concluded with Andy Sturdevant’s delightful essay “You Are Not Nowhere!: Visualizing the Heartland Vernacular.” In it, Sturdevant discusses the perception of the Midwest as “nowhere.” Funny and true.
Nestled between these essays are the images of the art itself. There are probably as many pages of text as there are of art. Each of the 26 artists is represented along with their statement. I was pleased to find William E Jones included in this exhibition. His 2009 piece, Killed, is a presentation of photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). It was the policy of director Roy Stryker to punch a hole through the negative when a work was removed, or killed, from the collection. Jones presents these photographs complete with black void looming somewhere in the image. What is so interesting about these photos is that there is no explanation of why the image was killed, leaving the viewer to wonder just what about the photograph was unacceptable.
The other new work that caught my eye was Lorna Simpson’s Interior #1 and LA ’57—NY ’09. In these works both contain snapshots, home beauty photos really, of a young Los Angeles woman in the 50s. Alongside, Simpson has taken photos of herself in period clothes and in the same postures. Looking at the photos compelled me to wonder which was real, which was “authentic.” I spent quite a while scouring the images trying to identify what made some look old while others were surprisingly contemporary.
Besides, the found photography element of the works by Jones and Simpson, what also connects them is that both artists manage to get the viewer, or reader in this case, to engage with a photograph in a different from what was intended by the original photographer. In a new context, the pictures are given new life. These works, and by extension, this catalog, drove me to the internet to read more about many of the pieces included in the exhibition. To me this makes the catalogue a success in its own right.
The Spectacular of Vernacular continues on to Huston, Texas, July 23-September 18, 2011; Mont Clair, New Jersey, October 8- January 1, 2012; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, January 14-March 18, 2012.
Performance artist Anya Liftig costumed herself as Marina Abramovic’s double (long blue dress, sideswept braid) and sat across the table from Abramovic all day long last Saturday, March 27th, during Abramovic’s marathon performance piece “The Artist is Present,” part of her current retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Liftig considered her action to constitute a performance of her own, and even has a title for it: “The Anxiety of Influence.” Bombsite has an interview with Liftig here. An excerpt:
Tatiana Berg: When I read reviews of “The Artist is Present,” writers often describe Abramovic’s piece as her “interacting” with her audience, which I think is a misnomer. The performance is really as far from interaction as you can get, since in the museum setting surrounded by guards on all sides—who won’t even let you take a picture—the audience’s available set of actions is very limited. So rather than interacting with Abramovic, it’s more like she’s inviting the audience to sit there and contemplate themselves, not her.
What I liked about your performance was that you totally played by the museum rules: no one said you couldn’t be dressed a certain way, no one could say you had to get up and let someone else have a turn. Did you nevertheless feel like a transgressor? A museum interloper?
Anya Liftig: I did feel like a transgressor but I love the subtle art of subversion—playing with ideas from the inside out. As I was sitting there, I felt like that was one of the strongest elements of Marina’s piece. She is attempting to “interact” with the audience, but really, the endeavor for empathy is one of implicit sadness, as we connect and miss one another. It is not meant to be read at face value. It also brings up the role of the artist, how they connect on an individual, emotional level with others when they are constantly being observed and commented upon by the masses held at bay by the guards.
Read the full interview on Bomb’s website; it’s really interesting and, based on the interview, Liftig seems to have approached her action with sensitivity and thoughtfulness rather than as a cheap stunt.
Does the Museum of Modern Art’s live feed of Marina Abramović’s performance “The Artist is Present” defeat the purpose of the piece, or enhance it? “The Artist is Present” is the title of both Abramović’s retrospective, which opened at MoMA on March 14th, as well as her new live performance, which takes place in MoMA’s Marron Atrium throughout the run of the exhibition. In her performance, Abramović sits on a wooden chair in front of a wooden table. The chair across from her is occupied by different museum visitors, who are invited to take a seat across from the artist and gaze at her while she gazes at them. Visitors are allowed to sit in the chair for as long as they want. (One man stayed for seven hours). MoMA’s exhibition website notes that the retrospective as a whole endeavors to “transmit the presence of the artist” by including “live re-performances” of Abramović’s works by other people, along with this new durational performance by the artist herself.
I couldn’t find any mention of how live streaming the performance fits into the exhibition’s overall attempts to “transmit the artist’s presence,” however. Ideally, of course, viewers will experience Abramović’s performance in a more direct fashion, either by sitting across from her or watching from the audience as other people share her gaze. But the existence of MoMA’s live streaming “marina-cam” (my nickname, not theirs) is downright puzzling. What’s the purpose of streaming a performance–one which purportedly explores what it means to “be present” in this particular historical moment — for the benefit of anonymous internet users who can engage with it only by staring at their computer screens for a few seconds at a time?
For a work of art that necessitates ‘presence’ in all the multivalent meanings of the term, I find it curious that Abramović agreed to the livecam broadcast in the first place. Read more
Actor James Franco, star of Milk and Spiderman and other movies you’ve probably seen, is playing an artist right now on the soap opera General Hospital (I remember cutting school when I was a tween to come home and watch this show during its Luke n’ Laura heyday). For Franco, the guest-starring role, which is featured over 23 episodes, is a kind of experiment: an attempt to insert performance art into a long-running daytime serial. Franco writes about the experience, and its relationship to performance art, in the Wall Street Journal this week. Don’t miss this article. It’s fascinating to read the perspective that a Hollywood actor brings to the types of performances that are enacted in other cultural spheres–the art world as well as the highly stylized narratives seen on daytime television. Read more